The Trouble With Easy Listening

Steve Almond writes about the devaluation of the music listening experience here.

“See, back when I was a kid in the ’70s, the way I listened to music was pretty simple. I put an LP on the turntable, dropped the needle, then sat on the living room rug and listened to every single note. If I liked the record a lot, I would listen to it two or three times in a row, usually with the album cover on my lap, so I could study the lyrics and artwork.

In other words, I considered listening to an album an activity in and of itself. It was not something I did while working on homework, let alone while checking e-mail or thumbing out text messages.”

This is something I’ve been musing about for a while myself.  Sometimes when I’m giving a lecture to a new class I’ll ask the students to consider the last time they listened to an album all the way through while all their attention was focused purely on the music.  While I’m frequently surprised by how many students actually have (or claim to have) spent time listening to music and doing nothing else, it’s typically only a handful of the entire class.  It’s something that I’ve noticed that I do less and less these days too. Continue reading The Trouble With Easy Listening

Perfect Fourths Patterns

The ascending perfect fourth interval has a very strong harmonic implication that can be useful for both composers and jazz improvisers (as well as being good exercises for technique development).  The perfect fourth interval has the sound of a V-I (authentic) cadence.  This sound is so ingrained in western music that even without any other pitches sounding we can hear the cadence when it’s set up right.  Additionally, stacking perfect fourth intervals together create a characteristic sound when used to voice out chords.  One of my old teachers, Frank Mantooth, was the first person to introduce me to this concept.  Voicings with only perfect fourths can imply a number of different chords, depending on what bass note sounds at the same time.

The above voicing could be used for an F69 chord (containing the root, 5th, 9th, 6th, and 3rd), a Bbmaj9 chord (5th, 9th, 6th, 3rd, and 7th), a Dmin11 chord (3rd, 7th, 11th, root, and 5th), a G7sus (7th, sus 4th, root, 5th, and 9th), and even some others.  Mantooth referred to this style of piano voicing as “miracle voicings” because they allow the pianist to play so many different chords without changing any pitches. Continue reading Perfect Fourths Patterns

How To Transcribe: Some Advice for the Beginning Jazz Improviser

Why Transcribe?
Before covering a process for transcribing jazz, it is important to understand the point to transcribing jazz solos. Today we have access to a lot of written material giving advice on how to improvise and practice improvisation. There are books of solos that other people have transcribed for you. You can even get computer software that will transcribe music for you. With all this information presented for you already, why take the time to figure it out for yourself?

Jazz, like all music, is an aural art form – it is meant to be heard, not read or seen. Attempting to learn to play jazz well just by reading books will take you to a certain point, but will leave quite a bit out that is important to playing jazz. Only a part of improvising involves what notes to play, and you can’t really learn how to swing, phrase, shape notes, or pace your solos by reading music or words. You have to pay your dues by listening to the music. Continue reading How To Transcribe: Some Advice for the Beginning Jazz Improviser