musical form for dummies

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by crowmadic, Dec 9, 2009.

  1. crowmadic

    crowmadic Mezzo Piano User

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    Oct 3, 2006
    Am I correct in thinking "Form" is the architectural structure of a tune? And, is there a book to be recommended for understanding form as it applies to Jazz? I'm not looking for a highly technical or sophisticated book, but rather one that would fall into the genre of books for dummies.

    crow
     
  2. simonstl

    simonstl Pianissimo User

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    Nov 25, 2008
    Dryden/Ithaca, NY
    I suspect that what you're looking for is more commonly called music theory. If you've already had some of that and are looking for application of that to jazz specifically, I suspect others may be able to help better with that.

    However, if you're willing to start with basic music theory, in a book that talks about jazz when the pieces fit, I'd heartily recommend Michael Miller's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Theory (ISBN 1592574378). (You say dummies, this title says idiot, but it's a much better book than either title suggests.)

    I came to that knowing what I'd learned as a player, and was really excited to figure out the why behind the what. You'll need more than that to move into jazz improvisation, but it's a solid start.
     
  3. bigtiny

    bigtiny Mezzo Forte User

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    Aug 14, 2005
    You don't need a book for what you're asking. Yes, you can think of form as the architecture or structure of a tune. In 'classical' music there are forms whose form must adhere to a certain structure. For instance, the most notorious is probably the fugue (for all you reading this, I don't want to argue about whether it's really the most notorious or not...I'm just trying to answer the guy's question =:-) ). Fugues have a set of 'rules' about their structure that a tune must conform to to be called a fugue.

    You must realize that these 'forms' are not written in stone. People write music everyday that DON'T conform to the conventional structures and that's okay.

    in jazz the 'standard' forms are largely derived from mid 20th century song form. That's because a lot of jazz (especially classic jazz) was based on mid 20th century songs! =:-)

    So you have things like standard 32 bar form which is usually an 'A' section that contains the main theme of the piece -- usually 8 bars long and repeated (that's 16 bars), then the 'bridge' which is usually 8 bars (that's 24 bars total), then the restatement of the 'A' section played once (that's 32 bars total). Go to any fake book and start looking at standards...it won't take you long to find a tune with this structure.

    if you have further questions about basic form just talk to other musicians...they can answer your questions...

    bigtiny
     
  4. crowmadic

    crowmadic Mezzo Piano User

    688
    1
    Oct 3, 2006
    bigtiny,
    you hit upon what i'm looking for. i'm familiar with the basic forms of "standards" and blues but I thought there might be more to it. there are some modern jazz tunes that bewilder me when it comes to finding a form. i'm just going to take an example of such a piece into my teacher and have him break it down.

    thanks..........crow
     
  5. dhbailey

    dhbailey Piano User

    493
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    Jul 28, 2009
    New Hampshire
    Ah, bewilderment when trying to analyze modern jazz tunes. Join the club! No book is going to help you learn more about those forms. Just as BigTiny mentioned that there are people writing music everyday and calling it one thing yet not adhering to the older definitions of that form, so, too, modern jazz composers quite often don't write music with a sense of strict form the way that the great songsmiths of the 20th century did.

    And yet sometimes there really is an underlying structure. That's where having the music written out in a fake book can help, unless you have great ears and can take harmonic dictation as well as melodic dictation from a record. Sometimes it's a harmonic cycle which defines the structure (Giant Steps is a pretty easy example for that), sometimes it's a rhythmic riff (Take 5 could be thought of this way). Sometimes it's a melodic riff (Lonely Woman by Ornette Coleman) that defines the form, with free improvisation (either solo or collective) filling in the gaps.

    Mostly to find the form you need to listen, even if you're not writing the music down. But it's a special kind of listening, a concentrated kind of listening, not the music-as-background sort of listening that we all do a lot of the time.

    And don't worry, there are "compositions" out there where there is no form, where they turn on the tape recorder (I'm showing my age -- the digital recorder) and start playing and when they've run out of things to play or reach the I'm-too-tired-to-play-more stage, they end on a longer note and then turn the recorder off and call it a masterpiece. (I hope I don't sound too cynical here.)

    So it's alright if you can't figure out the form for some songs -- there isn't any to figure out! :)
     
  6. bigtiny

    bigtiny Mezzo Forte User

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    Aug 14, 2005
    Yes, contemporary composers are often not adhering to any of the 'classical' forms or song forms from our time. This doesn't make them 'wrong' or anything, it just means that they've designed their own form for their piece(s).

    One thing I'll add, as a person who has performed a LOT of improvised 'free' music -- there is form and structure in music. Good improvisers (and composers) exploit the benefits of formal organization to communicate more strongly with their listeners.

    However, with a lot of the work we hear nowdays, the form and strcuture of a piece may not be very obvious upon first listening. I suggest that if you hear a piece like this and you are really interested in the form of the composition (or solo) then listen to it closely, get some music paper and try to write down the formal structure of the tune.

    I've generally found this to be a very musically rewarding exercise.

    bigtiny
     
  7. crowmadic

    crowmadic Mezzo Piano User

    688
    1
    Oct 3, 2006
    After what you two guys said I feel like I can do without the dummies book (if there was one). You've really summed up the reason for my bewilderment about some modern jazz pieces. I'll just have to listen with intention to pick out any form that might exist.

    thanks........... crow
     

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