Sunday, December 28, 2014

There Is No Theory......Only Sound

"Man those cats be playing some THEORY!"
I'm finding that one of the huge challenges for teaching jazz at the higher levels is as follows; how do you teach skills, the history and the rules while also getting students to think for themselves, think outside the box, and be creative? I find that all of us may tend towards one side of the brain or the other. I'm left handed, so they say that I'm most likely more right brained, which is the creative side of the brain. I've always felt that the piano for me was more of a vehicle to find something new rather than try to play all of the existing repertoire. I try to practice classical pieces, but lately, they just make me think about how to let those pieces inspire me to write my own music. Yet I find myself stressing skills to many of my students. I have so many students that need to focus on sound, reading, knowing tunes, jazz vocabulary, rhythm. A lot of these things are pretty concrete. I believe that the skill side is needed as a foundation for creativity. However, I acknowledge that it's possible to get bogged down in the technique and never learn or love to be truly creative.

Music theory is not music. Theory is how we analyze and understand music. How do we get beyond the rules? Sometimes breaking the rules is not only acceptable, it's essential to making good music.
This recent video made me think about this:
Ok, Marta Altesa is cute, let's move on from that. The cool thing about this Jamiroquai song is what? Well, the bass line is killing for sure. The groove is great, it's got a nice melody and a catchy hook. But it occurred to me that the harmonic movements are actually the best part about it for me.
The song starts in D minor and simmers there for a while. Then we jump to Fminor, with one of those sort of reverse progressions you hear in R&B often: F minor, C minor,7 Bb minor7,  Gbmaj7, Fmaj7, Bb minor 7 Eb7, Abmin7, Db7, Gmin 7, F#7( or C7 at the end of the phrase). And then it jumps back to Bb7 to D minor. Later the verse has the progression G-7 to A7 ( altered I think) and then F min7. This really lifts the song for me.

But wait a minute. A7 to F minor7. When was the last time you studied a progression like that in theory class? Usually we spend so much time on ii V I's and their variations. Everything has to be justified as a substitution of something. A7 to F minor 7 is a pretty jagged movement. It's particularly jagged because many of the other chords are rather functional. But for me, it's the best part of the song. It's the hippest part of the whole thing, for me.

So why don't we teach that in theory class? Why don't we start with A7 to F minor?

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