Friday, May 8, 2020

Internalizing Tunes 2.0

While sheltering-in-place during the Covid-19 pandemic, I discovered a very useful process to help with soloing on standard tunes. The following outline need not be applied strictly over and over, but try doing it step-by-step for a song or two and see what seems useful to you.

A - LEARNING THE MELODY
1. Play the melody multiple times. Play it all over the range of your instrument until you are able to change
octaves in the middle of the melody at will.
2. Do the same thing but this time embellish the melody with passing notes and grace notes, and also freely interpret the rhythms so that the melody sounds like you might have just made it up on the spot.
3. Play pieces of the melody and then improvise for a bar or two, back and forth. Ultimately, you should be able to quote the melody at any point in the middle of a solo chorus of the song. For bassists, try playing a walking line that contains a liberal number of melody notes in it.
4. Try singing along with #2 and #3 above and make each succeeding chorus more solo-like than the last one until you are playing a solo that is directly derived from the melody but is not necessarily the melody notes at all.

B - LEARNING THE HARMONY
1. Play pieces of the arpeggios of the chords of the song using the full range of your instrument. No set number
of bars on each chord here­­—just play until you are comfortable with each one.
2. Play the chords in time, with the same number of bars/beats for each chord as indicated in the chart. Try to use chord notes only, as much as you can. For this exercise, play the chord notes with soloistic phrasing, not just running arpeggios. Do this until you have memorized the chord sequence and can play through it without looking at the lead sheet.
3. This time add scalar and chromatic passing notes to connect chord notes (i.e., think of the chord but play anything you hear). Do this until the chord sequence has been internalized and you can sense the next chord before it comes up. This will give your lines a feeling of forward motion because you will be heading for the following chord even as you are playing on the current one.
4. Do #1-3 here but using the appropriate scales that best fit each chord. Mark Levine’s “The Jazz Theory Book” is the standard work on that subject. Make sure you know what scale notes change as you go from chord to chord.

C - USING THE MELODY’S PHRASES TO CREATE YOUR SOLOS
Think of (or sing) the melody’s phrases to yourself while you are soloing, but use any notes, not just the notes of the melody. Thinking in phrases will help you avoid sounding like you are just ‘wiggling your fingers.’
Use either rests or longer-held notes to separate phrases. Of course, if you really hear a line that extends through two phrases, for example, then by all means go ahead and play it.
Here are some suggestions for soloing in phrases.
1. Start on the melody notes at the beginning of each bar, then play whatever you hear after that. This will bring more immediate results than any other approach in this tutorial, so don’t skip it!
2. Start on any chord note at the beginning of each bar, then play whatever you hear on the way to the next down beat. For ballads that often have two chords per bar, also try doing this on two chords per bar, not just the first one.
3. Start each bar on a step-wise (including half-steps) sequence of ‘target’ notes. Work this out in advance if you want or just improvise these as you go.

4. Start each phrase on any note that you hear, but do keep the melody’s phrases in mind as you go through the song. This was the genesis of this tutorial and remains its core exercise, to be done if nothing else.
5. It’s fun to play a string of short phrases that all are variations of each other. By doing this, you might leave the melody’s phrasing for a while but that’s fine as long as you know where you are in the tune.
6. Sing a phrase to yourself and then try to play it on your instrument. Go through the tune this way. This is great ear training and worth the time you spend on it, even if it’s not as much fun as playing your heart out.
7. Play your heart out.

D - INTERNALIZE THE SONG
1. Spend some time consciously integrating the melody and the chords so that you know how the two fit together at every point in the song. Start by seeing what degree of the chord each melody note is. Play embellished
versions of the melody with this in mind.
2. Give yourself different parameters to work within. For example:
- try playing through the song using a minimum number of notes while still maintaining a coherent line through the changes.
- try repeating a rhythmic pattern multiple times before switching to a new one as you go through the song. If any given rhythmic figure presents a technical challenge for you, then try leaving the tune for a bit and taking the rhythmic figure up and down the key of the song until it is smooth and relaxed.
- try feeling the song in 2 (half notes) as opposed to 4. This will change the kind of lines you play - interesting!
  Make up more things like this of your own.
3. Spend some time analyzing the structure of the song. For almost all standards, you can break the song up into four-bar sections­—so treat each one as an independent unit in which you understand the chord movements and can therefore look at it as a single piece of information (e.g. II-V-I-VI). For many songs, it will be more helpful to look at it in two-bar phrases instead of four-bar ones­—do whatever aids you the most in memorizing it.
Importantly, the chords at the beginning of each four-bar or two-bar phrase create their own sequence that is like the signature of that tune, so make sure you have that ingrained in your mind.
4. Feel free to cycle any given number of bars over and over until it is ‘yours.’ Anything from two chords up to eight-bar sections of the tune can be cycled with great benefit to your ability to internalize them.
5. By using these different ways of learning a tune, at the end of this process you should be able to intuitively know where you are in the song without thinking too much about it­—real freedom!
6. Finally, let it be noted that this process is not so much about self-expression as it is expressing the inherent beauty of the song. As the late Lee Konitz once said, “A good solo doesn’t care who played it.” Enjoy!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Stimulus bill money for musicians

