Marc Sabatella on the Harmonic Language of Standards

Mick, a trumpet/cornet playing friend of mine, and I were recently talking about jazz harmony. A while back Mick found a great resource on common patterns in traditional jazz (I wrote about it here, but the original page seems to have been deleted). That blog and our conversation reminded me of something put together by pianist Marc Sabatella called The Harmonic Language of Standards.  Sabatella’s discussion on jazz harmony was required reading for my jazz improvisation students. I think it’s a great summary of the harmonic language of jazz standards.

While only a summary of his more in-depth book, you can get quite a bit out of reading what Sabatella has made available for free on his web site. He has put together a very complete list of common chord progression patterns in a section about functional harmony. In my opinion, one of the most useful parts of it are Sabatella’s breakdown of common idioms. He divides basic chord patterns into five categories – cadential progressions, pre-cadential progressions, static progressions and turnarounds, transitional progressions, and modulations.

Just as we can usually break a song down into a handful of broad sections such as AABA, we can usually break down each section into a handful of these idiomatic phrases. The phrases I am talking about are usually around two measures each. At slower tempos they may be squeezed into a single measure, and at faster tempos they might take four measures each.

An understanding of these types of chord patterns really helps me memorize chord progressions because instead of thinking so much about individual chords I’m thinking of broader chord patterns. It also helps you come up with some new ways to think about chord progressions and reharmonizations.

Sabatella mentions an example he uses on how to apply these principles to composition.

I then discuss how to apply your understanding of chord progressions to substitution and reharmonization, using the standard My One And Only Love by Guy Wood and Robert Mellin as an example. Looking at just the “A” section, I first break it down into a series of eight harmonic phrases and then show how to go about performing substitutions using other idioms from the same categories as well as more direct application of the guidelines of harmony themselves.

This is a great exercise for composers. Take a tune you know and break down the chord progression by the common idioms. Make note of certain key centers and using those as a goal, write a new chord progression that continues to maintain the road map of common idioms. For example, if you take the A sections of rhythm changes you might start your A section on the tonic, write a static chord progression for three measures, transition to the IV chord in measure 4, then cadence back to I in measure 6. A static chord progression for 7 and 8.

Just to demonstrate, I came up with the following by intentionally being a little goofy with it and in the process I bent some of the parameters from the rhythm changes A sections. I often compose chord progression in this way, with target harmonic goals in mind and then try out different things randomly until I get something I really like. My solution:

|Bb7 Db7 |Cm7 Eb7 |Dm7 A7 |Abm7 Db7 |Eb7 E7 |Eb7 B7 |Bb7 Db7 |Eb7 Ab7|

[audio:|titles=A Section Reharm]

Not the greatest there is, but there’s some potential in there. Maybe I’ll come up with a bridge and a melody for it too and see what it develops into.

Try it out yourself. Read through Marc Sabatella’s Harmonic Language of Standards and then try reharmonizing standard chord progressions using those common idioms as a road map.

Embouchure Questions: Playing Didgeridoo and the Sensation Theory

I’ve got a lot of embouchure questions piling up and want to try to get more of them answered here for folks. Here are a couple from way back (and sorry for the long delay in getting back to you folks!).

Krešo asks:

Hello Dave. I am curious, I bought a didgeridoo and started to mix my trumpet playing and didgeridoo playing. I play didgeridoo mostly as a warmup before trumpet. It seems to get blood flow to lips quicker then else. What do you think about that and can I damage my lips with it?

I have a couple of didgeridoos myself and enjoy playing them once in a while. Personally, I’ve never found them to be detrimental to my brass playing, but you have to realize that a didgeridoo does generally use different techniques and that if you get too used to it and aren’t aware of what you’re doing you might bring some of the didgeridoo technique back into your trumpet playing.

One thing that a number of brass players have experienced is that a bit of playing on a brass instrument with a significantly larger mouthpiece can work great as a warm down. For example, trumpet players might play a little trombone to warm down or trombonists might play a little tuba. The difference between this and what Krešo mentions is that this is as a warm down, not so much a warm up.

