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Thinking chords, scales, whatever...

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by David Kaczorowski, Apr 12, 2001.


  1. I was reading over some of the fresh melodies thread and saw some references to "thinking chords" and "thinking scales". To even consider that you might be thinking about one or the other is ridiculous. They're not mutually exclusive. Chords are derived from scales, but they determine which notes are consonant and which are dissonant. That's what is important when playing melodies; tension and release.
     
  2. jazzbo

    jazzbo

    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Uh oh. Here goes.......
    :D
     
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    BINGO.
     
  4. jazzbo

    jazzbo

    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Well, I have nowhere near the experience, knowledge, or technical know-how of most of the people here, but lately my approach has been much more scalar in initial thought, but that might just be because I have been working on modal pieces. On the other hand, I've recently worked on some pieces, like say AFTERNOON IN PARIS or THESE FOOLISH THINGS, and I tend to be emphasizing chordal tones more. For me, recently at least, it's depended on the piece.
     
  5. The sole factor in my improvement for the past two years has been the study of use of scales with Michael Moore. 60-70% theory, 30-40% application. Scale knowledge is one of the keys to his virtuosity. I made the point further back that a given chord could have more than one scale behind it, and that means to me more interesting choices for creating tension and release. It opened doors for me, and I don't really care if anyone agrees or disagrees. Neither am I twisting any arms. Enough already.
     
  6. BaroqueBass

    BaroqueBass

    Jul 8, 2000
    Salem, OR
    Put me on the Chord Side of the fence.
    And C#-minor is my favorite key.
     
  7. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    I figger the dif is starting with more notes and weeding out or starting with fewer and adding. If one way is better than the other then I'm really missing something.

    Besides none of it makes any real difference in light of the fact that most of you poor people haven't realized the octave should be broken into seventeen rather than twelve. Except on Thursdays of the first six months of a leap year when any right thinking person knows the number is twenty-three. And if you weren't all so wrong I wouldn't have to harangue everyone to see that I'm right. Repent now and I'll put in a good word for you.
     
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Played a gig tonight in a room that got really loud right around midnight. When the joint got jumpin', it got really hard to hear...as a result I suspect that - at times - I may have been playing scales containing way more than 17 divisions of the octave.

    Of course, it was so loud in there, we'll never know.
     
  9. rablack

    rablack

    Mar 9, 2000
    Houston, Texas
    Heretic, everyone knows that eighteen is the correct number. Fer cryin out loud, 17 is a prime number! What would Pythagorus think? ;)
     
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I guess that explains all of the nerdy looking folks walking around with the little "WWPT" bracelets on...they're born again mathematicians, right? NOW I get it....


    Okay, I'm probably gonna regret this, so I'm going to climb directly into my flame-retardant pajamas immediately after posting, but.....

    Either way you approach this issue - whether you think primarily of chords or of scales when improvising - if you improvise melodically, you end up with a lot of linear material. And linear in this instance translates roughly into SCALAR at some point, whether it be in the small picture or in the big picture. What do I mean by, "big picture/small picture", you say? Ah, there's the rub...

    By "small picture" I mean the noodling that goes on within a single harmony. A lot of people agree that, in this sense, it is often wise to emphasize chord tones on downbeats in a line - especially in the bebop style. For certain styles of jazz, I agree completely. In fact, I even have a special routine that I teach my more advanced students for "centering" their melodic lines in the changes which I call "connect the dots". It's simple, really - especially for bassists, who are accustomed to the idea of "Target/Approach" line building. In imitation of many standard melodies, you practice building melodic lines by voice leading "target tones" on the down beat of each new harmony (i.e. - every measure, every other measure, etc.). In this exercise the "target tones" are most often chord tones (still more often, they are guide tones), but can also be altered color tones from dominant chords. The idea is to deal with the melodic/harmonic connection on a larger scale than just measure by measure, so you try to connect the "target tone" in one measure to one in the next measure by either retaining a common tone (no motion) or stepwise motion.

    The number of Standard melodies that do some form of this to a large degree is ridiculous once you learn to see it. And at this point in the game, it is easy to say, "See? See? You're thinking CHORDS because you've gone to all this trouble to put a CHORD TONE on every downbeat. There's no scalar thinking to the deal at all, so what's your big point about scales?"