Folks - below is a link to the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan program where self-employed people can get up to $10,000 from the last stimulus bill. It takes just a few minutes to fill out (amazing!). First come, first served, so don't delay if you haven't already applied. Here's hoping you are all well, following strict safety guidelines and able to find some silver linings in these  perilous times. Much love - Chuck

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Internalizing Tunes

While ‘sheltering-in-place’ this last week, I discovered a very useful process to help with soloing on standard tunes. The following outline need not be applied strictly over and over, but try doing it step-by-step for a song or two and see what seems useful to you.

LEARNING THE MELODY
1. Play the melody multiple times. Play it all over the range of your instrument until you are able to change octaves in the middle of the melody at will.
2. Do the same thing but this time embellish the melody with passing notes and grace notes, and also freely interpret the rhythms so that the melody sounds like you might have just made it up on the spot.
3. Play pieces of the melody and then improvise for a bar or two, back and forth. Use other chord notes and also passing notes between chord notes in the improvised parts.

LEARNING THE HARMONY
1. Play pieces of the arpeggios of the chords of the song using the full range of your instrument. No set number of bars on each chord here—
just play until you are comfortable with each one.
2. Play the chords in time, with the same number of bars/beats for each chord as indicated in the chart. (It is best to use the accurate charts found in Sher Music Co.’s “New Real Book” series.) Try to use chord notes only, as much as you can. For this exercise, play the chord notes with soloistic phrasing, not just running arpeggios. Do this until you have memorized the chord sequence and can play through it without looking at the lead sheet.
3. This time add scalar and chromatic passing notes to connect chord notes. (i.e., think of the chord but play anything you hear.) Do this until the chord sequence has been internalized and you can sense the next chord before it comes up. This will give your lines a feeling of forward motion because you will be heading for the next chord change, even as you are playing on the current one.

USING THE MELODY’S PHRASES TO CREATE YOUR SOLOS
Think of (or sing) the melody’s phrases to yourself while you are soloing, but use any notes, not just the notes of the melody. Thinking in phrases will help you avoid sounding like you are just ‘wiggling your fingers.’ Use either rests or longer-held notes to separate phrases. Here are some suggestions for how to start each phrase.
1. Start on the melody notes at the beginning of each bar, then play whatever you hear after that.
2. Start on the roots of the chords at the beginning of each bar.
3. Start on any chord note at the beginng of each bar.
4. Start each bar on a step-wise (including half-steps) sequence of ‘target’ notes. Work this out in advance if you want or just improvise these as you go.
5. Start each phrase on any note that you hear, but do keep the melody’s phrases in mind as you go through the song.
6. It’s fun to play a string of short phrases that all are variations of each other. By doing this, you might leave the melody’s phrasing for a while but that’s fine as long as you know where you are in the tune.

INTERNALIZE THE SONG
1. Spend some time analysing the structure of the song. For almost all standards, you can break the song up into four-bar sections---so treat each one as an independent unit in which you understand the chord movements and can therefore look at it as a single piece of information (e.g. II-V-I-VI). The chords at the beginning of each four-bar phrase create a sequence that is like the signature of that tune, so make sure you have that engrained in your mind.
2. By using these different ways of learning a tune, at the end of this process you should be able to intuitively know where you are in the song without thinking too much about it. What this ends up doing is giving you a sense that you can feel the whole tune wrapped around you, so to speak, even as you are playing on a particular part of it. At this point, “The Song is You,” to quote Jerome Kern. Have a ball! - Chuck Sher

Monday, March 16, 2020

Shelter-in-Place

Folks - Much of the SF Bay Area is under a "shelter-in-place" order because of the coronavirus. I send my best wishes out to anyone affected by the pandemic and I hope for a more competent and robust federal response soon, like last week, eh?

Meanwhile, I've been in the woodshed, learning all the standards in The New Real Book, Vol.3, bass clef version, and watching my musicianship grow by leaps and bounds. So dust off your Sher Music books and use this time to get to your next level of musical understanding - have a ball doing it! - Chuck Sher

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A Musical New Year's Resolution

Intention matters­­—what I intend every time I approach my instrument matters. What am I serving, really? If it is “self-expression,” if my intention is to have my emotions expressed through my instrument, what is being served? More and more I see that my emotions are no more interesting or valuable to the outside world than my thoughts. Both are necessary parts of my ‘lower self,’ as the phrase goes, but they are of limited value—even to myself, much less the rest of the world.

So what is worth intending when I sit down to play music? How about expressing the beauty that is already inherent in a given piece of music? How about being a servant of the song, instead of visa versa?

