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  1. #1

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    I wonder does Berklee School of Music really have a codified system of jazz theory and terminology that their teachers adhere to? In other words, are their teachers told to teach a specific Berklee jazz theory system?
    I thought not, but maybe they do. I know they publish course books.

    And, how influential on jazz is the Berklee School? Does it really substantially effect the course of the jazz world? I thought they were simply a prestigious music college, a training camp, a place to make contacts and be recognized.
    Last edited by rintincop; 09-21-2021 at 01:41 PM.

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  3. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by rintincop
    I wonder does Berklee School of Music really have a codified system of jazz theory and terminology that their teachers adhere to? In other words, are their teachers told to teach a specific Berklee jazz theory system?
    I thought not, but maybe they do. I know they publish course books.

    And, how influential on jazz is the Berklee School? Does it really substantially effect the course of the jazz world? I thought they were simply a prestigious music college, a training camp, a place to make contacts and be recognized.
    Good question; they do as I understand it have quite a worked out standardised syllabus but I would be interested to know how much this is the case for classes etc. I could imagine them sticking more to it for theory classes perhaps than general jazz instruction. But yeah very interested to know.

    One common theme in ethnographic studies of jazz education (no this is a thing) is the tension between the teachers who are the experienced professional jazz players and the more academic side of the institutions that employ them. It’s fascinating.

    One big change that every conservatoire has had to deal with is the shift from being a school or music to a college and the need for a syllabus and quantifiable assessment mandated as I understand it by law. So in English, theory exams and so on. Berklee went from being a School to a College of Music in the early 70s as I understand it. But this has happened most places.

    It does have a sort of style guide as far as I know, at least for official publications. There’s a few things, for instance Am7b5 not A half dim, G mixo b9b13 not G Phrygian dominant and so on that I would regard as Berklee style nomenclature. I try to use that style wherever I feel it’s reasonable to, as it’s the international lingua Franca as I see it.

    I also understand that Berklee has changed quite a bit over the years…

    But I’m interested to learn more, and there are plenty on this forum who have inside knowledge here, such as David.

    There’s also a lengthy book that’s an ethnography of the Berklee jazz faculty which I will probably have to read at some point for my Master’s project.
    Last edited by Christian Miller; 09-21-2021 at 02:45 PM.

  4. #3

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    Yes and no.

    You have to take four semesters of Harmony (or test out of them) in order to graduate. These classes feature many of the principles and terminology that people associate with Berklee: analyzing progressions, figuring out the chord scales and extensions that go with them, etc.

    This ensures that everyone has a sort of lingua franca when talking about harmony. But, crucially, this is not framed as jazz theory, or a theory of improvisation. Inevitably a lot of the teachers have a jazz background, so they use them as examples, but it's definitely not universal. Many of the teachers make it a point to include pop/rock songs, as they understand not everyone (maybe even most) don't have a jazz background.

    This is in addition to two semesters of traditional harmony and two semesters of counterpoint, which look identical to any classically-oriented theory course taught in any university or conservatory.

    Separate from all that, you have your instrument-focused classes. These include private lessons, labs (group lessons usually focusing on a specific topic), ensembles, and instrument agnostic improvisation classes.

    There is no set curriculum with these classes. Each semester, you're expected to pass a proficiency test on your instrument (scales, modes, arpeggios, chords, voice leading cycles, sight reading, etc). But other than that, anything goes, and instructors there use a very wide range of approaches.

    Some guys, like Bret Willmott, kept his terminology very similar to the ones they were using in Berklee's harmony classes. On the other end of the spectrum, Richie Hart made no secret that he despised the curriculum, and thought it was completely wrong for learning jazz.

    It is not at all like it was in the 70's, where every teacher was working through the Leavitt books page by page.

  5. #4

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    I wonder if the Berklee approach can relate/communicate with other top music schools in the US..Texas has some great schools for music..and other music oriented schools .. Musicians Institute comes to mind

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by dasein
    Yes and no.

    You have to take four semesters of Harmony (or test out of them) in order to graduate. These classes feature many of the principles and terminology that people associate with Berklee: analyzing progressions, figuring out the chord scales and extensions that go with them, etc.

