Some of you readers might be able to call this playground jeer and rhyme:
“Girls go to college to get more knowledge; Boys goes to Jupiter to get more stupider”
I only bring this up to remind us that in our society, we have the early disposition to believing that college is the place to get more knowledge. And rightfully so, as that college educations should aim to teach a student information that they are lacking in in order to develop themselves in better of finding the career of their dreams.
That being said, college should not be the place for the know-it-all and talented.
If you are gifted in music, know as much as you need to know, can perform well, and are contempt with it all – don’t go to college for music. Because there, you are just wasting money to get the self-affirming pat on the back for people (and a piece of paper) to tell you that you have skill.
Leave your acceptance opening spot for someone who lacks the same skill/knowledge as you, but can match you in the passion for music. They obviously need college more than you do.
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:
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.
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.
A melody should be unique, a “stand-alone,” and sing-able. What grabs the attention of the listener and makes a lasting impression enough so that they are still humming one the piece is over is the melody. So, should melodies be composed directly from singing?
While singing can most certainly aid in the compositional process with finding smooth lines that are easy to replicate vocally, there are some drawbacks.
Believing that melodies should be vocal oriented, “sing-able,” or otherwise logically good according to what a voice can do places a large limit on a composer.
For those that are terrible vocalists (remember, a voice is an instrument like any other – the ability to sing is as inbred as the ability to play the saxophone from birth; hence, it must be learned and developed) they already have the limitation of composing melodies that are constrained by range, intonation, vocal gymnastics, etc.
For trained vocalists, while they can certain accomplish more, they are still limited by what they already know. In other words, the melodies sung are merely a regurgitation of pieces performed in the past that are carved in their vocal muscle memory. And that goes for any instrument, too. Were are parrots, forming variations of music through the skills adapted in pieces we have already learned and played – compromising our originality through the use of an instrument.
So what is one to do.
Composing a melody by just singing ability (or using a single instrument) should be taken with caution. While it can bring up some good ideas, it should never be the primary reliance of writing a piece of music. Intuition, theory, imagination, experimentation, artistry should supplement in the large areas where skills lack in. Only then can a amazing melody be composed.
Education is the most powerful tool out there. With it, a person can advance forwards with new skills and creative mindsets to tackle any problem or to create something unimaginable. Without it, the poison of ignorance will set-in and cripple the abilities of mankind.
For musicians, and just about anyone looking to go into the field of music one way or another, a mentor/teacher is desired to get things going. To get those cogs and wheels turning. To help stable your wings as you prepare for flight…
But what do you do when your teacher does not do that? What if, in you deep gut feeling, that you sincerely believe that the time spent “learning” has really been wasted – covering material that has no beneficial impact on you? Can you abandon your teacher?
In most areas, education is not free – and where it is, at say a public library or internet, may not offer the same catered relationship as of a mentor with their student. That being said, good money being put into education should have good teachings coming out. But what does one do when they sincerely know that things can be better?
On one hand, you should be grateful and humble that a person who is supposedly more successful is willing to share their expertise. They are your elder and have more experience than you. However, at the same time, they are probably not a splitting image of your true idol that you wish to follow in the footsteps of – and it you feel as if nothing is being learned, then other opportunities should be pursued.
Of course, some self-reflection must be take into account. Is the reason that noting is being learned the teacher’s fault, or the student? Ultimately, how can one change – and if the teacher is the root of the problem, how can you leave an educational resource?
I have been recently thinking about this argument posed, of which that claims how we cannot approach other forms of music (pop, rock, jazz, Latin, folk, etc.) in theory & analysis the way we approach classical art music. Reasoning behind is that it doesn’t take into account, or it essentially overlooks, what makes that particular genre different from the rest. That by putting the square pegs of other forms of music into the round hole of classical music – we would scrape off the edges and miss the understanding of what that kind of music is.
While I can entertain the idea that using the rules of strict school book-taught classical art theory to compose other genres of music is not a wise decision, I do believe that it is okay to use classical theory to understand – pick apart – and fundamentally analyze other kinds of music.
What needs to be reminded is that music theory & analysis is just like any other form of science; from psychology, to anthropology, to biology, etc., they all do essentially the same thing. They observe, group together, and name special occurring phenomenon to be used later in order to understand other properties of the subject.
Instead of advocating that every form of music needs its own theory, there should be more of an educational push to encourage music theorists to approach with the lenses and vocabulary of their desired theoretical base (whether in classical, jazz, pop, etc.), and make new rules to understand what makes a particular genre sound that way.
This is long-standing problem in the academic field – where colleges neglect, too, that there can be many music theory “lenses” to viewing a piece of music. Too many times has a person with a background of not reading music, but understanding it through their own way, become discouraged of pursuing music because they are branded “stupid” for not adopting the viewpoints of classical art theory. And teachers fear that unless a student knows how to use classical theory – classical music can’t be reproduced.
If you buy a table and you have to assemble it together, but the instructions are in a foreign language – do we say that the table is incomprehensible? No, it is a table for goodness sake. It can still be built despite not knowing how to read the instructions that came with it.
So instead of demanding that a form of theory has to stay with a particular genre, academia and scholars should instead approach all kinds of music with the understanding that they have already, and make new discoveries to the unique acoustic phenomenon of different kinds of music.