Mike McAdam has taught guitar to thousands of students since 1994. He is director of two North Main Music schools, in Nashua and Bedford, New Hampshire, and also runs the guitar department at Rivier University in Nashua, NH. Mike is a graduate of Berklee College of Music. In this interview, Mike gives some insight into how to run a successful music studio. For more information, including many extra insights aimed specifically at guitar teachers, check out his recent book The Private Guitar Studio Handbook (Berklee Press, 2014).

Do you need special training to give private music lessons?

Interesting question because I feel that there are two myths about giving lessons:

The first myth is that you have to be a sensational player to teach music. This is not necessarily true; the most important thing is that you need to work well with people and be able to communicate what you do know.

The other myth is the exact opposite—that because you are a great player, this automatically qualifies you to teach music. While this is true to some extent, becoming a great teacher is a process, just like learning an instrument is. You need to do it for the right reasons.

The Private Guitar Studio Handbook dispels these myths and emphasizes that it’s important to understand the business elements of giving music lessons if you are hoping to support yourself with your teaching.

How is preparing to give a private lesson different from giving a class?

I think it is different because in a private lesson it’s really important to evaluate and roll with the one person that is right in front of you. What mood are they in? What gets them excited? I think group classes tend to stick to what you prepare in your lessons plan, whereas private lessons can often go off the script. I think it’s important to be flexible enough to recognize that and to work to individualize your one-on-one lessons.

Is it legal to give private lessons out of your apartment/house? Do you need special insurance or permits?

Each state has different requirements, so I would find out the particular zoning laws where you live. Many people start off giving lessons in their home without getting permits or zoning for a home based business. I was in this situation myself, so I get it. I have also seen this become a problem when a person starts getting many students and their neighbors complain about the extra traffic. This is one of many reasons I advocate getting a commercial space sooner rather than later.

What do you do about students who don’t show up at their lesson times?

I usually will be informed about students who are missing their lessons. One of the key ways to avoid students blowing you off is to set up a prepayment plan. This type of payment system is explored in depth in my book. Oftentimes, not having these policies can open the door to people not showing up or just disappearing!

How do you encourage students to practice?

It is important to find out what motivated them to pick up an instrument in the first place. If you can relate everything you do to that and try to develop their love of music from there, it can work wonders. Try not to have one method of teaching. Be flexible. One small change can get the student on track. You also have to understand that sometimes, no matter what you do, it just isn’t the right thing for the student to be taking lessons. It’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. Understand that most students are playing for recreation, so make it fun.

What are some of the common mistakes teachers make in their lesson studios, and how would you direct them otherwise?

The biggest mistake would be neglecting the business end. Focusing on the financial health of your business is a necessary evil. And like your own playing, you are always getting better, or you are getting worse;  it’s a constant that you have to monitor. It shouldn’t be the reason for teaching, but I always say about the business, “You get it, or it gets you.” Allocate time for taxes, marketing, and things internally that can make the experience better for students and you as a teacher.

Do you have any advice about pricing?

The biggest mistake I see teachers make is to short-sell themselves. Their thought process is that if they are just a bit cheaper than everyone else, they will attract students. While this will work with a small amount of consumers, it’s ultimately a dead end. You need to honestly evaluate what you bring to the market and price it accordingly. This can be based on many things: your profile as a musician, your education, the availability of guitar lessons in your community etc. Study what your competitors are doing in terms of pricing and see where you rate.

How do you deal with students who don’t want to take lessons but are being forced to do it by their parents?

That can be a tough one. I would start by trying to lead the student into ideally, a love for music. Or at least a like! It’s okay to get small wins here. If the student does not enjoy playing and you have used up your bag of tricks, do tell the parents that you don’t think it‘s a good idea for the to continue lessons, at least for right now. Some students have actually come back and succeeded after not being “into it” the first time. The other side is, I have known teachers who don’t want to let go of these types of students because it’s a source of income for them. The money will always be replaced, and in the end, it’s a disservice to both of you.

Any other tips?

Yes…not to sound trite, but keep in mind that building a successful lesson roster takes time and patience. There are many people that expect instant results once they have made a website or have some marketing material, but it takes time and patience. I really feel the more you put into your business, the more results you will see. The quality of what you do is so important.

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Study Guitar at Berklee Online!

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"Phrasing" by Russ Gold

Russ Gold’s recent book Phrasing (Berklee Press 2014), with online video and audio, is a series of lessons focused on improving drumbeat musicality through practicing various rhythmic phrases in the context of the drum beats. In this interview, Russ discusses some of this book’s key ideas about how to make your drumming more musical.

What does the word “phrase” mean in the context of a drumbeat, or any drum part?

A “phrase” in music is like a word in a sentence. It’s a complete musical idea in itself that can stand alone or be played together with other phrases to make a musical sentence. The most compelling music has clearly identifiable phrases.

There is always a core phrase that serves as a backbone for any music that grooves. Think of the clave in Afro-Cuban music. Anything that grooves has an internal clave.

How do you translate rudiments to actual drum set playing?

There’s really no trick to playing rudiments on the set as either grooves or fills. Listen to the dynamic shape of the rudiment. A rudiment isn’t just a chops-building callisthenic. A rudiment is a rhythmic syllable and has a particular shape and resolution point. The resolution points could be accents or long notes. These strong notes end up being the focus of the rudiment and are used to produce the phrase.  Ultimately, the rudiments give you creative ways to vary the density and subdivision between those phrase resolution points.

My ultimate goal in writing Phrasing is to have the rudiments become transparent, so that as a player, you are focused solely on the phrases (and grooves) you want to play and not on the mechanics of how to play them.

What kind of practice do you think is most beneficial to drummers?

It’s important to have a musical context around practicing. It’s easy to get caught up in all the mechanics of rudiments and lose sight of the music you ultimately want to express. I will often use music in place of a metronome to help focus on feel and keep the intensity up.

When learning anything new, slow relaxed practice is the best. When you practice, you are producing physical habits. You are producing neurons for movement. Relaxed habits come from repetition and strength. Lots of repetition! I think that repetition is the secret weapon for improvement. It’s one of the fundamental goals of my book. I’ve set up the format of the book to limit the amount of variation in a lesson to focus instead on repetition.

How you practice is how you will play, in your body as well as you mind. Always remember that you are practicing mental focus as well as just swinging sticks around. It’s one of the things I love about playing drums. Whatever you are focusing on is what gets communicated through the instrument. It’s really an instrument that’s as much about “being” as it is about “doing.” That’s why I practice as much as I do. I want to experience that complete freedom to be in the moment and have the drums become transparent to me. That’s when it’s the most fun.

What are some of the big conceptual breakthroughs you’ve had as a musician? Do you have any tips for how others can benefit from these insights?

One of the greatest quotes of all times: “Inspiration is for amateurs.”

The more I strive for consistency and serving the music, the better it is for everyone. It’s something I have to work on all the time. When I’m all practiced up and on my game, I’m more relaxed and better at listening to the music as a whole. Ultimately, my job is to make other people sound good.

It’s ironic, the more prepared I am with the nuts and bolts of a piece of music, the more emotional and inspired the experience becomes. It’s all nuts and bolts. The inspiration will come.

Are there any common mistakes that you see in your students, such as bad habits that you are constantly trying to correct? And how should they correct them?

At first, everyone rushes on the bass drum! Spend some time playing the kick simply and slowly, with your heel down. Often, the problem is a balance issue from holding your heel up and moving your leg from the hip.

Another thing, most folks will collapse their grip so that the stick gets choked against the palm of the hand. Practice holding the stick away from your hand in the first knuckle of your index finger (as if you were pinching your nose). That will produce the most rebound. Practice swinging the stick way back, away from your hand, using accent studies.

If you could shake every up-and-coming drummer by the lapels and shout one bit of advice at them, what would that be?

Finish! Complete what you set out to do. Whatever it is. The best way to get ahead is to completely kick ass at whatever it is you are doing right now (even if it’s not exactly what you want to be doing forever). Remember that along with being an artist, you are ultimately in the service industry and you need people to rave about you to get to the next level.

Having said that, keep every phone number/email you ever get to keep track of people. The contacts I made at Berklee have been crucial to my career.

