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Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Developing a rhythmic concept II

This week we are going to continue with some examples of how to use our polyrhythmic groupings.  For this exercise I've changed the harmonic/melodic colour to the Lydian mode. Although the result might sound a little "new age-y" you might use it to begin to see the possibilities of applying a rhythmic concept to any chord/scale.  Next post we'll take a look at how one of my favourite jazz pianists, Herbie Hancock, uses polyrhythmic groupings in his solos.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Developing a rhythmic concept

Happy new year! To everyone who, like me, is wondering where the time went from last year allow me to introduce an new topic on time...

When I talk about a rhythmic concept in our playing I'm referring to a way of approaching and thinking about improvisation that puts rhythm as the chief organizational concept. Music of course has to have rhythm as well as melody and harmony (or does it?) at least the kind of soloing that I'll be referring to in the next few posts. What I'll be illustrating is the way in which I've been able to relate some of the rhythmic exercises I developed in the "Think like a drummer" posts to my instrument, the piano. I've attempted to make a few of the exercises playable by both pianists and non pianists alike. Because of the way in which playing the piano co-ordinates two hands it's useful for all instrumentalists to work on these exercises as a way of internalizing the concepts. Later I'll analyze a solo by Herbie Hancock to demonstrate how a true master uses them.

For the first exercise I've taken the octatonic scale and divided it equally between the two hands. Once you've finished learning these make sure you try switching hands. Alway put the metronome on and keep tapping your foot in eighth notes.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Danilo Perez Transcription: Overjoyed

This week we had the pleasure of hosting some great workshops and concerts with the wonderful Danilo Perez. Perez's energy, positivity, and musicianship was all very inspiring for both the faculty and the students at McGill and I'm sure we'll be discussing our experience with him in the weeks to come.

I first heard Danilo on records back in the '90's playing trio with John Patitucci and Roy Haynes. Among many of his earlier mentoring experiences was his tenure in Haynes trio where he began to establish his reputation in the global jazz scene. I was always struck by the combination of elements and styles present in Perez's playing. Even today at times one hears a strong influence from Herbie Hancock coloured with the Latin Amercian rhythms he no doubt absorbed from his upbringing in Panama. However to name drop Hancock's influence on him doesn't adequately describe his overall musical presence in any of the ensembles he performs in. When I've had the pleasure of witnessing a concert by the Wayne Shorter quartet I've been deeply impressed by his spirit of commitment to the music being created in the moment. His musical personality is obviously one that puts emotional communication ahead of stylistic or even pianistic concerns. It's almost as if he's trying to get away from sounding like a pianist, something one might even say about Shorter's playing as a saxophonist.

One record of Danilo's that I find particularly beautiful I think in large part due to what seems to be his love of songs regardless of the style in which they are composed is a Verve release from 10 years ago entitled "...till then". The record features music by Joni Mitchel as well as the song "Overjoyed" by Stevie Wonder. Hear a preview of the cd here

Please let me know if you agree with my chord symbols….

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Strengthening your inner pulse: Think like a drummer part IV

This will be the last instalment in this series. For more ideas and exercises please check out the fantastic book by drummer Pete Magadini called Polyrhythms for musicians. The following study should be as always performed with the metronome and keep your foot tapping!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Strengthening your inner pulse: Think like a drummer part III

If you've become as excited as I have about subdivisions then feast your eye
s on this! But seriously aren't you turning into the best lap drummer you know? Enjoy….

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Strengthening Your Inner Pulse: Think like a drummer part II

When I listen to the drummers in Montreal that I have the great pleasure of regularly performing with I am constantly amazed at how effortlessly they can play ideas using different rhythmic subdivisions simultaneously throughout the kit. For example, he might comp phrases on the snare drum that have a quarter note triplet subdivision against a ride cymbal pattern that has 4/4 feel. A drummer can also hint at another "feel" while simultaneously playing another feel. As far as playing concepts and ideas on the kit, the drummers I've spoken with have told me they spend a lot of time dealing with subdivisions which is the beginning of how they build complexity on their instrument that doesn't sound random but relates back to something fundamental like the basic swing feel.

In the three against two exercise for this week we now subdivide the quarter-note triplet in 3 creating a new grouping of 9 against 2 (or 4 if you're tapping eighth notes with your foot). Once you get this going notice how it creates the sensation of 2 simultaneously occurring "feels" in your body. Your inner pulse must deal with both subdivisions of the beat. You might start by mathematically placing the second quarter note of the bar between the 5th and 6th triplet triplet subdivision. However after a while you'll want to achieve a flow with both your feet and your hands and should try to hear them as two simultaneous and related rhythms. Take note how the odd number of notes in a bar creates a 2-bar phrase between your right and left hands.

Try and compose lines on your instrument with these rhythmic groupings and see how that changes your soloing. Have fun!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Strengthening Your Inner Pulse: Think Like a Drummer

Put down and step away from your instruments....What does it mean to have an inner pulse? Often, it is said that since we all have a heart that beats then we all have an inner pulse. While this is true on a physiological level I've notice that improvising jazz musicians grapple with a sense of pulse in their playing. That is to say that we are deeply concerned not just with the notes we play or their rhythmic subdivisions but the phrasing and feel of what we are playing and how it relates to what other musicians are playing too. Also how much of a presence does our playing have? Do we have a big robust and confident voice when we solo? Or do our solos sometimes sound thin and weak? Are we really expressing our ideas and having an impact on an audience?

I've always been jealous of drummers for playing an instrument that forces them as musician to work directly with an inner pulse. Since the drums are the least forgiving to those who play with a weak sense of time and rhythm, drummers must work really hard to play with a good time feel. I've noticed that the conviction and rhythmic clarity with which drummers play almost always connects well with the audience.  It almost begs the question: Why do us non drummers approach practicing our instruments in different ways rhythmically? Does having a heart beat mean that inner pulse will take care of itself in my playing?

What it would be like to play the piano but think like a drummer? I developed the following exercises for my piano students to work on away from their instrument. I think these exercises would equally apply for any instrumentalist who wonders what it would feel like to think like a drummer. Many of my students tell me that practicing like this lets them concentrate in a different way. It helps them to eliminate all of the built up "piano" stuff that their fingers naturally go to when they practice. When returning to the piano after practicing these exercises one also hears what one is playing from a fresh rhythmic perspective. I should also mention that these were largely inspired by adapting material from a great book on rhythm by the west coast drummer Pete Magadini entitled: Polyrhythms, the musician's guide.

The firs exercise below is preparatory for harder stuff to come. For now concentrate on the feeling of your limbs working together to create a relaxed and swinging time feel. Have fun!