The Modes Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about the modern modes and explained how to work out the pitches for any given mode by finding the parent major scale.  For example, a D dorian is the same thing as a C major scale beginning on D, but it’s also like a D major scale with a lowered 3rd and 7th.  If this stuff is new to you you’ll want to go back and read through that article before you read this one.

Today I’m going to show the relationship between the modes and certain chords.  For this post I’ll use the modes in the key of B flat major. Continue reading The Modes Part 2

The Modes Part 1

In preparing for any business, trade or science, we generally need a great deal of preparation and study.  In painting, literature and music, we also need to learn the tools of our trade.  The artist needs paints to express himself, while the jazz musician uses tonal resources.

The above quote is how George Russell starts his book, The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization for Improvisation.  I’m currently rereading it and plan to post on a few of the concepts he describes.  Before one can follow Russell’s book, though, you need to have a good grasp of the modes.  Many jazz musicians are familiar with modes and use them to derive note choices for particular chords.  They are useful tools for not just coming up with good note choices, but they also can help demonstrate harmonic concepts as well. Continue reading The Modes Part 1

Asheville Jazz Orchestra at The Grey Eagle, Asheville

This Thursday (July 29, 2010) I’ll be directing and performing with the Asheville Jazz Orchestra at The Grey Eagle.  We’ll be playing two sets starting at 8 PM.  There’s a $10 cover charge.

The Grey Eagle is a great room for live music.  I’ve played with a jazz combo and a couple of times with rock bands there, but I’ve never played with a big band there.  I did hear Maynard Ferguson’s band play there shortly before he died and the acoustics of the room sounded great with his, slightly smaller, big band.

Because of the nature of the beast, the AJO has a number of regular players that play with us according to availability and location of the show.  This Thursday I’m particularly excited about the sax section, which will be Steve Alford, Joe Luloff, Jacob Rodriguez, Julian Samahl, and Frank Southecorvo.  All five of those cats can blow some great solos, so I plan on calling out lots of sax features.  I’ll probably torture them with a sax soli or two and really make them work.  I’ll definitely torture the whole room with some of my original charts.

The rest of the sections are going to be good too.  Trumpets on this one are Woody Dotson, Je Widenhouse, Andy Sorenson, and Steve Martinez.  The trombone section is Walton Davis, Alan Greene, Linda Davis, and myself.  Jeff Knorr is playing piano, Trevor Stoia on bass, and Justin Watt is on drums.

Come check out the show if you’re near Asheville.

Matt Otto Music Blog

Matt Otto is a saxophonist currently based in Kansas City, but who has spent time in Japan, New York, and Los Angeles.  He also has a blog with some really nice online lessons dealing with different aspects of playing jazz.  Here is his latest, where he discusses a phrase from J.S. Bach’s Two-Part Invention #15 and learning to play it in all 12 keys.

Matt talks about not just learning the keys and intervalic relationships, but also emphasizes singing and ear training.  Be sure to go to his page on this lesson to download the pdf file of the Bach melody he’s working with.

Now to get my metronome out and start practicing in all 12 keys…

The U.S. Creativity Crisis

I don’t know that I would call it exactly a “crisis” myself, at least not as described in Po Bronson’s and Ashley Merriman’s Newsweek article, The Creativity Crisis.  New research looking at American’s creativity quotient (like IQ, except it measures an individual’s ability to create something original and useful) shows that CQ scores in the U.S. had been rising steadily up until 1990, when they began to consistently drop.

It’s too early to determine conclusively why U.S. creativity scores are declining. One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.

I would argue that TV and video games are a lot more complex than the authors give credit.  Many of today’s TV shows require fans to follow very complex plots that arc over years of episodes with characters and events influencing shows seasons later.  Video games today are equally complicated and not like traditional games, where the rules are established and learned from the beginning.  In a video game you learn what to do by probing and figuring out what you’re supposed to do to play the game.  You have to learn to think creatively in order to probe the game and work out how to play it.

