Teacher Feature: Ben Sher (Berklee College of Music)

BEN SHER

I’ve learned so much from my teachers. So, for this blog post, I wanted to feature one of my Berklee teachers, Ben Sher.

Ben Sher is an amazing jazz guitarist with a background in Brazilian guitar styles. Ben is basically the reason I was exposed to bossa nova and other Brazilian styles. His guitar lab on Brazilian Guitar Styles was a huge influence on my playing and understanding in the style.

I was also part of the first time (I believe!) he offered a Brazilian Choro Guitar Ensemble back in 2006 or 2007 at Berklee. Learning some of those tricky pieces really opened up my eyes and ears to idiomatic long flowing Brazilian melodies.

In his private lessons, Ben taught me a variety of topics including solo guitar, improvising using diminished arpeggios and the importance of transcribing. I think as a student I only really realised how extremely cool and important some topics (in the private lessons) he taught me were – after I graduated.

Recently, I had the amazing honour of being a guest lecturer for his Career Development class at Berklee along with my manager Yin. We’ve been guests for two semesters in a row. It was great to hear cool questions from the Berklee students!

Ben Sher April 3 2017 Clas

In this blog post, I wanted to feature some of his solo guitar playing via these videos he posted on Facebook over the past year. I’ve transcribed some parts of it (and plan to transcribe more). Hope you enjoy these! Thanks Ben!

[Related Links]
Ben’s website: https://www.bensherguitarist.com/
About Ben’s classes: https://www.bensherguitarist.com/instruction
Ben’s Berklee Faculty Profile Page: https://www.berklee.edu/people/benjamin-sher
His FB Music Page: https://www.facebook.com/Ben-Sher-guitarist-1325561984187286/

[Lessons]
Intro to Jazz with Professor Ben Sher
https://www.lessonface.com/content/intro-jazz-professor-ben-sher
Major Scales Tutorial with Prof. Ben Sher
https://www.lessonface.com/notes/guitar-major-scales
Fretboard Harmony with Professor Ben Sher
https://www.lessonface.com/notes/fretboard-harmony

[Solo Guitar Videos]

Alone Together

There is no Greater Love

Summertime

All The Things You Are

Jam

[BONUS VIDEO]

FB Live Performance with Students at Berklee

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How to solo over a II V I progression using arpeggios

HOW DO YOU SOLO OVER IIVI-

Part of a Facebook Live Lesson session, I decided to record it on my camera in addition to the live broadcast. This video has been edited from the original video for clarity of content – so you can quickly digest the material and start shedding.

The original FB Live video is here (low-res):

Here’s a handout that you can download & print out to further cement these sounds:

Dmin7 G7 CMaj7 Chord Voicings and Arpeggio Shapes

Download the PDF here:
Dmin7 G7 CMaj7 Chord Voicings and Arpeggio Shapes PDF

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How to use Diminished Chords for Jazz Guitar

Part of a Facebook Live Lesson session, decided to record it on my camera in addition to the live broadcast.

The original FB Live video is here (low-res):

Thanks to Adam Joseph for the question on using chromatic harmony that led to this explanation. 🙂

Diatonic Triads in C Major:
C Dmin Emin F G Amin Bdim C

Diatonic 7th chords (4-part chords) in C Major:
Cmaj7 Dmin7 Emin7 Fmaj7 G7 Amin7 Bmin7(b5) Cmaj7

Passing Diminished Chords
Ascending:
CMaj7 C#dim7 Dmin7
Dmin7 D#dim7 Emin7
Fmaj7 F#dim7 G7
G7 G#dim7 Amin7
Amin7 A#dim7 Bmin7(b5)

Descending:
Bmin7(b5) Bbdim7 Amin7
Amin7 Abdim7 G7
G7 Gbdim7 Fmaj7
Emin7 Ebdim7 Dmin7
Dmin7 Dbdim7 Cmaj7

Here’s a handout that you can download & print out to further cement these sounds:

Passing Diminished Chords for Jazz Guitar

Download the PDF here:
Passing Diminished Chords for Jazz Guitar PDF

[UPDATE April 7 2017]

Shoutout to @mhaziqka on twitter for trying out these ideas in his playing! 🙂

 

 

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Soloing using Harmonic Minor and Arpeggios Lesson

Harmonic Minor and Arpeggios Lesson

Part of an Instagram Live Lesson session, decided to record it on my camera in addition to the live broadcast.
https://www.instagram.com/azsamad/

Download the chord diagrams and scale shapes PDF here:
Harmonic Minor and Arpeggios Lesson PDF

 

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Nicholas Veinoglou Triadic String Skipping Exercise

Nicholas Veinoglou Triadic String Skipping Exercise WEB

[Nicholas Veinoglou Triadic String Skipping Exercise]

Heard this cool phrase from Mark Lee (that he learned from Nicholas Veinoglou) on his Instagram page.

