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  1. #1

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    This could go in The Players section but as a beginner I thought the answers maybe useful to other beginners.

    So many modern jazz players seem know music theory and the technical aspects of jazz out the wazoo. However I was interested in how technical the greats were? Of course their playing is amazing but for example how did Wes, Jimmy Raney, Grant Green, Tal Farlow and George Benson think when playing? Did they know every single arpeggio of every single chord, every single chord inversion, the technical names for chords? I can imagine someone like John Coltrane knew every chord inside out, but what about the guitarists? Did they endlessly practice, did they study music at school or university?

    Interested to hear some thought!

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  3. #2
    I suspect what is missing with not so great players (like me) is that the attitude is slightly off. Driven by ambition mostly, not because the music itself asks for the attention all the time. Great players are then being obsessed in a good way and get to know the theory by heart and maybe not so much "verbally"? At least I remember a lot of good players say something like that.

  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Babaluma View Post
    This could go in The Players section but as a beginner I thought the answers maybe useful to other beginners.

    So many modern jazz players seem know music theory and the technical aspects of jazz out the wazoo. However I was interested in how technical the greats were? Of course their playing is amazing but for example how did Wes, Jimmy Raney, Grant Green, Tal Farlow and George Benson think when playing? Did they know every single arpeggio of every single chord, every single chord inversion, the technical names for chords? I can imagine someone like John Coltrane knew every chord inside out, but what about the guitarists? Did they endlessly practice, did they study music at school or university?

    Interested to hear some thought!
    Some of them did study music formally.... music theory has changed too.

    It’s sometimes possible to underestimate what people know. BB King was pretty theory literate, for instance.

    Theory per se is actually pretty useless. The important thing is to work out what’s going on in actual music - usually ‘ah so they play this thing on this chord’ - studying actual music leads to a series of discoveries that can be understood through the prism of conventional music theory, or some weird names and symbols that you come up with...

    The advantage of the former is other people will understand it, but this is less of an advantage than you might think.

    In the case of someone like Barry Harris who was teaching back in the 50s and 60s, he had different names for the same things as well as concepts that don’t exist in modern jazz theory.

  5. #4

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    I think most of the great players had a very good understanding of what we call music theory, even if they did not learn it in a formal way like many current players do.

    Some players approach music from a melodic place and embellish with extensions, altered chords, etc. Others approach it more like a math problem and structure their writing and playing around self-imposed musical rules. Or a mix of both.

    It's all good, as long as the end result is good music.

  6. #5

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    I would say I think a lot of theory people talk about is overly concerned with surface detail

  7. #6

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    I recently attended a workshop given by a very well known player who is a Berklee grad.

    He began the session by saying how the music isn't on the paper or in the theory. It's in listening. He recommended playing along with records. He never spoke about a scrap of theory, although he's well versed.

    I guess there's a question about whether you need theory to get where he is. I didn't ask that. But, I think he was suggesting that jazz players are often too focused on it.

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Babaluma View Post
    This could go in The Players section but as a beginner I thought the answers maybe useful to other beginners.

    So many modern jazz players seem know music theory and the technical aspects of jazz out the wazoo. However I was interested in how technical the greats were? Of course their playing is amazing but for example how did Wes, Jimmy Raney, Grant Green, Tal Farlow and George Benson think when playing? Did they know every single arpeggio of every single chord, every single chord inversion, the technical names for chords? I can imagine someone like John Coltrane knew every chord inside out, but what about the guitarists? Did they endlessly practice, did they study music at school or university?

    Interested to hear some thought!
    A few thoughts on this:

    Firstly - who says that the greats were all of the past?

    1. There weren't too many jazz university programs in those days. There were a few, but not nearly as many as there are now, so observing that they weren't all college boys is kind of moot.
    2. Benson looked into Berklee but passed. Tuition $???
    3. These players played Blues and 32-bar American song forms, not sonatas, concertos or symphonies. How much theory did they need?
    4. When jazz players and enthusiasts talk about "theory" they are primarily referring to harmony - as are you.

    So, go analyze the transcriptions of these great players and then ask yourself - did they have an effective grip on expressing harmony?

    When you answer that, I think you'll have the answer to the central question posed here.

    Cheers.

  9. #8

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    To me, music is like a supernatural spirit realm. Songs are like individual spirits that inhabit it. Making music is the act of performing certain rituals that one hopes will invoke the spirit of a song. If it appears, it can cast a spell over anyone listening, and they can feel its presence and share the energy of its personality.

    Everything that can help a person accomplish this is valuable -- natural talent, physical attributes, intuitive understanding, discipline, etc. Obviously, formal training and knowledge of music theory are also great assets. And although theory in itself isn't music, it's one way of understanding how to invoke the spirit of music. And that's the main thing.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by strumcat View Post
    To me, music is like a supernatural spirit realm. Songs are like individual spirits that inhabit it. Making music is the act of performing certain rituals that one hopes will invoke the spirit of a song. If it appears, it can cast a spell over anyone listening, and they can feel its presence and share the energy of its personality.

