Sep 15, 2020

Teaching music lessons via Zoom

I've been teaching individual saxophone and clarinet lessons since the 1970s. Before the pandemic, I was not particularly interested in teaching online. Seeing students in person is better in so many ways: a more real personal rapport, real-world acoustics, the ability to watch embouchure and fingers more closely. Online lessons can't address those things as well, and online playing does not allow for playing duets, or accompanying in real time. And who wants to stare at a screen for an entire teaching day?

The only actual advantage I could see was that with online lessons, both teacher and student could work together from just about any two locations in the world that have internet access - and I didn't need that; I've almost always had a full schedule with local students (I still do - I'm not currently taking new students).

The pandemic changed my views. Like many music teachers, I've switched to Zoom lessons, and I'm thankful that in spite of its imperfections, we have a way to continue to teach. I'd much rather be teaching in person, but realistically, I know that it will be many more months before it's safe to do so.

I've been teaching online for about six months now. Following are a few thoughts about what works and what doesn't in Zoom lessons.

First, a few technical items. This is all pretty much common knowledge among teachers these days:

•  Duets and live accompaniment won't work, due to lag time (latency). As a substitute, students can use recorded accompaniments, played on their side of the meeting. For working on jazz improv, there are plenty of "backing tracks" on Youtube.

•  Zoom sound quality is often very poor. Sometimes this is due to inadequate internet speed. Home "high speed" internet service usually has good download speed and poorer upload speed. This works if you are streaming movies, but internet meetings require good upload speed as well. Sometimes a neighborhood has spotty quality. I've found this often to be true even for students living in upscale neighborhoods.

•  Zoom sound is optimized for speech. Music quality suffers because the software senses music as background noise, and suppresses it, causing the music to cut out. This problem can be alleviated by changing some Zoom settings. The important ones seem to be these: Turn on "Enable original sound," disable "Suppress persistent background noise" and disable "Suppress intermittent background noise." These settings adjustments will eliminate much of the troublesome Zoom sound processing. You should be able to Google for instructions on how to do these things. Not all of these adjustments are available on mobile devices. Note: I am no technical expert.

•  Wi-fi works better if you are close to the modem. A wired connection to the modem is even better.

•  For bad connections, sometimes logging out and then rejoing the meeting can help.

•  It doesn't matter if you have a good camera. Crisp video doesn't really matter for music lessons. A good mic is nice, but the built-in mics in iPads and computers are usually adequate. I just use an iPad Pro with the built-in camera and mic, with some external (wired) speakers, and it's fine for me. Bluetooth speakers are no good; they just add to the lag.

• Personally, I don't like using headphones or earbuds. When I'm playing, I'd rather hear myself acoustically. Headphones are just too physically restrictive over a 6- or 7-hour teaching day. And it puts me just a little further into a virtual world, not a good thing IMO. 

Again, I'm no technical expert. But as a constant user, I can attest that Zoom still has some work to do to make their platform music-friendly. In addition, Zoom's instructional videos and website explanations need some simplification and editing for clarity, to be useful to everyday users like me. Zoom, if you're listening...

Technical and equipment issues aside, here are some things I've learned about online teaching:

•  One teaching technique that works quite well is demonstration and imitation. It develops the student's musical hearing and memory, and requires extra listening focus. 

•  Sometimes I give students an assignment to record themselves playing one of their pieces as well as they can, and send it to me. This encourages the student to be self-critical and to set their standard of perfection a little higher.

•  If it seems helpful, sometimes I'll record a demo and email it to them, so that they can refer to it during the week before the next lesson.

•  With in-person lessons, I was able to teach timing by playing along with the student. Since this is not possible with online lessons, I often demonstrate the passage on my side with a metronome while they read the music and follow along, then have them copy me, playing with a metronome. A longer piece can be broken into 2-bar or 4-bar segments, and each segment worked on separately. There are plenty of free iPhone metronome apps available. 

•  If we are working on improv using a "backing track," I'll typically take one to three choruses on my side of the meeting, demonstrating some point (e.g., leave space, or rework the melody, or use certain chord tones), then the student will take a turn, playing to an accompaniment track on their side of the meeting. Trading fours is not possible in an online format.

