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Jazz Theory: Insights In Jazz & A New Guide To Harmony With Lego Bricks

Discussion in 'It's all in the Mind - Music Theory' started by Chris98, Jun 1, 2010.

  1. Chris98

    Chris98 Senior Member

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    Hi,

    With good intentions but a history of not getting anywhere I am again looking to build my musical knowledge and understanding from nowhere to somewhere… hopefully! Musical theory… I just don’t know where to jump in, what texts to get or how to implement it into what I do. Anyway, today partly prompted by a ‘JazzWise’ e-mail I started to investigate John Elliott’s: Insights In Jazz

    This book and systematic approach sounds quite interesting, there is more info on his website: Insights In Jazz and he has a series of podcasts as well. I was looking at the Table Of Contents and at the bottom of the page is a flow chart, the first question is, “have you read A New Guide To Harmony With Lego Bricks?”

    This naturally lead to me looking at: Conrad Cork's: A New Guide To Harmony With Lego Bricks (2008 Edition)

    And now I don’t know what to do! Am I about to jump in well over my head with either book? Is there an order in which to study them? Is there a better place to start?

    If anyone has any experience with either book, I’d most welcome your thoughts and suggestions on how best to tackle the impenetrable fortress that is Music Theory!

    Best wishes,

    Chris
  2. Nick Wyver

    Nick Wyver noisy

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    I don't know either book, but anything that claims to do this:
    I would treat with a large bucket of salt.
  3. kevgermany

    kevgermany Landrover Nut Cafe Moderator

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    Have been thinking about the same books. I'd buy both, looks as if the Elliott book is an extension of the other, not sure if it stands alone, would also be interested to know.

    And if it teaches you to learn tunes in intervals, not notes, I don't see why you wouldn't be able to switch keys as needed.
  4. Chris98

    Chris98 Senior Member

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    Hi Nick,

    Modern marketing I guess, you either join them or never get a looked at in the first place, phrases like
    wash over me, everything tries to promise something and at some point the work has to be put in. Hence why I delved a little deeper, and it's encouraging that the author is backing up his work with regular podcasts, and has made a serious attempt to offer an insight into his book on his website. JazzWise also say:

    Hi Kev,

    Yes, it's the bit about learning the tunes in intervals and understanding the harmonic nature that piqued my interest. At the moment I feel I am doing the musical equivalent of painting by numbers with no appreciation as to why I'm playing those particular notes. Or why the tune has a particular feel and structure or how it works.

    If you've not yet listened to the podcasts I'd suggest having a listen, I think they are intended more for people with the book but you can get a feel for his approach.

    All the best,

    Chris
  5. rudjarl

    rudjarl Senile Member. Scandinavian Ambassadour of CaSLM

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    Hi Chris,
    Books are good. Books are great. Teaching every bit and trick there is in harmonics, music style, the history of whatever it is about. And following books, you'll be a master in Bb9sub4 - Dbdim - Eb9+4-13 - F7, Bach and Handle showing the same restraint in each others music as magpies on your silverware, the influence of folk music in... ohhhhh... just about everything... tons of theory of improvisation... and... well, there is no end to it...

    Understand me right, I love books. I love books on music. I have shelves of them and take pleasure in reading and learning. But... and it's a big but... (no, not my butt... big as it is... sigh) It's just that you may learn all about harmonization, be a wizard of cords. And every time you get to that cord, you know exactly what to play. The only problem is: by the time you've figured out what cord it is, the bloody band has moved on to the next cord.

    I have, of cause, convinced myself that you are in search of a quick and easy way to do extravagant jazz solos, and bypassing the possibility that you actually want to venture out in the murky waters of music theory (which actually have only one rule: There is no rule!).

    You want to improvise? Well, most of the time it is no escaping form memorizing scales and licks. Close your eyes and just play. And try not to ware to much out of key. Practise, practise, practice and... ehhh... practice. Download backing tracks like these if you have no band to practise with.

    I guess my point is: you can not read yourself to play improvisations, but you darn well can practise to.