Decided to transcribe coz it sounded so good. Thanks Mark and Nicholas for the inspiration!

Download PDF Here:
Nicholas Veinoglou Triadic String Skipping Exercise

 

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10 Things I Learned From The Mateus Asato Singapore Guitar Clinic

10 Things I learned (3)

Recently, I attended guitar virtuoso Mateus Asato’s guitar clinic in Singapore. It was part of an epic musical adventure in Singapore that began with the clinic, continued into a private lesson with Mateus the next day and a 3-day guitar camp, the very first guitar camp that Mateus has ever taught at.

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Along with my manager Yin, guitar students Vanessa (from Singapore) and Aaron (from Kuala Lumpur) – we were all excited to be there to catch Mateus in person. This post collects my thoughts on what I learned from his very cool guitar clinic.

mateus clinic poster

Granted, nothing beats actually being at the workshop. But, I wanted to share some of the most insightful things I learned from the session. Please bear in mind that I’m paraphrasing these tips from my own notes and memory of the workshop. I apologise if there’s any mistakes! I hope this captures the essence of what I learned. If you ever get a chance to attend a Mateus Asato workshop, clinic or meet and greet – go for it. It’s worth it.

Here are 10 of the important things I learned from the workshop:

1. Learn different guitar styles

Mateus regarded his time at Musicians Institute in Los Angeles as instrumental to developing his guitar skills and career. There, he learned different styles of music such as country, pop, blues, rock, jazz and more. One of the tips he had for us was to make each day have a stylistic focus. For example, Monday could be pop day – so for the entire day, he would listen to a Spotify playlist of the Billboard 100 or current pop hits so he could internalise that sound in his mind. This is also how he developed his language in these different styles.

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2.Figure out your goals

Mateus emphasized the importance of knowing what area of the music industry you want to get into.

Do you want to become a session guitarist for a pop artist?
Do you want to become an in-demand music educator?
Do you want to become an artist?

To Mateus, it’s important to figure out what you want to do in order to figure out the steps to achieve it.

3. Make your lines sing

Mateus makes everything he plays, sings akin to how a pop singer might sing. He learned this from his work with Tori Kelly. Mateus draws his melodic sensibilities more from singers and from pop music. When he breaks apart parts of his songs, it really boils to vocal melodies harmonised in a guitaristic fashion.

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4. Ask for advice and help

When Mateus was invited to audition for Tori Kelly, he sought guidance from his friends and teacher who had already played for established pop artists. Instead of going into the audition blind, he had help. This is an important part of developing your musical career.

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5. Network in jam sessions

Mateus emphasised the importance of jam sessions as a way to meet other musicians within the scene. He recommended this as a way of developing your network and also to connect for future projects.

6. Use social media wisely

Based on the advice of one of his Musicians Institute instructors, Mateus said it’s important to not overpost on social media. As a touring session guitarist, sometimes overposting photos from a tour may make people think that you’re not available for other gigs. In addition to understanding balance in posting, he also suggested that social media is a good way to connect with other musicians. It’s definitely an important and essential part of the modern musician’s toolkit.

7. Understand your gear

Mateus has a workflow for his YouTube videos and Instagram videos. In addition to making good content, he has been improving his gear and quality of videos over time. What I got from this was Mateus knew how to use each of his pedals, recording gear and guitars for specific purposes that he aimed to achieve. Very cool!

8. Maximize the music school experience

According to Mateus, his time at Musician’s Institute was instrumental to developing his playing. Prior to his time in the United States, he was primarily a rock/metal guitarist into progressive rock. At Musicians Institute, he developed his playing in other styles such as country guitar, R&B, pop and some jazz too.

9. Develop your personal sound

For Mateus, it was not a very deliberate attempt to create his personal sound. For him it was very organic and he combined all his influences into one thing – his sound over time. For me, I think watching him play up close during the clinic and later the guitar camp has made me super inspired to be open to combining everything I’ve learned so far. Very inspiring!