•  After each lesson I send a follow-up email with any points to remember from the day's lesson, and next week's assignment. I find I need 15 minutes between each lesson to send the email, do a little stretching, and to get ready for the next lesson. No more back-to-back students, like I often had with in-person lessons. This means a loss of income, of course, but it's necessary for me. 

•  Before my teaching day starts, I make a list of the day's students, then look at their follow-up emails from last week, note what their assignments were, and consider what we should focus on in each student's upcoming lesson.

•  At lessons, I have always mixed playing with theory and ear training. With online lessons, if the connection is just too awful for playing (as sometimes happens), we'll concentrate on theory or ear training.


With school back in session, most of my students are already spending half the day in front of a computer screen. It's unfortunate that their sax or clarinet lesson adds another 30-60 minutes to that, but I think they all welcome it. At least they are engaged in the real-world physical activity of playing an instrument, and the creative activity of making music. With virtual lessons, I make an extra effort to keep the lessons fun and low-pressure.

I am looking forward to the day that we can return to in-person lessons. I think just about everyone agrees that real-world human contact provides a superior educational experience. There seem to be some studies underway into whether or not instrumental music is risky in terms of spreading the virus, but no conclusive results so far. From what I can see on the internet, clarinet and sax may not involve much risk of aerosol dispersal. But I'm in a higher-risk age group, and I won't be going back to in-person instruction until it's safe.

School music programs are making the best of a difficult situation. School band, orchestra, and choir are just not possible at this point. If the risk with wind instruments turns out to be low, outdoor marching band will be the first to return. Assignments in school right now often seem to be for students to learn their individual parts and send in a recording. Recordings can be mixed to produce an ensemble performance. Theory and music history can still be taught effectively. I'm sure it will take a while for school music to return to normal, not least because of the potential risk to teachers.

The positive side of all this is that virtual lessons are available as a way to keep music education going, and I'm thankful for that. One other bright spot: Before the pandemic, I would typically catch a cold about every 6-8 weeks. With social isolation and no physical lessons, I haven't had a cold since March. But I'd happily trade that for a return to normal.

Sep 11, 2020

Blog Audience

According to stats that Blogger provides, this music blog last week hit a milestone of 500,000 pageviews for its 9-year lifetime. That's not a lot by some standards, but considering the specialized content here, not too surprising. On this occasion, I took the time to check this number against the more reliable stats from Google Analytics, and learned some interesting things:

• Analytics says this site has had 156K pageviews, lifetime, not 500K. Since Blogger is owned by Google, I wonder why Blogger does not use a more realistic metric. Blogger stats include visits by bots, and are therefore inflated by a percentage that is difficult to determine. In August 2020, Blogger stats for this site averaged around 150 pageviews per day. Google Analytics for August averaged 47 pageviews per day. That's quite a difference.

• The audience, lifetime, has been 46% female, 54% male. Age groups are 28% 18-24, 34% 25-34, 16% 35-44, 13% 45-54, 6% 55-64, 6% 65+. This skews a lot younger than I would have expected! (Total is more than 100% due to rounding.)

• Geographical stats: USA 43%, UK 7%, France 4%, Canada 4%, Germany 4%, Australia 3%, Spain 2%, Brazil 2%, Japan 2%.

• The most-visited pages are pretty much in agreement with the "Popular Posts" that are listed in the sidebar.

The metrics supplied by Google Analytics are largely intended to be helpful to people trying to monetize their site through Google advertising. I'm not interested in cluttering this blog with advertising - although I did sign up for the "Amazon Associates" program that gives me a small return for products purchased via links on these pages.

Thanks to my readers - I hope you have found some of the posts here interesting, useful, and/or educational! 

Aug 20, 2020

The Bridge to “Ipanema”

There's been some buzz lately around a video from YouTuber Adam Neely in which Adam discusses Jobim's "Girl From Ipanema" ("Garota de Ipanema"), including his explanation of Jobim's harmony on the bridge. Several musician friends have sent me the link, and there have been two threads on discussing the video (here and here). Last time I looked, this video had 1,226,782 views.

