A thrilling subject, if ever there was one – doesn’t it sound like the abbreviated name of a Soviet-era country as well?
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My next post will be less boring than this one. It won’t have much to beat…
We were pleased to get this very colourful review from Thomas Rees at Jazzwise magazine recently. We work hard on our ‘lecherous space cockerel’ references, so it’s nice when they don’t just go over people’s heads…
Anatomy of a Standard – “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”
Learn to internalize songs quickly
Learn to lay them out effectively on the guitar
Learn to personalize the song on the fly, with a range of substitute progressions that might also generate intros and endings.
How is that some musicians seem to be able to pick up a new tune in no time at all? Even if, initially, they don’t seem all that familiar with a song you’ve called, they only sneak the most cursory glance at the changes, if they even do that. A few moments later, they’re playing the piece with creative flair and total confidence. Not only that, when the time comes, they’re ready to put the perfect intro and ending on it as well.
Were they were just kidding? Maybe they knew it all along! Perhaps it’s just luck that they have ‘those ears’…?
Well, there could be a little of that involved sometimes, but experienced jazz musicians really can internalize tunes incredibly quickly, and that’s because there’s a knack to it. What’s more, it’s the same skill set that allows them to deliver seemingly endless variations that always remain compatible with what everyone else is doing. It’s also knowledge that can boost aural awareness and, finally, from a guitar standpoint, it’s a huge part of what enables us to generate complete sounding renditions of a song by ourselves.
In the full 1hr08m class:
We break down the original chords and melody of Frank Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”, so that they’re easy to remember and treat creatively.
After going over some essential first principles, we then look closely at a solo guitar rendition, starting with a really simple ‘block-out’ of the basic chords and melody.
The basic rendition gradually evolves towards a more complex setting, that includes 12 different harmonic variations within the basic road map of the tune. These also give us some ideas for appropriate intros and endings.
Everything we discuss is fully notated and tabbed in the 28-page PDF that accompanies the class.
Perfectly synchronized on-screen captions ensure that you can always see exactly what you’re hearing, even on a bar-by-bar basis at the full performance tempo.
As usual, I’ve tried to accommodate learners at different levels of experience. Someone relatively new to standard repertoire will learn some very important first principles, and shouldn’t have too much trouble with the basic solo guitar setting of the tune. The fully expanded rendition may be more aspirational at this stage but, even then, the concepts behind it should be easy enough to understand.
Meanwhile, whilst experienced players should find themselves able to deliver all the material without great difficulty, even someone familiar with the general principles involved may well have their eyes and ears opened to new possibilities. For both groups, the over-riding aim is that the student takes away transferrable ideas that will inspire self-directed study in the future.
Over the years as a teacher, the question I’ve probably been asked more than any other is: “What can I do to get more vocabulary into my solos?”. Meanwhile, another very common enquiry is: “What’s the most efficient way to go about transcribing?”, which implies a similar sort of overall aim.
Even students who know their theory (and are already engaging in transcription tasks) sometimes express frustrations like “it still doesn’t sound like jazz when I do it” or perhaps “it takes so long for any of it to actually come out in my own playing”. There’s no magic wand, of course, but nevertheless I do think there are ways to speed all this up, so that we can quickly assimilate the sounds we hear, and avoid wasting time. After all, it’s perfectly possible to spend weeks transcribing a long solo, only to look back a year later and realize that virtually nothing has stuck.
The advice I generally give is that, if we want “vocabulary” to appear in our improvised solos, we have to spend time consciously creating it in the practise room. However many scales we know, and however many solos we’ve transcribed, the things we’re hoping to hear aren’t just going to fall out of our instruments. Instead, we may need to think a little bit more like composers, and consider the musical architecture of the ideas we’re going to play; whether these are of our own making, or taken from a recorded source. How is the new phrase structured? How could we develop the idea, and where might it fit in with our existing ones? If it’s someone else’s, how can we make it feel like it’s ours?