Also: Prepare! Shed the day lights out of the music you are about to play. Have tempos memorized. Have a vocabulary of grooves in the idiom of the tunes you are playing.

It’s an old saw, but the drummer is the backbone of the band. Because of that, everyone’s going to have an opinion about what you should be doing. The better prepared you are, the less you will be on people’s radar. Everyone will relax and groove.

Can you share with us one of your favorite videos by any great drummer, available on YouTube so that I can embed it in this post, and tell us what to listen or watch for? Something that illustrates really good phrasing on the drum set.

I love Keith Carlock’s drumming in that he is always telling a rhythmic story. The phrasing is super clear and funky. Even when he plays dense, textural passages you can hear that he’s still focusing on phrasing. Killing. No wonder that he is at the top of the food chain in the industry. (Solo starts at about 0:32; if the embedded video doesn’t work, try this link.)

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Double Bass Drum Integration

Adding a second bass drum (other other pedaled instrument) to your kit can greatly expand your creative possibilities. Henrique De Almedia is a master of multi-pedal technique, and as a Berklee associate professor of percussion, has helped many drummers integrate multiple pedals into their arsenals. His recent book Double Bass Drum Integration (Berklee Press, 2014) provides technical direction, exercises, and etudes to help drummers add additional pedaled instruments to their kits and integrate them organically into their playing. In this interview, Henrique gives some pointers about mastering multiple pedals.

When did you start playing with two bass drums, and what/who inspired you to do that?

I started using a double bass pedal in 1985. I went to see a concert presented in Recife Brazil by Oberlin Conservatory.  The drummer was playing great, and in one of the songs, he played this half-time shuffle groove involving several bass-drum beats in a sequence. I thought it was fantastic! So after the concert, I went up to him and took a look at his set. It was the very first time I actually saw a double bass pedal! Then, in that same year, I got a double pedal during a tour in New York.  It was a Tama double pedal.

At that time, I was recording and touring with Brazilian pop star Alceu Valenca. We were touring nationally and internationally. It is quite interesting, looking back now, that my very first opportunity to try to apply double bass was not in the context of rock, but Brazilian pop music.

What is your current most common setup?

I love using two drums in conjunction with a double bass pedal, so I use two bass drums: a Yamaha 20” bass drum that is tuned nice and low for pop, funk, rock fusion, etc., and a Yamaha 18” or sometimes a 16” tuned higher then the 20” with an open sound. The smaller bass drum is set up to my right, the 20” to my left. Only one beater hits the smaller bass drum, and two beaters hits the 20”; the possibilities are endless.

Can any drum kit accommodate a second bass drum, or is a special type of set needed?

Yes, any drum kit accommodates an extra bass drum or pedal. I just place my second bass drum by the right side of my main bass drum: a 18’ bass drum. It is activated by a double bass pedal that it is positioned to the right of my main bass drum pedal.  As you add things to the drum set, such as another bass drum or other items, it starts to become a challenge to place things comfortably, so I have used the same setup for about twenty years, and the last addition a few years back was the second bass drum.

From a musical perspective, what considerations are there for creating beats with two bass drums?

First of all, you must be very aware when not to use double bass as much as you are about where it is necessary and appropriate. I try my best to consider the dynamic environment of the music, so I am not too soft or too loud. Most of the music I like playing and want to play nowadays involves a large range of dynamics, so control of dynamics with the feet is a must. Lately, I am working on developing control, where I can play things softer, slower, and with groove and balance. With most of the young players who seek me out for lessons on double bass, at first, it is very loud, with a bad sound, and totally out of balance with the rest of the kit. So we then work on “double bass integration,” which is how my book got its name.

When you use two bass drums, do you hook up differently to the bass and other instruments?

If the bass player is performing a set pattern that we must play together, I will always try to have the bass rhythms being supported with my right foot on the main bass drum, while embellishing rhythmically with my left foot.

Most of the time, I am playing fusion music, where there is lots of room for improvisation. So then, the left foot might be embellishing rhythmic motives that are not coming from the bass player but from the keyboard solo, etc. When I do this, my left foot might move laterally, going from the double bass pedal, to the hi-hat pedal, to a foot-cow bell, and back and forth.

Laterally moving multi-pedal usage is addressed in the book as well.

What type of grooves are best served by two bass drums?

I don’t think in terms of which groove is best served, but more in terms of being aware of the appropriate music sections within a composition where I might “feel” expressing an idea that involves my feet a bit more.

I am not thinking “double bass” as much as I am thinking “multi-pedal usage,” in that my setup at times might provide me with four of five different sounds with six ways of getting to them.

So, I could be using double bass in jazz, rock, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, funk, etc.

This it is demonstrated in the very first six audio tracks that come with the book (accessible online).

What are the common mistakes that drummers make when they add a second bass drum? Too busy, too loud, too bassy, etc.?

All of the above. The most common area that students must develop is conceptualizing an approach. Most young drummers that I come in contact with here at Berklee have the physical ability to play very fast and very loud. Once in a while, I see an individual playing actually extremely fast, much faster them me! *LOL!*

As soon as we start diving in the music elements of dynamics, good feel, control, groove, styles, time, tempo, balance of all the limbs, form, phrasing, and so on, then they realize that if you can only play extremely loud and extremely fast, you are extremely limited.

What are some of the common technical challenges people find when expanding to two bass drums?

Most drummers use the left foot to play the hi-hat, moving the entire leg up and down, or jut the feet up and down. This is very different then the way your leg and feet will work to play a bass drum. Also, they must learn to move laterally, side to side, or in many other directional combinations of right, left, up, down etc.

When you teach others to use two bass drums, are there any common insights or exercises that you give them that frequently lead them to make significant technical or musical breakthroughs?

Not all, but most people that come to me for double classes already play double bass.  I would like to think that most of the time, I don’t really “teach” people how to play double bass but offer instead an alternative approach and concepts.  I have been successfully using a vast vocabulary with the feet, in so many different music styles.  So if they want to integrate the multi-pedal or double bass with in the drum set, I encourage them to investigate the following:

  1. Non-constant flow technique, as much as they do constant flow. Meaning, try to be able to play figures that are what I call “Bursts” in the book.
  2. Linear figures, where hand and feet are not hitting things simultaneously.
  3. Moving the feet to other sound sources within a pattern, playing two sound sources simultaneously, and developing ideas that are flexible, in terms of application in all styles. These are demonstrated in the book with the etudes. The students will present concepts from the lessons, but now, with a style, groove, dynamics, and form.

Do the standard rudiments translate well to double-pedal technique, or are there unique rudiments to the feet? And do you have any favorite double-pedal rudiments?

The rudiment for the double bass, in my opinion, is single strokes with the feet. Then, the next step is to develop the ability to play hi-hat and ride cymbal ostinato along with grooves on top of all that.

While hand rudiments such as the “26 American Rudiments” can be played with the feet, I would not say they translate well for the feet, for a few reasons. First, it is very difficult to acquire the ability to do just that. I am personally working at this with patience. Second, although it is technically a unique achievement to be able to play, let say, snare drum materials with the feet, the real applications in my personal music ventures of rudiments with the bass drum are limited. Third, playing that many notes in the lower register of my instrument it is not something that I usually play constantly. Having said that, I do play, with some very few students, materials contained in books such as: N.A.R.D. book, Charles Wilcoxon books, Antony Cirone books, and so on and so on, with the double bass.

Could you recommend one of your favorite video performances on YouTube that has two bass drums, by any artist, and tell us what to watch or listen for?

Here’s a clip with Mr. Loiue Bellson, the Father of Double Bass! Watch and listen to EVERTHING the man does!

 

 

Also, two of my favorite fellow Berklee grads are Steve Smith and Vinnie Colaiuta.

Steve, Vinnie, and I worked extensively with some of the same teachers, such as Gary Chaffee, Alan Dawson, Freddie Gruber, and Jim Chapin. Although we attended Berklee at different times and studied with the above teachers at different eras, some of the materials I use resembles those favored by Steve and VInnie. So naturally, we are exploring similar materials within our vocabulary. Steve and Vinnie are, of course, many light years ahead of us regular mortals.  They are leading figures in today’s drumming art form.

