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#1139179 - 08/11/07 04:41 PM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
jazzwee Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 7061
Loc: So. California
Swingal, I understand where you are coming from. I've come from the guitar world where I knew chords and the rest came from my ears. Without theory, what I played came from diatonic notes (notes in the major scale of the tune) and realized later that I was mostly playing the pentatonic patterns I often heard.

Playing primarily in chord tones, and sticking to diatonic chord patterns (i.e. usually one scale), yes, it is possible to survive without theory and simply focus on other aspects of music like Rhythm and phrasing. Yes, I have a lot of Erroll Garner music and appreciate his phrasing a lot and his ability to play with the beat.

In modern jazz though, theory has provided a way to enhance the contrast between the chords of tension and release. This is the point of the "jazzy"/crunchy chord sounds or sounding outside. Theory is the basis of this particular sound effect and although most often recognized in Bill Evans, Coltrane, etc. It has been implemented since early Bebop by Parker/Dizzy/Monk/Powell. Theory was discussed heavily by face to face trial and error between musicians. So the sound was there just not the written explanation. That came later.

Unfortuntately, we cannot relive the moment that these geniuses had discussing music among themselves so except for understanding theory, there isn't much of substitute to playing modern jazz with modern voicings and improvisation styles. I personally cannot play like that without this knowledge.

If one could listen to me play in my early jazz studies compared to today (technical development aside), it will be obvious that there's a different sound. I happen to love it. Knowing how to reharmonize on the fly, add a little tension, know exactly which note may work or not work instantaneously with each chord, knowing how to go outside at times -- it's all fascinating.

It just puts my appreciation of music at a much higher plane and is quite exciting to discover, frankly.
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#1139180 - 08/13/07 06:49 AM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
swingal Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/31/05
Posts: 1094
Loc: England
jazzwee,

Many thanks for that explicit answer. I can understand it. I agree with that analysis too. We are all brain-designed individually and we all hear and sense sounds likewise too. Just my viewpoint of course.

Glad you have heard Erroll too, he did venture into improvisation of Bebop,on some of his early recordings.

In my view he was a musical genius. He was taken from us at a very early age 56, one of a twin ( Ernest) He came from a very musical family and did have some lessons on fingering etc. at about 5.

He was once advised by a fellow musician (not piano) to have some theory taught, and soon told by others, not to try that as it would ruin his natural talent, so he didn't.

I like your choice of piano. I had a Hamburg Steinway for 40 years but it needed a new soundboard etc; so I bought the present Bosie. I did love the S & S though. Erroll had a Baldwin at home later in his career. We never see those in England, or M&H either.

Regards Alan

swingal

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#1139181 - 08/13/07 07:35 PM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
jazzwee Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 7061
Loc: So. California
Speaking of Erroll Garner, Alan, I just love how he plays behind the beat. He's one of the masters of that swing style. That's why I have his recordings -- to specifically listen to his swing. Fortunately in jazz there's so many angles to focus on. Focusing on swing is often as important as note selection.
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#1139182 - 09/14/07 02:38 AM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
hotkeys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/12/07
Posts: 788
Loc: Massapequa, NY
Alan,

I started learning piano, and the first song by ear was Auld Lang Syne, followed by the Theme from Romeo and Juliet. I am working on two songs outside of lessons; one is "Crying in the Rain" by the Everly Brothers (later re-recorded by A-ha) and My Girl (gone,gone gone) by Chilliwack, a Canadian Band. Those are my favourites.

Mark
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#1139183 - 09/16/07 03:42 PM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
Matt H Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/26/07
Posts: 170
Loc: Indiana
This is an interesting discussion, and I've learned a lot from the exchange here. I just wanted to add my two cents about theory.

I don't think there is any playing--especially improvising at a high level--without theory. Some musicians might not study theory formally, but if they play "chords," "runs," "arpeggios," and whatnot (and if they can talk about what they are doing on some level), then they understand music theory. Errol Garner may not have known all the theory that Coltrane and Evans knew, but he knew what he was doing surely. To say he didn't makes him sound like some kind of idiot savant.

I just think we have to be careful of buying into the stereotype of the unschooled musician as a natural-born, intuitive (or nonthinking) musician. This stereotype has haunted jazz musicians in particular. A lot of it has to do with race, I think, but also this romantic notion we have that music just pours out of the genius's soul.

