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  1. #1

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    Any help with the following would be appreciated.

    I've been playing in some big bands reading swing charts, mostly.

    I can read them well enough at a slow enough tempo -- which is fine when the tune is that slow. But, oftentimes, the tempo is too high and I can't do it.

    I think the problem is often that a guitarist (or pianist) has to read where the hits are, but then move his eyes to the top of the stave to find the chord symbol for that hit ... up and down, repeatedly. And it's hard.

    Tonight I subbed in a band I'd like to play with, but they don't go over anything twice and the book is so massive it could be a very long time before they play the same chart again.

    So I need to find a way to practice this stuff. Anybody have an idea of a book or something that might help?

    Bear in mind, the issue isn't being able to read -- it's being able to read the stuff the first time at full tempo.
    Last edited by rpjazzguitar; 02-07-2017 at 04:01 PM.

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    People say, "Always be the worst player in the band - that way you'll learn a lot". And that translates to reading. I've been through what you are experiencing. I'm a fairly good sight reader, in any key, but when I joined a big band as part of a jazz diploma course, I got freaked out at the first rehearsal. The leader handed out the score, which looked frightful, counted off 1-2-3-4, and every one played perfectly and at tempo! I couldn't believe it.

    So, how did I get better at it? Turning up is one thing. Every time, just keep putting yourself in that situation. Another thing was realising I don't have to play all that is written - 99% of the time it was arranged by someone who doesn't know one end of a guitar from the other. Simplify as you go. That G7#5b9 chord that occupies half a beat only needs the third and seventh. So, all I saw was G7, and I knew what to do. I never quite got to the level of the other readers, but I stopped embarrassing myself. Just stick at it.

  4. #3

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    If they can tell you didn't quite play the right chord, then your guitar is probably too loud!

  5. #4

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    I played in a "swing" band (they got offended when I called it a "jazz" band!) for about 10 years before I moved, and the initial thing that freaked me out was that each bar had about 2-10 chords! OK, maybe not 10, but still … And as you said, there were rhythms (sometimes) that went with the chord changes. We had a busy pianist who played everything, and with big voicings, too, so I learned: (1) to play small, 2-note "chords" (like playing the 3rd and 7th, etc.) like Rob mentioned; (2) a single line (maybe outlining the 3rd or 7th); and playing maybe one or two of the actual chords in the bar (on a fast tempo tune). The guitar was really "background," and no one ever commented, "Hey, man, you missed the chord on the 3-and!"

    [Fun note: we performed a lot, and whenever we did a "bluesy" tune, I would get a solo; I'd stomp on an overdrive pedal, and the crowd -- and band -- would love the greasy stuff!]

    Have fun!

  6. #5

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    If in doubt, just play one note on the 4th string and if anyone calls you out, say 'so you don't want me to play like Freddie Green, is that it?'

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by marcwhy View Post
    I played in a "swing" band (they got offended when I called it a "jazz" band!)
    Build bridges, not walls.

  8. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop View Post
    If they can tell you didn't quite play the right chord, then your guitar is probably too loud!
    I laughed out loud! Thanks for that.

    How about, "If YOU can tell you didn't play the right chord ...

  9. #8
    The issue of coordinating with the piano is no small thing.

    Last night, both guitar and piano were subs. The piano player spent an unusual amount of time laying out. I couldn't tell if he was giving me space or if he was lost. Sparsest pianist I ever played with, I think. Then, during the break he revealed that he's actually a trumpet player. Wild guess? -- he wasn't lost. I've had that happen before. Last time, the pianist was an old guy who revealed that he was actually a bass player. And, by "old", I mean in his 80s. Played great. Read like a machine.

    I digress.

    A lot of the time in the big band and my octet I get the feeling that the guitar isn't really adding all that much. If the pianist is doing stick and jab comping, it's hard to find something to play that actually contributes. And, if the pianist is playing a strict pattern, well, it can be the same problem. I can play the same pattern, but all I'm adding is a little texture to the band.

    So, I often lay out. Sadly, nobody complains.

    The situation is better with straight swing (Freddie works) and groove based stuff where I'm adding something funky or phrasing with a clave or tamborim pattern.

    A trick I had to use last night was this. On the hits (which probably averaged 5 syncopated accents), there would be a staff with three or four notes (spelling out the chord) and then a chord symbol above. I couldn't move my eyes up and down fast enough to understand the rhythm and then read the chord. So, I figured, screw it, and I just read the top note of each staff. Nobody looked over like, "where are the rest of the notes, %^&Uhead?". But, on a couple of the charts, they crossed out Piano and wrote in Guitar. On those, the chords were written in bass clef, which I read at a glacial pace.

    And the horns (all zillion of them) are reading everything without a change in their bored expressions.