So, here are some very good examples of double bass total integration with Moeller technique, polyrhythms, and other concepts:

Steve Smith:

 

Vinnie Colaiuta:

 

 

Any final thoughts?

I like to play lots of different styles of music and fuse them together. At Berklee, I teach Afro-Cuban rhythm, Brazilian rhythms, rock, funk, pop, jazz, polyrhythms, double bass, brushes, and many other styles and techniques.

I am trying to just play better music and learn more about how to play better and how to advance.

I would like my latest book on double bass to be perceived as a collection of double bass vocabulary that is very flexible. The ideas contained in this book can be used musically regardless of the type of drumming you enjoy playing.

Have fun!

 

Study Drums Online!

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Joe Stump

Common superlatives generally used to introduce Joe Stump are typically along the lines of “among the top 10…” (Guitar One magazine) or “one of the top 20″ (Guitar Magazine) fastest shredders of all time. No doubt, Professor/Shredlord Stump can be superhumanly, burningly, ridiculously fast. But his music is also deeply musical, with a rare vibrancy, energy, creativity, and often frenetic sense of musical purpose. And here at Berklee, he is also known as a thoughtful, methodical teacher who is deeply committed to the success of his legions of students/disciples. Joe has produced many instructional shred-guitar oriented products, as well as many recordings, and he shared some thoughts with me close on the tails of the release of his new Berklee Press book, Joe Stump’s Metal Guitar Chop Shop.

What does the term “rock” mean to you?

To me, rock is much more of an attitude, as opposed to a style of music: playing with conviction, attitude, and a certain amount of aggression. That is what rock is to me. Rock isn’t always perfect, and it isn’t always pretty. When I play live, while I do play things that are technically complex, I always project it and convey it with the rock attitude and mentality. It’s something that’s inside you. Either you rock or you don’t. There’s no faking it.

What is the essential aesthetic appeal of metal?

Metal music comes in all types of styles and sub genres. It’s been around for decades, and it’ll be around for many more. To me, metal fans are some of the most dedicated and devoted worldwide—more so than any other style of music. Metal isn’t something you dabble in. You’re either all in or you’re not. In addition to my solo career I also play in a variety of metal bands that I make records and tour with, so I’m always listening to and playing many different styles of metal. I could be crafting a classic metal or old school hard rock track and then start working on something that contains elements of black and death metal.

What common misconceptions are there about shred guitar, and what would you say to defend that art?

Uneducated people tend to make blanket statements about musical styles and genres that they really don’t know very much about. That’s certainly the case when it comes to shred guitar. Like any other genre, there are people doing it extremely well, where it is very much of an art form—and of course, you have people doing it quite badly, as well. Granted, some of the key elements of shred guitar are intense speed along with tremendous technical command and proficiency. That being said, it still has to be music.

Fancy guitar action is great and impressive, but if it’s not showcased in tunes that are well crafted and musical, it gets boring quick. There has to be melody, riffs, cool arrangements, and a diverse selection of tunes, along with all the mind-blowing amazing guitar stuff, to make up a great shred guitar album.

Another moronic misconception is that players that play fast don’t play with any emotion and feel. You can have elements of great technical proficiency and emotion in the same solo or tune. The great players all manage to achieve that.

Who are your primary metal influences?

My heroes and favorite players are the European masters that shaped the way hard rock/metal guitar is played: Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Gary Moore, Uli Jon Roth, and Michael Schenker. These are the guys the wrote the book on metal/shred guitar for me.

I also like and enjoy listening to Walter Giardino from Argentina’s Rata Blanca, Chris Impellitteri, Michael Angelo Batio, Toby Knapp, Hank Shermann, Andy LaRoque, Wolf Hoffman, and Japanese neo-classical players Katsu Ohta, Norifumi Shima and Kelly Simonz.

Are there any common insights or techniques you share with your students that frequently lead to breakthroughs for them?

Sure, all the time, but a lot of that depends upon the individual. It’s really about knowing how to present things to players in ways that really hit home with them, personally and individually. I work with metal players that play on all levels, and all of them have different foundations of knowledge and ways of grasping things. I try to connect with them. Many times, I have slightly different ways of explaining the same technique .

To play fast, you can use picking patterns, play notes with the fretting hand (hammer-ons, pull offs, etc.), or cross strings linearly. Anything else?

There are a variety of techniques associated with shred guitar, as far as picking goes. You have alternate picking, sweep picking (many times in arpeggio play), economy/cross picking. You also have legato (more fret-hand oriented play) and finger tapping. That said, how you use these techniques context-wise and the vocabulary you build with them is really where it all starts. A lot of younger players can execute the technical part, but putting it all together, making it musical and having it flow out of you, is a different story.

What is the relationship between volume and speed?

One misconception is that it’s easier to play fast at loud volumes with a distorted tone. That’s not the case at all. It’s far more difficult to control everything with the guitar breathing under your hands—like taming a wild beast.

 

One really has nothing to do with the other. If I’m playing with a full band then of course, I’m running though my Marshall stacks at very loud volumes. But many times, I could be doing a clinic performing with backing tracks, so my on-stage volume would be at a considerably more modest level.

Say you have an idea for a musical concept, but the path towards rendering it isn’t clear. What is your methodology to invent/figure out a technique that will work?

I’m playing and working on stuff all the time. If I have a day off, where I’m not working at Berklee and I’m not touring, recording or rehearsing, I go into my work room and play, practice, and compose. While playing, things just start to flow out of me. It could be a riff, a melody, a cool technical classical arpeggio bit, whatever. I never force anything or bang my head against the wall—meaning, if it’s not flowing, I’ll just let it go and come back to it another time.

Many times, I have one idea, and then a month or week later, I’ll marry it to a new idea that fits perfectly with it. And other times, things just all fall into place in one shot.

Are you still getting faster?

Technical command is all about control not just velocity. Yes, speed is part of it, but it’s about being in total control and being able to play what you want, when you want , regardless of the speed or technical difficulty. So, the longer I’m at it, the better all the aspects of my playing become: technical command, faster speeds, cleaner execution, phrasing, inflection, intonation, vibrato, control of the instrument. The other thing that comes with experience is the level of consistency that you achieve in all these areas. I’m still very excited about the guitar and love playing. Anybody that knows me could tell you that, whether it’s at Berklee or out doing shows or clinics. Could be a massive European metal festival stage, a divey club, or a clinic for a small group of players and fans I enjoy all of it.

But yeah, I’m getting faster as well.

What are you up to now, and can you share some videos of your playing and tell us what to look for?

My last solo record is Revenge Of The Shredlord, and also I just released a record with the classic/doom metal band Exorcism. Killer guitar can be found on both of course!

Quite a few of the shred/metal food groups are represented in these video links (alternate picking, economy picking, double picking, sweep picking, tap and sweep action, string skipping, neo-classical linear play/pedal tones, diatonic scale patterns, harmonic and Hungarian minor phrasing ideas….). One thing to note is how relaxed I am no matter the speed I’m playing at and also the economy of motion.

 

 

 

 

Learn more about Joe Stump’s Metal Guitar Chop Shop, his Berklee Press DVD Chop Builder for Rock Guitar, or the online guitar course offerings via Berklee online!

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Pat Pattison was one of the founders of Berklee’s songwriting program, and he has mentored and inspired many thousands of songwriters at Berklee and all over the world—even before his 170,000 recent Coursera students! I’ve had the privilege to work with Pat on his Berklee Online courses, and it was a great pleasure to dig into his recent revised edition of his seminal book on rhyme, Songwriting: An Essential Guide to Rhyming, 2nd Edition. The first edition has been an extremely popular title for several decades. Now that Pat’s photo is on the cover, its sales promise to escalate dramatically. :) And the new content should help too….

Here’s my interview

…with Pat, for you.

Jonathan: Why rhyme?

Pat: Songs are made for ears, not eyes. Because people listen to songs, you learn to write for eyeless ears. Rhyme creates the ear’s roadmap through the lyric ideas. It tells your ear where to go next, what’s connected to what, and when to stop. It can tell you to speed up or slow down. It has a profound effect on the musical structure, either supporting melodic/harmonic motion, or creating a counter to it. It’s probably the most valuable tool in a lyricist’s tool belt.

