News, views, rhythm n blues gleaned from a quick blog tour…
Pip Eastop (creative London superhornist) hates the harmonic minor scale. He finds it pointless and recommends that it be stricken from exams. He favors the jazz minor scale, which is the ascending melodic minor scale that does not lower steps 6 and 7 when descending. This scale is very handy for improvising since it doesn’t change anything descending; also, there is only one note different from the major scale (1 2 b3 4 5 6 7 vs 1 2 3 4 5 6 7). I mostly agree. The notes of the harmonic minor scale (1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7) are useful in improvising, but not as an octave scale. In either composing or improvising, you use the b6 to turn around at 5. The b6 leads down, not up – it makes not a lot of sense to use it to ascend in the usual harmonic minor scale. The 7 does the same thing at 1. Your ear wants a 7 instead of a b7 to turn around at 1 (1 7 1). Now: if you’re descending from 1 down to 5, say, the b7 and b6 make sense. They sound just fine. If you’re using the jazz minor scale (6 and 7 both directions) consistently, the ear gets used to hearing the unflatted descending 6 and 7. Also: there are some scales that use the augmented 2nd interval, most b2 to 3 (e.g. Spanish Phrygian or Klezmer: 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7; Middle Eastern: 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 7) where that wide interval is used melodically to evoke that exotic flavor, but for normal Western/tonal improvisation – jazz or contemporary classical – I agree with Pip that the harmonic minor is an artificial construct without much use that simply shows you are familiar with that collection of pitches. In combat conditions (improvising or composing) you should be able to inflect the 6 and 7 any way you want to match what you hear your melodic line doing.
Another thing comes to mind on the subject of scale proficiency exams. What if… instead of testing the artificial – octave scales – we tested – for want of a better word – music? That is, the ability to use any version of minor in a musical situation. Testing one (or two or three) octave scales are of very limited use to either practice much or in exams. It doesn’t tell you much. It’s a very superficial way of knowing a scale. What about all the other ways you can arrange the scale? I don’t care if you can find your way up and back. I want to know what you can do with a scale. I don’t need to hear Flight of the Bumblebee. But I would like to hear that you can think in music and use the scale appropriately to some degree.
Here’s your new scale proficiency exam: Picture this: a woman in a red dress stares at a crescent moon at 3 a.m. A solitary tear slides down her cheek. She has just lost the love of her life. Now: draw a card at random: Ab minor. Now, using any form of minor scale that you wish, make up a 2 minute piece depicting that scene, built mainly around that scale. You pick the tempo (hint: slow is fine). The piece should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should have unity and variety. It should have some recognizable (or better, memorable) melodic motifs that are developed in the course of the improvisation. Add a brief coda at the end.
Now that would tell me if you really know your scales. I wouldn’t care if you missed a note here or there if you created a strong, memorable line and did some interesting things. Something expressive, something that communicates thought and feeling. Right now all we seem to care about in exams is mindless rote perfection of things that seldom or never show up in actual music (ever seen a two octave scale in a piece for horn?).
Dr. Noa Kageyama has some great advice on audition prep and mental toughness for musicians.
Richard Kessler concludes a series of arts on Getting the Best High School Arts Education in Dewey21C.
The lead current article in Entrepreneur the Arts is “The Long Wait of ‘Artistic’ Careers” by Peter Spellman of Berklee College of Music.
James Boldin’s Hornworld blog always has something interesting. The latest post calls attention to a recent doctoral dissertation by Margaret Tung on Dale Clevenger.