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10. Focus your practice sessions

During his first semester at Musicians Institute, Mateus wanted to master all the different guitar styles at once. It was only later on that he realised that this was not possible. What he did instead was to focus his daily practice (and listening) by creating specific days of the week for him to immerse himself in each style. One day would be just focused on pop music, another would be country music day and another day might be rock. By creating this focus, it helped him improve his playing and attention to details in each guitar style.

And this concludes the top 10 things I learned at the Mateus Asato Guitar Clinic at Hood Bar and Cafe on Feb 2, 2017.

Hope you found this blog post helpful. Please share this post if you think others might enjoy it!

Thanks to Fest Events International and G77+ for hosting this awesome workshop. Thank you to Tan Boon, Clement and Brandon Wee and their team for their amazing work during the Mateus Asato events.

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

Have you attended a Mateus Asato workshop before?
Did you learn something from his songs, clinics or videos?
Leave your answer in the comments below. Remember to share as much detail as possible so that we can all learn from one another. Your insight may help another musician from across the world.

Thank you for reading and for hanging out here. Be back again soon!

Best wishes,
Az

Wanna read more? Check out what I learned from Julian Lage, Jack Thammarat and Guthrie Govan in their workshops here:

[WORKSHOPS: LEARNING FROM THE MASTERS]
10 Things I Learned From The Julian Lage TIJC 2017 Workshop
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=220
10 Things I Learned From The Jack Thammarat Kuala Lumpur Workshop
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=150
10 Things I Learned From The Guthrie Govan Kuala Lumpur Workshop
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=97

Interested to check out what I learned from the Thailand International Jazz Camp 2017 (12 hours of workshops & 2 hours of jam sessions), check out the 3,100+ word blog post here: Thailand International Jazz Camp 2017 with Shai Maestro/Desmond White Group


 

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10 Things I Learned From The Julian Lage TIJC 2017 Workshop

10 Things I learned (2)

Recently, I attended guitar virtuoso Julian Lage’s workshop as part of the Thailand International Jazz Conference. I first saw Julian play during his appearance on TV for the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards back in 2000. At that time, he was only 12 years old and was already an amazing musician. Five years later, I was very fortunate to attend Berklee College of Music and attend the college at the same time Julian was studying there. I have fond memories of catching Julian’s performance at Ricardo Vogt’s Senior Guitar Recital and also a very rare Hal Crook-Julian Lage-Jorge Roeder performance. Later on, I also studied with Julian in a workshop at the Jazz School in California as well as via Skype. I’ve also been a fan of his music over the years from his debut album, to his duo records with Nels Cline and Chris Eldridge  to his most recent trio record, Arclight.

When I found out the Julian Lage Trio was going to be a part of the Thailand International Jazz Conference, I knew I had to go there to catch him! I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel there, watch his trio performance, take a private lesson with Julian (and play with him!) as well as attend his workshop. This post collects my thoughts on what I learned from his wonderful 1-hour workshop.

IMG_20170129_160608

Granted, nothing beats actually being at the workshop. But, I wanted to share some of the most insightful things I learned from the session. Please bear in mind that I’m paraphrasing these tips from my own notes and memory of the workshop. I apologise if there’s any mistakes! I hope this captures the essence of what I learned. If you ever get a chance to attend a Julian Lage workshop, clinic or meet and greet – go for it. It’s worth it.

Here are 10 of the important things I learned from the workshop:

1. Love the way you play

Julian mentioned that you should be allowed to love the way you play. According to Julian, if you love the way you play, you can actually improve more as you end up practicing more. My take on this is that we often times are too hard on ourselves for not sounding like our musical heroes. This kind of feeling can make the experience of playing guitar a negative one.

2. The best way to get better is to do it

Julian said the best way to get better at playing guitar or composing was to actually spend time doing it. He came to this realisation when he noticed he took more composition lessons instead of actually spending time composing.

3. Stop fighting the monster

We can get stuck avoiding the things that sound bad in our playing. The problem with this is that we don’t get used to hearing it and facing it. Julian showed some examples where he purposely sounded bad. In doing this, he had a chance to embrace the bad parts of his playing and gradually figure out how to solve those problems. He said when he was younger he would practice for 8 or 10 hours long and now he might only have 5 to 10 minutes sometimes. However, by facing this sounds (that he didn’t like), he could improve faster (even in a limited amount of time) and figure out what he wanted to sound like instead.

4. Hold the pick the way that it’s comfortable for you

Julian had no particular suggestions on how to hold a pick as he noticed that people have differences in the way their fingers are shaped or worked. His thumb doesn’t bend so he doesn’t move the thumb so much as some of his friends who have to control the thumb more.

