Monday, 13 May 2013

Jazz for dummies

The title refers to what I think I need, rather than what I'm getting. I'm a couple of weeks into this course and struggling already. The first week had Gary talking a lot about what the course is about and not much on the theory. For the first assignment we had to analyse one of his solos and do our own over the same backing. I made a few notes about his solo, mostly based on a transcription where I could actually see what notes he was using and relate them to the chords. I understand the basics of how chords are built, but not necessarily how to use them or even play some of them on guitar. My own solo was based partly on what I worked out and partly on what sounded right.

The marks are in and I managed 5/8 on the analysis. The solos were not graded, but I got a few interesting comments. They could tell I was bluffing, but I had confessed that anyway. They suggest what scales I could have used, but the course had not covered that. I know I'm not great at soloing. I usually just play around with the blues scale, but have been trying to move beyond that. That's part of why I'm taking this course.

Week two introduced a whole load of scales. I was aware of the various 'modes', but not how to use them. There were also some other 'altered' scales. Gary zooms through these, but it's still not giving me enough context. I don't even know what a dominant 7th really is. Wikipedia didn't enlighten me. The assignment is to play around with several of these scales. I can at least do random selections based on fingerings I've worked out and maybe come up with some tunes. I need to do that in the next couple of days. I've listened to what some others have done and their efforts are more elaborate than I could manage.

I was already aware that jazz is based on a lot of theory, but still find it amazing that people can apply all this in real-time whilst playing. I guess it comes from lots of playing. We covered some of the basics on the evening course I did years ago where we would work on a tune each week, but I've forgotten most of it as I didn't get to apply it outside the lessons.

I listen to some jazz for fun, but can't really tell if it's using the theory. Of course some rock and blues players do great solos without knowing any of this, but might be more limited in what they play. I am generally more analytical than spontaneous, but this theory is hard. I shall persist as long as I can with the course. It doesn't really matter if I don't pass in the end.