Helping Students Find Their Voice as a Composer

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Teaching Composition

I recently read this great article from Ezra Weiss, Helping Students Find Their Voice as a Composer. He suggests students attempt to write a tune every day. I especially like #11. Here's part of Mr. Weiss' notes.

My students generally spend their first year writing lead sheets before moving on to writing for jazz combo, then big band, and then studio orchestra and traditional chamber ensembles. This initial emphasis on lead sheets allows us to focus on melody, harmonic motion, and form. These elements provide the foundation of a composition, so they must be strong before we build an arrangement on top of them...

Most importantly, writing a lead sheet every day allows us to experiment with writing many different types of tunes. Students often find it helpful to keep a list of ways to write tunes. While this list initially may seem creatively limiting, our most creative ideas are often born out of these limitations. Here is a sample list.

Some Ways to Write Tunes:

1. Sing a melody
2. Feel a groove
3. Come up with the rhythm first, then hear the pitches
4. Based on a musical concept, polytonality, set theory, mixed meter, etc.
5. Inspired by a mood
6. Inspired by a place
7. Inspired by an emotion
8. Programmatic music
9. Use words: text-oainting, lyrics
10. Traditional forms: AABA. ABAC, Blues
11. Come up with the chord changes first
12. Bass Line
13. Use a phrase from the "stream of consciousness" exercise
14. Use elements of music from a different culture
15. Write for a specific performance space (concert hall, football game, recording studio, etc.)
16. Write with someone else's band in mind
17. Imitate someone else's style
18. Ask yourself, "What do I want to hear?"
19. Ask yourself, "What do I want to say?"
20. Ask yourself, "What do I want to play?"

As students seek inspiration for new tunes, they may also find it useful to keep a notebook filled with other lists.

1. Musical ideas: melodic phrases, rhythms, chord progressions, etc.

2. List of words to look at while composing: melody, harmony, rhythm, dynamics, space, range, color, timbre, structure, form, etc.

3. Listening log: include title, composer, performers, year, personal observations about the piece.

4. List of "Moving Musical Moments": specific points in a piece of music that the student finds personally moving. These are powerful moments that strike a nerve, give chills, or cause a sudden smile. An example would be "The Beatles" - "Golden Slumbers" (0:32) - drums enter going into the chorus.

5. List of titles for pieces to write someday

Studying the works of other composers also plays an important role in a student's development... Students may also choose to study musical scores and fake books. Of course, reading books about music is also essential to obtaining necessary compositional skills... As we help students to find their compositional voice, certain practical tips will provide invaluable.

1. Go for walks. Get out of the practice room and walk around somewhere that inspires the music in your head. Once you hear it in your head, then you can go back to the practice room, figure out what it is, and write it down. As Wendell Logan often said, "Music is not about music."

2. Don't push the music around. Rather than trying to force the music to fit our preconceptions, we will find much more success in trying to hear what direction the music wants to go.

3. Take risks. You will either discover a new musical possibility, or you will learn of something to avoid in the future. Either way, trial and error is a valid approach to composition and learning.

4. Set specific goals with deadlines. Compositions requires time, and time management skills will help give you that.

5. Have lots of staff paper handy. As you throw away 90 percent of your writing, you do not want to be worrying about running out of paper. Think bulk quantities.

Finally, we as teachers can directly help students find their own compositional voice by asking what they think about their music. What effect does this have? Is that the effect you were hoping to create? How could we create more tension/surprise/continuity/etc?

By seeking students' thoughts, we directly help them find their compositional voice.


Ezra Weiss is a composer/pianist who holds a Bachelors in Jazz Composition from the Oberlin Conservatory and a Masters in Piano from Queens College. For more information visit, www.ezraweiss.com

So, have you tried writing some songs or have song writing friends? Do you hear the melody first or do you write out the lyrics at the beginning? I work on the chord progressions and then go back and fill my song in. I'm new at this so I am learning from other songwriters.

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"Jazz washes away the dust of every day life." -- Art Blakey
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Learn to Play I'll Be There For You

photo of bon jovi


This #1 chartbuster is the second single from Bon Jovi's album New Jersey to reach the top spot. When Jon Bon Jovi's family moved to another area of New Jersey (their home state), he arranged to have the house given away in a raffle. The winners were a young family from nearby Pennsylvania.

So, it's an easy song to play with some simple chords and I especially like the chorus.

