Right Brain, Left Brain.......in Jazz Artists?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Bruce Lindfield, Jul 12, 2004.

  1. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Here's a quote I was just reading, from Jamey Aebersold :

    "In the sixties, learning scales and chords was introduced by jazz educators as a pedagogical method and emphasis was placed on training the intellect (left brain) as well as the ear (right brain).
    Today's musicians must use their intellect and their ears! It is difficult to fit into the Jazz scene today without using both mind and ears."

    So - what do you think - is this true? I'm not that interested in the first sentence - but rather the conclusion, that Jazz players today, need to use both - and in what proportion? Is it an equal balance or not? Can you get away without either one?

    Who do you see as predominantly intellect or left-brain players - are there any? Or is this always secondary?


    Just to clarify - I am talking about current Jazz musicians and what
    Jamey Aebersold calls : the "scene" - of course people can talk about what they want - but my main interest in starting this thread is in the area of well-known Jazz artists that we all might be able to hear on recordings and not me or you, or any personal "baggage" !! ;)
  2. Morning Bruce! (that was with my best Aussie accent) It's a bit early for getting into topics like this, in a nutshell I still think the best art/music is made in a kind of 'immersive' state of mind, that even at an 'amateur' level should try to be free from too much intellectualisation, but obviously with some degree of technical process and delivery, I know I can play really well sometimes when I get into this kind of subconcious mind set.

    I don't think I answered that particularly well, but when I watch someone like Wooten or Patitucci, they play a lot with their eyes closed, which to me signals they are both listening and visualising what they are playing, surpassing the mechanical side of actually playing the notes, and finding them through their musical subconcious - or something like that. That would indicate to me both the left and right sides of the brain working harmoniously. I might be wrong...

    BTW Brucie, are you doing the Abersold jazz course this year? Because I am, I'm really looking forward to it, but part of me is scared - cos I ain't been in the jazz classroom for a long time - be good to see you there if you are!
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    No - I'm doing the Jazz Summerschool at the University of Glamorgan in about 2 weeks - as I always do! This is cheaper - half the price and includes accommodation, which the Aebersold doesn't and I like its emphasis on performing in small groups, as against 'classroom' work - stuff like that. I also like the tutors on the Glamorgan summerschool and know lots of people going - so it's a social thing for me as well! ;)
  4. I believe we are headed down the same path here, but in response to the quote: In music and in life, you can use your mind without using your ears. However, you cannot use your ears without using your mind.

    Ponder that for a while. ;)
  5. Re Abersold - that's cool man, I hate to say it but the Jazzwise gig pays in more ways than one - and I got a nice discount through the mag - but I also live in London so the local is OK from the point of view of daily travel vs accomodation. But on the subject of playing, I think there will be plenty of that - we have to give a small concert at the end of the week - so I hope we get some jamming time too, which I'm sure we will - but any info I can gain from this course will be brilliant - I have neglected my jazz studies for a while now - so it's back to school for me! Have fun.

  6. Er....ok - I'm outahere...
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I like the Glamorgan one, as there is a "Jazz Club" in the Student Union bar, Sunday to Friday from about 8.00 pm to 12.30, - so you can play every night to a fairly large audience, as well as hear some great music! :)

    Now back to the question!! ;)
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    So.... are you agreeing with orginal quote, that in Jazz nowdays, you must use your intellect in conjunction with your ears...?
  9. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
  10. Someone else who's more knowledgable about the brain may have to jump in here, but methinks using your mind does not necessarily imply that you are using your intellect.
  11. I'm basically agreeing with the quote. Except to say that of course in Jazz nowdays you can do whatever you want but you probably won't be making any contributions to the art form unless you use your intellect in conjunction with your ears.
    What proportion is anybody's guess. It's been proposed before, that the analytical part is what goes on in the practice room and classroom, and the understanding gained from that process helps to govern your "in the moment" split-second musical decisions on the bandstand.

    As far as who fits into what category, I think it's pure conjecture or speculation.

    Thanks for those links, BMX. Interesting stuff.
  12. Jerry Gordon

    Jerry Gordon

    Jun 6, 2004
    A classic line, often repeated, suggests that one should learn the chords and scales that are associated with a tune, then practice and practice more, and finally -- on the gig -- just get up and play.

    I first try to learn the chords and scales for a new tune. Then I think about the form of the tune. Sometimes I come up with a general approach that I think I might use during improvization. Then I start playing.

    Sometimes, when I am playing, I get lost in the form an just let my ear guide me. More often I do not get lost and I can use the chord changes as a framework within which I can work. Still, as I play, my ear guides me as much as anything else.

    Even when playing mostly by ear, time spent working out the chord progressions, focusing on the movement of the chords, and practicing licks all seems to pay off. If nothing else, it gives me enough self-confidence so that I can relax sufficiently to try and be creative.

    With reference to the question of which players are right brained players and which are left brained players: I suspect that most modern (good) players use their whole brain. They also use all of their experience, all of their chops, all of their knowledge, and anything else available to them.

    A note of warning: I am an amateur musician. So, all of the thoughts noted above should be read with that in mind.

  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    But - a question for anybody not just Jerry - isn't there a sense in which some players would be saying that they are trying to avoid using their intellect and tapping into their "unconscious" ....?
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well, yes - unless they have talked about this or mentioned it in interviews - that kind of thing? I was wondering if anybody had heard any well-known Jazz players mention this kind of thing?

    Or are you saying that it's impossible to say, as "private" activity uses the intellect - like composition, practice routines etc. Whereas public performance is entirely ears/right brain?
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

  16. Very interesting read. As with all studies of these kind, though, only correlational results are possible. Thus, its impossible to tell whether brain plasticity (the ability for the brain to change or adapt) or whether predispositions are responsible for certain areas of the brain being larger in musicians than in non-musicians from this style of experiment. But, as noted, animal studies have given strong evidence that learnt skills do increase lateralization and specialization (ie. that difference parts of the brain and the two separate hemispheres are important for different functions). Human studies have also shown that the greater the lateralization/specalization, the greater one's ability in tasks involving the lateralized/specialized area. Thus, I (and the author/s) believe that plasticity is responsible for the larger brain areas.

  17. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    But couldn't one say that if you think of the meter, or note names, you are using both sides of the brain, regardless of whether you are playing Jazz or Polka? The left side of the cerebral context contains the mathematical and linguistic abilities of a person. More "simple" styles of music can usually be dealt with on a "feel" basis, usually because they fall in 4/4 time. Maybe that's what Howard Gardner was talking about with musical intelligence.
  18. RyanHelms


    Sep 20, 2003
    Cleveland, OH
    Whoa, all this brain talk is giving me a headache. :D

    This reminds me of a Pat Metheny quote in response to same type of question. If I can paraphrase "Learn everything so you can forget it." Vague, I know, but I'm guessing that to mean something like intelect is the source of practice and studying, whereas actually playing should be intuitive and rely on your ear.

    Maybe martial arts is a parallel. A student will drill kata, or form, intently and mindfully. That way, when the individual finds themselves in a real world, real time interaction, all the moves are there automatically without the intelect.

    Wax on, wax off...
  19. Jazzin'

    Jazzin' ...Bluesin' and Funkin'

    you definately need a bit of both. having the ear will get help you alot, but the brain is what lets you know what you are doing. i'd have to say the brain is more important, the ear is good to help you to know whether you are on track with everything else. it's more of an insurance.