Hear Differently

published22 days ago
3 min read

Hello! The subject line I chose for this week's newsletter - "Hear Differently" has multiple meanings. For one thing, it applies literally to what we're doing in my Jazz Piano Holiday course this week - reharmonizing a familiar song. It also is a nod to the "See Differently" tagline used by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) - an organization dedicated to supporting people with visual impairment, which you may know is an area where I've done some work. And it may or may not become the title of a new series I've been thinking about starting at some point, on learning music theory entirely by ear.

Anyhow, no real point here, just a little food for thought! BTW, remember, daylight savings time is over in the US, so my live events that had been at 16:30 GMT until recently are now 17:30 and will remain so until next spring

MuseScore Café

This week in the MuseScore Café with Marc Sabatella, we continue our third-Wednesday "Page of the Month" series, where I enter a page of real music into MuseScore and explain my techniques. If you have ideas for music you'd like to see me enter, drop a comment with a link in the post I started in the Conversation space.

The MuseScore Café is live on Wednesday at 12:30 PM Eastern (17:30 GMT), and you can access past episodes in the archive.

Tip of the Week

MuseScore automatically aligns certain elements, like lyrics, or pedal markings, or dynamics and hairpins. It can also align chord symbols automatically if you allow it to by setting the "Maximum shift above" to something like 3 - 5 sp in Format / Style / Chord Symbols.

For other elements, the way to align them manually is using the Inspector. Select the elements you want aligned (e.g., to set a group of staff text elements, click the first, Shift+click the last), then click in Y offset spin box in the Inspector and either increase (to move down) or decrease (to move up) the value until the symbols are aligned.

screenshot showing text being aligned

Music Master Class

This week I will be talking about common harmonic idioms - short "preassembled" sequences of chords that musicians employ to give music that distinctive "jazz" color. This is one of the main topics for the week in Jazz Piano Holiday, so tune in to see the techniques in action.

The Music Master Class is live on Thursday at 12:30 PM Eastern (17:30 GMT), and you can access past episodes in the archive.

In Theory

Coming back to the "hear differently" idea, an interesting question was posed in the discussions within my Jazz Piano Holiday course - how much of what a jazz pianist does is worked out in advance versus played differently every time (e.g., improvised)? It's not a question with a single answer - it depends on the musician, and also the piece being played, and the context for the performance. Relevant to what we are working on for this course, though, I can give my own answer.

If I am playing from someone else's arrangement, the chord progression is set for me. If I'm playing my own arrangement, I usually have a chord progression "mostly" worked out in advance, with just a few substitutions made on the fly based on principles known to most jazz pianists. I don't necessarily work out voicings for each chord consciously, but there are certain combinations that occur over and over and have such great-sounding solutions that I will tend to find them over and over even if I think I'm improvising my voicings. For instance, if I have "A" in the melody over a C7 chord, I'll often gravitate to this nice "upper structure" voicing that is basically an A triad over the root and seventh of the C7 chord:

And yet, I'll get bored if I do that every time, so I'll keep exploring alternatives as well. Some of those will be variations I've also played many times before, so it's in some sense more of a "multiple choice" than "free answer" question.

In a jazz context, I expect I'll also be "soloing" - improvising a new melody over the given chord progression. And that melody is usually more completely improvised - chances are there are no combinations of more than a few consecutive notes that I've ever played before. And yet, certainly every individual note has been played millions of times, and probably every combination of two or three consecutive notes as well. Just as when I improvised this sentence, every word in it is one I've used before, and most combinations of two or three consecutive words as well - "just as", "when I", "this sentence", "every word", "in it", "is one", "used before", etc.


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