WHAT DO YOU OWN?
Music is a huge pursuit, with many approaches and methods. Many musicians have their own way of learning, based on the kind of music they play. The idea of practicing is to OWN what you have practiced. What part of YOUR music do you actually own?
What do we own in music?
By that, I mean: What can we play without thinking about it before we play it? What can we play in the moment without endless internal dialogue? What can we take off the score, or from our head and make it music, and not just notes that we are manipulating? Do our mind, our fingers, and our heart sing the song as if it was a child’s tune when we play? Can we take the small morsels of music and weave them into a big picture?"
Let’s start with a C major scale:
Do we need to think the names of the notes to play it, or do we just see the notes, realize it's a C major scale, and play them without any further thought process? Do we play it one octave at a time, or two octaves, or throughout the range of the instrument, up and down ending on the tonic C? Can we manipulate the scale? That is, play it in thirds and fourths etc.? Have we played all the simple childhood tunes available to this one scale alone? Do we know where to breathe to make the scale sound the best?
Do we think of the scale in quarter notes, eighth notes, or sixteenth notes etc. and why? Is it because of our concept or the phrasing, that the scale requires a certain feeling? To own the scale, the accents must be appropriate for the speed and style of the music being played.
Answering "Yes" to those questions means you probably OWN the C Major Scale. So then the next question becomes "Can we do all this in all the keys on our instrument?"
Here is an experiment: Start the C major scale and breathe after the first note and then finish the scale. Do the same breathing after the 2nd note, and continue on in the same manner, breathing after each note in the scale. It becomes obvious which breathing works best.
Breathing, then becomes a huge part of phrasing. Where we breathe is like a comma in a sentence. Part of OWNING a phrase is knowing where to breathe.
Next Logical Question of Ownership:
Do we know the F# major scale (or any other major scale) as well as we know the C major scale? There's a perception that keys with more sharps or flats are more difficult, but in reality, they're just different, and something new to learn. Take the time to learn them... to OWN them....just like we did the C major scale.
These are just a few ideas for us learn to own the scale instead of just kind of knowing it. Once we own it, we can make a simple scale sound like a piece of music that someone would enjoy listening to.
Life After The Majors
Then there are all the other scales that seem more important to jazz and improvising musicians, because they are actually composing spontaneously and require a bit more harmonic knowledge. It is important, though, that we not think that this knowledge is only important for improvisors. Harmonic knowledge is important for every musician, including those who only read music.
For the improvisor, do we know the F#7 (#5)(#9) as well as the C7, or do we freeze and turn on the internal dialogue when approaching this chord. Do we own the (#5)(#9) chord?
So here we have it. The answer. Starting with just a major scale. Own it.
Learn to own something else in music. It's a never-ending journey..
Do we understand the meaning of each scale? Bach and Glen Gould did.
Possibly the best music lesson in my life was following the Urtext score to Glen Gould’s 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach.
At first, I watched and listened to one line of the two to four parts he would be playing. I listened for the phrasing, as he massaged the line, moving forward and backwards, ever so subtly, and for the finger pressure of each note, amazed that his little finger could play with the same strength and nuance as his thumb or first finger could. Then I would follow another line.
After that, I would try to follow two lines at once and then all of the musical lines. I did this with each movement until I could understand how he took the notes off the paper and made it music. He owned the music and not just the technique. Even though the technique was difficult to learn, he kept practicing it until it was a song in his body and mind.
I strongly suggest you buy an Urtext piano part to the Goldberg Variations along with Glen’s first 1955 recording, and take the time to see music come off the page. Take your time. It is a big journey. It was one of the best educational experiences in my life on phrasing and music, transcending the written page.
Alas, nothing is always perfect, even if we own it. However, isn’t it nice to know we have something personal in our repertoire even if it’s a child’s tune that we own. The more we own the more we become.
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