    Sincerely (and perhaps under a vee bit of influence of wine)
    rudjarl
  6. stefank

    stefank Member

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    Knowing theory is good.

    You just don't want to be thinking about it when you start to improvise.
  7. kevgermany

    kevgermany Landrover Nut Cafe Moderator

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    But isn't theory a good base for beginners to improvise from, leading to the thoughts/sounds becoming automatic?
  8. TomMapfumo

    TomMapfumo Well-Known Member

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    Very much so!

    I think that it is better to start simpler - many improvisations can be done using Major & Minor Pentatonic and Blues Scales if you want to start somewhere, before building your repertoire. "Just play what comes naturally" is quite a threat for most people, who naturally end up making a total mess of things. If Hendrix mainly used Pentatonic scales then they are good enough for me, and worth learning about. I would say that starting from "Scales" is easier than starting from "Chords" in my experience. Practising some short phrases using scale notes is really helpful, and can be built into any solo - the point for me is how to relax enough into an improvisation such that you can pick up the "feel" and "timing" and already have phrases that you have practiced beforehand. For improvisations one of my teachers encouraged me to develop a motif for a solo. Once established it was easier to structure a solo - with pre- and post-motif phrases being easier to develop as a result.

    The series by Kellie Santin was useful in this respect ("Creative Saxophone Improvising" and "Creative Saxophone Workbook" both being very approachable texts - balancing theory and practice), and would also provide some "phrases" and "scales" that could be played in a given piece of music.
    Once you are in to "Chords" it can be quite energy sapping unless you are a certain type of character IMHO.

    Hope this helps.
    Kind regards
    Tom:cool:
  9. stefank

    stefank Member

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    Sorry, that was ambiguous. By "start to improvise" I meant "launch into a solo" rather than "learn the process of improvising", which can be done purely aurally and intuitively, but (as a music teacher) I'm actually all in favour of actually knowing what you're doing.

    Theory is great - it gives you a whole menu of possibilities. It can also be a straitjacket, and lead to "formulaic" music making.

    It's best learned, then buried in the subconscious to inform what you are doing quasi-intuitively.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 5, 2010
  10. old git

    old git Tremendous Bore

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    Wonder if the New Orleans and the early blues (and quite often later) guys knew that there were blues scales let alone pentatonic? If they didn't, wasn't it intuitive?

    There is a possibility, admittedly just a small one, that these chords and scales had to be invented so teachers could offer plausible explanations. If you asked your teacher, "How can I improvise a solo?" only to be told, "I dunno, you just do it.", would you spend any more money with them?

    Right, cat among pigeons. >:) Now retire to a safe distance and observe. ;}
  11. TomMapfumo

    TomMapfumo Well-Known Member

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    Apology accepted!;}

    As Freud said "Theory is an excellent thing.....but leave it outside the Consulting Room."
    I guess that simply means do not enter the situation with theory (music, psychoanalysis or whatever) uppermost in your mind - obviously it will be there subconsciously or even unconsciously, with varying degrees of muscle memory present.

    On the ABRSM Jazz Grade materials emphasis is put on learning various ways through an improvisation, and then just being able to improvise naturally when you arrive at the starting point. Presumably that's why Charlie Parker and others would spend hours each day messing around in private before unleashing their insights onto the world at large (sadly, in some instances:shocked:)!

    I suppose I don't believe in just being able to play naturally. As Aebersold encourages, it is a good idea to sing an improvisation first and then try and learn/play it on your instrument. You are unlikely to sing a wrong note but having that capacity on an instrument takes much longer to learn/develop.

    Kind regards
    Tom:cool:
  12. TomMapfumo

    TomMapfumo Well-Known Member

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    Imagine how much better the music from that period would have been IF they had a knowledge of such pentatonic and blues scales, chord progressions, and some decent teachers.

    Perhaps, then, it would not just have been used to empty brothels!;}
  13. stefank

    stefank Member

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    In the end, it probably doesn't matter, provideng it "comes out right".

    I seem to remember Mark Knopfler quoting Chet Atkins talking about Mark Knopfler - it went somethng like "Mark's just this guy - he doesn't know what he's doing but it comes out alright".