I've enjoyed other YouTube videos from Neely, but this one has some questionable information, IMHO. I'm going to take the bait and write up my comments. Here's his "Ipanema" video, if you haven't seen it yet:

What is the proper key for this song?

The first issue that jumps out at me is the question of the proper key for "Ipanema." All of the published sheet music versions, and all of the fakebooks that I have seen, show the song in F. Adam tells us that this key is a "relic of American cultural hegemony, codified by decisions made at the Berklee College of Music in the 1970s." Strong words! He is referring to the Real Book (1974), which shows the tune in F.

Neely states that in Brazil, F is not regarded as the hip key for this song, and that for a Brazilian audience, you had better play it in Db, because "Db is thought of as the more authentic, Brazilian key." Why, you might ask? Because Db was the key used on the "Getz/Gilberto" album, the recording that made the song a worldwide hit in 1964.

I’m certain that Jobim always intended for this tune to be in F. There are several original Jobim manuscripts that you can view at, all of them in F. Whenever Jobim performed it, it was in F, as nearly as I can tell from his live videos, except when he played it with Joao Gilberto. I played with Brazilian bands in the SF Bay Area for years, and the key for "Ipanema" was always F; no one ever suggested otherwise. My musician friends tell me the same thing. I have never heard that any other key is regarded as more authentic. But perhaps Neely has experience I don't have, or different sources of information.

The simple explanation for recordings in other keys is that those keys were chosen to accommodate the singer's best range. That's done all the time. I think it was in Db on the album because Joao Gilberto preferred that key. On some later recordings, Joao plays it in D.

Here is a 1962 live version with Jobim, Gilberto, and Vinicius de Moraes. They play it in F:

This reminds me of a story. Years ago, I was on a big-band gig for a corporate event. Eddy Arnold, the country singer, was at the event for some reason, and was scheduled to sing "September Song," accompanied by our pianist, Reed Struppa. Before the gig, when we were setting up, Eddy asked Reed to find the key where he would be most comfortable. They rehearsed a little, and came up with some little-used, awkward key. After the gig, Reed told me, "When they do that, I tell them OK, then when the time comes I just play it in the nearest easy key, C or F or whatever. They never notice the difference."

Harmony of the A section

Anyway, back to Ipanema. Adam gives us some basic bossa nova history, and points out that the A section of Ipanema uses essentially the same harmony as the A section of "Take the A Train" (that is, I for 2 bars, V of V for 2, then II V I, with a bII tritone sub for the V in "Ipanema"). Here I agree with him. Incidentally, this harmony was not original with Billy Strayhorn, who wrote "A Train" in 1939. Strayhorn borrowed it from Jimmy McHugh's 1930 tune "Exactly Like You." Neely notes that this progression also appears in the A section of Jobim's "So Danco Samba." I'd add that Jobim's "Desafinado" follows this progression too, for the first 6 bars, before veering off into creative territory.

Here’s a video of Jobim playing “Ipanema” in Sao Paolo in 1994 at an “All Star Tribute.” It's a fairly good band: Jobim, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Ron Carter, Shirley Horn, Gal Costa, Jon Hendricks, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Oscar Castro-Neves, Paolo Jobim, Harvey Mason, Alex Acuna. They play it in F. At 55:39 Jobim sings the "A Train" melody over the Ipanema A section, a sort of inside joke.

The bridge

Neely points out some countermelody lines in the bridge (13:27 in his video) that Jobim clearly intended to be part of the song. Adam criticizes the Real Book compilers for not including these countermelodies. I agree that it would have made for a better chart, but let’s not be too judgmental; the Real Book was a great product for 1974. By the way, the current Hal Leonard legal version of the RB doesn't include the countermelodies either.

When Adam gets into explaining the harmony of the bridge to Ipanema, he gets into questionable territory, as I see it. Here is the bridge:

At first glance the chords do not seem to follow the "rules" of standard jazz harmony. But it makes sense to me this way:

Gbmaj7: New key, up a half step from the A section (think of it as F#maj7). 
B7: IVb7 in F#, a blues-type IV chord. Introduces the blue note A natural, the b3 in F#. 
F#m7: It's really A6 with F# in the bass, the I of a new key. 
D7: IVb7 in A, blues IV chord again. Introduces blue note C natural, b3 in A. 
Gm7: It's really Bb6 with G in the bass, the I of a new key. 
Eb7: Again, it's IVb7, a blues IV chord. Introduces the note Db, b3 in Bb. 
The last 4 bars are a turnaround back into F, to set up the last A section.