    I am often awed by the skill of musicians.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar View Post
    The issue of coordinating with the piano is no small thing.

    Last night, both guitar and piano were subs. The piano player spent an unusual amount of time laying out. I couldn't tell if he was giving me space or if he was lost. Sparsest pianist I ever played with, I think. Then, during the break he revealed that he's actually a trumpet player. Wild guess? -- he wasn't lost. I've had that happen before. Last time, the pianist was an old guy who revealed that he was actually a bass player. And, by "old", I mean in his 80s. Played great. Read like a machine.

    I digress.

    A lot of the time in the big band and my octet I get the feeling that the guitar isn't really adding all that much. If the pianist is doing stick and jab comping, it's hard to find something to play that actually contributes. And, if the pianist is playing a strict pattern, well, it can be the same problem. I can play the same pattern, but all I'm adding is a little texture to the band.

    So, I often lay out. Sadly, nobody complains.

    The situation is better with straight swing (Freddie works) and groove based stuff where I'm adding something funky or phrasing with a clave or tamborim pattern.

    A trick I had to use last night was this. On the hits (which probably averaged 5 syncopated accents), there would be a staff with three or four notes (spelling out the chord) and then a chord symbol above. I couldn't move my eyes up and down fast enough to understand the rhythm and then read the chord. So, I figured, screw it, and I just read the top note of each staff. Nobody looked over like, "where are the rest of the notes, %^&Uhead?". But, on a couple of the charts, they crossed out Piano and wrote in Guitar. On those, the chords were written in bass clef, which I read at a glacial pace.

    And the horns (all zillion of them) are reading everything without a change in their bored expressions.

    I am often awed by the skill of musicians.
    Man, that hadda throw you for a loop!

    I always count on the piano player playing too much, and err on the side of not playing.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  11. #10

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    Not much to add, besides "It gets better".

    When I first started with my big band, I was completely overwhelmed. Poorly written charts with chords flying by on every beat at 200 for 3 hours. Soon you start breaking it down to the essentials -- all dominants become 3/7s, most majors become 6s, as do most minors if they're not part of a ii-V or a line cliche. If you see 4+ chords in a measure chances are most of them are passing chords, so you can probably just get away with the first and last chords in the bar. If you get lost, keep counting and chunk away on muted strings... that's a lot of the texture they're wanting to hear anyway. Try your best to lock in to the bassist and the drummer's high hat.

    Don't worry about adding harmonic substance... that's not your job!
    Jay

    'boobadoobadoobaooababop!'

  12. #11

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    Oh and in terms of practicing this stuff, I don't think books are going to beat practicing with your actual charts. Set a metronome and practice hanging on by the seat of your pants, not stopping for mistakes. If there are specific trouble spots, loop 'em... but I'd try to keep practicing as close to tempo as possible. You need the fast to not feel so fast, and the overwhelming to become mundane.
    Jay

    'boobadoobadoobaooababop!'

  13. #12

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    As far as something to practice: If you have a decent smartphone camera, take pics of pages that you want to learn, then print them out.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop View Post
    People say, "Always be the worst player in the band - that way you'll learn a lot". And that translates to reading. I've been through what you are experiencing. I'm a fairly good sight reader, in any key, but when I joined a big band as part of a jazz diploma course, I got freaked out at the first rehearsal. The leader handed out the score, which looked frightful, counted off 1-2-3-4, and every one played perfectly and at tempo! I couldn't believe it.

    So, how did I get better at it? Turning up is one thing. Every time, just keep putting yourself in that situation. Another thing was realising I don't have to play all that is written - 99% of the time it was arranged by someone who doesn't know one end of a guitar from the other. Simplify as you go. That G7#5b9 chord that occupies half a beat only needs the third and seventh. So, all I saw was G7, and I knew what to do. I never quite got to the level of the other readers, but I stopped embarrassing myself. Just stick at it.
    Good advice. As far as those amazing horn players reading, you have to realize that most sax/bone/trumpet players have been doing that since they were about 8, maybe 9 years old. That's when most school systems start their band music programs. It's second nature to them, just like reading a comic strip or a novel. They never have to think about it, it's automatic. Add to that, the nature of those instruments is that every note lies under their fingers at the same time. (Well maybe not 'bone.) From the very beginning they've grown up never taking their eyes off the music for a moment to look at the instrument. I started as a clarinet player at 8, took up guitar at 10, so I understand this well.
    Last edited by Woody Sound; 02-08-2017 at 04:10 PM.

  15. #14

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    I agree with the comments by Sam Sherry and Jehu. The way I'd describe it is that a guitar big band chart is just a guide.