    There can be many paths that lead to the same destination. I like the idea of knowing what you're doing (I repeat, I'm a music teacher), but ultimately, if it sounds good, what else matters?
  14. Chris98

    Chris98 Senior Member

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    Ta, Ta, Ta, Ta, that’s what has been imprinted on my brain since this morning’s lesson, Kate making the point that my articulation seems to have seized up! Well I’ve been working on it since I got home. Anyway back to the subject of this thread, Theory, is it needed? Is it worth the investment? I know the thread was initially about two books but it seems to have branched out into a much more interesting subject.

    Tom, you mentioned the ‘Creative Saxophone’ series, well I’m working on ‘Modal Behaviour’ from the improvisation book at the moment. Kate is slowly gearing me up for another exam, (Trinity College) this time a grade 6 Jazz on tenor and Modal Behaviour is one of the pieces. The tune is in D and the book provides you with the notes for the chords (D7, C7 & Eb7) as well as D minor pentatonic and D blues scales. During my lesson we played around with it doing a question answer thing and eventually I did the whole thing on my own. The question and answer thing was much easier when it came to ideas than trying to play a whole solo. Three things became clear:

    1. I tend to fill the whole time with notes.
    2. Rhythmically I’m lacking in ideas
    3. I don’t like to linger on any note. (well it could be the wrong one to sit on!)

    There are lots of other areas that needed attention, but it doesn’t do too well to dwell on everything that was wrong!

    Would an understanding of Jazz Theory have help me out with it? I really don’t know. Rudjarl, whether it was the minor influence of wine or not I fully appreciate your thoughts. I know all too well that my mind isn’t blessed with speed and the idea of being able to appreciate the chord I’m playing over, and be able to choose some notes based on it, and add a little spark of creative flair just isn’t going to happen, however long I delve into the books.

    Old Git makes an excellent point that many of the musicians I admire would probably be amused or horrified to know all the theory that had been worked out behind their natural instinctive playing. I remember when teaching how showing some students the rules enabled them to do something but for those with the natural flair it bred doubt and confusion and their natural talent diminished.

    I’ve got some Abersold books and I’ve had the creative saxophone book for a while but I have to be honest, in their desire to create a backing track with minimal texture, feel and personality I’m left feeling a little unimaginative when trying to put something down on top. I’d imagine it’s a bit like being given the keys to a really nice, powerful car and given a salt lake to drive it on, after a while there is no excitement only blandness and I’d be begging for a road with bends, hills and roundabouts.

    Maybe my problem is that I don’t know what it is I’m looking for.

    This is how simple my thought processes are when it comes to improvisation: What's the first chord? Okay start on a note other than the root of the chord. And if I'm really with it, can I identity one note that is consistent across the whole thing, because if in doubt get to it and hold onto it until I know where else I can go.

    Best wishes,

    Chris
  15. old git

    old git Tremendous Bore

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    Chris,
    You've just discovered Rock and Roll 'honking' and simple R & B, old style not modern, piano playing. One note is enough, if it sounds good it is good.
  16. TomMapfumo

    TomMapfumo Well-Known Member

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    Hi Chris!

    One of the things I most enjoy with a teacher is playing 4 bars alternately - useful in terms of creating conflict and resulting in some building and release of tension in a solo. Shame that Trinity only do Jazz Grades for Woodwind, not Brass, so have to go the London College of Music/Thames Valley University route. Great challenge in a solo not just to join in with the band and play every note you can. For me theory needs to be sufficiently related to practice for it to be useful, and in the service of a clear aim.

    On another tack I would be interested to know just what theory musicians in earlier times used - presumably we are at a different stage of development where theory simply developed as an attempt to understand practice in a way that could be communicated to others. Saves everyone reinventing the wheel!

    Kind regards
    Tom:cool:
  17. visionari1

    visionari1 Senior Member

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    Great post this...and I'm certainly no expert.

    It all depends on you natural bent, some have ears, and that's all they need, some need theory to understand it, and some are somewhere in the middle.

    I know my ignoring of theory has held me back, as has a lack of focus on ear training.