What’s the relationship between rhyme and musical constructs, such as melody, harmony, and form?

Rhyme’s interactions with melody, harmony, and form create a plethora of creative possibilities. Foremost is rhyme’s capability of supporting melodic structures. When melodic phrases are connected, for example, having the same lengths, they invite rhyme to support their alliance. If rhyme accepts the invitation, there is a re-enforcement of the connection. When melodic phrases create a sequence—for example, long/short/long/short—they invite an abab rhyme scheme. Rhyming the sequence strengthens the motion.  If rhyme should decline melody’s invitation, or work against it, it’ll create tension, which can be quite fruitful in supporting unstable ideas.

Rhyme also works either as a companion or as a counter to harmony. Often a section will close with a rhyme, saying, “I’m finished,” while the harmony counters with a subdominant or dominant function, asking to move on. This division of labor creates two equal and important messages: “I’m finished with this idea, but there’s something else coming.”

You talk about different degrees of rhyming in your book, such as cat/hat vs. cat/hack or cat/sit. How are these different degrees of rhyming useful in terms of conveying an idea?

When you hit the tonic chord at the end of a section, you know you’re at a resting place. But, depending of how you voice the chord, you can create a more or less stable resting place. For example, voicing it with the 5 or the 3 on the bottom is less stable than voicing it with the root on the bottom.

Rhyme works like that too. A perfect rhyme (cat/hat) is fully resolved, like putting the root on the bottom. It stops motion fully and slams the gate shut. Cat/hack, because of the phonetic relation between t and k, creates a pretty strong effect too, but not quite as strong as cat/hat. It allows you to expand your rhyme possibilities while still remaining pretty stable: cat/hack, cat/nap/ cat/sad, cat/grab.

As you move to less stable rhyme types, the rhyme will open the gate further, creating uncertainty and longing, potentially supporting the idea and emotion of the section, for example, cat/rats, cat/laugh, cat/spot. These could reverse the typical harmony/rhyme relationship: rather that the harmony asking for further motion while the rhyme stops, the harmony could stop (tonic) while the rhyme refuses to sit quietly, asking to move through the partly open sonic gate. So many interesting possibilities. And that’s what creativity is really about: options.

What are some of the common misconceptions that songwriters hold regarding rhyme?

Several. Most onerous, that all rhyme should be perfect rhyme. That’s like saying that every section should end on the tonic chord, voiced in root position. No one believes that, because it fails to create options. English has 17 vowel sounds. Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and many other languages have only 5. English doesn’t use the endings of words for grammatical purposes, unlike Italian, Spanish, German, etc. With so many vowel sounds and such inconsistency in the way words end, English is a “rhyme-poor” language. Depending only on perfect rhyme dramatically limits your ability to say what you mean and still rhyme.

The purveyors of perfect rhyme seem to believe in rules. I hate the phrase, “Learn the rules first so you’ll know how to break them.” It assumes that songwriting has rules. It doesn’t. It only has tools. Facts and tools.  Anytime you allow rules to steer your writing, you limit your options, thus limiting your creativity. Learn the rhyme types and their effects, then use them to support your ideas—to create emotion.

Secondly, that finding a rhyme is a creative act. It isn’t. Occasionally when I’ve asked writers what rhyming dictionary they use, some have been indignant, as though to say, “I don’t cheat. I’m self-sufficient.” Others have looked at me sadly, as if hoping that someday I will abandon my artificial crutch and get in touch with my creative inner self.

Use a rhyming dictionary. This is one place where self-reliance and rugged individualism are silly. Finding rhymes is almost never a creative act. It’s a purely mechanical search. On those few occasions where finding a rhyme is creative (finding mosaic rhymes, for example), a rhyming dictionary can still stimulate the creative process.

The self-reliant writer who thinks rhyming is a spontaneous expression of personal creativity can usually be seen gazing into space, lost somewhere in the alphabet song, “discovering” one-syllable words. This “alphabet process” is certainly at least as artificial as a rhyming dictionary. Nothing about it is creative or pure, nor is it spontaneous. The worst part is its inefficiency.

Can rhyme sometimes be detrimental to a lyric?

Rhyme isn’t detrimental. It’s your friend. It’s a great brainstorming tool. I go into great detail in the new edition of The Essential Guide to Rhyming how to use your rhyming dictionary to explore a song idea. It’s called a worksheet. Sondheim does it. So does Eminem. So should you.

Not understanding what your options are, or following the “rule” of perfect rhyme can be detrimental. It can lead you into saying something stupid because “Well, I needed a rhyme.” Or it can lead you into writing clichés: love/above, fire/desire, hand/understand, eyes/realize.

Neither are what you really meant to say or could have said if you hadn’t been strait-jacketed by perfect rhyme.

What advice do you give your students that commonly leads them to make significant songwriting breakthroughs?

Create worksheets. Spend time up front exploring the “sonic landscape” of your idea. When you use your rhyming dictionary in advance of writing, you’re work on two levels simultaneously: you’re finding ideas, and with them, ideas that connect sonically.

Contemporary poetry often doesn’t rhyme. Do you think that’s positive, do you think rhyme is more important in music than in poetry, and why?

Because we can see lines on a page, poetry is able to counterpoint line against phrase. Because we only hear songs, the marriage of musical phrase with lyric phrase is essential.

Poetry uses two fundamental units of composition: the grammatical phrase (tied to meaning) and the line (independent of meaning). It is made for the eye, as well as the ear. It is a poetry of both lines and phrases.

These two fundamental units of composition for a poem—the grammatical phrase and the line—are both dependent on the page. Because a song lyric is directed to the ear, rhyme is important since it provides a roadmap for the ear, by showing relationships between lines, creating forward motion, creating either stability or instability in sections, and telling the ear where sections end.

Though rhyme is common in poetry, it is less important, since the reader can see where a line or a section ends. Even when poems rhyme, they don’t necessarily announce a phrase’s end or a section’s end, as in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind”:

  O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,

  Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

  Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

  Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,

Can you point us to performances of some of your favorite songs that have particularly interesting rhyming, and tell us what to listen for?

“Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor for verse abba rhyme scheme. There’s a huge difference between

There is a young cowboy, he lives on the range.

His horse and his cattle are his only companions.

He works in the saddle and he sleeps in the canyons,

waiting for summer, his pastures to change

 and

 There is a young cowboy, he lives on the range.

His horse and his cattle are his only companions.

He’s waiting for summer, his pastures to change

He works in the saddle and he sleeps in the canyons,

Also notice the prechorus’s ababb rhyme scheme.

 

Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home” for its rhyme types in the two prechoruses.

 

Warren Zevon’s “Hasten Down the Wind” for use of consonance rhyme in the chorus (performed here by Linda Rondstadt).

 

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As we musical folk gain experience, we develop practices to make our work go more efficiently. Commonly, we learn about or develop templates, charts, checklists, letters, and other types of documents that we reuse and refine, as experience informs us how to make them more useful and effective. Some of these forms have become common, or even more or less standardized, in the music industry.

My new book, Music Industry Forms, is a collection of 75 such forms, snatched from the clipboards of many veterans of the concert hall, control room, film scoring stage, and publishing house. It presents and describes sample forms with annotations and lists of commonly associated terminology and symbols. The book serves as a kind of field guide to the music industry, with many tools to make our work here easier.

If you’ve followed this blog, you might have noticed that I’ve been interviewing authors of Berklee Press new releases. Now, with another book of my own hot off the presses, the tables are turned. To pinch-hit and to keep me from publicly talking to myself, I’ve invited my colleague/friend and former Berklee Press editor Susan Gedutis Lindsay to interview me about this new Berklee Press publication. Sue is the associate director of instructional design at Berklee College of Music. She’s also an author, an ethnomusicologist, and an active performing musician. A total rock star, really.

Here’s our conversation about Music Industry Forms.

Sue: How can forms improve a musician’s career?

Jonathan: They help clarify what work is required and ensure quality control. This helps keep everyone’s efforts focused on completing the project vision efficiently: on time, within budget, and to the highest possible quality standard.

How did you first get the idea for this book?