    This ensures that everyone has a sort of lingua franca when talking about harmony. But, crucially, this is not framed as jazz theory, or a theory of improvisation. Inevitably a lot of the teachers have a jazz background, so they use them as examples, but it's definitely not universal. Many of the teachers make it a point to include pop/rock songs, as they understand not everyone (maybe even most) don't have a jazz background.

    This is in addition to two semesters of traditional harmony and two semesters of counterpoint, which look identical to any classically-oriented theory course taught in any university or conservatory.

    Separate from all that, you have your instrument-focused classes. These include private lessons, labs (group lessons usually focusing on a specific topic), ensembles, and instrument agnostic improvisation classes.

    There is no set curriculum with these classes. Each semester, you're expected to pass a proficiency test on your instrument (scales, modes, arpeggios, chords, voice leading cycles, sight reading, etc). But other than that, anything goes, and instructors there use a very wide range of approaches.

    Some guys, like Bret Willmott, kept his terminology very similar to the ones they were using in Berklee's harmony classes. On the other end of the spectrum, Richie Hart made no secret that he despised the curriculum, and thought it was completely wrong for learning jazz.

    It is not at all like it was in the 70's, where every teacher was working through the Leavitt books page by page.
    Haha I was going to mention Richie Hart…

  7. #6

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    Berklee is a college. It's about education, not training. However, playing an instrument requires training so one really can't get away from that reality.

    Berklee has classes in theory, harmony, ear training, arranging, composition. Not all teachers use the exact same terminology, but they are fairly consistent.

    Obviously they also have private instrumental instruction, improvisation classes, and many ensembles. Beyond that they go into audio engineering etc. That's pretty consistent with other music colleges in the 21rst century.

    Berklee of course is not a traditional music school (aka "Classical"). It's a "Contemporary" music school, as opposed to "Jazz" school. (Have to keep the doors open, ya know).

    But let's face it, Jazz is huge there.

    Traditionally speaking, jazz was not thought to have enough substance to fill a 4-year degree plan. That point of view changed and jazz studies programs sprouted up across the USA.

    Now "jazz is dead" (sort of) so the "jazz schools" like Berklee have to be more liberal with what they allow. (like pop, rock, hip-hop).

    Despite that, most music colleges maintain that popular music just doesn't have enough conceptual substance for a 4-year degree. Many Community Colleges offer 2-year degrees in Contemporary Music to cover that. Seems about right.

    A persons career can last 50+ years. College occupies 4 of those years (for most). College prepares a person for the rest of their life - it is not the sum of that life.

  8. #7

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    The official Berklee website says that this book covers jazz harmony as taught at Berklee:
    The Berklee Book of Jazz Harmony


    I got a lot of use out of it. It's a great reference book. There is nothing unique about the selection of the topics covered in the book nor the way they are covered. Fairly standard jazz harmony but very concise and well edited (and affordable).

  9. #8

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    A fellow teacher at the HS I taught at for years was the only person I ever knew who graduated from Berklee, and he couldn't play jazz to save his life.
    I asked him if it was hard to get into Berklee back then, and he said, "all you needed was a pulse."

    He said they had a lot of fun on Friday nights, getting drunk, and then walking down the street to the Scientology Center. One of them would tell them that they were suicidal, and they needed Scientology to save their lives. The members would get them to fill out some of their forms, and then they'd puke all over them and run out of there, laughing their heads off.

    They had a good guitar teacher there from 1975 to 1995 named Al DeFino. Here's his Guitar Band:

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian Miller
    There’s also a lengthy book that’s an ethnography of the Berklee jazz faculty ...
    Author and title please?

  11. #10
    Berklee does have their own philosophy of harmony and it's what makes up their 4 semester core curriculum harmony and ear training programs. It's a program that takes a student from basic diatonicism to hybrid chords and poly harmony on the fourth level. That being said, you need to understand the dynamic of education at Berklee.
    There are two distinct tiers at Berklee: Students who have monster chops and knowledge, don't need the school at all, know more walking in there on their first day than many of the teachers and for the most part get a free ride that Berklee can then claim ownership of. They go there to network and get noticed. Smart move.
    The OTHER vast majority are kids who couldn't make it in high school, claim to love music, need a place to teach them about how to read and write a chart and love the idea of being a musician. They have parents who will pay generously to get them out of their house and they swallowed the line about Berklee's being the conduit between being a poseur and a rock star.
    As a student you must decide which one you are and then if you're serious, you must carefully find those individual teachers who can REALLY teach you something beyond the curriculum, find peers of a like mind who are willing to play challenging music on the pro-gig level and practice your ass off. Believe me, that's maybe 15% of the student body. But if that's you, then the core curriculum provides extremely valuable information and most likely, you've tested out into harmony 4 at the audition.

