Pip Eastop, Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Posts tagged “The Amazing Slowdowner

Bea’s Flat

Valentin’s visit has made quite a difference. This morning I made an assault on Chet Baker’s amazing solo from “Bea’s Flat”. I spent an hour or so looping sections of it at half-speed and trying to capture every not and every nuance. It’s coming along quite well, I think – I’ve learned about 75% of it (at half speed). Another hour on it and I should have it, and then I can start speeding it up.
After that bit of work I opened up a blues file in the same key, C, in my computer and was delighted to find I could fit bits of the solo from Bea’s Flat quite nicely here and there. This ties in very immediately with something I read last night in Paul Berliner’s book. Here it is:

Rhythmic ingredients can also constitute the fundamental idea for original figures. Walter Bishop Jr. says that after absorbing Bud Powell’s phrasing he “began to thnk like Bud” so he could abandon Powell’s precise lines and create his own “in the same idiom, playing with the same kind of feeling and intensity”. Arthur Rhames views the process as analogous to emulating personal styles of speech. Because all artists speak with “their own natural rhythm and sequential order.” it is possible to “emulate a person whose speaking you like, using his same effect – how he comes into a sentence or the way he constructs his things” – but without saying the “exact same thing”. That is how Rhames learned from John Coltrane.

“Without directly copying his melodic line, I tried to get the feeling of the line, the phrasing, which allowed me to understand how Trane was talking when he played. What I wanted was the form, the basket that he was using, but the contents I wanted to fill myself. I knew that I had something to say, and I wanted to deal with that. So what I copied was the way John constructed his phrases and their rhythmical base, the stems without the notes, and I put my own noes and harmony – the things I thought about – on top of it.”

Slowing things down

I spent a while ripping some carefully chosen Aebersold tracks into MP3 files in my PC. I’ve done this so that I can open the tracks up in special software which enables me to slow all or part of the tracks down, loop them or transpose them, or do all those things.

I’ve found it’s a very efficient way of disecting jazz solos for learning them by ear.

The Amazing Slowdowner.

Learning Clifford Brown’s solos by ear

New year’s resolution: to get this diary/journal going again after quite a long period of neglect (look at the date of the previous entry).

A large part of what stopped me writing was that every time I thought of doing so I felt the time would be better spent practising the trumpet. Also I lost the sense of importance of keeping a progress record. One of the things I like to do is to teach, and it’s not inconceivable that one day I might teach jazz, perhaps specifically to people who are already “classically” trained. If I do, then a well-kept journal, of my own trials and tribulations, could be a very useful teaching resource for me. Not only that – I do think that what I’m attempting is unique; I’ve never heard of an established horn player switching not only instrument but an entire musical discipline before. I feel something of an explorer, and I suppose a good explorer makes maps as they go along. 

Apart from a period of some four months last summer during which I worked quite intensively for the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Glyndebourne Opera, I have been working pretty hard at my jazz. I’m still a long way from any kind of public performance but I’ve not lost any of my enthusiasm or energy for the task of learning. . 

During the period since my last writinng here my collection of playalong recordings has enlarged quite a lot and nearly all of them are Jamey Aebersold’s excellent books. Also I’ve found another absolutely great tool to help me learn. It’s a software program called The Amazing Slowdowner (available to download from www.ronimusic.com). This extremely clever software will get hold of the CD player in your PC or Mac and make it do the most amazing things. It can play a track – all of it or just a section of it – looped if you like if you like if you like if you like – at any speed without altering the pitch. This is incredibly useful in itself but there’s more – it can transpose the pitch of the track up or down by any amount you want – semitones or fractions of semitones or combinations thereof – up or down. The great thing is that pitch and tempo can be chosen independantly of eachother. It’s an incredibly easy to use, no frills, sensibly written program. Congratulations to the author – a jazz musician himself, for turning my PC into the most useful learning tool I could imagine for my jazz.

I keep finding new ways to use it but here’s one way, just to help demonstrate how useful it is: say I want to learn a solo by Clifford Brown – from one of his recordings. I’ll put the CD in (or I can rip the desired track to an MP3 file and store it in my computer for ease of access – The Amazing Slowdowner works just as well with MP3 files, or other types of audio files on hard-disk, as with a CD spinning in your drive) and find the start of the actual solo and set it to loop the first bar or two – a chunk small enough for me to learn without breaking it down still further. I’ll slow it right down so I can hear every little detail and then commence trying to play it. When I’ve got it, I’ll start to speed it up a little and move onto the next chunk. 

It’s the ability to play around with the speed of the playback and the length of the loop which is so wonderfully useful. It’s hard to imagine a more efficient way of learning something by ear. And I’m now certain that “by ear” is the way to do it. I’ve a book of Clifford Brown’s solos transcribed and printed. They certainly look nice but if you play them “from the dots” they come out sounding stilted and mechanical. I reckon the only way you’ll get it to float, fly and dance like Clifford Brown is by copying him directly. And that’s why we learn solos, isn’t it? Jazz is supposed to be an aural tradition. I want to learn Clifford Brown’s rhythms, grammar, syntnax, accent and dialect – and I can’t do that from a book. My best chance is with the great man’s recordings and the Amazinng Slowdowner. This is the way it’s always been done, incidentnally. It used to be constant repositioning of the needle on a 78 record – and I’ve heard it said that many jazz musicians used completely wear out their records learning like this!

The Amazing Slowdowner is much more efficient – and you can learn it in a differnet key from the original, if you want. A lot of the Aebersold playalongs are still too fast for me to get my head around the chord changes. With the Slowdowner I can highlight any tricky bits and run them as slowly as I like until I’ve got the hang of it, then speed it up bit by bit. 

Incidentally, I’ve been very surprised and humbled by putting Clifford Brown’s solos under the microscope in this way. One would think that the more you slow it down to disect and investigate it the more minor imperfections of rythm and intonation would show up until, at high magnifications, it would start sounding rather ragged. Wrong! What has been a most amazing ear-opener for me has been the discovery that the more I dissect and magngfy the more detail and accuracy is revealed. Hats off to the incredible Clifford Brown.