martedì 29 luglio 2014

Learn how to listen to classical and jazz music without doing

About 12 years ago on Monday, 22nd July 2002 I woke up and I discovered to be able to listen to most complex jazz, contemporary and classical music.
In Italy we have a wonderful radio (Radio 3) that broadcasts stuff like Berio, Bach, Verdi, free jazz every night at prime time and I was hit by such beauty suddenly.
Well, the four years preceding that day I listened 95% of my time to pop and rock and the little jazz and classical I listened to was not that difficult.
In the last two years I have reconstructed how it happened and why it happened remembering precisely what kind of artists I used to listen to. I am studying a little bit of musical theory and I suggest to begin with the beautiful books by Aaron Copland and Alex Ross.
I am not able of doing accurate analysis on my own but I am confident that I can spot which ones are reasonable when I read a paper or I talk with a professional musician.

Recommended pop/rock artists to learn how to listen to classical, jazz and contemporary music without doing. These are not necessarily the best or my favorite ones but the most useful.

You can try to do the same, if you want. When I was a boy I was into 60's and 70's. I've tried to find a modern equivalent for each one of the artists of 60's and 70's.

  1. Frank Zappa
  2. Carlos Santana
  3. King Crimson/Robert Fripp
  4. Jimi Hendrix
  5. John Cale/Nico/Velvet Underground
  6. Robert Wyatt/Soft machine/Matching Mole
  7. Pink Floyd/Syd Barrett/David Gilmour/Richard Wright*


  1. Steve Vai
  2. Sting
  3. John Petrucci/Dream theater/Chroma Key/Liquid Tension experiment/Jordan Rudess
  4. Joe Satriani
  5. Bjork
  6. Esperanza Spalding
  7. Radiohead/Jonny Greenwood
Short explanation:
1) complex harmonies and counterpoint, polyrhythms, elaborate textures, tone color variations,  12-tone/microtonality
2) fusion/crossover, strict adherence  to tonal harmony even  when there are modal melodies/solos (e.g. modal jazz, tonal blues)
3) linear counterpoint with modal or even polymodal (a.k.a. polytonal) harmony, exotic neoclassical and jazz scales, polyrhythms, minimalism
4) modal harmony, polyrhythms
5) minimalism/drone/gamelan, monophony
6) songwriter with swing beat, ostinatos, jazz harmony and vocal melismas
7) simple counterpoint in some albums and simple homophony in others, minimalism, tone color variations

So it is up to you to identify your points of strength and weaknesses.

Oldies are more experimental and naive.
Modern are smoother and academic.

If you have lack of time focus on 1,2,3 because others are a little bit redundant.

Most blues and folk ----> 2 or 4
Most indie rock and some metal, some pop ----> 5
Most metal ----> 3 or 4
Progressive rock ---->4, 3, 2 or  (rare) 1
Jazz singers----> 6
Most pop ----> 7
John Lennon-----> 4
Paul McCartney------> 2
George Harrison-----> 2
Dark side of the moon -----> 2
Yes ----> 1
Gentle Giant -----> 1
Queen, ABBA, Bee Gees ------> 2
Michael Jackson ------> 2 or 6
Beatles ------> 2, 4 or (rare) 3
Emerson, Lake & Palmer -----> 3
Captain Beefheart ----> 4
Led Zeppelin -----> 4
Yardbirds -----> 2
Cream, Clapton -----> 4, 2
Van der graaf generator, Peter Hammill------> 4 or (rare) 3, 6
Genesis -------> Peter Gabriel era 3, Steve Hackett era 2, Phil Collins era  7
Supper's ready, Octavarium suite -------> 1
David Bowie -------> 2, 5, 7
Tim Buckley -------> 6
Shawn Phillips ------> 6
Donovan --------> 2
Dylan --------> 4 or (rare) 2
Joni Mitchell --------> 2 or 6
Donald Fagen ------> 6

*According to my sources and analysis I made on my own Syd Barrett was a be-bop scales expert and Rick Wright knew some counterpoint (most of these evidences are in live recordings, not in studio albums). Unfortunately their contribution to Pink Floyd music was numerically negligible so it is a better proxy to put the band in 7 than in 3. Sorry to say that but after reading  most of the interviews it is evident that  Roger Waters is clueless about music. I even recently discovered that what I liked most (bass lines in Animals) is actually played by Dave Gilmour.
Both Syd Barrett and Jimi Hendrix could play standard tonal blues. There are rarities (unaccredited singles, bootlegs) in which they do it on properly -e.g. I am a King Bee, Lucy Leave, Bleeding heart.
Most English and European rock after 76 has become really simple and fits 5,7.
Americans do it more seriously nowadays.
Sorry for putting too many guitarists in the list, but in pop/rock usually best musicians play guitar.

In Italy rock fans are scared like death by virtuosity. There is a non written equation "virtuosism = lack of creativity". This is a huge limiting belief and a self-damaging thought: virtuosity is a key component of "serious music", you ought to get used to it as soon as possible.

Suggested reading:

Edward Macan - Rocking the classics: English progressive rock and the counterculture chapter 2 subchapters: Classical forms, Virtuosity, Modal Harmony

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