Originally, I planned to have a few common forms in the appendix of my previous book, Project Management for Musicians. But I kept turning up more and more useful forms that I wanted to write about, and it started taking on its own identity, so we decided to spin off the “forms” concept into its own book.

How did you get the ideas for these forms? Did they come to you in a dream? A vision?

No way, these all come from real life! My favorite form, the stage plot, is one that I lived out of during my days working in concert hall operations. Then, over my years of editing books about the music industry, I’ve learned about many other forms. Often, as an editor, when I try to press my authors to be extremely specific about some dimension of what they are writing about, or to show examples, the conversation ultimately leads them to whip out a form. Like, “spotting sheets” come up periodically in books about film music. A spotting sheet is used when a composer and film director sit down to discuss what type of music will go with each scene. My authors Lalo Schifrin, Richard Davis, and Mark Cross all discuss them in their books. They are standard practice in the film music industry, and people trying to break in need to understand them. So, I’ve found that musicians are using a lot of forms, particularly the ones who have been at it for a while. (Film director/script writer Isaac Ho also helped me come up with some good samples of those, and some others.)

Why are stage plots your favorite?

Beyond evoking fond memories (it was fun being a stagehand/manager), stage plots are great simplifiers. Consider the task of setting up for a 100-piece orchestra. That’s a lot of gear! But the stage plot reveals the location of every chair, music stand, piano, riser, and so on, bringing order to the complexity. Pass around a stage plot, and everyone relaxes.

So, many of the forms in this book were from personal experience as a musician, and others are forms that you pulled from a large catalog of Berklee books that address many aspects of the professional music industry.

Yes. And from my Berklee Online course, Project Management for Musicians. Also, I interviewed quite a few experts, for all these projects. For example, mastering engineer Jonathan Wyner was very generous with his time in showing me around his studio and discussing what forms he found most helpful for organizing audio media. I used models by him and others as starting points for many of the forms that are in the book, doing some additional research with some other engineers, and then tried to present what seems to be a sort of consensus on what is the most useful information to include, for them. And then back to the original experts for a final sniff. That was my usual process.

What sort of musician would this book be best for? How would it help me, a musician who only seeks to play local gigs but makes enough money at it to actually have a separate band bank account? Or a cover band musician, or a GB musican, for that matter?

Oh, I got forms for everybody.

Ha. Okay, okay. I must say that, when I read this book, all these forms opened a window to business possibilities I had not even considered.

For a gigging musician like you, there are sample gear checklists, registers for how to track what merch you’re selling at gigs, some worksheets for putting together set lists or strategically ordering songs on albums…. There’s one that shows you how to figure out how many recordings you need to sell in order to break even financially, given your investment. A zillion others. You read it. Did anything in particular strike your fancy?

I found the telephone tree interesting. Even with five people in a band, that’s a lot of calls to make when you’re stressed right before a gig.

Yes, it’s like a lever, making an odious job easier. That one’s a classic form, and one of just a few here that are used all over the world, from political campaigns to emergency school closings, beyond just in the music industry. Most forms in the book are more music-centric than this, though some have analogues elsewhere. The graphic design spec is another example of a form with longer legs. But musicians manage a lot of graphic design, for album covers, band logos, websites, and such, so it’s a good communication tool to know about.

Tell me about the Nashville chart.  

Nashville notation evolved in the recordings studios of that fine city. It’s a type of numeral-based chord chart optimized for rhythm section players who want to get the essential information for developing their parts, in a form that is very easy to transpose to other keys. So, for studio rhythm-section musicians working with vocalists, it is generally exactly the right amount of information they require, and easily scrawled out on the fly. Very efficient, for certain kinds of players. And utterly cryptic to everyone else! Songwriter/producer/Berklee Online Instructor Shane Adams was a great help with that one.

Will there be a place that someone can download Excel files for some of the forms you mention? Templates?

Now and then, I post a form at projectmanagementformusicians.com. Really, though, I think these samples should be seen as starting points for your own forms. People hate forms that are not completely on target for their work at hand, and using templates can sometimes lead to extraneous requests for non-critical information. It’s why so many forms still waste people’s time by requesting fax numbers—or worse, Telex! Also, many of these are ideally scribbled out on the spot, with a pencil, in the heat of battle. So, the concept is often more important than the actual sample.

Right. But what I also know from my own experience is that people love it when you do forms “right.” For example, the press release template you included. Formatting your press release in the right way makes you look more professional to a journalist. They have a way that they expect to see things, and if you deliver it in that format, then they see you as more of a professional and they pay attention. I wonder if that applies to some of the other forms, too? If so, which ones?

There are definitely some standard practices, and I quote chapter and verse when I find it. That said, I find a huge amount of variation. Some organizations do have exacting standards for certain types of forms. Conventions for indicating chairs and music stands on a stage plot are pretty standard everywhere. Spotting sheets, though, have different layouts at different studios. (I give two competing versions of that one.) Industrywide, most of the time, I think it’s more about being neat and organized and easy to figure out. But yes, there are some conventions, and certain places will really insist on their own form being used, like cue sheets for the different PROs. Same, same, only different. I tried throughout to give both standard formats and terminology, and also some common variations.

How did you ever score an endorsement from John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants?

I bribed his wife with an alpaca fleece.

HA! How did you even reach her? I need to hear more.

Isn’t it better if that’s my only answer?

Okay, okay, okay.

I’ll add, though, that Robin Goldwasser is a very gifted artist in her own right: actress, musician, and puppet maker. And she’s crazy for fiber. Fortunately.

And I have to say, I am a bit in awe of my back cover blurbists. John Flansburgh, Gary Burton, Marcus Hummon, and Sean Slade. Ridiculous/earth-shattering talent, back there. Their generous quotes are on the product page.

If there were one person on your birthday list that you would give this book to, who is it? Tell me about that person.

YOU. Because You are so Awesome.

Hahah! There’s a lot there that I can use!

After you, I’d give it to musicians at the beginning of their career, who are trying to figure out this vast, crazy, complex world of the music industry. Especially musicians with a history of bringing me chocolate.

Was this a fun book to write?

Yes, this was probably the most fun book I’ve written. Project Management for Musicians is really a deep, methodical exploration of how to get music projects done, and kind of an epic journey about how to become a professional. Hopefully, it’s useful, but yes, it’s also a bit exhausting. Writing this book, to me, was more like discovering a series of little lightbulbs—almost like compiling a book of cartoons. It was fun because it was eclectic, giving me a chance to talk to performers, engineers, concert operations folks, songwriters—lots of people all around the industry, and everyone here is such a character. These forms are each a delight because they can make life so much easier. It’s a joy to be around them.

The book is like a field guide to the nuts-and-bolts mechanisms that really make the music industry possible. To me, each form was a revelation, giving insight into how to make the magic happen. That’s fun!

What’s next?

Well, I’ve been enjoying presenting live workshops about the creative process and music project management, and there are some interesting opportunities in the works along those lines. I continue teaching my two courses at Berklee Online and editing books for Berklee Press—a few great titles in the works, there. My next freelance writing is actually going to be through About.com as their music education expert. I’m editing my wife Marci’s next book about charter school boards, and I’m hoping to edit a book or two about beekeeping. So, I’m keeping busy, occasionally stepping out of the music industry and then bringing the stolen fire back home. It’s always an adventure.

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Learning to Listen, by Gary Burton

Gary Burton is a seven-time GRAMMY-award winning vibraphonist, bandleader, and educator. In his recent autobiography Learning to Listen (Berklee Press, 2013), he talks about his life and his experiences with a pantheon of the past century’s greatest musicians, including Stan Getz, George Shearing, Chick Corea, Astor Piazzolla, Pat Metheny, John Cage, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Harry Partch, and so many others. He also delves deep into personal dimensions of his life, such as love, aging, and the process of making music. It is truly a must read for any musician or fan.

Closer to home, over the course of three decades, Gary was a Berklee student, professor, dean, and executive vice president. He has played a critical role in the creation of the Berklee Online school, where he continues to teach his course in improvisation, as well as a free Coursera course. A personal note: he was also on the committee that hired me at Berklee Press, back in 1998. So, in addition to being delighted by his answering a few of my lingering questions here, leftover from working on his book, I’m very grateful for his contributions at Berklee, and really quite thrilled to offer this interview. And Learning to Listen was such a fun book for us to publish.