    I went to Berklee, after studying in a completely different environment (Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef were my great mentors before) and it was a shock to find out the truth about Berklee.
    Two anecdotes:
    Bryan Baker was a student at Berklee. He was a monster. He was put in the dorms first semester as all freshmen are I think. After his first lesson with Mick Goodrick, he complained to Mick that he couldn't believe how much time his fellow students were spending on socializing, watching YouTube, hanging out and NOT practicing. He told Mick "If they're not there to become the best musicians they can be, why are they there?" Mick told him to insist on being moved out to a private residence; I'm not sure whether Mick was helpful or instrumental in making that happen, but he certainly agreed. The next week Bryan had his own place and the rest is history. He's a legend. Got hired while he was enrolled in school.

    Different story. Ben Monder taught at the New England Conservatory of Music close to Berklee. When it was known that Mick was going to leave, I asked him if he'd consider a position. No hesitation. Flat out NO. Why? I asked him. He told me "If you want to attain the level of mastery needed to play at the level these kids aspire to play at, you need to practice a LOT. You need to practice a LOT of things. You need to learn to listen and you need to learn to think A LOT. So I said "That's a great message. Don't you think you should be there to say what they need to hear?" and he said frankly "If they haven't gotten that message for themselves a long time ago, by the time they come to college, it's too late."

    Mick Goodrick was almost singularly responsible for the establishment of the chord scale program used institutionally at Berklee. He and Gary Burton were there at the beginning. They chose that approach because it was an articulate and elegant way to apply harmonic textures at a very high level to the improvisational realm. It's not the ONLY approach but it's one that goes far beyond what is taught there. Mick's continuing explorations into the Almanacs and voice leading promised to take the next generation to the next level, but it was largely ignored by Berklee as an institution because only a few teachers actually understood nor put the time into understanding harmony that way. So who knows what will become of Berklee harmony now that he's gone.
    There is an increasing pressure to lower the standards, attract more students and take that "hard stuff" out of music so aspiring rock and pop stars can shape the brand into a "Star Maker" factory.

    Indications at this point would seem to affirm that.

    I will add, however, that there are many who don't go to Berklee to become better musicians. They go to become recording engineers, or business administrators. For this, the emphasis on music theory are not really high on the skills list, and for the crowded pipeline of people wanting to get pumped into the LA scene, Berklee's education will expose a student to the cutting edge technology or vital insider information needed to become fluent in those fields. I will add though that knowing some of the top recording engineers and film scorers working in LA, they say a HUGE component in getting hired is just the ability to listen (humility, savvy, knowledge, perspective and experience) and no class I knew of told the truth about the enormous failure rate among graduates who don't possess the 'outside of the classroom' individual chemistry that's really needed to make it in this industry.
    I was a music education major. I really could have graduated with weak playing and theoretical skills; many of my classmates did. I have genuine concern for the classrooms that will be led by them, but we all grow, so there is hope for those graduates and their charges.

    I know this is a broader response than the OP queried about but the truth is, 'Jazz can be learned but it can't be taught' as the adage goes. Berklee does teach a very respectable toolset of improvisational and compositional skills and for a student looking to learn about what it takes to understand the jazz language, yeah, they'll give you that.
    Jazz is also a field where you need that knowledge in some form to keep from getting outright kicked off the bandstand. You need a strong base knowledge and skill set to walk into a club, but whether that serves you to be up on the stage or merely to be happily in the audience, that's not the school's responsibility. Theory is the first step in knowing how the pieces move. Practice is something different and that's where the game is played.
    Last edited by Jimmy blue note; 09-22-2021 at 03:44 AM.

