What I Love about Music: in Order of Importance

1) Losing myself in the world of interactive group improvisation, When everything is right; when I am on and not injured, on a great instrument, with great players and friends, with any size appreciative audience, or none at all.

2) The Sounds of the notes themselves.  The love of listening to music played whether it’s played by others of myself. When there are no thoughts in my head except “thought in sound”

3) The Puzzle of figuring out new music, or new compositions, or new harmonic or rhythmic structures. I am in love with the systems of harmony, rhythm, melody, and the physics of timbre.  The math behind it all is mystical and spiritual for me.

4) The Comraderie with musician friends, while making music and while hanging out, talking, sharing humor. Jazz musicians are some of my favorite people: Intellectuals with barroom humor.

5) The Teaching of talented, curious, musically ambitious people.

6) The Self-Image it gives me.  The place I fit in society and in my community. The respect given that transcends money-based status.

7) The Money

I feel bad, not badly.

I feel bad.
I feel (textures) badly.  (due to nerve damage in my fingertips)

I am good.
I do well.

I am bad.         [subject-pronoun   linking-verb   adjective]
I do badly.       [subject-pronoun    action-verb   adverb]

I look bad.
I see badly.

She is cheerful.
She works cheerfully.

They are happy; They feel happy.
They do things happily; They cook happily; They read happily. They feel the velvet fabric happily.

Jam Band Camp 2015 Notes

Jam Band Camp Notes

Lead Sheet: just melody and chord symbols on paper, no arrangement and minimal form.
Fake Book: A book of lead sheets for well-known tunes, jazz standards, etc.

Diatonic: Based on major and minor seven-note scales. Also, staying within the key signature (no chromatic notes, or accidentals).
Dominant: A chord or tonality that has a major triad (1st-3rd-5th) plus a flatted seventh. This is the default we are referring to when we say “a seventh chord”, such as C7.
Mixolydian: the Dominant mode (scale), used with a 7 chord. The Major scale with a flatted 7th.
Dorian: a minor mode (scale) used with a min7 chord. The Major scale with a flatted 7th and a flatted 3rd, i.e., Mixolydian with a flatted 3rd. Same as Natural (relative) minor but with a natural 6th.
Blues Scale: 1, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7, 1. Used on 7 chords and m7 chords. Not diatonic.
minor Pentatonic Scale: Blues scale without the b5. Five notes.
Tonal Center: The ‘key’ of the tune. The harmonic “resting point”. The root and chord that “harmonic gravity” pulls you toward. The root of the last chord in a tune.
Perfect Cadence: V7 – I chord sequence. Most common chord movement in our music.

Blues: A specific 12-bar chord progression using only dominant 7 chords. I7 – IV7 – V7
The basis of 1000s of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Jazz, and Blues tunes, such as Johnny B. Goode.
Blues-based harmony: 1) both major and minor 3rd in melodies, bass lines, and riffs, and 2) all dominant 7th chords (both characteristics break the rules of diatonic harmony).
Use of the blues scale and other dominant scales such as Mixolydian.
Going from a minor 3rd to a Major 3rd in a dominant tonality is the “Number 1 Bluesism”.
Blues Licks: Commonly played bluesy melodic fragments, riffs, bass lines, chord sequences, etc., that are held in the collective public consciousness. Widely used in Rock, Blues, Jazz, R&B, Country…
Offspring of Blues: Jazz, Rhythm & Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Soul, Rock, Funk, most Pop, Hip-Hop; most American music (except Marches). All have an accent on beats 2 & 4.

AABA Form: also called “32 bar popular song form”. The A section is 8 bars. The B section is 8 bars. AABA is 32 bars.
Chorus: in Jam music, one time through the whole chord progression. AABA is one chorus. One time through the 12-bar blues is one chorus. This is a different meaning than in Pop music with vocals. Solos are almost always a whole number of choruses; 1, 2, 3…
Tag Ending: When the last 2 bars of a tune are played three times before ending.
Head Arrangement: an arrangement for horn section that is collectively created by the band and not written down (musicians keep it in their “heads”). Famously associated with Count Basie’s band. Head Arrangements evolve from spontaneously played riffs, which other players harmonize and develop on stage. Often used to quietly back up a soloist.
Antecedent: a first ending for an A section that ends with the V7 chord, repeating back to the I chord at the beginning of the tune.
Consequent: a second ending for an A section that ends with the I chord, possibly followed by the V7 of the bridge’s key, leading to the tune’s bridge.
Trading Fours: A chorus where someone solos for 4 bars, then everyone rests while the drummer solos for 4 bars, going back and forth between a soloist and the drummer every four bars throughout the chorus(es).

