Thinking Out Loud – Appropriation of Jazz Music

Forewarning: I am not here to go in-depth on the cultural appropriation of jazz music. Mostly, because jazz – like any form of music – is a shared musical experience for EVERYONE to enjoy.

However, I do want to use this time to speak my mind about how in some cases we have taken the jazz idiom and chained it in shackles to the normality of Western European musical standards.

When people learn a jazz tune for the first time, it might go in one of two ways:

  1. Out of the Real Book, with a fake sheet giving the lead lines and approximated chord changes. From there, the jazz ensemble would follow the typical form of playing the head (once or twice), followed by everyone taking a solo, and ending with the top of the head again.
  2. From an arrangement, usually intended for a school jazz band. This gives the ensemble “training wheels” for learning the typical form of the jazz tune while predicating how the “improvisational” part will sound.

But at some point, the training wheels do need to come off.

While abnormous amount of annotation (including notation of the chord structures, melody, repeat signs, markings, structure, accents, etc.) might be needed if the composition is a lengthy/complex jazz tunes that need these confinements in order to maintain sense of unity, it is truly superfluous to the roots of jazz.

If a performer cannot read from a lead sheet and talk to the band about the structure of who while take the first rounds of soloing, then this is a shame to how literal jazz has become – being reduced from the previous art form it was to now a commodity in the lenses of Western European music.

Just thinking out loud.

Bryan Waring
Bryan M. Waring

Tip #76 – Reminder For Simplicity in Interlocking Parts

A little goes a long way, and sometimes that’s exactly what is needed to forming a nice groove.

While it may be tempting to use an abundance of complex rhythms in every separate parts, it can conversely turn to be too cluttered and lack in “groove.”

For today’s tip: opt for having each separate part being simplistic, but also uniquely different from the rest. Then, when combined together, it will create a complex and driving groove they you are searching after. The sum of the parts equals the whole, so make the parts work well with each other before working as a complete unit.


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Improve Your Lyrics – Tip #4

Use a non-lyrical vocal hook!

“What is that?” you ask.

You’ve probably have heard it a million of times in songs on the radio. It is when the lyrics (or lack-there-of) resorts to a sound. Like: ah, oo, oh, yeah, eh, ay, hey, etc. And perform that catchy repeated melody to those non-lyrical vocal sounds.

This helps a song writer by not only making the melody catchy and easy to sing, but breaks the language barrier allowing anyone that can make those sounds sing along.

You probably don’t want to include it on every song you write, but it is a great tool when you are in a pinch to make some ear-candy.


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Tip #75 – Doing Some Diatonic Harmonization on Passing Tones

For the instance that you want to harmonize a non-harmonic passing tone in a jazz/commercial style 4-way close, here is a tip for you:

Using a process of diatonic harmonization, you can make some smooth and boldly beautiful harmonized lines without interfering with the harmonic make-up, or relying on dissonance.

First, analyze the passage. Does the non-harmonic passing tone occur between two chord tones? It should.

Next, analyze the harmony. Is the melody taking place over an acting I, ii, or V chord?

If so, harmonize the chord tones properly with the passing tone remaining.

To harmonize the passing tone, choose from one of the remaining chords (I, ii, or V) and do so. Meaning, if it was a I chord, harmonize the passing tone with a ii or V. If it was a ii chord, harmonize the passing tone with a I or V chord. And if it was a V chord, harmonize the passing tone with a I (more common) or a ii (rare).

Below are some examples with some rough and basic harmonization:


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Tip #74 – Harmonizing an Appoggiatura Over a Diminished Chord

In the very rare case that you will ever need to do such a thing, let’s dive in a take a look at the steps you would take to actually make a “good” 4-way close harmonization of a melody that exhibits an appoggiatura over a diminished chord.

In the example above, we see that the Bb is an appoggiatura. It is a dissonance on a strong beat caused by a leap in one direction, and resolved in the opposite.

In four-part writing harmonization, the appoggiatura over the diminished chord will replace the next lowest chord member. It that case, the Bb‘s nearest close chord member from below is the Ab:

Also, take notice that it is a whole-step away, too. Next, you would harmonize using the tones of the Ab diminished chord, but omitting the Ab pitch.

From there, you can harmonize the rest of your passage in 4-way close, drop voicing, etc.


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Tip #73 – A Reminder for Subtle Influences

Over the past few months, I have detailed of aspects of certain genres and styles, from their unique scales to chord progressions, form, treatment of melody, motifs, rhythm, etc.

While you as the composer can certain take these bits of advice to compose something uniform – say, like in the style of an “authentic” delta blues song for example – there is nothing forcing you to.

You very much can Frankenstein your piece by having subtle influences to a composition, but not let it be overbearing. For example: your entire composition could be classical in nature, but have a blues based melody. A country song you are writing could have a Latin percussion beat in the backing rhythm for some spicy flavor. Or your next electronic club hit could sample some passages from Renaissance era vocal counterpoint.

Be creative, but keep in mind that a little goes a long way!


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Tip #72 – Adjusting Tempo

Today is going to be a short tip that might sound obvious, but could be the helpful reminder in your compositional processes.

Before sending a score to print, exporting stems, or formatting a sound file of your composition – play around with the tempo.

You might be thinking about this and go: “that’s stupid.” However, you might be able to find a new and interesting feel for your composition just by increasing/decreasing the bpm by a noticeable amount of notches.

If you are making demos of songs that fit I the EDM style, you can make multiple copies of your song in different tempi to get a variety to consider before an official release.


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