Julian Lage, Jorge Roeder, Eric Doob, Yin and Az Samad
Julian Lage, Jorge Roeder, Eric Doob, Yin and Az Samad

5. Understand the mechanics of picking

For Julian, there are three parts to the mechanics of picking:
a) the preparation – getting ready to pick the string
b) the stroke – when you pluck the string
c) the follow through – where your fingers/hands move after hitting the string

The main problem he noticed with guitar players including himself is that with the follow through, most players remain still, away from the string after picking the note. This is not efficient since there is a start/stop situation when we pick a note. The reality is we pick a lot of notes at a time.

To solve this, he suggested exaggerating the picking movement to an almost Pete Townshend (The Who) type windmill movement. The idea is to experience a big movement when picking that is circular and continuous. Then, we gradually make this movement smaller and smaller but still imagining this big motion even when we move smaller. My take on this is that is will create a more relaxed approach to picking.

For another take on his thoughts on picking, here’s an article he wrote in Premier Guitar magazine back in 2012: Digging Deeper: The Diving-Board Effect

6. Practice songs you love

In short, Julian summarised it all by saying:

a) play lots of guitar
b) sound bad
c) sound good

In the workshop he began by playing a solo guitar version of Darn That Dream. He said it’s important to practice songs your love, not songs you like. So, the solo performance was much like what he would do if he was practicing on his own. According to Julian, he would go as far as I could until he was bored until he craved something more interesting.

An audience member recorded the performance (found this on Chane Siwat’s YouTube channel), here it is:

7. Reconfigure your mindset on picks and guitars

Julian mentioned that we often think we’re smaller compared to the guitar. We think the pick is this very challenging thing to use. But, he said if we realise that the size of our movements is very small relative to other things we do, it can change our mindset to approaching technical challenges such as string skipping and cross picking. The reality is that we don’t really have to move that far to pick between the sixth string and the first string. The guitar is small but we pretend that we’re tiny when we play guitar. 

8. Use Etudes to learn to breathe

Julian wrote 4 etudes back in 2010. A student asked about them and Julian said he used the etudes as a way to learn to breathe. A lot of guitarists, including himself (and me) forget to breathe at times when playing. Since the notes of this music was set (composed), Julian used them to make sure he breathed as he played these challenging pieces.  According to Julian, he didn’t have to have to write an exercise to practice breathing but it happened to be helpful for him.

9. Compose a lot, edit a lot

When asked about his approach to composing, Julian said that he loved to write with pencil and paper. He thinks of composition like a blueprint. He doesn’t have perfect pitch so sometimes when he writes, it doesn’t sound the way he imagined it. He noted that he spends a lot more time editing his compositions that writing them. He also challenges himself to compose 20 songs in a day so that if he gets one good song from that session, it would be worth it. According to Julian, he throws out a lot more songs than he ever uses. 

1o. Design your setlist

Answering a question from my manager Yin, Julian explained that he carefully plans his setlist for a concert. Every song creates the need for the next song. Growing up, he used to have teachers who said you can’t get away with that two similar songs (in the same key or tempo or feel) in a row. Julian believes you actually can do this more often that you think, especially when your music is complex. He says that sometimes it’s not that the audience doesn’t like your music but just doesn’t understand it yet. By playing two similar songs back to back, it gives a chance for the audience to understand what your approach is. Then, we can take advantage of that by playing something different.

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Julian Lage Trio at Thailand International Jazz Conference 2017

Julian believes that setlists are very important. When asked whether he switches songs in the middle of the set, he says he doesn’t care what the audience feels about it in the middle of the performance. He says if he worries about the audience as well as his own playing, that’s too much to think about as you’re performing. The important thing is to realise that the audience has made the decision to watch your performance, so it’s your responsibility as the performance to take them on that journey from beginning to end in your set. 

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With Julian before his set at TIJC 2017!

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Hope you found this blog post helpful. Please share this post if you think others might enjoy it!

Thanks to Thailand International Jazz Conference for hosting this awesome workshop.

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

Have you attended a Julian Lage workshop before?
Did you learn something from Julian’s songs, clinics or videos?
Leave your answer in the comments below. Remember to share as much detail as possible so that we can all learn from one another. Your insight may help another musician from across the world.

Thank you for reading and for hanging out here. Be back again soon!

