Rebecca Cline is author of Latin Jazz Piano Improvisation (Berklee Press, 2013). She is an associate professor in the ensemble and piano departments at Berklee College of Music.
How is playing Afro-Cuban/Latin jazz different from American jazz?
For me, the biggest difference is the language I speak with my colleagues. Usually, when I play Afro-Cuban or Latin jazz with a band, the band members are native Spanish speakers, so we generally speak Spanish to each other. When I play straight-ahead jazz, even though the band members can be from countries other than the U.S., the common language is English. I usually laugh more hanging out with my Spanish-speaking colleagues!
What is the role of clave in a Latin groove?
The rhythmic pattern called “clave” determines the rhythmic patterns that are played by all of the instruments in the ensemble. For more details, check out the first half of my book!
Does the piano have any different kinds of role in Latin music, compared to other genres?
Let’s limit our discussion to Afro-Cuban popular music instead of trying to address the broader category of Latin music. The roots of the piano in Afro-Cuban popular music can be traced to the traditions of danzón and son montuno. In danzón, the piano often plays arpeggios and elegant runs, which can be rhythmically vague. By contrast, the son montuno demands a stronger rhythmic role from the piano by way of the typical piano guajeo (or montuno or tumbao).
Many arrangements of popular Afro-Cuban music begin with a romantic section that calls for fills, comping, and/or arpeggios from the piano. But as the arrangement progresses into a more driving, danceable section, the piano plays a very percussive tumbao.
What struggles or misconceptions are commonly shared by students who come to Latin jazz from outside that culture?
I find that students are sometimes intimidated by the terminology and by the preponderance of sub-genres of Cuban popular and folkloric music. There are often three words for a given item, such as the montuno (also known as tumbao, also known as guajeo). Similarly, a single word can signify more than one thing. Again, the word, “montuno.” It can refer to a pattern played by the piano, a section in an arrangement, or a sub-genre of the Cuban son, as in “son montuno.”
In addition, students often think that in Latin jazz, they should accompany by playing a montuno all the time. While there are some bands that might have the pianist play a montuno from start to finish, it is more common to progress from comping with a sense of clave to a climactic montuno.
The rhythms in this music can be complex, and particularly at up-tempo grooves, it is easy to lose your place in the form. Do you have any tips in finding beat 1?
The main thing to know is that beat 4 can sound like beat 1. This is because the typical bass line anticipates the harmony by a quarter note. If you are used to hearing the root of the chord on the downbeat, as in rock or funk, it can take some practice to recognize beat 4 in Afro-Cuban music as beat 4 instead of mistaking it for beat 1. Chapter 5 in my book addresses this topic. In the book, there is a transcription of a bass line and a piano montuno from one of the tracks on the recording. The reader is encouraged to follow (read) the written-out bass line while listening to the performance in order to see and hear how the bass anticipates the harmony.
Are there differences in how solos are structured or shared, such as how many choruses are typical for a single player, or how many players solo in a tune?
Just as in jazz, this varies according to each bandleader’s taste, and according to context, such as whether the performance is live or in the recording studio, and how big the band is. Players tend to stretch (play longer and with a strong sense of exploration) when playing live, while sometimes players are encouraged to play shorter and/or fewer solos in the studio, in the interest of creating shorter tracks and/or variety between tracks.
Some bandleaders take a traditional approach by presenting the melody, having everybody solo, and playing the head out, and continue to adhere to this formula throughout the set. By contrast, some bandleaders try to achieve variety and an element of unpredictability by featuring different soloists throughout the set.
What issues of ensemble etiquette are there to keep in mind?
One of the most important aspects of ensemble etiquette in the performance of a clave-based tune is to maintain an awareness of the clave throughout. Implying “the wrong clave,” or clave in a different place than where it is, feels like a jazz drummer suddenly playing the hi-hat on beats 1 and 3 (instead of 2 and 4).
Another important consideration is balance. Pianists are rarely offenders in this area, but each musician should listen for how his or her sound balances with the rest of the ensemble. No one instrument should drown out another.
As a pianist, another thing to keep in mind is the level of activity in one’s comping. Be careful not to start off comping with a montuno if the soloist is trying to tell a story with some sort of arc. It’s probably better to start comping with more subtlety and gradually build up to a montuno, if that’s what the music calls for.
One situation in which comping with a montuno is almost always a bad idea is during a bass solo. The montuno is one part of a musical machine, of which another key part is the bass line. If that bass line is absent, the montuno can sound out of context, and it can rob attention from the bass solo.
How did you learn to play Latin jazz piano?
I will always be learning how to play the piano, and how to play Latin jazz piano. But I have learned a lot from transcribing pianists and playing along with recordings, from watching pianists at live performances, and from playing gigs with great players who know more about it than I do.
I did study with the great Jesús “Chucho” Valdés in Cuba in 1996, but I was such a beginner in both jazz and Latin jazz at that time that the main thing that I took from that experience was a sense of the breadth of possibility that awaited me once I got the basics together.
I also had a teacher for a short time toward the end of my years living in Puerto Rico. Pianist Luis Marín generously shared his vast musical knowledge with me.
Were other musicians welcoming?
Perhaps surprisingly, yes! I started playing popular (non-Classical) music shortly after moving to Puerto Rico when I was 22. I was terrified to sit in on a regular gig in Old San Juan that I attended faithfully, week after week, month after month. But the musicians were very encouraging. They assured me that I would never feel ready and that I just had to dive in. They were right, and eventually I did.
For several years, I gigged a lot as a side musician in Puerto Rico and enjoyed a genuine sense of camaraderie with my fellow musicians. That was a wonderful, nurturing environment for my musical growth, and I’m very grateful to those fantastic musicians/human beings.
Did you struggle to find the authentic Latin jazz, rather than more Americanized adaptations?
Not in Puerto Rico or Cuba. Once in a while, I run into that stylized stuff on the Web and I just can’t stand it, so I turn it off.
Who were your most important mentors?
Luis Marín, Bill Gordon and Charlie Banacos.
Do you remember any particularly helpful tips that they shared that revealed to you something profound about the music?
Luis Marín impressed upon me that Eddie Palmieri is great because of his superior sense of time. I had performed for Luis a solo of Palmieri’s that I had transcribed. It was “Bomba de Corazón” from Palo Pa’ Rumba. Luis told me that while the solo was indeed great, it really was not the point. Palmieri’s time was what it all came down to. That was revelatory for me because until that point, my perception had been the complete opposite: that time playing was secondary and that soloing was the real business. I think that is a typical misconception among young players.
What first inspired you to learn to play Latin jazz?
Michel Camilo! I know I am not alone in that.
Could you recommend an inspiring recording? What should we listen for?
A track that has really inspired me lately is Osmany Paredes’ “Tumbaíto Pa’ Tí” from his 2013 album, Trio Time. The track is pure joy from start to finish. I love how Osmany plays with the clave as he improvises, then how he grooves with a funky two-handed clavinet-like rhythmic thing before the band enters. And his tumbao behind the drum solo is killing.
Here the track “Sombras” from the accompanying recording to Latin Jazz Piano Improvisation, which includes a transcription of Rebecca’s piano solo (beginning at 3’30”).
As a guitarist and performer I get a lot of other guitarists asking me questions about how to improve their dexterity and hand strength. There are many ways to achieve this, but ultimately I’d like to start with muscle memory.
Muscle Memory is an important part of playing any instrument, or sport for that matter. The more you practice the more your hands will start to adapt and more easily land where you want them to on the neck. The first thing most guitarists grapple with is playing barre chords.. They are the first big hurdle and can be very frustrating when it comes to switching chords and cleanly landing the changes.
Here’s a technique that I developed to cure that issue without much effort:
I hope that helps your barre chord woes! The more you do these as daily exercises, the more your hands will start to cooperate. Stick with it, but be safe and don’t hurt your hands by over doing the exercises. Oh, and don’t forget to stretch.
This year’s NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) was off the hook! A few years ago when the economy was really in the doldrums there were significantly fewer participants. This year saw hundreds of manufacturers displaying their wares, thousands of patrons checking out the newest music gear, and a whole lot of business deals in the works.
Best of all, this year’s NAMM highlighted electronic dance music (EDM) for the first time with DJ sets and audio expos, including panels featuring Crystal Method’s Ken Jordan and Grammy Award-nominated DJ/producer BT hosting the Technical Excellence and Creatively Awards (TEC). Nightly, there were DJs, including Greyboy, QBert and Melo D, spinning on The Venue Stage presented by Pioneer DJ. In short, it was a wild party for music gear addicts.
There are so many products to see in a show of this size that it’s impossible to see them all. So when I’m wandering the floor I usually have a few general categories I’m looking out for. This year, the categories were: innovative mixing control surfaces, MIDI controllers with decent finger drum pads, and interesting new software. Anything else that catches my eye and holds my attention is frosting on the cake.
Mixer Control Surfaces
If you’ve been paying attention it’s obvious that touch screen control of your software is the wave of the future. From iPads to Windows 8, direct interaction with your software using a touch screen is cropping up all around us. Just look at what Mackie has done with its DL806 and DL1608 units. I had a chance to check out the latest control software (Master Fader 2.0) for the iPad and it felt amazing. Very positive and intuitive. Plus, the new EQ and Compressor models were stellar.
