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Thread: Switching between Classical and Jazz: mindset

  1. #1
    Registered User
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    Jul 2016

    Switching between Classical and Jazz: mindset

    For those of you who have a strong Classical background and who are equally well interested in Jazz: how do you switch between the two?

    Suppose we talk of some basic "Chord-Melody" setting in both Classical and Jazz. First of all, I understand that some terms such as Chord-Melody are inappropriate in the context of strict Classical music terminology as well as some terms will have no particular meaning in the context of Jazz.
    What I want to ask you for the purpose of this discussion is to temporarily abandon the strict terminology and focus on the essence of the matter.

    Back to the subject. Suppose you have a complete melody (It could be 'I hear a Rhapsody', for instance) and you want to make a simple piano arrangement with mostly block chords ("chorale texture") with some figuration sprinkled in here and there in the upper voice and maybe some rhythmic devices in the lower part for the sake of variety.

    In Jazz: You are free to do anything as long as you like the result. If someone doesn't like _your_ result - it's their own problem (and possibly yours if no one wants to listen to your arrangement :-)).

    In Classical: When doing an arrangement of the same 'I hear a Rhapsody' according to the Common Practice Period (CPP) rules you are bound to follow a number of restrictions and practices that can limit your choice of harmonies and figuration/rhythmic techniques substantially. I don't suggest that's something bad: that's paying your price for adhering to the CPP style rules.
    Some of the limits you'll have: preparation of dissonances (almost all 7th will have to be prepared) with their subsequent strict resolution; practically no presence of the upper extensions (everything above the 7th is out of style); A really important one: restriction on the "inversions" you can use (I assume you may not follow the theory of inversions once conceived by J.P.Rameau; J.S.Bach knew nothing about inversions: he simply knew how to stack intervals above the Root note to make a particular harmony), so you can't place the 5th of a chord in the bass like you would do that in Jazz unless it's a special occasion - not as a rule. Of course you'll be restricted on the use of parallels: no parallel 5ths and octaves.

    The major problem that I see is once you immerse yourself into the CPP style rules and learn to appreciate the would-be stupidly restrictive rules (some of which I listed above) there is hardly a way back to the "ignorance" associated with the Jazz culture.
    For instance, you begin to hear how ugly the Maj7 chord is: the interval of min 2nd makes it like that.
    Another example is the 2nd inversion triad which is readily available in Jazz (though not many would use triads in Jazz) but as I mentioned above is rarely used in CPP style: the 4th above the Root is considered unstable and dissonant and thus not usable as a rule.

    I like both Classical and Jazz but I have hard time to reconcile the two approaches: once I set on one of them the other goes out the window.
    Please share your thoughts on all this. How do you approach this dilemma if you are like me?

    The main problem is not the theory but what you do with your ears: how do you set-up your mind set to accept audible Jazz liberties when you know and HEAR that they are considered ugly in the CPP setting? I find it like falling between two stools...

  2. #2
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Listen here, you son of a Jazz - calm down first, relax, and leave you hose measuring attitude for a pub. Here you come to a temple of Music.
    You see how I reduced your font size below? That's where you belong...

    Quote Originally Posted by motherlode View Post
    There’s no substitute for talent …

    The Jazz language is an improvise music where the Blues occupies the same place that the diatonic scale occupies in classical music, and it has a certain ‘lilt’ to it (swing).

    I’m a native son, I’m from the home of Jazz … you can’t fool me on this, so drop the schoolboy bull****!

    You’ve got some music to back you up? … let’s see it!
    Edit: to those of you who don't see the original post of 'motherlode' - I don't know where it's gone. Clearly his post wasn't intended as a helpful and constructive reply. Sorry if my reply to him looks too rough. I tend to fight back when I feel that I was attacked in an unfair manner.
    His post Looked like this

    For the clarification: What I mean under the 'Jazz' term is not necessarily related to the act of improvising, ad-libbing. It can be arranged like many of Duke Ellington's pieces were though they normally were definitely intended for an orchestra, not for a solo performer.
    On the other hand I don't mean that Classical music is necessarily arranged: Bach et.al. were known for freely improvising when they wanted to.