Matt

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#1139184 - 09/16/07 06:25 PM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
swingal Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/31/05
Posts: 1094
Loc: England
Matt,

May I suggest you read Erroll's Biography by James M Doran. I think it is mentioned somewhere in this topic.

I agree that musicians play "chords," "runs," "arpeggios," and so forth but they cannot talk about it in technical terms. This was quite apparent in the early days surely. This is not to say they may well have benefited (US spelling)with teaching. The fact is, some jazz players were not taught any theory.

Erroll most certainly knew what he was doing and he astounded all who came across him.

Erroll played what inspired him at the moment. He had full control of the piano. He never played the same piece the same way twice. it just came natural to his brain and he was master of the piano.

I hope you have seen his few live recordings like the DVD 'In Performance' two separate recordings on the same DVD.

To say the above does not imply anything remotely like 'an idiot savant'.

I have no thoughts in my mind that would suggest,quote :"I just think we have to be careful of buying into the stereotype of the musician as a natural-born, intuitive (or nonthinking) musician. This stereotype has haunted jazz musicians in particular. A lot of it has to do with race, I think, but also this romantic notion we have that music just pours out of the genius's soul."

Simply not the case at all.

Some of what Erroll played, has been transcribed, I have seen the book of some of his renditions. Of course this is rather over simplified for he never played the same song in the same style ,though close jn many ways.

I suppose Erroll's music would be very technical and if the score could be seen that would be obvious. It just happens that he could and did play by ear. Neither could he sing either.When you watch him play you can see the song is in his head and he almost wants to show us all how he is bringing the music from the mind to the keys.

Hope this is what you wanted me to say, but please ask more if in doubt still.

Alan (swingal)

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#1139185 - 09/16/07 08:30 PM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
Matt H Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/26/07
Posts: 170
Loc: Indiana
Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting anyone is a racist, just pointing out that the notion of the natural musician (vs. the intelligent, choice-making musician) is often associated with jazz.

Al, maybe I just don't understand what you mean by playing by ear. It sounds to me like magic.

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#1139186 - 09/16/07 09:29 PM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
swingal Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/31/05
Posts: 1094
Loc: England
Hello Matt,

If you read through the replies on this topic some do play by ear 'jazzwee' for example.

One of the reasons I started this topic was because I wanted to see who else played by the ear method only. Incidentally I really think many wind instrument jazz players in the late 19th Century and early 20th played that way, specially in New Orleans (Have been there in Dec 06, fantastic enthusiasm, I loved it.)

If I may attempt to describe ear playing. It is a matter of having a strong pitch sense and a good memory of the 'song' or rendition. The music is in the subconscious brain and the pianist recalls this music from the sub-conscious mind and transfers it to the notes on the keyboard knowing the sounds all the scale gives and what various chords give out and variations therefrom as in improvisation. I'm sure someone else can explain it better.

It is no different from a classical pianist memorizing a complete work. They memorize the score I think. In the ear playing you memorize the sounds and have to know what to play on the keyboard to get the required sound. My understanding of playing by ear means simply that, its a memory thing.

I had hoped we might get a professional jazz player to explain what I'm trying to say.

All the best,

swingal

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#1139187 - 09/16/07 09:42 PM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
Matt H Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/26/07
Posts: 170
Loc: Indiana
OK, but jazz musicians don't just recreate music they have heard. They improvise new sounds. You need more than good pitch and a good memory to do this. You need to know something about music. Jazzwee explained how understanding theory helps him do this. Even your own explanation mentions theoretical awareness of scales and chords. This is why I'm perplexed when you say you are 100% sure that Errol Garner didn't understand theory. If by this you simply mean that he didn't study theory and didn't read music, then I understand you. If you mean something else, then I don't.

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#1139188 - 09/17/07 06:32 AM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
swingal Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/31/05
Posts: 1094
Loc: England
Matt,

quote:- "if by this you simply mean that he didn't study theory and didn't read music, then I understand you".

Yes that's exactly correct. He just learned it all by natural musical intuition. He mastered the keyboard and played what he felt would excite us all and it did and does. As I suppose most jazz pianists do similar actions in their improvisations.

To add a bit more, when playing jazz surely we anticipate the embellishments and impro's as part of the progression. This comes from the subconscious, a sort of very quick reaction from brain to fingers. I suppose it's a bit like reading further forward from the score than the hands are playing. I don't know.

This sort of analysis is very difficult to explain which is why I need help from others here.