  12. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by wolflen
    I wonder if the Berklee approach can relate/communicate with other top music schools in the US..Texas has some great schools for music..and other music oriented schools .. Musicians Institute comes to mind
    They all teach you the dance moves. Bandstands these days and musicians on the NY scene anyway (a real litmus test) will be made up of graduates from many other schools...and those who learned it the old fashioned way: Hanging out or growing up with people who played for a living.
    Good people come out of The New School in Manhattan, from Miami, from Texas, from Rutgers at one point, from Harvard (Josh Redman notably), and a LOT of excellent players came out of NEC in Boston. They all mix without reference to pedigree on the bandstand. They do because the bandstand is the real teacher. The people that institutions revere and put on pedestals for a large part, didn't learn their knowledge base in a school. Jazz has a dynamic and ever expanding baseline of theory requirements and the ONLY way to relate/communicate and speak that convincingly is to get it from the musicians who are making the music you want to play. Lots of ways to get that and the classroom is one part of one way.
    Time playing your instrument and listening is what all of them have in common. It's not a by product of a particular institution, but rather the outcome of the individual that chooses to play.

  13. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by rintincop
    And, how influential on jazz is the Berklee School? Does it really substantially effect the course of the jazz world? I thought they were simply a prestigious music college, a training camp, a place to make contacts and be recognized.
    It depends on who you study with. If you take your lessons from the teachers the school makes available, you might luck out. If you seek out individual teachers who have much more to offer than is advertised, then it could and will put you on the next level.
    For example, I knew of a teacher there who told his students that there was only one way to finger and phrase, he insisted students transcribe Wes solos...a lot. His students were really good at sounding like Wes.
    There was another teacher there who taught things NOT in the curriculum or available in any classrooms there. He did not advocate for transcription and discouraged adoration of other players. He knew his stuff and if you knew enough to recognize if you have the rudiments of your own approach, ' he gave you things that would baffle you but bring out something that only you would master: your voice. His students were Wayne Krantz, Mike Stern, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Julian Lage, Lage Lund, Nir Felder, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Pat Metheny, Tim Miller, Emily Remler, Bela Fleck, and countless others. None of them sound like him, nor one another, but yes, studying with this Berklee teacher did substantially effect the course of the jazz world.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimmy blue note
    Berklee does have their own philosophy of harmony and it's what makes up their 4 semester core curriculum harmony and ear training programs. It's a program that takes a student from basic diatonicism to hybrid chords and poly harmony on the fourth level. That being said, you need to understand the dynamic of education at Berklee.
    There are two distinct tiers at Berklee: Students who have monster chops and knowledge, don't need the school at all, know more walking in there on their first day than many of the teachers and for the most part get a free ride that Berklee can then claim ownership of. They go there to network and get noticed. Smart move.
    Hey thanks for commenting, I was hoping you might share a bit of inside info....

    I'd add that from my perspective, there's also the matter of international bursaries, needless to say the majority of Berklee grads I know where international students. There's a lot of them, too. A good friend who I play with a lot went to Berklee about 15 years ago and said it was basically full of Scottish people.

    He also credits it with teaching him how to really play and I would say he has a very US vibe to his playing - very energetic and ballsy compared to the more cerebral sound of a lot of European trained jazzers. I don't know how much he picked up in lessons or in playing (probably a bit of both), but he did say that the Berklee approach to teaching was impressive, worked out and coherent. (I think in a lot of UK institutions it can be much more variable.) So this may be an endorsement of having a worked out curriculum that is implemented by educators.

    He certainly wasn't a John Mayer wannabe!

    The OTHER vast majority are kids who couldn't make it in high school, claim to love music, need a place to teach them about how to read and write a chart and love the idea of being a musician. They have parents who will pay generously to get them out of their house and they swallowed the line about Berklee's being the conduit between being a poseur and a rock star.
    As a student you must decide which one you are and then if you're serious, you must carefully find those individual teachers who can REALLY teach you something beyond the curriculum, find peers of a like mind who are willing to play challenging music on the pro-gig level and practice your ass off. Believe me, that's maybe 15% of the student body. But if that's you, then the core curriculum provides extremely valuable information and most likely, you've tested out into harmony 4 at the audition.

    I went to Berklee, after studying in a completely different environment (Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef were my great mentors before) and it was a shock to find out the truth about Berklee.
    Two anecdotes:
    Bryan Baker was a student at Berklee. He was a monster. He was put in the dorms first semester as all freshmen are I think. After his first lesson with Mick Goodrick, he complained to Mick that he couldn't believe how much time his fellow students were spending on socializing, watching YouTube, hanging out and NOT practicing. He told Mick "If they're not there to become the best musicians they can be, why are they there?" Mick told him to insist on being moved out to a private residence; I'm not sure whether Mick was helpful or instrumental in making that happen, but he certainly agreed. The next week Bryan had his own place and the rest is history. He's a legend. Got hired while he was enrolled in school.
    Smart move.