I’m not certain that I would use didgeridoo as a warm up, but without being able to watch you play it’s hard to say if what you’re doing could cause some potential risk to your playing or not. One way it could be detrimental is because a didgeridoo feels very different from trumpet and if you try to make your trumpet playing match your feeling of playing didgeridoo you could create some inefficient habits.

John sent the following, not really a question, but some good insights and related in part to Krešo’s question:

Here is James Morrison talking about his warm up or lack of warm up.  

I had heard that he takes the horn out of the case and starts the gig.  When he appeared at the U. of Montana Jazz Festival he said that he hadn’t played any trumpet for the previous two weeks.  I saw him take the horn out and start the rehearsal.  He sounded great from the first note on.  I believe he does what Reinhardt calls the “Sensation Theory”.  I talked to Doug Elliott about this and he agrees.  Doug said that he also never warms up anymore.  The main point is that a player really only needs a couple of minutes of warm up at most.  Anything after that is practicing.

My most influential teacher regarding brass embouchures is Doug Elliott and I recall him saying the same thing to me about his lack of warmups. One of Doug’s teachers was Donald Reinhardt, who wrote a bit about a concept he called the “sensation theory.” In the Encyclopedia of the Pivot System Reinhardt wrote:

The SENSATION THEORY is the approach to the instrument whereby the player relies primarily on feeling rather than on sound to produce his notes. Generally speaking, the more completely the dependence on feeling the player can achieve, the more accuracy he will acquire. As dependency on sound is lessoned, the player arrives at how a note will feel rather than how it will sound. His accuracy and assurance will grow commensurately. . .

Your pre-playing sensation is the feel that you experience in your embouchure formation and anatomy a split-second before you execute your attack for the particular tone to be played.

Your playing sensation is the feel that you experience in your embouchure formation and anatomy during the actual blowing of your instrument.

Your unified sensation, the “must in all consistent brass playing, is the merging of your pre-playing and playing sensation into one solidified feel.

Some folks will confuse this concept with ignoring the sound altogether. Nothing could be further from the truth, but what Reinhardt was advocating was consistency in making your embouchure formation and anatomy matching as closely as possible to what you do when you play before you even start blowing. Brass players who get braces, for example, know first hand how strange it can feel when the braces get put on and taken off and it takes some time to adjust and get comfortable with the feel because of the changing support of the teeth and gums behind the lips and mouthpiece rim.

Or as another example, I remember when my braces came off and I wore a retainer (which I took off to play) I spent a few days talking a little funny because the retainer covering on the roof of my mouth meant that where I was used to putting my tongue to speak consonants had radically changed. Even though I knew exactly what the sound of the words I was speaking should have been, it took me some time to get used to the different feel.

Most brass players will go after this feel of playing unconsciously. Reinhardt was an advocate of specifically going after this unified sensation, which involved some specific playing and practicing techniques that are somewhat unique to his teaching (such as the mouth corner inhalations).

How many of you play didgeridoo? Do you ever feel that practicing didgeridoo is detrimental to your main brass instrument or have you only found positive or neutral effects? How do you think playing didgeridoo affects the playing sensations on your main brass instrument? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and let us know what you think.

Weekend Picks

Happy Friday to everyone. Here’s another music related link dump for you to browse this weekend.

John Ericson from Horn Matters writes about Seven Factors on Choosing a Teacher for Advanced Study.

Are you a parent of younger children? Maybe you’ll be interested in learning more about Experimental Music on Children’s TV. It reminds me of the Portlandia episode where they start a band that performs for children to very different results.

Writing for All About Jazz Bill Anschell writes a half serious/half tongue-in-cheek article about Careers in Jazz.

Finally, a clip from the 1947 film This Time For Keeps, Jimmy Durante sings about The Lost Chord.

The Gamblers Play Greensboro, NC April 26, 2014

If you’re around Greensboro, NC this Saturday, April 26, 2014 and are looking for some swing dancing, come on out to the Greensboro Shrine Club where the Piedmont Swing Dance Society is putting on a day of dance classes and concluding with a dance that evening. I’ll be performing with The Gamblers starting at 7:30 and playing all the way until 11:30 that night.

The Gamblers is led by multi-instrumentalist Michael Gamble, who is also teaching some of the dance classes earlier that day (a very talented guy!). He plays bass with another group I regularly play with, but he will be playing guitar and singing on this show.

