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Basics ... what are the basics in music to you?


Dave Horne

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In the thread re theory this topic was touched on ... basics. Someone will say that have the basics covered (a potential private student) and I will ask them what a vi chord is in Ab major or a ii chord in B major ... there's usually a pause before they answer. They assume that because they can figure out the answer after spending some time figuring out what the answer should be, is good enough. For me, an immediate response means the 'basics' are covered.

 

What should we (as keyboard players) be expected to have under our belts, so to speak. (Dick Hyman once in this magazine listed 100 tunes that he thought were the basics for a professional keyboard player.)

 

Specifics preferred .... I have my set of 'basics', but they might be different that yours. What are the 'basics' to you? ......(I might sit this one out as I spend too much time here. I just had this on my mind and thought about throwing this out.)

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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A good touch, expressive timing and rhythm, and a natural sense of melody and harmony. If I enjoy what I hear when the person plays, they have the basics and can learn the rest. I dont care if they can recite a book on theory word for word, or transcribe 1000 songs from memory. If the playing is stiff and forced then nothing else matters.

 

Robert

This post edited for speling.
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Originally posted by Rabid:

A good touch, expressive timing and rhythm, and a natural sense of melody and harmony. If I enjoy what I hear when the person plays, they have the basics and can learn the rest. I dont care if they can recite a book on theory word for word, or transcribe 1000 songs from memory. If the playing is stiff and forced then nothing else matters.

 

Robert

Rabid, you've got no argument from me - I also think a good touch, expressive timing, rhythm, a natural sense of melody and harmony are important and are part and parcel of the 'basics'.

 

Reading between the lines, one might get the impression that someone who is proficient in theory might also be stiff and forced, but rest assured, there are many who can do both.

 

I was really hoping for specifics, but I suspect this thread will quickly fade away into page 2.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

...Reading between the lines, one might get the impression that someone who is proficient in theory might also be stiff and forced, but rest assured, there are many who can do both.

...

There was nothing intentional between the lines of my statement. I consider "basics" as something you can build upon, or what you must have from a band perspective. Or more so, I am saying theory and repertoire are learned while musical talent is developed. The difference being, anyone with intelligence and discipline can learn. To develop talent you must have talent.

 

I guess it also comes down to which is more important for the situation, and to what degree. A lounge player may need a little talent and a large repertoire. A supporting member may need more talent and a good grasp on theory. A soloist may need talent above anything else. That does not mean that a soloist does not need theory or a repertoire, or that someone good in theory automatically plays stiff and mechanical. But the basics seem to change depending on the situation.

 

Robert

This post edited for speling.
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You have to hear something from the musician that is a clue to passion and some respectable amount of work that has to have gone into making the expression of the passion convincing.

 

If there's no passion, then who cares to listen? The attempt at art may have temporary conceptual interest, but without a cared-for value somewhere at work, it ain't nothing to me.

 

If there's no skill level, no perceivable work history, then to me it's not art.

 

I don't mean that the musical content has to be all emotional and "passionate" - I mean that somewhere in the art there is a value expressed that the artist cares enough about to go to the trouble...even if it's just the artist trying to diss his own audience with a put-on.

 

M Peasley

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You have to hear something from the musician that is a clue to passion and some respectable amount of work that has to have gone into making the expression of the passion convincing.

 

If there's no passion, then who cares to listen?

I agree personally, but I don't think passion is a requisite for it to be listenable. Muzak is still a thriving company, isn't it? What about Band in a Box?

 

Also, there are different kinds of passion and some are more appealing than others.

 

If there's no skill level, no perceivable work history, then to me it's not art.

Yes, passion plus skilled expression are a powerful combination. I'm with you. The only other thing I look for is originality. Even if you play within a very limited idiom, there are ways of making the music special with some original touches. This is what interests me most and it is something intangible - call it musical genius, if you will. It goes well beyond basics and sometimes makes a point of transcending the basic in unexpected ways.

 

~Peter Schouten

Pyramid Sound Productions

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<<>>

 

I've come across musicians who had bad concepts of what a good sound should be. I'm thinking of a trombone player I knew who was genuinely dedicated to his instrument and his craft, but had a bad concept of sound and style. Now, he was passionate and practiced a great deal (as well as writing arrangements), but where does he fit in with your statement. I personally respected his dedication, and I might even send him a job or two just for that reason, but I couldn't recommend him for any serious work because, regardless of his passion, he had poor concepts. Passion alone ain't gonna work.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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In this day and age, you gotta consider:

 

-- a good familiarity with all 50 songs in the Song Bank;

 

-- ability to play equally in all 12 keys through mastery of the Transpose button;

 

-- working knowledge of all the Auto-Accompaniment styles;

 

-- ability to nail the Brittany sound in three buttons or less.

