Monday, December 1, 2014

Making the iPad Friendly for the Working Musician - ForScore App Overview

    I recently downloaded iGigBook( $14.99) and ForScore ( $4.99 ) from the App Store expressly for reading music on the iPad.   While I don’t have in-depth experience with iGigBook, and I recognize that many people love iGigBook,  I abandoned it within a day because of its non-intuitive user interface ( I did spend several hours trying to make sense of it ), it’s limited annotation capability, lack of landscape view and lack of a user-guide ( at least I was never able to find one). On the other hand, ForScore was immediately  up and running, easy to use and has all the features I need, except perhaps, searchable fake-book ( aka real-book) index capability.  I don’t find that a problem though.  If you call up the index and find the page number you wish to view, you can get to that page in just a second with the swipe of a finger along a “seek-bar” at the bottom of the screen while looking at the pop-up preview.  The index itself is not searchable, however. ( The manual discusses a feature where ForScore will scan your pdf for a table of contents and import it but I’ve had no luck making that happen )   It is also easy to offset the actual page numbers to match the indexed page-numbers. 
    In practice the iPad has been working very well except in direct sunlight.  The small size is not a problem given that the image contrast is so much greater than a printed page though, if you wear reading glasses, don't leave them at home.  There are numerous online instructional videos for ForScore for those who prefer. 

  So here are the features that I like about ForScore, in order of importance,  and only a couple I’m not crazy about.  I leave it to others to compare feature-by-feature to other music readers and to correct my errors.  

   1.  The program is set up as a relational database, so you can enter in any number of“keywords” known as "tags",  and you can assign a category to each score ( piece of music ) known as “genres”.   These are all searchable later - if I want to find a “swing” tune that’s also a “bebop” tune I can search and screen for just those tunes that contain both words in the metadata.  Other fields in the database include Composer, Difficulty, Time, and Quality Rating.  I get a little confused with having Tags AND Genres, as there is some overlap here. I’m never sure, for example,  whether I should call “Musette” a tag or a genre.   I’m tempted to just put all my searchable keywords under “tags” and skip using the “genres” field altogether, or vica-versa.   If you use the term “Jazz” as both a “tag" and a “genre”. when you search for tunes with that keyword, you will get 2 separate lists of tunes, one that has “jazz” listed as  tags and one for genres.   Another thing to note is that the search engine is case sensitive,  so the “french” songs will be in a different genre than the “French” songs.  This is a little annoying, but I just make it a point to capitalize first letter of any genre or tag word.   Genres and tags will Auto-fill as you are typing to speed up the entry process, and you can also batch edit a group of tunes if they are all going to get the same tag/genre assignment. 

   2.   Annotation is the ability to write on the page, erase, make changes and notes, add in missing accidentals, phrase and dynamic markings, using a stylus.   The symbols are editable by size and boldness and are accessed in a series of drop down boxes, or you just just draw anything you want in freehand. It’s quite slick and easy to use. Color options are great for highlighting those hard-to-see repeat signs and Coda signs.  

  3.  Landscape and Portrait mode switchable by just turning the iPad 90 degrees. 

  4. Editing the border is easy to do in ForScore if you want the narrow the margins so the music fits the screen better.  A permanent cropping tool is available or you can do it on a temporary basis using a scroll bar below a preview window.  You can also zoom in using two fingertips. 

   5.  Page turns are accomplished with a light tap of the screen, forward and backward, or with an accessory page turning pedal.  You can also program “links” between repeat signs to jump back to the beginning of the repeated section, wherever it is.  

   6.  Compatible file formats include pdf, doc, docx, and rtf.  I wish jpg were on this list because I do all editing of my scans in Photoshop and save as jpg’s.  Thankfully, on the Mac, converting to a pdf is easily done from the Preview menu ( file/export as pdf).  In Photoshop I like to resample each scan to 150 ppi at 8.5”x11” and save as a jpg at level 9 jpg compression.  Files are coming out at about 300KB (relatively small) and look great on the iPad.  Larger files will work just fine but eat up the memory fast.  1000 tunes at 2MB each will eat up 2GB of your iPad memory, which I guess is not a big deal unless you have a lot of other stuff on your iPad. If you’re using the iPad for music and photos, running short on memory is a real possibility.  
    I've been loading files into the iPad by way of iTunes. Follow the path iTunes/iPad/Apps/ForScore/Add      ( Note that "Add" is way at the bottom of the screen and might be hidden from view until you scroll way down ).  After adding tunes to the cache, you clink "sync" to load them into the iPad. 

   7. The ForScore User Manual is terrific. Written by actual English-speakers, it spells everything out very clearly.  Except maybe that paragraph about importing Table of Contents.

   8. You can create Setlists  for tunes that will be played sequentially, and easily change the order, add and delete tunes.  When you tap the screen it goes to the next tune in the set.  You can navigate backwards if you need to as well. 

   9. Merging tunes is the process of taking individual pdf files and turning them into one multi-page document.  For example, a 5 page score that was added to ForScore can be turned into 1 file, with one filename, and the pages turn just as they would normally, by tapping the screen.

