#3 Learning From Recorded Music

Though I will be talking mostly about jazz, this method works and has been one of the primary ways of learning most genres of music since the invention of recording devices.

I would recommend starting with something relatively classic and straight foreword. If you already have some records of your own that you like and find accessible, use them.

Great jazz records or artists to start with include:

Miles Davis
Bill Evans
Thelonius Monk
Billy Holiday
Count Basie
Lester Young
Louis Armstrong

Pick one or two records that you like and listen to them.

Firstly, listen in a general way… Trying to identify who you are listening to, what instrument/instrumentalist, what your general impressions are. If any parts strike you as particularly compelling, accessible, melodic, or if you find your self humming or tapping along to a certain part take note of which song it is and roughly where it is in the song.

Here’s where you go ahead and do it!

Secondly, listen in a specific way.
Now listen specifically for sections. Most standard jazz tunes follow a pretty straight foreword form.
Try to recognize, the intro if there is one.
Try to recognize exactly where the main melody begins.
Try to recognize exactly where the main melody ends and the first solo begins.
-Is this song in a standard form that you recognize (some are and some aren’t)

The reason I say try, is because this can sometimes be much more difficult than it would seem.

Tip: If the song is a standard and there are recordings of singers doing it, I would strongly recommend getting a recording of a singer doing it. Great singers of standard repertoire include: Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Billy Holiday, Many more available on I-tunes

Things to keep in mind are:
-that many players play the first phrase of the solo before the end of the main melody (they overlap a little or the last phrase becomes a send-off for the beginning of the solo).
-The same is true for one chorus or section into another. Players often overlap these.

Listen to the one track over and over and over again and sing along with parts. For the beginning (this should take close to a week or more), sing along with the main melody/head and one chorus of solo. Keep singing along with it until you can sing it accurately (every note and rhythm perfectly).

Let’s use an example from our list.

Artist: Miles Davis
Album: Kind of Blue
Song: Freddie Freeloader.

Observations one could make with little or no musical background:
There is no intro. It goes straight into the main melody. The melody is repeated twice. Both are exactly the same but something sounds a little different at the end of the second time. (If you’re not sure what it is, listen again and ask which instruments are different. listen to one instrument at a time if you have to). Eventually you will find that the chords sound a little different the second time. This is good enough for now. Now you will notice that after the second repetition, there is some silence in the melody section followed by a piano solo.
The phrases are all nicely organized into breathable and singable phrases and at the end the first phrase of the second chorus, starts before the end of the first.

There are many ways to learn from recordings. Depending on your reason for choosing a certain recording, you might study it differently. The method I am presenting is a good start, because it develops your ears and your jazz sensibilities without the need or use of theory. I would recommend that you try this method (whether beginner or more advance), and see what kind of effects it has on you. And please, let me know any comments that you have.

At least a few days later…

Don’t forget to give each step as much time as you need. If you are going on to the next step, you should have put at least 3 days into the previous steps and as much as a week or more.

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