    Everything that can help a person accomplish this is valuable -- natural talent, physical attributes, intuitive understanding, discipline, etc. Obviously, formal training and knowledge of music theory are also great assets. And although theory in itself isn't music, it's one way of understanding how to invoke the spirit of music. And that's the main thing.
    well put strumcat

    there's an ambiguity... or maybe a duality at play
    getting in to Gatwick airport there are two large photo montages
    of the Queen ,
    made up from hundreds of pixels
    when you get closer you can see that each pixel is in fact
    a photo of a random portrait or scene ....

    what at is this object ?
    it depends on your POV

    I asked my teacher should I think of Autumn Leaves
    in major Bb or minor G-
    "both" he said ....

    if if you play Embracable You in F
    and you get to bar 13 , are you in C now ?

    yes and no !
    (kinda)

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by strumcat View Post
    To me, music is like a supernatural spirit realm. Songs are like individual spirits that inhabit it. Making music is the act of performing certain rituals that one hopes will invoke the spirit of a song. If it appears, it can cast a spell over anyone listening, and they can feel its presence and share the energy of its personality.

    Everything that can help a person accomplish this is valuable -- natural talent, physical attributes, intuitive understanding, discipline, etc. Obviously, formal training and knowledge of music theory are also great assets. And although theory in itself isn't music, it's one way of understanding how to invoke the spirit of music. And that's the main thing.
    Spoken like a Steve Vai fan

  12. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Jazzstdnt View Post
    A few thoughts on this:

    Firstly - who says that the greats were all of the past?

    1. There weren't too many jazz university programs in those days. There were a few, but not nearly as many as there are now, so observing that they weren't all college boys is kind of moot.
    2. Benson looked into Berklee but passed. Tuition $???
    3. These players played Blues and 32-bar American song forms, not sonatas, concertos or symphonies. How much theory did they need?
    4. When jazz players and enthusiasts talk about "theory" they are primarily referring to harmony - as are you.

    So, go analyze the transcriptions of these great players and then ask yourself - did they have an effective grip on expressing harmony?

    When you answer that, I think you'll have the answer to the central question posed here.

    Cheers.
    You misunderstand, there are loads of great modern jazz guitarists, however as you point out there are some many resources these days that I wanted to know how the guys from the past developed their knowledge. Thanks for the post

  13. #12

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    One thing complicating such questions is that some players denied having studied much (or any) despite having done so. It seemed more "authentic" to be self-taught, "unspoiled" by theory, more intuitive about the whole thing.
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  14. #13

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  15. #14

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    Yeah there are a lot of street tricks and hustles that people don’t learn on college improv and harmony classes. You can listen to the records though - a lot of the jazz the courses are meant to be modelled on - Miles quintet and that - is rather badly behaved on the level of individual chords.

    Joe’s a case in point. Just simple functions - Dominant, Major, minor.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jazzstdnt View Post
    3. These players played Blues and 32-bar American song forms, not sonatas, concertos or symphonies. How much theory did they need?
    .
    Have you ever tried to speak to a professional classical instrumentalist about theory? It’s a total waste of time, they know nothing.

    (Except rehearsal pianists. They know everything.)

    Do you know why they hate it? Because they are made to learn it but it has no utility. That’s pretty understandable. They learn figured bass for instance, but not what it is for, beyond passing an exam.

    This is something they seem keen to change in the pedagogy at my college.

  17. #16

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    Just simple functions - Dominant, Major, minor
    Sounds simple but - Joe Pass is not my guru - I think he said once that he hardly ever played a straight dominant.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1 View Post
    Sounds simple but - Joe Pass is not my guru - I think he said once that he hardly ever played a straight dominant.
    Oh yeah the function is obviously not the same as why you actually play....

    You have foreground detail and background structure. You might be thinking ‘F7 Bb’ but that’s not what you are playing. You might be playing all kinds of stuff... but really it’s melodies right? Lines and ideas. Subs. And so on.

    And what you actually playing is intuitive by that point otherwise you are fucked.

    And btw that’s why you can’t play what you practice right away.... what you are practicing at any point is not intuitive by definition.

  19. #18

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    what you are practising at any point is not intuitive by definition.
    I'd go with that. I suppose walking or tying a shoelace must be 'intuitive' :-)

    And I guess the more one practices the more intuitive one gets (as well as luckier)

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Have you ever tried to speak to a professional classical instrumentalist about theory? It’s a total waste of time, they know nothing.

    (Except rehearsal pianists. They know everything.)