If you make it out, be sure to come up and say hello. I’ve now taken 6 whole weeks of swing dance classes, so maybe I’ll even get out on the dance floor during our set breaks.

Weekend Picks

It’s Friday, so I’ll share some more bookmarks of random music related stuff around the net.

For an online, freely editable database of trumpet exercises, visit the Trumpet Exercise Database. It includes warmups, warm downs, flexibility, endurance, scales, etudes, and more.

Are you looking for a fancy online pitch pipe? Check out the Virtual Piano.

Joe Jackson played trombone for Maynard Ferguson, played lead trombone with the Airmen of Note from 1991 to 2011. He also served as the Airmen of Note’s music director from 2004 to 2011. He knows a few things about how to be a good bandleader.

Do you know “The Lick?” If not, watch this video and learn in all 12 keys.

Donald Reinhardt On Tongue Position and Brass Playing

While I’ve blogged earlier on this same topic, I got a request while ago to discuss a bit what Donald Reinhardt taught about tonguing. I find Reinhardt’s pedagogy so interesting because of the level of detail he went to in order to understand how individual student’s anatomy would necessitate different instructions. Keep in mind that I never studied directly from Reinhardt, but was introduced to his books via one of his former students, Doug Elliott.

Reinhardt’s ideas about the level of tongue arch while sustaining pitches are in the majority today. It’s generally accepted that brass players will change the level of tongue arch while playing according to the register being played. Often times syllables are used to describe the tongue position, which can offer a good guide for students to begin experimenting with. To sustain a very low note the tongue position would be lower in the mouth, almost as if saying, “aw.” The higher the pitch, the higher the level of tongue arch inside the mouth. A middle register note might be closer to saying, “oh,” or “ah,” while a very high pitch would be closer to, “ee,” or “eh.” These are obviously approximations, and there are variations of exactly how a player will alter the level of tongue arch, but you can get an idea by watching this video recorded by Joseph Meidt for his research, A Cinefluorographic Investigation of Oral Adjustments for Various Aspects of Brass Instrument Performance.

The reason why this works is a matter of some controversy, but the two leading hypotheses are that raising the tongue arch helps increase air pressure against the lips or it helps the oral cavity’s resonance match the pitch being played. Both have some evidence to back them up, so there is perhaps a bit of both going on.

Much like with brass embouchures, I find it fascinating how many different ways brass players use the tongue to play. Donald Reinhardt came up with eight different tonguing types. Similar to his embouchure types, Reinhardt felt that each individual student’s anatomy would make one type work best for that particular player. I wrote about these tongue types years ago in an article about Reinhardt’s Pivot System. In general, each of these tonguing types would begin the attack with the tongue tip coming back away from the upper teeth or higher as if pronouncing, “tah” (or “tee,” “toh,” depending on the register and level of tongue arch desired).

Tongue-Type One

Brass players who specialize in playing in the upper register often use Tongue-Type One. With this tongue type the tongue spreads and the tongue sides are held in contact against the inside of the upper teeth immediately following the tongue backstroke. The tongue in this position forces the air column to thin down and aids this brass player in producing very fast lip vibrations.

This tongue type is not very common. I’ve heard anecdotally that this tonguing type works best for players with tall roof of their mouth. The player also needs a wide enough tongue to spread out to each side against the teeth.

Considering the very high tongue position, you can see how this tongue type might help some players who specialize in upper register playing (i.e., big band lead trumpet). Reinhardt felt the drawback to  tongue type one was the low register and some players may adopt a different tongue type for the lower range.

Tongue-Type Two

The most common tongue type is Reinhardt’s Tongue-Type Two. This tonguing type, which is also recommended by many other brass texts and method books, is distinguished by the tongue striking the back of the upper teeth or upper gums and then arching and hovering inside the mouth according to the register being played.

As I wrote in the above quote, tongue type two is probably the most common method of tonguing. In the Encyclopedia of the Pivot System Reinhardt mentions that this tongue type sometimes allowed players to recede their jaw too much, in which case he might recommend the player adopt one of the later tongue types where the tongue tip is anchored behind and below the lower teeth.