The DL Series employs an iPad as its brains and remote mixing via iPhone.
The SSL Nucleus is cool, and even though it’s also an audio interface, in my opinion it’s way overpriced. Consider the options (sans audio interface), if you’re on a budget, Behringer introduces the X-TOUCH Universal Control Surface for just $599. It’s due out later this year, features motorized faders, scribble strips, and runs in HUI and Logic control modes. It has some striking similarities to Mackie’s venerable old HUI control surface.
The Behringer X-TOUCH features both HUI and Logic modes.
Or, for just half the price of the Nucleus you can pick up Slate Pro Audio’s Raven MTi 27-inch Multitouch DAW Controller ($2,500). It’s like an iPad on steroids! I finely had a chance to sit down with this beast at the show and it was astounding. I will definitely be scrutinizing the Raven MTi more closely and seriously considering one for my home studio. Just think about it, no more delicate motorized faders and knobs to break.
MIDI Controllers & Finger Drum Pads
For a long time there’s only been a few good choices on the market for small, inexpensive keyboard controllers that also feature great finger drum pads. Major kudos go to Alesis for designing the new V Series keyboard controllers with the drum pads to the left of the keyboard rather than above the keyboard. About time! The drum pads felt responsive with a nice velocity curve. The keyboard comes in 25, 49, and 61 key flavors and should be available in a couple of months, starting at $129 for the smallest unit.
The Alesis V Series keyboards have drum pads in line with the keyboard.
I’m a big fan of Nektar keyboards because they feel great and integrate seamlessly with Reason (as well as many other DAW programs). Unfortunately, their keyboards have been out of the price range of many of my students. So I’m very happy to announce that they have a couple of new, less expensive, keyboard controllers, the LX49 (shipping now for $180) and the LX25 (coming soon for $120). Considering how well Naktar’s Panorama keyboard works with Reason, I’m sure the LX series keyboards will integrate just as seamlessly. If it does, the LX25 will be my new top pick for students who need a small MIDI controller keyboard that works great and doesn’t break the bank.
Nektar’s LX49 has a little sibling coming soon, the LX25 for just $120.
M-Audio’s new Trigger Finger Pro looks interesting but I wasn’t excited about how the drum pads felt. On-the-other-hand—or should I say finger?—Arturia’s BeatStep feels really good, with very responsive pads, and an intriguing built-in 16-step sequencer. For $99 it’s hard to complain about this fun gizmo.
Arturia’s BeatStep controlling an Oberheim synth module.
But if you’re looking for a MIDI controller that’s really different, check out the AlphaSphere (about $800). I had a blast playing with this device. They had it set up to work with Ableton Live. The pads are squishy and send MIDI aftertouch so you can apply pressure on a pad to modulate your sound source. Too cool!
The AlphaSphere is a blast to play.
Tweaking & Hero Cams
Hands down the most exciting piece of software I saw was iZotope’s Break Tweaker ($249 but currently on sale for $199), developed with BT. (Interesting, the software’s acronym is the same as the artist’s name, strangely suspicious.) I got the full demo at the show and it looks amazing. I can’t wait to get my hands on this and start tweaking!
GoPro was at the show, yes, the live action camera people. They had an amazing booth set up with a big, see-through isolation booth containing instruments for bands to play. There were GoPro Hero 3+ cameras available for the musicians to attach to their instruments (such as the headstock of a guitar) as they were jamming and the video from each camera was streamed to giant screens outside the booth. Seeing the GoPro cameras being used for musical performances gets me thinking about how these cameras could be used for teaching online and video chats. This is going to be a fun ride!
Harmony, of course, is one of the core components of musical study by all western musicians. It concerns how notes relate to each other, based both on the physical properties of sound and various cultural ways that these interrelationships are put to use expressively. Harmony can define musical genre, and even within individual styles, the nuances of how individuals will handle notes and chords continue to inspire infinite colors, if not opinions.
Berklee Press recently published “The Berklee Book of Jazz Harmony,” an extraordinarily deep and yet practical exploration of jazz harmony and how to use it. Its authors are Joe Mulholland and Tom Hojnacki, the chair and assistant chair of Berklee’s harmony department. Joe and Tom have helped to educate thousands of students, watching them transform their skills and expressive breadth through the study of harmony, so they have a unique perspective on how the study of harmony relates to the evolution of a musician. They both have developed many courses used at Berklee, including Joe’s Berklee Online course, Jazz Composition.
In this interview, Joe and Tom offer some thoughts about key harmonic principles, as well as turn us on to some inspiring music.
How do musicians’ conceptions of harmony typically evolve during the course of their careers?
Joe Mulholland: For most people, it seems there is no straight line. For example, Miles Davis first digested the harmonic intricacies of bebop, he then engaged in a radical simplification of his harmonic envelope during the modal, Kind of Blue period. Next, he embraced the harmonic innovations of Shorter and Hancock in his mid ’60s quintet and then abandoned that in favor of simple vamps and quasi-free tonality in the ’70s. At the end of his career, he chose a lot of simple pop tunes as vehicles for improvisation.
My own development has proceeded on several fronts. I started out playing a mix of blues and rock tunes from the ’60s and ’70s, but always had a parallel interest in jazz and, to a lesser degree, classical music. Being a pianist and amateur guitarist, I loved chord progressions and the power and nuance they brought to music, so I explored each of these areas when I had the time or opportunity to do so. More recently, the best of Brazilian popular music has been a very productive field for new ideas. I love harmonic richness and complexity, but never for its own sake. I am always aware that simplicity and directness of expression are prime values.
Tom Hojnacki: I think that most of us start out by learning how to play a few chords and using them to harmonize tunes. I had classical piano lessons as a child and had a facility for reading written arrangements but didn’t really consider the vertical or harmonic aspect of the music. Around the age of ten, my cousins taught me to play some folk and rock songs on the guitar. I later got hold of published sheet music for the songs; something like the Time/Life Great Songs of the ’60s collection. In the back of the book, I discovered a chart that translated chord symbols into piano notation, so I was then able to play these same songs and sing them at the piano independent of the original arrangement. That was the start of my interest in harmony. I think musicians who are attracted to rock and jazz music learn a few simple songs and sense that there are harmonic patterns that occur repeatedly in different songs. As our knowledge of repertoire increases we encounter tunes that are harmonically more complex. Many of us seek a theory of music that explains the relationships we sense, and helps to explain the various patterns we encounter in the tunes so that we can improvise within them. Ultimately, what the theory helps us to understand is that more complex tunes, even though they have very intricate and exotic sounding surface harmonies, are still at the bedrock level based on the move from tonic to subdominant or dominant and back to tonic.
What is chord scale theory, and how does it make music more effective?
JM: Chord scale theory is a way of organizing, prioritizing, and choosing the notes in a tonal environment. Awareness of functional harmonic categories (tonic/subdominant/dominant, modal interchange, substitute dominant, etc.) guides the process. It is ultimately nothing more than listening carefully to all the possible choices of notes in a given moment of music and choosing the best ones.
TH: In a way, knowledge of chord scales can be like training wheels for your ears. They guide you in your choices until you can pedal off on your own!
What is a tension substitution?
JM: Replacing a chord tone in a voicing with one of the tensions of the chord.
When and why should tensions be substituted?
JM: Tensions substitution is used for a more complex, richer sound in a voicing. It can provide more colors and create opportunities for chromatic voice leading in an arrangement or accompaniment.
TH: But more importantly, we should be asking the question, “What is a tension?”
Okay, what is a tension!
TH: Chords at the most basic level consists of triads (three-note chords: root, 3, and 5) and seventh chords (four-note chords: root, 3, 5, and 7). These chords are conceived as stacks of thirds. Tensions extend the stack with more thirds (up to seven or in some cases eight notes: root, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13). These extensions of the basic chord types add more color or tension to the harmony and also help to clarify the role that each chord will play in a progression. If chords are like actors in a drama, then tensions are like the costumes that they wear to give them added credibility in their roles.
How literally should chord symbols be interpreted?
JM: That depends on the source. A well-vetted fake book or published manuscript can usually be taken at face value, at least as a starting point. Even then, there can be typos or other errors. The other problem is that chord symbols, being shorthand, are inherently ambiguous. Depending on the style of the person compiling the charts, they may be very simple (“C”) or more detailed (CMaj7[9,#11,13]) according to the intent of the book. Finally, there is the matter of regional variation in how to say the same thing.
TH: A notated score represents a fixed reality. A lead sheet with chord symbols represents a range of possibilities for how to perform a tune. The more you know about harmony, the more options you have!
What does “outside” mean?
JM: Where you have to live, if you are a freelance jazz musician!
TH: But, seriously folks! Playing “outside” means to play notes consistently that are not directly related to the chords of the tune. To do this skillfully and musically requires that you really understand how those chords work together. You have to know the boundaries before you can step outside of them.
How has jazz harmony evolved, during the history of jazz?
JM: It has evolved in multiple directions; there is no straight line. Currently, the music can include just about anything: no conventional harmony at all, simple modal systems, triadic “folk” harmony, bebop chromaticism, multitonic schemes, and more.