Best wishes,
Az

Wanna read more? Check out what I learned from Jack Thammarat and Guthrie Govan in their Kuala Lumpur workshops here:

[WORKSHOPS: LEARNING FROM THE MASTERS]
10 Things I Learned From The Jack Thammarat Kuala Lumpur Workshop
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=150
10 Things I Learned From The Guthrie Govan Kuala Lumpur Workshop
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=97

Interested to check out what I learned from the Thailand International Jazz Camp 2017 (12 hours of workshops & 2 hours of jam sessions), check out the 3,100+ word blog post here: Thailand International Jazz Camp 2017 with Shai Maestro/Desmond White Group


 

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Thailand International Jazz Camp 2017 with Shai Maestro/Desmond White Group

This post is a collection of my notes from the recent Thailand International Jazz Camp that I attended from Jan 23 to 25 2017 at Mahidol University in Salaya, Thailand.

Thailand International Jazz Conference (TIJC) Jazz Camp Day 1 Highlights

1. Jazz Bass Workshop with Desmond White

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I really loved the way Desmond organized the material for this session. It started off with the importance of fundamental upright bass technique:

a) big accurate sound with no amp, building LH strength with bowed practice, playing with a metronome at a slow tempo to build a strong inner pulse
b) intonation exercises
c) pizzicato technique, getting an equal sound on all strings and playing at the edge of the fingerboard

Then, he went into how to learn a tune in 3 parts: melody, root notes and chord tones and putting it together into a solo version on the bass. For the walking bass lines, he showed example playing on the roots, adding fifths and thirds sparsely.

For metronome practice, my fave ones he mentioned was to put the metronome on beat 4 of every bar and every 2 bars. He also demonstrated how to handle situations when we work with other musicians who feel the time differently than us.

For the final part, he played different examples on Stella By Starlight and also gave some critique to a participant.

2. The Learning of Jazz Drums with Kush Abadey

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Kush began the session with a drum solo where he started with a press roll into a double stroke roll on the snare and later developed it to the other parts of the drum.

For Kush, the language for drummer are the drum rudiments. For him it starts from the single stroke, double stroke, flam and that forms the other rudiments that forms the language.

To develop a good sense of time, he said:

a) The metronome is your friend
b) To practice things very slow
c) Forget about practicing what you know, practice what you don’t know

In terms of tuning, in general he tunes his floor tom to a C, hanging tom to a F, bass and snare to G (in octaves).

For groove playing, Kush is influenced by Steve Smith, Vinnie  Colaiuta, Dennis Chambers and Tony Williams. Kush also recommend the book Four Way Coordination to practice limb independence.

When I asked about learning new styles of music, Kush recommends finding the authentic version of the style to start with and then take their approach (the original players of the style) and make it your own.

3. Advanced Jazz Styles For The Drumset with Kush Abadey

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In this continuation of Kush’s previous workshop, he began by discussing about brushwork. He mentioned the importance of branching out from the music that you’re used to, to be flexible with different styles and to check out bebop.

Answering my question on learning a new style of music, he suggested focusing on a specific player or style for around 6 months. When he studies a drummer, he will learn about how the drummer sets up the drum set, how they tune, how they play and how they sit. Some players that he has studied include Steve Gadd and Tony Williams.

In terms of dealing with the feeling of being overwhelmed by learning a new style, Kush said to lower your workload so you can gradually improve in one aspect at a time. He also noted that to master something, it can get boring.

In this session as well, Kush played some piano to demonstrate his approach to learning bebop and the connection between Bach to bop. He also talked about how jazz ballads are connected to Beethoven’s music.

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Tan Jen Wei asked a question to Kush about the different kinds of swing including regular jazz swing, Brazilian swing and reggae swing. On this, Kush demonstrated how in jazz swing the accents are on 2 & 4, Brazilian swing is on 1 & 3 and in reggae swing, the 4th beat is important. He also mentioned that the 2 & 4 on the hi-hats in reggae swing are like jazz.

Following that, Kush also explained about different kinds of shuffle styles including Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans and pop Stevie Wonder style shuffle grooves.

For the remainder of the info-packed session, Kush also shared practice tips for learning swing, hand and foot coordination exercises and playing in different meters.

4. Jam Session

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For the jam session, I played on a blues for the first song & some of the other students played 3 other songs:

The Days of Wine and Roses
There is No Greater Love
There Will Never Be Another You

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This was a good opportunity for us to hear how we played and get to know the other students musically.

