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  1. #1

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    I would love to hear from others who are intrigued and/or have practical strategies for (semi) spontaneous counterpoint in a jazz setting. Here is a video of mine that demonstrates where i am at with it. Feel free to share your experience/experiments, ask questions, propose strategies etc.

    all the best



    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #2

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    Thanks ! This is an area of interest, would be great to hear other’s thoughts. At the moment I am working on classical counterpoint and improvisation, which I’m sure will have a knock on effect on my jazz playing eventually.

    Would certainly love to hear any advice you might have!

  4. #3

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    Counterpoint Concepts have the greatest use of solo guitar playing. Am I right?

  5. #4

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    Probably quite alien to most jazz players but I enjoy how figured bass is forcing me think more contrapuntally and intervallically...

    in general, I would say the guitar is predisposed towards parallel and oblique motion. It’s contrary motion that always seems to take the work?

  6. #5

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    Thanks for posting such an inspiring video! I really enjoy the freedom that jazz counterpoint gives you, compared to the much more strict framework you have in classical music. I have studied both, to a basic degree.

    One question would be, how do you get started in this practice, and do you have specific concepts that you practice? (So two questions ).

    For example I like to play melodies or solos while at the same time playing the roots of the underlying chords. Or doing that but keeping the melody in the lower strings and playing the roots up high. Then expand the roots into chord tones, then small phrases.

    My biggest problem with the whole counterpoint style of playing hasn't been the voicings or the hand movement and technique so much, but, same as when playing piano, trying to mentally follow two different things at the same time. When most of guitar playing makes you focus on one.

    At times that I listen and practice to a lot of Joe Pass or Charlie Hunter this kind of playing becomes a little bit easier, and phrases start to appear. So much work behind your video!

  7. #6

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    Well you do have a dominant voice at any one point in counterpoint, so in a sense it’s a bit like juggling?

  8. #7

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    Ted green has a lot of counterpoint exercises. Dig into some Bach also. Mitch Chmara has a good book out on contrary motion. I don't know how you internalize this technique other then, like everything else, learn tunes that use it.

  9. #8

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    Thanks guys,
    Rather than simply suggesting methods etc by others, I am particularly interested in what you as players have done to develop contrapuntal playing. Christian, can you elaborate on figured bass and thinking intervalicaly? Anyone else have any strategies that they use to generate internal motion and contrary lines? i'd love to hear about other approaches that deal with chromaticism for instance.
    all the best

  10. #9

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    One thing I have tried with mixed success (in part because I am not diligent enough to solve the hard bits) is adapting a James Taylor kind of approach to playing the chords. I have not figured out how to put the melody on top of that consistently, but he has kind of a pianistic approach to playing folk-ish music on the guitar. I particularly like being able to play notes within the chords on their own beats and sustaining them variable lengths of time rather than my usual approach of usually playing multiple notes in the same rhythmic pattern. I'm not sure if that depiction makes any sense, but listening to a couple of James Taylor songs and then using that right hand approach and jazz chords should make it clear what I'm on about. It is a lot harder to do with movable chords up and down the neck compared to staying down around the nut. The emphasis is on bass line first (it must be heck to play bass with JT, since he plays so many bass lines himself).

    Gene Bertoncini also does a lot of contrapuntal playing; I have also tried to approach some of his strategies (I studied with him a few times at jazz camps and have worked on his book "Approaching The Guitar"). Open strings, whether as diatonic notes or as tensions can be really helpful in keeping something going while moving between chords and making the sound more legato.

  11. #10

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    There are things that might cause one to miss this early on or find it difficult to capture later on.

    In the beginning it is unfortunate that the typical path to initially learning the guitar is the first month or so suffering through the discomfort of toughening the fingers, before which happens little can be really learned. This chords first path bypasses a typical new guitarist into a pre-learning period during which they strum familiar simple cowboy chord songs, and they may sing along to themselves to distract them from the pain of preparing the fingers. This schematic "ready formed stock chord" work as a "fits all" application has the potential to imprint the new new guitarist with a vertical harmonic bias (and perhaps a bias against employing the fourth finger). It is not as if this all goes away later, when you listen to popular music you recognize the near universal use of the cowboy chords, their frozen voicing.