TH: While it is true that there are many eddies and currents in the stream of the music, I think it is fair to say that the history of the development of harmony in jazz over the past hundred years parallels that of European classical music over the last thousand years. The early roots of jazz—the field holler, country blues and the earliest vocal traditions of the African-American church—are roughly equivalent to Gregorian chant through the pre-tonal music in the European tradition, New Orleans jazz, and ragtime mirror Baroque polyphony. The harmony of the Swing era might be compared to the harmony of the classical style of Haydn and Mozart. Bebop is analogous to Wagnerian chromaticism. Modal jazz is similar in conception to the late 19th century Russian and French scalar music known as Impressionism and the sound of the most dissonant free jazz is akin to that of atonality and serial music, what the historians term Expressionism. The Princeton theorist Dmitri Tymoczko in his recent book The Geometry of Music makes the point that jazz is a style in which all of the major historic styles of harmony now co-exist with one another.
What standards or interpretations of standards can you recommend as something that makes particularly effective use of jazz harmonic theory? What should we listen for?
TH: Gosh, there are so many! If I had to choose one starting point, though, I would choose Bill Evans. His performances of tunes like “Emily,” “Here’s That Rainy Day,” or “On Green Dolphin Street” embody most of what we discuss in our book. His chord voicings often employ up to seven or eight different notes of the chromatic scale. His choice of tensions clearly defines the tonality in which he is working while others present striking unexpected surprises. To really appreciate what he does, first seek out the original sheet music of these standard tunes and get to know them before listening to an Evans interpretation. Then, the essence of jazz harmony will be clearly apparent.
Could you suggest a couple excellent interpretations of the same tune to show two different masterful harmonic interpretations? What should we listen for?
TH: First learn Gershwin’s original published sheet music arrangement of “Someone to Watch Over Me” before listening, so that you have a reference point. I would suggest Keith Jarrett’s and Chick Corea’s solo piano performances of this great standard. Each musician harmonizes the tune and arranges it in such a way as to make it a vehicle for his own distinctive solo style.
For his part, Keith makes some of Gershwin’s original chromatic harmonies more diatonic opening up long passages for his warm “open spaces” lyrical approach to melody. He also chooses diatonic II V’s and substitute dominants to replace Gershwin’s original descending diminished chords giving the tune a more contemporary feel.
Chick on the other hand is a more percussive player. He prefers a brighter piano tone and has a very biting modernist approach to harmony akin to Bartòk and Hindemith. He employs a tonic pedal point superimposed with parallel dissonant harmonies in the A section of the tune. The result of this combined with the accompanying rhythmic ostinato is reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Chick reharmonizes some critical chords in the tune with modal interchange chords voiced in fourths. This allows him to improvise with minor pentatonic melodic patterns and to play rubato cadenzas suggestive of the Debussy preludes.
Standards give us a reference point to investigate and appreciate the individual artistry of different great players!
How about taking us out with some tunes from your book’s accompanying recording?
Sure, we wrote these tunes for the book, specifically to illustrate different aspects of jazz harmony.
1. “Lucky,” (with substitute dominants), by Tom Hojnacki
I just wanted to give a heads up reminder to everyone to let your friends know that another semester of my Introduction to Guitar course is about to begin tomorrow January 27th 2014. Spread to work to anyone you know who is thinking about starting to play. The course is free and lasts for 6 weeks. It gives you the basics of everything you need to know to begin learning. It is even helpful for some who have already started playing and need some background or basic theory to help them along. No experience necessary!!
Solo Jazz Piano: The Linear Approach, by Neil Olmstead, is an accessible yet deep and methodical exploration of how to play one of the most sophisticated and beautiful idioms in jazz. We recently released its second edition, and it was fun for me to revisit one of my favorite Berklee Press publications.
Neil was kind enough to answer some questions about learning and playing solo jazz piano. At the end, Neil introduces a breathtaking performance by Lennie Tristano—one of the masters of this kind of playing.
JF: How is playing solo jazz piano different from playing piano within an ensemble?
Neil: Solo piano gives one more freedom: freedom to play without preconceived or rehearsed restraints, freedom to spontaneously begin or end in any manner one wishes, to orchestrate an arrangement on the spot, to reorganize the time feel and groove, or to modulate from key to key at will.
What are some of the common misconceptions students new to playing solo have about the process or format? Any common mistakes?
Everybody comes to it with individual strengths and uniqueness, as well as weaknesses. A common presumption is that one feels they have to “fill up” the music by constantly playing, not recognizing the value of leaving space. In fact, inserting rest into the improvised line or leaving the bass register open for periods can be very satisfying musically.
How are bass lines different when performed on a piano, as opposed to on an actual bass?
One characteristic of acoustic bass lines is the effective use of arpeggios. But an overreliance on arpeggios in piano bass lines can be hokey sounding. This is why I present a series of left-hand stepwise motives as a basis for developing interesting “forward driving” lines in the bass. Practice tunes with a preponderance of stepwise walking bass motion (as illustrated on pp. 80–81). This will establish an ability to play lines that have more chromatic motion and fewer arpeggiated figures.
When you are performing alone, how much do you create spontaneously, and how much is worked out in advance? Is it the same when you play in an ensemble?
It is fundamentally an improvised performance. However, in preparing for a formal performance, it is helpful to work out a scheme ahead of time. This could include everything from specific notes and inner lines to play during the melody (head) to general temporal considerations including metric modulations, to specific voicings that the player discovers during the preparation process.
What are the qualities of an effective solo? Do you have any thoughts about determining how many choruses of solo to play?
Every tune has its own qualities that the player finds attractive. These qualities are reflected in each solo and are discovered by the pianist during the preparation process either by sketching harmonic or melodic ideas or simply through the memorization process. Some qualities are gleaned from other artists through transcribing. For instance, if one has transcribed the tune from a recording of say Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett, then that sound and ethos may very likely be reflected in the solo—even some specific notes or voicings.
The length of the solo is based purely on the ability of the improviser to “carry the line.” Continuity between phrases is most obvious in motivic development sections. In Solo Jazz Piano: The Linear Approach,we speak of characteristics of motives and variation of those motivic characteristics. Manipulating phrase shape, dynamics, and articulation continuity of a solo can lead the listener down a path of “expectation” and “closure.”
Do you have any advice for developing a concert set of solo piano music?
A simple guideline, whether it is a solo or ensemble set, is that of variation. Make each piece different from the previous. This can involve changing the groove, time signature, key area, texture, or the general ethos of each piece. This keeps the concert interesting and makes it easier for the performer to get engaged in each piece separately. Many players like to begin and end with something energetic, but this is not a requirement, by any means.
What advice do you have for structuring practice time, when learning to play this music?
Practice time for me, whether it is classical or jazz piano, always begins with the physical interface with the piano. The most satisfying practice sessions occur when the physical coordination is tuned up during slow, methodical, and quiet tone-production exercises. For me, this begins with single-tone exercises that involve the entire physical structure from the fingertip to the spine to the foot on the floor. Once the body is tuned and a satisfying tone is produced, creative, energetic, and productive practice can occur and be sustained for a period of time. If one simply jumps into a piece without first engaging the entire body in tone production, the practice session may be short lived and frustrating. Once the body is “tuned up,” pieces can be undertaken and productive creative work can begin, regardless of style.
Are there any particularly useful exercises you recommend for developing independence as a solo jazz pianist?
This is one of the most common challenges in practicing contrapuntal improvisation. Creating independence of voices that occurs often between two hands. Start with simple half notes in the left hand (as mentioned in chapters 3 and 4). This gives you the opportunity to be creative in the right hand. Then, slowly introduce some quarter note motives (as in chapter 5 and 6). There are also many abstract independence exercises to practice in Appendix D.
One writing exercise for the development of multi-voice playing is to write a four-part harmonic sketch of the tune being studied. Then begin adding suspensions and other non-chord tones in order to find interesting harmonies and inner lines that you might not ordinarily consider using. (See pp.185, 186, 187.) Practice this sketch as you might a four-part Bach chorale.
Another playing exercise is to place the melody in a middle voice. Do this without writing it; just play it an octave lower, and add some long-tone harmony notes above it while continuing the bass motion below.
Which solo jazz piano recordings embody the tradition at its quintessential, most inspiring best?
Listen to Lennie Tristano’s “C Minor Complex” from The New Tristano LP. It represents a very high and complex level of improvising contrapuntally. But more practical and easier-to-handle recordings lie in the discography of Dave McKenna, such as “Love Letters” from the Giant Strides LP. Bill Evans’ album Conversations with Myself represent fine multi-voice improvisation, particularly tunes like “Bemsha Swing” and “How About You.” A more contemporary aspect of improvising is heard on Brad Mehldau’s recordings, like The Art of the Trio, with “Blackbird” and “Nobody Else But Me.”
Could you recommend one particularly special track from the literature of solo jazz piano music and tell us what to listen for?
Look at Lenni Tristano’s “Lullaby of the Leaves” from the Copenhagen Concert, 1965. It’s a brief 3 minute rendition that begins at about six minutes into the set.