    OTOH the Berklee to YouTube star pipeline is in full swing, more money to be made talking about music?

    (See also film studies students making YouTube videos about cult classics.)

    Different story. Ben Monder taught at the New England Conservatory of Music close to Berklee. When it was known that Mick was going to leave, I asked him if he'd consider a position. No hesitation. Flat out NO. Why? I asked him. He told me "If you want to attain the level of mastery needed to play at the level these kids aspire to play at, you need to practice a LOT. You need to practice a LOT of things. You need to learn to listen and you need to learn to think A LOT. So I said "That's a great message. Don't you think you should be there to say what they need to hear?" and he said frankly "If they haven't gotten that message for themselves a long time ago, by the time they come to college, it's too late."
    Ha, I think that's a more eloquent way of saying 'I can't be arsed to teach a load of John Mayer wannabes.' Although I'm sure it's more complex than that... the first page of that Berklee ethnography is literally an account of a teacher berating a jazz guitar student for not knowing the changes to Four. I can't really see that being his scene haha.

    Mick Goodrick was almost singularly responsible for the establishment of the chord scale program used institutionally at Berklee. He and Gary Burton were there at the beginning.
    That's a good bit of specific knowledge I've been trying to hunt down - I didn't know that but I had guessed it... I may need to quote you on that if that's OK? Info regarding the Berklee syllabus/CST history is actually quite hard to come by at least from basic research (I may yet find it in a book I haven't read). Of course if you know any texts that this is referenced in that would be better. So much of jazz history remains oral history.

    I'm also somewhat presuming it was Berklee's adoption of this approach that led to its popularity elsewhere, but further info on this too, is welcome.

    So... some writers on the subject (such as Wilf) talk about cultural Hegemony in the Gramsician sense with reference to jazz education, in terms of theory, licks, canon etc. This might be a little too cute.. probably people will also think this was intentional. Truth is this is all emergent, under capitalism, theory sells better than practice; look at Rick Beato and Adam Neely. You can buy a theory book and imagine yourself enlightened - but the graft of becoming a musical artisan is quite alien to most people. (According to Gjerdingen this is the cause of functional harmony becoming established in schools; it has nothing to do with how Mozart of Beethoven wrote their works.)

    They chose that approach because it was an articulate and elegant way to apply harmonic textures at a very high level to the improvisational realm. It's not the ONLY approach but it's one that goes far beyond what is taught there. Mick's continuing explorations into the Almanacs and voice leading promised to take the next generation to the next level, but it was largely ignored by Berklee as an institution because only a few teachers actually understood nor put the time into understanding harmony that way. So who knows what will become of Berklee harmony now that he's gone.
    There is an increasing pressure to lower the standards, attract more students and take that "hard stuff" out of music so aspiring rock and pop stars can shape the brand into a "Star Maker" factory.

    Indications at this point would seem to affirm that.
    Again, interesting little bit of info. I wouldn't like to quote you on that though, haha.

    I will add, however, that there are many who don't go to Berklee to become better musicians. They go to become recording engineers, or business administrators. For this, the emphasis on music theory are not really high on the skills list, and for the crowded pipeline of people wanting to get pumped into the LA scene, Berklee's education will expose a student to the cutting edge technology or vital insider information needed to become fluent in those fields. I will add though that knowing some of the top recording engineers and film scorers working in LA, they say a HUGE component in getting hired is just the ability to listen (humility, savvy, knowledge, perspective and experience) and no class I knew of told the truth about the enormous failure rate among graduates who don't possess the 'outside of the classroom' individual chemistry that's really needed to make it in this industry.
    I was a music education major. I really could have graduated with weak playing and theoretical skills; many of my classmates did. I have genuine concern for the classrooms that will be led by them, but we all grow, so there is hope for those graduates and their charges.