The bass notes on the F#m7 (bridge bar 5-6) and D7 (bar 7-8) have an interesting effect and a certain logic. F# has continuity with the first tonality in the bridge. D7, besides being IVb7 in A, is V of the Gm7 that follows. These features do not interfere with the key centers Gb - A - Bb as described above.

As Neely remarks, there is a virtual "cottage industry" of YouTube videos and articles that try to explain the bridge. If you want to get into it, do a YouTube search for "Ipanema bridge analysis." Don't say I didn't warn you.

Neely's take on the bridge starts at 10:12 on his video. He hears the Gb as a IV in Db, B7 as a bVIIdom in Db, F#m7 as a II in E, D7 as a bVIIdom in E; Gm7 as a II in F, Eb7 as a bVIIdom in F.

It's an interesting take. With some effort, I can hear it as he describes. I can't say he is exactly "wrong," but his explanation doesn't really work for me.

I don't want to get too deep in the weeds here, but:
1) I don't hear the bridge as starting in the key of Db (that would make Gbmaj7 the IV, with a Lydian tonality). I hear it in Gb, starting on the I. Jobim very often used major 7th melody notes over tonic major 7 chords, as he does in the A section of this song, and that's what we have here. 
2) I'm not the only one who hears it that way; some other YouTubers in this "cottage industry" agree with me, as do some of the commenters in the saxontheweb threads on this subject. 
3) Occam's Razor favors my explanation.

Neely goes on to say that he hears the countermelody as a blues lick. I don't. It's true that you can shoehorn the notes of the countermelody lick into a blues scale that would seem to fit Neely's conception of the key centers, but I just don't hear it.

Of course, reasonable people can disagree.

Here's yet another take on the bridge, more scales-based, from my friend Larry Lewicki:

FWIW, I  don’t analyze the bridge the same way as Peter. I just see scales with shared pitches. I almost picture Jobim doing his scales F# major, F# melodic minor, F# dorian ... just changing one pitch. 
F#Δ  - F# major

B7#11 - F# melodic minor (an essential element of blues - the IV7) (shares 6 notes with F# major) 
F#-7 - F# dorian (shares 6 notes with F# melodic minor) 
D7#11 - A melodic minor - shares 5 notes with F# dorian (check Tenderly bars 5-6, 21-22)—- D7 is the dominant of G minor 
G-7 - G dorian

Eb7#11 - Ab melodic minor - shares 5 notes with G dorian (Tenderly cadence)—- tritone sub of Eb7 is A7 - Am7 is very close - that’s the beginning of the final 2 bars - Bebop iii VI7 ii V7 cadence in F. 
I don’t see the F#-7 as a inversion for an AΔ.... because of the dorian mode D#

Any of these analyses - Neely's, mine, Larry's, and the various YouTubers' - can serve as the conceptual basis for a perfectly good solo, depending on how the player's melodic sense operates. In that respect, they are all just fine. However, if I'm trying to figure out what Jobim may have been thinking, I kind of like my approach.

Harmonic ambiguity as a defining feature of bossa nova

Adam states that the harmonic ambiguity he perceives in "Ipanema" is typical of bossa nova. I think that as a generalization, that's somewhat of an overstatement. Mostly, the classic bossas can be explained fairly neatly in standard jazz terms.

Jobim was a particularly creative composer, a generation younger than the "Great American Songbook" composers, building on their work. And even in Jobim's songs, especially in the earlier ones that made him famous, most of the harmony is pretty straightforward.

Does "Ipanema" have an introductory verse?

Quite a few Great American Songbook standards had an introductory section called a "verse." At 30:28 in his video, Adam points out the introductory verse in the live 1962 Jobim/Gilberto/Vinicius recording. I hadn't known about that. Desafinado has a verse too, that Jobim used in performance. He even had English lyrics for it. But the "Ipanema" verse was news to me. Thanks to Adam for pointing it out!

