#1
Hi, 

I've been kicking around a lesson idea since yesterday, and I'm not quite sure how to articulate it yet. So allow me to ramble a little bit, and by the end I might have developed a coherent thought.     

Most styles of popular music are organized in groups of four (i.e. 4 beats in a measure, 4 bar phrases, 4 repeats of a passage, etc.) Over time experienced musicians train themselves to "feel," or know intuitively when four of something has gone by and where they are at any given time. They do this without explicitly counting "1-2-3-4." With that out of the way we can concentrate on more creative things, the quality of our playing and so forth. Make sense? 

So, with experience and knowledge of song forms, etc. we develop this intuition. Now, the faculties that would have been spent counting and keeping our place in the form can be allocated to phrasing, dynamics, tone production, catching panties thrown from the audience, etc.   

I like Hal Galper's analogy, something like: When you're watching the news, there's an anchor talking, and there's a crawl at the bottom of the screen displaying other news stories, or a stock ticker or whatever. You can either listen to what the anchor is talking about, or you can read the crawl. But, your brain won't let you do both. You can only either listen or read.  

He was encouraging students to memorize their repertoire rather than trying to read music during a performance, but I think it applies here too. If I'm busy counting my part, I'm not able to really listen to what I'm doing, am I?  

So, I guess I'm looking for ideas, actionable tips and practice techniques to help teach and develop this for beginning and intermediate players. Are there any good resources on this? 

I'm not necessary looking for a silver bullet that makes people get this after a single 30 minute lesson. (I don't think it exists, but if you have that bullet, please share!) My thinking is: if people can work to this end in a deliberate way over time and know why they're doing it, they'll be better off sooner, rather than having to figure this out on their own years from now. That's why they hired a teacher in the first place, right? 
 
Anyway, thoughts? 
#2
I agree. I "feel" the form lengths and always know "where I am" in say a 16 measure solo, never counting anything. If does leave free resources for the application of musical judgement and expression.

I think feeling the form comes hand in hand with playing by ear... which is a different kind of memorization than that of people who learn by the score and then memorize it.

The "silver bullet" may be requesting your students learn a piece by ear with no score, just a recording.
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#3
In my opinion, the silver bullet here is simply experience. Like if you know how to ride a bike, you can ride a bike without thinking about the process at all right? The same applies here to an extent, but instead of navigating a road or a forest or whatever terrain on a bike, you need to navigate different time signatures and song structures. So instead of paying attention to your surroundings and environment on the bike, you need to listen and feel the song you're playing. The process of staying in time and keeping the beat of the song is automatic, but you still need to react to different time signatures, tempo changes and song structures.

I agree with Paul here, what I'd suggest is learning music by ear. You need to have to ability to listen to a song and recognize it's "pulse" giving you the ability to stay in time, the rest comes automatically with experience. Simply dividing with 4 isn't always enough, since there are other time signatures out there, and so you need to have the skill to recognize when a bar starts and when it ends simply by ear, and the skill to spot when the rhythmic structure of the song changes by ear. And the best way to do this is to learn music by ear, and playing with other people, it's not really something that can be understood through tab only or something.

All of this being said, I've never even heard of a decent musician who does still count the beats in his/her head while playing. The innate ability to feel and keep time is wired to every human since birth imo, and it doesn't take any kind of special training to dig it out. It's a very basic skill that will without a doubt develop in anyone who's serious about learning music. But of course you can speed the process up, and it might be harder for some people, hence the first two paragraphs here.
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#4
I agree there is no silver bullet - no trick or shortcut.  You just have to keep doing it.  The more music you play that is in that kind of regular form, the more you get a feel for it. 

I guess one approach you could get students to develop consciously is to think in pairs, across different time scales.  
Just as strumming is a matter of down (on beats) and up (between beats), so beats themselves are down (1, 3) and up (2, 4) - like a left-right "walking" or "marching" alternation.  
4/4 bars also divide in half, beats 1-2 and beats 3-4.
Then the bars themselves fall into pairs (bar 1 pairs with bar 2, bar 3 with bar 4), and from this point you can start thinking "call and response", or "question and answer",  That also applies to pairs of bars (bars 1-2 answered by bars 3-4), lines (one 4-bar line answering another), and even repeated 8-bar sections (theme and development maybe).

IOW, everything about musical form is duple: on/off, up/down, in/out, this/that, etc.  Repetition at each stage, with very slight variation. (And of course composers often subvert that for surprise effects.)

This kind of thinking is how I manage to negotiate tunes like "So What" (24 bars on one chord), by feeling it as four groups of 8 bars.

Certainly you have to try to stop counting.  When I'm teaching now, if I try to count what I'm playing (to help demonstrate a rhythm or whatever), it screws up the playing.  Verbally counting employs a different part of the brain, and gets in the way of how musical time feels. 
Last edited by jonriley64 at Oct 7, 2017,
#6
Counting is the foundation. Unless you're moored to a bunch of cues within a song, a sense of location within the form is a matter of practice.