    Well, in order to see that, you have to take a step or two back away from the picture. Using Autumn Leaves as an example, if you're thinking about what chord tones are on the down beat of each measure, you'd come up with:

    3rd...7th....3rd.........7th.......3rd..........7th.....3rd
    C-.....F7.....BbMa....EbMa....A-7b5....D7+9....G-

    All of which looks like you're thinking mainly chords. But when you look at it another way, like so:

    Eb.................D.........................C......................Bb
    C-.....F7.....BbMa....EbMa....A-7b5....D7+9....G-


    In the big "widescreen" picture, you more often than not end up with these scale passages which - while some would argue are semi subliminal - are the kind of glue which holds a lot of great melodies together and gives them their overall contour. The theory nerd-heads where I came from study this stuff under the label of "Schenkerian Analysis" or other such presumptuous titles which make it sound so complicated, but this stuff ain't rocket science...it's really nothing more than the backbone of what you sing most times when you are dealing with a standard type of melody. And when you add it all up, I still think it resembles a scale way more closely than a chord most of the time.


    Damn, it's getting late. I think I'll go have a nice warm bowl of "Cream of Asbestos" and get some sleep. Until later....
     
  11. ...and there was peace in the valley...
     
  12. Helppppp..............

    I'm drowning in information overload.

    Mark
     
  13. rablack

    rablack

    Mar 9, 2000
    Houston, Texas
    Oldsaw - Just be careful when drinking from the firehose. Actually you can learn a lot from SHERLOCK FITZGERALD's erudite posts - just check the archives.

    Keep it coming Chris
     
  14. "Oldsaw - Just be careful when drinking from the firehose."

    Rablack,

    I took a "little" sabatical from all music and the bass (33 years to be exact). Since I came back to the fold two years back, I have found this new contraption called the internet. Talk about a firehose. It has ony served to show me just how little I do know.

    Mark
     
  15. You're begging the question, Chris. Melodies, by nature, have notes from a scale. And in a way, I guess this demonstrates exactly why I think the whole discussion of chordal approach vs. scalar approach is moot.
     
  16. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Think however you like is what I say. But know and practice both chords and scales, they are completely intertwined with one another in my little worldview....
     
  17. jazzbo

    jazzbo

    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Thank you very much Chris, you just killed me. I'm going back to my little Idiot's Guide, where I AM KING!!! (enter evil laugh here!)
    [​IMG]

    Anyway, you rock.
     
  18. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I hear you. And for the most part I agree with you (and Don and Ed, etc....) when you all say that it doesn't matter how you approach the topic as long as you're hearing the music. I'm down with that. On the other hand, the whole reason theory exists in the first place is to tear existing things apart in order to find out how they work, ostensibly (I'm guessing) so that you can learn how to put the pieces back together in your own way - or in a similar way to the way that something that really touched you was constructed.

    Personally, it doesn't matter to me how another person thinks of the music they are playing...to quote Zappa, "if it sounds good to you, then it's good to you. If it sounds bad to you, then it's bad as far as you are concerned". That statement is truth as far as I'm concerned. But how many of us have had the experience of listening to something that blows us away, digging the hell out of it, and then asking, "now, how the f**k do I go about learning to do something like that?". This is where theory and analysis can help, and this is why I bother with thinking about these subjects. In and of themselves, they are about as dry and boring as petrified turds. But when you can use them to get closer to THAT SOUND (i.e. - the one which, when you hear it, makes you think that life is good and that there's a reason to keep working so hard at improving), they "moisten up" considerably.

    The point of my last post was to emphasize that for me, when I listen to a great melody or a great solo, there's something more there than a bunch of short cool licks stuck together with little thought of the big picture, something more than just scales and arpeggios...most great melodies and solos have an overall contour which ties the entire line together as a statement of tension and release, or a story of a journey, which can be more clearly seen when you pick out the "high points" and then string them together - kind of like a plot synopsis. And for most standard melodies that I take this approach with, the result is often a very simple scalar line leading from tension to resolution (and sometimes back and forth again between the two until the final resolution). Maybe it sounds like just more theoretical masturbation to some, but for me it helps me to see the big picture in the works of those whom I consider to be "the masters", which in turn helps me to think more globally when it comes to my own tunes or solos. But that's just me...
     
  19. Yeah, that's what I said, Chris.

    I guess I must've misread you on your previous post.
     
  20. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    I'm with you, I wasn't trying to be dismissive of theory either. I love when you guys type up these long replies, some of them are really helpful. The important thing to keep in mind is that theory is a tool...it is an abstract representation of what is happening in music, and must be regarded as such. In other words, to repurpose the Zappa comment, theory is good if it works for you...if it helps you to make sense of things and progress, that is great, though ultimately we all learn it and break down tunes with the long term goal of knowing the real stuff in our bones and ears (putting the parts back together and knowing it as a whole)...it is all so relative to how its used, and to what you are hoping to gain. I find particular satisfaction in this idea of tension and release - its interesting that however that tension is released is counting on preconceptions of the listener as to basic scalar and chordal "truths" which are completely culturally entrenched and themselves completely relative...