Jonathan: What have been some of the most important learning breakthroughs in your development as an artist?

Gary: I think the most important learning breakthroughs have been new awarenesses resulting from information or influences from other musicians, starting with my first teachers in my teens and at Berklee. Then in my professional career, I can say that I learned about the wonders of harmony from pianist George Shearing, and the strength of melody from saxophonist Stan Getz. From bandoneon maestro Astor Piazzolla, I learned about the possibilities for drama in music.

Sometimes, I think the potential for knowing everything about music is inside our brains, and every now and then, the right stimuli come together, and suddenly, something new is suddenly obvious and clear. That moment is a very inspiring experience.

What types of practice do you find most productive?

I believe in not wasting time when practicing. Endless repetition of boring exercises may provide some improvement, but I think it’s best to have a plan for what you want to accomplish from a practice opportunity, and focus intently on it. Better to practice one hour with great attention and focus than four hours messing around with a little of this and that.

How do you think about the overall shape of your improvisations? Do you imagine or construct the solo’s architecture in advance?

I never plan precisely what may take place in my solo. I want to be as spontaneous as possible. But, to some extent, I envision a general overview of my solo before I get underway. That is, I have a general sense of how long it might be (one chorus, two choruses, etc.), and I have a sense of the emotional character of the song that I want to express in my interpretation of the song. In addition, I have a sense of the compositional structure of the song, which will influence the organization of my solo.

Do you associate any moods or colors or other connotations with any specific notes or tonal centers?

The association of colors with note pitches is an actual human ability called synesthesia. Isaac Newton assigned a primary color to each note of the major scale, supposedly. I have read that British painter David Hockney has a strong sense of color relationship to music. So it obviously is true for some people. I have to say, I have never had a moment where music suggested any color. In fact, I also have never seen music as a literal representation of things like political or social causes, etc. But, certainly some musicians create music specifically intended to be representative of historic events, religious symbols, etc.

What advice do you have for how to audition other musicians, and/or for spotting talent?

Assessing a musician’s abilities is very subjective, and different people will come to different conclusions. Of course, it doesn’t take much time to determine if a musician has his or her basic skills developed: time feel, intonation, sound, sight-reading, harmony, etc.  After that, it becomes a matter of looking for compatible elements of style. A perfectly excellent musician may not necessarily be a good fit for the music I am planning, for instance. Sometimes, I can tell very quickly if a musician is likely to have a good rapport with my music. Other times, it doesn’t become clear until a fair amount of experimentation has taken place.

What advice do you have for forming a band?

The drummer is the most important player in the band. The drummer controls the volume levels, the time feel, the shape of the tunes, etc. As I often say, once I count of a song, the drummer is the one in charge of how the tune gets played. I spend twice as much time talking to the drummer, as any other player in the band. In order to get the results I want on a song, I have to make sure the drummer understands and shares my vision of how to interpret the song.

How do you get the best performances out of other musicians?

It’s a combination of letting players have a lot of freedom, but stepping in to subtly adjust what people are doing to keep the overall group in harmony. It’s a challenge and something of a talent that some leaders have instinctively.

In your book, you describe your associations with a great many other world class artists, many of whom have left us. Who do you miss playing with the most?

I probably miss Astor Piazzolla the most, even though he wasn’t a jazz musician. I learned a tremendous amount about music from him in the limited time we got to play together (most of a year, 1985). The influential musicians I teamed up with early in my career, George Shearing and Stan Getz, were essentially players, not prolific composers. In the case of Piazzolla, not only was tango—the music Piazzolla dominated for fifty years—a totally new genre for me to explore, but I was working with the leading composer of the music as well.

Piazzolla completed over fifty albums of original music during his career, ranging from symphonic works to opera, and countless small ensemble compositions, a number of which remain part of any essential tango repertoire. Imagine, maybe, collaborating with Duke Ellington, the most prominent jazz composer for half a century. That’s what it was like playing with Astor every night. How he described the details of the music he had composed for me, helping me to understand how to interpret his music, that’s an experience I’ll never forget.

Could you share one of your favorite performances?

Sure. This is from a London concert by the Stan Getz Quartet in 1966, near the end of my three years with the band. The other musicians are Steve Swallow on bass, who I ultimately worked with for over twenty years in my own bands, and legendary drummer Roy Haynes, who also played in my group later on. This quartet was an ideal setting for Getz, showing off his lyrical melodic talents. Up to that time, this was the best band I had ever played with, and it wasn’t easy, at age twenty-three, making the decision to strike out on my own.

 

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If you play jazz guitar, you are sure to appreciate Michael Kaplan’s new book of meticulous transcriptions, Bebop Guitar Solos (Berklee Press, 2014). Michael is the director of the American Guitar Academy in Tokyo. In this interview, he gives some tips about both performing bebop and preparing transcriptions, and then shares one of his favorite Wes Montgomery recordings.

Jonathan: What draws you to bebop? 

Michael: The fact that it swings, and swings hard! In addition, the passion and fire that the musicians play with as well as the constant life long search for more.  We are always practicing, looking for new ideas and ways to do things both harmonically and rhythmically. It is akin to a spiritual pursuit.

What is the role of soloing in bebop?  

Soloing is the essence of bebop.  Typically you have a head (melody) that is played at the beginning and the end of the tune, and the rest is solos by the instrumentalists.

Are there any differences between bebop solos and those of other genres? 

Fundamentally, an improvised solo is an improvised solo, in any genre, be it blues, jazz, rock, etc. However, in jazz, it is actually more about listening than playing.  You need to listen to the other musicians and connect so you can have a coherent conversation with them. Furthermore, a bebop solo should contain some of the characteristic bebop vocabulary.

What are the classic guitar rigs for classic bebop? (Instruments, effects, amps, strings, setup, etc.) 

Basically, a hollow body guitar with heavy gauge strings plugged straight into an amplifier.

What special guitar techniques are particularly useful/characteristic in bebop? 

For me, there is a lot of slurring (hammer-ons and pull-offs) in order to generate a good swing feel and sound more like a horn player. That being said, there are some great guitarists such as Pat Martino who pick almost every note and swing very hard, so it is difficult to say.  It would also be a wise idea to be able to play both vertically, up and down the guitar neck, as well as horizontally, across the guitar neck.  Ideally, you want to combine these two approaches of position playing and vertical playing.

What technical exercises do you recommend for building facility at this type of playing? 

Listen, listen, listen, and when you are done, listen some more!  This is a language that you must get in your head, your ears, and your bones.  In addition, play your instrument as much as possible.  Play along with the famous classic recordings, go to jam sessions, and play.  You must practice communicating with other musicians in real time, not just sitting home and practicing by yourself.

What is your methodology for transcribing solos, particularly complex ones such as these? 

First, I listen to the solo multiple times until I have it in my head and ears.  I then sit down with the guitar and figure out what I can by recalling the solo from memory.  Next, I sit down with the recording, put on a good pair of headphones to get inside the music, and figure out some of the more difficult phrases.  I do not write down the solo until I can play the whole thing on the guitar from memory with the recording.  If I go phrase by phrase, I cannot get a whole sense of the solo.  I also will not remember it in the future.

How do you decide how much detail to include in a written transcription, regarding nuances of rhythm, ornamentation, and articulation? 

I am very meticulous in making sure that the notes and rhythms are notated correctly.  I do my best with the nuances, ornamentations, and articulations.  However, just as it would be easy to transcribe a written speech, it would be very difficult to put in all of the articulation, nuances, and rhythms of the speaker.  The notes on the paper cannot compare to the actual recording. Notation is more or less a guide to get you going in the right direction.  It would be nearly impossible to play the solos correctly with only the written notation having not heard and studied the recording.

Could you recommend one of your famous bebop performances? What should we listen for? 

Here is a version of Wes Montgomery playing “The Way You Look Tonight.” Listen for how effortlessly he plays at this fast tempo, in addition to the bebop vocabulary and his incredible swing feel.

 

Study Jazz Guitar Online at Berklee!