Tongue-Type Three

Reinhardt’s Tongue-Type Three performers are in the minority. Although Reinhardt admonished his student’s to never permit the tongue to penetrate between the teeth, certain brass players have a lower lip that is long and thick enough coupled with very short lower teeth. For these players immediately after the tongue strikes the back of the upper teeth or upper gums it will snap back and then return to the lower lip. The tip of the tongue will then rest on the lower lip while sustaining and slurring with performers of this tongue type.

Reinhardt’s tongue type three is the close to how some teachers describe as a “tongue controlled embouchure.” I agree with Reinhardt that this is a pretty rare situation, and in most cases players who intentionally put the tongue tip against the lower lip while sustaining pitches would probably do better in the long term adopting a different tongue type.

Tongue-Type Four

This type is identical to Tongue-Type three with the exception that the tongue strikes the lower lip for the attack, instead of the back of the upper teeth or upper gums.

Like tongue type three, Reinhardt felt that players adopting this tongue type needed to have a long enough lower lip and short enough lower teeth that both attacking and resting the tongue tip on the lower lip wouldn’t impede the vibrations.

I’ve never heard that Reinhardt made any tongue type recommendations according to the student’s embouchure type. With the tongue tip against the lower lip, I wonder if Reinhardt’s tongue types two and three are better for downstream players, who want their lower lip to be less active than the upper.

Tongue-Type Five

Tongue-Type Five is another one of the more common tonguing types. After the tongue strikes the back of the upper teeth or upper gums the tip of the tongue lunges down and makes contact with the gully where the lower gum meets the floor of the mouth. This tongue type also provides support for the jaw as the tongue presses forward to create a higher tongue arch level while ascending. Individuals who adopt this tongue type must have a sufficiently long enough tongue to accommodate this forward tongue pressure without loosing contact.

Because the tongue tip is pressed against the jaw, some players will find that adopting this tongue type helps them keep a more forward position of the jaw (assuming that this is desired for the player). As I mentioned above about tongue type two, players who find their jaw recedes undesirably might benefit from switching to tongue type five.

Tongue-Type Six

Tongue-Type Six is virtually identical to Tongue-Type Five, excepting that these individual’s do not possess tongues as long as those who belong to Tongue-Type Five. This tongue type will attack with the tip of the tongue striking the back of the upper teeth or gums, following which it will drop down to the gully where the lower gums and floor of the mouth meet. Unlike Tongue-Type Five, the higher tongue arch level for ascending is created by pulling the tip of the tongue back in the mouth, while keeping the tip touching the floor of the mouth. To descend the Tongue-Type Six player pushes the tongue tip forward towards the gully and flatten the tongue.

Because players belonging to this tongue type alter the level of tongue arch differently from tongue type five, this tonguing type doesn’t provide the same feeling of jaw support.

Tongue-Type Seven

Players belonging to this tongue type slur and sustain pitches identically to Tongue-Type Five. The difference in this tonguing type is that pitches are attacked through the tip of the tongue striking the back of the lower teeth or lower gums. This tongue type is sometimes used by players who play with the jaw in a very protruded position.

This tongue type seems to be very rare. Even simply trying to imitate this tongue position without playing I can’t make this work for me. Something about the very protruded jaw position must make this effective for some players. However, except for the position of the tongue during the attack, this tongue type is the same as Reinhardt’s tongue type five.

Tongue-Type Eight

In Tongue-Type Eight the tongue strikes the back of the lower teeth or lower gums for the attack and moves to the gully or floor of the mouth. When ascending the tongue arch level is raised by pulling the tongue back without allowing the tip of the tongue to lose contact with the floor of the mouth. When descending the Tongue-Type Eight player lowers the tongue arch level by pushing the tongue forward towards the gully and keeping the tip in contact with the floor of the mouth.

This tongue type is a combination of tongue types six and seven. Tongue type eight attacks the pitch against the lower teeth or gums, like tongue type seven, and alters the level of tongue arch like tongue type six. It also appears to be pretty rare.