 

Plus extra points for using headphones without being told, when Mom and Dad are engrossed in Survivor or a new video game.

:D

 

Seriously, I think most college music programs define the basics by technique. So, to be eligible to start a piano major, you need to have progressed to playing Bach 2-part inventions up tempo. I personally would define that as beyond basic though.

 

Unfortunately early public music programs in the U.S. don't exist by and large. In Japan, I've heard that music training begins around age 4 and is very systematic. Maybe someone is familiar with how they approach early teaching over there. I'd be very interested.

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In my case, basics means knowing some 5 or 6 major and minor three-finger chords on the keys - stuff I learned 25 years ago, and the same applies for my guitar playing.

I could never get past that level of learning, because life took me toward other directions, but I made some ripples with that little I could play of either. Obviously, I could hardly transfer my musical informations onto someone else, like Dave Horne graciously put it, or at best I'd sound childish, but on the other end there's a certain something in music that, unlike other languages and/or crafts, transcends reality. In my experience working with other musicians I have seen a funny thing happening: the more proficient they become, the less prolific they get. It almost seems that great, inspirational music wants a very uncluttered path in order to descend, or else she'll move away. That might well be an amateurish thought, and yet...

Max Ventura, Italy.
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There are two kinds of answer:

 

If I'm going to see someone perform onstage, I do expect a lot, and usually I can't stand amateur musicians, unless they really have something very special.

 

When auditioning a student, every case is different. I've encountered classically trained pianists who can't improvise a note, night club people who know a million tunes in a bad way, jazzers who never studied proper technique, rockers who can't read...

Usually, we discuss the possible goals together. I'm always clear here, and I don't make discounts: If their goal is to become complete musicians, they have to be disciplined and deal with those parts of their music education they may have neglected.

About musicality and stiffness... It's always wonderful to have talented students, but you can't always assume that they are artists already. Plus, everybody who's playing an audition is usually stiffer than he would be normally. One of the biggest satisfactions for a teacher is teaching someone to relax and let the music flow! This *can* be taught, and learned. So, if the aspirant is a bit stiff in his playing and/or posture, I don't worry too much at the beginning, if the basic music skills are there.

So what are those skills? As I said: Good time, good pitch, good 'natural' disposition for the instrument, knowledge of the circle of fifths, basic three and four note chords in all inversions, major and minor scales in chords, modes... Plus, of course, a basic knowledge of the style they want to become proficient in. BUT if a student is still not so ready to transpose, or to visualize all keys, I couldn't care less; I'm just going to point that to him, and to give him exercises in order to improve.

Many times, a student has told me things like: "I don't care about reading... I just want to play rock'n roll". Or maybe, "I want to play prog rock, and don't want that jazz stuff". I usually try to talk them into trying to have a complete knowledge of music, well of Western music at least... In two or three lessons, they're usually convinced. :)

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I couldn't recommend him for any serious work because, regardless of his passion, he had poor concepts. Passion alone ain't gonna work.

I agree. I suppose there will always be the poor guys who, no matter how they develop their technical skills, no matter how badly they want to be good, still seem to miss the heart of the matter.

 

But I don't think this is a problem of "basics". Maybe more a problem of "excellence".

 

M Peasley

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

I've come across musicians who had bad concepts of what a good sound should be.

I gather having a concept of good sound is on your list of basics. Any references on this subject? In my musical training there was never much discussion of it even though it seemed an important component without which playing the right notes didn't seem to mean much. It was modeled by the instructor, but not really discussed.

 

Also, I think may be it difficult to pin down because a certain sound might be more suited for some musical styles than others. An example, I saw a Pat Metheney/Santana jam that was horrid. Just awful. Now these guys have produced some wonderful music in their own right. Their playing was not the only thing that was mismatched. Their sound and overall style just didn't mesh. They could have been playing identical notes and it still wouldn't have worked.

 

Maybe the trombone player would do quite well in the right context....

 

~Peter Schouten

Pyramid Sound Productions

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I agree personally, but I don't think passion is a requisite for it to be listenable. Muzak is still a thriving company, isn't it? What about Band in a Box?

Define listenable. Listenable as in doesn't hurt your ears? Certainly. Listenable as in it rewards your time and effort, or is it just nicely smooth-sounding and goes through you like a glass of water? Background music has its purpose, and it's well-done from the standpoint of the players and arrangers that make it happen, but it's all surface with no depth. If I'd done tracks for Muzak, I'd be quite proud of it, but I still wouldn't want to actually listen to the stuff. If there's no emotion to it, it seems a waste of time to me. And Band-in-a-Box: I use it every day, but I don't put it on to listen to. It's accidentally listenable, and you could use it as background music, and you could probably even learn licks from the solos it generates. But that doesn't make it good music.