Groove: a beat. Also a verb meaning to play in a rhythmically precise way – with a “good feel” – usually repetitively, that makes people want to dance, clap, and tap their feet. Also known as “playing in the pocket”, “locking in”, or “getting tight”.
Swing: Uneven 8th notes (or 16th notes), as opposed to “straight” 8th notes. The &’s of 8th note pairs are delayed by up to 33%, so their durations are: long-short, long-short… Called a Shuffle in blues. Sometimes called a “triplet feel”. When Rock, Blues, and Jazz are swung it is usually 8th note swing. In Funk and Hip-Hip 16th notes are sometimes swung. Jazz melodies are swung somewhere between the “triplet feel” and straight 8ths, depending on the musical moment, the tempo, the style of music, the player’s style… Extremely “triplety” swing melodies can sound corny; we straighten them out a little bit.
Syncopation: playing or accenting the “weak” beat or rhythmic unit. Playing the &’s or upbeats, with respect to 8th notes. 2 and 4 wrt quarter notes; ‘e’ and ‘a’ wrt 16th notes…, “Offbeat” compared to the “straight” or “square” way. Called “ragged time” in late 18th century and in early jazz, thus the term “Ragtime”, which was syncopated but not swung or improvised.
Anticipation: A particular syncopation: a note played one rhythmic unit early. Beats 1 and 3 are frequently anticipated by an 8th note, hitting early, on the ( & of 4) and the (& of 2).
Backbeat: Playing on beats 2 and 4 on the snare drum in Rock, Blues, Funk, R&B, Pop, Hip-Hop, Country, … Played on the high-hat with the pedal in jazz. The most basic syncopation.
Charleston Rhythm: | 1 (2) & (3 4) | with swing 8th notes. Widely used in blues and jazz comping.
Habanero Beat: The Charleston with beat ‘4’ added: | 1 (2) & (3) 4 |. If you play beat 3 as well it is what we call the Tango in the U.S. | 1 (2) & 3 4 |
Clave: A two bar rhythmic pattern. The ‘forward clave’ (3 2 clave) is:
| 1 (2) & (3) 4 | (1) 2 3 (4) |
Note that the first bar is the Habanero beat.
The ‘reverse clave’ (2 3 clave) switches the 2 bars around, and starts with a ¼ note rest:
| (1) 2 3 (4) | 1 (2) & (3) 4 |
The clave rhythm is played on woodblocks called “claves” in Cuban music. It is prevalent – in guitar, drums, bass, and keyboard parts – in Rock, Blues, R&B, Funk, and especially in New Orleans music where it is sometimes called the “Bo Diddley Beat”.
Release times: When you release a note is almost as important to the rhythm and feel of music as attack time is. Release time is when “silence attacks”. Using a variety of well-chosen releases feels good. Horns or vocals releasing together sounds “tight”. All the same releases throughout a song sounds monotonous, lacking in energy.

Comping: playing chords in a rhythmic and syncopated manner. Short for Accompanying or Complementing.
Locked Hands: both hands of the pianist consistently go down as one, playing chords together any time the pianist plays any note with any rhythm. This is the norm for comping in many jazz and blues style. Also used in “block chording”.
Chopping: A funky keyboard technique, usually on clavinet or organ, sometimes on electric piano, where rhythmic patterns – sometimes based on drum rudiments, such as paradiddles – are played with chords, back and forth between hands.
Riffs: single note accompaniment parts that are patterns, too repetitive and consistent to be melodies. There can be guitar riffs, keyboard riffs, bass riffs, horn riffs…

