Do "Classical" Theory and Jazz Theory Differ?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Boplicity, Jun 7, 2001.

  1. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    If you go to Indiana University or Juilliard to study "classical" music or go to Berklee to study jazz music, will you be taught different theory? Would a theory textbook for "classical" studies differ in certain respects from a jazz theory textbook?

    Or is the theory fundamentally the same, but how it is applied is different? I'm thinking in terms of the drastic difference between a jazz musician's heavy emphasis on improvization and a symphony orchestra's strict adherence to what has been previously composed.

    And what about jazz "compositions" such as Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy." Was he following classical theory in composing and arranging that music or did he follow jazz theory or--are the two the same?

    I was just wondering about this. Also wondering...if for music to break through to some significant new level or new form, would someone have to revise the concepts of present day theory, be it classical or jazz?
  2. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well I suppose it depends on your definition of "Classical" - if you take this in its strictest sense we are talking about music of the period of Bach and Haydn - the period between 1750 and 1830 - post "baroque" and pre -"Romantic".

    Now to the composers of this period, improvisation was the norm and a keyboard player was expected to improvise from a figured bass. But - a chord like a half-diminished - quite common in Jazz - would not be considered a chord at all. The most commonly used chords in Jazz would have been considered dischords, then. You wouldn't get much "swing" either!
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    If we're talking about 20th Century "serious" music, then "Theory" has been revised or "blown apart" several times. First with the Viennese school - Schonberg and the 12-tone row. The idea being that you use all 12 notes of a predefined scale and make compositions by repetition of this scale - you aren't allowed to change the order of the scale but can invert it turn it upside down etc. Schonberg, and others colleagues in Vienna like Berg used this "theory" in many of their compositions and some are even listenable!

    After that there have been many theory "revolutions" - Karlheinz Stockhausen has racked up quite a number himself - with many new forms of notating music graphically or with music based on the placement of microphones - he also notated the "Big Bang" into music on a "score" that covered the walls of the building he was writing in!

    Other composers like Xennakis, have used computers to write music with complex programmes and many 20th Century composers have included what they call "aleatory" or random events intheir compositions - leaving parts to chance.

    Composers like one of my favourites - Olivier Messiaen have integrated other cultures - like Indian music into their compositions and he also has transcribed birdsong - which follows no normal rules of "theory" - and included this in his music - which also has parts of the orchestra clearly playing in different keys and different time signatures. The surprising thing about Messiaen's music is that it takes in all these "off the wall" ideas but still sounds wonderful and is some of the most exciting and emotionally-charged music ever written - try the Turangalila Symphonie for something that breaks all the rules of any conventional "music theory" but is great music and regularly played in concert halls - it is in this years Prom concerts at the Albert Hall and will be played by a Youth Orchestra and broadcast live on TV by the BBC in the UK!! :eek:

    Oh and I almost forgot that the 3rd movement has a solo double bass playing a Jazz walking bassline with swing! ;)
  4. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Where do you draw the line then in the definition of theory? Is theory just about establishing a language for music, or is something more that studies harmony, melody, form, orchestration, counterpoint?

    If theory is nothing more than identifying rules for timbre, meter, pitch, and dynamics, then it seems to me that there is no difference in the theory of classical music or jazz. If theory is more broadly defined as the analysis of those things I mentioned before, than it seems that there is a classical theory and a jazz theory. (We could always go ask Mark Levine, he probably has an opinion! :) ). Certainly chords alone, or improvisation, wouldn't define what style over another. And even more, if theory carries this definition of an overall look at musical patterns, then you could of course have pieces that have elements of both types of theory in them.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    This is a great question, and one that needs to be addressed by anyone who is considering going to music school at any point. I majored in theory/composition and got my both my degrees (B.M. & M.M) at the university of Louisville , which at the time I graduated did not have an official jazz program or degree (by now, they have a strong and growing Jazz program which offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Jazz). Studying "classical" theory - as Bruce mentioned - mainly entails studying the music of the so-called "common-practice" period, which begins at roughly 1700 and goes to the beginning of the 20th century. The most intensive part of the theory regimen involves learning to write in the 4-part chorale style of J.S. Bach - a harmonic language which extends through the so called "classical" period and beyond.