    The main problem is in the degree of freedom of what is considered the norm. I hope I clearly expressed it in my original post.
    Last edited by VinniKat; 11-26-2017 at 05:42 PM.

  3. #3
    MMus, MA, PGCE JumpingJack's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    A few things come to mind;

    Talking of "rules" and "restrictions" may no be helpful. For one, it has negative connotations which are going to colour your perception, and also composers of the time wouldn't generally have thought in that way. It is often useful (then and now) when teaching to lay out instructions on what to avoid, but mastering the rules was (and is) just the first step of the student composer.

    It's better to think of them as stylistic guidelines. Every genre has certain things which either need to be there, or should not be there, in order to be authentic to that genre. If these guidelines aren't followed, it doesn't necessarily mean the work is bad, just that it doesn't qualify as belonging to that style. The same is true of jazz - it might feel more free, but it's still a long way from "anything goes".

    And there are many different forms and styles of CPP music, just as there are different forms and styles of jazz. The "rules" were not quite the same in the 17th century as the 19th for example. Things evolve - note this doesn't mean they get better, just that they change.

    Something to bear in mind is that CPP composers didn't generally write music for the sake of writing it - certainly in the earlier part of the period, music wasn't really an "art" as it might be considered today. Music was usually written either for the church, or for some important (and wealthy) individual. As such, composers could only deviate so far from expectations otherwise they would be out of a job. (Incidentally, we can't possibly hear music the same way people did in the 17th-19th centuries. Our ears are accustomed to a different sound palette)

    Another thing is that in practice, a lot of the theoretical "rules" weren't always followed. You can look through Bach for example and see that he actually did things that modern textbooks frown upon (including things like parallel 5ths and octaves).

  4. #4
    Registered User
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    Apr 2009
    Dallas Texas
    I disagree with the premise of the original post. I find that jazz harmonic ideas far more restrictive than "classical" harmonic styles; perhaps because jazz has about a 120 year history and classical has about 500 (with common practice esthetics). Jazz has its "avoid notes" and not-leaving-the-mode ideas which are followed more or less strictly. Classical music has no limits on the melody that can be played against a give chord, however different melodies will have different aesthetic meanings. The two big "harmonic" or "theoretical" rather than "stylistic" changes came in classical with the 1200-1300 era in the change from ars antiqua to ars nova. The second was the addition of segunda practica to prima practica around 1600. From 1600 to 1900 harmonic material is essentially the same; jazz, rock, country, Broadway, etc., stull use these resources. There are differences in style. Quick example (from Meyerhold) is that before Wagner, musical themes generally were sui generis; Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Vivaldi, etc. would develop a theme to show the possibilities in the themes. Wagner (and Berlioz earlier) attached themes to ideas, people, objects, places, etc. A sword or person or place would get a theme and this theme would be played (in some form) when one of those was on stage or at least part of the action; movie music does this a log.

    A couple of other misconceptions: unprepared sevenths started being common in classical music about 1600. "Preparing" dissonances was less important that resolution; dissonances would be left unresolved but usually for dramatic reasons not musical. All the harmonic resources used now (and in jazz for that matter) show up by 1700. Check out the harmonies in Bach's 48; in prelude 1 in C major is just a sequence of arpeggios but the eighth chord is a major seventh chord in third inversion (which can be analyzed as a C-B-A bass line under two C chords and an A minor chord.) Vivaldi often uses major sevenths (that way his arpeggios always have 4 notes). The major seventh chord on the tonic is usually followed by a sub-dominant chord but it doesn't sound like a key change. If the dominant seventh is used; the can be heard a bit like a (perhaps short-lived) change of key.

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