Saturday, October 27, 2012

Don't believe everything you read......

Hi all,
I would like to talk about something that tends to happen when a strong  music reader gets a hold of a lead sheet or big band chart (especially in the rhythm section).
Now, reading music is an important skill and if one is a lousy reader, it's good to work on and develop that particular skill.
The problem is, if we are a good, accurate reader we tend to look at whatever our eyes see on the page as the absolute truth, when in the case of Jazz and related musics we are seeing relative truth that needs to be interpreted.

Case in point, any great American songbook-type tune found in a fake book.

Now, if we play this melody as written, it's going to sound extremely stiff and square, yet a lot of people will do that when playing this tune. A good thing to ask yourself when reading a leadsheet, even for the first time is, "Is this phrasing found in nature?" This means, would anybody actually play this as written and how would it sound?
Even if we look at the first 4 notes, they would sound infinitely better if we played the first note on the "+" of one and played the fourth note an 8th note ahead on the "+" of four. In fact, moving on the beat rhythms over one 8th is a very easy way of opening up phrasing on melodies. Of course probably the best way of avoiding stiff phrasing is to listen to people who phrase well. Also, memorizing tunes gets us away from the "I have to play it the way I see it" trap.

This same issue can create problems for drummers when reading charts.
How many of us have come across this?

I'm amazed at how many people will play this literally. It really is just short hand for "Please play swing the best way you know how." If you see a lot of bass drum/snare figures in unison even if they aren't just straight quarter notes, you don't need to play them as is.

In conclusion, don't let the written page get in the way of your good musical common sense. If you're the only one playing a part in an improvised situation, there's usually lots of room to add your own musical personality. In fact, it will likely be expected.

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