When I was a young person I was always amazed by anyone who could play anything. Since I didn’t know a lot about the technical, theoretical end of music I was easily impressed by anything that sounded good to my untrained ears. I didn’t realize that that was as far as most people took it, they just liked it or they didn’t and that was all there was to it.
I wanted to play and I wanted to be good but I didn’t know how. What happened, because I didn’t understand how or why, is that I placed myself in a position of un-understanding which hindered my musical growth for many years. I hadn’t been shown and I wasn’t a savant. I lacked a good music education and my musical growth suffered until I came in contact with competent teachers who had experience and knowledge.
It took me the longest time to start writing drum parts. How could I do that? I wasn’t a drummer. It wasn’t until I asked Bill Muha, a drummer in one of my bands, for advice and he told me that drumming really clicked for him when he finally got the basic swing beat. In 4/4 time the snare on 1 & 3, the bass drum on 2 & 4 and the ride cymbal on 1, the and of 2 and 4. I went home and wrote that rhythm into my Finale software program and played it back. Lo and behold my understanding clicked. Here was a rhythmic flow defined by a combination of 3 simple parts. Granted this isn’t the end all of drumming but it allowed me to open my mind and place my feet on solid ground to proceed forward. Thanks Bill.
Music – the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity.
Noise – random or unpleasant sound.
Playing music for the trained musician is manipulating patterns in sound. The patterns manifest themselves in melodies, bass lines, rhythmic figures and harmonic structures. The ways that these components fit together are many and varied. It is interesting to note that the basic rules of music theory aren’t man made ideas, they are the result of people listening to what sound does with itself and were compiled over many years.
There are savant players, but for many of us musical freedom is achieved through an intense study of scales, bass lines, chord changes and rhythms until we start seeing the inherent patterns in music and can start to extrapolate upon them and come up with new ways to play within the system.
We can insert uncommon musical patterns into tunes as long as we do it properly. In general it is done by going out of the norm and coming back in. In most types of music there is a tone center which must be dealt with and genre considerations.
Listen to the blues lick and note the descending whole tone scale fit in where it normally should not be. It fits because it is a pattern within itself and is properly resolved back into the blues structure.
People often wonder where the “Blues” came from and how it came about. Here’s the story that makes the most sense to me. It seems a curious blending of Western and African culture.
In Western music the scales within the octave are divided by whole tones and half tones, in African music the scales are divided by whole tones, half tones and quarter tones. The end result is different levels of tension within the music. The foundation of Western harmony is the major scale. There is a similar scale in African music where the 3rd and 7th tones of the scale are a quarter tone flat. The result is the 3rd and 7th intervals of the scale aren’t major or minor intervals, they are in between. This scale is not playable on a piano or most Western instruments without the “bent” note.
Eventually some person who was brought over to America as a slave found themselves on a piano. They knew the scale they wanted to play but it wasn’t on the instrument. The closest they could come was playing a major chord in the left hand and playing a minor third in the melody with the right. The missing note still was not there, it was implied. This is the essence of the blues sound. The African 7th was implied by playing the 1st chord of the key as a Dominant 7 and not the Major 7th chord of classical harmony. This is also the essence of the blues sound. The musical style would not have occurred without the crossing of the cultures.
The first use of the word blue in describing a feeling in song lyrics happened in England in about 1720. The first time a blues was written down on staff paper happened in New Orleans in about 1910. The person who did the transcription was a Neapolitan who had been in the country about 6 weeks.
Elvis Presley, American Roll & Roll icon, began playing guitar at a young age. It is said that he was taught by Brother Frank Smith, a young black minister at the First Assembly of God Church in Tupelo, though Brother Frank notes that Elvis already had a guitar method book when he first came in contact with him. It is also said that Brother Frank taught Elvis the A,D and E chords which were needed to play “Old Shep”, a tune that a very young Elvis learned and eventually sang at his first public performance, a Mississippi State Fair talent show. Elvis had relatives who played and undoubtedly he was shown things about playing by them.
As a player Elvis was not a guitar player’s player. At least publically he played simple chords and that’s about it. Elvis was a huge influence on the world of guitars by being such a great performer with a guitar in his hands. The popularity of the instrument skyrocketed with his rise to fame.
In 1958 my parents told me that I was going to take music lessons and that I could pick any instrument aside from the drums. I narrowed it down to the trumpet or the guitar and Elvis tipped the scale. It was the case for so many kids of my generation.
In 1993, in Detroit, I got a new student who happened to be an 8 year old black child. His name was Michael Bembury and he turned out to be a guitar prodigy. Michael played his first show after 5 lessons and continued to bring the house down thru my long association with him. At his first lesson I asked him why he wanted to play the guitar and he told me Elvis Presley.