    Do you know why they hate it? Because they are made to learn it but it has no utility. That’s pretty understandable. They learn figured bass for instance, but not what it is for, beyond passing an exam.

    This is something they seem keen to change in the pedagogy at my college.

    Yes, I asked an award winning classical guitar recording artist - and pedagogue - who was signing a CD for me, what the ending chord was on a certain piece that she had played that night, it was so glorious. She smiled, her eyes bugged out, and she said "ohhhhhhh". She had no clue, and why should she? Her job was to play it. But then she had also transcribed a difficult piano piece to the guitar and played it. It was a bitch. So theory would have helped there, quite a bit.

    I don't need to know too much theory when I play classical guitar pieces either, but it helps a little.

    But composing - as opposed to playing - European Art Music (i.e. "classical"), especially large works? That's a different matter altogether.

    Jazz musicians need to know some theory, especially harmony. But the form that jazzers play 99% of the time, is folk and popular song form - and with a small ensemble. That's a more limited domain. I don't see a debate here. If jazz musicians needed to be PhD's in music theory, we wouldn't have so many jazz musicians, and certainly would not have had so many from the early 1900s through the 1950s.

  21. #20

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    Btw I think anyone who is a good improviser on changes thinks along these lines whether they’ve been to spoddy jazz school or not.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jazzstdnt View Post
    Yes, I asked an award winning classical guitar recording artist - and pedagogue - who was signing a CD for me, what the ending chord was on a certain piece that she had played that night, it was so glorious. She smiled, her eyes bugged out, and she said "ohhhhhhh". She had no clue, and why should she? Her job was to play it. But then she had also transcribed a difficult piano piece to the guitar and played it. It was a bitch. So theory would have helped there, quite a bit.

    I don't need to know too much theory when I play classical guitar pieces either, but it helps a little.

    But composing - as opposed to playing - European Art Music (i.e. "classical"), especially large works? That's a different matter altogether.

    Jazz musicians need to know some theory, especially harmony. But the form that jazzers play 99% of the time, is folk and popular song form - and with a small ensemble. That's a more limited domain. I don't see a debate here. If jazz musicians needed to be PhD's in music theory, we wouldn't have so many jazz musicians, and certainly would not have had so many from the early 1900s through the 1950s.
    People who invent music obviously need to know how it is constructed....

    But you know, I obviously don’t have the skill set of a master classical recitalist. But then aside from maybe Jarrett.... jazzers are always a bit basic when they try to interpret, say, Bach.

    That said I do work with a few musicians from the classical backgrounds who also play jazz and they are just detail junkies. It was a real culture shock haha.... cool though, I think.

    People who interpret other people’s dots obviously get incredibly good at interpreting them.

    Even in jazz you have this a little, in big bands you have the players on certain chairs who don’t do the ‘jazz’ but are obviously killer swinging section players.
    Last edited by christianm77; 06-29-2019 at 04:57 PM.

  23. #22
    I have been drilling in arpeggios and scales for 3 years now and the other day I just went for it on You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To and weaved through it by ear. I actually have no idea if doing all that made any difference or if I should have just chucked theory out the window and played by ear from the start! Was amazingly liberating just to wing it.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by Babaluma View Post
    I have been drilling in arpeggios and scales for 3 years now and the other day I just went for it on You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To and weaved through it by ear. I actually have no idea if doing all that made any difference or if I should have just chucked theory out the window and played by ear from the start! Was amazingly liberating just to wing it.
    That’s the thing, no? To be able to chuck that stuff out isn’t easy, it requires a mental leap.

    OTOH guitar is a tough one because in order to play jazz we have to be able to map out the fretboard. For most of us that’s scale and arpeggio drills, voicings and so on.

    On piano I can imagine there’s less of a gap between understanding a theoretical idea and getting it on the keyboard.

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    On piano I can imagine there’s less of a gap between understanding a theoretical idea and getting it on the keyboard.
    Phil Woods, I have read, said, "If you can't play a tune on the piano, you don't know it." When students protested, as most non-pianists invariably do (-Woods played sax, by the way), he said, "Anyone can sit at the piano and plunk out two-note voicings. Anyone!"
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes View Post
    Phil Woods, I have read, said, "If you can't play a tune on the piano, you don't know it." When students protested, as most non-pianists invariably do (-Woods played sax, by the way), he said, "Anyone can sit at the piano and plunk out two-note voicings. Anyone!"
    True

  27. #26

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    I think plunking around on the piano definitely helped with my bop language.

  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by Babaluma View Post
    I have been drilling in arpeggios and scales for 3 years now and the other day I just went for it on You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To and weaved through it by ear. I actually have no idea if doing all that made any difference or if I should have just chucked theory out the window and played by ear from the start! Was amazingly liberating just to wing it.
    Hard to say. It has been done both ways, and every way in-between.

