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Thinking While Listening To Jazz?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Matthew_84, Dec 1, 2019.

  1. I’ve read stuff like this before (this is from a Jamey Aebersold Jazz handbook), but I never really understand what they’re talking about:
    What are people thinking about when they’re listening to Jazz or other complex/technical music?

    Are people analyzing note choices in solos as they listen to a new recording for the first time? Do most people who listen to Jazz do this?
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2019
    teh-slb, jamro217 and Frenchy-Lefty like this.
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    I think generally speaking, savvy jazz listeners (even non-musicians) can hear things like, that's a 12 bar blues, or that's rhythm changes, or that's a Charlie Parker lick, or that's awfully atonal.

    Even I have a hard time hearing things like, oh that's a b13th, when I'm casually listening to a performance.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2019
  3. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    DrMole, mikewalker, bassrique and 3 others like this.
  4. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    I shared this thread with my mom, who is a total non-musician but huge jazz lover. Here is what she says she is thinking when she listens to jazz:
    1. The emotional content
    2. Does it reference another song or style, i.e. maybe it reminds her of Duke Ellington
    3. Is it pleasing to the ear, or does it sound discordant
    4. She doesn't find jazz inherently more complicated to think about, compared to other styles of music.
    teh-slb, lfmn16, pcake and 15 others like this.
  5. For me, I tend to listen differently to jazz depending on whether it's just casual listening, or it's a song I plan to learn. For casual listening, I typically approach it in the way the Mushroo mentioned above. If I'm trying to learn it, I will listen to a song 4 or 5 times in succession (to start) and listen to the harmonic and rhythmic content of each instrument, following along with the lead sheet. If I don't have a lead sheet, I make my own notes.

    I don't tend to analyze note choices since that can change depending on how I feel, but I do analyze scale choices, initially. I may look at note choices later, if I have the time and inclination. I'm not a high level jazz guy, but I have a pretty fair idea of what's going on. I work at a level where I can get some of my ideas out, with a view to getting better or fleshing things out as time goes on.
  6. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Augusta GA
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I think most people can hear when a musician is playing with meaning and intent as well as can tell the difference between that and musicians that are just throwing notes at a chord change. But just like it gets hard to see the stars when you're in a city because of all the light pollution, it's harder for people to muster the attention span to actually be open to listening to music because of the ubiquity of "background" music. It's easier to follow a somewhat convoluted conversation if those are the only voices you hear.

    By way of example, since my dad was in the military, we moved around a lot. 3 to 6 years everywhere. His last posting abroad was Germany and, even though we lived in military housing, I spent a lot of time "out on the economy" (Army dependent slang for hanging out with local civilians, shopping off base etc.). When we got back to the States, it was almost impossible for me to hold a conversation in a public place because all of a sudden I could immediately understand all the other conversations I was hearing, that made it difficult to focus on the one I was trying to have.

    So you get to a point where you are constantly inundated with noise, and the ONLY thing that makes it through to get your attention is either volume or insistent repetition of rhythm or melodic phrase. And if you're playing music that is built on melodic and rhythmic development and limited repetition, not to mention a more conversational approach and lower volume level, it's harder to pull someone's attention in. It can be done though...
  7. K, so from what I get out of that, is that it’s not really about analyzing the note selections (ie, Major 3rd here, b7 there, etc) as it plays, but analyzing the song form, rhythm, the sound of the melody, and how the band is playing together.

    He does note the key and progressions/modes, but it doesn’t seem like that’s something he’s thinking critically about, rather, he just knows it anyway and is pointing it out.

    That’s pretty much what I do anyway (unless it’s background music).
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2019
    DrMole likes this.
  8. Dirk Diggler

    Dirk Diggler Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Anytown USA
    It's the ability to understand what's going on harmonically that requires thinking.
    If you only have the ability to understand pentatonics, I bet all the rest would seem like
    wanking, noodling and mistakes.

    Those of us brought up on the 12 tone scale would have an equally hard time
    understanding more worldly music with more tones per octave like microtonal music.
    bassliner50, Dgl44, LBS-bass and 2 others like this.
  9. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music.

    May 3, 2009
    N.E Illinois
    I don't know how to explain it.
    This is what I think of when I listen to Allan Holdsworth.

    Escher House.jpg
    What I think of when I listen to Animals As Leaders.

    What I think of when I listen to Return To Forever.

    When I listen to Greg Howe.