    While the actual mechanics of music theory - intervals, chord construction, form, analysis, and ear training - are the same for both styles, it takes a leap of faith for many who have studied "classical" theory to see their applications in the jazz style. In fact, most of the traditional theory teachers I had at the university had no idea how to build jazz chords or how to deal with a regular lead sheet. This "separation of church and state" in theory pedagogy is a real shame, because most of these folks were highly intelligent people who could easily apply the mechanics they knew backward and forward to the jazz idiom (IF they wanted to, and that's a BIG if), but seem to lack the interest. In fact, much of the music that you study in a "tradtional" music school is notated using a system called "figured bass", which is like a lead sheet where the bass line is given instead of the melody, and the chord symbols are given as a set of interval structures to be built above the bass note....kind of like an "upside down" lead sheet.
  6. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    When I wuz in skool, the two forms had some overlap, but they were definitely different programs. The application of jazz was actually dealt with in a separate emphasis - commercial music. Taking a peek at the ol' CSULB web site, B.A.'s in music are currently offered with concentrations in performance, composition, theory, history, conducting, music education, commercial music and jazz studies. Back in the day, if you were a jazzer (like my old roomie), you were a "commercial" music major (I was performance, which is greatly enhancing my career in the USAF :rolleyes: ). There were some core theory classes necessary for both (harmony, musicianship, counterpoint and the much dreaded History of Western Music), but the performance classes, where the application of theory took place, were obviously vastly different. Also, upper division classes for a commercial music major might include Jazz Harmony and Analysis, while a regular ol' performance major might take Chamber Music. You get the point.

    Anyway, they were different breeds, travelled in different circles, took different classes, and played different music. We pretty much all drank the same beer though. ;)
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Yes - I did the first year of an Open Univerisity music degree and we had a lot of assignments on 4-part harmony. I occasionally got marked down for parallel fifths and other things in my harmonisations and I can remember sitting at the piano with the course tutor and he would say - "listen", doesn't this sound wrong to you?

    And to be honest I couldn't hear that it was wrong and to me it sounded quite nice - sort of "Jazzy". ;) No seriously, I quite like the sound of parallel fifths in some things and as I said in my first post a lot of the most commonly used Jazz chords are totally anathema to writing chorales - but this is why I gave up the course after the first year as I would have no use for this and playing Jazz is more fun, but also helps you learn about harmony.

    The way of learning "classical" music seemed to be the wrong way round to me and seemed inclined to make you more closed to ideas and narrower in your outlook on music - sort of : this is how it's supposed to be and things like Jazz are a corruption and full of dischords. :(
  8. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    As further explanation of my question, I put "classical" in quotes because I meant it in the broadest sense or maybe the common man's sense of symphonic and chamber music including Barogue and generally whatever folks think they will hear if they go to see an orchestra play. As further explanation, I think even the most illiterate person musically has a rough concept of the difference between a "jazz" musician and an orchestra musician. Even Kenny G wouldn't be mistaken for playing the same repertoire as a saxaphonist in the Boston Symphony or the London Symphony.

    But you all seemed to have understood what I meant. And your answers were all enlightening. So, in short, what I take away is that if I were enrolled in a "classical" studies program my theory textbooks would be different in content and emphasis, my professors would have different expectations for me and I would be exposed to different facets of theory than if I were enrolled in a jazz that correct?

    I wondered about this because my favorite bass instructor was a first chair double bassist for a state symphony. He also played electric bass in the top heavy metal band in that country. Even as disparate as these two styles of music are, he did not like jazz, didn't enjoy it and didn't listen to it.

    That made me wonder if such thorough grounding in "classical" theory does tend to inhibit or limit one's appreciation for jazz, being as there is only so much time in the day and in one's life.
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Well, judging from personal experience, I'd have to say it doesn't. ;)
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well, I'm sure it's not necessarily the case - one of the most highly-regarded up and coming young "classical" composers from the UK is Mark Anthony Turnage who has had his compositions played by many of the leading symphony orchestras. But he loves Jazz and has written many Jazz-inspired works for orchestra with sax soloists and on one - even electric bass!! :eek: Check out "Your Rockaby", "Night Dances" or "Dispelling the Fears" which are all orchestral works with Jazz inluences or dedications.