    Playing by ear means, I think, that you can imagine (or pre-hear) the line you want to play, at which point your fingers find the notes on a kind of auto-pilot.

    So, the question is, what is the best way for an individual player to achieve that?

    I think that you have to get so comfortable with the fretboard that you can play what you hear in your mind, without thinking about it.
    My guess is that you can get there by drilling scales and arps. Also, you can get there by copying solos or maybe just noodling solos a lot. Sooner or later your mind hears an interval and your fingers find it. On a conventional tuned guitar that includes accounting for the one string tuned a third above it's lower neighbor. That would probably be easier an instrument where all the tuning intervals are the same, but it is absolutely possible with conventional guitar tuning.

    Then there's the question of how you train your mind to conceive more interesting lines. I think you can get there by drilling scales and arps (which is the way I did it). But, in hindsight, I'd emphasize copying solos from recordings. You could develop your ear either way, but you can only build jazz language by studying jazz language.

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by Babaluma View Post
    This could go in The Players section but as a beginner I thought the answers maybe useful to other beginners.

    So many modern jazz players seem know music theory and the technical aspects of jazz out the wazoo. However I was interested in how technical the greats were? Of course their playing is amazing but for example how did Wes, Jimmy Raney, Grant Green, Tal Farlow and George Benson think when playing? Did they know every single arpeggio of every single chord, every single chord inversion, the technical names for chords? I can imagine someone like John Coltrane knew every chord inside out, but what about the guitarists? Did they endlessly practice, did they study music at school or university?

    Interested to hear some thought!
    That's a good question. Let's take Mickey Baker for example. Not that he's considered a "great" Jazz guitarist, but he did write an influential book.

    I read that later in life he studied composition. That, of course, means he had to learn theory. But, when he published his 1st book I don't think he knew much theory. This is pretty obvious by the explanations he gives (the few times he explains anything), the way he names chords, calls arpeggios "scale runs," etc..

    However, he had a high level of understanding of what worked where, even if he couldn't explain it in proper music theory terminology. He knew that this chord could substitute for that chord; this arpeggio sounds good over that chord; these chords using these voicings in this progression sound good together and can be used in this situation. In other words, he knew how music worked, but he had his own way of understanding it.

    John Pizzarelli says his father, Bucky, would show him "one of these" or "one of those" and tell him they could be used all over the place. Bucky started playing professionally when he was like 17 and, as far as I know, never studied music formally. John Pizzarelli says that he himself doesn't know much music theory, but he knows what sounds good.

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jack E Blue View Post
    However, he [Mickey Baker] had a high level of understanding of what worked where, even if he couldn't explain it in proper music theory terminology. He knew that this chord could substitute for that chord; this arpeggio sounds good over that chord; these chords using these voicings in this progression sound good together and can be used in this situation. In other words, he knew how music worked, but he had his own way of understanding it.

    John Pizzarelli says his father, Bucky, would show him "one of these" or "one of those" and tell him they could be used all over the place. Bucky started playing professionally when he was like 17 and, as far as I know, never studied music formally. John Pizzarelli says that he himself doesn't know much music theory, but he knows what sounds good.
    I agree in both cases. One thing I love about Mickey's book is that he gives lots of examples of licks / lines that go against the chord. He doesn't explain what that means or why it's important, but when I heard those lines as I first learned to play them, I often thought, "Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about!" It was the kind of "hot" guitar I liked.

    I think Bucky got his first gigs at 17, while still in high school. (I don't think he was old enough to be in some of the places he played in.)

    That approach, learning tunes and learning what works when soloing over tunes, is a sound one. As Robert Conti likes to say, once you can play something, it's a lot easier to understand. Trying to understand first and THEN improvise is a stumbling block for many.

    But I'm a decidedly old-school jazz fan...
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  31. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes View Post
    I agree in both cases. One thing I love about Mickey's book is that he gives lots of examples of licks / lines that go against the chord. He doesn't explain what that means or why it's important, but when I heard those lines as I first learned to play them, I often thought, "Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about!" It was the kind of "hot" guitar I liked.

    I think Bucky got his first gigs at 17, while still in high school. (I don't think he was old enough to be in some of the places he played in.)

    That approach, learning tunes and learning what works when soloing over tunes, is a sound one. As Robert Conti likes to say, once you can play something, it's a lot easier to understand. Trying to understand first and THEN improvise is a stumbling block for many.

    But I'm a decidedly old-school jazz fan...
    If I could ever force myself to work thru the 2nd half (I never got past the 1st Blues lesson) I'm sure I'd discover a lot of gems. You just gave me the incentive to take another crack at it.

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar View Post
    Playing by ear means, I think, that you can imagine (or pre-hear) the line you want to play, at which point your fingers find the notes on a kind of auto-pilot.