    I play in an intermediate level big band (some ringers, some greener cats, etc). I never even practice my big band charts anymore unless there are some single note dots I don't have under my fingers yet (which happens a lot). But I practice jazz quite a bit, play a fair bit of combo jazz and I know a lot of tunes (like I *know* them in all keys without charts), which helps me hear what is happening in a big band chart most of the time. I feel 4 or 8 bar chunks. I nail what I can nail and I don't fret about the rest. There's nothing wrong with a guitar laying out in many big band scenarios. I feel it's mostly about what you do in the space left by the horns, and about getting the main rhythmic elements right. And providing a great, lush comping feel behind a piano solo - I find that is where the big band guitar is most appreciated by everyone, which is funny because in that scenario it's just like a small jazz combo. It's also sometimes about helping the rhythm section lock up if another instrument (piano?) is misplaying a syncopation. Sometimes all you have to do is focus on one rhythmic hit every 2 or 4 bars.

    Everything is related...

  16. #15
    I appreciate all the comments and advice. Taking pictures of the charts is one those ideas where you slap your forehead and say "Why didn't I do that?".

    I'm impressed with the reading of the horn players, but it's relatively easy. One note at a time, no position shifts and you read the chart in a linear fashion -- your eyes don't need to jump up and down.

    Guitar is harder. If I had one one note for each of those hits (I'm talking about a situation where there may be 5 quick, varied, syncopated hits in 2 bars at 180 -- that type of thing) I'd be more likely to be able to play it. But, trying to do 5 quick chords, all different, when the chord symbol requires refocusing your eyes to the stop of the stave -- and only one chance at it -- well, it's hard. What I find is that I may miss the hits and, worse, lose track of where we are in the next measure. Which is why I wanted to find a way to practice it. I think the suggestion to photograph the page and practice it with a metronome is a great idea.

    Piano, it seems to me, is the hardest of all. They've got all the problems the guitar has, plus they have to read left hand.

    As far as the issue of making music, the horns have it relatively easy, IMO. Their parts are written down. There are challenges to get it all blended properly, but at least they know what they're supposed to do. The rhythm section chart is, often, slash marks -- and you have to create a part that works.

    This isn't that difficult if there's no piano. But, with a busy pianist, you have to figure out whether you're going to try to play groove, or limit yourself to coloration, or I don't know what. I can't recall a single chart which really specified how the guitar and piano should coordinate comping. Often, the guitar chart is actually the piano chart with the word piano crossed out and guitar written in. The pianist has the same chart, so if you play it perfectly, all you've done is add some texture. But, all that's fine. In my regular band, we rehearse the tunes and there's plenty of opportunity to find something to contribute. It's in the situation I was in on Monday -- original tunes I've never heard, played just once, brisk tempi and lots of hits -- that's why I need to practice.

    Anyway, sorry for the vent.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar View Post
    As far as the issue of making music, the horns have it relatively easy, IMO.
    RP, have you ever played a trumpet? You push a button and any one of about nine notes can come out.

    It's all hard, man. No sympathy around here!
    "Don't worry about that. Everybody talks about finding your voice. Do your homework and your voice will find you." - Branford Marsalis

  18. #17

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    At our last gig we had a sub on trumpet who I haven't seen in awhile. After the gig we chatted a bit and he said he had new appreciation for what the bass player and I had to do after he had started learning bass recently. He said "you guys never get to rest!" I laughed and said "On the other hand, I'm really bad at counting long rests!"

    Sax players especially have a challenge reading, since they often work with multiple instruments in different keys. I think guitar players often don't read well because the instrument doesn't require it to get started, and many are self-taught--including me, but I was lucky enough to have a mother who was classically trained, and who sight read (and sang) perfectly. She used to have me help her "practice", but in fact she was teaching me to read better, since she didn't need the help. That being said, she didn't help me to read chord symbols; I had to do that on my own.

    Danny W.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Danny W. View Post
    Sax players especially have a challenge reading, since they often work with multiple instruments in different keys. I think guitar players often don't read well because the instrument doesn't require it to get started, and many are self-taught--including me, but I was lucky enough to have a mother who was classically trained, and who sight read (and sang) perfectly. She used to have me help her "practice", but in fact she was teaching me to read better, since she didn't need the help. That being said, she didn't help me to read chord symbols; I had to do that on my own.

    Danny W.
    I am an excellent reader by "guitarist standards." Not bragging, just stating a fact. (It's also why I get called for many musical pit jobs & symphony spots.) I attribute a lot of it to having studied clarinet seriously from about 8yo right through college in music school. The range is identical (E below the staff up to several ledger lines above.) There's an old saying about practicing guitar reading: "Time to get out the clarinet book." Of course this has little to do with big band charts, (which I also sight-read very well), so I guess it's getting a bit ot.