Matt, have you seen any of Oscar Peterson's DVDs especially the 1977 Montreaux Concert? He is a masterful pianist and he did come from a fully trained classical pianist background.

We just cannot enter someone else's brain so I guess thats it.

Alan

PS I should add that if we are to include music like Keith Jarrett plays and other modern styles , yes theory is all, in fact it is almost mandatary.

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#1139189 - 09/20/07 06:03 AM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
jazzwee Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 7061
Loc: So. California
Sometimes we discuss theory as some academic thing. But in the great times of jazz in the forties, these cats just got together and hashed things out. They would play a major seventh chord, and someone would say something like "listen to this..." as he hits the 9th and 13th of the chord. Yes, I happen to think of it is a 9th and 13th of the chord, but those cats heard it and duplicated it.

Some of these old guys are still around. I went to a Benny Golson gig and he spent a big portion of the time talking about the old days and how he and John Coltrane would work things out in his Mom's house. I've read this in books but it's good to hear it directly from the old masters.

So "ear training" and "theory" are not separate things in my mind. I use theory to remember what I hear and confirm what sounds good.

Sometimes I play some tune with a some unique chordal structure and I listen to what scale works with some chords. Then I go back and identify the scale by name. I could of course have not recalled it by name but by shape too. But recalling it by some label allows me to duplicate it in another key. So here's an example of "ear" dominating and "theory" coming later.

This is a fine line as we tend to think of theory as modes of major scales, melodic minor, etc.

But really, you can find out what sounds good to your ears and write it out for yourself as your own private theory. In the end, I bet the note selections aren't going to be far apart using ears vs. brain.

The only exceptions are probably diminished scales. I have a problem fully hearing how to apply diminished scales to improvs, especially non-chord tones. But theory here gives me the boundaries of where it fits. I think this is where the modern jazz sound comes in.
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#1139190 - 09/20/07 10:36 AM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
swingal Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/31/05
Posts: 1094
Loc: England
Hello Jazzwee,

I grasp your point, of course and I have no doubt that theory is the heart and soul of modern jazz compositions. A few of us have never had lessons on theory or any thing at all relating to piano playing. We started by being shown which keys to play for a given sound. This was kids stuff like three blind mice and other simple little tunes.

Probably a rare thing to do today as many more homes have digital keyboards which are in my view far easier to master.

If you learn to play by ear at an early age and do it enough you master the scale and the relative sound each key makes. You are starting to climb the ladder as a pianist.

That was what I did. My mother taught me, as that was her way of playing too. I would be about 6 or 7 then. I was exposed to music a lot because we had a gramophone and dance band music was played.

Both my parents were on the 'Stage' in musical appearances and so rhythm was in my heart from an
early childhood.

So I just kept at the piano hour after hour I played and played using memorised music to pick out popular songs of the day.

By 16 I was playing in Pubs, Bars to you in U.S.for the customers to sing to. This was during the 2nd World War and nobody worried about your age then, life was far more at risk.This was in York where I was a apprentice motor engineer.

I wonder what sort of a piano player I was but I never got chucked out.....must have been a generous public?

So I gradually understand pitch as you do by accompiament, I remember how I would force the key on the majority and bring the off key singers in with the rest.

That was a long time ago but thats how I learned to have a reasonable pitch.

Now we have modern jazz which seems to require a good knowledge of theory, not only to play it but to appreciate it. My roots are firmly in the New Orleans style and at best the Oscar Peterson style datewise.

I'm sorry to say I cannot really appreciate modern day style of jazz, I do not dislike it but it doesn't light my fire. I note the nuances and theoretical play in the compositions but cannot get the vibes to connect. Guess I'm too stuck in the past.

Alan (swingal)

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#1139191 - 09/20/07 02:45 PM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
Seaside_Lee Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/19/04
Posts: 2167
Loc: Blackpool, UK
Hi Al

 Quote:
We started by being shown which keys to play for a given sound. This was kids stuff like three blind mice and other simple little tunes.
Nail on the head Alan ;\)

That's exactly how to learn how to play by ear as an adult too...you have to start with simple stuff first

I would imagine that most "by ear players" started as kids because children will fool around with nursery rhymes much longer than adults. Adults don't always have the patience to see that working on simple melodies trains you to understand complicted melodies more easily.

And as adults we want to get to play the really good stuff first!!


regards


Lee \:\)
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#1139192 - 09/20/07 04:14 PM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
jazzwee Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 7061
Loc: So. California
Alan, if you learned your relative pitch well, I think you have in essence applied theory.

