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transcription vs. technique

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  1. cruxtable

    There seems to me to be two ways to learn - whether it's learning soloing or chord voicings for comping or chord-melody - and I'm trying to decide how I should divide up my time.

    On the one hand there is transcription - learning solo lines over tunes by the masters, and learning how to apply them, and doing the same with chord voicings. I would say this is by far the easier and more fun method, and it's plenty productive if you manage to adopt and apply all the lines and chord voicings you learn. This is more favorable to me - I feel like I could learn everything I need to know just from transcribing. On the downside, it might not be as thorough of an education as the other method:

    So on the other hand, there is practicing the technique. By this I mean, rather than transcribing chord voicings or lines, you practice scales, patterns, and arpeggios - both by themselves and over tunes. And as for chord voicings, you would figure out chord voicings on your own, whether systematically going through drop 2, 3 etc. voicings and applying them, or do as I read Kurt did and just kind of figure them out as you need them for chord-melody playing without learning systematically. This method would be more thorough since you work thoroughly with patterns and scales and chords, rather than just learning the licks or voicings you hear as you transcribe.

    Certainly both methods are valuable, but I'm wondering how I should divide up my time, because transcription certainly seems easier and faster. The problem with it to me is that many of the masters had to learn it the hard way, and I would follow in their footsteps - I guess by not spending all my time copying them (sounds contradictory, but it makes sense I think). Let's take Giant Steps for example. If I want to learn how to play it like Coltrane, should I transcribe a ton of Coltrane over Giant Steps, or do what he did and shed the changes with patterns until I got it down? Same with Rosenwinkel - transcribe a lot of Rosenwinkel, or practice the kinds of exercises that he did over tunes? And as for chords, spend more time working with chord voicings myself to find many possibilities, like it seems Kurt did, or go through recordings and learn every voicing I hear?

    What's your approach?

  2. jorgemg1984

    Man don't get me wrong but you always come here with this huge questions... No one can answer that question but you, YOU need to find out what is going to help you the most.

  3. jazzbum

    That is a huge question, though I understand where you are coming from. I've been there.

    Here is my 2 cents: TECHNIQUE DOES NOT = MUSICALITY

    Lage Lund is an amazing player and he put it simply to me. Practice MUSIC, no matter what you are doing - because when you are on the bandstand the things you have practiced come out.

    If you are just practicing technique then there is going to be a gap between your technique and your musicality. Like most of us guitarists - you will probably be able to play a lot more complex stuff than you can SING - which in my opinion - can make for lousy music.

    I think about the masters and I know those guys copped a ton of stuff from their predecessors. They also spent time thinking about things and figuring them out - and writing. Finding their own voice. It's not easy but just write stuff. I wrote about 20 tunes last year. Some of them sound terrible today - but they helped me understand what I heard, what I liked and what my weaknesses were. None of them were up tempo bebop pieces - because my technique is lacking that department etc....

    Transcription is good ear training and aesthetic exploration as well. You figure out what you like about someone's playing and you cop a piece of it, plus you can analyze it and try to understand why they played it.

    When it comes down to it I have had to:

    1. Transcribe what I like
    2. Record Myself/Write - to understand weaknesses
    3. Learn tunes - LOTS OF TUNES and make each something that a new technique can be applied to

    I made a notebook of tunes I would learn weekly and took notes about each one - Chord Functions, Melodic Motifs, and phrasing. Then based on that I would apply a weakness of mine I had. One of the first ones was Big Nick. It addressed issues I had playing in the upper register, soloing on major changes, and alternate picking. I sat down with the melody and figured out a logical way of playing it that I could make sound good. Then I just sat and improvised on the changes until I could do so without any backing track....etc.....

    Lastly - and this one is hard for me - play with a metronome and make it sound GOOOD.

  4. Anny Mouse

    "Play with a metronome and make it sound GOOOD"

    That's one of the best things you can work on. Play to a click, record it, and listen back. Don't be afraid of what you might hear. Be self critical!

    Paul, the short answer is you need to do BOTH, and much more than that even. There is so much to learn with this music and our role as a guitar player that it can be overwhelming. The idea is to not focus on the AMOUNT of stuff you need to learn, but rather learn whatever it is you feel like you should work on TODAY. Tomorrow is different and you will work on different stuff. I think people who stick to a regimented routine can lack things in the end because they get tunnel vision on things and miss other important things. Let yourself be distracted by something else that seems interesting when you're practicing. Don't be afraid to leave what you're working on at that moment and move to the other thing. Try to have a holistic approach rather than an isolated one.

    If you want to play Giant Steps like Coletrane then I would say definitely transcribe him. That will give you a start to figure out how to approach it for yourself. You also need to practice the craft of your instrument and learn to navigate the neck as best you can. This is continuous.

    I think there are benefits to learning a lot of voicings, but in the end you can only retain and use so many. Learning a lot will give you more of a broader perspective on which ones YOU find beautiful and interesting for yourself. Use those and throw them in any chance you get while playing a tune until they become automatic at your disposal.

    To go along with Lage Lund's quote, I've also heard Victor Wooten say "Don't play the bass, play music."

    Lastly, I would say pay close attention to your taste. Taste is what gives people their own voice and individuality... choosing certain notes over others, the way they phrase, time feel, articulation, dynamics, tone, tone, tone, etc.. we're all playing the same 12 notes so taste plays a huge factor. Be honest with your own taste and follow that.

    If you're not playing stuff you love then what are you playing it for? Something to think about.


  5. KyleMac

    Play tunes

  6. aramaya

    ran across this, thought it might be of interest.

    [+] Embed the video | Video DownloadGet the Video Player

  7. I took a lesson with her. She was really helpful. Thanks for posting this. I am due to take another one. It was quite refreshing to take a lesson with her. Things also ( perhaps in my case or that lesson) felt somewhat awkward as there were times where answers to questions were either obvious or very open ended ( either way putting a bulk of it in my court )... Which is scary and liberating too. She really improvises and there is this thing that somehow feels real old school ( in a good way ): she wasn't plugged in so it was the room and the guitar and everything was super clearly articulated.the tools just seemed like a session dude from the 50's : rich sound, site reading skills, everything... Except nothing seemed gimmicky, or like she had a backlog of licks or anything like that and I felt she was hearing my concerns ( whether she thought it was valid or bullshit ) . Sometimes it feels like people were going to show me their thing regardless of what my deal was before I walked in the door.most of it was not playing but when she did each note very full, even the high registers were fat. She improvises for sure! You can see/hear her looking, thinking and deciding.


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