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Intonation conception

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Marc Piane, Jun 27, 2012.


  1. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Chicago
    Something I've been focusing on in my practice is conception. I feel like this is the thing that has the biggest influence on my intonation. If it is clear in my head it is cool. If not it can get wonky.

    I've been messing around with this technique for practicing conception.
     
  2. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    For me it was the opposite! I wanted to get my technique to the point where I could get the instrument to help me find things beyond what I hear. I always like being able to "noodle" on fretted bass guitar and find things I'd never hear.

    Like most of us, I tend to play what I hear generally. However, I also strongly value being able to push beyond the self and use improvisation to get beyond my own thinking and ideas.
    As I've quoted Cage before: "if you hear music in your head - then listen to it". He was even more interested in getting beyond what he heard than I am, I still tend to have melodic material I clearly hear underpinning my music.

    Point being, the above is something we all need to be able to do but there are MANY other ways of improvising and composing.
     
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Yes - like Messiaen transcribing birdsong and Stockhausen basing a piece on the mathematics of the Big Bang! :p
     
  4. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Chicago
    I contend it is IMPOSSIBLE to play with good intonation unless you have an expectation of pitch. The larger part of that is conceiving of an idea.

    Noodling often sounds like just that. I've played in jazz and free ensembles where cats do that and it sounds like what it is. Bull****ting.

    Even Jackson Pollack wasn't just throwing paint at a canvas and hoping something cool came of it. There was conception. I feel like guys without conception throw paint at a canvas and end up with a brown blob.
     
  5. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I think I mostly agree with Pilc, but before I can pllay an idea in tune, my imagination also has to be in tune. If what I expect as "correct' intonation is off in my head, it won't come out correctly in the end product. Garbage in, garbage out.

    So as a precursor to doing this stuff, I tried going back to some exercises I got from a voice class (speech level singing). The way they practice it is by using a simple arp: 1-3-5-1(v8)-5-3-1. Starting on some low note (say Open A on A string), walk chromatically up the A string til you get some high point and descend back down to where you started. For whatever reason, I find it easy to get the right intonation in my head in regards to just simple arpeggios. I also do it without looking at my fingers. Eventually, the fingers naturally gravitate to the right places to produce the expected pitch.

    Do this on a few other strings (like E) and mash the idea around, maybe do it as minor, augmented, or diminished arps and my inner ear starts to loosen up and hear other tones in relation with their roots in tune.

    I hesitate to say this, but my experience in working with this is very effective. I saw improvements immediately after only a week or two of working with it. I've done something similar to what Pilc's suggestion but it didn't improve my intonation like the Singing-style exercises do.
     
  6. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Chicago
    I don't find the exercise useful to correct intonation. However I do feel that having a concrete idea of what notes you are intending to play will result in you playing them them more in tune when it comes time to execute. Presenting ideas with a degree of clarity requires those ideas to be spot on intonation-wise. Questionable intonation cuts down on the clarity of the idea.
     
  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Agreed.
     
  8. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Chicago
    The reason I bring it up is I feel like we spend a lot of time talking about the technical aspects of playing, all of which are very important, but we don't talk much about the more esoteric topic of conception of ideas. Of course everyone conceives of ideas in different ways. The Pilc thing is particularly interesting to me because it is a very methodical way to work on idea conception.

    I'm wondering are there ways that you deal with that topic with your students or that your teacher has dealt with them with you?
     
  9. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    Interesting topic! I Like the Pilc video and think it is a good idea to invent melodies and then play it on your instrument.

    But when it comes to intonation I think there are three things.
    In order of importance.

    1) hearing the pitches correctly. Without this it is impossible to intonate anything.
    2) having a good left hand technique and hand position. So the fingers fall automatically on the right place.
    3) being to able to adjust the pitch or finger position very quickly if your fingers don't fall exactly on the right place but just a little bit off the exact pitch. It is hard to have your fingers fall on the exact right place in all positions from half position to the highest thumb position. Because every position is different for the hand position. But when you are able to adjust it quickly that is less a problem. It only can be adjusted if your hearing is correct.
     
  10. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Marc, didn't you post this vid once before? Sorry, I got a little confused with the word "intonation" thrown in. Too many concepts flying in at once.

    Anyways, the way I see it now is that act of conception can be separated from the act of execution. You can attack what Pilc had to say in two steps:
    1) The act of hearing a single or a very small set of notes and being able to voice it on the instrument. Ignoring the concept of phrasing or conceiving a melodic line, simply blather the notes heard internally. This is like a baby blathering random thing; they're trying to build the skills to control the voice. Repetition, mimicry, etc. The idea is to be able to accurately voice a note in real time as it's being heard, just as you know how to manipulate the vocal chords and tongue to enunciate a word. It's like a pure focus on clarity and to sound a note clearly while not focusing on the creative side at all. I think enunciation is a good way to describe this as an analogy to speech. This is beyond just basic "facility" on an instrument. I think the ideal would be to be able to hear a set of notes coming from an external source (like someone else) and being able to repeat note for note what was played. We all do this when we talk - we repeat others effortlessly. Wouldn't it be great if we be able to do it on our instruments? That would certainly be sign that you have control over your "voice". Obviously, easier said than done.