It’s a fine example of his chordal harmonization of the theme set against a walking bass line. Then, he moves into a deep swinging two-part contrapuntal style—walking bass against an improvisation in his right hand. It’s a fairly conservative performance for Lennie; however, his ending is not. Can you tell the interesting thing he does with the form on the out chorus?
You can download the complete Table of Contents of the Musical iPad: Musical iPad TOC
From the Book Foreword:
Musical iPad will help you turn your mobile device into a powerful amplifier for your creativity—and turn your modest investment in a tablet device into an extremely valuable tool for learning and making music. The well-written, easy-to-follow instructions and descriptions will get you up to speed in no time and will help you make the most of your Apple iPad.
Senior Vice President for Innovation, Strategy, and Technology
Berklee College of Music
This post is a quick New Year’s alert to let you know that the long awaited Pedaltrain Volto power supply is now available at your local and on-line stores. You may have read my post about the amazing Sanyo Pedal Power quite a few posts back. The Volto is a similar product.
The low profile of the Pedaltrain Volto makes it a great choice for mounting directly under your Pedatrain junior or mini or similar sized board. This, of course, means that there is another pedal-space on top of the board. The 3 status LED’s of the Volto have the same function as the green, amber and red light on the Sanyo, giving you an indication of the remaining power. Two outputs allow you to use 2 connectors or daisy chains, and the full-charge shut-off function is a feature that is a must have on rechargeable batteries to avoid overcharging. One very nice feature is that the Volto can be charged using a USB connection which gives you a variety of options for charging from the laptop to the car or home. The Volto is a very practical product in a very practical package. It is unobtrusive and very easy to use.
I have been using mine on my Pedaltrain Nano with 5 small pedals. I set mine up with the on-off switch and the LED’s showing through the centre of my board, so I can constantly monitor the status. You can see the blue lights of the Volto peeking through from underneath the board on the right hand side.
The one thing I would recommend is a recharge before each gig. Because of its low profile the Volto will make it through the gig, but not 2 or 3 as I usually do with my Sanyo. All the same, you cannot beat it for the practicality it brings to the gig stage! The Volto and the previously reviewed Sanyo are a couple of the most practical products to come around for the working musician!
Here are a couple of videos, one from Pedaltrain and the other just one of a review that was pretty informative on the set-up.
You might have seen a chart like the one below, showing all the different components of a project, such as an album. It is a work breakdown structure—a hierarchical view of a project’s “deliverables” (components). Read this one left to right. I talk about these a lot in my Berklee Online course, book, and live workshops about project management for musicians. By drilling down like this, you can see all the required work of your project and take hold of its details.
One of many uses for a WBS is in organizing how you spend your time. Once you’ve figured out your project’s components, you can draw up a list of action steps required to get each part done, and then chart the status or other information related to it. For instance, by filling in the WBS, you realize that you have to get photos of your band members. Your first step is to ask each band member if they have a good photo you can use. Somehow, you want to track their responses; as you can imagine, gaining control over this level of detail can be a little challenging.
That’s where project management software becomes particularly helpful. The program that I like to use, and teach from, is Smartsheet, which does a great job of combining power with ease of use (and other benefits). Various PM software products work similarly.
So, then, here’s a video showing how to implement a WBS in Smartsheet for use as a task manager. By organizing your tasks (hundreds or thousands, in a project) in this component-based way, you can easily understand your project’s current status, and see what work is yet to be done.
It is where the rubber meets the road: where abstract theory becomes completely practical and makes your life easier and your projects run better. I recommend viewing it in HD on the YouTube site, as big as you can set it, so that you can read the text.
When you are creating a score in Finale, Sibelius or any other notation program, using the proper score order is recommended. There are several ways to make changes to the score order in Finale and Sibelius and these will be address in this post.
New Score from Template
When you are starting a score, both Finale and Sibelius have templates. Finale calls them Ensembles and Sibelius Manuscript Paper. This is the easiest way to review score order as these templates have been created by musicians with knowledge of the common score order for scores. Here are the steps:
Choose File > New > Document with Setup Wizard or from the Launch Window click “Setup Wizard.
Select an Ensemble from the left column.
You can also choose from one of the score order options via the menu below the instruments in the score list.
You can edit the staves in the score by selecting them and adding or removing them from the Select Instrument(s) window.
You can adjust the order of instruments by selecting the instrument and clicking the arrows to the right of the instrument list.
And, if you do make adjustments, you get the option to save the ensemble as a custom one and it will be added to the Ensemble list for later use.
Choose File > New
Click on the “New Score” tab
Choose one of the Manuscript Paper options. You can enter a word in the search box.
Make adjustments to the score in the “Change Instruments” window: add or delete instruments from the list or move the order by selecting the instrument and under “Move” choose up or down.
You can save the custom score as Manuscript paper and it will be added to the list for future use. To add it to the list of Manuscript Paper, choose File > Export > Manuscript paper.
SIBELIUS 6: You will get a warning, “This will add this score to the list of Manuscript Papers that appear when you start a score.” Click Yes.
SIBELIUS 7: Enter the title of the Manuscript paper. Remember that it will show up in alphabetical order so name it accordingly. Select the category and then click the Export button at the bottom of the page.
Score Order Overview
Small Combo and Rhythm Section
When writing for a jazz or rock combo with rhythm section:
Instruments or voice
If there are multiple guitars or keyboard instruments, put them in alphabetical order within the above overall order.
Saxophones: Alto, Tenor, Bari
Trumpets 1, 2, 3, 4
Trombones 1, 2, 3, 4
Highest pitched instruments at the top. Order of families:
Highest pitched instruments at the top. Order of families:
What are the major types of audio used in film and TV?
Audio for film and television is separated into three groups: dialogue, music, and effects. Each element plays a key part in telling the story sonically. The dialogue allows the voice of the character to be heard, the music amplifies the emotion of the moment, and the effects define the actions and general ambiance of the scene.
What exactly is Foley?
Foley is synchronized effect acting. In other words, it when actors reproduce sounds such as footsteps, door slams, head scratches, etc., in sync with the film or television show. This is done to add realism to the soundtrack. Most film locations or sets are designed to be visually accurate to the scene or storyline. But in reality, the marble floors are really made of plywood, as are the massive front doors of a plantation house. So when the actors walk on those floors or close the large door, they will sound very thin and unrealistic. Adding a layer of Foley in the soundtrack bring life and realism back into the overall sound.
Do audio engineers have any contact with actors?
Yes, when they record ADR (dialogue replacement). ADR is done when the original “production” dialogue has been deemed unusable. This could be because an actor knocked over a prop on set, when a plane or helicopter flies overhead, and even when the director wants an opportunity to add dialogue to change the storyline. In such cases, the actor goes to an ADR studio to rerecord the dialogue with an engineer. Although most ADR engineers are seasoned pros, it is always a bit of a thrill when a big name actor or actress is scheduled for ADR.
My wife is a producer of HBO and Comedy Central TV shows. She was recording ADR one day with Michael J Fox, and I kept texting her to ask him about the “flux capacitor” (from Back to the Future). Although she thought that was amusing, she never asked.
What types of audio problems can be fixed in post production?
Many problems can be addressed and remedied in post production. Along with the situations I just described in ADR and Foley, sound effects allow you to really impact an action movie. “Over-the-top” explosions, gunshots, and fights can really benefit from this.
There is a scene in The Bourne Ultimatum when Jason Bourne (the hero) jumps across an alley into an apartment window to save the girl (who is being pursued by the villain). The impact of the window crash as well as the aggressively choreographed fight scene was superbly enhanced with an array of over-the-top sound effects. If you listen closely to this scene, you can identify the addition of whooshes when the characters swing and cartoon-style punch sounds.
I’m sure that an audio purist might snobbishly dismiss this sound effect work, but each time I see this movie, the fight scene leaves me (the viewer) winded, as if I just got off a Disney ride. That’s when you know they did a great job.
What types of jobs are there for audio engineers who want to work in the film/TV industry?
There are numerous employment opportunities in the post-production industry: sound-effect editors, ADR engineers, Foley mixers, scoring mixers, and sound supervisors, to name just a few. Scoring mixers spend their time recording and mixing the music for a film or television show. This could be a simple as recording a solo instrument or small ensemble to recording a 100-piece orchestra, 50-voice choir, along with a host of synths, loops, and clips. They mix this in 5.1 surround sound, which is always a sonic thrill.
Foley mixers spend their days recording Foley actors recreating sounds for the show in a studio that often resembles a garage that hasn’t been cleaned out in decades. They will capture people punching lettuce (for a fight scene), splashing water in a tub for a swimming scene, or wearing a variety of shoes to recreate footsteps across an asphalt parking lot (as well as numerous surfaces). Can you imagine a 275 pound/45 year-old man wearing pumps to recreate the sound of Jennifer Aniston walking down the stairs in a romantic comedy? All in a day’s work.
What kinds of equipment do you need to work in audio post production?
Most of this work is done at a post-production facility. The facility will usually be set up to accommodate a variety of situations, like multiple edit bays equipped with Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) for sound-effects editors, or a Foley stage (as previously described). The ADR stage and scoring stage are usually big enough to allow for both large and small groups. That said, you can get started with little to no gear whatsoever. However, I would recommend owning a laptop with a DAW on it (like Pro Tools or Logic Pro). That can really be handy when doing some of this at home, on your own.