One thing Reinhardt didn’t write much about in the Encyclopedia of the Pivot System are the variations on these basic tongue types. For example, a tongue type five player would slur and sustain pitches by pushing the tongue against the jaw with the tip in the gully behind and below the lower teeth. One variation would have a student attack pitches by keeping the tongue tip in the gully and have the middle part of the tongue come forward and strike behind the upper teeth or roof of the mouth. Although not a term Reinhardt used, as far as I know, some folks call this “anchored tonguing” or “K tongue modified.”

In general, I prefer to try to play in as consistent a manner as possible and typically suggest that a player try to use only one tongue type and not change according to the register. That said, using multiple tongue types doesn’t seem to be as detrimental to technique as adopting multiple embouchure types tends to.

While I find all the details fascinating and think that for teaching purposes it’s good to understand the above, I wonder if there may be a better way to communicate correct tonguing than using Reinhardt’s particular designations. There may be a way to simplify Reinhardt’s designations, similar to Doug Elliott’s simplification of Reinhardt’s embouchure types. At this time my thoughts are to break down the tonguing based on two factors, where the tip of the tongue is during the attack and where the tip of the tongue is while slurring or sustaining. This leaves out the factor of how the tongue arch is produced, but I’m not certain how useful it would be to include this information.

What are your thoughts? Is there a better way to describe tonguing? Which tongue type do you personally use? Have you ever experimented with more than one?

Weekend Picks

Here’s another link dump of music related stuff on the web for your surfing pleasure this weekend.

The Many Killers of the Music Industry, by Tim Cushing writing for TechDirt. It’s in two parts, The Analog Era and The Digital Era.

Looking for a pithy quote from a jazz musician to win that online argument you’ve been having? Look no further, you can find it here“What I’m dealing with is so vast and great that it can’t be called the truth. It’s above the truth.” – Sun Ra

Are you a contemporary classical composer and need to put together a composer’s statement? Don’t fret, you can use the The Contemporary Classical Composer’s Bullshit Generator to throw one together in no time. “Unlike traditional improvisations, I aim to develop illusions, including a highly polyrhythmic arrangement that explores all notions of progressive noises.”

And lastly, take a few minutes and watch the story of Harry, a racist barber in the 1930s whose life changes after the arrival of  a magical trumpet.

Swing of Change from Swing of Change on Vimeo.

Research on Neck Dilation in Wind Musicians

I always find the intersection between science and art interesting. If you have a few minutes please consider filling out an anonymous survey to help conduct research into how a neck puff affects wind musicians.

Donald Reinhardt wrote about a neck puff in the Encyclopedia of the Pivot System. He felt that was a particularly bad problem to have and was caused by one of or a combination of the following.

  1. Bottling up the air and delaying the initial attack.
  2. Protruding the abdominal regions while ascending.
  3. Overbreathing.
  4. Too much embouchure compression causing the air to bottle up at the lips.
  5. Arching the tongue at the wrong level for the pitch being played.
  6. Poor embouchure development
  7. A too small and too shallow mouthpiece for the player.

Reinhardt put together an exercise he recommended to help players reduce or eliminate a neck puff. He wrote:

  1. Compress your lips so that they are touching very lightly. Slowly push your compressed embouchure formation as far forward and away from your teeth as possible; then, bring your compressed embouchure formation back as far as possible into an exaggerated smiling position. Your neck muscles should retain excessive tension throughout the forward and backward motion. Execute a normal inhalation. Repeat this entire process about ten times. Increase this total by adding two or more repeats every day or so.
  2. Slowly open your mouth as far as possible and make certain that tension can be felt in your neck muscles. Bite down slowly and deliberately and retain the muscular tension in your neck throughout. Do not permit your teeth to clash together while closing them. Execute a normal inhalation. Repeat this entire process about ten times. Increase this total by adding two or more repeats every day or so.
  3. Slowly push your jaw as far forward as you possibly can without straining. retain this protruded jaw position with the prescribed neck tension for a few seconds – then rest for several moments. Execute a normal inhalation.  Repeat this entire process about ten times. Increase this total by adding two or more repeats every day or so.

– Donald S. Rienhardt, Encyclopedia of the Pivot System, p. 69

It only takes a few minutes at most to complete the survey, so please help the cause and fill it out. Even if you’ve never had problems with a neck puff before.