This requires several things, I’ve found. It requires never leaving the pulse as a prime focus. Counting while playing may very well turn out to be essential here, as Peter Erskine says he does in his book, “Time Awareness.” It requires a commitment to be aware of the underlying chord structure of the tune at all times, and to uncover ever-new ways of realizing that structure. It requires being a transmitter of the beauty of the particular song being played, not having the song serve my needs.

The little way I’ve traveled down this path in recent weeks has shown me that, in fact, I can’t help “expressing myself” as I play. The music is coming through me and so what I play, of necessity, will reflect who I am, including my emotional realities. But playing music in order to “express myself” is miles away from intending to serve the music as best I can. And I believe, as it says in the Good Book, that one cannot simultaneously serve two masters.

To me, this is a New Year’s resolution worth sticking to, and I hope it proves to be of some value to you as well. Have a swinging New Year! - Chuck Sher

Thursday, November 7, 2019

November Holiday Overstock sale!

Well, the Holidays are approaching and Sher Music is having a 1/3 off sale on selected books for horn players that we have overstock of. These include some transposed versions of The New Real Books (Vol.1-3), the Standards Real Book and several method books. If you are a horn player, these are the lowest prices we've ever had on these world-class books and they also would make great presents for your horn player friends. The sale last the whole month of November - see https://www.shermusic.com/sale.php for details and have a great Holiday season! -  Chuck Sher & the Sher Music team.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

40th Anniversary sale!

In case you haven't heard, Sher Music turned 40 years old this year and we are having a big sale to celebrate -  50% off on all digital downloads, starting August 15 and running through September 1st. All of our method books are available in digital form and some of our fake books too. Spread the word & thanks for making Sher Music the most widely-respected jazz and Latin music book publisher in the world since 1979! Peace - Chuck Sher

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

New for 2019 Election season - Lester Young for President T-shirt

Being a political junkie, I spend a chunk of every day keeping up on the news of the bizarre situation on our planet here and the attached t-shirt idea came to me.






I gave the idea to my artistically talented daughter, Ani, and we now have t-shirts for sale at www.shermusic.com.

Speaking of crucial decisions, I wrote the following letter to the editor which has now been printed in 23 newspapers, nation-wide. I hope you find it useful &/or enlightening. If so, please pass it on. Peace - Chuck Sher


"What Will Our Children Say?" 

The last year or two has seen an unusual number of U.S. natural disasters: major hurricanes, massive Midwest floods, way too many deadly tornadoes, severe wildfires, subzero cold spells, some of the hottest years on record, etc. The rest of the world has likewise suffered increasing droughts, desertification, melting glaciers, typhoons, flooding, heat waves, etc.

These phenomena are not unrelated. The vast majority of climate scientists say they are the beginning effects of 'climate disruption' that will, without question, get significantly worse in the foreseeable future. For the next 11 years, according to the latest reports from scientists at both the UN and the US government, we have the chance to ensure that the worst case scenarios do not come to pass, by de-carbonizing our economies. (For more information, see David Wallace-Wells on YouTube.)

Each additional degree of global warming will make the extreme weather we've already seen many, many times worse for future generations (as well as creating untold millions of climate refugees). But it can be turned around, and must be, starting now.  This is no joke, no hoax, but rather a deadly serious, long-term, life-threatening emergency.

Instead of denial, we need to ask ourselves one serious question: What will our children and grandchildren say about us 30 or 50 years from now? Will they curse us for willfully ignoring the clear signs of the impending destruction of a reasonably livable planet for them? This question requires our active attention.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Chuck Sher's end-of-the-year jazz radio show

For over a decade now I have been presenting high-quality recorded jazz on our local public radio station, KRCB-FM, generally the first Saturday of each month.

Coming up this Saturday, December 1st, from 7 pm to 11 pm, Pacific time, I'll be playing the best tracks of 2018 (or at least new to me this year). To listen in, just go to radio.krcb.org. Enjoy! - Chuck

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

New book from Randy Vincent!

I think it is safe to say that Randy Vincent has become the world's foremost authority on learning to play jazz guitar. With his latest release, "The Guitarist's Introduction to Jazz," he has created a reference book that someone who plays guitar but wants to learn jazz will find most useful. His book's webpage gives all the particulars but here I would just like to say that Randy is a unique kind of genius, if I may use that sometimes abused term. Randy is a practicing fool and his personal submersion in mastering the craft of jazz guitar makes him a pleasure to play music with (which I have had the honor of doing for many years now) and also an invaluable member of the jazz guitar community, via the medium of his method books and his personal one-on-one teaching. Out just in time for Christmas or Chanukkah presents this year, it will be of great use to guitar teachers as well as individuals for self-study. Many thanks to one of the great musical minds of our time, Randy Vincent, for giving us the honor of publishing his books!