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Learning bebop heads in a short period of time
May 4, 2017
1:28 pm
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Myron
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April 30, 2017
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hi tim,

i have a question about learning complex melodies. i’ve mentioned bebop heads in the title although i’m not exclusively talking about parker and gillespie songs here. i’m basically referring to melodies of this kind – originals, standards, unknown tunes.. dense, technically challenging melodies, that perhaps feature a bunch of trills, maybe 8th triplets etc.

i’d like to know 2 things:
1) what skills are required in order to be able to learn melodies of this kind in a short amount of time?
2) what do you think can i possibly achieve as guitar player in that respect, if i’m willing to invest plenty of time? or to put it another way: when do you think am i expecting to much ending up only frustrating myself?

i’ll get more specific now. when i try to answer 1) myself i end up with the following 3 skills being necessary to achieve the task:
a) being a high level sight reader (in case there’s no recording to learn from -> originals)
b) having great pick up (in case you’re learning it off the record or even during a rehearsal)
c) having outstanding technique
now i’m a bad reader so i’m not surprised it takes me a while to learn stuff like that off a chart. i know i can get better at it by continuously practicing sight reading and slowly increasing difficulty. but i’m curious: can you sight read a tune like “dexterity” or “blues for alice”? like playing through it 3 or 4 times and then be able to play it in tempo? have you seen any guitarists do it? i certainly know horn players can do it, but i’ve never seen a guitar player who was able to.
i’m not super fast with picking up lines of other players and quoting them while they solo etc, but i think i do a decent job when it comes to listening to a line and figuring it out. e.g. i’ve been lerning “marmaduke” couple of weeks ago – it would take me 5 mins figure the theme out and maybe another 5-10 to know it by heart (of course this one’s not as hard to remember as something like “confirmation”).
when it comes to the technical aspect it behaves like this: when i learn to play a tune like “marmaduke” i have to invest some 1 or 2 hours in order to be able play it somehow up to tempo. but in this case i’d be lucky to play through it without mistakes. i would certainly not have mastered it. in order to master it i would probably have to work on it every day for 2 or 3 weeks.

now i know i can become better in all these different fields, but i’m not sure how far i can take this. i’ve shared the stage with people who were able to play stuff like that live after checking it out for 3 minutes and rehearsing another 5. i’ve never seen a guitar player do that and i’m wondering if this is partially caused by the fact that it takes time to figure out where to play the notes on the fretboard. but then again i’m not a fan of bad excuses either.. anyways i don’t like being the guy to say “i don’t know the song, i’d have to check it out”. i’m willing to work hard, but at the same time i don’t want to frustrate myself by expecting too much. whats your opinion?
is there anything you can recommend besides learning a bunch of tunes until you’ve mastered them?

thanks! myron

May 5, 2017
10:16 am
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timmiller
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Hi Myron,
With regards to reading music, I believe that you have to read music frequently in order to improve and maintain your skills. You have to spend a lot of time doing it.
In terms of learning complex music, here is an idea for you: Put the piece into notation software or sequence it in your DAW. Loop the melody and listen to it until you can sing the pitches and rhythms. Learn to play the piece and play along with it at a slow bpm. Gradually increase the speed. This is how I practice the pieces for the “Concepts in Action” videos. I compose them and write them out first, then practice them consistently with a sequence (in Logic Pro) until the video shoot.
Complex music takes time to learn. I believe that hearing the music and being able to sing it in your head is the best “first step” to learning something more quickly. Playing along with a loop of the music at a slow tempo is that next step.
Best,
Tim

May 8, 2017
7:55 am
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Myron
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April 30, 2017
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thanks tim, i appreciate your advice! i can see why it’s hard to answer the other part of my question since it’s hard to tell what’s possible to achieve and what not. but from your experience with your students, other berklee colleagues etc: do you think it is a reasonable goal to strive for being able to play music like that almost right away (e.g. learn it right before the gig, then perform), or do you think that’s something very few guitar players can do?

May 8, 2017
8:45 am
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timmiller
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Hi Myron,
From my experience, I think that it is something that few guitarists can do. Most people need time to practice difficult music ahead of time (myself included.) It really depends on how important reading is to you. If it is very important to you, then you will need to spend a considerable amount of time on it in order to get it to the level that you are describing. For me, playing is the top priority. I think that it is possible to develop that level of skill with reading, but not without years of consistent work.
Best,
Tim

May 8, 2017
1:33 pm
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Myron
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April 30, 2017
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thanks for sharing your impression!
myron

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