Category: Alvin L. “Al” Learned

TEST YOUR EAR!

You’ll ace this one, if you’ve played through “New Ears Resolution.”  If not, it may be tricky.

TEST YOUR EAR

Below is a recording of the pattern in all 12 keys.  Submit a “comment” at the bottom of this post, if you need a chart to play along with the recording.

Note that this phrase traverses the first five chords of the standard “Someday My Prince Will Come,” a long-time staple of Miles Davis’s book.  That “harmonic quote” was not intentional.  When you start creating patterns in a “stream of consciousness” manner, elements of your repertoire tend to crop up in various guises.

Multi-instrumentalist Kevin McCartney recently taught me about the ebb and flow of tension and release created by Cuban clave patterns.   In this exercise, the many accidentals create a bit of harmonic tension, which is then released through resolution to adjacent diatonic notes.  Note in particular the tension created by Si, Di, and Le.

Upon further reflection today (during surgical anesthesia!), it occurred to me that this phrase uses all 17 notes in the scale:  the 7 diatonic pitches, the 5 sharps, and the 5 flats.  For a horn player, G# and Ab are identical.  However, a symphonic violinist thinks of them quite differently.

What you hear in this recording is actually 5 clarinets.  Took me about 20 takes to get 5 usable ones.

Mastering Modulation

Have you ever ridden on a roller coaster blindfolded?  That’s how it feels to improvise without understanding internal modulation.  It’s like driving through a thick London fog.  Progress is halting, movements are uncertain and tense.

By contrast, the player who understands how to navigate key changes improvises smoothly and confidently.

This month, we learn to recognize an internal modulation and craft an effective response. Continue reading “Mastering Modulation”

Developing Hand – Ear Coordination

sax life logo
Craig’s article is featured in the April, 2016 edition.

Do you want your improvised solos to soar and delight your audiences?  The first and most important step to achieve this is to develop the link between your ears and your fingers. In fact, ultimately we need to be able to transfer any musical idea we imagine to our fingers. I call this “Hand-ear coordination”.

Continue reading “Developing Hand – Ear Coordination”

RIPPING RIFFS OR MEMORABLE MELODIES?

sax life logoCraig wrote this article for the February, 2016 issue of Saxophone Life Magazine.  It appears here courtesy of SLM.

It’s definitely impressive to hear jazz musicians improvise at incredibly fast tempos. What is, however, far more inspiring is hearing how the great masters are able to create beautifully crafted, swinging melodic lines, regardless of tempo. Continue reading “RIPPING RIFFS OR MEMORABLE MELODIES?”

Learning to Play by Ear: A 1958 Perspective

DOWNBEAT 10 2 58 COVERHow does a musician learn to perform thousands of songs in any key without looking at music sheets?  How can you improvise over a set of “changes” you’ve never heard or seen before in a live performance?  “New Ears Resolution” has made this a daily reality for me during a 40-year career of recording dates and live performances.   But I cannot claim to have created this revolutionary approach to ear training.  I learned it during high school while studying with Alvin L. “Al” Learned, founder and president of Hollywood’s legendary Westlake College of Music “one of the most important educational institutions for the study of jazz in the post-World War II era.” Continue reading “Learning to Play by Ear: A 1958 Perspective”