    I know this is a broader response than the OP queried about but the truth is, 'Jazz can be learned but it can't be taught' as the adage goes. Berklee does teach a very respectable toolset of improvisational and compositional skills and for a student looking to learn about what it takes to understand the jazz language, yeah, they'll give you that.
    Jazz is also a field where you need that knowledge in some form to keep from getting outright kicked off the bandstand. You need a strong base knowledge and skill set to walk into a club, but whether that serves you to be up on the stage or merely to be happily in the audience, that's not the school's responsibility. Theory is the first step in knowing how the pieces move. Practice is something different and that's where the game is played.
    There are so many threads here related to my research it's tempting to type an essay. The focus of my research is jazz education. The truth is there is a 'multi-tier' system operating; within Berklee this is clearly demarcated by their marking/streaming system - your 'number'. In the UK this tends to be split between the (small) traditionally classical conservatoires that have jazz courses like the Royal Academy where only students who can already play have a chance of getting in, and and the more pop oriented schools like BIMM (where Guthrie Govan used to teach - apparently he basically wrote the curriculum) which tend to be more like those Berklee rock star wanabees and are in the business of teaching basic skills. Both offer academically accredited music degrees that are in theory at the same level, but very different institutions.

    Am I right in thinking this business model has done some damage to Berklee's reputation at least among jazzers? A lot of people seem more interested in the New York music schools now, especially as you get to hang out in New York.

    And I have to say (and bear in mind this is case study, not quantified social science research) the interviews I've done strongly suggest that jazz syllabuses in the pop schools tend to be built around what I would recognise as the Berklee syllabus - taught in a mechanistic and dogmatic way by the sounds of it. If you already know how to play jazz your relationship to this info will be different to someone who is taking their first steps. Interviewees have named people like Hal Galper (who has videos on YouTube) and Jens Larsen as being important in getting them out of thinking jazz = theory and moving them towards learning jazz as a music. But those schools are basically designed to teach students the mechanics of playing the instrument...

    Those in the conservatoires have much less interest in YouTube as a source of instruction. And they continually cite the importance of the music community and time with experienced musicians.

    And then there's universities which are different again.( There's a lot of crazy stuff, like one guy was telling me he had a brief to get his music students to submit an orchestral score and many of them couldn't even read music...)

    Again, a common theme with the literature out there is just how much ambivalence, even antagonism exists between some the teachers and the institutions. Such a common refrain among higher education jazz teachers is that Paul Desmond quote 'jazz cannot be taught, but it can be learned' that you alluded to.

    Like you, I'm not 100% sure that this is true - or rather depends how you frame it.

    There's my Berklee friend, for instance. I feel Barry Harris taught me to play bebop. I honestly feel that jazz at the basic functional level is no different from learning a language and people teach those all the time; writing original poetry in that language is a separate issue (most of us will never do that in any language musical or otherwise.) I also think it mischaracterised teaching as having to belong to old school transmission teaching in a classroom. In fact, teaching can take all kinds of forms, some of which are in fact celebrated within jazz - mentorships and apprenticeships for instance. I prefer to see formal pedagogy as one of a number of approaches to teaching and learning, and the walls of the classroom as essentially porous; the web may even be making that type of transmission teaching irrelevant. Which is great, because then we can concentrate on the Good Stuff that makes music what it is.

    Anyway I don't think you can teach how to be a Paul Desmond, let me put it that way, but I do think you can teach people the basics and more importantly teach them how to go to the source, to emulate Paul Desmond's journey to some extent. That's one reason why I am so interested in the way jazz was learned historically.

    (Some people also don't really enjoy teaching or do it very well, but seem to think the world owes them living, but that's a separate rant.)

    And it can be a bit of a cop out especially if those elite institutions have never really had to do that. I don't think Berklee as an institution appears to subscribe to this view.

    Anyway I see an endless seeming stream of students who would pass a Berklee theory class, but have hit a wall with their jazz studies, and I find it interesting to teach them how to play jazz better... these people are a lot older though.

    Of course the biggest question is the 'why?' of music education full stop. Top NYC pro jazzers might think of everything in those terms, while I think a world full of people who are knowledgeable and passionate about music is a good thing of itself. And I like those Berklee grad music YouTubers, mostly. Not everyone has to be an elite level professional artisan to have value (although some of those YT'ers have great chops). And an artisan does not equate with an artist (though Ben Monder for example is both, IMO). And, of course quite a lot of great music has been made by people who never went near an institution like Berklee and may in fact have had pretty limited skills as instrumentalists (though this is getting rarer, and is now more or less extinct within jazz I would say.)

