Aligning musical vocabulary to the situation
2nd Jul 2012 | 12:23
...Or knowing how to 'make musical sense'
I once knew a pianist that would finish each composition with the most loaded chord he knew, along the lines of Dmaj9#11 and similar such.
Thing was, everything before this chord tended to be simpler major or minor chords with a few 7ths or inversions to smooth out the changes. I asked him once why he did it and he said a big ending chord allowed everyone to know the piece had finished and as the chord was to be sustained, why not make it sound good and/or raise eyebrows?
I didn't buy it and thought the big jazz chord, while great on it's own, sounded somewhat naïve in his music (that said, we were music students at the time).
When composing and performing, a big part of the process should involve consideration of musical relevance. It's imperative to keep broadening your vocabulary but one should also be able to filter out the 'not in keeping' moments if they jar with the underlying music.
Along these lines, I'm reminded of a quote from Jeff Goldblum's character in the movie Jurassic Park "…so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." If we change this to "…so preoccupied with whether or not they could sweep pick/play alt dom chords/chin tap etc, they didn't stop to think if they should" you can get my drift.
In a recent issue of Guitar Techniques, Joe Satriani made a similar case about difficult or exotic playing during his video tutorial feature. Being a musician isn't solely about filling our playing bag with more and more things we can pull off (sic), as immensely valid as this is.
It's also about having the musical maturity to know what is best to use in any given situation. This wisdom of choice is born from experience and personal taste and ultimately marks out a great musician from simply a good one.
As the fabled educator and jazzer Mick Goodrick once said in an interview many years ago in relation to the great Jim Hall "supposedly he placed a sign inside his guitar case so he would see it every time he took out his guitar. The sign said 'Make Musical Sense'."
Wise words and with lots of flexibility to boot too. Do you consider doing the same each time your case is opened?