    So, the question is, what is the best way for an individual player to achieve that?

    I think that you have to get so comfortable with the fretboard that you can play what you hear in your mind, without thinking about it.
    My guess is that you can get there by drilling scales and arps. Also, you can get there by copying solos or maybe just noodling solos a lot. Sooner or later your mind hears an interval and your fingers find it. On a conventional tuned guitar that includes accounting for the one string tuned a third above it's lower neighbor. That would probably be easier an instrument where all the tuning intervals are the same, but it is absolutely possible with conventional guitar tuning.
    Muy ditto. Many people can hum a tune as soon as they hear it. A great goal is to be able to play a phrase as soon as you imagine it.

    It helps (me anyway) to think of the guitar as a fretless instrument. "That next note is about this far up (or down) the fretboard." ...by estimating pure analog distance, not by counting frets. The frets are just there to help you cheat, like a pitch-corrector for singers. One string exercises are good for this.

    Also ditto on the equal tuning intervals idea. I've experimented with tuning to all thirds. That way, you can play the entire chromatic scale (and thus any other scale) in a single position without stretching or shifting, just one finger per fret. And any phrase or chord you play in one place on certain strings, you can play exactly the same way in any other position on any other strings.

    Of course you have to learn all new ways of forming chords and playing melodies and harmonies. But it's consistent everywhere. At least all of the g-string/b-string dyads still apply, haha.

    I'm surprised there isn't a whole school of guitar playing based on this. It does reduce your, and the guitar's, range, though.

  33. #32
    Ralph Patt was a great player who really explored the Major 3rds tuning The Major 3rd Tuning

    PK

  34. #33

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    If one thinks of music as a language, separating theory from actual use becomes relatively easy. With language we first learned intuitively and then we learn to analyze grammar, separating words into nouns/verb/pronoun/adjectives/prepositions; we learn how those elements are linked into phrases; we learn how phrases become sentences; how sentences become paragraphs, etc. Grammar teaches us how the language is put together but it does not give us anything to say. Music theory does the same thing. It helps us understand how musical passages might be assembled but it does not tell us what we should play. That part comes with the development of hearing music and relating what we hear to the underlying emotional expression.
    Beauty is as close to terror as we can well endure. -Rainer Maria Rilke

  35. #34

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    Quote Originally Posted by paulkogut View Post
    Ralph Patt was a great player who really explored the Major 3rds tuning The Major 3rd Tuning

    PK
    Thanks very much. Those diagrams are great. Regards.

  36. #35

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    Quote Originally Posted by ruger9 View Post
    Spoken like a Steve Vai fan
    Heh, I know what you mean. But I'm not much of a Vai or Zappa fan.

  37. #36

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    Quote Originally Posted by strumcat View Post
    Heh, I know what you mean. But I'm not much of a Vai or Zappa fan.
    I suppose it means you are a hippy. Vai, I mean, not Zappa....

    Great post Btw :-)

  38. #37

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    Quote Originally Posted by Babaluma View Post
    So many modern jazz players seem know music theory and the technical aspects of jazz out the wazoo. However I was interested in how technical the greats were? Of course their playing is amazing but for example how did Wes, Jimmy Raney, Grant Green, Tal Farlow and George Benson think when playing? Did they know every single arpeggio of every single chord, every single chord inversion, the technical names for chords? I can imagine someone like John Coltrane knew every chord inside out, but what about the guitarists? Did they endlessly practice, did they study music at school or university?
    I think you would find this article quite interesting. The big take-away here is that many jazz greats of the 40s-70s had a firm grounding in western classical harmony: Bach, Chopin, etc.

    I've done a lot of reading on jazz greats, and have been able to talk, take lessons with, and go to clinics by quite a few of people I think you're referencing: McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman, Barry Harris, Billy Taylor, Joanne Brackeen, etc. One anecdotal observation I would make is that many of these folks can play things that they would have trouble naming very quickly: I once remember Joanne Brackeen correcting a student for playing something incorrect on the 4th measure of "It could happen to you" and she played something that fit correctly much quicker than she was able to spell out to the student what chord she'd play. A common thread I would note: I can't ever remember hearing one of these masters get a melody to a standard "wrong". It's clear to me that the way most of these folks learned the tune is the melody, and a good grounding in western harmony is all about harmonizing a melody.