It does seem that this verse was not exactly intended to be part of the composition, though, but rather was created for a particular occasion.

I asked my friend Guto for a translation, and here it is, with his comments:
That intro is indeed very interesting. It seems it was a one off for that album, almost like an insider joke the trio Tom, Joao, Vinicius was telling to the live audience before the song starts. They go: 
João: Tom, e se você fizesse agora uma canção?
 Tom, how about you now make a song?
Que possa nos dizer, contar o que é o amor  
One that says, tells us what love is 
Tom: Olha Joãozinho, eu nao saberia
 Look dear João (or little Joao, in an affective way), I wouldn’t know how
Sem Vinícius pra fazer a poesia  
Without Vinicius to make the poetry 
Vinícius: Para essa canção se realizar  
For this song to come together 
Quem dera o João para cantar
 I wish João would sing
João: A, mas quem sou eu, eu sou mais vocês  
Oh, but who am I, I’m more you both (in the sense of I trust you’d do a better job) 
Melhor se nós cantássemos os três
We’d better sing the three of us

Guto also noticed some musical jokes in the verse:

... the second line Tom sings, “sem Vinicius pra fazer a poesia,” sounds the same as this section from Desafinado:

and the last phrase from Joao, “melhor se nos cantassemos os tres,” sounds like the ending phrase of One Note Samba. 

Besides the 1962 live recording, the only other place I've heard this verse is in this great video with Jobim and Gilberto, I think from 1992. Joao sings the verse himself, and they play the tune in D:

Pery Ribeiro’s 1962 version

Beginning at 23:12 in his video, Adam discusses a 1962 version by singer Pery Ribeiro that may predate even the 1962 Jobim/Gilberto/Vinicius recording. Because it is probably the earliest recorded version of the song that we have, Neely finds importance in 1) the key it's played in, and 2) the harmony used for the bridge.

This version is in G, leading him to say that "The original is in the key of G." But there's no evidence that Ribeiro's was the "original" version. This is an unwarranted assumption. More likely, the key was chosen to accommodate Ribeiro's voice.

About the harmony in Ribeiro's version - Neely presents this arrangement as a sort of "missing link" between a hypothetical Tin Pan Alley harmonization and the "bossa nova" final version. But it's quite likely that the harmony used in this recording was the work of Ribeiro's arranger; it was not necessarily an early Jobim version of the song.

Neely seems to be saying that the "final" version of the bridge harmony was actually the work of Joao Gilberto, editing and simplifying Jobim's "original" harmony as used in the Ribeiro recording. But there are two unwarranted assumptions here: 1) that the Ribeiro harmony was Jobim's, and 2) that it was Gilberto who created the "final" version.

I really did enjoy Neely’s video, in spite of a few disagreements. Hopefully some of those million-plus views will get some younger musicians interested in Jobim and bossa.

To close, if you'll forgive me, here is an old musician's joke, that an old musician told me during a band break:

A jazz group has a gig at a bar in Chicago. The bass player lives across the border in Indiana. He has a history of showing up late for gigs. When it's time for the downbeat at 9:00, the bass player still hasn't shown up. At the first break at 9:45, still no bass player. The band leader is getting increasingly angry. Finally, at 10:30 the bartender goes up to the band leader and says, "Your bass player is on the phone. He's hung up on the bridge to Indiana." 
The bandleader says, "Man...there is no bridge to Indiana."

Jul 22, 2020

Lewis Porter's Deep Dive into "A Love Supreme"

Here's a terrific article: A Deep Dive Into John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" by His Biographer, Lewis Porter (Pt. 1), on the WBGO website. Porter gives some historical background to the recording, describing Coltrane's desire to record a full-album work, a "spiritual manifesto, his most personal statement," and how it was initially almost rejected by his record company, Impulse!, as not commercial enough.

Using Coltrane's written notes (his score is reproduced in the article) and considering outtakes from the recording sessions, Porter describes the planned structure and development of Coltrane's four-movement suite.