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Rebecca Cline is author of Latin Jazz Piano Improvisation (Berklee Press, 2013). She is an associate professor in the ensemble and piano departments at Berklee College of Music.

How is playing Afro-Cuban/Latin jazz different from American jazz?

For me, the biggest difference is the language I speak with my colleagues. Usually, when I play Afro-Cuban or Latin jazz with a band, the band members are native Spanish speakers, so we generally speak Spanish to each other. When I play straight-ahead jazz, even though the band members can be from countries other than the U.S., the common language is English. I usually laugh more hanging out with my Spanish-speaking colleagues!

What is the role of clave in a Latin groove?

The rhythmic pattern called “clave” determines the rhythmic patterns that are played by all of the instruments in the ensemble. For more details, check out the first half of my book!

Does the piano have any different kinds of role in Latin music, compared to other genres?

Let’s limit our discussion to Afro-Cuban popular music instead of trying to address the broader category of Latin music. The roots of the piano in Afro-Cuban popular music can be traced to the traditions of danzón and son montuno. In danzón, the piano often plays arpeggios and elegant runs, which can be rhythmically vague. By contrast, the son montuno demands a stronger rhythmic role from the piano by way of the typical piano guajeo (or montuno or tumbao).

Many arrangements of popular Afro-Cuban music begin with a romantic section that calls for fills, comping, and/or arpeggios from the piano. But as the arrangement progresses into a more driving, danceable section, the piano plays a very percussive tumbao.

What struggles or misconceptions are commonly shared by students who come to Latin jazz from outside that culture?

I find that students are sometimes intimidated by the terminology and by the preponderance of sub-genres of Cuban popular and folkloric music. There are often three words for a given item, such as the montuno (also known as tumbao, also known as guajeo). Similarly, a single word can signify more than one thing. Again, the word, “montuno.” It can refer to a pattern played by the piano, a section in an arrangement, or a sub-genre of the Cuban son, as in “son montuno.”

In addition, students often think that in Latin jazz, they should accompany by playing a montuno all the time. While there are some bands that might have the pianist play a montuno from start to finish, it is more common to progress from comping with a sense of clave to a climactic montuno.

The rhythms in this music can be complex, and particularly at up-tempo grooves, it is easy to lose your place in the form. Do you have any tips in finding beat 1?

The main thing to know is that beat 4 can sound like beat 1. This is because the typical bass line anticipates the harmony by a quarter note. If you are used to hearing the root of the chord on the downbeat, as in rock or funk, it can take some practice to recognize beat 4 in Afro-Cuban music as beat 4 instead of mistaking it for beat 1. Chapter 5 in my book addresses this topic. In the book, there is a transcription of a bass line and a piano montuno from one of the tracks on the recording. The reader is encouraged to follow (read) the written-out bass line while listening to the performance in order to see and hear how the bass anticipates the harmony.

Are there differences in how solos are structured or shared, such as how many choruses are typical for a single player, or how many players solo in a tune?

Just as in jazz, this varies according to each bandleader’s taste, and according to context, such as whether the performance is live or in the recording studio, and how big the band is. Players tend to stretch (play longer and with a strong sense of exploration) when playing live, while sometimes players are encouraged to play shorter and/or fewer solos in the studio, in the interest of creating shorter tracks and/or variety between tracks.

Some bandleaders take a traditional approach by presenting the melody, having everybody solo, and playing the head out, and continue to adhere to this formula throughout the set. By contrast, some bandleaders try to achieve variety and an element of unpredictability by featuring different soloists throughout the set.

What issues of ensemble etiquette are there to keep in mind?

One of the most important aspects of ensemble etiquette in the performance of a clave-based tune is to maintain an awareness of the clave throughout. Implying “the wrong clave,” or clave in a different place than where it is, feels like a jazz drummer suddenly playing the hi-hat on beats 1 and 3 (instead of 2 and 4).

Another important consideration is balance. Pianists are rarely offenders in this area, but each musician should listen for how his or her sound balances with the rest of the ensemble. No one instrument should drown out another.

As a pianist, another thing to keep in mind is the level of activity in one’s comping. Be careful not to start off comping with a montuno if the soloist is trying to tell a story with some sort of arc. It’s probably better to start comping with more subtlety and gradually build up to a montuno, if that’s what the music calls for.

One situation in which comping with a montuno is almost always a bad idea is during a bass solo. The montuno is one part of a musical machine, of which another key part is the bass line. If that bass line is absent, the montuno can sound out of context, and it can rob attention from the bass solo.

How did you learn to play Latin jazz piano?

I will always be learning how to play the piano, and how to play Latin jazz piano. But I have learned a lot from transcribing pianists and playing along with recordings, from watching pianists at live performances, and from playing gigs with great players who know more about it than I do.

I did study with the great Jesús “Chucho” Valdés in Cuba in 1996, but I was such a beginner in both jazz and Latin jazz at that time that the main thing that I took from that experience was a sense of the breadth of possibility that awaited me once I got the basics together.

I also had a teacher for a short time toward the end of my years living in Puerto Rico. Pianist Luis Marín generously shared his vast musical knowledge with me.

Were other musicians welcoming?

Perhaps surprisingly, yes! I started playing popular (non-Classical) music shortly after moving to Puerto Rico when I was 22. I was terrified to sit in on a regular gig in Old San Juan that I attended faithfully, week after week, month after month. But the musicians were very encouraging. They assured me that I would never feel ready and that I just had to dive in. They were right, and eventually I did.

For several years, I gigged a lot as a side musician in Puerto Rico and enjoyed a genuine sense of camaraderie with my fellow musicians. That was a wonderful, nurturing environment for my musical growth, and I’m very grateful to those fantastic musicians/human beings.

Did you struggle to find the authentic Latin jazz, rather than more Americanized adaptations?

Not in Puerto Rico or Cuba. Once in a while, I run into that stylized stuff on the Web and I just can’t stand it, so I turn it off.

Who were your most important mentors?

Luis Marín, Bill Gordon and Charlie Banacos.

Do you remember any particularly helpful tips that they shared that revealed to you something profound about the music?

Luis Marín impressed upon me that Eddie Palmieri is great because of his superior sense of time. I had performed for Luis a solo of Palmieri’s that I had transcribed. It was “Bomba de Corazón” from Palo Pa’ Rumba. Luis told me that while the solo was indeed great, it really was not the point. Palmieri’s time was what it all came down to. That was revelatory for me because until that point, my perception had been the complete opposite: that time playing was secondary and that soloing was the real business. I think that is a typical misconception among young players.

What first inspired you to learn to play Latin jazz?

Michel Camilo! I know I am not alone in that.

Could you recommend an inspiring recording? What should we listen for?

A track that has really inspired me lately is Osmany Paredes’ “Tumbaíto Pa’ Tí” from his 2013 album, Trio Time. The track is pure joy from start to finish. I love how Osmany plays with the clave as he improvises, then how he grooves with a funky two-handed clavinet-like rhythmic thing before the band enters. And his tumbao behind the drum solo is killing.

 

Here the track “Sombras” from the accompanying recording to Latin Jazz Piano Improvisation, which includes a transcription of Rebecca’s piano solo (beginning at 3’30”).

Sombras

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Harmony, of course, is one of the core components of musical study by all western musicians. It concerns how notes relate to each other, based both on the physical properties of sound and various cultural ways that these interrelationships are put to use expressively. Harmony can define musical genre, and even within individual styles, the nuances of how individuals will handle notes and chords continue to inspire infinite colors, if not opinions.

Berklee Press recently published “The Berklee Book of Jazz Harmony,” an extraordinarily deep and yet practical exploration of jazz harmony and how to use it. Its authors are Joe Mulholland and Tom Hojnacki, the chair and assistant chair of Berklee’s harmony department. Joe and Tom have helped to educate thousands of students, watching them transform their skills and expressive breadth through the study of harmony, so they have a unique perspective on how the study of harmony relates to the evolution of a musician. They both have developed many courses used at Berklee, including Joe’s Berklee Online course, Jazz Composition.

In this interview, Joe and Tom offer some thoughts about key harmonic principles, as well as turn us on to some inspiring music.

How do musicians’ conceptions of harmony typically evolve during the course of their careers?