    My perception on here sometimes is that occasionally I run across people that think that knowing a standard is knowing the chords and melody, and it's really more about knowing the melody cold, and knowing how to harmonize a melody. People that know lots of standards have shorthand ways of remembering how tunes go, and these devices rarely involve rattling off chord symbols for any of thousands of tunes. David Berkman's book on Jazz Harmony describes this process the best, but it's something like:
    "for 'the man I love', the tune stars on the tonic goes to tonic minor, then to a bVII-ish thing that walks down to the V and resolves. the bridge goes to the relative minor".
    Learning things by ear, and playing along with records, is something that most jazz musicians did and is a huge shortcut. It doesn't matter if you can name all the fancy harmonic tricks you're doing, as long as you can play those things and have them sound good. Don't forget that a lot of our favorite "classic" jazz records were made by people in their early 20s, who, in many cases, didn't have infinite time or resources to devote to studying theory. A lot of folks seemed to have grown up in good musical communities with like-minded people, and developed that way.

  39. #38

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    Quote Originally Posted by pcsanwald View Post
    I think you would find this article quite interesting. The big take-away here is that many jazz greats of the 40s-70s had a firm grounding in western classical harmony: Bach, Chopin, etc.

    I've done a lot of reading on jazz greats, and have been able to talk, take lessons with, and go to clinics by quite a few of people I think you're referencing: McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman, Barry Harris, Billy Taylor, Joanne Brackeen, etc. One anecdotal observation I would make is that many of these folks can play things that they would have trouble naming very quickly: I once remember Joanne Brackeen correcting a student for playing something incorrect on the 4th measure of "It could happen to you" and she played something that fit correctly much quicker than she was able to spell out to the student what chord she'd play. A common thread I would note: I can't ever remember hearing one of these masters get a melody to a standard "wrong". It's clear to me that the way most of these folks learned the tune is the melody, and a good grounding in western harmony is all about harmonizing a melody.

    My perception on here sometimes is that occasionally I run across people that think that knowing a standard is knowing the chords and melody, and it's really more about knowing the melody cold, and knowing how to harmonize a melody. People that know lots of standards have shorthand ways of remembering how tunes go, and these devices rarely involve rattling off chord symbols for any of thousands of tunes. David Berkman's book on Jazz Harmony describes this process the best, but it's something like:


    Learning things by ear, and playing along with records, is something that most jazz musicians did and is a huge shortcut. It doesn't matter if you can name all the fancy harmonic tricks you're doing, as long as you can play those things and have them sound good. Don't forget that a lot of our favorite "classic" jazz records were made by people in their early 20s, who, in many cases, didn't have infinite time or resources to devote to studying theory. A lot of folks seemed to have grown up in good musical communities with like-minded people, and developed that way.
    Great post. Your Berkman quote elucidates the thing I was trying to say.

    Re: classical. This is an important and overlooked point.

    Coleman Hawkins studied composition formally, for instance.

    However remember the fact that one can play classical music does not mean you necessarily have any instruction on how it was written. That comes from a curious mind of a person that wants to create music.

    Barry Harris is a case in point. But being immersed in harmonic music is probably more important than being spoon fed harmonic theory.

  40. #39
    I think theory comes after the music, trying to document it and explain it to people who can't grasp it yet. The great players could hear it and play it, and of course communicate it amongst each other, so they knew it.

    In language analogy, when someone speaks their native language perfectly, but never went to language school, would you say he knows grammar? Or years after school when they have forgotten the rules. Maybe he doesn't know them, but can still speak perfectly and also teach, in a more practical and probably less theoretical manner.

    I'd say hearing and singing/playing a major scale is more knowing it, than being familiar with its intervals theory.

  41. #40

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alter View Post
    I think theory comes after the music, trying to document it and explain it to people who can't grasp it yet. The great players could hear it and play it, and of course communicate it amongst each other, so they knew it. In language analogy, when someone speaks their native language perfectly, but never went to language school, would you say he knows grammar? Or years after school when they have forgotten the rules. Maybe he doesn't know them, but can still speak perfectly and also teach, in a more practical and probably less theoretical manner. I'd say hearing and singing/playing a major scale is more knowing it, than being familiar with its intervals theory.
    Theory is an after-the-fact learning tool. It is NOT a way to play jazz. The gypsy players in Europe prove this point easily.

    Django did not read music or know any theory, nor did he know the names of the chords he played. The Rosenbergs live around the corner from where I live. Same thing there. They don't even know the names of the chords, let alone theory. Bireli plays the hippest stuff possible without knowing what he does. They simply play guitar from age 4 all day and copy each other by ear. They are all strictly ear players.

    You can speak a language fluently without knowing any grammatical rules.

    Birds can fly without knowing the theory of aerodynamics.

    It can be done. It's just that most prefer going the theory route, especially in the world of jazz, which has become highly academic.

    I could play the blues well when I as 18 without knowing what the heck I was doing. I just played what I heard on records.

    DB

  42. #41

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    Quote Originally Posted by DB's Jazz Guitar Blog View Post
    Theory is an after-the-fact learning tool. It is NOT a way to play jazz. The gypsy players in Europe prove this point easily.

