Me and My BuddiesPlease see this page where you can listen to some of my music, some groups or bands I've been in, and that of buddies of mine.
Learning to make music
If you want to learn to make music, learn harmony first. You may take other paths to becoming a musician, but all paths lead to knowing harmony, so you might as well learn it first and possibly save yourself time and potentially frustration, and prevent incorrect knowledge along the way.
I've written one series of books, and am putting together a second series, that teach you how to be a musician. Although written from the pianists point of view, the principles are valid for all instruments, and so I recommend them no matter which instrument you play.
The first series is a complete course in harmony. It starts with the simple foundations of diatonic harmony that form the basis of all popular music and builds from there to teach you how to improvise, reharmonize, voice chords and incorporate rhythm.
The second series so far consists of a single slim volume that takes a different approach - rather than supplying theory it simply shows you what to do on the piano with minimal discussion to get in the way of your learning process. Please see Understanding and Implementing Harmony on the Piano and Cocktail and Jazz Piano Techniques.
Please see my "How to Teach Music"
Please my explanation of Why I wrote these books
Improvisation is the ultimate musical ability and is also the thing that baffles a lot of musicians. Most end up being content just learning a pentatonic scale, but you can learn to do more without suffering too much. A little knowledge empowers you to express harmony and harmonic change through the improvised line. What you get is a more expressive, sophisticated solo.
Learning how to improvise is not hard, but often the approaches to teaching it do not do a good job. In your quest to learn, you will encounter quite a bit of misinformation about improvisation:
- it cannot be taught (false)
- you can only learn it by playing by ear (false)
- it involves scales (false)
- just play what you feel (false)
My approach to teaching is to explain musical structure in a clear manner and to provide the proper kinds of exercises for imprinting it in your muscle memory. Improvisation, after all, is a structured art and it has to do with harmony, hence "Understanding and Implementing Harmony".
Improvisation is the linear representation of harmony. Sometimes the harmonic changes implied by the improvised line are very fast, but it's harmony nonetheless. It's the linear or melodic representation of chords and chord changes. But it is not scales. The "chord-scale" theory that so many people are taught is not a good way to approach it. Chord-scale theory fails to account for the fact that not every tone in a scale is appropriate for a particular harmony. You are told nothing more than "use this scale on this chord," without any discussion of which tones should be avoided and under which circumstances.
In reality, not all tones are appropriate to play on a particular chord. Some tones corrupt the harmony. There are rules about which tones fit and which don't. Scales are just the framework from which the tones are taken that establish the harmony. Thinking in terms of scales tends to confuse matters because it places equal importance on all the tones in the scale, which is not good. In addition to the avoid tones, improvisation has to do with identifying certain tones as focal points. This has to do with the chord changes and the tonal center of the song.
The hard and slow route is trying to learn on your own by "hunting and pecking" on the keys. A better route is a more structured one that involves the following steps:
- learn how to harmonize melodies (ie create chord progressions to fit the melody)
- learn which tones are appropriate for each chord
- learn to identify the "pivot tones" which are those focal points that ground a harmonic passage against the tonal center of the song
These steps are not difficult, but most music courses do not teach them.
All this talk of structure - what's the use? Don't we just want to get out there and jam?! Well, that's fine, but don't dismiss importance of structure in music. Perhaps you feel that it hampers creativity, while in fact the opposite is true. By learning the structure, you develop a stronger ear and are therefore able to express yourself more readily. All competent musicians and improvisors play highly structured music.
If you are having difficulty learning how to improvise on your own, you will benefit from good instruction, such as the kind provided in my books.
In my book, I analyze many solos (piano, guitar, sax, trumpet) and show how each piece of a solo corresponds to a specific harmony (chord). You will learn how competent soloists weave between chords, sometimes using only two or three tones to imply a particular chord before moving to the next.
Copyright © 2013 Michael Martinez. All rights reserved.