April 28, 2006

Craptastic Chording (with a bonus funny!)

by Chris Randall

I'm continually amazed at how bad fake sheets are on the internet. I mean, I'm perfectly aware that looking at sheet music (or what passes for such) on the internet is legally exactly the same as downloading mp3s, but it doesn't feel like it, you know? But that said, you're much more likely to find a good quality mp3 of a given track than an accurate transcription of the chord progression in that track. I have it in my head that every single lead sheet, fake sheet, and tab transcription on the internet was done by first-year Steve Vai wannabes at GIT and Berklee. Well, not Berklee, because you actually have to be able to read music to get in to the first year program there. So just GIT.

Anyways, I learn new chords and chord progressions by picking insanely complex jazz and pop songs from times past and learning how to play them; this is also how I practice guitar, an instrument I could be much better at. Tonight's goal was to learn the basic progression for "My Funny Valentine," which is a classic (and probably the best) example of the Im-Im(maj7)-Im7-Im6 progression, as heard in "Michelle," "What Are You Doing For The Rest Of Your Life," and about 70 other standards. It isn't in any of the fake books I have (surprisingly) so I go a-huntin', certain in advance of the comedic value, but fairly convinced I can parse out the major parts if I at least have a pretty good starting point. Just for clarity's sake, we're talking about the Tony Bennett version of the song, not the Elvis Costello or Miles Davis versions.

(As a brief digression, the Elvis Costello version has a fucking fantastic variation on this theme, with a decending bassline that just slays. But it is very nearly impossible to play on guitar, unless you have 8-inch-long fingers, which I don't.)

Anyways, look at the first hit (screenshot above) I went to when searching. The Bonus Funny is the auto-generated Google ad, "You can play guitar exactly like Tony Bennett!" Yeah, he's well-known for his six-string virtuosity. Sure. I should have kept clicking right then, but I made the mistake of looking at the chord progression. If you were paying attention above, you'll note that I said that "My Funny Valentine" is the best example of the oft-used Im-Im(maj7)-Im7-Im6 structure. Look at the progression in the screenshot. Try to play that, and see how fucking WRONG it sounds. I mean, really. It's a fucking Am(maj7), not a fucking Am7. One note off, and you've got a trainwreck.

Visiting several other sites, I didn't find a single example that bore even a passing resemblance to the original. I mean, I'm not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth or anything, but shit. If you can't pull it off in the first place, why bother, you know? I now imagine a wedding band having to do this tune, and the leader of the band making fake sheets from that site. I wonder if they'd get paid at the end of the night.

(For extra bonus digression, this progression is also used to good effect in the second half of the bridge of "Cry Me A River," another standard which I can already play fine, thank you very much.)




Apr.28.2006 @ 1:39 AM
Suit & Tie Guy
it's also in C in my realbook and on the only recording i have of it: Jimmy Smith's Groovin' At Small's Paradise.

that track on that CD is the best example on record of the power of Jimmy Smith's ballad technique: he chorded with his _right_ hand on the lower manual, and played the melody with his left crossed over on the upper manual, with pedal bass. all drawbars out on the upper, standard 838000000 on the lower manual. jazz organists usually leave the Bb preset on that 888888888 thing pretty much all the time to immediately switch when it's time to crescendo or just be really fucking loud.

when it comes time to comp behind the guitarist, it's back to LH bass with pedal accents ... but the right hand chords remain.

it sounds totally bizarre to explain it like that, but if you listen to the record he does things which are impossible with the "traditional" LH chord/RH melody technique used by most jazz organists in ballad contexts. one of his tricks is to gliss down from a monophonic melody line with the LH, then bring the RH from the lower to the upper and play two-handed harmonisations to make it really big and huge for emphasis.

on a side note, he was playing a B3 with a broken or uncalibrated percussion circuit through a 31H on that gig.


Apr.28.2006 @ 1:54 AM
Chris Randall
That technique is only odd if you aren't left handed. If you are, it makes perfect sense. I play a dual-manual in exactly the same method, chording with my right hand and playing the leads with my left. Obviously, JS didn't have my lack of right-hand dexterity, but it's the only way I can pull off normal organ comping at all.

In any case, after noodling a bit, it is far easier to play on keyboard in C than A like in the fake shit... errrr... sheet I linked to. But on guitar, which was the object of the exercise in the first place, it is much, much easier in A; probably half the chords are open, but in C or D (which is what the Elvis Costello version is in) almost none of 'em are.



Apr.28.2006 @ 3:38 PM
If you're looking for the ultimate compendium of jazz standards, the Real Book is really the way to go (written, incidentally, by Berklee students). Almost 500 jazz standards with quick and easy lead sheets (there are also several sequels, but I almost always find what I'm looking for in the original). There's also a PDF scan floating around, I'm sure a quick search would turn the files up.

Apr.28.2006 @ 5:13 PM
I thought Bennett was piano only....
Anyone still got the doctorin the tardis link?

Apr.28.2006 @ 6:08 PM
Chris Randall
Does the Real Book have a suggested key, or does it just have Romans?

i.e. Does it show, e.g., Am - Am(maj7) - Am7 - Am6 or does it just have Im - Im(maj7) - Im7 - Im6?

I'm not too fond of the books that just have chord numbers. I can transpose in my head, but for some reason, the Roman numerals fuck me all up, especially on faster songs. Although, truth be told, it'd probably be wise to get one with numbers; I'd get better at it.



Apr.30.2006 @ 12:53 PM
The Real Book has suggested keys. I know what you mean about numbers, so here's what I do: I analyze the songs in advance to figure out what number the chord is. It helps build your harmonic knowledge so you can easily recognize chord sequences.



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