Developing Musical Vocabulary
Hi everyone! I hope you are well today! I read a very interesting article in the May 2014 issue of Downbeat Magazine called "Melodic Study, Deep Listening and the Importance of Context" by Branford Marsalis. He was talking about his journey as a young musician studying licks from John Coltrane records, just trying to get what he could. Art Blakey asked him "When Coltrane was a young player, what do you think he listened to, tapes of him in the future?" Once Branford heard this, he was flummoxed. (So was I!) Branford states that "he had to accept the idea that Coltrane and his contemporaries didn't develop their originality by rejecting the music that came before them, but by embracing it."
I can relate to this because when I was younger, I wanted to play all of the cool stuff AND was a big music theory buff on top of that. I can tell you the musical modes and the science behind what I was playing. It was good, but I felt limited. Music theory is important and being musically current is important as well, but what good is it if one does not know who and what came before? Context is the key in all of this. I'm really grateful for websites like www.allmusic.com and www.digitaldreamdoor.com because they show the "family tree" of musicians. I can find out who Keith Jarrett was influenced by because of these websites.
Another thing that I picked up was that in order to pick up musical vocabulary, you MUST listen to music. Music is a language and the fastest way to pick up a language is to listen. Anyone can pick up a book of licks and lines (I'm not saying those books are bad.), but it's through actively listening that one can improve at a faster rate. Learning lines, chord progressions, melodies, arrangements, etc thtough through listening intentionally will be held more dearly because it will be more personal.
Listening to the music is an awesome journey because there is always something to listen to. I'm not saying that music theory doesn't have it's place. Music theory plays a part, but as Claude Debussy says, "Art creates theory. Theory does not create art."
Check out Branford Marsalis' article in the May 2014 issue of Downbeat. Also check out www.allmusic.com and www.digitaldreamdoor.com. These are some great resources!! Enjoy and feel free to comment!