    Later, even in the jazz world, there is the progression harmony schematically indicated with chord symbols, an accidental imposition of vertical harmonic organization, with maybe a melody line in the staff if it is a lead sheet, perhaps underutilized to only assist in vertical voicing (either to stay out of the way during comping, or place certain notes prominently during chord melody).

    I taught myself, not knowing better, and skipped chords entirely for the first two years; I was a young teenager wanting to play lead guitar solos. Fortunately, when I eventually circled back to include exploring chords, they made sense immediately. I tend to think that melodic and improvised soloing might not make as much immediate sense to those who start with chords. Chords are made of notes, so perhaps knowing the notes before knowing the chords provides an easier path to their grasp, construction, and use. In the sense that notes are not made of chords, perhaps knowing chords might not as readily lead to knowing how to grasp, construct, and utilize things comprised of a series of notes.

    Anyway, I have always listened for possible movements within the harmony of tunes. I explore these when practicing a tune, trying to discover things that express the harmony as movements - among and within the chords...

    For example, the beginning of Stella, see if you like the sound of this:

    x x x x 11 x
    9 x 8 9 10 x

    x 8 9 9 8 x
    x 10 11 11 10 x
    x 9 10 10 11 x

    x x 8 8 6 x
    x x 7 8 6 x

    x x 6 8 8 6
    x x 6 7 8 6

    x 6 8 7 6 x
    4 x 4 5 6 x

    x x x 8 x x
    6 x 5 8 x x
    da, da, da. daa... etc

    Or this, a nice part of the middle section of the "A" part of Tenderly:

    4 x 4 4 4 x

    x 6 6 6 7 x
    x 9 10 10 11 x
    x 8 9 8 8 x

    4 x 4 4 4 x

    x 6 6 6 7 x
    x 8 9 8 11 x
    x 11 12 12 x x

  12. #11

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    Do you distinguish between melodic counterpoint and harmonic counterpoint? Do you have different approaches for them?

    Sometimes people say compound melody instead of melodic counterpoint. I guess the difference is, melodic counterpoint is when a single voice/line is giving an impression of a multi part line where as harmonic counterpoint implies truly independent multi parts.

    The important thing is how these ideas manifest on guitar. When you use your thumb for the bass voice it's harmonic, when you apply counterpoint during solos it's melodic? What I'm wondering is if they are essentially the same counterpoint ideas/concepts but with different technical executions or are they different approaches all together?

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by kris
    Counterpoint Concepts have the greatest use of solo guitar playing. Am I right?
    I think this is very useful in small group settings where being able to do this behind a soloist or behind the head is a very effective difference with how guitarists usually tend to comp. And maybe also when playing with a pianist, since they tend not to leave much room, but I have had little opportunity to try that. My skills with playing counterpoint are barely scratching the surface- heck, after more than 40 years of playing the guitar I seem to have only barely scratched the surface- but in the quintet I played with I found this sort of idea to be very effective (to the extent that I could do it).

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by TLerch
    Thanks guys,
    Rather than simply suggesting methods etc by others, I am particularly interested in what you as players have done to develop contrapuntal playing. Christian, can you elaborate on figured bass and thinking intervallically?
    well it’s a big subject but I’ll try and summarise how it’s changing my thinking.

    Basically, it’s all intervals, which means there’s no concept of theoretical root.

    So for example, a 6 3 and 6 4 chords will be handled very differently from a 5 3 even though these are considered as manifestations of triads in modern theory. Chords don’t have roots or Roman numeral functions, just intervals above the bass.

    This might seem very cumbersome at first but actually i find I got used to it pretty quickly, and all those chords are contrapuntally distinct with their own tendencies and movements, and considerations for good counterpoint.

