Listening and learning

Listening and learning - student project

In this section I have listed a few projects that will help us get in a better "headspace" as musicians. Each project corresponds to a video lesson, and the goal is for these projects to serve as a community center for sharing ideas, videos, and notes. Let's get started!

Project #1: Accompaniment

 No matter what genre you associate most closely with, or what instrument you play, you probably have a list of favorite players. Although these players are more than likely known for what they do when it's time to take a solo, they spend the majority of their time (and make their living) playing accompaniment parts. Over the next few days take time to listen closely to your heroes, but focus on the contribution these players make to the overall sound, rather than the notes they play during their breaks. If possible take notes on what you notice the player(s) doing from an accompaniment standpoint. They compare this to the way you play in a group setting. See what changes you can easily make that will give you more confidence, the next time you play music with others.

Exercise 1.1: You can practice this easily, by printing out a chord chart to your favorite tune, and playing along without any lead lines. This is a great exercise, in that it gets you focused on improving your role as an accompaniment player. 

Exercise 1.2: On the class home page, post a video of your favorite player(s) in action with notes about what makes that player(s) successful from an accompaniment standpoint.

Side note: some specific players to listen to who are/were masters of accompaniment: Jerry Douglas (Dobro), Charlie Christian (guitar), Pino Palladino (Electric Bass), Adam Steffey (mandolin) and Steve Jordan (Drums).

This video link is a prime example of not only great tone, musicianship, and technical mastery, but is also a tutorial in accompaniment. Each member of this group is recognized internationally for their ability to enhance any musical environment they inhabit.

Video link:

Project #2: Tone

What is tone? To put it simply, tone is the quality of each note played. We all recognize great tone, especially in vocalists (Think of the smooth sound of Ella Fitzgerald, or the gravely croonings of Bruce Springstein.) Just like each vocalist has a unique quality to the notes they produce, each musician puts an individual stamp on every piece they play by employing their own tone.

Exercise 2.1: Watch the following videos, and make notes about each solo played during them. Rather than focusing solely on the notes played, pay close attention to the quality of each note. I have tried to select players who are known for fantastic and consistent tone.

Side Note: Share the notes you take on the home page, and share videos of other greats that are your personal heroes!  -John Mayer- Electric Guitar    - Adam Steffey and Sierra Hull- Mandolin  - Bireli Lagrene- Electric Guitar Brad Mehldau- Piano Jeff Coffin- Saxophone Steve Jordan- Drums - Tony Rice- Acoustic Guitar

Exercise 2.2: Take a piece of music you are very familiar with (the simpler the better). Get your cell phone or some other recording device and play through the piece like you normally would, recording what you play. Then look at the notes you have taken on the players above (and your own favorites) and make a conscious effort to play the same piece of music with your best tone, recording what you play. Then, compare the two recordings, and note the differences between your tone in the first and in the second. This should show you how simple adjustments in tone can make such a positive difference!

Project # 3: Tastefulness

Tastefulness, much like tone, is an essential weapon in the complete musician's arsenal. You may be asking yourself, "what is tastefulness"? There are many different ways to define tastefulness, but in my mind tastefulness is as follows: performing with the music, the audience, and your fellow musicians as a priority over yourself. An example of tastefulness would be seeing a musician in concert who plays cleanly (each note being heard and few buzzes), who shares the spaces left in songs for lead instrumental licks with the other members of the band, and  who doesn't try to play the fastest, loudest, most technically impressive solo each time the opportunity arises. The term "play for the song" comes up a lot when recording, or playing with tasteful musicians. This expression encourages the player to think about the emotional quality of the song (is it a ballad, a rocking instrumental, etc.) and solos/lead lines that reflect the same emotional content. The best example I can think of is from the acoustic guitarist Ron Block of Alison Krauss and Union Station. On the track "Baby Now That I've Found You," Block plays what is in my opinion one of the most tasteful, and emotional solos on record. I have included a link to this track/solo below. - Ron Block- "Baby Now That I've Found You"

Exercise 3.1: Using, watch videos of famous instrumentalists, making notes about whether you find that playing tasteful or not, and why. Post your reviews on the project portion of the homepage.

Exercise 3.2: If you are at the point in your playing career that you can learn solos, find one that you find particularly tasteful. Break that solo down into small sections,and learn each section, focusing on playing each note clearly, with solid tone. This will work best if you pick a solo that is in a slower piece, and one that is not overwhelming. Good luck everyone, this will be fun! :) 

Andrew Buckner
Earning Respect as a Musician