Viewing: Theory/Analysis - View all posts

7.5 beat time 

My love for North Indian Classical music began when I took a course taught by Vinay Bhide at Carleton University in 2002. His introduction to Indian music was aimed at all Western musicians, but to me seemed geared even more towards jazz musicians since so much of the excitement in Hindustani music comes from improvisation, usually over a pre-determined or standard form.  Their idea of form differs, but not as much as you might think. 

Although the amount of great reading materials is rapidly growing, I most…

Read more

Simple Triads 

One of the first theory lessons I like to teach is that there are only 12 major chords and 12 minor chords.
Learning these is attainable in a relatively short amount of time.

To simplify this further I start with the six "3 White note chords":
C, Dmin, Emin, F, G, and Amin

And the six "White-Black-White chords":
Cmin, D, E, Fmin, Gmin, A

With these second six we start to have the potential for some unusual and more offbeat chord progressions.

The remaining chords can be thought of as "black-white-black" (6), "all…

Read more

Bud Powell Un Poco Loco 

My big project this fall was digging into Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco". 

It's a song with more than one moment that pushes the envelope of standard jazz language, rhythm and form. The Max Roach drum pattern alone has been elaborated on by many- the 5 over 4 pattern is filled with energy and slightly lopsided, not quite adding up to two bars.At the fast cut time tempo, I feel like it has a falling forward momentum, which feels to me like he was aiming more for whole note triplets across the barline (this was…Read more

California Girls 

Given the swing from -15C to 15C and back that we are having, I'm pretty excited to have a show coming up where we play instrumental arrangements of Beach Boys tunes.  Brian Wilson was heavily influenced by Gershwin, and lush jazzy progressions sneak into the later material, but even on an earlier pop tune like California Girls there is an interesting exploring pattern at work.

Check out the chord progression for the chorus:

The song is in B major with the verses mainly using traditional I, IV and V chords…Read more

Interpreting a melody - My Funny Valentine (part 3) 

After getting the ball rolling with three worked-out versions of the first eight bars of My Funny Valentine, and then looking at how three singers performed them, it was only natural to find three great instrumental versions to look at.  Keep in mind that this is the first time the melody is being stated in the performance- although with a song like this there is a lot of familiarity with the original on the part of both listener and performer.

Sonny Stitt - from a Quincy Jones' collection.  It was really…Read more

Vocal phrasing of a melody - My Funny Valentine (part 2) 

This is really a continuation of my previous post about rhythmically worked-out backphrasing.  I thought it might be interesting to take some of my favourite singers' versions of My Funny Valentine and see exactly what they are doing. 

Here is Chet Baker from "The Best of Chet Baker Sings" - one of my first vocal jazz records.  On it are simple and beautiful versions of 20 songs every jazz musician should know.  Chet's phrasing leans towards triplet-type figures.  The exact rhythm in measure 5 is hard to…Read more

Ornette Coleman "How Deep Is The Ocean" 

Ornette plays standards (and with pianists) so rarely that I want to dig into what this early example of his band sitting in with Paul Bley does.  I also have lifted a bunch of his playing on "Embraceable You" but this performance of "How Deep Is The Ocean", an Irving Berlin Standard from the '30s, is a track I haven't really listened to before, from an album (Live at the Hillcrest 1958) I've been meaning to dig into more.   The horns play a unison intro line, it sounds loosely out of time but they… Read more

Lena Horne "I've Got It Bad And That Ain't Good" 

When I wrote some CD reviews for Peter Hum at, I felt I gained some good insight from that kind of in-depth listening- especially knowing I would have to turn those thoughts into words.  (And that someone might actually read them).  Recently I have been doing a lot of really focused listening to all kinds of music, some familiar, some I thought I was familiar with but that sounds new on re-listen, and some completely new from all genres and time periods.  This is the first of some individual…Read more

Autumn Leaves 

At pickup jazz gigs and jams, musicians are often confused by the key of the standard "Autumn Leaves". It's commonly played in G minor (like the Cannonball/Miles version) or in E minor (as printed in the real book). However it starts in the relative major (in the case of E minor, an Amin7 chord, a ii-chord in the key of G Major), so if someone says "Autumn Leaves... In G" they could mean either version.  I personally feel that it is a minor-key piece, as the piece ends resolved to the Minor, and the first…Read more

What key do you do it in? 

Does it sound different when you play or sing a song in C or in D?  The simple answer is yes.  But there are factors that come into play before you get to any lofty imagery-based reasons.

The biggest issues we face as jazz performers are the difficulty level of the key as it lies on your instrument and whether or not there is a negative quality to the sound from playing it in a higher or lower register.  To vocalists this is called tessitura.  The goal in choosing a key is to avoid drawing attention to it…

Read more

Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) 

After having played the entire Friends album by the Beach Boys, it seemed natural that playing the whole Pet Sounds should be a priority.  "Friends on Friends" (Matt Ouimet, Phil Bova, and myself) is a trio that covers Beach Boys songs instrumentally.  While removing vocals from the Beach Boys songs sounds like it would diminish them, it really just showcases how strong the songwriting was. 

"Don' Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)" was the first song I learned off Pet Sounds- it's also the only song…Read more


Odd time signatures have a kind of a mysterious appeal among musicians.  Recently I saw a band in L.A. do a whole set of jazz standards in 13, and it was just as varied in tempos and feels as a typical set of standards in 4.  All time signatures can be broken down into some form of 2's and 3's, my favourite example being North Indian 5 and 1/4 time, where you count to three three times, each time doubling your speed.  (1---2---3---1-2-3-123) 

Earlier this year I was listening to some Robert Johnson and…Read more

Björk - "Isobel" 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, "Isobel" was the first song I heard by Björk, which started a lifelong appreciation for her music.

While I'd argue the subtlety of the song is in the layers of sounds, the textures and rhythms, there are still some interesting things to note in the harmony and melody. Since I was still in high school when I first figured out the chords to this song, it was a revelation that the main chord progression was a variant of the Rodgers & Hart staple "My Funny Valentine". Both…Read more

8-bar blues 

Something I often do to introduce students to improvising is play a blues accompaniment and give them small parts of the blues scale so they can start making up little melodies. (Usually in Eb and C where the blues scales are visually memorable on the piano). Prior to improvising, when i was little, I had teachers show me simple blues songs for the piano by Eric Kriss, but I didn't really start to comfortably improvise until later because of the difficulty in simultaneously focusing on playing a strong…Read more

Björk & Analyzing Popular Music 

Bjork is one of my favourites. In high school I saw and heard the completely contrasting videos for "Isobel" and "It's Oh So Quiet" and I think I must have been impressed that someone could do such remarkably different things stylistically and yet still sound like only they could sound. 

At one point I was listening to her record "Vespertine" with another musician/Bjork-fan.  I mentioned how one song was completely in the Lydian mode. His response was that he didn't like to analyze her music because it…Read more