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Ethan Iverson interviews Keith Jarrett/1. voice leading

I really enjoy reading blogs and Ethan Iverson’s is particularly fascinating. The following piece contains an excerpt from his lengthy interview with Keith Jarrett. You can find the whole piece here. I highly recommend it!

(reprinted with permission. Thanks, Ethan)

Keith Jarrett: “Voice-leading is melody-writing in center of the harmony. If you can do it, you’re lucky enough to get to a moment where you can actually find more than one thing happening and trace those things at the same time to a logical next place…or illogical place–really it doesn’t matter sometimes!
It’s so different [than] what people think when they look at a lead sheet and build those blocks [the] way you learn harmony. They can’t get away from this structure of vertical playing with your left hand and then if you’re lucky, maybe a good idea in your right.

I try to spend time every day training myself to hear more than one thing at once. As a piano player it’s very easy to lapse into rote-style playing; chords in the left hand and melodies in the right hand. When you have to think and play quickly it works well. It’s a great way to learn tunes, it sounds good and helps you focus on melody while staying grounded in the harmony. Why not?

Several years ago Fred Hersch showed me a great exercise. I call it Fred’s 20 minute workout. It’s become part of my daily calisthenics. I choose a tune, take out a timer, set it for 20 minutes, choose a tempo and play. I often start simple, just playing the melody. Over and over. While playing the melody I’m focussing on sound, touch, dynamics, nuance of the phrase and mentally taking notes of motifs that could be developed later. I switch hands, and play it as well as I can with the left. I believe that if I’m truly focussed I could probably spend 20 minutes just on melody alone. There’s that much to think about!

Each chorus provides a new challenge. I just make them up as I go and try to stick to whatever it is for an entire chorus: melodic displacement, repeated notes, motivic developement, alternating RH and LH, etc.

I spend a lot of time playing 2 part counterpoint. To me, this is how you begin to learn about voice leading and to develop the ability to truly hear more than one thing at a time.

Ideally, I’ll do the 20 minutes X4 version of the exercise: 20 minutes playing 2 part counterpoint only, the next 20 minutes in 3 parts, the next 20 changing key and the last 20 doing whatever I want in the original key.

Committing to playing a 20 minute solo is not easy. You run out of licks really quickly. It’s an amazing way to develop your sound.




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