Archive for January, 2008

Rhythm and Blues

Thursday, January 31st, 2008
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Rhythm and blues, in its most modern definition, is soul and funk-based style of pop music that started during disco but truly flourished well after disco’s death. Originally, however, in the 1940s rhythm and blues was a term coined as a non-offensive way to refer to African-American music. As the form carried on, it slowly began to lose the stigma as a non-racist moniker and became a truly influential and important genre of music not necessarily particular only to African Americans.

Rhythm and blues, influenced by jazz and gospel music, is often credited as being the originator of modern pop music; it has heavily influenced both rock and hip-hop music, two of the biggest music markets today. It came into popularity in America in the 1950s, just prior to rock and roll’s thriving inception, and overlapped with the very popular jazz music of the time. As rock and roll grew in America, so did rhythm and blues; rock and roll fans often listened to rhythm and blues, just as rhythm and blues fans sometimes latched on to rock on roll.

The Bubble-Gum Rock of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s grew out of the rhythm and blues of the 40’s — everyone from Elvis to Ricky Nelson to Fats Domino was strongly influenced by the R&B musicians that preceeded them.

Rhythm and blues hit big in the UK in the 1960s, as well; however, the distinction between rock and roll and rhythm and blues was far more pronounced. The UK rhythm and blues scene (which eventually morphed into soul) was largely embraced by a scene of mostly teenagers known as mods. These rhythm and blues fans differed greatly from the rockers, who listened only to rock and roll and held rhythm and blues (and the mods that went with it) in high disdain. The social dysfunction between these two groups caused large problems within the combined music scenes of rhythm and blues and rock and roll; the characteristic tension is documented in “Quadrophenia,” a fictional movie depicting fairly non-fictional situations.

As decades passed and rhythm and blues grew in popularity in the United States and abroad, it shifted shapes and became known as simply R&B, a slower, more melodic version of the original rhythm and blues form that is often seen as the modern counterpart to hip-hop.

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How To Become a “Chord Detective” and See Through The Notes Into The Chords

Monday, January 28th, 2008
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I have had many people call or write me and ask me
something like this:

“I play by ear, or by chords, but lots of music doesn’t
have chord symbols written in — how do I know what chord
to play when?”

“Our hymn book doesn’t tell which chords to use — how can
I know what to play?”

“I read music but don’t have a clue what chords are being
used. How can I know what they are?”

If you want to play a song using chords instead of the
written sheet music notes, but the song doesn’t have any
chord symbols printed (such as Cm7, G13, B , D dim7, etc.)
then learn this important skill.

There’s a logic behind every note written in music, &
you can learn to understand that logic, and therefore
understand music.

If you can read music to some degree but don’t “see
through” the written music — don’t understand what you are
seeing — now you can put on your “chord glasses” that good
chord detectives wear to see through all that mass of black
printed notes on a white page of sheet music to quickly
understand what chords are being used and the “family
logic” behind it all.

The “family logic” is this: In every key there are
certain chords which are organic to that key — “family
members”, so to speak. For example, in the key of F the 3
most used chords are F, Bb and C. In the key of G the most
used chords are G, C, and D. In the key of Eb the most used
chords are Eb, Ab, and Bb. Do you see a pattern here?

Chords are based on scales, and the chords which are
used the most in any key are built on the 1st degree of the
scale, the 4th degree of the scale, and the 5th degree of
the scale. They are identified by using the Roman numerals
I, IV, and V.

So the most used chords in any key are the I chord,
the IV chord, and the V chord. They are the primary chords,
and they are all major. They occur way more than other
chords. The next most used chords are the ii chord, the vi
chord, and the iii chord — all minor chords.

Just knowing these simple facts gives a musician a
giant advantage when learning or playing a song. If he or
she knows the most likely chords that are going to occur in
a song, based on the key of the song, then they can scrape
together other evidence quickly to build an air-tight case
that they know the chords of that song.

For example, let’s take two musicians about to play
from a piece of sheet music. Both read music, but only one
knows chords and music theory. The first musician looks at
the notes and sees a Bb in the bass clef as the first note,
a Eb in the bass clef in the second measure, a Bb in the 3rd
measure, an F in the fourth measure, and so on. He can play
what he sees, but nothing else, because he doesn’t grasp
the fact that the first few measure have given away the
fact that the primary chords have been outlined.