5. Effective Techniques For Learning Original Music with Desmond White

In this workshop, Desmond shared his take on learning Shai Maestro’s music completely by ear, without notating the music down and committing it to memory. He shared a tip he learned from bassist Orlando Fleming who said that if you’re playing every note that you hear, it’s hard to develop your internal time feel. Desmond emphasized the importance to try to feel the time without any physical gesture and to see the time going by.

Desmond also said that drummer Mark Guiliana is an example of a musician who is very methodical in his approach to exploring different time signatures and rhythmic possibilities. Desmond suggested that we should start playing in odd meters such as 7 as soon as possible. This is of course without abandoning the need to have a solid rhythmical sense of 4/4 time.

When I asked him about practicing on the beat, behind the beat and ahead of the beat – Desmond suggested assimilation rather than analysis to be the primary approach for this. For practice sessions, Desmond also said to make sure we have clear goal setting skills to maximise each practice. As an example, he said we could practice something like Stella By Starlight in 9/4.

Thailand International Jazz Conference (TIJC) Jazz Camp Day 2 Highlights 

6. Jazz Bass Improvisation on the Bass with Desmond White

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In this workshop, Desmond emphasized the importance of transcribing. He said that for bass solos, it’s often limited by what feels comfortable on the bass. His suggestion to expand from that bass, i.e. instrument centric approach is to transcribe solos from other instruments. He also said that it’s better to transcribe a small amount but to get it right.

For his first example, he used the classic Coleman Hawkins solo on Body and Soul. Desmond showed how he matched his phrasing on bass to Coleman’s playing. Desmond also said to memorize the solo, direct to memory without writing it down. To aid the process, he uses the software “Transcribe!” to slow down the recording before learning some tougher solos up to tempo.

For his second example, he used a Miles Davis solo on Solar. Miles played laid back 8th notes on the solo so this was a great way to get that kind of phrasing into one’s playing.

Some other suggestions from Desmond include:

a) Get your 8th notes to sound like the people you like
b) Lock into the time so that you play together with the band
c) Start solos on the 3rd to get out of the common bass player rut of starting phrases on the root or fifth
d) Transcribe from recordings and don’t think about it too much, just match your phrasing to the recording
e) To memorize chord changes, write it out by hand
f) To navigate through tough or fast chord changes, transcribe Coltrane and Keith Jarrett solos

7. Jazz Masterclass with Kush Abadey

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In this session, Kush focused on challenging the participants to switch between different style within a song. Some of the songs he suggested for this kind of exercise include:

a) A Night in Tunisia
b) Green Dolphin Street
c) The Days of Wine and Roses
d) Along Came Betty
e) Just Friends

I was part of the first group that played on stage and we played a more conventional version of Green Dolphin Street followed by a take on The Days of Wine and Roses.

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My main takeaway from this session was to try to play common songs in different styles for a fresh view on standards.

To end the class, we did a polyrhythmic clapping exercise with the class divided into 3 groups:

Group A: Clapping in 5 (grouped in 2 and 3)
Group A: Clapping in 7 (grouped in 2, 2 and 3)
Group C: Clapping in 4 (quarter notes)

8.  Jam Session

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For this jam session, I played on All The Things You Are followed by other participants jamming on:

Footprints
Stella By Starlight
Caravan

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Thailand International Jazz Conference (TIJC) Jazz Camp Day 3 Highlights

9. Creative Jazz Composition with Shai Maestro

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This first session with Shai Maestro began with him playing a solo version of his composition Gal. After playing it, he asked if anyone had any questions. Grabbing the opportunity, I asked if he could explain the compositional process for Gal, the piece he just played. What followed was an in-depth (almost 40 minutes, I believe) explanation of how his fascination of one chord voicing developed into an arpeggiated phrase in 7, then transformed by reversing the arpeggio and finally dividing the phrase into a left hand and right hand part. The left hand part eventually develops into a 3-note melodic theme that is doubled by the upright bass.

Shai emphasized the importance of childlike curiosity and how he doesn’t really have any systems for composition. His one rule is to imagine that he’s singing the melody with a guitar & if the song deprived of all that jazz (odd meters, orchestration etc.) can still work, then it’s a good song. He demonstrated a version of Gal in 4/4 to explain this.

He also then explained in another section of he used embellishments to disguise a simple scalar movement in the melody. To further explain this concept, he showed a rhythmic concept that he learned from a drummer friend of his with added double notes in between a cascara pattern (from Cuban music) during the spaces in between the pattern.