Is most audio post work done by film studio staffers, recording studio staffers, or freelancers?
This work can be done by both. It is not uncommon for major studios and large post houses to have a lot of people on staff with big credits and decades of experience. Post production work is very much a team effort, and it is quite rare to see one person doing everything (unless it is a low-budget independent project).
On the other hand, as people get more experienced and gather more credits and perhaps awards too, they usually go freelance, because they can get more money and sometimes a better pick of projects.
Working on staff also has its benefits, so it depends on where you are in your career.
Can one work in this field without living in Hollywood?
There are several ways you can do this outside of Hollywood. One way is to look to social networks (like Craigslist) to see if there are any local film makers in your area producing independent films/projects. Most of the time, these projects need help with audio in numerous ways: capturing sound on set, editorial, sound design, scoring, mixing, etc.
You could also look to your local cable provider and/or radio stations. They usually do a lot of in-house promos, and those always need help with the audio.
If you are in a bigger market, you may find that there are a few post production facilities that you could intern at to get really learn the trade.
Say a regular recording engineer wants to get into audio post production. What advice do you have for breaking in?
I would recommend looking into a post production facility in your area to see if there are any openings. Even if there is nothing at the time, this could at least be the start of a conversation/relationship that you could build on. Also, engineers know other engineers and tend to hang out in those circles. So, it is good to start chatting it up with your colleagues and co-workers to see if they have some connections as well.
You will find more opportunity in bigger markets (L.A., NY, Chicago, etc). Starting out at the entry level is always a plus too. This gives you the opportunity to get involved in many aspects of the industry with very limited responsibility. It is also a great way to meet people and start a network of post production professionals.
Mark Cross is an award-winning producer, composer, mixer, engineer, author, and educator with an extensive career in audio post production that spans over two decades. His credits include The Last Comic Standing, American Idol, The CBS Evening News, Wow Wow Wubbzy, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Cars, ER, and many others. He is author of Audio Post Production: For Film and Television (Berklee Press, 2013), and teaches audio post production at Berklee College of Music’s online continuing education division, Berklee Online.
Here’s the current Berklee Press catalog, with the new releases through early 2014. We’re pleased with the new “Biographies and Interviews” category, now that Gary Burton’s autobiography pushed their numbers to the tipping point. Also this year, we’re walking lightly upon the land and only releasing our catalog in digital form, thus:
You can also search for our books and DVDs at Berkleepress.com. That’s where to find the most up to date list of what’s in print.
You might have noticed that I’ve started interviewing our authors on this blog. That’s been fun, and we’ve had very positive feedback from that, so more interviews will follow. If there’s anyone in particular you’d like me to interview, let me know.
P.S. Berklee Press, a publishing activity of Berklee College of Music, is a not-for-profit educational publisher. Available proceeds from the sales of our products are contributed to the scholarship funds of the college.
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There are often times when you may want to indicate a “ghost” note in a part. These occur in jazz and rock and can occur in a vocal or horn part or rhythm section instrument. Ghost notes are suggested or implied and are much softer than normal notes. They are typically notated by placing parentheses around the note.
Check out the transcription of the beginning of Lee Morgan’s solo on Blue Train on the Jazz Trumpet Solos site. Notice the ghost note in bar three of the transcription.
Finale: Notating Ghost Notes
To add a parentheses around a note, enter a left and right parentheses via the Articulation Tool.
Enter the notation.
Choose the Articulation tool.
Click on the desired notehead.
Choose the left parentheses, #38 in the Articulation Selection Window.
After entering the left parentheses, click the notehead again and choose the right parentheses, #39 in the Articulation Selection Window.
Drag each parentheses to the desired location.
Sibelius: Notating Ghost Notes
Enter the notation
Select the notehead(s)
From the second Keypad Layout choose “Bracket notehead”
(Thanks to John Hinchey’s comment for suggesting the above Sibelius method)
In this blog we’re going to examine a topic that is a life long search in 11 minutes. Well, the video is 11 minutes, so it’s a start. In all seriousness Phrasing is a very deep pool and we’re going to skim the shallow end today. It’s not an easy thing to write about, so here’s a helpful video on Guitar Phrasing:
I hope you guys got something from my 16th note grid idea. Plug away, find your voice and fight the good phrasing fight!
Audio mastering is often perceived as a mysterious final phase of the recording process—a kind of pixie-dust that makes our music magically sound somehow more “professional.” In hopes of demystifying the process, I asked Jonathan Wyner a few questions about what goes on behind the curtain. Jonathan is author of the book Audio Mastering: Essential Practices (Berklee Press, 2013), and chief mastering engineer and president of M-Works Mastering Studios—one of the world’s most esteemed and versatile audio mastering studios. He is a Berklee associate professor of MP&E and co-author/instructor of the Berklee Online course Audio Mastering Techniques.
What is audio mastering?
The succinct definition is: Mastering is the final step involving any aesthetic decisions in a recording and the first step in its distribution.
It is the art of optimizing a recording’s sound, finding its ideal levels and tonal quality, and getting all the details right necessary to produce a professional quality distribution-ready master.
What kinds of sound processing will a mastering engineer do to a recording?”
While it’s more about the “right” processing and not so much about the “kinds” of processing per se, mastering engineers use tools that are familiar to most audio engineers: EQs, compressors, limiters, denoisers, etc. However, we often use superlative and/or specialized versions of these tools. The types of setting used are usually different from what might be used by a mixing engineer. It’s critical that the mastering step introduce as little unwanted distortion as possible in the audio chain, and so great care is taken in choosing the tools.
How is a mastering studio different from a recording or mixing studio?
It may sounds trite to say, but a mastering studio has a mastering engineer in it! While mastering engineers use many of the same tools to master records, the art of mastering involves listening somewhat differently.
A professional mastering studio will have speakers that play from 20 Hz to 20 kHz (the entire audible range), and it will be very well balanced, in general. The studio itself will be very, very quiet. Usually, mastering speakers are set some distance away from the listener—further than in the typical modern mix studio.
Can you master in a home studio?
It’s certainly possible to go through the tasks even on a laptop in an airport, yes. The question is, should you? The other question: whose home?
What will readers learn in your book, Audio Mastering?
Readers learn about the mindset of a mastering engineer. How they think. What’s important to them. What are the tools that get used. It’s a good survey of the discipline, and they will also find two case studies at the end on CD.
Have you ever seen the mastering process save a project from the brink of fiasco?
Yes. Especially, home mixing environments are rarely excellent and sometimes are quite poor. It’s easy to miss problems that can sabotage the music when it’s uploaded, or broadcast.
How can artists get the most out of the mastering process?
Ask people who are experienced about what they expect from mastering. Ask for word-of-mouth recommendations. Develop a relationship with the mastering engineer you choose. In the long run, everyone does better work if the music sounds good, so most mastering engineers are happy to give advice when a mix isn’t 100 percent completed to help get it into good shape before mastering—for a reasonable fee, of course.
Does it make sense to master a single?
Absolutely. No recording stands in isolation, and it will inevitably be compared to other music released on many levels. Beyond that, mastering brings along with it an opportunity to fine-tune a record, and in the best cases, a last chance to have a collaboration with an informed perspective on how a recording sounds and how it might be improved.
MakeMusic is shipping the latest version of Finale notation software, Finale 2014.
Improved note entry when entering with Voices and entering accidentals
I am impressed with the improvement Finale continues to makes with note entry. Finale 2014 addresses this issue in several ways. Check out the Finale promotional video on these features: http://bcove.me/lj6m16yp
However, in order to upgrade, you must do it directly through MakeMusic.
Finale 2014 is not an update that I would consider significant in terms of features. However, there is enough here to make it worth the upgrade cost. And, if you have an older version of Finale, the upgrade price is worth it as there have been many new enhancements in Finale 2010, 2011, and 2012.
Peter Spellman is author of “The Self Promoting Musician,” recently released in its third edition by Berklee Press. As the long-time director of Berklee’s Career Development Center, Peter has helped thousands of musicians launch their careers. Here, Peter answers a few questions about how musicians can gain some momentum.
Is there a mindset for self-promotion that you think leads musicians to more viable careers?
Self-promotion in general is hard for people. We were told from a young age, “Don’t brag,” so we’ve been programmed to avoid it.
I think you hit the nail on the head with the word “mindset.” Here are some mental shifts I think can help shed a different light on the process of self-promotion:
Think opportunity, not obligation. Your work is more than a good idea or a way to make some money; it’s a benefit to those you serve. Instead of thinking about how difficult, unpleasant, time-consuming, and costly it is to market yourself, shift your attention instead to how eager you are to let others know about what you offer.
Think connection, not activity. Self-marketing is about making connections with people who may need what you offer. It’s not about just keeping busy racking up sales. Put the focus on connecting—building a bridge, not just the end result.
Think communication, not manipulation. Often, people think self-promotion is about being cute and clever, creating a lot of hype or sizzle, especially in the entertainment business. Worse, they fear it’s about being manipulative. Sizzling, cute, and clever hype may attract attention, but it doesn’t build trust, respect, or value.
