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Help Make Sense Of What I'm Learning!

1944 Views 9 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  NU2SAX
I need some help. I've got my scales down pretty well, and am learning some of the ii-V-i chord progressions. But I'm wondering if there is a logical, or typical order in which to learn chords. I like to understand the underlying structure of things when I learn them, and just practicing and memorizing these chord progressions, while I'm certainly learning something new, seems out of context if you know what I mean. I don't "get" the bigger picture in the scheme of music theory. Just trying to plug in some arpeggios or chord progressions while improvising to play-along CDs doesn't seem to really do anything for me. Any suggestions on how/what to practice in a way that makes some sense and translates into application to songs and improv.

I've got a lot of books, including Mark Levine's book, but some of that stuff is still a bot over my head. What I'm looking for is to get to a point where a that book and others are not over my head.

Any help is welcome.
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I would say the best thing to do is to internalize the sound/feel of the harmonic movement in one key really well before moving on. Take a simple standard and learn to play the arpeggiated chords really well before moving on. Until you develop your ear and have that working for you it is my belief that you only do yourself a disservice by trying to learn too much theory.

A friend of mine passed on a comment recently that someone he knew got in a collage jazz studies program. The instructor said something to the effect that if you learn your theory well enough it doesn't matter what you can hear or can't hear. I though that was one of the most lame and pathetic things I had ever heard. It was idiomatic of everything wrong with a certain type of academic approach to music. Who the hell wants to listen to an improvisor with an underdeveloped ear and a head full of theory?
I will start off by saying, music was meant to be melodic, and not a bunch of arpeggios. That is not to say that you shouldn't study chords, and arpeggios, because they are used a lot more than you think. One of the top off my head is the second part of the head to "Groovin' High" (a G minor 7 arpeggio, real simple). On another note, there is a thread stickied in the "Jazz and Improvisation" section, which is a letter from someone, but it does contain a lot of key notes about improv, and not just to the part of arp's.

At the moment, I'm assuming you have the ii-V-i Aebersold? You should go through one of the songs and see what notes fit over the song, then go deeper and see what notes fit over each chords. This will take much time, but it help a very much (IMO).

Unfortunately, there is a lot more to be said about improv, but I've got little time at the moment.
Of course music is meant to be more then a bunch of arpeggios, that should be obvious. But you need a starting point and it is best to go deep and really cover some ground effectively rather then jumping around and skimming over a bunch of material at this point. One tune, one key for now will offer a good basis. If you can't spell every chord in the tune you really haven't learned it, thats a starting point.
I understand what you both are saying - I don't want to JUST learn theory. But I do want to have some sense of what I'm doing, rather than feeling like I'm randomly trying to play notes over a song. It's clear that playing the melody is not random, nor is improvisation. I'm sure that a lot of improv is arrived at by trial and error, and by having a good ear for what fits over the song, but it's not entirely random either is it? It has a lot to do with understanding harmonic intervals, chord changes, and all that, which is theory right?

I am reading the other threads and I try not to repeat questions. But what I'm really looking for is what skills sets does one develop after getting the basics like fingering, embouchure, scales, some speed on exercise, long tones, tonguing, and being able to sight read basic songs?

I'm a late bloomer with a career, so I'm not trying to become a pro. But I want to play well, enjoy it, and also understand the instrument and the music.

I am trying to develop a better ear, and I do listen to music a lot every day. There are many musician/experts putting out theory and exercise books, like Levine and Coker (I have both) so there must be a use for the theory as part of learning, right?
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Kritavi, what do you mean by "spell every chord"? Know the individual notes? Be able to arpeggiate every chord in the tune?
All of the above and in time most of all. Jazz requires attention to rhythm. If you spell the chords with a good rhythmic feel that alone will sound good. This is how Gary Bartz teaches, get the chords, the 1-2-3-5 of the scale and a few other aspects of the mechanics of the tune under your fingertips. Learn to make the rote stuff swing. Then you have a great basis for developing a more melodic approach. Doing that kind of work will allow you to feel confident in your improvisation and once you develop that kind of feeling, even for one tune, you are on your way.
BTW do you have a teacher? This forum is no substitute for that. Get a teacher who you like and whose playing you like and take your lead from him.

I'm in a very similar position and I've basically decided to follow Kritavi (a smart dude for sure:) )'s advice. The tune is I Got Rhythm--I've got the Aebersold book on that tune coming and I'm going to really try to go to school on it.


ps. Don't forget about tone: you could totally master jazz harmonics but you'll be nowhere without a great great tone. Right now I'm spending one hour on tone for every hour I spend on everything else--scales, ii-Vs, learning tunes, etc.

pps I'm seriously thinking about trying to get some kind of lessons too, but I'm not sure how to go about it...or who to ask.
I'm wondering if part of what you feel you are missing is what these seemingly disconnected arpeggios have to do with the musical aspects. In this respect I do think knowing some theory will help you. I do not mean in place of internalising the music or using your ear, all paramount. But if you can analyse a tune, see where the harmony is going and why, particularly in relationship to the form, then I think it will help you put it all into context when you play.

Therefore, I would recommend your using one of the online theory sites or getting a good, understandable theory book (check out the books and comments on amazon). If you don't know where you are going in a piece and what it's architecture is, you run the risk of just rambling in your solos. All these "random" ii-7/V7s are going someplace. You need to know where that someplace is.

Regarding your "wondering if there is a logical, or typical order in which to learn chords" - yes. The traditional way is learning them going around the circle of fifths (root movements of fourth up/fifth down), since this is the basic pattern found in standards.

So: 2-5 (1) in C, 2-5-(1) in F, 2-5-(1) in Bb, etc. The 1s are in () because it might make more sense to your ear to resolve the 2-5s to the 1 but as you progress, you might want to drop the 1 since in much standard music the 1 is just as often implied as played.
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Thanks for the input all of you. I do have some of those books, and I will take your advice on spending more time on one tune and trying to understand the structure, etc.

I do have a teacher by the way. I had to change teachers, and this one is new, although he's been teaching for a very long time, and he learned from Joseph Allard. So I guess I have to trust him more on all of this. Both teachers I've had so far seem to get into theory on a need-to-know basis. I suppose there's a reason.

Gary, yes, you hit the nail on the head. That's exactly what I'm trying to figure out. Like with anything, whether it be a new language, a profession like medicine or law, you have to have a certain foundation - the alphabet, the grammar, anatomy, or how to find and read a law. I'm trying to learn those basics and understand how they fit into songs and improvisation. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me otherwise (although there's a certain amount of fun in just playing the tune and making it sound good).

Many great artists were made to do sketches and mix colors before they were even allowed to paint. There is a logic and a structure underlying art much as everything else.

Maybe some people can play great solely by ear. I'm not one of those people.
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