    10.  Other features include email and bluetooth capabilities, linking pages, bookmarking to jump to predetermined locations in the score, creating separate libraries of music, linking iPads, audio and midi playback and wireless printing. There is a tuner, a playable piano keyboard, camera, a pitch pipe, and custom programmable touch features, recording option, backup capability and an online store to purchase pre-formatted pdf’s.   

I think I hit most of the features of ForScore here - hope this is helpful!   

Friday, November 16, 2012

Upside-Down Thinking for the Jazz Pianist


Legendary Freddie Hubbard

 In Jazz Improvisation, the question that is always asked is " What notes should I play with this Chord?"  A whole boat-load of Jazz Theory Books and Minus-One recordings have been marketed to answer this single question, ever since the introduction of Jerry Coker's 1964 book "Improvising Jazz" where an academic framework of modes and scales for improvising was laid out on paper.  There is of course, much much more to playing Jazz than mastering scales.  Scale study may not be necessary  and certainly is not sufficient.  Some would say that it is neccesary but not sufficient, but it is definitely not necessary and sufficient.   The arguments about teaching Jazz and how to think about it go on,  and the wise student would study from a variety of teachers to get different perspectives on how to learn improvising.  The one thing I believe is absolutely necessary is being able to play melodically and harmonically by ear in all 12 keys - the study of scales may facilitate that skill, but not necessarily.  If that skill is not in play,  all the scale study and hours of practice are just rote exercises leading nowhere.  This is why I have my students play "EAR" tunes in all keys, like Happy Birthday, Dixie and Jingle Bells.  Usually they understand the reason and it is surprisingly challenging to do.  The payoff is big, though. But if you can't hear your way through those tunes, how much sense does it make to improvise on a complex tune like Joy Spring and make musical sense of it?    But enough of that -  in this post I propose an advanced Harmonic exercise that turns the conventional method on its head and goes a long way to developing abilities to hear harmonically and to hear how notes relate to their underlying chord, which I believe is the foundation of improvising lines.
  Instead of asking....

This is a great way to develop the ear, to learn to listen carefully to voicings  and chord-quality differences, and develop  useful arranging skills. 

 Let's say we are given two notes  ( Eb and Ab  in this example. ) There is at least one good jazz voicing in every key  that will incorporate those two notes.  There are several possibilities in each key on chord type and voicing configuration.  This can be reworked with ANY two notes, or even 3 notes!  Or 1 note.  Here is a sample solution for the 2 notes Eb and Ab, highlighted in blue:

 Clearly this opens up a lifetime of exploration, given the 1, 2, and 3 note possibilities in 12 keys. For someone who is focused on harmony and voicing, I think this can be extremely helpful
Freddie Hubbard performs Joy Spring here --- 



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Hemiola by Any Other Name

  The term "Hemiola" has, like many things, evolved.  I myself am guilty of using it in ways that stretch the limits of it's many definitions. 

    The earliest use of the word is simply to describe the conditions that create the Musical Interval of the Perfect Fifth - two notes that have a FREQUENCY ratio of 3:2 - for example:

                                             E660 : A440    a Perfect Fifth

        Simple enough.....then there's the
  The term evolved to mean a RHYTHMIC Ratio of 3:2    -- 3 Beats of Equal Value in a space normally occupied by 2.  This is the traditional dictionary defintion of the HEMIOLA. 

  This is extremely common in Afro-Cuban music and Jazz and is the essential feel of the Jazz Waltz.
It is so common to those of us that play Jazz, in fact, that it hardly seems worth naming.

      Here in the trenches, we use "hemiola" much more loosely, to refer pretty much to anything that has a "whacky" rhythm relative to the bar-line. 
   This is  a use of  the word "hemiola" that pushes the envelope  - the music below is better described as a "RHYTHMIC DISPLACEMENT"  or "Polyrhythm" or even "Cross-rhythm", but many people will just refer to this as a hemiola.  Probably not a great way to describe it, but that's language evolution for you.   In Zez Confrey's classic solo piano novelty, Kitten on the Keys, there is a 6/8 melodic phrase plastered onto a 4/4 harmonic accompaniment - it is the displacement or polyrhythm  that makes it sound like a cat wandering up and down the keyboard with an expected disregard for the underlying music. 

Here is Zez Confrey himself playing the tune - notice the exaggerated "swing-feel" eighth notes unlike most contemporary performances of this piece.

   Here's a clever "Note-Sequence Displacement" where a sequence of notes is displaced in the bar by ONE 1/8 beat and  the rhythm of those notes is modified as well - on first hearing this,  the word "hemiola" comes to mind, but it is really much more curious than just that.   Felix Arndt's ear-catching composition, NOLA.