Did you ever see David Cronenberg's "The Fly"? Jeff Goldblum's character had a machine that could transport matter. To celebrate his first successful experiment with it, he invited his girlfriend for a dinner of a steak he'd sent through it. It was inedible. He realized that he'd programmed the machine to send all the chemicals and components that make up a steak, but he hadn't programmed the machine to know what a steak really was: what it should taste like, what really makes it a steak. That's Muzak.

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

What should we (as keyboard players) be expected to have under our belts, so to speak. (Dick Hyman once in this magazine listed 100 tunes that he thought were the basics for a professional keyboard player.)

Well, I think this varies quite widely by style. A have no idea what the basics would be for a classical pianist. Or even a jazz pianist for that matter. Which, clearly, means I am neither of those things. For the styles I'm familiar with -- rock, blues, and R&B -- I would call the following "the basics":

 

Major and minor chords in all keys with all of these variants: 7, maj7, 9, dim, aug, sus. Ability to identify changes in any key by number (e.g., when the bass player holds up two fingers in Ab, you go to a Bb chord). Ability to play songs with standard changes by ear and on the fly. E.g., "This one is a slow blues in A with a quick IV and a V turnaround. uh One, uh Two, uh One Two Three Four...." :D You better not need to ask what any of that means...

 

This one is harder to define -- but knowing how to find your "space" in a tune. With one guitar and bass this is pretty easy. Play whatever you want. But with a couple of guitars, a percussionist and a wind instrument, it can start to get tricky. And sometimes the right answer is to not play very much.

 

And lastly, the hardest to define of all: Groove. You gotta know how to groove. I can't tell you what that means, but I know it when I hear it. ;)

 

--Dave

Make my funk the P-funk.

I wants to get funked up.

 

My Funk/Jam originals project: http://www.thefunkery.com/

 

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Oops . . . I guess I misunderstood "basic" as meaning the first couple years . . .

 

If you're a performing jazz pianist, especially with singers, then I'd agree with Dick Hyman you essentially have to be a human karaoke machine. You need to know the standards and be able to play them in any key. The least difficult way of doing this I think is knowing them all well enough to play by ear without thinking about the key changes. Otherwise it's a lot of practicing in all 12 keys, which you need to do anyway. Also you need to be able to play both solo and ensemble, depending on the gig.

 

But if you're doing original studio stuff, then I suppose you can do anything you want.

 

At last night's gig we had a total of 5 guest singers, one a friend of the regular singer's and 4 from the audience. One of them was an Elvis (one of the best I've heard though). None of them knew what key they wanted to sing in, so every time I had to figure it out on the fly. SO among the tunes: L-O-V-E twice, once in Bb and once in Eb, It Had to Be You in F, New York New York in Eb (that turned out to be a killer, a great singer), Masquerade in Dm. The Elvis just started singing and I had to scramble to find the key . . . he did Are You Lonesome in D, I Can't Help in F, and Jailhouse Rock in D. A 14 year old white girl came up and sang Respect in G, which I think is the original key.

 

A lot of these standards have pretty simple recycled chord changes so it isn't too hard. The chords are less difficult to me than figuring out the melody, which I can hum no problem (I'm not a singer) but I really have to concentrate to find it on the keyboard on the fly in an unfamiliar key. That's usually not an issue though since if it's a weird key there's a singer that brought us there.

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Originally posted by Dave Pierce:

Ability to play songs with standard changes by ear and on the fly. E.g., "This one is a slow blues in A with a quick IV and a V turnaround. uh One, uh Two, uh One Two Three Four...." :D You better not need to ask what any of that means...

I don't understand 'quick IV', I haven't heard that term before, is it well-known? Does that mean that there's a IV chord in bar 2? That is, that the first 4 bars look like this?

 

|I |IV |I |I |

 

And by "V turnaround", do you mean that the the last 4 bars are:

 

|V |IV |I |I |

 

as opposed to this:

 

|II |V |I |I |

 

By the way, what would you call that last example?

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What Dave Pierce posted would once upon a time, in my world, have been considered a "well, duh, of course!" -- along with the equivalents for any other musical tradition. Understanding the fundamentals of the musical structures underpinning the musical tradition, and then the characteristic terminology (aka "jargon") appropriate to that tradition.

 

And then the recommended fingerings (if keyboard -- this is a keyboard forum, right?) for all the scales and runs in that tradition, as well as the alternates that the individual player finds most suitable.

 

Then a fundamental understanding of harmonics, beat frequencies, tunings, dynamics and rhythm, as well as harmony and melody.