The second musician looks at the same music, but with
“X-ray eyes”. He sees through the same notes into the chord
structure behind the scenes.

The first musician is tied to the written music and
limited to the notes printed on the sheet music, while the
second musician has the best of both worlds: he can read
the music and play it as it is written, but he can also add
chords and fills and come out with a much bigger, more
interesting arrangement than the first musician.

The benefits of becoming a chord detective are many:

It allows a musician to immediately identify what key a
song is in…

It allows a musician to know POSITIVELY which chords are
most likely to occur in each song…

It allows a musician to look at the first measure and the
last measure and immediately know the harmonic form of any


It works in any key — major or minor…
It works with any kind of hymn or gospel song…
It works by releasing a musician from being “tied to the
written music”…
It works by allowing a musician to add chords of his or her

The bottom line is this: knowing chords and music
theory allows a “chord detective” to develop “see through
eyes” that immediately perceive the structure of a song and
then allow that musician to use both the written score and
any fillers or improvisations he or she desires to add to a

You’ll learn to “read” music like a map, by using
clues to figure out what chords are being used, then
playing by chords instead of the printed score.

Please go to “How To Become a Chord Detective”

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The Samba – A Gift From Brazil

Thursday, January 24th, 2008
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The Samba is a sort of carnival genre of music and dance. Rooted in Rio de Janeiro, it’s the most popular and well-known genre to come out of the Afro-Brazilian culture, a culture created by the slave trade from Africa to Brazil. It’s a very percussive, energetic form of music; as its roots are in carnival parades and celebrations, the samba’s earliest forms has occasional similarities in dynamic to that of marching bands. But the similarities end there; samba is a full-fledged form intended for dancing, not marching. It’s rhythmically unique and culturally vital to Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil.

Like many music and dance genres, the samba is rooted in peasant culture. Groups of neighbors in poor Rio neighborhoods played the music together to sing and dance to and soon adapted the style to become part of their yearly carnival celebration. The samba quickly became an integral part of carnival; the celebratory music was played during carnival parades, and its inclusion made carnival samba a large production. Each samba school (a samba group named so because they often practiced in school yards) performing at carnival included singers, dancers, and an overwhelming drum section in addition to other instruments. The samba schools created large, colorful floats and the dancers’ costumes were equally as intricate and bright. A samba school’s preparations for carnival (which takes place early in the year) would often start as early as July with an incredible number of people working behind the scenes to create the aesthetic. Musicians, too, started this early, working to create an original composition to be used as the yearly parade piece.

Samba stayed largely within the Brazilian underground until 1917 when the first samba recordings appeared; “Pelo Telofone” is believed to be the first recording, though the composition has been attributed to a few different people. This recording and the others that followed brought samba out of the Rio underground and into the limelight; the irresistible energy found in samba quickly caught on in the United States where it became a music and dance phenomenon. The samba dance, a Brazilian tango-based 2/4 step taken directly from the carnival dancers, was altered as it shifted cultures, and soon became the ballroom samba that most Americans know today. The traditional samba is still danced in Brazilian carnival parades.

Click here for information on many different rhythms.

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Piano Fingering Is Just Common Sense

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008
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When I operated a piano school many beginning younger students would try to read the notes by assuming that the little numbers above the notes in their piano books were the notes they were supposed to play. We finally convinced them that those were finger numbers, not note numbers — #1 does not mean Middle C and #2 does not mean D, and so on — but were the numbers of their fingers: thumb is #1, index finger is #2, and so forth.

And some piano students (not mine) are told that the fingering written on the printed sheet music is absolute — those are the fingers you MUST use. But it turns out that while they are good suggestions, they are not the best fingering for each individual person or each individual sitution.

For clarification on the common sense of fingering, please go to “The Logic of Piano Fingering”

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Can you improve more at the piano in 2008 than you have in the last 5 years?

Monday, January 7th, 2008
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It’s that time of the year when people think about the meaning of their lives, and what they would like to accomplish the next year.

I’ve always been a goal-setter — ever since I was a little kid. That doesn’t mean I reached the goals I set — far from it — but I did set lots of goals and actually reached some of them.

And one year I set a HUGE goal and reached it — a goal to improve more at the piano in one year than I had during the previous five years.

To read about the goal I set to improve at the piano in one year more than I had in the last five, click on “I dare you to improve more at the piano in 2008 than you have in the last five years”

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