More Listening Thoughts
In my last post I wrote about the importance of listening to music and how having a healthy collection of recordings can help your development as a player. I thought I would expand on some of the benefits of listening and share some more listening thoughts on how you can use it in your daily practice.
Developing a concept of sound:
If somebody asked us to say something with an American accent, most of us would probably be able to make a reasonably good attempt. Why? Because on a daily basis through television, movies, music and media we have been exposed to Americans and have heard their accent. The same would go for many other accents from around the word. Now, suppose we were asked to say something with a Togolese accent. For most of us this would be a much more difficult task. The reason being that we have probably not heard the accent enough in order to imitate it. I am sure that there are linguistics experts who could describe the way an American or Togolese accent sounds, but it would still be very difficult to speak with the correct accent without having heard it first.
The same thing goes for music. By listening to the sounds of great players in whatever style of music interests us we begin to develop a concept of sound that we can recall and work towards developing in our own playing. The more listening we do, the broader our concept becomes. It is important that we listen to quality playing. If we only listen to how the school band played on a given performance then our potential will be limited to the performance of the school band! Seek the best sounds in the world and learn from the best in the comfort of your own lounge room.
It is also imperative that teachers demonstrate during lessons. It is not good enough for a teacher to spend an entire lesson describing a sound or style by merely talking about it. A student must be able to listen to the sound in order to have the best chance of success. If a teacher cannot demonstrate by playing for the student then they should at the very least be able to refer the student to someone who can, or supply recordings to listen to.
I have heard on too many occasions in the trumpet community descriptions of sounds that would “peel paint off the walls”. This kind of description can be taken the wrong way by young musicians and encourage them to develop crass, insensitive and ugly concepts of tone. Personally I would rather encourage the development of “brilliant”, “lively” or “projecting” tones rather than a generation of trumpeters sounding like angle grinders cutting through sheet metal. Better still, encourage the students to listen and make up their own descriptions of what they have heard.
How many times have we all seen charts that have nothing more than “Swing” printed next to the tempo marking? Swing can mean so many things. Only by having a vast knowledge of styles gained through listening to music can we begin to interpret styles appropriately. The same goes for orchestral repertoire. Without having a very clear concept of sound and style gained through exposure to music, we cannot perform it with sensitivity and confidence.
For those of you who are less experienced and would like a little more detail, swing quavers are typically described as a subdivision of two quaver triplets tied together followed by one quaver triplet….
Precisely my point: It’s too hard to comprehend the theory. Have a listen to swing quavers and you’ll notice they are usually played as a series of “doo-dah’s”. The length of the “doo” can vary depending on what era swing you are trying to emulate. In some cases, like in some be-bop music, the quavers should not be swung at all. The importance lies in the emphasis of the offbeat accents.
Let me demonstrate.
In this clip I am playing an excerpt in a swing style. Theoretically it is an accurate example of swing, however I have made no attempt to interpret it according to the Billy May recording (an ideal example of Big Band swing).
Straight Swing - My Silent Love
In this next clip I have tried to interpret the excerpt with similar style and phrasing as the lead trumpet on the recording(Conrad Gozzo). Gozzo was a masterful trumpeter and his sound, style and phrasing are indicative of the era.
Stylised Swing - My Silent Love
And here’s Conrad Gozzo in the original:
Billy May - My Silent Love
USE OF VIBRATO
Trumpeter’s Prayer is another example of Conrad Gozzo’s artistry. This an excerpt of Trumpeter’s Prayer with and without vibrato. The way vibrato is used has changed over the years. Throughout the 40’s and 50’s it was typically faster than how it is played these days, and in this excerpt I have attempted to remain faithful to that era. It is important to listen to as many recordings as possible so as to develop the facility on your instrument to play with vibrato. It is then up to your personal taste whether to use it.
When I was a young lad I went to my teacher, Mr Danny Madden, with a recording of a particular theme. I told him how much I loved the trumpet playing on it and that one day, I wanted to play like that. My teacher responded by suggesting that I transcribe it. I went home and transcribed the trumpet part. Of course my rhythm notation required correction, but the exercise had taught me how to listen within the music and hear that there was more than one trumpet playing. It introduced me to sound, time, rhythm, dynamics, articulation, intonation and style. What a lesson! My teacher set me on a life-changing path by saying almost nothing at all! More transcription followed as part of my trumpet lessons.
Those early exercises in transcription were actually listening exercises that to this day I believe are responsible for me learning how to read music and interpret it with a clear concept of sound and style. Furthermore, transcribing taught me how to hear what sections sound like and how they balance depending on musical genres.
Danny Madden based a great deal of his trumpet ideology around learning how to hear what to aim for before playing it. He encouraged me to sing the notes in my mind so as to have a very clear target to aim for in both sound concept as well as pitch.
Transcribing taught me to listen to complex sounds and rhythms and the result was more or less that I learned how to hear rhythm before I could actually read it. For me, the transition from hearing music to reading it was relatively easy. None of it would have been possible without the ear training that I received from listening exercises with Danny.
This can all be a lot to get used to, so we’ll leave it there for now.
Remember to listen intentionally, think about how to mimic the sound of players you are hearing, and take the time to transcribe a tune every now and then.
Come back and read my next post where we explore some more of the reasons behind and applications of your newfound listening skills.
– Shane Gillard