  20. #19

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    I would have preferred to play in a rockin' blues band, but I always seem to end up in a big band .... LOL

    For classic swing (Goodman, Basie, Glen Miller, etc.) I stuck to using 3 or 4 note chords on the bottom 4 strings most of the time .... that minimized the time to move to the next chord .... as you figure out that you can use the same 3 note chord for 7s and diminished or major 7s and major 6s by shifting to the appropriate fret it starts getting easier to keep up. You can also minimize your movements up and down the fingerboard with these minimalist chords by staying near the same position as you figure out the different fingerings you can get away with. IMHO The guitar is felt more than heard with these 30s and 40s bands.

    More modern big band stuff can require fuller chords and sparser rhythms and other flashy stuff .. even funk .. or effects. I didn't get much experience with this stuff, at least not on guitar. Most of this stuff came out of the 60s and 70s.

    As a guitar player, even if you can read music, you spend so much time chunking out chords that you don't get much chance to develop your sight reading skills the way the horn players have. It can be frustrating when someone throws a written out guitar part that matches the horns or is a classic solo that will be missed by a knowledgeable audience.

    I studied clarinet for a few years as well ... not that it has helped my sight reading that much ...

    But I still have my Klose clarinet study book somewhere ... this book works well for guitar players, too
    Amazon.com: Celebrated Method for the Clarinet (9780825800511): Hyacinthe Klose: Books


    I'm currently playing bass with a big band .... it's fun, but I prefer guitar .... lots of sight reading with the bass ... but even then it is usually limited to basic bass rhythm's ....

    we currently have a chart that has the bass doing a "solo" with the trombones ... I'm going to have almost memorize that part


    The there's the 7 page or more charts that don't fit on my stand .... the bass almost never gets a break to pull the music across the stand as the tune progresses

  21. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Sam Sherry View Post
    RP, have you ever played a trumpet? You push a button and any one of about nine notes can come out.

    It's all hard, man. No sympathy around here!
    Tough room <g>

  22. #21
    The big bands I play with often have charts which were done by hand before personal computers.

    Some of them are multiple pages, often, but not always, without an obvious way to deal with the page turn. I sometimes use two stands, which helps, but I don't like carrying two, so I usually gig with one, with wings. Since the guitar may not be missed much, I can get away with it. But, when the bassist has to stop, that's more disruptive.

    On the positive side, from what I gather (from a few bands) is that most of the older charts use straightforward roadmaps, often upper left to lower right with no repeats of anything. Sometimes, there will be a repeated solo section with an on cue to continue and read the rest of the chart.

    OTOH, my octet, which plays charts done by members and friends (as well as some purchased arrangements), often requires navigating complicated roadmaps.

    When they hand out a new chart, the horn players are immediately on figuring out the roadmap -- while the guitar player is trying to decipher rhythms and figure out how to finger the lead lines and what can be safely omitted.

    Look for my forthcoming book, "1000 4 Bar Sequences With Complicated, Random Hits". Backing tracks available at 200, 250 and 280 bpm.

    Ok, I'm joking about the book, but if there was one, I might buy it.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by marcwhy View Post
    [Fun note: we performed a lot, and whenever we did a "bluesy" tune, I would get a solo; I'd stomp on an overdrive pedal, and the crowd -- and band -- would love the greasy stuff!]
    I just had a big band gig like that. We played a set with guitar hiding in the rhythm section, but second set played "Back at the Chicken Shack" featuring guitar in place of B3 so I got to showboat a bit. As we ended the tune guy on the dance floor started yelling his head off "where have you been?!" Then I went back to the background, but had a smile on my face. Reading Big Band charts

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by marcwhy View Post
    [Fun note: we performed a lot, and whenever we did a "bluesy" tune, I would get a solo; I'd stomp on an overdrive pedal, and the crowd -- and band -- would love the greasy stuff!]

    Have fun!
    Yeah, it's kinda ironic. You would think that playing in a big band, the guys would be stodgy traditionalists. But the times that I've solo'd on a bluesey/rockish tune, with a little grit, lots of bending, they all LOVE it.

  25. #24

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    I don’t claim any special insight into playing old school big band guitar. I do perform regularly with two big bands. Here’s a couple of things I would add to this topic. Or maybe it’s just saying the same things from a different angle.

    Joe Pass once said there are only three types of chords: major, minor and dominant. Keeping it simple playing the rhythm is the important thing in a big band.

    You can usually play different types of chords using the same fingering. For example: a first position C7 can also be an F#7b5. You can use that easy chord shape on any fret to make two different chords. A first position C6 chord shape can be used for an Fmaj7 or an Amin or an F#m7b5. That’s four different chords you can make anywhere on the fretboard using one chord shape. There are others you’ll discover.

    Repitition. That’s how you learn to do anything. Ask the leader if you can take the book home to practice. Nowadays you can look up the title and arranger online and find a recording of the exact chart to play along with.

    Does any of that make sense? Anyways I hope this helps.