    Django did not read music or know any theory, nor did he know the names of the chords he played. The Rosenbergs live around the corner from where I live. Same thing there. They don't even know the names of the chords, let alone theory. Bireli plays the hippest stuff possible without knowing what he does. They simply play guitar from age 4 all day and copy each other by ear. They are all strictly ear players.

    You can speak a language fluently without knowing any grammatical rules.

    Birds can fly without knowing the theory of aerodynamics.

    It can be done. It's just that most prefer going the theory route, especially in the world of jazz, which has become highly academic.

    I could play the blues well when I as 18 without knowing what the heck I was doing. I just played what I heard on records.
    DB
    Very good points. Django could barely write his name until later in life let alone know what an altered dominant is. He never knew the theory behind that but played those sounds all the time. That said, he grew up with music and musicians around him and he watched and learned and was taught. It is an iterative way of learning but not codified in a language like jazz at the moment. Personally, I think there is nothing harmonically that modern, schooled musicians do that Django did not do. It comes down to the relative weighting of the sounds and textures. Modern players take to advanced and "outside" sounds very readily. For Django it was probably less "normal' but he could hear and play it without being encumbered by theory. Rather like Bix Beiderdecke and his piano pieces.

  43. #42

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    Quote Originally Posted by DB's Jazz Guitar Blog View Post
    Theory is an after-the-fact learning tool. It is NOT a way to play jazz. The gypsy players in Europe prove this point easily.

    Django did not read music or know any theory, nor did he know the names of the chords he played. The Rosenbergs live around the corner from where I live. Same thing there. They don't even know the names of the chords, let alone theory. Bireli plays the hippest stuff possible without knowing what he does. They simply play guitar from age 4 all day and copy each other by ear. They are all strictly ear players.

    You can speak a language fluently without knowing any grammatical rules.

    Birds can fly without knowing the theory of aerodynamics.

    It can be done. It's just that most prefer going the theory route, especially in the world of jazz, which has become highly academic.

    I could play the blues well when I as 18 without knowing what the heck I was doing. I just played what I heard on records.

    DB
    Tbh I think the stuff that Birelli plays he might not have played if he knew more theory.

    Too many people see theory as prescriptive when really it’s descriptive, or just a box of toys.

    People worry about silly stuff. And they think too much about what’s a wrong note. There are no wrong notes.

  44. #43

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    Quote Originally Posted by Roberoo View Post
    Very good points. Django could barely write his name until later in life let alone know what an altered dominant is. He never knew the theory behind that but played those sounds all the time. That said, he grew up with music and musicians around him and he watched and learned and was taught. It is an iterative way of learning but not codified in a language like jazz at the moment. Personally, I think there is nothing harmonically that modern, schooled musicians do that Django did not do. It comes down to the relative weighting of the sounds and textures. Modern players take to advanced and "outside" sounds very readily. For Django it was probably less "normal' but he could hear and play it without being encumbered by theory. Rather like Bix Beiderdecke and his piano pieces.
    +100

    Yeah it’s interesting isn’t it the extent to which many jazz people have this idea that jazz developed harmonically somewhat like Western European music.

    I suspect this is often an artefact of jazz educators making generalisations and assumptions about pre war jazz because, frankly, they don’t know very much about it or like it.

    Quite a few people have pointed out the problems with this. Wynton has a good one - since you mention Bix, who was Bix checking out? Well Debussy.. and Schoenberg was doing his thing back then if you want to go to the extreme. Jazz musicians were checking out the classical music of the time which had already gone way past conventional tonality. Do you have stuff like Red Norvos Dance of the Octopus.....

    Conrad Cork (LEGO bricks guy) calls this HATE or ‘harmony as the engine’, and argues instead that jazz’s development has been more towards more rhythmic freedom. I mostly buy this, with the caveat that jazz colleges have heavily effected the development of recent jazz.

    Harmonic style HAS changed though. It’s not that simple. I actually think the main thing that has changed is the harmony in the comping - I think of the left hand of the piano getting more integrated with the right, going from Jelly Roll to Bill Evans via Bud Powell....

    I can analyse Django’s harmony and find all sorts of things that were supposedly invented in the post war era - altered scales, triad superpositions, sideslipping, non functional modal progressions, pentatonic modes, harmonic major scales and so on. If you want to analyse his music that way, it’s all there.

    In many ways his music is more harmonically adventurous than many contemporary manouche players (Birelli nonwithstanding)

    Django loved Debussy and Ravel ...

  45. #44

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Tbh I think the stuff that Birelli plays he might not have played if he knew more theory. Too many people see theory as prescriptive when really it’s descriptive, or just a box of toys. People worry about silly stuff. And they think too much about what’s a wrong note. There are no wrong notes.
    True, it's descriptive only. Beginners tend to assume that advanced players or pros actually "think" in terms of chords, scales, arpeggios, subs etc when they are improvising. They don't. They just play.