 

Those are the starters. Beyond that, the ability to read sheet music (sight reading) and perform directly therefrom is critical as well. I don't care if you never have to do it, you should have it as part of your standard skillset. Being able to write/notate is a huge plus as well. You can then make music with a pencil and a sheet of paper anywhere you are in the world.

 

rt

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Other basics to consider are knowing one's chosen instrument. You would be shocked (or maybe would wouldn't) at how many professional, touring players don't have a clue how their gear works.

 

I've worked with guitar/bass players whose necks weren't set up, drummers who didn't know how to tune heads, keyboard players who turned the power on and never "checked under the hood" to see what else they could get out of their $1500 purchase besides a grand piano.

 

When I learned synthesis it was on a Moog Modular system in a studio that also contained a Minimoog and several Electro-Comp products. By god, we learned synthesis.

 

I studied enough piano tuning to understand actions. I helped install my church's pipe organ and gained a tremendous understanding of that instrument. I now own a Hammond C3 and have done light maintenance--some things I'll leave to the professionals.

 

But I think it's crucial that in addition to knowing the "basics" of music, to be truly rounded, one must know how your freakin instruments works!!!

 

k.

(another ranting curmudgeon)

9 Moog things, 3 Roland things, 2 Hammond things and a computer with stuff on it

 

 

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Originally posted by Guest User:

Originally posted by Dave Pierce:

Ability to play songs with standard changes by ear and on the fly. E.g., "This one is a slow blues in A with a quick IV and a V turnaround. uh One, uh Two, uh One Two Three Four...." :D You better not need to ask what any of that means...

I don't understand 'quick IV', I haven't heard that term before, is it well-known? Does that mean that there's a IV chord in bar 2? That is, that the first 4 bars look like this?

 

|I |IV |I |I |

 

And by "V turnaround", do you mean that the the last 4 bars are:

 

|V |IV |I |I |

 

as opposed to this:

 

|II |V |I |I |

 

By the way, what would you call that last example?

Yes, "quick IV" means the IV chord in the second bar. Is it "well-known"? Hell, I don't know. It is around here. But I'm thinking the Bay Area blues jam scene is a fairly small sample set, and it's the only one I know. In Des Moines they might look at me like I'm stupid.

 

The "V turnaround" in this context just means what you do with beats 3 and 4 of the 12th bar.

 

All of this is in the context of a blues jam, where the changes to a song are communicated very quickly on-stage, with no charts. I don't have a name for the last example you used. If a tune got called with that change and I knew it, I'd probably just tell the bass player to follow me for the changes, then hold up 2 fingers on bar 9, and 5 fingers on bar 10. :D Screw the guitar players, they'll either follow us or look stupid, their call... :eek:;):P

 

I'm in the house band for a blues jam at JJ's, and me and the bass player have an understanding. If anyone calls a tune that we haven't played together recently, we check in with each other by eye contact to see who knows it. If we both know it, then fine, count it off. If he know it but I don't, he holds his neck so I can see the fretboard. If I know it but he doesn't, I signal the changes with my left hand. We even have a one-handed code for the VI and the VII. If neither one of us knows it, we either take a minute to get the changes from someone, or scratch the tune and call another.

 

--Dave

Make my funk the P-funk.

I wants to get funked up.

 

My Funk/Jam originals project: http://www.thefunkery.com/

 

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For me the basics are the ears. Actually the software that exists between the ears and the emotional state of the person. It's the same core software whether a 40 year old picks out the thematic material and developmental tricks in a 4 part fugue ... or a two year old flashes a grin of glee when they hear their first portamento sweep. :thu:

 

At it's core, it's an ability to ascribe meaning to sound. Sure you can layer idiom and interpretation through exposure, but some basic ability to experience music is the starting point ... for me.

 

Best,

 

Jerry

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Originally posted by stoo schultz:

At it's core, it's an ability to ascribe meaning to sound.
Certainly true. And I'd say this ability is universal in human beings. It's part of being human. The ability can be suppressed, but it's always there at some level to be tapped.
Well, Of course some people don't have a musical bone in their body.

 

I notice some people view that music is somehow sacred/ineffable or something you do for fun that shouldn't get bogged down in analiusis. This view could limit one's development. For one thing, having some musical education/literacy makes it easier to communicate with other members of the band you're in. It could also help explain your musical tastes.

 

Maybe most important: If you have no way to think about what you're doing, you're more likely to repeat yourself because you can't see wy or how to do something different.

 

I'd say the basics should include the following: Ability to identify time signatures, note duration, rhythm patterns & styles, tempo concepts (dolce, expressivo, etc), pitch & chromatics (flat, sharps, etc), major & minor keys, dynamics (forte, MF, etc.), expression concepts , articulations (staccato, legato, etc), and concepts of tone and style.

 

~Peter Schouten

Pyramid Sound Productions

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