   And just to cement that tune into your psyche, here's the unforgettable version by Liberace:

      ( more correctly "rhythmic displacement" )

From the 1962 musical, The Music Man, comes this most memorable tune "Gary, Indiana"  - look at this melodic line below without the words -  it's really not an interesting melodic phrase AT ALL - in fact, it's straight out of Hanon Studies for the Piano ( the main character of the movie was a Music Teacher - nice touch!)  BUT,  add the 6 syllable Word-Phrase and all of a sudden there's a rhythmic HOOK, completely "lyric-dependent".  A 3 beat word-phrase stuck into a 2 beat musical phrase.  Take away the words and the "hook" just vanishes!   Is this a hemiola in the contemporary use of the word?
   Probably not.  But just as interesting by any other name, whatever that might be.  


And just to close, while we're speaking of cats with disregard for the music, I include a special cat, Nora, performing a composition by Mindaugas Piecaitis with refreshing regard for fact, she LOVES music....


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How Not to Hire a Music Teacher

As a college music teacher, my name is listed in a number of directories and websites so I occasionally get inquiries in my email box. Here's one I recently received from none other than "Mr. Elvis":

>*Hello, This is Mr Elvis, I want private lessons for my daughter, Mary.
>Mary is a 14 year old girl, home schooled and she is ready to learn Please,
>I will like to know if you will be capable and available for the tutoring
>service because I really wish the tutorial begins First week of September,
>2012 and if you are going for any trip let me know the date you will be
>back (Break Shall be Observed), also do get back to me with the following 
details about you:

>Your Name:
>Area of Specialization:
>Years of experience:
>Your Location:
>Your charges per hour $:
>Your Phone Number:    

   I will be glad to read back from you soon so that i can keep in touch with my daughter about the progress of her tutorial.
           My best regards,*


Here's some advice to "would-be" scammers  -  
  1. Learn English.
  2. If you find me by name, don't then turn around and ask what my name is.
  3. When you are clearly a foreign speaker,  surely you can assume a foreign name for yourself  more convincing than  "Mr. Elvis".
  4.  Leave off the asterisk right after "My Best Regards" - it's a dead giveaway. 
  5.  Stay out of my email box or I'll track you down and use your body parts for one of my science experiments on fermentation.  

     Here's How It Works

When the lessons are arranged, the scammer will send a check for a rather large amount of money, maybe even more than you requested, to "pay in advance".   When you deposit this check the funds could be available to you even before the check clears.  You will then be requested to return some of it, for airfare for the kid, or to correct an "overpayment".  When the check finally bounces weeks down the road, you are out the money - it is your responsibility to cover bounced checks, not the bank. 
   Here's some advice from the Suzuki Association Website:

It is sometimes difficult to spot a genuine student inquiry from a scam one especially if you are based in a town where there might be many foreign students.
There are patterns to scam emails and one emanating from an overseas source will contain many of the elements below.

  1. Poor English including poor spelling and punctuation
  2. Demands for a ridiculous teaching schedule: “one hour’s lesson every day for 4 weeks”
  3. Strange travel and accommodation conditions usually involving an overseas pupil
  4. The overseas pupil is almost always referred to as a beginner and age 14 or above
  5. Attempts to dictate terms to you rather than asking for YOUR terms
  6. No phone number
  7. Does not use your name anywhere: “hello” instead of “Dear Mr Bloggs”
  8. Discrepancies in their own name
  9. Does not refer to the actual specialism you advertise but a generalisation: “music lessons” instead of “piano lessons”
    1. Uses a hotmail, yahoo, mail or other disposable email account
The initial email is unlikely to mention financial arrangements in any detail but subsequent ones certainly will.
To make sure you don’t get scammed:

  1. Ignore emails containing most of the above elements
  2. If in doubt speak directly to the sender of the email
  3. Remember that scams always involve money
  4. If you are taking payment in advance you should do it in person
  5. Never take advance payment by cheque or wire transfer from someone you don’t know


Sunday, July 15, 2012

What's With Desafinado?

   This song, Desafinado,  was a huge hit in 1962 for composer Antonio Carlos Jobim with the popularity of the Stan Getz and Charlie Bird versions.  With reference to the English lyrics, the tune is sometimes known as "Slightly Out of Tune".    The song never grows old and jazzers everywhere still play it - it's got that nice "#11" sound in the melody that sounds "slightly out of tune".   ( For you non-musicians, that's a note that is dissonant sounding against the underlying chord, and not normally heard as part of a melody, at least in 1962. )  Unfortunately there are different and conflicting published versions of this song out there,  and there is confusion over the number of bars in the B section of the tune.    This is a distinctive section of the tune where a surprising  20 bar interlude  passes through a couple different keys then cleverly makes its way easily back to the key of F.  Point of question is " How long does it stay in the key of A?" 