And cues are hard to get past. If you want to see how tethered someone is to cues, have them listen to classical music with the score or a bebop backing track without the melody and see how long it takes to lose track of "the fours". For people who aren't used to those musical idioms, the lack of metronomic drumming exposes deep discomfort with keeping rhythm internally and independently.

So I think you do have to start with counting in order to develop an intuition for form, because counting is what reveals the form. 
Last edited by cdgraves at Oct 7, 2017,
#7
Quote by NeoMvsEu
24 bars on four groups of 8 bars?

 OK...  let me spell it out... (I'm sure you know what I mean, but in case someone else is confused...)

So What is 32 bars = 4 x 8.

It's an AABA structure.  The A sections are all the same chord (mode). So when one chorus follows another, you get 24 bars on one chord: AABA-AABA.  Three A sections in a row.
It's important to keep track of that transition from one chorus to the next, if only because you need to know when the next B is turning up.
Last edited by jonriley64 at Oct 8, 2017,
#8
Quote by cdgraves
Counting is the foundation. 

Yes, you need to count to begin with.  But you have to internalise the form in the end, and then you can stop counting.
#10
Quote by NeoMvsEu
jonriley64

I wouldn't count it as 24, but rather 8+16. Subtle but important difference.

Of course, that's my point (which seems tp have been missed by two people, so my bad .)  

It's a fact that there are 24 bars all on the same chord/mode, but that's the problem to be solved.  I certainly would not count it as 24!    
But then I wouldn't count it as 8+16 either.  I'd feel it as 8+16.  Definitely trying to hear that first 8 as the end of the sequence, and the 16 (8+8) as the first half of the next.  

Even the first time I played the tune, I don't think I counted bars one by one.  I heard the melody as four broadly similar phrases, falling into two pairs of two, the variations marking the 8 bar form (the 4th phrase being the most different).  Then the same thing again, then the same thing up a semitone, and again back down a semitone.  Everything in 2s and 4s, IOW, symmetry and mirror-imaging, as it were - call and response, essentially.  
That's feeling, not counting. (Unless you see that as counting four 8's.)
Last edited by jonriley64 at Oct 10, 2017,
#11
jonriley64, I'd rather write to be accessible with or without the music in front of me, visually and/or aurally

Counting and feeling are distinct but related concepts, and I wouldn't put one where the other should be.
#12
Quote by NeoMvsEu
jonriley64, I'd rather write to be accessible with or without the music in front of me, visually and/or aurally

Counting and feeling are distinct but related concepts, and I wouldn't put one where the other should be.

I don't understand your first sentence, but agree with the second.
#13
jonriley64

I'd rather make the explanation clear from the get-go (if possible) so as to not require listening to the track to understand where you're coming from (but leave listening as an option); explaining AABA | AABA and the continuation of A chords from one part of the 32-bar form to the next could help in the initial explanation
#14
Quote by NeoMvsEu
jonriley64

I'd rather make the explanation clear from the get-go (if possible) so as to not require listening to the track to understand where you're coming from (but leave listening as an option); explaining AABA | AABA and the continuation of A chords from one part of the 32-bar form to the next could help in the initial explanation

OK, my apologies.  I was assuming readers would be familiar with So What, but I should of course have described the 32-bar form before talking about "24 bars on one chord".  I can see that was misleading.
#15
Quote by jonriley64
OK, my apologies.  I was assuming readers would be familiar with So What, but I should of course have described the 32-bar form before talking about "24 bars on one chord".  I can see that was misleading.


"NANANA NA NA NA NA , I wanna start a fight"

"So what" by Pink. Where's the 24 bars on one chord?
#16
The form of a song allows everyone to play together; everyone needs to be clear on the form.

A good drummer uses different sounds from the kit to signal the changes in the form. The bass player may also signal changes in the form. For example, using "So What?" (Miles)... the form is AABA AABA...

A good drummer with use sounds that particularly indicate(*) the inter-form repetition (AABA*AABA), intra-form changes (AA*B*A), and intra-form repetition (A*ABA) in distinctive, intuitive, and meaningful ways... if you have played with a good drummer you will likely recall that he does not let others lose the form, he acoustically escorts the others through the form. If you think about it, the band member that most closely serves as the "conductor" of the band is the drummer, because he owns the form.

For the first AA, the leading A in Miles' recording is featuring the bass line riff and the horns' "Daaaah Dah" response is soft, but in the subsequent A the response is louder... one might think that the first soft "A" was intended as an intro without knowing the form. For the second AABA the bass departs from the riff line and goes walking, and the horn goes soloing.

The cues for changes through the forms of songs become natural signals among the musicians which help confirm their "feeling of place in the form" at just the right times... typically about the 3 1/16 beat of the measure preceding the change/repetition. 
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