Instead of worrying about being cute and clever or manipulative, think about getting your message across. Shift your attention to what it is about that you do that’s important to those you’re communicating with. Think about how you can communicate your message to them in terms they’ll understand. Think about how you can help them see the benefits of what you offer.
In a counter-intuitive way, self-promotion (and a viable career, in general) begins with others-promotion. It begins with generosity.
When should an artist hire a manager?
Depending on the kind of project the artist is working on, a manager can enter the picture fairly early in an artist’s career. We see a lot of early artist/manager match ups at Berklee. For example, earlier this year, freshman Shun Ng (an amazing thumb-slapping guitarist) teamed up with local manager Ralph Jaccodine, which led to an audience (and development deal) with Quincy Jones’s company. The duo Karmin found their manager in fellow-student Nils Gums, and together, they built a powerful visibility strategy. These relationships came together while these artists were students.
In general, though, artists must take the reins of their own careers and build enough visibility and success first on their own before they can attract the appropriate management. It’s also important for artists to understand that managers (as well as booking agents) tend to work on commission. So, until an artist is generating enough commissionable income, it will be hard to attract their interest.
I think the smartest approach today is to find someone who has complementary skills to yours and who believes in your music and your artistry. Rather than base the reward on commission percentages, create a profit-sharing partnership where both have ownership in the project for a set term, say three years. Work it like a business partnership.
What mistakes do musicians make, regarding promoting their work? Are there common ways that they waste money?
Some common ways musicians waste money in promoting their work are:
Making it all about the music and not minding the business end of their career. We all know of the stories of artists who were exploited by industry players. What’s not often said is that it was the inattention and ignorance of the artist regarding how industry dynamics work, that often led to the exploitation. The solution is educating yourself about how business works, tapping into the awesome free business resources on the Web, and doing your own business with an artist’s hand. In other words, arrange and conduct your business activities with the same attention you give to your music. I wrote The Self-Promoting Musician to address this very thing.
Exhausting all funds on recording, packaging, and manufacturing, and leaving none for promotion and marketing. The solution is smarter budgeting and, perhaps, delaying a recording project until you are financially ready to deal with the whole enchilada.
Taking a “spray & pray” approach to marketing. This is similar to trying to hit a bull’s-eye with a shotgun rather than arrow. This wastes gobs of time, money, and energy. The solution is researching and thinking about where the best touch-points are in the marketplace for your music projects.
Have you seen any particularly creative approaches to marketing or PR that paid off? If so, what is the replicable lesson to be learned from it?
Sure, I can give both an online and offline example. For online, Berklee alumnus Greg Arney wanted to start a private guitar instruction service while still a student at Berklee. How does one get a guitar instruction service off the ground in an over-crowded market like Boston where everyone and his brother offers lessons? Greg saw an opportunity in Google. While most people were hanging fliers in supermarkets, Arney decided to learn how SEO (search engine optimization) works. He created a Web page and used his SEO chops to ensure that when someone searched on the keywords “guitar lessons Boston,” his page would appear first in the results. Soon he had more students than he could handle, and he began referring some to other instructors. A rising tide lifts all boats. The lesson? As far as the Web goes, you are what Google says you are, so learn how to design your Web presence so that you show up in results the way you want to.
As an offline example of creative marketing and publicity, Zoe Keating provides some cool inspiration. Do people expect to see a cellist at a nuclear commemoration event thrown by pyromaniacs in the middle of the desert? Or at a Ruby on Rails information architect conference? Keating’s unusual alliances and bold moves led to massive publicity via a National Public Radio (NPR) interview, resulting in about $10,000 in download income. The lesson? Seek out creative alliances which intersect with some of your other interests or skills. Being unusual, they tend to attract media attention, giving your music more visibility, greater demand and, hopefully, more reward.
How do you think artists should monitor/measure their success?
I was discussing this very topic with a class yesterday. “Success” is one of those putty words. Its meaning seems to bend with the unfolding phases of one’s life.
I see “success” as the gradual realization of a worthwhile goal. If you set a long-range goal and reflect that goal in your activities each day, then I think you are “successful.”
In other words, success isn’t someday, it’s every day.
What easy, cheap thing can any artist do right now that is likely to give them a significant benefit?
One thing is clear about all career paths today: the demands on our time, energy, and resources are at an all-time high. Technology and globalism have lowered the barriers for market entry, creating more competition on every front and a 24/7 always-on style of work that is stretching people to their limits.
So, in light of this, I’m going to recommend three easy and cheap ways artists can have more career success each day of their lives. Ready? Drink a gallon of water every day, take ten minutes out to stretch your body, and deep breathe while you’re stretching. Do these three things for yourself every day, and I guarantee you will have more strength, be more creative, and have a powerful new focus in your work.
Water is a true miracle. It is 60% of our bodies and 70% of our brains. If our thoughts are electric pulses, if atoms have positive and negative charges, then we want to ensure there’s enough conduction to enable these processes, right? That’s where water comes in. Add extension (stretching) and oxygenation (deep breathing), and you open further channels in your body and mind to these conduction powers.
These three things are so basic. Yet, in our rush to get through our days, they can easily be forgotten. I put the challenge out to all musicians: Give yourself these three gifts every day, and watch what happens. I dare you.
This post is another quick heads up. I have been using the 3 Leaf Proton Envelope Filter for a couple of months now on my go-to board. As an R&B/Funkateer, vibe sounds are a big part of what I do on guitar.
The Proton Envelope Filter has much in the way of tweakable features that give you a broad range of sounds. I was an original Mu Tron III owner back in the day. I will say that it is very hard to find the contemporary vibe pedal that gives the good usable tones with the variety of features available in the original. I think the Proton comes as close as it gets! I will let the video do the talking. It is very well done and covers all of the bases. I will tell you that this pedal sounds great in my live power trio setting. The size and quality build with top inputs (including the 9-18v input) make it a serious addition to your pedalboard!
This post is another quick heads up. I have been using the 3 Leaf Proton Envelope Filter for a couple of months now on my go-to board. As an R&B/Funkateer, vibe sounds are a big part of what I do on guitar.
The Proton Envelope Filter has much in the way of tweakable features that give you a broad range of sounds. I was an original Mu Tron III owner back in the day. I will say that it is very hard to find the contemporary vibe pedal that gives the good usable tones with the variety of features available in the original. I think the Proton comes as close as it gets! I will let the video do the talking. It is very well done and covers all of the bases. I will tell you that this pedal sounds great in my live power trio setting. The size and quality build with top inputs (including the 9-18v input) make it a serious addition to your pedalboard!
The late 1990s were an interesting time for Latin and South American music in the United States. My own first real touch with music from these regions was listening to YoYo Ma’s 1997 album Soul of the Tango: the Music of Astor Piazzolla. As a head-in-the-sand classical musician, it opened my eyes to a whole new world—one of the most revealing glimpses I’ve had into just how vast music can really be. Also in 1997 was the release of The Buena Vista Social Club album, which I also really loved. Talking with friends about those two led me to Gary Burton’s 1996 album Ástor Piazzolla Reunion: A Tango Excursion, which came out earlier, but I found later. I was completely enamored with all three, and particularly Gary Burton’s foray into these waters. Such great music. Find all those recordings, if you haven’t already.
I mention this because in August of 1998, in my mid throes of music crush on the Gary Burton album, I had my second job interview at Berklee, and one member of the panel of interviewers turned out to be Gary Burton himself! I actually didn’t realize that he was on the administration at Berklee at the time, and was a bit star-struck to find myself in the same room as him. I was completely tongue-tied. Miraculously, somehow, I got the gig.
A few weeks ago, almost exactly fifteen years later, I had the great honor of helping publish Gary’s autobiography, through Berklee Press. This coming Tuesday, 11/12 at 8:00, Gary and his quintet are performing a concert in honor of the book’s release, with an interview of Gary by the great jazz writer Bob Blumenthal.
Gary Burton is one of the most inspiring musicians I’ve ever heard. To me, his elegant, sophisticated, inventive, and rich musical personality connects the dots between genres and strikes at a rare kind of universality of expression. It is completely captivating. It broadens horizons. It is music at its best.
If you have a chance to come to this concert Tuesday night, I think you will remember it always. Everyone who buys a ticket to this event gets a free copy of his (fascinating, informative, juicy, gripping, insightful, fondly edited) autobiography, Learning to Listen: The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton. So, it’s even a bargain.
Yup, the title says it all… we have to take care of our hands if we want to have a long musical career. It doesn’t stop there either; we need to take care of our bodies and general health too! We should all try to exercise every day, drink plenty of water and make an effort to keep your brain active as well.
That is a long laundry list, so I wanted to concentrate on one thing in particular…our hands. Below is a video of a few exercises I find extremely helpful when stretching/warming up before gigs.
As you can see, these are simple stretches. That being said, they have made a world of difference on how my hands feel from night to night. Stretching and warming up before playing is crucial when it comes to making sure your body is nice and relaxed and ready for the stage battlefield ahead. In my opinion Physical/Mental wellness is completely tied to superb musicianship. Stretch every day and keep those limbs nimble and ready to rock!