None of this is to say that we want our solos to consist entirely of pre-meditated licks or that we shouldn’t aspire to hear spontaneous melodies in the moment of delivery. It’s just that our musical engine needs more specific fuel than a bunch of scales and arpeggios (even the really clever ones) can provide.
In the full 1h15m class:
• We look at nine different melodic ideas from diverse sources such as Oscar Peterson, Joe Henderson, Dizzy Gillespie, and John Coltrane. The ideas reference both mainstream and contemporary styles; some are also taken from famous composed melodies.
• We analyze the structure of each one and consider how it might be expanded beyond its original context.
• Using well-known tunes as “test beds” for the resulting vocabulary, I demonstrate how I might end up employing the ideas, in contexts that may be quite different from the original source.
• A selection of the resulting lines are then transcribed (and tabbed out) in the accompanying PDF booklet.
• Synchronized on-screen captions and timecodes mean that you can always cross-reference between the video and the written materials.
Some people post “Wish You Were Here?” pictures of their idyllic foreign holiday; others do the same with their dinner. Musicians, meanwhile, are often inclined to post pics of their most glamorous looking gigs (“Tonight’s office…” etc.). I try not to do that stuff too much but, nevertheless, I don’t doubt that I’ve also bored the bejaysus out of my social media friends on occasions too numerable to be catalogued.
If you’ll forgive me this one “isn’t life amazing?” indulgence though, (and, if you’re on this page, then hopefully you do have some interest in these things) I’d like to highlight something here that makes me happier than anything else I do professionally. It’s a clip of three undergraduate students on the jazz degree at Leeds College of Music playing at a recent gala concert; they are pianist Bela Horvath, double bassist Jack Garside, and drummer Luke D’Aulerio. All three, as I’m sure you’ll agree, are playing their backsides off.
These are just three of the very talented young musicians that we get to work with on a daily basis at LCoM, and to have been in that position is something I will be thankful for as long as I live. May it continue as long as my fingers and brain will allow. Thank you, not just Bela, Jack, and Luke, but to all our students past and present; if as teachers we can do half as much for you as you’ve all done for us over the years, I reckon we’ll all be satisfied with that. This post isn’t about me basking in reflected glory (well, maybe just a bit, but we’ll pretend it’s not!) – it’s really about publicly acknowledging that, in the words of Duke Ellington, I realise I’m one hell of a lucky so-and-so…
Pictures of my dinner will follow shortly. Here’s the clip – enjoy and share!
This may be of interest to those of you who teach music to young children – in fact, you may remember I posted some time ago about “In the Gap!“, which is the brainchild of the jazz saxophonist and teacher Hannah Brady (who is also my other half, for her sins…)
The news here is that Hannah has now expanded the original book and CD pack to include Eb and concert bass clef, and you can also download a PDF/mp3 expansion product which gives you examples of call and response style exercises for each song in the book.
Have a look at the video; if you think this might be something you could make use of, why not drop by Hannah’s site?
I promised Mike I’d try to be a bit more prolific this year, so here’s a new video, hot on the heels of the last one, but on a totally different topic: playing the written melody, often referred to by musicians as “the head”. The clip below is just a trailer – you can purchase the full 1h15m class here.
Over many years of working with jazz guitar students, I’ve noticed that memorizing, retaining, and delivering standard song melodies is a very common area of weakness. Student players often seem to be in a great hurry to get stuck into their solo, to such an extent that they sometimes haven’t learned the melody at all, or else they are only able to deliver it in a rather stiff fashion, ‘context-locked’ to a particular key or area of the fingerboard.
This has a number of detrimental effects – it makes it very difficult to remember tunes, it makes it unlikely that our solos will sound particularly musical, and it can mean that listeners are inclined to draw negative conclusions about our playing before we’ve even begun to improvise. On the other hand, if we take a more careful and thorough approach to learning heads, we can sound convincing from the very first measure, with some of the 20th century’s greatest composers doing most of the work for us! Not only that, but when we then come to improvise, we can continue to follow the melodic signposts that have been left for us in what they wrote.