    The key here is for each player to understand him or her self enough to recognize which way is the best and easiest for them.

    Teachers and or books, may or may not be helping you no matter how hard you try!

    One thing we all know....improvisation is quite an art, done properly everyone hears it, tho often the improvisor couldn't really explain it afterwards.

    I guess the joy is in the journey, not the destination....if only I could remember this from time to time!

    cheers
    Jimu:mrcool
  18. jaelliott

    jaelliott New Member

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    Hi Guys

    I have just joined this forum today. I am the aithor of one of the books originally being discussed (Insights In Jazz). The original method was devised by Conrad Cork back in the 1980s. My book came out in 2009 and summarises and extends the orginal method to make it able to cover 238 jazz standards for which complete roadmaps are provided.

    I agree that there is no silver bullet to playing songs in any key. However, this methods aims to minimise your pain by telling you what the important chord sequences that recurr are and name them so that you can see what songs they occur in across a large repertoire.

    I'd be happy to answer any questions folks might have and there is a lot of information on my web site:
    http://www.dropback.co.uk

    As mentioned by others, there are weekly free podcasts about the method, which make the assumption that you have my book. The podcasts are 10-20mins each and are a mixture of how to apply the method, looking at particular tunes, looking at particular harmonic moves to learn, and interviews with those who use the method and find it useful:

    http://www.dropback.co.uk/Podcasts.html

    There is a Google Group dedicated to discussion of the method in the two books and which has lots of free material. which you can join at the bottom of this page:

    http://www.dropback.co.uk/overview.html

    If anyone is interested, I'd be glad to answer questions.

    Best regards

    John@dropback.co.uk
  19. rudjarl

    rudjarl Senile Member. Scandinavian Ambassadour of CaSLM

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    Hi Chris,

    I try to follow these 4 "easy to do" steps when attempting an improvisation:
    1. Know the tune by heart. (Or the phrases)
    2. Know the key
    3. Know scales and licks in that key
    4. Play
    (Sounds simple, but doesn't feel that way? I know. All I can say is: it gets easier with practise.)
    (In my case I use Audacity to transpose everything to Eb or Bb (natura) as I can't be bothered with practising :shocked:)

    The theoretical approach would be to learn about bars in phrases, harmonic progression, transitions, beat and rhythm in different genres of music, and lots and lots of other stuff. It is not a bad idea, knowing. In fact, it's a very good idea. But in the end, you end up memorising the progression of phrases anyway, and practise them. So you really don't need to focus on theory to improvise. Theory often gets in the way of playing. I'd say, treat theory and improvisation as two completely different things. They approach the same subject from opposite directions (sort of), but are not necessarily mutual beneficial. They'll blend together somewhere along the line anyway.

    If theory is needed? Not at all. But like clothing on a nice summer day, you feel naked without. Theory is superb for telling what you want to do and why it didn't work out. >:)

    Just remember this: you only get good at what you practice. :mrcool

    (As you may notice, I did not used the word c(h)ord this time. On the other hand, I have picked up the subtle difference between cord and chord :) )
  20. stefank

    stefank Member

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    On the topic of playing in different keys (and maybe also the strange way my brain works) I find it much less painful to swap keys on a tune if I've learned that tune by ear as opposed to reading the dots. My theory is that it gets stored in a different part of the brain. Of course you also need the technical facility to play the thing in all keys (go practise those scales).
  21. kevgermany

    kevgermany Landrover Nut Cafe Moderator

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    Hi John, good to see you here. One of the early questions was - Does your book stand on it's own, or do we need the earlier one as well. Would be great to get some feedback on that.
  22. jaelliott

    jaelliott New Member

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    Hi Kev

    It stands on its own. Chapter 2 "A kit to build a dream on" is a summary of the previous LEGO system by Conrad Cork.

    John

    www.dropback.co.uk
  23. Pete Thomas

    Pete Thomas Chief of Stuff Cafe Moderator

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    I think the name of the blues scales were invented in this way. In real blues you rarely hear a minor or major blues scale in it's entirety. You are more likely to come across it in a 60s guitar tutor or a 60s soundtrack (Henri Mancini ?) than in many earlier blues recordings.