I'll Be There for you
(Words and Music by Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora

Key of D

Cut Time or Moderately slow, in 2


(Fill 1)
 D                               Em  
I guess this time you're really leaving
G                              D 
I heard your suitcase say goodbye 
                             Em
Well as my broken heart lies bleeding 
G                          D
You say true love, it's suicide 
                                Em 
You say you've cried a thousand rivers
G                        D   
And now you're swimming for the shore 
                           Em
You left me drowning in my tears 
G                         A7
And you won't save me anymore 
A
I pray to God you'll give me one more chance, girl 



 Chorus
D
I'll be there for you 
Bm                            
These five words I swear to you 
           G
When you breathe I want to be the air for you 
A       C       G   D
I'll be there for you 
                            
I'd live and I'd die for you 
Bm                                 
Steal the sun from the sky for you 
  G                    
Words can't say what a love can do 
A       C       G   D
I'll be there for you 



(Fill 1)
             Em
I know you know, we've had some good times.
G        D
Now they have their own hiding place.
      Em
I can't promise you tomorrow
G              D
But I can't buy back yesterday
     Em
Baby you know my hands are dirty
G   D  C#m Bm
And I wanted to be your valentine----------
          Em
I'll be the water when you get thirsty baby 
G        A
When you get drunk I'll be the wine.


Chorus
D
I'll be there for you 
Bm                            
These five words I swear to you 
           
G
When you breathe I want to be the air for you 
A       C       G   D
I'll be there for you 
                            
I'd live and I'd die for you 
Bm                                 
Steal the sun from the sky for you 
  G                    
Words can't say what a love can do 
A       C       G   D
I'll be there for you 


(Guitar Solo)
D   Bm   G   A   D   Bm   G   A

A          G
And I wasn't there when you were happy 
A    D    A/C# Bm
I wasn't there when you were down----------- 
                           G
I didn't mean to miss your birthday, baby 
                                        A
I wish I'd seen you blow those candles out (Scream)



Chorus
D
I'll be there for you 
Bm                            
These five words I swear to you 
           G
When you breathe I want to be the air for you 
A       C       G   D
I'll be there for you 
                            
I'd live and I'd die for you 
Bm                                 
Steal the sun from the sky for you 
  G                    
Words can't say what a love can do 
A       C       G   D
I'll be there for you


Finale (Repeat once)
D
Woo ----- ooo ----- ooo
Bm
Woo ----- ooo ----- ooo
G                    A
Woo ----- ooo ----- ooo
C         G           D
I'll be there for you

(Closing- Fill 1) 

Chord Breakdown

L.H. / R.H.

DD/F#AD
E/GBF# to E/BEG
G/BDF#
D/AD
E/GBF# to E/BEG
G/BDF#
D/DAD
E/GBE
G/GBD to G/GBF#
D/F#AD
E/GBE
G/GBD
A/AF#
A/F#F#

Chorus

DD/AF#
B/AF#
G/AF#
A/AF#
C/CEG
G/ABF#
D/F#D
B/ADF#
G/AF#
A/AF#
C/CEG
G/ABF#
DD/F#D * (second time)

Back to the top

* (second ending)

A/C#EA
G/GBF#
A/C#EA

G/GBF#
A/C#EA
D/ADF#
C#/AC#E
B/DF#B
G/GBF#
A/AC#F#
A/AC#E

*How do I find time to practice?
*How can I get better at playing in different keys?
*How do I decide/recognize what the left hand chords are in a piece of music?
*How can I play and read sheet music faster?
*How do I decide on proper fingering?
The answer to these and many other piano playing questions can now be yours.
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All The Best,






"Jazz washes away the dust of every day life." -- Art Blakey

Slash Marks in Leadsheets

E chord with slash marks per measure



Article by Lee Evans:

Introduction

A jazz or popular-music Fakebook is a book of songs presented as one-staff musical sketches consisting of each song's melody, plus alphabetical chord symbols above the melody, and the song's lyrics below the melody. each such presentation of a song in a Fakebook is known as a leadsheet.

A Fakebook is so called because the word "fake" is synonymous with "improvise" in the jazz vernacualr. What must be improvised are melodic embellishments and the chords, employing desirable voicing and voice leading, keeping in mind that a chord symbol does not always indicate whether the chord should be played in root position or in an inversion. The chord symbols will also serve as the harmonic framework for improvisation after the initial chorus of the song has been stated.

Baroque figured-bass keyboard parts may be considered to be classical-music precursors of the popular-music leadsheet, in the sense that both are mere sketches that require keyboard players to improvise a full realization based upon limited information.

Slash Marks

Among the symbols employed in jazz and popular-music fakebook leadsheets are slash marks, a subject of some mystery to many classical musicians. Slash marks are versatile in that they actually serve several different purposes that this article will define and illustrate with musical examples.