The great Jim Hall once said “I don’t want my solo on All The Things You Are to sound the same as my solo on Stella By Starlight” which seems to suggest that he based his improvisations on the total song, rather than reducing everything down to a series of chord progressions.
As for the class itself:
• We look at the melodic structure of two very well-known standards, with a view to being able to understand and access them in a flexible way.
• We consider how these melodies relate to the underlying chord progressions, with suggestions for how we might see this relationship on the fretboard and also understand it aurally.
• We work on a task that combines the written melody with improvisation, to help generate a symbiotic relationship between the two.
• We look at an example setting of “Just Friends” which provides strategies for avoiding the rigid ‘chord melody’ approach that tends to compromise the momentum of the music.
• We look at a layout of “Solar” which transforms very simple chord shapes into a piano-like interpretation that carries the melody, implies the harmony, and maintains a rhythmic drive.
• We engage in a detailed analysis of “Donna Lee”, by way of extending the techniques to cover more complex heads, which are always more difficult.
• Finally, we create two “mash-ups” by combining transposed elements of “Donna Lee” with other tunes, to show how these phrases might have a life outside their original context.
• Includes a detailed 21 page PDF booklet with analysis, notation, and TAB.
• Synchronized on-screen captions.
Again, hopefully there’s something there for everyone – look forward to seeing you in class!
I finally finished Part Two of my “Making The Changes” course for Mike’s Masterclasses and it’s now on sale here. If you already saw Part One, you’ll know the general idea – it’s all about trying to find ways around standard jazz tunes that don’t require us to memorise a telephone directory’s worth of theory concepts!
Since that first instalment, I’ve had a major rethink of the teaching studio chez JT, and the videos are now shot in HD with a decent DSLR camera. All this has taken a while to sort out but hopefully you’ll be able to see the difference. It does mean, sadly, that my Dunelm curtains are no longer in shot – I realise that’s disappointing – but you get to see a glimpse of (chimney) breast instead, and a wind-up metronome. See below for a short taster of the class…
I’m delighted to be able to announce the arrival of a new teaching resource aimed specifically at young musicians at Key Stage 1 & 2 (5-11yrs) who want to get improvising. “In the Gap!” is a book and CD created by Hannah Brady, and beautifully illustrated by Lisa Maltby. Yours truly had some involvement in the creation of the accompanying backing tracks, and these were topped off by some wonderful vocals by Nicola Farnon. My old friend Paul Wilkinson has also provided simple piano accompaniments for teachers who may prefer the ‘old school’ way of doing things!
“In the Gap!” is ideal for peripatetic music teachers who may be working with groups of young children and need flexible, creative materials to get kids improvising. Neither the teacher nor the pupils need have any prior experience of improvisation, and there’s no scary music theory in sight. The best way to get a flavour of it is to have a look atHannah’s sitewhere you can also place your order. It is available elsewhere, but both author and customer get a better deal if you buy direct.
I’m currently in the process of revising the way I do distance learning and have recently agreed to become an ambassador for a new organisation called eStaccato, who provide a platform through which I hope to provide live 1-to-1 lessons at certain times of year. The eStaccato technology will allow us to to do live distance lessons, without all the audio problems associated with Skype.
In all likelihood, my availability for live distance learning will be mainly restricted to those months outside the standard academic year when I tend to be very busy at the institutions I work for. Nevertheless, this represents a big step forward from the standard Skype lesson (which I’ve never liked and, consequently, never offered) and I’m very excited about it – drop me a line to find out the latest, or simply watch this space…
I will, of course, still be making video products for Mike’s Masterclasses – these are the 1.5 hour extended classes, with PDFs, that you download. What eStaccato provides is a platform for live 1-to-1 distance tuition, so they’re two completely different things.