    Anyway I could blather on about music edu all day. However my music edu course (at a flipping conservatoire for crying out loud) requires me to parse unbelievably dry academic texts about social sciences methodology. So this is work avoidance if I am to be honest. When do I get to play the guitar again?
    Last edited by Christian Miller; 09-22-2021 at 06:02 AM.

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by pcjazz
    Author and title please?
    SCHOOL FOR COOL: The Academic Jazz Program and the Paradox of Institutionalized Creativity, Eitan Y. Wilf

    The University of Chicago Press

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian Miller
    Again, a common theme with the literature out there is just how much ambivalence, even antagonism exists between some the teachers and the institutions. Such a common refrain among higher education jazz teachers is that Paul Desmond quote 'jazz cannot be taught, but it can be learned' that you alluded to.

    Like you, I'm not 100% sure that this is true - or rather depends how you frame it.
    On that note, I think what can be learned from a more experience musician or a teacher or any resource for that matter is not the specific information they provide. But all these bits and pieces of information we collect here and there help us build our own mental model of the musical landscape. They help us expand our minds about how to think about music and our instruments.

    Even when you encounter contradicting pieces of information from, lets say two great musicians, when one of them says they learned by transcribing, and the other says they never transcribed, there is a crucial information to be learned about the nature of music in that contradiction. Your understanding of music has just become more profound than someone who never thought it was possible to lean jazz without transcribing.

    I think you do have to whole heartedly buy into an ever evolving selection of specifics to really benefit from this process however. You can't improve if you remain skeptical to all of them. But the goal is to build an individual mental model along the way.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 09-22-2021 at 09:00 PM.

  17. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    I think you do have to whole heartedly buy into an ever evolving selection of specifics to really benefit from this process however. You can't improve if you remain skeptical to all of them. But the goal is to build an individual mental model along the way.
    It's one of the reasons this music has such a strong rooting in the live band situation. There is something self affirming in the dynamic of mentors sharing 'on the job'.
    There's a reason this music had its origins in big bands. There's a reason musicians cite fellow musicians as their formative figures.
    There are great resources at a place like Berklee, but having learned so much from mentors through a dynamic that can be seen as apprentice/master rather than lecturer/graded pupil, I do think that the environment in an academic institution leaves much to be desired in terms of developing as an artist.
    Art schools encourage more freedom for conversation than the academic classroom in a music school; art schools value peer critique and guided criticism in the situations I've been a part of. It's hard to find anything like that at music school. On the bandstand, I've gotten feedback like "What was that? Did you mean to do that?" or "I don't know about that but I like your spirit", or "If you can do that again, you're on to something". At music school, non conformity is by its nature a red mark, a gesture of failure to adhere to the template being taught. That's good but it's not as true to the dynamic of the artform, or at least the process that makes it jazz.

    Bennie Golson was speaking at NEC a while back and I asked him what he thought of NEC as a place to learn jazz as opposed to the way he learned. He said "I WISH I had something like this! But understand, this is just the beginning. It's where you can get amazing information. When you get out and start playing on the road, THAT's where the real learning begins."

    You put it together yourself. School is a resource, not an answer.

  18. #17

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    Yea... it's difficult to not see and hear berklees' influence in colleges around the world. (unless your head's stuck in the sand) (disclaimer, I was a comp grad in mid 70's. Have been performer, judge and hosted clinics etc... at different colleges and festivals around the country).

    What language, terms or theory etc... do you use when talking about Jazz. I guess it does change with the hang, but we generally don't use maj/min functional or church modal terminology when BSing about tunes at jazz gigs.

    The school did change when Berk's kid took over in late 70's.

    Yes Rintin... if what your implying is..systematically organized with reference to the possibilities of the music. yes very codified.

  19. #18

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    For years, I've been playing regularly in a variety of settings. Most require reading, so that narrows my experience, mostly, to players who read.

    The players do talk about things, but almost never about theory. It's a blue moon event for somebody to suggest Scale X over Chord Y. I can think of one time in years. It was on Birdland - where the horns are playing repeated chromatic lines. I wasn't sure how to play over it. One of the horn players, a master musician with a book out, suggested a minor scale, which was helpful.