1. Chord Inversions

Slash marks are employed to indiciate chord inversions. An upper case letter tot eh right of a diagonal slash mark denotes the bottom note of the chord. Thus F7/C means an F7 chord played in an inversion in which C is the bottom note; in other words, in this case a 2nd inversion chord.

2. Non-Harmonic Bass Tone

An upper case letter to the right of a diagonal slash mark may also denote a non-harmonic bass tone. A non-harmonic bass tone is a tone that is not one of the chord tones indicated by the character to the left of the diagonal slash mark.

Example: Db/C or C/DbFAb

Had the above chord symbol (Db/C) been spelled DbMaj7, it would have been left entirely to the pianist to guess at the composer's voicing intention.

3. Polychords

A slash mark may also indicate a polychord. A polychord is a single chord comprised of two or more chords. A polychord is sometimes indicated by a horizontal slash mark rather than a diagonal slash mark, but this practice varies widely in different fakebooks.

Polychord symbolization is clearer and therefore preferred over a chord symbol showing harmonic alterations:

add #8
C add #6
add #4

... another way of expressing the above chord.

Example: C7/F#

CEGBb/F#A#C#

As seen in polychord symbolization, when chord quality (major, minor, diminished, augmented, dominant 7th, etc.) is indicated by the character below the horizontal slash mark, or to the right of the diagonal slash mark, F#/C7, an entire chord rather than a single tone is to be played by the left hand while the right hand plays the chord indicated by the upper or left character.

4. Chord Repetition In A New Inversion

An upper case letter to the right of a diagonal slash mark, where there is no character to the left of the slash mark, indicates a different bass note to be played with the previous chord.

Example: Bb/F       /D should be played as
                Bb/F     Bb/D

5. Repetition

Diagonal slashes that come after the first beat of the bar indicate repetitions of what is written on beat one.

Example: FAC / / / is played FAC, FAC, FAC, FAC

6. Chord Changes

A. slash marks are employed in rhythm section parts to show the specific beats where chord changes occur.

Example:

C /// Bm7 // E7  Am7 / Abm7 / Gm7 / Gb7 /

B. Slash marks instead of note heads are at times also employed for rhythm section instruments to indicate specific points where chord changes occur off the beat.

7. Uneven Distribution Of Chords In A Bar

In a 4/4 bar where there are two chord symbols and no slash marks, it means that the chords are to be played on beats one and three, respectively.

Example: 4/4     C    Am

However, slash marks are employed to indicate the specific beats where there is a chord change:

a) in 4/4 bars in which one or more of the chords are played on other than beats one and three.

Example: 4/4  Eb // Eb+

b) in 4/4 bars containing three chords.

Example: 4/4  Cm / B+ Bb7

c) in 3/4 bars containing two chords.

Example: 3/4  Eb  Eb+ /

d) in any other uneven distribution of chords in a bar.

8. One Measure Repeat

the sign below means repeat the previous bar. If the repeats continue for more than one bar, number each repeat bar... or as an alternative, number every few bars.

9. Two-Bar Repeat

To repeat two consecutive different bars, use two parallel diagonal slash marks with dots and write the number 2 over it. This two-bar repeat sign is ordinarily used for rhythm instruments, but I don't see any reason why it can't also be used for other instruments. If more than two bars are to be repeated, traditional repeat marks are employed.

10. Single Grace Notes

A single grace note is usually written as a cue size 8th note, and may use a diagonal slash mark slanting upward tot eh right, no matter the stem direction.

11. Caesura (pronounced si-zhoor-uh)

The caesura (often referred to as 'railroad tracks' by jazz and pop musicians) is a slight pause, or breathing point, in the tempo; a break in the sound. These parallel diagonal slash marks, placed on the fourth staff line, should cross the top staff line at the exact point in the bar where the break occurs and should be located at the end of a note's full value... or just before the barline if the break occurs immediately before the barline. If a longer break is wanted, a fermata should be written over the caesura.

Note: Sometimes an apostrophe - called a breath mark - placed above the staff where the breath is wanted, is used instead of a caesura. This symbol may or may not interrupt the tempo, and is somewhat shorter in duration than the caesura.

I hope that the readers have found the information in this article informative and useful.

Lee Evans is professor of Music at NYC's Pace University. He is the author/composer/arranger of over 90 books, plus numerous articles. Among his recent books are:

Discovering Blues Improvisation Book 1: Intermediate Level - Book One (Book & CD)
Discovering Blues Improvisation: Intermediate Level: Book Two

Best,





"Jazz washes away the dust of every day life." -- Art Blakey
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Let The River Run (Theme from Working Girl)

butterfly on piano




With several 1989 Oscar nominations garnered by the film Working Girl, this theme from the film won the coveted statue for Best Original Song. Composer Carly Simon had the successful recording.