As far as creativity development in schools, there are some interesting points raised in the Newsweek article. Continue reading The U.S. Creativity Crisis

Just Jazz – All Trombone Special

One of my favorite jazz journalists, Bob Bernotas, will be interviewing one of my favorite new jazz trombonists, Michael Dease, on his radio show tonight (July 25, 2010).  You can listen in online between 10 PM and 3 AM Eastern Time at

I first heard Mike’s playing when he sent his album, The Takeover, to the Online Trombone Journal to be reviewed.  As the Reviews Editor at the time, I would listen to the CD and select a reviewer who had a background in that musical style to write the article.  After hearing Dease’s playing and writing I decided to write the review myself so I could keep the CD.

Dease has a new album out, called Grace.  I’m sure it will be worth picking up, but listen in to Bob’s radio show to hear for yourself.

A Euphonium Embouchure

YouTube user “Suiram1” has uploaded a video of his embouchure.

Suiram1 asked if I had any comments for him.  It’s a pretty short video, and it’s very difficult to diagnose or suggest anything without being there in person, but I thought I’d point out some things I notice.

First, his embouchure is definitely one of the downstream types.  If you look closely at the lips when he’s playing in the transparent mouthpiece you can see this.  There’s more upper lip inside so that lip predominates and the air strikes the bottom of the cup.  This is more common than the upstream embouchure type.   Continue reading A Euphonium Embouchure

Embouchure Question

This question comes from “albrt2890” on one of my YouTube videos.

I am going into my third year of college as a music ed major. I teach private lessons as well. I do have a question though regarding the position of the mouthpiece on the lips. I have a student (f horn) who plays with a large amount of lower lip however when he descends into the lower register of the horn he changes his mouthpiece position so that he has more upper lip in the mouthpiece. Would it benefit him to try to play horn with the “Standard” embouchure through all ranges?

Like pretty much any question about embouchure issues, I’d have to see it.  Still, that’s an unsatisfying answer and since albrt2890 is learning to teach music, he/she probably wants to learn more about embouchures.  I’ll try to explain how and what I’d look for in a case like this.  That said, there are a lot of variables at work here (breathing, tonguing, all sorts of embouchure features, etc.) and something that I don’t mention here may completely change around the following suggestions.  Caveat emptor, or maybe more properly, this is free advice and you get what you pay for.  Take everything that follows with a grain of salt.

There are a couple of somewhat common situations that come to mind here.  First, some players will change to a different embouchure type for different ranges.  Or, some players are just altering their mouthpiece placement slightly for different ranges while not actually type switching.  I would recommend players avoid both these situations, but checking out which is going on and how to correct it depends on some different factors you need to look for. Continue reading Embouchure Question

More On Music and Learning

A few days ago I wondered about how much validity there is to the belief that musical training will prepare you to do other things.  It’s pretty common for many of my music teaching colleagues to tell concerned parents that their children will “learn how to learn” or that the skills they learn majoring in music will teach them what they need to know to succeed in just about anything.  While I certainly don’t want to discourage the study of music, I think this recruiting tactic is misleading and can backfire.

Coincidentally, Dr. Steven Novella (a neurologist at Yale, blogger, and podcaster) happened to post on a recent review on music and its effects on overall cognitive function.  Specifically, what is musical training’s effect on brain plasticity.  He uses typing as an example.  After decades of typing you don’t need to think anymore about where to push down on the keys, you simply type what you want to write. Continue reading More On Music and Learning

Site Migration Complete

It didn’t take as long as I expected, so the old site now just redirects to here.  I apologize if I screwed up anything you had bookmarked, but you should be able to find it over here.  I did do some pruning of the blog entries, mostly ones that were time sensitive.  There were a few posts that were mostly links to other sites that didn’t get moved, but I will likely post them again over here later.

You may find some bugs floating around in the pages here, including some missing images or broken links.  I’ll try to go through and get them fixed when I can, but if you spot something and want to help, please leave a comment at that page or contact me.