    This is shifting the way I view harmony, or adding another dimension. So I’m now thinking about how basses and melodies relate a lot more and seeing inner voice movement as emergent from that. Furthermore there’s a lot of baroque combinations of basses and melodies (‘schemata’) in standards and even bop lines - probably not a surprise to people with an interest in both, but it’s always nice to find those links. And certain composers such as Jobim seem a perfect fit for this type of approach.

    there’s a great many patterns and formulae you can use to ensure good counterpoint. 7-6 is a classic way of avoiding consecutive fifths with open position parallel 6 3’s for example.

    Scholarship seems to suggest the composers of the 18th century including Bach built up their understanding of counterpoint in this practical way, which helped them compose quickly and of course improvise.

    Theres a collector’s aspect to this too- so you might look in a treatise and have the author say effectively ‘here’s a nice way of treating a scale, or a cadence.’ ‘Check out this pedal point thing.’ And so on. Quite jazz!

    in jazz of course we can relax a bit! But I like the discipline. I also think what you may mean in the OP is more a texture than counterpoint in this sense. I’ve yet to achieve a true contrapuntal texture in my work on baroque improv so far.

    Did you study baroque style improv with Ted Greene? I see he has similar sorts of things, but chord symbols. It’s a little dense for me to understand but it looks like he basically reverse engineered a lot of this stuff.
    Last edited by christianm77; 04-10-2021 at 01:43 PM.

  15. #14

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    interesting, what do you mean by 6 3 and 5 3 cords...are these the intervals above the base?

  16. #15

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    FWIW, I have found Thomas Echols’ YouTube videos on contrary motion immensely useful.

    Specifically learning and practicing a few set moves. I wish I could afford private tutoring to fully explore and understand the figures TE obliquely demonstrates (no pun intended). He is a terrible YouTube teacher with a lot of “ahhha” (care to share your revelation?) and “you know” (no, I don’t. That’s why I’m watching the video) and “like this” (like what? It’s a YouTube video. I can barely see your fingers, and the sound quality is very poor). But his system is very interesting.

    IMO if improv is your goal, having a library of already calculated moves seems critical. I am a huge theory nerd, but this is one topic where I’m not sure I want the arcana. Practical snippets to add motion and depth to an improvised melody are like gold to me.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by rlrhett
    FWIW, I have found Thomas Echols’ YouTube videos on contrary motion immensely useful.

    Specifically learning and practicing a few set moves. I wish I could afford private tutoring to fully explore and understand the figures TE obliquely demonstrates (no pun intended).
    Echols has PDFs to accompany some of these videos available at his website for a nominal fee. I like his concept of "the algorithmic guitar" and his formula for contrary motion through the 6-dim scales by changing voicing type at each scale step (starting at any step), moving from unisons to thirds to triads to (what he calls) shell chords to octave chords to drop-2 to drop-3 to drop-2+4 and finally to double octaves (and back again).

    For me one of the biggest technical challenges in realizing counterpoint on the guitar is smooth left-hand fingering. In this regard I have gained a lot of mileage by practicing Jimmy Wyble's fingered exercises, especially his Concepts for the Classical and Jazz Guitar (with Ron Berman) and some of the Wyble lessons on John Hall's webpage. The introductory section to Wyble's two-voice improvisation book is a good short introduction to parallel, oblique and contrary motion. I don't personally find all of these exercises and etudes appealing musically, but they are a great technical workout with well thought-out fingerings. Not as exhaustive as Van Eps but much less exhausting!

  18. #17

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    Could this be a strategy to help someone bridge modern harmony with counterpoint?

    - Harmonize every note of the melody vertically by applying common harmonization/reharmonization/passing chord techniques. Melody doesn't have to be the highest voice (although it usually is), it could be a middle voice or the bass voice.

    - Now see the each voice of the vertical movement as a separate melody line.

    - Experiment with these lines and reduce them to 2-3 voices by elimination. Additional chromatic passing notes can be added to a voice and vertically neighbouring voices can exchange notes etc.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by artcore
    interesting, what do you mean by 6 3 and 5 3 cords...are these the intervals above the base?

    It's very straightforward - all intervals are diatonic to the relevant Major or Natural Minor scale unless otherwise noted. The only slightly confusing thing is the shorthand. But here's a quick breakdown, with actual examples:

    Figured bass - Wikipedia