For the next song example, he broke down his piece Paradox. For this piece, he explained that it’s important to find the emotional movement first before adding the 9. He emphasized that it’s important for musicians to remember the reason we do music – it’s because of love. If the song works in a simple way, then it can connect.

Shai also shared a current compositional challenge that he is a part of via Will Vinson. According to Shai, Will Vinson invited a group of musicians to be a part of a group that would compose new music based on a set of limitations. For example, you could write a tune using a diatonic scale but harmonize it with any chords within a 32-bar form. Shai also mentioned in a Craig Taborn interview he read, Craig said that creativity blossoms with limitations. To Shai, restrictions are a good thing.

On the topic of bebop, Shai explained his current love for bebop music and how he used to not enjoy it as a young musician. He said it’s important to learn a language to express what you have to say.

His two main tips on listening were:

a) Listen to what you like
b) Stay open to what other people have to tell you

Great tips!

On creating intros and ending for a song, Shai said you have to establish trust with the listener and then start breaking it. The question to ask is, “What happens if I do this?”

He also showed an example by taking a fragment of a melody from Round Midnight to create an intro. For endings, he said it’s different since it’s the end, an ending functions much like a palate cleanser for the listener.

10. Jazz Improvisation Workshop with Shai Maestro

To begin the improvisation workshop, I asked Shai about my own personal challenges in learning how to improvise over my compositions. I felt that I often wrote music that was challenging to improvise over, most definitely at the time I composed the piece.

On this, he said to remember that every piece you ever hear in an original piece. Upon listening to Benny Golson perform I Remember Clifford live, Shai was touched by the fact that Benny wrote this tune in memory of Clifford Brown and how every melodic fragment represented something that Clifford would have played.

Touching on his own musical challenges, he shared an example of him learning an Avishai Cohen tune that had odd meters. To improvise over the piece, Shai created a MIDI playback with the drum pattern so that he could begin to be more comfortable on the meter. Bebop helps said Shai!

Another example that he mentioned was Brad Mehldau’s 7/4 take on All The Things You Are. He said it’s important to transpose ideas into all keys.

Shai also opened up this session to include any other topics beyond improvisation, including on social media. To answer a question that my manager Yin asked, he said it helps if you have a management team and that social media provides a chance for people to know what you do.

Answering a question on learning bebop, Shai said to never practice without playing music, never practice outside of a musical and emotional context. For him, when you’re practicing, you’re practicing your way of being. Therefore, you should not just practice mindlessly in front of the TV or computer but to focus.

On learning motives in different keys, he showed an example of a melody transposed but always played within a musical accompaniment in his left hand with a great time feel.

Continuing this, he shared some odd meter tips emphasizing that odd meters are all a matter of habit. To him, it’s important to break habits like only starting phrases on the 1 but to start on any beat or upbeat so that you really are free to improvise in an odd meter.

11. Jazz Masterclass with Desmond White

In Desmond’s final session, he gave valuable critique to 3 different groups. In the first group, he commented that no one left any space during the solo. As an exercise, he suggested for them to solo and leave more space than they felt comfortable with because the result is more musical.
 
On the second piece, Bye Bye Blackbird, he suggested the pianist to play smaller ideas, like Count Basie. Desmond noted the importance of letting the music groove by leaving space.
 
For the final piece, A Foggy Day, Desmond said that this had a weird songform. In cases like this, it’s important to be aware of the songform especially when it’s not a more common 32-bar, 16-bar or 12-bar blues form. He said to be aware of the top of the form.
 
To conclude, Desmond said that you can learn a tune (memorize the changes) in 2 choruses and not to continue reading the chords beyond that point.
12. Ensemble Masterclass with Shai Maestro

In Shai’s ensemble masterclass, he said that the priority is the band first before the ego. He recommended us all to learn music by heart. For him, there are 2 obstacles to learning music:

a) the instrument with the technical demands of learning an instrument
b) the ego

To add sheet music to the equation to him made it more difficult to play music. He said that “Jazz is about being here in the moment.”

In explaining the importance of listening, he worked with a quartet and stopped them many times through their rendition of Honeysuckle Rose. Each time, Shai pointed out something that a band member played and how each phrase was an opportunity to create a conversation with each other. It’s about deep listening and responding to one another instead of going on autopilot and just the routine of playing the melody, taking solos, trading and playing the melody. To him, it’s about the moment, the conversation and listening.

For my friend, Tan Jen Wei and my manager Yin, this particular session was the highlight of the day as it explained an aspect of jazz that I loved the most but could never articulate as clearly as Shai did. It was a magical and insightful session!