    But, when the conversation turns to jazz history or a particular point about some aspect of music, the players are typically remarkably knowledgeable. They've all listened to, seemingly, everything. When some theoretical point does arise, nobody is confused. That is, there's a shared body of knowledge, integrated well enough that it doesn't usually need to be discussed.

    I'd guess that Berklee has been influential in that. Before college programs and the availability of a ton of books on jazz, I think there was probably less of a shared body of theoretical knowledge. People just didn't have the access.

    An aside: Back in the day, record companies didn't release all that much jazz, so there were fewer recordings to be familiar with. Nowadays, there is so much it's hard to keep up. Further, back in the day, there wasn't much jazz radio and records were expensive for most people. If your budget didn't permit many purchases, where could you hear the music? You had your records and your friends had some. Now, you can hear anything just about instantly. I grew up in NYC, but, as a teenage jazz wannabe, I couldn't even get into clubs because I was too young.

    What does get talked about at sessions is how to play the tune. Examples: The bass and drums aren't locked tight in an unfamiliar groove -- what to do? Which chords should the rhythm section push? The piano and guitar are conflicting on some voicings -- let's fix it. Horns entered late, let's go over it. This tricky rhythmic passage should sound like this. We didn't play the dynamic markings or articulations accurately, let's fix it.

  20. #19

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    I'm a Berklee alum and was there out of high school in the mid 70's. I'm sure things have changed a lot since then. I definitely didn't have monster chops when I got there, but I did work my ass off and got a lot better in the 2 years I was there. I recall seeing Gary Burton walking the halls and Mike Stern playing in a practice room. I know Pat Metheny was there as a guitar teacher at the time, but never saw him. They definitely have a way of doing things - nomenclature and terminology etc. which is the same as taught elsewhere with a different name. The guitar curriculum (at least the teacher I had) was heavily geared to the Bill Leavitt program and stressed sight reading and playing everything in position. In hindsight, I'm not sure that was that helpful.

    As others have stated, many are there (as with most Colleges and Universities) mainly for the party and don't work much more than required. Here's a funny tune that captures the attitude of too many.


  21. #20

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    Somebody's been studying SRV.

    And Hollywood huh? That would reference GIT.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Donplaysguitar
    Somebody's been studying SRV.

    And Hollywood huh? That would reference GIT.
    Scott is/was a teacher at GIT so I'm sure you're right about that. As far as SRV - they have similarities in that both play a strat and have similar tone, but personally I think Scott's musical vocabulary is a lot wider than SRV's.

  23. #22

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    Most (all?) of the teachers at Berklee use the schools Harmony books for the dozen or so harmony related classes, so I'd say the system is pretty organized.

    To me it came across mostly as modern music theory, not necessarily jazz theory (except from some more advanced classes that were around concepts you would never really meet outside jazz). I liked it because the general concept seemed to be getting the point across in the simplest way possible.

    Influence wise, I think Berklee has some impact, just because of its size, the players and the events it hosts. Though I don't think the main focus of the school is performance nowadays, but rather other majors..

    Funny thing, I took all theory, harmony, composition, counterpoint, arranging classes etc when I was in Berklee, I mean literally all they had (apart from jazz composition 2 which required a huge portfolio and pretty much abandoning playing for a semester ), and it was Richie Harts guitar lessons that finally presented how jazz playing works from an advanced players perspective.. So that's an argument about theory vs real thing in itself
    Last edited by Alter; 09-22-2021 at 09:03 PM.

  24. #23

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    its threads like this..that make me love this site..

    thank you all for the insights..to me this also is part of learning music..it builds a starting point to develop confidence..that you know what someone else is talking about..and in time
    you will KNOW what you are talking about..and how that relates to what and how we play music

  25. #24

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    Just a note. Berklee Online has more harmony, theory, ear training, arranging, and composition classes than a person could possibly digest in a good number of years, and all without leaving his man cave.

    I’ve taken a few but in reality only scratched the surface.

    Simply stated, it’s incomparable. Check it out!

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian Miller
    SCHOOL FOR COOL: The Academic Jazz Program and the Paradox of Institutionalized Creativity, Eitan Y. Wilf

    The University of Chicago Press
    Mark Rhodes had a post about that book some years ago if I recall.

    My copy is in the landfill now. (Yes I bought it).

    Save your nickels gents, it’s lame.
    Last edited by Donplaysguitar; 09-22-2021 at 10:52 PM.