 (I hope to clear up the confusion,  and to win a $5 bet in the process.... JD you know who you are ) 

   As you can hear below , the answer is:    12 bars. Some published leadsheets have omitted 4 bars of this - I suspect it's just a typo.    Here is a version of Jobim himself playing guitar and singing where you can hear the 12 bar key change , 4 more in the key of C, then back to F.  All of the recorded versions that I have heard do this, including Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto and Dizzy Gillespie.  Even more interesting is the clever and beautiful chord progression in the original recording,  that has been radically altered and simplified in contemporary fake books ( they do that a lot ).    Below the video is a lead-sheet transcription from the actual Jobim recording sampled here.  Notice the minor chords with the third-of-the-chord in the bass - a great sound you will not often see notated in fake books - I'm not sure why- it's not like it's a difficult concept and it gives the progression some life.  Also notice that each time the 4-bar progression happens in the key of A, it is a little different, AS IS the melody!    While I always like the idea of respecting the original composition,  I'm certainly not opposed to altering chords and melodies as long as the final product is not LESS interesting than the original.

A Fiver in My Future

Monday, June 18, 2012

Math of Chiming - Wind Chime, that is...

from Popular Mechanics - hand made Chime plans
    noun         1.  to make chimes.  2. to design chimes  3.  to be involved in the community of chimers  4. to ring a chime  5. to sell chimes   6.  to write about chimes   7. to collect chimes  8. to read this blog-post

     Most Wind Chime plans such as this one pictured above in Pop Mechanics will give you a list of tube lengths ( usually generating a  Major Chord or Pentatonic Scale).  With a little bit of calculation and knowledge of the Frequency Ratios of Intervals ( that you can get on this blog, links below) it is possible to design a chime to play any manner of weird chord, jazz chord, Scriabin's Mystic Chord, Slonimsky's "Grandmother chord",  or just experiment with dissonance and unusual configurations.   Granted, on a a windy day your neighbors may hate you for it.  My first  Chime was a Gm (6,9) chord but that is a rather pleasant sounding chord - happily, the math works out beautifully, though my mechanical design needs a little rethinking.    I discovered that the weight of the wind-catcher is very important as is the relative weight of the clapper, but this post is not really about the mechanics of chime-building.  There are several suppliers of chime parts on the web but virtually all of it can be homemade using common hardware items and wood, on a small scale.    

 To read the rather short Pop Mechanics article  Click  HERE
  Here is an easy system for Custom-Designing tube lengths for a tubular Wind Chime.  No need for trial and error, you just need to be familiar with musical Intervals and be handy with a hacksaw.  Copper pipe, steel conduit, aluminum tubing, it's all good, though there is plenty of variation in tone and resonance.    Conduit is cheap. 
  You might think that an organ pipe would behave something like a wind-chime tube - not the case, not even close.  An organ pipe contains the vibrating air, while a chime tube ITSELF is what vibrates and the air inside it is irrelevant.  Cut an organ pipe in half and you kick the sound up ONE octave. Cut a wind chime tube in half and you kick it up 2 octaves! - obviously something different is going on here. 
   This post is all about designing tube length for Wind Chimes, not about constructing the Chime iteself - there are plenty of resources for that on the web and people like Gregg Payne ( video below) have turned it into a Fine-Art.     I will skip to the finish and show you the method and save the explanation and formula for the end.

  DESIGNING THE TUBE-LENGTHS  BY MUSICAL INTERVALS  ( not frequencies!)   Remember that another term for "Musical Interval" is "Frequency-Ratio".  That's what an interval IS... (they are all listed below)

1.    Choose a starting length for the lowest ( LONGEST) tube.  Pick anything. 
2.    Choose the desired Musical Interval for Tube #2 and make note of its "Divisor".
               (for example, if you want a note that is a fifth above the Reference tube ( #1)    choose the Divisor  1.222 )
3.    Divide the length of the Reference tube by this number to get the length of Tube #2, always using the same tube material.  Tube #2 should sound a 5th above the reference tube.  It is the interval that matters more than the actual pitch or frequency.
4.    Continue until you have all the musical intervals for the chime design.  
5.  String 'em up and wait for a hurricane or whack them with a piece of wood.


 (tempered intervals)

1/4 step                   1.014                      1.029
1/2 step                   1.029                      1.059
1 step                      1.059                      1.121
min 3rd                   1.089                      1.188
maj 3rd                   1.122                      1.258
4th                          1.154                      1.332
b5th                        1.188                      1.411
5th                          1.222                      1.494
m 6th                      1.258                      1.582
maj 6th                   1.295                      1.676
min 7th                   1.332                      1.774
maj 7th                   1.371                      1.879
octave                     1.414                      2.0
min 9th                   1.455                      2.118
maj 9th                   1.497                      2.243

(pure intervals)

min 3rd                   1.095                       6/5
maj 3rd                   1.118                       5/4
min 6th                   1.265                       8/5
maj 6th                   1.291                       5/3
7th                          1.323                       7/4

 Pure intervals don't exist on the piano - even octaves are not quite pure.
Notice that the pure intervals are slightly different than the same intervals that are tempered - there would be an audible difference and a difference in tube length of 1/8" or 1/16" or so, sometimes more on large pipes.  Pure intervals exist in nature, in choirs, in string orchestras, not on pianos, or in general orchestral music or pop music.   I did not include pure 4ths and 5ths because they are nearly identical to tempered intervals.   The pure 7th is an ODD egg indeed and doesn't really approximate any of the tempered intervals that we use in Western Music.   I would like to try this in a wind-chime one of these days...also want to try 1/4 steps.