I found this song, Let The River Run (Theme from Working Girl) in one of my jazz magazines. Remember the movie? I believe the stars were Harrison Ford, Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver.

Key of A

4/4 Moderately, with a free feel... Moderate Gospel

Chord Chart


A                D/A
Let the river run,
            A
let all the dreamers
        F#m     E
wake the nation.
D               F#     E     A5 A
Come, the New Jerusalem.

A                D/A
Silver cities rise,
            A
the morning lights
                F#m     E
the streets that meet them,
D                       F#   
and sirens call them on
E       A5 A
with a song.
F#m             B/D#
It's asking for the taking.
D(addE)      A/C# 
Trembling, shaking.
F#m             G
Oh, my heart is aching.

E                   E/D
We're coming to the edge,
E/D
running on the water,
C#m7
coming through the fog,
E/B
your sons and daughters.
* C                 F/C
Sing the greatest song,
C
stand on a star
        Am      G      F
and blaze a trail of desire
        Am      G      C5 C
through the dark'ning dawn.  (to Coda)

        Am              D/F#
It's asking for the taking.
     Fsus2
Come run with me now,
                        C/E
the sky is the color of blue
you've never even seen
                    Am
in the eyes of your lover
              Bb
Oh, my heart is aching.
G                   G/F
We're coming to the edge,
G7
running on the water,
Em7
coming through the fog,
G/D
your sons and daughters.

[guitar] (repeat to *)

Coda

Am              D/F#
It's asking for the taking.
F(addG)     C/E
Trembling, shaking.
Am               Bb
Ah, my heart is aching.
G                       G/F
We're coming to the edge,

running on the water,
Em7
coming through the fog,
G/D
your sons and daughters.

C               F/C
Let the river run,
C
let all the dreamers 
Am      G
wake the nation.
F              Am G C
Come, the New Jerusalem.





Chord Breakdown

Just to give you an idea for some of the inversions, no particular order.

A = A/C#EA

D/A = A/ADF#

A = AC#E

F#m = F#/F#AC#, sometimes F#/C#F#A

E = E/EG#B and E/BEG#

D = D/F#A

A5 = AA/EA

B/D# = D#/F#B

D(addE) = D/F#A, then D/AE

A/C# = C#/F#A

G = G/DGB

E/D = D/BEG#

C#m7 = C#/BG#

E/B = B/BF#

C = C/EGC and C/CEG

F/C = C/CFA

Am = A/ACE

F = F/ACF

C5 = CC/GC to CC/GCE

D/F# = F#/AD

Fsus2 = F/GC

C/E = E/GC

Bb = Bb/FBbD

G/F = F/DGB

Em7 = E/DGB

G/D = D/DA

F(addG) = F/AC to F/CG

If you're in the music ministry or just want to learn more at the piano, visit this music resource,

Advanced Gospel Courses

Best,






"Jazz washes away the dust of every day life." -- Art Blakey
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All Hail the King



All Hail The King, dedicated to the great pianist Nat "King" Cole, is in the style of the changes to Kurt Weill's Mack the Knife. Louis Armstrong, Dick Hyman and Sonny Rollins are among those who have recorded great jazz versions of that tune. Here, we're in the key of A Major, and in sixteen bars we'll go through all the voicings you may already know.

Song: All Hail The King

Key of A: F#, C#, A#

Time Signature: 4/4,  Quarter Note = 160

Chord Chart:

AMaj7  A6 / AMaj7 / Bmin7 / E7

Bmin7 / E7 / AMaj7 /

C#min7 / Bmin7 / E7

Bmin7 / E7 / AMaj7   F#min7 / Bmin7  E7

Chord Breakdown

L.H. / R.H.

A/EG#C# and A/C#EF#A // A/C#EG# to G#C#E //B/AD#F#, DF#AB // E/BD#G#

B/ADE // E/G#DE // A/G#C#E, AG#/F#, G#, A, B (r.h. single notes)

F#E/C# to A // EAC#/F to A // AD/D, C#, B, A // G#D/G# to B

ADF#/E // G#BD/E // G#C#E/E to AE/E // AD/ to G#D/

This exercise is taken from the Beginning JAZZ KEYBOARD Book by Noah Baerman. You'll find tons of Jazz music resources at Jazz Music Shop Jazz Sheet Music.

Have fun with this song and by the way, if you're interested in more information regarding these kind of chords, visit voicing-7th-chords.

Let me know how this works for you.

Best,








"Jazz washes away the dust of every day life." -- Art Blakey
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