13. Piano Masterclass with Shai Maestro

IMG_20170125_151444

For the final workshop of the 3-day camp, Shai shared his take on playing the piano. To him, it’s very important to hear the harmonic gravity of how each notes feels against a bass note or harmony.

On the topic of reharmonization, hs said anything can be on anything at any time. The options are limitless and then it’s a matter of voice leading. Shai said to study Bach, Shostakovich and Beethoven. For jazz, he mentioned the importance of studying Keith Jarrett.

For ornamentation on his melodic lines, Shai combines the influence of from Sofia, Bulgaria (where his grandmother was from) and Andalucian Spanish music.

Another interesting point he made was how the piano was an instrument of illusions. There’s no real legato playing or slides on the piano but through practice, these illusions are created.

Shai also shared that in his playing, every moment is different, that it’s about being present and you can translate that to this moment. In music, a piece doesn’t need to be what you want it to be. This is an expansion of his meditation practice and yoga practice as well.

To finish the session, Shai shared some very interesting piano exercises:

a) Via Aaron Parks: Solo on the right hand on the wooden part of the piano (percussive soloing) and comp on the left hand normally. This exercise will make all your left hand comping weaknesses float to the surface.

b) Via Sam?: Solo on the right hand, sing the top note of the left hand voicing. Shai mentioned this is tough one to do.


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This concludes my take on my experience attending the 3-day Thailand International Jazz Camp 2017. This is my first time attending the camp after attending the conference for the past 2 years. I definitely recommend this as an essential event for jazz students and educators in the region. It’s a great atmosphere with wonderful sessions from world class jazz musicians. Huge congratulations and thanks to the Thailand International Jazz Conference (TIJC) team and to Shai Maestro, Desmond White and Kush Abadey for sharing with us their experience and insights. It was epic!

Special thanks to Yin for encouraging me to document this experience via these updates. This is a full version that collects my original FB posts here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Az Samad

Jan 26 2017 7:31 PM

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Jamming with Simon Yu and Fish at Sense 99, Hong Kong

Stella By Starlight (Victor Young)
Thursday Night Jazz at Sense 99, Hong Kong
Simon Yu – Electric Guitar
Fish – Drums
Az Samad – Electric Guitar
Thursday, Dec 15 2016

Thanks to Yin for the video!

This is an excerpt of “Stella By Starlight” with me on Teriver Cheung’s electric guitar jamming with Simon Yu, my classmate from 2006 or so when we were both in Berklee taking Mick Goodrick’s Advanced Guitar Lab.

Was on a Hong Kong+Macau tour – was so great to land in Hong Kong and get to catch Teriver, Simon and Fish play a really cool set of moody, modern jazz sounds and then get to jam with Simon afterwards. Wish I got more video of this particular jam but my phone ran out of space.

Hope to do an entire show with Simon next time, that would be really fun – he’s such an AMAZING musician! Thanks Fish for the awesome playing and Teriver for letting me use your super nice guitar.

Special thanks to Ray Wang and Yin Tim of MusicinMusic.com for bringing us to this amazing gig.

Loved it – was one of my best birthdays ever. 🙂

For anyone curious, here are some things I used on my guitar part + solo:
1) Quoting the melody
2) Polyrhythms
3) Half step movement of inside voicings to get outside sounds
4) Voicings with 4ths and 2nds
5) Modal voicings
6) Displacing the melody rhythmically
7) Rhythmic soloing i.e. building the solo off a single note

If anyone would like to learn more about any of these concepts, please leave a comment below & I’ll try to cover it in a future blog post! 🙂

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Cool Guitar Videos Part 6

I realised that I discover all these cool videos with tons of lines and ideas that inspire me & that I’d like to transcribe. Day after day all these videos appear and then disappear because other videos on my Facebook timeline. This is my attempt to archive the videos so I can study the ideas and find them again.  Check it out. =)

This is Part 6.
Part 5 was here.
Part 4 was here.
Part 3 was here.
Part 2 was here.
Part 1 was here.

[Jazz]

[Brazilian Jazz]

[Blues]


[Rock/Fusion]

Here’s an hour and 21-minute interview with Guthrie Govan. Also check out my preivous blog post: 10 Things I Learned From The Guthrie Govan Kuala Lumpur Workshop.

It’s Josh Martin of Little Tybee jamming with Dweezil Zappa!

[Jordan Klemons]

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