To review the meaning of Tempered Intervals AND Understanding Frequency Ratios of Intervals please read my previous blog-posts on the topics:

Temperament  and Ratios  CLICK

The Two Most Important Numbers   CLICK
  This shows how to calculate the frequency ratio for any interval.
    using Musical Intervals  ( no actual "frequency" numbers are required )

Where   F2   is the frequency of  the tube to be cut.
              FR  is the frequency of the reference tube.
                   L2 is the length of the tube to be cut.
                   LR is the length of the reference tube.
 F2/FR is simply replaced with the ratio of the desired interval in the above chart.   Its Square Root is the Divisor that is used to divide into the length of the reference tube.  
     A 24" steel conduit tube might ring at G below middle C on the piano ( G3) depending on diameter and wall thickness.  The exact note or pitch doesn't matter - this is our reference low tone.
   To create a tube that rings a pure 6th above this ( a bit flat of E above middle C, but creating a pure interval of a Maj 6th with the G)   Divide 24" by 1.291.   Cut a tube to 18.59" and voila.... harmony. 

Experiments to try:
   A series of quarter steps.
   A series of stacked 5ths  ( The Outer Limits chord, from the old TV series)
    A complex 5, 6 or 7  note jazz voicing, maybe with a b13 and a #9  and min7 and maj3.
     A series of 3 pure thirds resulting in a dissonant narrow octave.
  A series of 4 pure minor 3rds resulting in a dissonant wide octave. 
       Major triads comprised of a pure major third and a pure 5th ( and resultant pure minor third between the upper two notes.  .. a very PURE sounding chord.
           A series of minor thirds plus a series of minor thirds up a whole step  ( a "diminished scale" )
                Japanese 4 and 5 note scales.
    Persian and MidEastern scales. 
        Dissonant scales using 1/4 steps. 
               Open fifths for two octaves:   Gregorian Chant---    Fifth, Octave, Octave and a Fifth, Two Octaves
      Major triad plus the 5th below it  ( the Joni Mitchell chord,  V/I )
             Major triad plus the major triad a b5 above the first triad. 
Whole tone scale  7 notes spanning an octave.
Whole tone scale for 10 notes
Chimes where the tubes are at different distances from the clapper so that when the wind pickup up
    speed the chord gets more complex and more dissonant. 
A couple of pure 7ths, an interval that is rarely heard. 
Recalculate frequency ratios using the 31 note tempered scale or the 43 not tempered scale and construct chords from those pitches.  ( why stick to twelve?  ... )
  A stack of intervals:  min6, maj 2nd, major 6     (yielding a 4-part  maj 9 chord with the 3rd on bottom)
       (choice of reference tube can change as the tubes are cut)

Happy Chiming.   Enjoy this video of Gregg Payne and his amazing extra-large  chimes:


Friday, May 4, 2012

Jazz Pianists - Key Fluency is Good

 Jazz pianists need to play in all 12 keys - period.   If for no other reason, vocalists will be very specific about keys of songs - some have a relatively narrow range, and only one key will work for a given song, so you'd better be able to deal with it.  By ear, that is.  Other reasons might include being called to play in a Country band, where everything tends to be in A and E, or B, or an Irish band where everything tends to be in D, G and A.  Maybe you'll be playing old stocker big band charts which tend to be in Ab, Eb and Db and Gb.  Or maybe you'll work with a singer-songwriter-guitarist who has no hesitation about slapping on a Capo and playing in any of the 12 keys.   In the Jazz world, tunes tend to be in F, Bb and Eb ( good saxophone keys).   And an even more important reason, is that music itself tends to cycle through different keys within the song, a section here in one key, a section there in another, even though there is no official change of key signature.  And it's pretty handy to be able to comfortably navigate key modulations on a whim.
   So here's a way to start becoming more comfortable with all 12 keys.  First of all, remember that the keys that ARE comfortable are that way simply because we play more in those keys than the others and our visualization skills have had time to become intuitive, while we just feel clumsy and calculating in other keys. The strategy is simply to play in other keys a lot, listen and observe, to make friends with the key.
   The first 8 bar section of When I Take My Sugar to Tea happens to include a plethora of harmonic challenges that, through practice,  will go a long way to producing a greater 12-key comfort level.  This chord progression is taken from the original tune and enhanced a bit to help get us in the habit of using non-root bottom notes in the bass progression and give us a bit of interesting harmonic sophistication to the arrangement. ( As did the early recorded versions, unlike the fake-book versions which are grossly simplified ).

