I’ve noticed something recently that came about totally by accident. I’ve found I do best with learning new songs – even simple ones – if I listen to them a few times, then allow my brain to kind of digest what I’ve heard. After a few days or a week, when I do sit down to write them out I find that I’m a lot more accurate not only to the overall form and structure of the song but the subtleties also. This makes for a more accurate transcription and also allows me to structure the arrangement I will give to students in a way that best captures both the little things that make a song interesting and at the same time make it not too intimidating. Beats the heck out of quickly transcribing something for immediate use.
As I mentioned in a recent post, the majority of my students have been with me for a good long time. I feel that part of my job is to introduce them to new music or stuff that they most likely have not heard but I hope they’ll like. The balance between their overall interests, ability and factoring in how open they are to new material is a constant challenge. It is always gratifying to turn someone on to a type of music they have never heard or been interested in and having them find that hey, that kind of music isn’t so bad!
But getting back to my own experience, in some cases I am learning songs only for my own use. I recently came up with a fun little arrangement for solo guitar of the old Herbie Hancock nugget “Watermelon Man.” After listening to it again (after many years) and looking at some sheet music it was important to give it some time to worm its way into brain. Walking around the house or while driving I spent about a week or so humming the lead line to myself and at the same time coming up with a general idea of what was important and what I might not be able to accomplish with a single-guitar arrangement. Then it was time to sit down and get to it. The results were not half bad, if I do say so myself! It has a way to go but the foundation is definitely there. I even threw it out at my regular Daily Brew gig this morning and a few of the regulars thought it was kinda funky and cool. Yah!
As I was driving home I suddenly thought of my late uncle, lovingly referred to as Crazy Uncle Irv but just about everyone in the family. Irv was a superb trumpet player, teacher and conductor and a genuine character who usually could be found walking around in his beret while he hummed some song that was in his head. He was a member of the famous Fred Waring Orchestra until World War II intervened and he was drafted. He ended up serving his enlistment in a U.S. Army band in North Africa and later in France. There are many hilarious and amazing stories about Irv but one of my favorites was his account of him and his buddies literally throwing the actor Humphrey Bogart out a window in a bar in Paris when the drunken Bogart (apparently part of a USO tour) came in talking loudly and waving around a .45. But I digress….
I realized yet again that Irv was “digesting” whatever music was running through his wacky mind when he walked around gazing into the distance and humming. I get it now. Give yourself time to internalize a piece of music before rushing to try to play it. This is certainly not an earth-shaking revelation, I’m sure musicians have been doing it forever, but for me it is very instructive and important.
And speaking of the Daily Brew (sorry, here comes the whining part), why oh why do people think it’s perfectly OK to get right in the face of musician when he or she is playing and begin talking, asking questions to which they expect a response and generally disregarding the fact that the musician may need to concentrate on what’s he’s playing?!? I don’t want to seem disrespectful or unfriendly, but geez. OK, end of whining.
More random stuff. I caught a one-hour special on TV the other night about the making of the Beach Boys ground-breaking album, “Pet Sounds.” Wow, wow, wow. It included never before scenes of the recording of the album, present day interviews with Mike Love, Al Jadine, members of the amazing Wrecking Crew studio musicians who played on the album, producers and of course, the genius Brain Wilson himself. I gained even more respect for Brian and his musical vision after seeing this program; catch it if you can. Some people consider Pet Sounds to be the greatest pop album ever made and as much as I love Sgt. Pepper, it would be difficult to choose between the two for that designation if I had to.
When we were in Dallas a couple weeks ago we went with our son Matt to a store that had (new) vinyl albums and when I pointed out Pet Sounds he snatched it up. Matt has a small record player in his apartment and although we didn’t have time to listen to it together, I know he has since we left. Now if he could just hear it on a truly great stereo system. Pure musical bliss would ensue!
Peace & good music,