#1
Hey everyone.

So i just have a question, or rather, a topic for discussion. I want to see what all of have to say about this.

So i'm currently in school for jazz, and during my time here there is something i have gotten really confused by, or rather, i don't understand why the change was made, since in my opinion (doesn't mean much) the old system was more beneficial for players.

The thing i'm talking about is the change from learning music (in this context, jazz) in an aural fashion to go into a theoretical approach. You listen to and read all the interviews of the old masters of this music and hear that they all spent time learning from the records, using the aural tradition to pick up everything they needed to know (Knowledge of harmony, melody and rhythm. Swing feel, articulation, tone etc etc) and then combined the knowledge of the musicians they loved to forge their own sound. If they didn't know a tune they would listen to a recording of one of their favorite players playing that tune and learn it that way, same with improvisation and developing the ear.

Nowadays it seems (from the majority of players i've played with and many of the teachers) that the music has become math. "Learn the tune from the real book", "Learn to play through it using chord tones/Drop 2 voicings/Bebop scales". That the theoretical concepts come first when people don't even know what it sounds like. You have people playing songs from a book, songs they have never even heard.

I can only state my opinion on the matter, but i believe (and might very well be wrong) that this is a counter-intuitive approach to learning. You are learning theory in order to learn music, instead of learning music in order to learn music and then using theory as a tool to understand it.

This is not even a post bashing theory! I love theory, i analyze every tune i learn, but i learn it by ear first and learn the melodies, solos, comping and then see how it works and then i might conceptualize it in order to internalize it further. But the sound is in my head first.

Just wanted to do a little discussion (and as it seems, a little rant) around this topic. What do you guys think? Have you also noticed the shift from the "old way" of learning music by learning tunes (regardless of style or genre) for a more theory-first based approach?

Sincerely, MrDjango.
#2
It's just how they've come to quantify music degrees; to produce numerical results on graduates and to the standardize the things being taught. It's far easier to teach the mathematics than the soul, I guess. It's not too dissimilar from martial arts, you can advance in grades and belts but are you really appreciating the full extent of everything?

It's similar to the state of science education too. Gotta pass that exam first and foremost, actually comprehending why it's working/not working is a whole other kettle of fish. And that's not on the exam, so stop asking it about; at least that's the attitude at the minute.

When it comes to creative vocations I think that whilst theory is all well and good - and it can help with expression - it's ultimately just a tool set, a loose guide to help you through. I don't think that's appreciated or accepted enough.
You Dont Know Me

I have 10 Anarchy Points - I also have 8 Mythology points!

Peavey Generation EXP Custom White
Yamaha 120S Black
Korg AX5G
Digitech Whammy
Zvex Fuzz Factory
Boss OS2

Quote by mrfinkle213
This man has brains.

Quote by CoreysMonster
Banned for indirect reference.
#3
This in particular is one of the subjects I tend to rant about when theory, solfege and other such matters come up. After closing on two decades of teaching guitar, I've found that while different methods apply to different students (which depend largely on their own goals and motivations, both of which are generally more important than a teacher's own methods and beliefs because they are what actually keeps a student going or not), the results from aural studies are very similar from student to student.

I tend to explain it most commonly as follows. Every sound and note you hear, is not the same as those I hear, regardless of context being the same or not. The experience is different, and deeply personal, it cannot be taught, you can only make present easier/more learning experiences to a student as a teacher. This results in certain sounds being known instinctively, rather than needing to be calculated. For me, these are certain scales, licks, chords and progressions. The ones I grew up with, and some that got added subconsciously later. It's why I've developed my own methods for teaching solfege, scales and harmony, rather than the ones that are generally written down. Because I prefer my students to KNOW what they hear, instinctively, rather than having to calculate their way through it. You don't need to calculate the intonation and colouring of the voices of your parents either, to discern whether you've got your mother on the phone, or your father.

Simply put, I find it's very much similar to the old discussion of "Do you see the same colour as I?" And when it comes to music, I am of the firm belief that no, you don't. I don't think any one of us does, and I extend that idea to music and teaching as well. If the note C is yellow to you, and the note D is Blue. I can tell you all I want that the Db is green, but that won't let a students see that green. A teacher's jabberings won't let their students experience that actual sound, thus they don't make their own connection with it and won't instinctively know what it is they're hearing nor learn how to do so. It is not unlike trying to tell a blind person what a colour is, except that in this case you can grant students experiences that gradually let them see what they're experiencing.

That doesn't mean a student can't achieve it on his own over time, but I do commonly find that achieving this instinctive awareness of music is more easy to attain when one is not 'tainted' by the virus that is trying to define an experience that our body already has a definition for. Our western cultures particularly are very visually oriented, and that tends to result in us completely ignoring what we're actually experiencing. We often try to define matters in a way that distracts from the actual experience that we tend to ignore it, a unified code helps transferring information, but not necessarily understanding it on a level that actually matters. Someone with two proper legs has a sense of rhythm simply through being able to walk, someone that can differ between their parents voices has good ears on a level way beyond the mere 12 notes we use. Our way of teaching just very often distracts us from it to the extent that we sometimes even forget how to listen to the one thing that already understands all these signals. Our body.