In Finale Notation Software, when you are entering Lyrics via the Click in Score method or you are entering chord symbols by typing them into the score, you are presented with a series of triangles on the left of the screen. It is a good idea to know what they mean, as each has a distinct function. From the Finale manual:
Choose the Lyrics Tool.
From the Lyrics menu, choose Click Assignment or Type Into Score.
Move the Click Assignment box out of the way, if necessary. At the left edge of the screen is a row of four small triangles pointing to the right. They control the baseline for the lyrics. If necessary, click the staff whose lyrics need adjustment.
Choose the Chord Tool.
From the Chord menu, choose Manual Input.
Click to the left of the staff and a box with four small triangles will appear.
What Each Triangle Controls:
Drag the leftmost triangle (1) up or down to set the baseline for the entire piece (for the selected lyric type and number). As you drag it, the other three triangles move with it.
Drag the second triangle (2) up or down to set the baseline for the selected staff only, all the way through the piece (for the selected lyric). As you drag this triangle, the two triangles to its right move with it.
Drag the third triangle (3) up or down to set the baseline for this staff, this system only (for the selected lyric). As you drag this triangle, the rightmost triangle moves with it. Use this third triangle only in Page View (so you can see the system you’re affecting).
Drag the rightmost triangle (4) up or down to set the baseline for the next syllable, before it’s entered. This option is useful when you’re entering lyrics with the Type Into Score feature or by Click Assigning one syllable at a time.
Here are some examples of when to use these arrows for chords or lyrics:
Drag the leftmost triangle (1) to set the base line for all of the chords (or lyrics) in the piece.
Drag the second arrow (2) for a specific staff – for example, perhaps the guitar has a lot of high notes and ledger lines and you want to move the chord symbols up so they do not collide with the notation, but you only want this in the guitar part, not the piano and bass parts who also have chord symbols. Select the guitar part and drag the second triangle from the left.
Same example as #2, above, but it only occurs in one specific system in the guitar part. In this case, just drag the third triangle (3) from the left.
Only use the fourth triangle from the left (4) if you have moved arrows 1, 2 or 3 and want the next lyric or chord to be entered at a different location.
A couple of electronic dance music (EDM) production tricks that can come in handy for all types of beat driven, electronic music styles: hip-hop, pop, rocktronica, deep house, electro, glitch hop, dubstep, trance, hard dance, you name it.
This past year, I’ve had two dander-raising conversations with highly prominent (GRAMMY-award winning) musicians who tried to hurl the same dig at me: “You can’t learn to be a great musician by reading a book.”
Ouch. I mean, my life’s purpose over here is creating books about music!
In both assaults, I took the bait, and eventually worked them into a more nuanced compromise perspective, where we all agree on the following:
Great musicians are all born with some things that can’t be taught: perhaps, the unquietable urge to articulate universal truth, and/or the ability to sit in a chair and focus, and/or the spiritual need to create vivid colors. I don’t know what that list is. But there’s a list to be found of critical, innate talents that probably can’t be learned.
HOWEVER, books can help musicians refine their craft and come to important realizations that can help anyone at any level to improve.
Books are not intended to be like factories, turning out readers that all look alike. They are more like meals, to be consumed and digested, with the good stuff helping the reader grow, and everything else simply passing through.
Oreos, apples, barbeque, arugula, they’re all helpful, to one degree or another.
Glimmers of light, not magical potions. That’s all we’re trying to do over here.
P.S. Both of those aforementioned artists pitched me their own book projects. Just sayin’….
In this blog I wanted to give you some insight into using your modes as well as pentatonic scale when improvising – which in turn will help you learn your fret board. There is a little theory involved in this, but once you get it… it’s a game changer.
Okay, so let’s break down what the modes are (at their most fundamental level). Learning the modes is as simple as understanding the Major scale. Since the video deals with G Major let’s examine it from that key. In essence, what we are doing is playing the G Major scale over and over, but starting from the next scale degree. Let’s start from the root and write out every scale:
G (1st scale degree “Ionian”) – G A B C D E F# G
A (2nd scale degree “Dorian”) – A B C D E F# G A
B (3rd “Phrygian”) – B C D E F# G A B
C (4th “Lydian”) – C D E F# G A B C
D (5th “Mixolydian”) – D E F# G A B C D
E (6th “Aeolian”) – E F# G A B C D E
F# (7th “Locrian”) – F# G A B C D E F#
Then we arrive back at the root note G for Ionian. For simplistic learning purposes let’s just look at learning these modes as playing all of the notes of the G Major scale to help you expand you fret board knowledge. When you dive into the modes deeper you will be able to analyze a scale like Mixolydian and notice that it is a D Major scale with a flatted 7th – very useful in the blues/Allman Brothers vibes.
Now let’s take a look at the video below, where I improvise using the modes and pentatonic scale. This will involve knowing a little theory for it to make sense.
I hope you enjoyed this one! Let me know if you have any questions. Get in that Woodshed and work on these modes. It will vastly expand your knowledge of the fret board!
So in my last Blog I talked about ways to make that little five note friend sound more interesting… let’s continue the color and flavor journey by adding arpeggios into the mix.
Usually when guitarists are faced with a vamp they find it hard to keep things interesting; I like the challenge and have had many years to develop different ideas to keep things fresh. In the video below I take a simple stab at using an A-7 arpeggio, E- arpeggio and a G major triad arpeggio to color up the vamp. These are very effective ways to skirt the lines between blues and jazz.
Just like we discovered in the last blog, the 6th and 9th scales degrees can add a lot of impact while not departing too much from the tonic feel. Next Blog, we will discuss the relationship of what we have been developing (pentatonic wise) to our modes and I will give you some cool ideas to help you expand your knowledge of the fret board.
When you are working with transposing instruments such as the Bb trumpet, Eb alto sax, Bb tenor Sax, F Horn and other instruments, keep the following in mind:
Be sure to create the staff with the proper transposing instrument. Finale and Sibelius have the transpositions built-in so long as you select the specific instrument when you start a score or make an instrument change. For example, if you use an “unnamed treble staff” the transposition for the instrument will not be part of the staff. If you are adding an instrument to the score, select it as follows:
Finale 2011 and earlier: Select the Staff Tool and choose Staff > New Staff with Setup Wizard. If you don’t select a staff the new staff will be placed below the score. If you want it in a specific place in the score, select the staff handle below where you want the new one to appear before you access the menu.
Finale 2012 and later: Choose Window > Score Manager and add the instrument to the score. Adjust the location by dragging the instrument in the Score Manager window.
Sibelius 6 and 7: Press the letter I to open the Instruments window. Add the specific instrument to the score.
Switching between Concert and Transposed View
When I am composing an arrangement, I usually view the score in concert pitch. Then, when I am done, I change to transposed view, check to be sure the ranges are correct, and then print the score and parts.
Finale: To toggle between Concert and Transposed View
From the Document menu, choose Display in Concert Pitch. Uncheck this option to display the score in transposed view.
Sibelius: To toggle between Concert and Transposed View
Sibelius 7: Choose Home > Instruments > Transposing Score. If it is highlighted the score is in transposed view.
Sibelius 6: Click the key of Bb icon in the toolbar or choose Notes > Transposing Score.
With both Sibelius 6 and 7 you can use the keyboard shortcut: Shift+CTRL+T (Shift+Command+T on Mac)
Guitar and Bass Transposition
Both the guitar and bass are transposing instruments. They are written one octave higher than where they sound. Finale and Sibelius handle the display of these instruments differently.
Finale: When you turn on “Display in Concert Pitch” the bass and guitar will both be displayed down one octave from where they were written so long as you created the part using one of the guitar or bass options.
Finale In Transposed View:
Finale with “Display in Concert Pitch” checked:
Sibelius: When you turn off “Transposing Score” the guitar and bass remain where they are written – an octave higher than where they sound. In other words, Sibelius ignores the guitar and bass when you switch to a concert score.
Sibelius with Transposing Score checked and unchecked (no difference):
Just wanted to give you a heads up to a course I recently authored. It is one of the results of a partnership with Berklee College of Music and Coursera. Coursera is an organization that is bringing free college courses to the world. The idea is that if you have access to the Internet, you will have universal access to knowledge at no cost. It is quite an amazing opportunity for students all over the world. I was honored to be chosen as one of 4 authors for this initial collaboration with Berklee. My course is called Introduction to Guitar , and is designed to help folks to take that first step towards learning guitar. It gives you the fundamentals for building knowledge on guitar. It may even be useful for clearing some grey areas of guitar knowledge for folks who have been playing for some time. Introduction to Guitar is a 6 week long course and covers everything from the names of the strings and guitar parts to tuning, basic scales and basic chords. It ends with a couple of very easy songs to play. It moves at a comfortable pace, is very methodical and concise and it has had overwhelmingly positive reviews so far. The first semester enrolled roughly 120,000 students. Currently it is approaching 200,000 in total enrollment since that first time! (Thats a lot of guitar lovers!) It will run again sometime in the next month or so.
So altho many of you may be experienced guitarists, you may know someone who has thought about learning to play guitar. Spread the word and encourage them to sign up! It is free and sometimes all it takes is that first step to a lifetime of musical fulfillment.