Porter covers more interesting musical details than I could summarize here, but one thing I'll note is the original intended instrumentation: tenor saxophone, "one other horn," piano, drum set, 2 basses, 2 congas, and "timbali" (Coltrane may have meant "timpani" - which Elvin Jones does play at one point in the recording). For the "other horn," Coltrane brought in Archie Shepp, but the part Archie recorded was ultimately not used. Likewise, Art Davis participated as a second bassist, but according to Wikipedia, his part was also not used in the final production.

The only time I ever heard Coltrane play live was 1966, about two years after "A Love Supreme" was recorded. It was a life-changing experience; here's a post with my recollections. The instrumentation that night was expanded, in a way similar to Coltrane's original "A Love Supreme" conceptElvin Jones and Rashied Ali, drums; Juno Lewis, percussion; Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, tenors; Alice Coltrane, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; and Donald Garrett, bass and bass clarinet.

Here's a quote from Coltrane's score, that describes the way he intended to end the album: 
"To Ending - Make ending - Attempt to reach transcendent level with orchestra - rising harmonies to a level of blissful stability at end."
I'm looking forward to Part 2 of Porter's Deep Dive.

Jul 4, 2020

The "Groovin' High" family of II V's

In a number of classic bebop melodies, and in classic recorded solos as well, you'll hear examples of what I'll call the "Groovin' High" family of II V licks. The common feature of these licks is the use of a chromatic line from the root of the II chord, descending by half steps, to the third of the V chord. 

Here's an example from Dizzy Gillespie's 1945 composition "Groovin' High" (transposed here to the key of C). This II V phrase incorporates and embellishes the chromatic line D, C#, C, B, as indicated by the arrows:

Here's another example from the head to Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce," also from 1945 (transposed to C). Again, note the line D, C#, C, B:

Another well-known tune that uses this line is Sonny Rollins' 1956 blues "Tenor Madness" (transposed to C):

To understand where this chromatic line comes from, consider the example below. The "active ingredient" in any II V is the motion of the seventh of the II chord (C) dropping to become the third of the V chord (B). No other notes need to change when changing chords. The notes D and F are common to both Dm7 and G7, and the note A can stay, to become the ninth of the G7.

basic voice leading for II V in C

In the G7, B is the most important note, as it is the leading tone that is providing tension, trying to resolve up a half step to the root of the I chord (C, C6, Cmaj7, etc.) that normally would follow.

The example below shows an elaboration of this voice leading, adding a chromatic line starting on D. The line implies the chords shown here, though the melodic line does not really need to have the support of these exact chords.

with descending passing tones added

This voice-leading line can be further elaborated to create II V patterns like the ones below. Chords might be shown (or played) as in the example above, or as in the first example below, but more often are just squared off to one per measure, as in the other two examples:

Charlie Parker was unquestionably aware of this II V device. Below are some excerpts from melodies and solos in the Charlie Parker Omnibook, Vol. 1 (Eb edition). Coincidentally, these are all in the key of G:

from "Confirmation" head (the D7 notes use a
#9 b9 (F and Eb) rather than a normal third (F#)

from "Anthropology" head (I'd have shown the first measure as Am7)

from "Anthropology" solo (likewise)

from "Bloomdido" solo (Charlie is displacing the implied harmony a bit)

from "Blues (Fast)"

I chose to call this device the "Groovin' High" family of II V's because that tune and "Billie's Bounce" are the earliest jazz examples I could find, both from 1945. I have no doubt that jazz pianists had figured this out earlier, and I'm sure that plenty of similar melodic and harmonic examples can be found in the classical repertoire. One possible earlier jazz use could be Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight," in the chord changes at the beginning of the A section. Monk may have written this tune in the 1930s. But there's no way of knowing if he was harmonizing it the same way then as he did in later recordings. 

If any readers know of earlier examples in the jazz repertoire, or in Great American Songbook tunes of the 20s -30s, please leave a comment!

(Erratum: In the example labelled “with descending passing tones added,” the first chord symbol should of course be Dm, not D)

Jun 21, 2020

Paul Desmond interviews Charlie Parker - here's the link

In case you haven't heard this legendary bit of music history yet, here's a link to a 13-minute interview of Charlie Parker by Paul Desmond, recorded in 1954, posted on saxophonist Bob Reynolds' website.