In the example I gave, of a major seventh chord, I recognize the additional effect of 9th and 13th on a chord. My ear verifies it. I'm sure you recognize too the added color of the D and A notes in a C chord. My labels are theory. Your ears will arrive at the same theory.

So I'm sure you're quite a player just from ears. And you and Errol Garner will have learned theory your way. Maybe you don't want to call it theory so we'll just say it's the tendencies of harmonies. The tendency of harmony to flow a certain way is universal.

As a previous guitar player with no theory knowledge, the tendencies of harmony was already apparent to my ears so the explanation that came later just confirmed what I already heard. Thus, I understand where you are coming from.

I get the feeling though that you have perfect pitch too, Alan. Is that true? Just from your description of tones.
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#1139193 - 09/20/07 04:50 PM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
Matt H Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/26/07
Posts: 170
Loc: Indiana
jazzwee, I think I was trying to make the same point you are making, but you obviously understand this much better than I do and explain it very well.

I agree with you that theory is not just something academic. It can be academic of course, but it is also very practical, basically our understanding of and ability to talk about what we are doing in music. I guess it doesn't matter if people want to call this theory or not.

I was trying to make the point (not well) that these older jazz musicians played with their intellect as well as with their ears or gut.

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#1139194 - 09/20/07 09:05 PM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
jazzwee Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 7061
Loc: So. California
Matt H, I did understand that you were making that point.

Sometimes when people discuss theory vs. ear, I'm a little lost as to what constitutes theory. Is knowing what a chord it is considered theory (maj7, min7, dominant 7, diminished, augmented...)? Is knowing at least the letter name of each note on the piano considered theory?

I figured it's a basic way of communication among musicians and I don't consider it theory at all. But to a completely and solely ear based player, is there such a thing as a chord? Or is it 100% tone based with zero labeling?

I started out as an ear player and to me that meant I fully understood every basic chord and what is sounded like. To me, theory means modes, scales, and harmonic progression (discussed with labels), etc. This type of theory I did not know about when I was playing guitar. So hopefully we are all at the same level of definition when we talk about ear playing.

I personally think that it would be a disservice to oneself to not know the basic identifiers of music (notes and chords), regardless of any additional theory based knowledge. These I think are building blocks and without this basic terminology knowledge, multiple musicians cannot play together.
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#1139195 - 09/20/07 11:06 PM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
swingal Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/31/05
Posts: 1094
Loc: England
Yes Jazzwee I have to have absolute pitch otherwise the music would be incorrect,in error of sound. Though of course that applies usually when playing with other musicians which I don't. I play along with recorded music and can usually get the key correct.

I completely agree with you views on theory. This limits my chats with trained musicians as its all in the subconscious in my case. I can explain it only with a piano to hand. Yes my total theory is that of knowing the notes on the keyboard. Even that is a bit confusing when.Eb are the same note as D# and things like that.

Erroll Garner played in some strange keys and the bass players had a difficult time playing with him for that reason, he never cared nor knew what keys he was in. I will try and find what they were, its all in the Biography.

All the best,

Alan

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#1139196 - 09/21/07 04:12 AM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
jazzwee Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 7061
Loc: So. California
swingal, you have a gift of perfect pitch so you have a fixed reference. The rest of us lowly people will have to rely on a "label" reference or it will be impossible!

I'm amazed at your description of playing by ear. You mean it at the TOTAL level. . Ear and nothing else. Isn't this quite rare?

All this time, I've understood ear playing as some level just below learning theory, but with a basic understanding of notes.

On the other hand, you can locate it on the keyboard so you have a visual reference though not by name.

I learned something new today.
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#1139197 - 09/24/07 01:13 AM Re: Pianists who cannot read.
onepianoplayer Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 09/23/07
Posts: 6
I've met some people who are professional players. One was a pianist at a fancy hotel who played in the foyer. He never had formal lessons, he said he'd always relied on playing by ear and of course listening to a lot of music.

Another was an extremely good band playing and singing exactly like the original recordings. One time I requested a song for the bamd to play and supplied them some scores. They admitted that they could not read music properly(!).

I have great admiration for these musicians as they have true passion for music.

Other musicians come to mind are Yanni and Irving Berlin who also never had formal lessons.

I myself love playing by ear but could not imagine not visualizing the notes or chords in my mind.

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