Just in the first 8 bars you will be hearing and playing and develop skills in these areas, and in all keys as you move the progression chromatically:

    ii  - V7  - I     in Major
      iim7(b5)  -  V7  -  i    in Minor
         min7(b5) chord   voiced with the b5 on the bottom
            passing  Diminished Seventh chords
             major chord  voiced with the 5th on the bottom
                 dominant 7th chord voiced with 5th on the bottom
                     Tritone  Substitution     ( Db7 in place of the phantom G7 )
                         Secondary Dominant7 Chord     ( A7 leading to the iim7 chord)
                              b9 inner motion and resolution

At the end of the 8 bars simply ( well, it's not so simple...)  play it over again a half step higher retaining all the nuances that are spelled out in the leadsheet.   I realize this is advanced for many people so I include a simpler version below that would be a good stepping stone to  work up to the first version.
   This tune can be played in any style - open voicings, closed voicings, stride, lounge-lizard arpeggio, rubato ballad,  as long as you use good voicings, making sense of the bottom-note progressing and good voice-leading. 
  But first, listen to the tune:
( note the catchy descending chromatic harmony right after the vocal chorus... )
     Jack Albin and His Pennsylvania Orchestra performing When I Take My sugar To Tea:


   Notation in RED is the same thing up a half step.  Go up a half step every time until you get comfortable in all keys.   Hang out in the awkward keys a little longer and get to know it.

 And here is a simpler version to get started on the project -
       This will cultivate familiarity in 12 keys with:

          I  -  V7 progression
             iv   Minor chord     ( a simplified version of iim7(b5)  )
                  Secondary Dominant  VI 7   chord   ( A7 )

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Evolution of a Tune - Survival of the Fittest?

    "Begin at the beginning," the King said gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."
                                                                                           from Alice in Wonderland   -  Lewis Carroll

      If you've read the previous blog posts you will recall several Jazz standards that I researched and dissected in order to find some meaning in the music we play all the time and take for granted, and to put the tunes in historical context.  Often I discover that we "dumb-down" the tunes and throw out the important stuff for the sake of convenience or just out of laziness and inattention.    Here are links to these previous posts that will each open in a separate window so you can read those posts without migrating from this one:
Don't get Around Much Anymore
Con Alma  
Stella By starlight
Night Train
As Time Goes By
All The Things You Are

This time I look at Alice in Wonderland by Sammy Fein.  The tune was written for the 1951 animated Disney film by the same name ( 2 months after I was born ) and was a 4/4 slow Foxtrot type of tune, with an 18 bar A-section, only remotely similar to the version that the Jazz players today all use. 
            Here is a YouTube link to the title soundtrack and partial transcription of the version from the original film - 



      "Be what you would seem to be" or, more simply, 
      "Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."               Alice in Wonderland   - Lewis Carroll

   The standard Jazz version of Alice in Wonderland comes directly from the Bill Evans "Sunday at the Village Vanguard" album, a full 10 years later, in a jazz -3/4 feel, with a truncated A-section to fit into a more standard 16-bar form,  and somewhat different chord progression.   AND, a somewhat different melody.   Now, who says Evolution is JUST a THEORY?   

  Bill Evans, piano    Scot LaFaro, bass    Paul Motian, drums 

From "RealBook #1":

YouTube link to the classic Bill Evans recording "Sunday at the Village Vanguard":

 This album was recorded June 25, 1961.  Scott LaFaro, the bass player, was killed in a car wreck on July 6.
Bill Evans

Paul Motian

Scott LaFaro

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked."Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
                                                                               Alice in Wonderland   - Lewis Carroll

Friday, April 27, 2012

Do it and Do it NOW

Life is short --- 


bunny berigan 33
chick web 34
paul chambers 33
charlie christian 25
clifford brown 25
jaco pastorius 35
bix beiderbeck 28
charlie parker 34
clarence pinetop smith 24
john coltrane 40
eric dolphy 36
django reinhardt 43
scott lafaro 27
billie holliday 44
wes montgomery 45
bobby timmons 39
sonny clark 31
lee morgan 33
eddie costa 32
don ellis 44
james reese europe 38
george gershwin 39
eddie lang 35
glen miller 40
oliver nelson 43
bud powell 42
Art porter 35
Michel Petrucciani 37
Roland Kirk 42
woody shaw 44
Fats Waller 39
Dinah Washington 39
Emily Remler 32
Chano Pozo 33
Don Grolnick 47
Dave Tough 41
Bill Chase 39
Bessie Smith 43
Art Tatum     47

Friday, April 13, 2012

Performance Anxiety and Beta Blockers

If you are ill-prepared to perform for an audience and dealing with high levels of  anxiety because of your incompetence, then it makes sense to hit the practice room and just learn the material.  But, if you are like many performers, anxiety reactions can escalate to the point that they seriously interfere with performance, and yet are not underscored by lack of preparation, poorly honed skills, personal insecurities or any other seemingly rational explanation.