    On the other hand, I have attended many Jazz workshops where some of the participants have been through a "classical" education and are theoretically very good players; but they have struggled with Jazz - not always but it does happen quite a lot. You will get pianists who come in before the class and play a classical piece that sounds technically very difficult and then just sit there looking embarassed when asked to improvise a chorus on a simple Jazz standard. Many times I have seen people like this with a look on their faces which just says -what am I supposed to play now??!! There is also a tendency in pianists with this sort of background to "overplay" on Jazz - so they will be play in loads of complex stuff with their left hand and basically filling up all the beats in the bar when they are supposed to be accompanying a soloist.

    I don't think it has to happen like this, but I can see there is a big difference in the disciplines and if on the one hand you are concentrating on playing a written line as well as you can with no mistakes and with as beautiful as sound as possible; then it might be difficult to "let go" and go with the moment - whether that involves making mistakes, playing raucously or just trying something different to what might be the "ideal" way through a chord sequence.
  11. CJY


    Apr 30, 2001
    I studied both.One thing that the uninitiated might get confused by is that in classical,when they say 7th,that note depends on the key(eg the 7th of Ab major is G,7th of D minor is C).In jazz,when u say 7th,it means the b7(eg the 7th of Ab is Gb,the major 7th is G)

    I've always found modern/jazz theory more flexible anyway
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I wasn't being picky about your question, but I was trying to stress that the 20th Century composers who have revised theory and created their own forms of notation like Schonberg, Stockhausen, Xennakis, Messiaen etc probably wouldn't appreciate being called "classical" musicians as they personally would associate this term with composers from the period between 1750 and 1830 and even Beethoven might have been offended if you had called him a "classical" composer as such! ;)

    In order to answer the question you originally posed about "music to break through to some significant new level or new form" I was just saying that when we apply definitions like "classical" in a way we are fixing that music and when you talk about studying classical or jazz it is almost like saying that this music has stopped developing - it is something that happened in the past and now we can put it under the microscope and study it.

    Whereas the tradition that began with Bach and other composers before has continued and evolved right up to the present day and the "theory" behind it has continually developed as well - but it's hard to start from this position and it does help to have some historical perspective - the trouble is that most of what is happening today in music will only be understood and appreciated much later. So Mahler's music was not really valued in his lifetime and many contemporary critics considered it "vulgar" and Mahler knew that it would not be appreciated until long after his death.

    So maybe in 50 years time, people will appreciate Stockhausen's music and it will performed as regularly as Mahlers' symphonies are now and will be
    be taught as beginner's stuff in colleges? :D
  13. InfinityJaco


    Jun 5, 2001
    Olivier Messiaen has some really crazy stuff!! I'm wondering where can I find a CD of some of his music???
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well I would have thought you could get CDs of his music at most good stores that stock "classical music" (!) or online places like Amazon.

    I have quite a few, but my favourite at the moment and probably a good recommendation for a single CD of his most famous work is : the "Turangalila Symphonie" with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Chailly. Jean-Yves Thibaudet on piano and Takashi Harada on the "Ondes Martinot" - a forerunner of the synthesiser and a unique sound in music!

    Try movement 5 if you like loud raucous music - great riff (!) or movement 6 if you like quiet, contemplative music, with sounds from nature - this piece has 10 movements and something for everyone!
  15. To me, that's a myth. The breadth of the very top classical musicians is profound. Just in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, you have Early Anderson, jazz trombonist. The principal clarinet has worked with Tito Puente. Gemma Galdi, violin, has recorded with Gene Bertoncini, Jay Leonhart, sings, and writes the raunchiest blues you'll ever hear. When an oboist wanted to give me a CD, the principal flutist picked out Coltrane and Cannonball. And on and on. And the ones that aren't into it are appreciative of the musicianship required to play jazz well. And yes, there are tight assed stiffs - the exception. What the hell, Yo Yo Ma and Itzak Perlman have both recorded with jazz groups.

    Also, until they revoke the current system of twelve tones per octave, the theory is the same. The differences are style, not theory.The more I see, the more I'm convinced that there's nothing in jazz that hasn't been done earlier in classical.