However, all this is a very opinionated load of horse. Because in the end, to me as a teacher, the only thing that is important is what works. If a student needs to calculate their way through it (very common for adults for example), and prefers a clear view of the scale and possibilities, then I adjust my teachings accordingly. Because I find the joy of a student in their own learning and musicianship more important than my own beliefs. The only goals I have is that I give the joy I've gotten from music to someone else, and every note I can give to another is a part of myself that will not die when I do.

And no, I'm not a hippy.
Wise Man Says: The guitar is obviously female, she's got hips, breasts... and a hole.
UG's Flamenco Club
#4
I remember reading about Miles Davies, John Coltrane or Charlie Parker (I don't remember exactly which one) that he was surprised that his fellow jazzmen didn't study music sheets. He was saying something like "you can just go to library and borrow some sheets, there's so much to learn from it and they just ignore it".

So yeah, theory is important too. Of course you can become good player without (almost) any knowledge of theory, but why would you want to kick the open doors? Learn as much theory as you can, just remember that theory is just a mere guide, not a set of rules you must follow everytime. Break them. Breaking the rules taste better when you know you're breaking them.

You have people playing songs from a book, songs they have never even heard.

That's how people played for hundreds of years before someone invented sound recording.
#5
I'm not a jazz musician but a to-be theory teacher.

Learning from records should of course not be ignored but neither should learning with the help of theory/sheet music. I'm sure the combination of both is the best way. I mean, people in the past that didn't have formal training had to learn everything the difficult way. They had to figure out everything on their own. In the end that may give better results because that way you never learn anything that you don't actually understand (I mean, you don't learn explanations before sounds). But that kind of approach requires so much more time and effort.

The whole point of music education is that you have somebody to help you, so that you don't need to make all the same mistakes your teacher had to make to figure everything out. Yes, you learn from your mistakes, and I guess if you have time, this kind of approach may give better results - you figure out everything your own way and because of that you may become more original. But again, it takes a lot more time and it only works for people that really want to put all the time and effort into it.


Also, nothing wrong with sight reading. As GameSkate said, that's the way people used to learn music before recordings were invented (well, of course they also learned by mimicking). Obviously you also want to use your ears but sight reading is a valuable skill to have. Actually, good sight readers do hear the music in their head before they play it. They can do that just by looking at the sheet music. Of course in jazz people interpret the songs so differently that it is also valuable to hear how other people approach the song and not just start sight reading the music. But again, why would you completely ignore sheet music if you have trouble with figuring it out by ear? Music doesn't need to be 100% aural - it can also be visual. And sometimes seeing the visual representation helps you with understanding the song. Also, in many recordings of jazz standards the melody is kind of "buried" in all the improvisation, and looking at the sheet music may make you understand where it all comes from a lot better. You can see the original melody and you hear how the musicians embellish it and create variations of it.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#6
MrDjango learning by ear is BY FAR the best approach - if you are interested in improvising and composing music. Reading and writing music has it's place , especially if the goal is hyper-complicated music. However, i strongly feel that the best musicians have the ears and you develop that primarily by listening , not by reading tab or even notation. Notation to me is like a paint by numbers representation of music, there is so little information in there compared to what is being played sonically. Fake books are there to save time, but if I'm at gig and the band is using them, chances are the gig is mediocre at best - to really know a tune you can't be staring at a page.
#7
Another point that is often lost on jazz players because of their fixation on chord progressions and formulas and fakebooks - most of those standards were actual songs with lyrics and a sung melody. It's not just a series of notes over chords - there's a larger context there that is lost unless you go to the source material and listen to the older recorded versions with a singer.
Last edited by reverb66 at Jul 29, 2016,
#8
I see your guys point, i think i might have articulated myself a bit wrong though. As said, i am not against theory, and i use theory daily. My problem is with the fact that many people seem to go the theory route to playing music without studying the music. For example, people get told that "x scale" works over "y chord", but just because you know the notes of a scale doesn't mean you know how to use it. The scale is just a collection of pitches, and you could probably use all 12 notes over that chord depending on how you went about navigating that harmony. It seems to me that the emphasis has become on the theoretical aspect of the music instead of the musical side of it. Just because you can play a half-whole diminished scale over a dominant 7th chord doesn't mean you should, or that you can come up with any good music with it. My position is rather that i would hear a cool sound on a record, learn it by ear, and then analyze it and see "oh, that is the diminished scale. Cool, now i know how it is applied tastefully in context".

My comment regarding people playing songs from a book was also not a comment against sheet music or reading music, but rather a comment against people dumbing down music (such as jazz standards) to a simple chart. People don't know if they are playing a ballad, how to develop the theme, know the common variations of the tune or know where other melodic lines often featured in the tune occurs. It is like telling someone to play smoke on the water and giving them a songbook with melody written out in notation and the chords above. If they haven't heard the song before they would not be able to perform it well (they wouldn't know the riffs, harmonies, breaks etc).