Here is a link to a promotional video describing the course content:
There’s great buzz now about Music Gateway, a game-changing project collaboration platform that brings together musicians worldwide to create music. Here, its visionary founder Jon Skinner offers some insights about his company, entrepreneurship, and how to manage musicians.
Jon Skinner, Founder/CEO of Music Gateway
JF: What inspired the creation of Music Gateway?
JS: Very simply, it was through my personal experiences during my 26-year career that inspired me to create a business focused platform to meet the needs of music industry professionals. The main issues people face are obtaining work opportunities, how best to develop their own projects effectively and getting connected with the right professionals. The industry is rife with barriers that hinder progression and stop access and connections to the right professionals. I experienced these issues myself and decided to address this problem with the creation of Music Gateway.
How does the current product match or vary from your original conception of it? If it’s different, what was the path of its evolution, and where do you see it going from here?
It has changed from my original business plan; I actually wrote a 26-page document over 3 days very quickly. I had the whole concept in my mind and just translated it down into a business plan. That was four and half years ago, and I originally parked the concept due to a lack of resource and finance to invest. I drew a line in the sand in January 2011 and decided to self invest in the core development of the website. One of the first things I did was read a book called Rework, which I highly recommend. In fact, I would say that it’s essential to read if you are starting your own business, especially in tech and software.
Without going into detail, I would say Music Gateway is currently at 50% of the original concept; all the bells and whistles will come later.
Even though we only launched 7 weeks ago, we already have 60% of a new site design completed. It’s important you don’t stand still. You have to keep moving.
We aim to add more project types, matching other industry services with clients and driving as much opportunity to our users as possible. This is our core goal for the first year, since launch. 2014 will be a massive year for the company and will launch the new site design, additional features, and fully responsive access for mobile and iPad devices.
What advice do you have about creating a software startup?
Keep it simple; too often people get carried away with feature after feature. People don’t want to be confused. If you get a reaction of, “Wow, that’s so simple why didn’t I think of that” then you should be on the right track. With any tech project, if the lead developer tells you it will take 2 months to complete something, it will take 4 months, and it still may not be fully ready in time.
Focus on the core function and purpose of the product and what it is that will engage the customer. Extra features can be added over time, but if you don’t get to the trading point quickly and you keep putting back the launch date, then you’re burning costs every month and potential competition can come into the market place.
Lock down your PHASE 1 requirements for launch, and don’t budge on these unless it’s fundamental. So, stay focused on your core goal. Make sure you start your marketing and pre-launch campaigns as early as possible. Data and who you know in your sector is most important, so get networking and use LinkedIn to build your connections.
As an entrepreneur, how do you decide whether/when to bring in investors?
If you can self fund, do it and be as resourceful as possible. Give opportunities to people for work experience, and empower them and give them responsibility over aspects of the business, maybe the social media, blogging, pre-marketing etc.
Get professional advice! In the UK, the government has a free scheme for startup companies to receive business consultancy advice [Editor's Note: Analogous to SCORE or the Executive Service Corps. in the U.S.], and these professionals can make a huge difference checking your business model, your forecasts, and improving your pitch or deck to investors.
Most startups look at family and friends who may wish to be involved in a business first, but I recommend that regardless of who it is, get a shareholders’ agreement signed through a solicitor, even if it may seem a little expensive. A shareholders agreement, for those who don’t know, states what the responsibilities, liabilities, and of course share allocation between the parties are. One thing that people forget about is what the hell happens if someone in the business walks away or throws in the towel? This is commonly known as a “bad leaver,” and it’s important to know what happens when the shit hits the fan, or god forbid, someone gets run over by a bus. Get your arse covered, basically!
Your next port of call is private angel investors. They normally look at risky startup businesses with a 10-fold return on their investment with an exit after a 3 to 5 year period. In the UK, there are many tax breaks for investors, so if your business qualifies, then you need to include this in your presentation.
Once you launch and get traction with revenue and your customer base, that’s when you can look at further angel investment or approach VC companies, but here’s the important aspect to looking at any investment! The longer you can do it yourself and get more traction, the less you will have to give away and the more money you will be able to raise. So, if you can do it yourself, keep it in-house, and in the long run you will benefit more.
What tips do you have for hiring people to work on a music project?
Take your time to clearly describe what your goal is, what it is you need to get done, and to what timescale.
Within Music Gateway, when you create a project, define the skills you require—for example, a producer, guitarist, songwriter, etc., and in what music genres. You can upload music and embed video, which is essential if you want people to fully understand your project needs.
Use reference points from other music. It’s much better to ask potential workers to listen to something, than just describing it with only words.
What about tips for delegating work and making sure people deliver what we need?
Communication is key to any form of management, but don’t micro-manage people; that will just piss them off. The aim is to motivate and empower, and if things go wrong, deal with it! Things will go wrong from time to time. We are human and we make mistakes. Big deal. Bottom line is not to see problems and only see solutions to problems, and then fix them quickly. Learn from your mistakes or change procedures if there’s a clear loophole.
Who is the best manager you ever witnessed, and why? Can you give an example of their genius?
Good question. I’ve been working for myself since I was 21 and I’m now 43, so I have not been managed by many people. I have however taken inspiration from a lot of different people I’ve co-worked with, too many to name. One of the most important things I have learnt is that you just can’t do it all yourself. You need good people around you to help you achieve your goals. It’s all common sense stuff: treat your workers as you would like to be treated yourself, make the tea and coffee, don’t put yourself on a pedestal. It’s important not to get too friendly either; it’s a balancing act as a manager, as the saying goes, “Don’t mix business with pleasure.”
Once you define what it is that makes a person tick, tap into that aspect and reward them for their hard work, and set them goals, which act as a benchmark to reward. Not everyone is money focused. In fact, most people with aspirations only see money as a byproduct of success. Being successful and getting job satisfaction is more important than a paycheck (as long as people’s overheads are covered). The worst type of person you can have in your team is someone just looking to collect a paycheck at the end of the month, as they will bring others around them down to their level. Get rid quickly.
What are the biggest mistakes you see musicians making in the projects they manage? How do you recommend that they avoid the common pitfalls?
Not knowing their own strengths and weaknesses. Once you understand this, you know what people you need to bring into your project to make it as best as possible. Everyone is an A&R person these days; by default, you should be your worst critic.
One core issue I see time and time again is people not understanding the music business. Whilst we are being creative and it is still an art, we are creating a product that can be sold, placed, or monetized, so you do have to know your marketplace. If you are selling fruit at a market and everyone is buying apples, then you would be stupid not to sell the best apples you can get your hands on. Whatever is unique about your apples will attract customers, and in music terms, what is unique about your project will attract fans.
In summary, know your marketplace, don’t copy, getting inspiration from others is essential, be unique, and collaborate and work with other professionals. Regardless of your role or standing in the industry, you should treat it as a business. Otherwise, you won’t survive with a full-time career in the industry.
How do you define “success?”
Success is relative to your own personal goals. It doesn’t matter what others think because what’s important is that you are happy and satisfied with what you have achieved. Being successful should be bite sized; you can have a successful day or week but overall have an unsuccessful month, if you get my point. As a general rule, success can mean being admired and respected by your peers but that doesn’t mean you have to be rich.
On a personal note, I currently own and operate 3 companies and have previously had a business with an annual turnover of just under 1 million, but I still feel I haven’t fulfilled my long term goals or my full potential as a business man. I now consider myself on a personal crusade to help an industry that I love combined with a fair business platform that will build a secure financial future for my kids. A family changes everything.
When working in large scores, it is often helpful to adjust the staves that are displayed. This can be extremely helpful when working in big band, orchestra, and concert band scores. Even with a large monitor screen, it can be extremely helpful to customize the look of the staff. I will often display a specific instrument family or section while working in a big band score. For example, show the sax section and the rhythm section in a big band score. In a concert band score, I will sometimes look at all the bass instruments such as the bass clarinet, tuba, and baritone sax to speed the copy and paste process and review how the parts interact. Below are some examples:
The full score view of an arrangement I wrote on Stevie Wonder’s All in Love is Fair for Jazz Ensemble:
Using an adjusted staff view to view just the saxes and rhythm section:
Using an adjusted staff view to see specific staves: bari sax, 4th trombone, piano and bass:
When working with large scores, I do the majority of my note entry using the scrolling score view. Finale choose View > Scroll View. Sibelius choose View > Panorama.
Finale Staff Sets
To accomplish this in Finale, you use Staff Sets. These must be programmed for each document. Here is how it works:
You must be in View > Scroll View
Choose the Staff Stool
Select the staves you want to view, for example, the saxes and rhythm section. Hold down CTRL (Command on Mac) to select staves that are not next to each other.
Hold down CTRL (option on Mac) and choose View > Program Staff Set (this only appears if you are holding down the CTRL (option on Mac) while selecting the menu).
Once you have programmed one or more Staff Sets, you can select them from the View Menu or use the shortcuts:
• CTRL+zero (control+zero on Mac) to show all staves
• CTRL+1, CTRL+2 (control+1, control+2 on Mac) and so on for up to eight Staff Sets.
TIP: Finale prints all staves (and displays all staves in Page View), however, no matter which are visible in Scroll View.
Reference the Finale help documentation for more details: