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Musical elements and instruments
Chapter Outline

This chapter introduces the student to some of the elements of music, with an emphasis on the terms and concepts that prove useful for describing and understanding jazz performances. These include timbre (and the variations on timbre that produce individuality in jazz); instruments used in jazz ensembles; rhythm (free and pulse); meter (including downbeat and measure); polyrhythm (the distinctive, African-based approach to rhythm that produces "swing"); scales/modes, blues intonation; harmony and tonality (i.e., how chord progressions work); and texture (homophony, monophony, and polyphony).

  1. Empathy, Individuality, and Timbre
    1. Empathy
      1. Sometimes you "get" jazz, sometimes you don't.
      2. Jazz requires a particular kind of empathy.
      3. Although not absolutely necessary, learning about the fundamental rules and techniques of jazz can deepen one's understanding of it.
    2. Individuality: Timbre
      1. Timbre (tone color) refers to the distinctive qualities of a sound, as in the difference between instruments.
      2. Timbre is descriptive and aesthetic
      3. We control timbre: the tone of voice can indicate emotions; we can physically change the sound of a instrument with mutes.
      4. Timbral variation is a musical value in jazz and can be used to find one's own sound.
  2. The Ensemble
    1. Instruments
      1. Instruments are often classified by the way the sound is made.
      2. Wind instruments are the largest category of jazz instruments.
      3. Another way to classify instruments is by their musical use; for example, various kinds of solo instruments versus the more fixed types of rhythm section instruments.
    2. Winds
      1. These produce sound by vibrating a column of air that can be modified by changing the length of the column, or overblowing.
      2. The flute is a good example of how pitch changes by shortening the length of the air column.
      3. Overblowing is achieved by changing the embouchure and by increasing pressure.
    3. Brass Instruments
      1. Sound is made by vibrating lips in a cuplike mouthpiece.
      2. Valves control the length of tubing. Overblowing also contributes to the sound.
      3. The trumpet is the most common: it has cylindrical tubing except for the bell. The cornet and the flugelhorn are conical.
      4. The cornet was used until around 1926, when the trumpet took over. On early recordings it is difficult to tell the difference between the two.
      5. Various mutes change the trumpet's timbre: straight, cup, Harmon, plunger.
      6. Mutes can be used in combination. Half-valving and shaking can also vary timbre.
      7. Trombone: Uses a slide to change pitch. The slide allows for glissando or smear.
    4. Reed Instruments
      1. Sound is created by a vibrating reed that is clamped to a mouthpiece and placed between the lips.
      2. Jazz instruments use single reeds, which can vary in thickness.
      3. Sound can be varied by pressing the tongue on the reed, changing lip and tongue pressure, flicking the tongue against the reed, or overblowing, which can result in multiphonics.
      4. Clarinet: cylindrical, wooden, popular in New Orleans and swing jazz but declined in popularity since then
      5. Saxophone: alto, tenor, soprano, and baritone
      6. Early jazz and vaudeville musicians used it for comic effect as much as anything else. Later, the cozier, sexier sound of the sax was exploited, much to the chagrin of the "moral guardians of culture."
      7. By 1930, it became one of the main instruments of American music (especially alto and tenor).
    5. Rhythm Section
      1. Consists of instruments that provide harmony, bass, and percussion
    6. Harmony Instruments
      1. Piano (most important because of its popularity and range), guitar, banjo, electric piano, organ, vibraphone
      2. More than one harmony instrument may be used. A very popular combination is guitar and piano. The most common rhythm section is bass, drums, guitar, and piano.
    7. Bass
      1. It is the rock of the jazz ensemble, although it is seldom noticed.
      2. Two functions: harmonic support, rhythmic foundation; usually played pizzicato in jazz
      3. The electric bass is sometimes used instead of the acoustic bass.
      4. In early jazz, the tuba provided the bass.
    8. Percussion
      1. Drum kit, drum set, or trap set (traps). The musician uses all four limbs to play.
      2. Originated from marching band, where separate players played the bass drum, snare drum, and cymbals
      3. The drum set uses the same drums with a foot peddle for the bass drum. The bass drum, the snare drum, and hanging cymbals are all played by one person.
      4. Tom-toms (middle-sized drums) can also be used as part of this set, which is placed in front of the drummer in a semicircle.
      5. Cymbals: ride, crash, high-hat (two cymbals controlled by a foot pedal)
      6. Right foot on bass drum pedal, left foot on high hat pedal, right hand sticking the ride cymbal, left hand sticking snare drum or tom-tom.
      7. Can alter timbre: tape on cymbals, different size sticks, wire brushes, mallets.
      8. Latin percussion is sometime used: congas, bongos, timbales, maracas, guiro
    9. Dynamics
      1. Indicators of loudness: softest (pianissimo; pp), soft (piano; p), medium soft (mezzo piano; mp), medium loud (mezzo forte; mf), loud (forte; f), loudest (fortissimo; ff)
  3. Rhythm, Meter, and Swing
    1. Rhythm
      1. Related to biological phenomena such as heart beat, which is reflected in rhythmic pulse.
      2. Breath rhythm is more flexible and therefore akin to free rhythm, for example, the cadenza (e.g., opening of Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" ).
      3. Sonny Rollins's "Autumn Nocturne" provides an example of "speech rhythm"; Tatum's "Over the Rainbow" is an example of rubato.
    2. Meter
      1. Count along with "So What."
      2. You probably can hear how the pulse is grouped into a meter. In jazz, duple meter is most common (group pulses by two or four).
      3. Triple meter has three pulses or beats per measure; irregular meters can be in fives ("Take Five" by Dave Brubeck).
      4. Downbeat: where the count begins in each measure
      5. A measure is the distance between downbeats. This can be thought of as a small cycle: a repeated fixed unit.
    3. Polyrhythm
      1. In contrast to European music, there are usually at least two layers of rhythm occurring at the same time in African and African-derived music.
      2. The foundation layer in jazz (keeping time) is persistent and repetitive: bass and ride cymbal.
      3. In African and Latin music, the foundation layer is a more complex time-line pattern. Variable layers add contrasting parts above the foundation layer.
      4. Call and response
      5. Akuapim performance: field recording, Ghana
      6. Jazz soloists add the variable layers. Rhythm section can add layers as well: rhythmic placement of piano chords, drums.
      7. Syncopation: whenever a strong accent contradicts the basic meter; central to jazz rhythm
      8. For example, accenting beats 2 and 4 instead of 1 and 3 in a four-four measure.
    4. Grooves and Swing
      1. Groove: the overall rhythmic framework within which rhythmic events occur; for example, four-beat rhythm with a back beat
      2. Swing groove: like the groove, and with an uneven division of the beat, with the first division longer than the second. The notes are known as swing eighths and written as even eighths. The degree of unevenness varies according to context.
      3. Swinging: difficult to define but occurs when all the rhythms interlock
  4. Melody, Scales, and Modes
    1. Pitch
      1. A measure of a note's frequency: the higher the frequency, the higher the note
      2. The interval of an octave has twice (or half) the frequency of the original note.
      3. The octave is divided in a pattern that is visually represented on a piano keyboard.
    2. Scales and Modes
      1. Scale: a collection of pitches within an octave. There are twelve piano keys between two notes of an octave. The distance between each one is a half step.
      2. The Do Re Mi scale is called a major scale (or mode) and is made up of seven degrees.
      3. Some notes in a scale are more important than others. The tonic note (do) is a goal and in tonal music is likely to end the melody.
      4. A major scale is a major because of its pattern of pitches made up of whole steps and half steps, regardless of the first note. They can be transposed.
      5. The scale is named after its tonic.
      6. The minor mode has a different pattern of whole steps and half steps.
      7. Both major and minor scales have seven notes: they are called diatonic scales.
      8. Pentatonic scale: five notes. Other modes have different patterns of whole and half steps.
      9. Whole-tone scale: six-note scale made up of whole tones
    3. Blues Scale
      1. Not just a set of pitches, but also a central musical influence
      2. A system of making melody that includes variable intonation (blue notes, bent notes)
      3. Blue notes are available on most instruments but the piano is problematic. The solution is to play two neighboring notes simultaneously.
      4. Blue notes occur on the third, fifth, and seventh degrees of the scale. Their clash with underlying major scale sounds appealing.
  5. Licks, Motives, and Riffs
    1. Phrasing includes the length of each phrase.
    2. Licks: phrases that are part of the common vocabulary of improvised jazz
    3. Motives: a small musical idea that is used as a source for variation
    4. Riff: repeated fragment of melody; ostinato riff: a riff that repeats insistently
  6. Harmony
    1. The simultaneous sounding of pitches into a chord
    2. Triad: three-note chord with the root (from which it takes its name) usually in the bass
    3. Voicing: specific arrangements of notes with the possible use of chordal extensions
    4. Harmonic progression: a directional series of chords in a strict rhythmic sequence
    5. Chords are classified as according to the degree of the scale they are built on. The tonic triad (built on do, the tonic) is the focal, or resting, point. The chord built on the fifth degree (the dominant chord) of the scale is at the opposite end of the stability continuum and is felt as pulling in the direction of the tonic triad.
    6. In jazz, chords are often notated by their names. A cadence occurs when a chord progression comes to rest.
    7. A half cadence occurs when the end of a phrase sounds temporary and incomplete; a full cadence feels like a full stop (often on do with the tonic harmony).
    8. This is like a question followed by an answer.
    9. Jazz musicians make harmonic substitutions to enliven the harmony, very often using notes outside of the scale; that is, using chromatic harmony.
    10. Atonal harmony does not follow the rules of tonality as described here. When jazz musicians do this, it is called "playing outside."
  7. Texture
    1. Texture refers to the way melody and harmony are balanced.
    2. Homophonic Texture
      1. Melody supported by harmonic accompaniment
      2. Usually melody and harmony are in separate layers.
      3. Sometimes in a single layer: block harmony occurs when two or more instruments play the same phrase with the same rhythm but with different pitches filling out the harmony often in the context of soli.
      4. Countermelody (obbligato) occurs when the subordinate instruments have their own melodic interest but it does not compete with the main melody.
    3. Monophonic Texture
      1. Melody with no harmonic accompaniment.
      2. Rare in jazz but found in early jazz "breaks," where a musician plays while the rest of the band is silent (usually two bars)
      3. Stop-time: band plays short chords at brief intervals while the soloist improvises
      4. Monophony can be used to begin or end a piece.
    4. Polyphonic Texture
      1. Two or more simultaneous melodies of equal interest, heard in New Orleans jazz
      2. New Orleans jazz: polyphonic; big bands: homophonic; avant-garde jazz: often polyphonic
      3. Sometime music is both polyphonic and polyrhythmic, but polyrhythms can also exist without polyphony.
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