    DB

  46. #45

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    Quote Originally Posted by DB's Jazz Guitar Blog View Post
    Theory is an after-the-fact learning tool. It is NOT a way to play jazz. The gypsy players in Europe prove this point easily.

    Django did not read music or know any theory, nor did he know the names of the chords he played. The Rosenbergs live around the corner from where I live. Same thing there. They don't even know the names of the chords, let alone theory. Bireli plays the hippest stuff possible without knowing what he does. They simply play guitar from age 4 all day and copy each other by ear. They are all strictly ear players.
    Pat Martino has said that he learned how to transfer the sounds he heard on records to his guitar without knowing the names of chords or scales. They were all just sounds to him.

    I think that is the best way to learn, really. (Not everyone starts out with that good of an ear, of course, so that option isn't open to them.)
    That's how my mom learned to play piano. I could make up songs without help but I had a very hard time learning off of records when I started out. (I think that's why I started writing songs!)

    Jimmy Bruno talks about the purpose of teaching the way he does: so that the student gradually develops his (or her) ear and doesn't have to think about anything, just play what they hear in their head.
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  47. #46

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes View Post
    Jimmy Bruno talks about the purpose of teaching the way he does: so that the student gradually develops his (or her) ear and doesn't have to think about anything, just play what they hear in their head.
    I think "hearing things" is what separates the great players from the rest. The great writers tend to "hear" more interesting and original things in their head to write down than the average guy does. Same for great musicians and composers. They "hear more interesting and original things in their head" than the lesser talented. But I do think you can develop that skill to a certain level. Not sure if it is the path to take for all though.

    DB

  48. #47
    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    That’s the thing, no? To be able to chuck that stuff out isn’t easy, it requires a mental leap.

    OTOH guitar is a tough one because in order to play jazz we have to be able to map out the fretboard. For most of us that’s scale and arpeggio drills, voicings and so on.

    On piano I can imagine there’s less of a gap between understanding a theoretical idea and getting it on the keyboard.
    Thats true, a lot of stuff just sticks in the mind after you have drilled it in and it doesn't seem like much has gone in but it comes out when you least expect it!

  49. #48
    Quote Originally Posted by pcsanwald View Post
    I think you would find this article quite interesting. The big take-away here is that many jazz greats of the 40s-70s had a firm grounding in western classical harmony: Bach, Chopin, etc.

    I've done a lot of reading on jazz greats, and have been able to talk, take lessons with, and go to clinics by quite a few of people I think you're referencing: McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman, Barry Harris, Billy Taylor, Joanne Brackeen, etc. One anecdotal observation I would make is that many of these folks can play things that they would have trouble naming very quickly: I once remember Joanne Brackeen correcting a student for playing something incorrect on the 4th measure of "It could happen to you" and she played something that fit correctly much quicker than she was able to spell out to the student what chord she'd play. A common thread I would note: I can't ever remember hearing one of these masters get a melody to a standard "wrong". It's clear to me that the way most of these folks learned the tune is the melody, and a good grounding in western harmony is all about harmonizing a melody.


    My perception on here sometimes is that occasionally I run across people that think that knowing a standard is knowing the chords and melody, and it's really more about knowing the melody cold, and knowing how to harmonize a melody. People that know lots of standards have shorthand ways of remembering how tunes go, and these devices rarely involve rattling off chord symbols for any of thousands of tunes. David Berkman's book on Jazz Harmony describes this process the best, but it's something like:


    Learning things by ear, and playing along with records, is something that most jazz musicians did and is a huge shortcut. It doesn't matter if you can name all the fancy harmonic tricks you're doing, as long as you can play those things and have them sound good. Don't forget that a lot of our favorite "classic" jazz records were made by people in their early 20s, who, in many cases, didn't have infinite time or resources to devote to studying theory. A lot of folks seemed to have grown up in good musical communities with like-minded people, and developed that way.

    Thanks this looks very interesting!!

  50. #49

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    The question often comes up in my chosen field, my "day job."

    "Are Engineers mathematicians?"

    The answer is, "not really. We only use the math as far as it helps to get the engineering job done."

    I see the same with music theory. It exists only to make the music better, or more accessible. It's a tool, pure and simple.

    It is NOT the music itself.

  51. #50

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    Theory, technique, playing by ear, reading music, it's all elements of good musicianship. It also helps to communicate.

    I was A+ student in theory in college. It was a basic theory, not specifically jazz though. Now, 9 years later I forgot most of it. Very little of it I need in my musical life. But Im sure it helped me in some way.

    But I get it, it could be boring and tedious, and you think oh such and such great player can play without it, let me bypass it. Well, it could work out for you fine, or may not. Smart thing is to filter the theory and take what you need for your music.