    2) Once control is established, there's the act of conceiving melodic ideas just as a poet conceives lines. If it's spontaneous poetry - as the lines are conceived, they are enunciated. Really, I don't see how any of this is any different than speech, just that the message being put across is being expressed in notes instead of vowels and consonants. Poetry has goals so to speak. Each line is trying to tell a story or make a statement.

    Going back to Pilc, he's attacking both steps all at once. Me, I like to take on the enunciation part by itself first, then the conception part just dovetails with alot less effort and frustration.
     
  11. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Chicago
    I did but I've been approaching it in another way which is why I started a new thread. Lots to digest there.
     
  12. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Agreed. I think I have a good enough sense of the fingerboard that I hear it as I am going for it. I know what the bass sounds like by now!

    Improvising a lot speeds things up. I think what Pilc touches on is just the beginning. You have to also hear timbre, dynamics, phrasing, etc. to be any kind of a compelling improvisor.
     
  13. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    This is a prime example of hearing a line in tune on the bass:
     
  14. wow, that is tasty!

    Not to change the subject of the thread, but I notice that his right hand is playing not only with the index finger but a fair amount with the middle finger and even a couple times with his ring finger. Do you guys use fingers other than your index of your right hand when playing pizz?
     
  15. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    thanks for this. Never heard of him. Really like his playing. His bass sounds awesome. Really clear and bright, just the way I like it.
     
  16. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Chicago
  17. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I do. I practice all three but mostly use the first two.* (@ Chuck3 - this response was supposed to be sent at about 2 AM, but the site froze)

    Marc, conception is the holy grail. Sometimes the candle is lit, and from there it's easy. Other times it sputters and spits hot wax everywhere. I like what JMP is saying about getting away from your instrument. For me, singing is where it's at.

    It's like the ultimate catch-22: in the beginning, you can't really play much, so you're trying to put simple ideas out there, and often they're really good ideas if you could only play them in tune. But you can't, at least not yet. So you go in the shed, work like a dog for a bunch of years, do a lot of playing, and then one morning you wake up and you have some chops of a sort. And at first you think, "hey, this is great... this is exactly what I wanted for Christmas". So you go and use them, and they become a habit, and then you find that they're playing you instead of the other way around. I had a night like that tonight. High energy, great players, old friends, and the sax player was bringing it. Since it's a chordless trio, I fell into the trap of playing too much because I could, and it was okay.... but just okay. There were only a few moments of soloing where there was much of any real conception going on. Accompanying was another and better story, so I'll call it a decent night.

    The point is, I hear what you're saying about focusing too much on technique. But there's a symbiotic relationship between conception and execution, between art and science: the latter facilitates the former, and without it the former could not exist; but the former gives the latter meaning, and without it there would be no reason for the former to exist. We need both, and from there it all goes back to your "balance" thread. I find that I kind of bounce back and forth between the two like a pendulum, and I'm starting to think that that's OK. The point at which you become dissatisfied with something is the point where you have a fresh direction to explore.

    As far as students, I work with them on singing their ideas without the instrument. If they can't sing much, then we'll try to play that "not much" and make it sound like something. I also talk about motivic playing a lot, since melodies are most often motive driven, and if you want to sound melodic, it's a good idea to do what melodies do.
     
  18. I like what Mr. Gomez says on his Gage video. Something like, "intonation is a constant negotiation". For me, it (intonation) can be just a bit different everyday and therefore must be worked on continually. Sound and intonation are very important to what I want to accomplish in my playing. Although it would be nice, I have not found any panacea that will turn bad intonation into something good. IMHO, intonation comes with lots practice, attention to detail and lots of live gigs. One last thought, intonation does not exist in a vacuum. The people your playing with as well as the instruments that they're playing also have some impact.

    I think Chris posted as I was writing this little bit. What he's saying makes great sense!
     
  19. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Trey, you are making great sense as usual, especially the last bit - I find myself hugely affected by the people I'm playing with. When the music is clear, crisp, and "pristine" (like the Stenson clip from earlier), it tends to steer me toward putting intonation near the top of the list so I won't spoil the vibe. When the music is raw, hot, and ragged, I focus more on energy because that's what the music seems to want. Not that I'm trying to play out of tune in the second scenario, but in that setting a slightly bum note or two isn't going to spoil anything, whereas in the first situation an out of tune note weakens what the whole group is doing.

    I mostly agree, and it's interesting that JMP is the primary impetus for this thread. When I was playing piano, there was a kind of noodling that I'd do sometimes that had the purpose of getting me out of my usual cliches/traps for a few seconds, forcing me to chop a new way out of the jungle to get back to the path. I always privately called it "free falling", and it led me to some interesting places that I wouldn't have found otherwise. I can't prove it, but I suspect that JMP does a fair amount of this. The difference (if I'm right) is that he does it masterfully and seamlessly. One of the skill sets I'd like to develop is the ability to do this in tune on the bass. Much easier on the piano for sure, but should be possible with enough time and practice.
     
  20. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Well, my argument is not an either/or more of a "yes, but...".
    We are talking about two things: generating ideas and playing in tune.
    I think the OP has some useful info on those things but it is just too boxed in for both.
    We need more than one way for both of those things.
     

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