   Irrational fears of performing, public speaking, or just being looked at by a bunch of people are extremely common.   Fear of public speaking ranks higher on the anxiety scale than fear of death.  On second thought, though, being judged and scrutinized for your appearance, demeanor, and your never-perfect performance by possibly hundreds of your friends and peers and critics, being stared at and talked about -- maybe that's not such an "irrational" fear after all!   Especially compared with clearly irrational fears like these actual real-life examples of serious phobias:

    whale tails
                  bathtub sharks
                              walking up stairs at night
                    blueberry yogurt
               music playing backwards
                    belly buttons
               wiggling fingers
    calling people on the phone

   Musicians' performance-fears seem perfectly understandable compared to these!   In any event, I'm not going to dissect the psychology of performance anxiety and the therapeutic solutions... I'm here to talk about the DRUGS.

were first marketed in 1967 for heart rhythm issues or angina. These drugs inhibit the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight response, and found their way into the performing-arts communities (music, dance, public speaking, acting)  for that reason - though taken in much milder dosages.   Back in 1987 studies showed that some 27% of Professional Orchestra Musicians had used beta-blockers, and these are considered conservative estimates!   Who knows how many use them now!?   I know a bunch, personally.  Some use beta-blockers for every performance, more use on special occasions where anxiety is a particular concern, like for an audition or solo performance.  They seem to provide a ceiling for the fight-or-flight response that just prevents your adrenaline reaction from going "over the top" to keep you from going in to the dry-mouth, sweaty hands, shaking feet, pounding-heart-phase that can destroy all evidence of your hard-earned skills.  Some claim that they dull your senses, but many deny that.
         The most common Beta-Blocker is propranolol,  marketed as Inderal. 
 Use of this prescription drug for performance is hotly debated and I'm not advocating for one side or the other.  The debate rages about whether the drug inhibits your performance or reduces your emotional connection to the music.  Some say you should deal with the Psychology behind the problem, others say that doesn't work or can take years if it works at all.  Some say that a reasonable approach is to use the drug to learn to play free of uncomfortable anxiety and it is easy to phase it out later. Plenty of info is available with a Google search.

    But Beta-Blockers do something else.
  Oxford University reports that patients using propranolol test with lower subconscious racial bias.   It reduces Racism.  As measured by the "Implicit Association Test" developed at Harvard.  What that test actually measures is of course, up for grabs, but it is tantalizing to think that "racial bias" can be influenced by something that also has an influence on the brain's "fear center", the amygdala.  Fear and racism .... of course!  When I first moved to Salt Lake City in 1972, a fellow student who came here to study in the renowned Jazz Program that was here at the time, who was Black, had an impossible time finding an apartment to rent. It was pure fear-based racism, as there were very few non-Whites here at the time and nobody knew what to make of him.  I had no problems in this regard.  He eventually found a place but it took weeks and was a very sad and disheartening process.

 Please research in detail and consult a physician before embarking on any path that involves drugs!

Here is a terrific article about the debate about propranolol and performance-anxiety from the New York Times worth reading:


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Those Pesky Slash Chords

Slashing through the Confusion over Slash Chords

     First. listen to  the classic Herbie Hancock  "Maiden Voyage" entirely based on Slash Chords ( the easiest way to notate these chords).   The first chord is C/D --- or in more conventional long-hand notation,    D9(sus4, no 5)

In Maiden Voyage, the slash chord describes a simple voicing chord-quality that is most easily described with the slash symbol C/D.   But slashing has a more important function -
      The quality of a chord has a lot to do with how it's voiced, how the notes are laid out, spread out, left out and moved around.  But even more so, it has to do with the choice of note that is on the bottom.  This note defines everything about the chord quality - in fact, many composers of jazz will routinely write a 2 staff lead-sheet just so they can be in control of the bottom note, feeling that a simple chord-symbol is just TOO simplified.  Music notation evolved to allow us to specify that bottom - note, short of actually writing out all of the notes on the staff. We call these chord symbols "slash chords".   Slash chords also specify the exact notes that are to be included with the chord, just not exactly how to play them.

          But there always seems to be some confusion about "slash chords"....   I know this because I never know what note will come from the Bass Player when I give out charts that contain "slash chords".  Back in the 17th Century (and still today!)  music notation made use of "Figured Bass" to be very specific about what note to put on the bottom, or more accurately, what inversion of the chord was to be played.  It is a very important component of composing and arranging. The bottom note progression defines the quality of each chord in the harmonic progression and allows music to be so much more interesting than when it always just has the root on the bottom. The manner in which the bottom note progresses is one aspect of music that brings it to life.

  For example , this Figured-Bass notation on the left describes a Bb triad in 2nd inversion by laboriously describing the intervals that make up the inversion ( a sixth and a fourth ). 

    Nowadays, in the jazz world anyway,  we use the some what less specific and less cumbersome Slash System to at least specify the bottom note, since the bottom note is so important to the sound of the chord and is heard as an important countermelody in its own right. We tend to leave the choice of actual voicing to the player, in jazz and pop music.    As simple as it seems, there is still confusion about the system, however.

The most common form of slash chord is the one on the left - note the diagonal slash to denote the top CHORD,  from the bottom NOTE.   

      One school of thought recognizes a second kind of slash chord ( on the right )  with a HORIZONTAL slash to denote the top CHORD from the bottom CHORD -  a polychord.  This is much less common and I would never assume this notation unless instructed by the arranger.

                               Back to the regular diagonal Slash Chords ---
     Slash chords fall into 3 categories   (examples below use F as the given Low Note)....