    I'm sure that pentatonic scales were first, blues scales just add a melodic passing note.

    I'm also sure that with blues scales as they don't really "follow" any harmonic structure usually, there wasn't much need for earlier blues musicians to actually use any name, even if teaching somebody, beyond: "try this set of notes here". We may never know unless some musicologist can dig up letters from Robert Johnson to Blind Lemon Jefferson.
  24. stefank

    stefank Member

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    In just about all music the theory follows the practice (2nd Viennese school excepted).

    Having analysed past practices, some musicologists then provide us with "rules" that some suppose should govern our future practice.

    To inform it is fine, to govern it is not.
  25. Pete Thomas

    Pete Thomas Chief of Stuff Cafe Moderator

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    I absolutely agree, although I think it's more of a 3 legged stool: ear, theory and dots.

    With me I find that ear + theory is my usual method, e.g. a tune like All The Things You Are I tend to need the theory to know that it starts on the 3rd degree of a minor chord and moves around the cycle for a bit.

    Knowing that kind of thing, along with an ability to "hear" the notes before you play them, is what helps learning in every key. It also helps with impro.

    Alternatively if you learn from the written notes, but play over and over to internalise (different part of the brain as Stefank says), then you can also learn to play in different keys as the learning of the tune this will help to "hear" the notes before you play, but may not be so good when it comes to impro.

    So I think the theory method is best, but both methods rely on a good ear.

    Very few musicians can do it on ear alone, but they do exist.
  26. old git

    old git Tremendous Bore

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    Pete,
    Hate to disagree but what we really need is a recording of the Crossroads Contract. ;}

    On your second post, I hear the changes and my solo in my head. The pity is it rarely comes out as intended. >:)

    Tom M, our Welsh Trombone Wizard, wonders if they had been better musicians, presumably meaning more theoretically skilled, would the music have been better? If they had been better schooled the Blues boys would almost have certainly dismissed the three chord bash as too simplistic. Result, no blues, no race records, no R & B, no rock in all its genres.

    Realise that they would almost certainly have been well acquainted with the pentatonic as that is traditional folk form.
  27. kevgermany

    kevgermany Landrover Nut Cafe Moderator

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    Boy, this threads moving sideways (and all to the good!!!)

    Some points are really hitting home here - when I first got a sax, I started playing scales (teacher), then picking out tunes I'd learnt from my piano lessons as a kid. Funny - cos I could hear the tune in my head, and had learnt from the notes, it was easy to play in different keys (as I learnt the scales......).

    And similarly, hearing things in tunes, liking it, but not knowing what's going on, suddenly dropped into place when I saw the notes, saw a blue note - or a flattened 7th.... Theory found in practice. Bingo Pete's approach it from both directions approach.

    Thanks John, looks like I'm going to be ordering the book that sparked the thread. Wonder how long the post is from sunny Edinburgh?
  28. kevgermany

    kevgermany Landrover Nut Cafe Moderator

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    Guess I just found out - it's an ebook or printable CD. And Paypal works. :welldone
  29. Chris98

    Chris98 Senior Member

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    Hi John,

    Welcome to the forum.

    Hi Kev,

    I'll be interested to hear your initial impressions. I'm guessing along with this will be an expanding library of music CDs or tracks from iTunes!

    All the best,

    Chris
  30. kevgermany

    kevgermany Landrover Nut Cafe Moderator

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    iTunes - never!

    Will be giving it a lot of looking at over the next couple of days as I'm off sick. Initial impressions are very good, some minor irritations (like '...dominant seventh chords progressing round the cycle of fifths, eg. C7 F7 Bb7 Eb7 Ab7.....' ). One thing's clear - you need a reasonable amount of theoretical background to work with the book, without that you really need to think to understand some of the points (and I'm only in the intro/definitions). So I'll be brushing up on that as well.

    The author asks for feedback, so I'm marking my printed copy with all the things I find and will feed it back. Am not going to turn this thread into a review, but will feed back here....

    Will keep you posted,

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