    Last edited: Dec 1, 2019
  10. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I find that I get the most out of listening to jazz when it's a song I have learned the changes and melody for.
    pellomoco14 and Matthew_84 like this.
  11. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    When chilling out and listening to jazz I just enjoy the music. When I play that's when I'm thinking. Have not reached the level that I can play jazz and not think.
    thabassmon, aarjamson and Matthew_84 like this.
  12. nbsipics

    nbsipics Smacks of Euphoric Hysteria Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 8, 2016
    I do my best programming while listening to Jazz.

    Then again, I don't listen to much else :)
    pcake, red_rhino and Matthew_84 like this.
  13. juggahnaught


    Feb 11, 2018
    Seattle, WA
    I disagree with this statement and feel that it's blatantly incorrect.

    Jazz used to be a form of popular music and there's still a lot of good stuff from back then - the problem is that traditional jazz has stagnated, and the world has moved on. I do agree that most people don't want to think about music; that's because music is supposed to speak to us on a deeper level and bypass the usual thinking channels. The average person (as well as the bulk of musicians, in my opinion) listens to music for enjoyment, not for technical analysis; musicians tend to analyze only to learn an arrangement, analyze a specific instrument (generally the one they practice), or study composition.

    So to your question - do I analyze note choices when I listen to Got a Match by Chick Corea? Hell no. I lose myself in the groove (those tasty ghost notes, Clarke's bass, Chick's ridiculously awesome lines) and sit back and enjoy the musical journey while I'm humming that infectious head. Do I count time signatures and analyze the changes when I listen to Animals as Leaders or Yes? Again, no - I sit back and enjoy the groove and the interplay of the voices. When I'm really enjoying music, I'm not really thinking about anything; I'm lost in the music - lost in the sonic vibrations. It's a different state of mind for me if it's right. (Now, if I want to play or transcribe these songs - yes, I'll begin to listen with an analytical ear, and that's a different mental state entirely - a lot of thinking, yes.)

    I do think that there are people who learned music but never had a natural predilection for it - music by the numbers, if you will, as if someone learned the equations behind drawing a circle but could never do it by eye. I do think that a lot of these folk tend to flock to jazz as a whole, and I think that's part of the cause of the mentality espoused in that statement.

    Listening to music is fun. It's not work.
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  14. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2017
    I like the complexity and the atypical note selections and timing things when I listen to jazz that I like. I don't like all jazz. But within the jazz that I do like, I enjoy hearing how musicians dance around the tonal centers in unusual ways and how the rhythmic elements can syncopate in complicated and unexpected ways.

    But I'm never, ever, thinking about those things as a listener, especially as a first-time listener. As close as I get to that would be saying something like, "how in the world did they ever think to do THAT there?" Or maybe counting over some odd-time bars to figure out the time signature.
    pcake, Matthew_84 and nbsipics like this.
  15. aprod


    Mar 11, 2008
    All music is meant to invoke an emotion. And so it is to the casual listener no matter how complex the music. It is only musicians that are cursed with always analyzing while listening.
  16. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    I think there's music that's written and performed primarily for the enjoyment of the listener, and music that’s crafted primarily for the amusement of the performers - and possibly a small group of those who consider themselves to be “in the know.”

    I find most post BeBop era jazz to fall into the second category. Save for a few exceptions, I don’t really care that much for most of the newer jazz I’ve heard and been hearing.
  17. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
  18. Father Gino

    Father Gino Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2018
    Farthard, Connecticut
    I think the more of any genre of music you listen too, the more you understand it. Not understand on some analytical plane necessarily, you just get it. I’ve listened to a fair amount of jazz over the years and I could not tell you what scales are involved. I just know that it sounds good to me. I don’t think that music is made to be analyzed by a listener. The listener feels it, groks it, grooves to it. That jazz tends to have a different tonality than a lot of popular music makes it different and therefore appealing (to me). But the same thing could be said of other genres outside the box as well. That jazz players think of “jazz” as some kind of superior music is part of its snobbery that does not appeal to me at all. It’s still music which has its roots in improvisational stuff based more on emotion than mathematics. Just because it may be hard to play or understand by those not not familiar with it is hardly cause for bragging rights in my mind.

    Don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing still applies.
    OogieWaWa and Matthew_84 like this.
  19. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Depends. Sometimes I just passively listen to enjoy. Other times I am trying to figure out song structure tire, and listening to how the bass player approaches the changes.
    gebass6 likes this.
  20. 2BitHack


    Nov 11, 2014
    "I like it when it sounds like everyone in the band is playing the same song"
    - the average person
    12BitSlab, Lobster11, nnnnnn and 6 others like this.

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