FIRST Category     -  simple inversions of an F triad

    F/F      a type of F chord
      F/A       a type of F chord
    F/C         a type of F chord
     F/Eb               a type of F chord              (F7)

.....    where the bottom note is just one of the chord tones but the root of the chord is still F.

SECOND Category

  The bottom note is functioning as the ROOT of the chord. Slash notation here is to specify a chord type or voicing in a simple way.  Note that none of these is actually an "F chord" in sound or in function.
   F/G     a type of G chord,                    G11(omit 5)   or G9(sus4, no 5)
   F/Bb     a type of Bb chord                   Bbmaj9(omit3)
    F/Db        a type of Db chord                    Dbmaj7)#5)

THIRD Category

    Function is up for grabs on these more dissonant chords, completely dependent on context ( of course the F/D you will recognize as a Dm7, not dissonant,  but in certain contexts writing it as a slash chord actually might make some sense). Tonality is ambiguous.

F/Gb    F/Ab   F/B   ( F/D )    F/E

Here is a schematic of all 12 Slash Chords in the Key of F to visualize the 3 categories described above:

  And I just have to mention -  in writing Slash-Chord symbols correctly, it is often desirable to use a Cb or an Fb  in the chord symbol - particularly  when writing  chords like Fm7(b5)/Cb   or Bbm7/Fb .  I have learned over the years, though, that this is an almost guaranteed way to hear a wrong note coming from the bass.  Please be advised that    Cb is B      and      Fb is E.     Just for the record, because it is just plain illogical to write Fm7(b5)/B and I hate to do it just to increase the probability that the symbol will be read correctly.  
  And for an absolutely guaranteed wrong note I would write  Ebm7(b5)/Bbb - pianists tend to read Double-Flats fairly often in Classical Music but this will trip up Jazz Bass players every time - no disrespect to Jazz Bass players!  

      Now, with that knowledge,  let's look at what scales an improviser of Jazz might play over slash chords - understanding what the chords REALLY are can empower some good soloing...
F/A           F major
F/C           F major
F/Eb         F mixolydian     ( it's an F7)
F/D          D aeolian     ( it's a Dm7 chord, the vi chord in F )
F/G          G mixolydian   ( it's a G7sus chord )
F/Bb          Bb lydian or major      ( it's a Bb chord )
F/Db          Db lydian, #5     ( it's a Db chord    with maj7 and augmented-5th )

... happy slashing.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mustard, Cognitive Psychology and Pentatonic Scales

   Take anything ordinary, something that we use everyday and take for granted, something that's always there and pretty much never changes.......  something that's part of life, we get it, we know it, it is what it is, we think.         Now stand back to really consider how we think about it.  Accept the fact that, no matter what it is, we have already chosen a way to think about it, and we're probably not even aware that this choice has been made - by our parents, TV or corporate ads, convenience or just random chance. 

Take mustard -- we think of it as a flavoring, a spread,  a condiment to smear onto a pastrami sandwiches ( or in this case, a tuna sandwich),  or on a hot pretzel.  But, now, let's make a conscious decision to think about mustard in a completely different way.  Mustard is also an "emulsifier" - it acts as an agent to enable water-based foods and oil-based foods to mix together, much the way eggs do.    Let's agree to think differently about mustard.  Think function rather than taste.   Just imagine, if every time you reach in the fridge you consciously tell yourself to pull out the mustard, and have a little conversation with yourself like:
   "OK, what am I going to do with this stuff?  Well let's see... I know it's an emulsifier....hmmm"

You will find, through choosing to think a different way about something, that you will begin to USE it a different way. Your habitual ways of thinking will give way to a world with more possibilities.  Who knows, maybe you'll make some amazing mustard gravy then clean your greasy bicycle chain with a dijon slurry. Your salad dressings may never be the same after you change your thinking habits and people may start to comment about the yellow tint of your whipped cream toppings.

                      ( Cognitive Psychologists  think about how we think about things.)

    So, consciously choosing to think a different way, causes you to behave a different way - what a powerful tool THAT is!   To change behavior,  change thinking.  You can change how you act and feel by making a decision to think in a different way.   That, of course applies to all of life, but that topic is a little out of my league  so, onward to music and improvising music......


  A pentatonic scale is a series of 5 notes - you can think about those 5 notes as a linear series of notes, one higher than the next   OR    you can  consciously CHOOSE to think about those 5 notes in a multitude of other ways.  This intentional reprogramming of your attention will have everything to do with how you ultimately use those notes.   When you're improvising, this "mental map" will guide you on your way to  greater worlds of "melodic interest", if you're one of the rare people who feel that's important.  And I assume you are, if you're even reading this blog at all.

Here are 8 different ways to think about a C Major pentatonic scale.  Anyone who uses this scale ALREADY thinks about it in ONE of these ways - my suggestion is to reprogram thinking to think about it in a different way.  And ultimately, this is not really just about the pentatonic scale, this is about Everything - the scale is just one small example to make the point.

At the end you will see a melodic line that resulted by thinking about the scale as a series of perfect 5ths.