Reverb66, i agree with you 100%. I also think it's abit sad that these beautiful tunes have just become vehicles for improvisation without given proper care to the lyrical message and the tune as a whole.
#9
Quote by MrDjango
Hey everyone.

So i just have a question, or rather, a topic for discussion. I want to see what all of have to say about this.

So i'm currently in school for jazz, and during my time here there is something i have gotten really confused by, or rather, i don't understand why the change was made, since in my opinion (doesn't mean much) the old system was more beneficial for players.

The thing i'm talking about is the change from learning music (in this context, jazz) in an aural fashion to go into a theoretical approach. You listen to and read all the interviews of the old masters of this music and hear that they all spent time learning from the records, using the aural tradition to pick up everything they needed to know (Knowledge of harmony, melody and rhythm. Swing feel, articulation, tone etc etc) and then combined the knowledge of the musicians they loved to forge their own sound. If they didn't know a tune they would listen to a recording of one of their favorite players playing that tune and learn it that way, same with improvisation and developing the ear.

Nowadays it seems (from the majority of players i've played with and many of the teachers) that the music has become math. "Learn the tune from the real book", "Learn to play through it using chord tones/Drop 2 voicings/Bebop scales". That the theoretical concepts come first when people don't even know what it sounds like. You have people playing songs from a book, songs they have never even heard.

I can only state my opinion on the matter, but i believe (and might very well be wrong) that this is a counter-intuitive approach to learning. You are learning theory in order to learn music, instead of learning music in order to learn music and then using theory as a tool to understand it.

This is not even a post bashing theory! I love theory, i analyze every tune i learn, but i learn it by ear first and learn the melodies, solos, comping and then see how it works and then i might conceptualize it in order to internalize it further. But the sound is in my head first.

Just wanted to do a little discussion (and as it seems, a little rant) around this topic. What do you guys think? Have you also noticed the shift from the "old way" of learning music by learning tunes (regardless of style or genre) for a more theory-first based approach?

Sincerely, MrDjango.
Couldn't agree more, with everything.

As Hal Galper puts it, sardonically, on the topic of jazz education (teaching theory in particular): "we're in business here". Jazz teaching (especially in colleges) is a way to make money, primarily. Academic pedagogy is naturally biased towards stuff that can be written down, made into formulas, taught in bite-size chunks in classrooms with desks and blackboards (or whiteboards).

It's not just the bias away from "listening and copying" (the age-old tried-and-tested method of learning music throughout history in all cultures), but towards certain aspects of music and not others: in particular towards harmony and away from rhythm, accent and expression.
Individual jazz teachers, of course, tend to try their hardest to focus on listening and ear training, on the jazz "attitude", but it's easy to fall back on formulas such as the notorious chord-scale theory - and students themselves are often attracted to formulas too, eager for methods and shortcuts: learning principles and then how to apply them, which is really the wrong way round. (The right way is to work from the music, and listen for the patterns contained in it: working from the music to the theory; and even then only as far as necessary in order to comprehend the music.)
The music sounds complicated, after all, so it's natural to seek some kind of theories first, some kind of map to follow. But it's too tempting to continue following that path (into book-learning), especially because there is an intellectual attraction to jazz theory: it feels clever, and we can congratulate ourselves on understanding it at each stage. But it rarely feeds back productively into the music - unless we continue diligently with the listening and copying, to make the connections. Even then, though, you can still get the syndrome Joe Henderson referred to, when talking about jazz graduates, of playing solos that "sound like the index of a book" - they're playing the right scales on the right chords, but not actually making music.

Here's our Hal getting it off his chest about (1) chord-scale theory and (2) rhythm. Enjoy:

soundbite: "let the melody be your guide - embellish the melody"

soundbite: "it's time to stop counting"
Last edited by jongtr at Jul 30, 2016,
#10
I don't think there is the one right approach. I 100% agree that if you don't listen to music, and don't listen to how musical concepts are applied, then that's a big mistake, verging on arrogance that nothing worhwhile can be picked up from the greats of the past or current.

I also think it very much depends on what is being studied, and where the student is in that path ... and a knowledge of theory can help the student work out much quicker from the record as to what's happening. I don't believe that exposing a student to close voicings packed wuth extensions, and then expecting them to get it by ear, is a good thing until the ear has developed enough. If anything that can cause really mixed emotions.

I think the student can learn the fastest when the senses of vision, hearing and touch are all brought into play. I don't think that music notation is necessary at the start of the journey, nor for some way in. It's a huge diversion at the point when the most motivation is needed. We don't teach babies and young children to read before they can see, hear, touch ... yet this is precisely what is the norm for standard teaching methods. Don't forget there are huge numbers of players that just want some fun and socilaising and jamming ... without wanting to be the consumate musician. Why should they be penalised?

And I totally agree that beyond all else, it's all about bringing joy to the student ... all about motivating and coaching the student, based on their needs (with guidance on expectations, and choice of path). For me, I really hate high-brow presentation of music theory ... like a musical passage of rights that the student must endure ... these days, with technology and imagination ... it is much much easier to transfer knowledge, and get everyone some level of understanding that can be directly applied.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Jul 30, 2016,