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Finding Out the Chords When Transcribing a (Jazz) Tune

rhysonsax

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I've been doing a lot of transcribing recently, mainly of saxophone solos on jazz tunes that are either new to me or where the band isn't using the most standard chords.

I have been finding it really difficult to decide the chords, even though I am able to use various technological helpers, including Transcribe ! software with its ability to loop sections of the track, to analyse and display the notes being played and to make a guess at the harmony.

Usually my starting point is to find a lead sheet (e.g. from Fake Books, iReal Pro, Aebersold, a web search) to give me a starting point. Then I focus in on what the bass is playing and try to hear common changes such as ii-V7-I.

But the whole process is really slow and then I'm not confident I have the changes right and different choruses seem to use different changes.

What do you suggest for finding out the changes and getting them right ?

Rhys
 

Colin the Bear

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I stick to out of a book or sheet.
www.jazzstudies.us
Sometimes mixing them up for different choruses.
BiaB will have a go at harmonising a track if you play it into it. Mostly it needs tidying up though.
A mixture of the above with substitutions to suit my own preference. It often takes several goes to get things acceptable.
It also depends who/what you're arranging for.
BiaB will cope with anything. Solo guitar less so.;)
 

rhysonsax

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Can you hear the bass player? Usually they'll play a chord tone on the 1, that might help

Yes, that is something I listen and look for, but often it is indistinct and sometimes there may be more than one chord per bar.

And also the piece I am working on at the moment seems to have quite a few "slash chords" where the bass note isn't the root.

Rhys
 

rhysonsax

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I stick to out of a book or sheet.
www.jazzstudies.us
Sometimes mixing them up for different choruses.
BiaB will have a go at harmonising a track if you play it into it. Mostly it needs tidying up though.
A mixture of the above with substitutions to suit my own preference. It often takes several goes to get things acceptable.
It also depends who/what you're arranging for.
BiaB will cope with anything. Solo guitar less so.;)

I have used the "Audio Chord Wizard" in BiaB with mixed success. It's quite clever but in my 2017 version of BiaB not fully thought out. It will probably be more effective and flexible now or in a few years.

For my purposes I want to get as close as possible to the chords as they were played on the recording, rather than a different set that works.

Part of my difficulty is that I have only a sketchy understanding of "functional harmony" in jazz, if that is even the correct term. Can anyone recommend some good sources of information on this, from basic to fairly advanced ?

Rhys
 

Wietse

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The bass is important to listen to, but as bass players in jazz settings play lots of walking lines, the root is not always clear, especially in the solo parts. The piano is probably the main reference. Or the player... Some players, like Hank Mobley, Stan Getz,... play lines that are harmonically crystal clear.
I think a next to a good theory course, an ear training course (especially for chords/harmony) might also be a good recommendation. There are quite a bit of eartraining apps available ( EarMaster - Music Theory & Ear Training on PC, Mac, iPad and iPhone being one of them).
As far as theory courses, maybe local academies offer these? Or through a few sessions with a private teacher or someone who wants to help you out?
I also sent you a pm with some things that might help ;-)
 

rhysonsax

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The bass is important to listen to, but as bass players in jazz settings play lots of walking lines, the root is not always clear, especially in the solo parts. The piano is probably the main reference. Or the player... Some players, like Hank Mobley, Stan Getz,... play lines that are harmonically crystal clear.
I think a next to a good theory course, an ear training course (especially for chords/harmony) might also be a good recommendation. There are quite a bit of eartraining apps available ( EarMaster - Music Theory & Ear Training on PC, Mac, iPad and iPhone being one of them).
As far as theory courses, maybe local academies offer these? Or through a few sessions with a private teacher or someone who wants to help you out?
I also sent you a pm with some things that might help ;-)

That's really helpful.

I think you are right about ear training so probably that will be a good place for me to start, then leading on to the material in your PM.

Nothing suitable is on offer in an academy or similar local to me, but there are lots of very good jazz players I know who may be able to steer me, at least once more normal times return.

Rhys
 

Pete Effamy

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Some harmony is merely hinted at. Some is just ambiguous. Some underlines how chord symbols have their shortcomings (quartal harmony for example, or chords without a 3rd that usually contain one. Or where voice-leading governs a large section that can't be easily explained by functional harmony).

Sometimes a soloist or pianist might deviate from the agreed sequence too - the rest of the rhythm section may follow or may not. Sometimes naming chords is beyond me - take Mulgrew Miller for instance.
 

rhysonsax

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Would you believe that the tune I am struggling with in terms of hearing (all of) the changes is a 12 bar blues ?

Although it's called "The Blues Waltz" I am hearing and transcribing it as a 12 bar in 6/4 time and the changes for the first eight bars seem pretty standard. Anyway, you may enjoy it for the wonderful playing of Clark Terry who has such a varied way of playing that even his basic quaver lines sound bouncy and full of interest. And his tone is great too.


Rhys
 

Colin the Bear

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Piano lessons may help with understanding harmony. I'm finding more and more, that Jazz harmony is a matter of taste and personal preference to a large extent. Extensions, substitutions, ommisions, additions. It's limitless.

Pop songs and blues can be harmonised simply with a I IV V7. Start there and keep pressing keys. After all there are only 12 tones.
 

jbtsax

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I listened to Clark Terry's recording and I just heard the standard blues changes. What a great tune. You might be hearing the piano player play different voicings or inversions of the same chord in a single measure, but that doesn't change the "skeletal" harmony. I have played gigs with piano players who have "golden ears" and can pick out the exact voicing of each chord played, which chord tones are left out, and which chord "extensions" are added. On a good day I can recognize the I IV ii and V chords and whether they have a major or minor seventh so you are free to disregard my analysis. ;)
 

randulo

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@rhysonsax As jbt says, it's pretty standard progression based on blues, but you may find it blurred by a lot of 11th chords on the piano where a Bb7th would be expected. For example, in the above video, at 00:30 there's an Ab triad played over the Bb root, which can be called Bb11. At 00:45 there's a Eb7#9 right before it goes to the IV (Ab), then another 11th (or 4th) is "thrown in" on that chord. These things with anticipated rhythms are what make the song what it is. As Pete says, symbols are pretty inadequate to describe jazz harmony.
 

rhysonsax

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I've just discovered that there is a Music Minus One (MMO) version of the whole Bob Wilber + Clark Terry album that this tune is played on. It features exactly the same musicians (rhythm section is Dick Wellstood, George Duvivier and Panama Francis) and was presumably recorded at the same time.

Bob Wilbur Quintet* - Evolution Of The Blues

I have ordered the MMO book and CD and am looking forward to seeing how close I get in my transcription, both of the tune and the chords.

So far I have transcribed the head (two choruses with slight differences) and Clark Terry's two chorus solo and have just started Bob Wilber's tenor choruses.

Rhys
 

randulo

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It'll be very interesting to see how they "describe" the chords using standard symbols. Please do let us know?
 

rhysonsax

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It'll be very interesting to see how they "describe" the chords using standard symbols. Please do let us know?

Me too. I don't expect it will be identical to mine.

I have finished my first pass at the transcription and am mainly happy with it, except for the chords at bars 9 and 10. What I have got in concert pitch for the 12 bar form in 6/4 time is:

| Eb7 | Ab7 | Eb7 | Eb7 |
| Ab7 | Ab7 | Eb7 | Eb7 Cm7 |
| Bm7 | Cm7 Bm7 | Eb7 Ab7 | Eb7 Bb7 |

Once the Music Minus One book and CD get to me I will mark my own homework and report back.

Rhys
 
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