Timbre and Physics of Sound
Timbre is the “tone” of an instrument; what makes a trumpet sound different than a saxophone when they play the same notes, for instance.
Texture: The “sound” of the music at any given moment. Made up of the combination of current timbres and the type of part each instrument is playing, e.g., density vs. spaciousness. A “vertical slice” of the music at a point in time.
Frequency: How fast something vibrates. Determines a note’s pitch.
Overtones and Harmonics: Sound is vibrations. Most vibrations have within them smaller sub-vibrations at frequencies of rations 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, etc. of the fundamental note. These are overtones. The combination of overtones and their relative amplitude (volume) determines the “waveform”, which determines the instrument’s timbre. Harmonics are the same thing as overtones but they are numbered from the fundamental frequency; overtones are numbered starting from the 2nd harmonic. A “tone control”, or EQ, filters out or accentuates ranges of overtones that alter the timbre of sounds. A raspy sax has more overtones than a mellow sax. A distorted guitar has lots of overtones. A flute has very few overtones; the sound is “pure”.
Waveform: The shape of the wave that is created by a note’s vibration and its overtones. Determines timbre.
EQ: Equalizer. A hardware or software device at the front end of an amplifier or mixer that can boost certain frequency ranges and reduce others to compensate for a room’s acoustics, a bad instrument, an amplifier with a less-than-flat frequency response, to accommodate listener’s tastes, or for special effects.
Shielding: small signals going from a guitar or keyboard to an amplifier are susceptible to radio waves and other interferences that would make the “signal to noise ratio” unacceptable. Instead of two parallel wires, as in speaker cables, shielded cables are “co-axial”, with a cylinder of conductive material (metal) and a wire going through the center, separated with insulation. This design stops radio waves and other interference from making noise. A shielded cable with a “short” makes static-y noise.
Grounding: There is a voltage drop between a cable’s two ends. One of those ends is supposed to be at zero volts (the voltage of the earth’s ground). If something is not properly grounded – a floating ground – then that terminal is not at zero volts and noise problems occur. Sometimes switching the “polarity” of an amplifier or reversing the plug into an AC outlet can eliminate “ground noise”

Melodic Devices For improvising
Given a scale (a set of notes), what can an improviser do to create melodies?
• Play the scale up and down using 1/4 notes, 1/8 notes, 1/8 triplets, 1/16 notes…
• Change direction at any place in the scale.
• Cross the root of the scale (part way) into the next octave, in either direction
• Pause (rest, the end of a phrase)
• Start or end a phrase on any note in the scale.
• Start or end a phrase at any place in the bar.
• Change rhythms: mix 1/2 notes, quarter notes, 8th notes, 8th note triplets, 16th notes…
• Skip Notes; Use different intervals besides steps of a scale: an occasional octave, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd…
• Repeat a note two or more times.
• Play a repeated pattern of 3 or 4 notes, use 8th note triplets or 8th notes.
• Move a pattern through a given scale.
• Arpeggiate chords; use stacked thirds.
• Use “canned” blues licks.
• Motif development – vary and reuse melodic fragments.
• Displaced rhythm – move a motif to a different place in the bar
• Ornaments, trills, grace notes, slides, swoops, falls…
• Effects, tremolo, vibrato, growling, bent notes, distortion,…
• Using parts of the written melody
• Quotes from other tunes
• Use alternative scales

Musical Mnemonics, Ear Training:

9th Chord Arpeggio: I Feel Good horn line: 1 3 5 7 9
minor pentatonic scale: Low Rider bass
Blues scale: Sunshine Of Your Love riff
Major pentatonic scale: My Girl guitar intro

The following interval mnemonics are the 1st two notes of the melody unless otherwise…
1 – Flat 2: Jaws
1-4-1-3: Addicted to Love
1-5-5-6-6 Twinkle, Twinkle
1, 3, 4, 5 Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In
5-1 Flintstones
3-2-1 Mary Had a Little Lamb, 3 Blind Mice, You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful
1-3-5 Michael Row your Boat Ashore
5-3-1; Star-Spangled Banner
1-b3-5-4-b3 Whipping Post
1-4-b3-4-1 Oyo Como Va
1 – 1– b7 – b7 (down) – 1 – 1 Chameleon
5-6-5-3 Silent Night
1 – b5 (# 4, tri-tone) – 5: The Simpsons intro or Maria from Westside Story
1 – Octave – Maj 7: Over the Rainbow, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire
1 – Octave – Octave – b7 – b7: Money, Money, Money bass line
Octave – b3 – 1 Ray’s Rock House
5-6-Maj 7- Octave The Adams family
b3-3-5-6-b7 Cruella Deville

