In-Depth Post 4: Finding a Voice

Nearly two months into this endeavour, and I’ve learned so much in just four lessons with my mentor. I also practiced with the combo once right before the gala. However, several people were missing, rehearsals were cancelled due to snow and holidays, and we decided we just weren’t ready for the Gala. That being said, plans are already being made for a possible year-end performance at another venue!

Here is another recording of “Autumn Leaves” (with double bass):

Yesterday, I had my fourth lesson with my mentor. We covered two main subjects, the first being voicings:

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Voicings are the specific arrangement of the notes in a jazz chord; certain voicings sound better than others. The preferable voicings have been compiled into a progression chart in every key possible. I asked my mentor if there was any way I could memorize and use these voicings in a piece more easily, and he gave me a few tricks that he used when he was learning them.

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Also, I played “Autumn Leaves” for him. We worked on integrating the voicings I had asked him about into the piece, as well as improvising. At the bottom of the picture are the four main points he spoke about (scales, motifs, silence, and using the melody in an improvisation). We then discussed what an improvisation was, and he defined it as something that was very spontaneous but still had elements that were controlled and thought of beforehand.

Overall, another very productive lesson (every lesson I’ve had has been very rewarding and useful!).

Here’s how I integrated a few more lessons from Edward di Bono’s book How to Have a Beautiful Mind:

  1. How to Listen: My lessons are always very dense in information and I am constantly learning from my mentor. However, at home, I often run into problems that I need help with. So, at the beginning of my lessons, I always have a few questions for my mentor that he can hopefully answer. During this last session, I found a completely different point of view about improvisation that I never thought about before. My mentor stated that improvisation wasn’t completely spontaneous; rather, it was elements that had been thought about before combined in ways that were spontaneous based on how the performer was feeling, the mood of the piece, etc. Previously, I had always thought that improvising was completely in the moment, which is probably why I always found it so nerve-wracking. My main differences with my mentor arise in our training: he is an amazing jazz pianist, and learned that way. I’ve been playing classical piano for more than ten years. The two genres are completely different in countless ways (improvisation, rhythm, harmonies to just name a few), and are the main places that I find myself unfamiliar with what my mentor is talking about. A main point that my mentor focused on in my previous lesson was voicings, which he highly stressed. I decided to go home, and look into the importance of chord voicings. I found several resources stating that voicings were an indispensable component of jazz, and showed a few more that I could learn. Here is one website.

Questions:

  1. As stated above, I always come to my lessons with a few questions that have come up in the two weeks since we last met. I often write them down on a page in my notebook when they come up, so I don’t forget during my lesson. I ask my mentor these questions because I find that he is always able to answer them and provide me with a new tip or fact that can help with my playing, and he’s a great first-hand resource for questions about performing. One particular skill we went deeper into was voicings, and he spent a lot of time breaking down the chord note by note, and describing why it was there. When he spent the time and effort to do that, it made much more sense to me. Also, I tried to ask questions with multiple choices, but found that it was usually a “this or that” statement. However, I think that it’s better to ask a wide question, and clarify if necessary, because giving someone a set of answers limits their response. Finally, my mentor is very detailed in his responses, and usually describes why he’s telling me something. For example, when he taught me a trick about voicings, he said it was useful because it was a faster option and was easier to memorize.

Nearly halfway! Here comes the other side.

It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.”

-Miles Davis, jazz trumpeter.