Joe Mulholland: For most people, it seems there is no straight line. For example, Miles Davis first digested the harmonic intricacies of bebop, he then engaged in a radical simplification of his harmonic envelope during the modal, Kind of Blue period. Next, he embraced the harmonic innovations of Shorter and Hancock in his mid ’60s quintet and then abandoned that in favor of simple vamps and quasi-free tonality in the ’70s. At the end of his career, he chose a lot of simple pop tunes as vehicles for improvisation.

My own development has proceeded on several fronts. I started out playing a mix of blues and rock tunes from the ’60s and ’70s, but always had a parallel interest in jazz and, to a lesser degree, classical music. Being a pianist and amateur guitarist, I loved chord progressions and the power and nuance they brought to music, so I explored each of these areas when I had the time or opportunity to do so. More recently, the best of Brazilian popular music has been a very productive field for new ideas. I love harmonic richness and complexity, but never for its own sake. I am always aware that simplicity and directness of expression are prime values.

Tom Hojnacki:  I think that most of us start out by learning how to play a few chords and using them to harmonize tunes. I had classical piano lessons as a child and had a facility for reading written arrangements but didn’t really consider the vertical or harmonic aspect of the music. Around the age of ten, my cousins taught me to play some folk and rock songs on the guitar. I later got hold of published sheet music for the songs; something like the Time/Life Great Songs of the ’60s collection.  In the back of the book, I discovered a chart that translated chord symbols into piano notation, so I was then able to play these same songs and sing them at the piano independent of the original arrangement. That was the start of my interest in harmony. I think musicians who are attracted to rock and jazz music learn a few simple songs and sense that there are harmonic patterns that occur repeatedly in different songs. As our knowledge of repertoire increases we encounter tunes that are harmonically more complex.  Many of us seek a theory of music that explains the relationships we sense, and helps to explain the various patterns we encounter in the tunes so that we can improvise within them. Ultimately, what the theory helps us to understand is that more complex tunes, even though they have very intricate and exotic sounding surface harmonies, are still at the bedrock level based on the move from tonic to subdominant or dominant and back to tonic.

What is chord scale theory, and how does it make music more effective?

JM: Chord scale theory is a way of organizing, prioritizing, and choosing the notes in a tonal environment. Awareness of functional harmonic categories (tonic/subdominant/dominant, modal interchange, substitute dominant, etc.) guides the process. It is ultimately nothing more than listening carefully to all the possible choices of notes in a given moment of music and choosing the best ones.

TH: In a way, knowledge of chord scales can be like training wheels for your ears. They guide you in your choices until you can pedal off on your own!

What is a tension substitution?

JM: Replacing a chord tone in a voicing with one of the tensions of the chord.

When and why should tensions be substituted?

JM: Tensions substitution is used for a more complex, richer sound in a voicing. It can provide more colors and create opportunities for chromatic voice leading in an arrangement or accompaniment.

TH: But more importantly, we should be asking the question, “What is a tension?”

Okay, what is a tension!

TH: Chords at the most basic level consists of triads (three-note chords: root, 3, and 5) and seventh chords (four-note chords: root, 3, 5, and 7). These chords are conceived as stacks of thirds. Tensions extend the stack with more thirds (up to seven or in some cases eight notes: root, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13). These extensions of the basic chord types add more color or tension to the harmony and also help to clarify the role that each chord will play in a progression. If chords are like actors in a drama, then tensions are like the costumes that they wear to give them added credibility in their roles.

How literally should chord symbols be interpreted?

JM: That depends on the source. A well-vetted fake book or published manuscript can usually be taken at face value, at least as a starting point. Even then, there can be typos or other errors. The other problem is that chord symbols, being shorthand, are inherently ambiguous. Depending on the style of the person compiling the charts, they may be very simple (“C”) or more detailed (CMaj7[9,#11,13]) according to the intent of the book.  Finally, there is the matter of regional variation in how to say the same thing.

TH:  A notated score represents a fixed reality. A lead sheet with chord symbols represents a range of possibilities for how to perform a tune. The more you know about harmony, the more options you have!

What does “outside” mean?

JM: Where you have to live, if you are a freelance jazz musician!

TH: But, seriously folks! Playing “outside” means to play notes consistently that are not directly related to the chords of the tune. To do this skillfully and musically requires that you really understand how those chords work together. You have to know the boundaries before you can step outside of them.

How has jazz harmony evolved, during the history of jazz?

JM: It has evolved in multiple directions; there is no straight line. Currently, the music can include just about anything: no conventional harmony at all, simple modal systems, triadic “folk” harmony, bebop chromaticism, multitonic schemes, and more.

TH: While it is true that there are many eddies and currents in the stream of the music, I think it is fair to say that the history of the development of harmony in jazz over the past hundred years parallels that of European classical music over the last thousand years. The early roots of jazz—the field holler, country blues and the earliest vocal traditions of the African-American church—are roughly equivalent to Gregorian chant through the pre-tonal music in the European tradition, New Orleans jazz, and ragtime mirror Baroque polyphony. The harmony of the Swing era might be compared to the harmony of the classical style of Haydn and Mozart. Bebop is analogous to Wagnerian chromaticism. Modal jazz is similar in conception to the late 19th century Russian and French scalar music known as Impressionism and the sound of the most dissonant free jazz is akin to that of atonality and serial music, what the historians term Expressionism. The Princeton theorist Dmitri Tymoczko in his recent book The Geometry of Music makes the point that jazz is a style in which all of the major historic styles of harmony now co-exist with one another.

What standards or interpretations of standards can you recommend as something that makes particularly effective use of jazz harmonic theory? What should we listen for?

TH: Gosh, there are so many! If I had to choose one starting point, though, I would choose Bill Evans. His performances of tunes like “Emily,” “Here’s That Rainy Day,” or “On Green Dolphin Street” embody most of what we discuss in our book. His chord voicings often employ up to seven or eight different notes of the chromatic scale.  His choice of tensions clearly defines the tonality in which he is working while others present striking unexpected surprises. To really appreciate what he does, first seek out the original sheet music of these standard tunes and get to know them before listening to an Evans interpretation. Then, the essence of jazz harmony will be clearly apparent.

Here’s “Emily”:

[Ed.: A good source for legal sheet music is Hal Leonard's Sheet Music Plus, or it's Real Book series.]

Could you suggest a couple excellent interpretations of the same tune to show two different masterful harmonic interpretations? What should we listen for?

TH: First learn Gershwin’s original published sheet music arrangement of “Someone to Watch Over Me” before listening, so that you have a reference point. I would suggest Keith Jarrett’s and Chick Corea’s solo piano performances of this great standard. Each musician harmonizes the tune and arranges it in such a way as to make it a vehicle for his own distinctive solo style.

For his part, Keith makes some of Gershwin’s original chromatic harmonies more diatonic opening up long passages for his warm “open spaces” lyrical approach to melody.  He also chooses diatonic II V’s and substitute dominants to replace Gershwin’s original descending diminished chords giving the tune a more contemporary feel.

Chick on the other hand is a more percussive player. He prefers a brighter piano tone and has a very biting modernist approach to harmony akin to Bartòk and Hindemith. He employs a tonic pedal point superimposed with parallel dissonant harmonies in the A section of the tune.  The result of this combined with the accompanying rhythmic ostinato is reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Chick reharmonizes some critical chords in the tune with modal interchange chords voiced in fourths. This allows him to improvise with minor pentatonic melodic patterns and to play rubato cadenzas suggestive of the Debussy preludes.

Standards give us a reference point to investigate and appreciate the individual artistry of different great players!

How about taking us out with some tunes from your book’s accompanying recording?

Sure, we wrote these tunes for the book, specifically to illustrate different aspects of jazz harmony.

1. “Lucky,” (with substitute dominants), by Tom Hojnacki

2. “The Slip-Up,” by Joe Mulholland

3. “Moonlight On Spot Pond,” by Joe Mulholland

4. “The All-Nighter,” by Tom Hojnacki

Piano: Joe Mulholland and Tom Hojnacki

Bass: Bob Nieske

Drums: Bob Tamagni

Engineered by Peter Kontrimas, PBS Studios in Westwood, MA.

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