Musical Concepts
• Always play softer than the soloist. If you can’t hear the solo, you’re too loud.
• A big part of electric instrument playing is controlling your amp, tone, and volume. Be constantly aware of it. Turn up for solos; turn down for accompaniment.
• Always unplug the amp side of a cable before the instrument side.
• With > 1 guitar or keyboard, play complementary sounds, rhythms, and parts. Sometimes as simple as “You comp long, I’ll comp short”. Organ and Piano is a classic combination.
• Don’t play notes in accompaniment parts that are in the bassist’s range.
• Generally, try to stay out of the soloist’s range and play during their spaces.
• The bass and drums are the foundation everything is built on.
• Feel the beat in your body and hear the groove in your head during the count-off.
• Try to change textures for different sections of the song. Change cymbals, keyboard patches, density of your part, range of part, type of part (riff vs. chord…)…
• Accompanists should help the soloist build in intensity. Come back down for the next soloist. Increasing intensity can mean louder, higher, denser, busier, brighter timbres, more effects, edgier harmony…
• Learn to “feel” 4 bars, 8 bars, 12, 16, 24, 32 bars so you know when a section, or your solo, is over without counting.
• Be looking up, watching for cues, especially near the end of solos, tune sections, and most importantly, near the end of the tune.

Music Theory is to Music what Physics is to the Universe; it’s an explanation for the way things work. Most of it is not theoretical; it’s something improvisers and composers put into practice every day. It grows over time to explain innovations musicians make in practice, not the other way around. Musicians rarely decide a new rule and then check to see if it sounds good.

As Mark Levine says, ”Theory is not the Poetry of music, it is the ABCs”. Some people think that if they learn theory (how music works) that it will make them play or compose more mechanically or conventionally, with less soul. That only happens if you barely learn theory, or if you barely practice scales, or keep doing it after you got it. It doesn’t happen if you internalize it, absorb it into your being, and move on.

Do great poets write more mechanically if they learn the alphabet, grammar, spelling, vocabulary…? Are painters less creative if they know Color Theory? Even folk guitarists learn what a I-IV-V is through practice. Do they become more or less creative when they discover, say, secondary dominants, either through records or a teacher?

Great jazz improvisers are not thinking theory when they play. They’ve used it to train their ears, then they forget about it and play by ear, just like a blues player, but with a much expanded vocabulary. Great poets don’t have to think, ”Where is the verb and noun in that sentence?” They’ve internalized it so they compose sentences ‘correctly’ by nature, and they still know how to break the ‘rules’ effectively. Dylan says “Ain’t” all the time, and Charlie Parker didn’t need permission to play b5s on I chords.

I am going to explain the strange math in nature that requires us to “temper” our system of pitches in the chromatic scale. There have been many different ways of tempering our tuning system going back to the Renaissance, including no tempering at all, which required one fifth in the circle of fifths to be smaller than the rest. Those of you familiar with the music of Bach may be surprised to learn that “well tempered” is not necessarily the same thing as “equal tempered”.

The octave is the most basic part of our system of pitches.   You get an octave by doubling the frequency of whatever is vibrating (a string, a wind column, a bell…). Conversely, you get an octave below the fundamental by halving its frequency. In all the tuning systems this ratio of 2 to 1 has been kept exact. We never tweak the octave.

You can double the frequency of, for instance, a string, by dividing the string in half. Doubling the frequency is the same thing as halving the wavelength of the sound wave. (frequency = 1/ wavelength, taking into account the speed of sound).

The next simplest frequency ratio after 2/1 is 3/1. Tripling the frequency (dividing a guitar string in thirds) gives us what we call “a perfect fifth”. This is the fifth above the first octave (of the fundamental frequency; the one we started with).   The octave of the fundamental and the fifth above that octave are the first two overtones in our overtone series. (In well behaved pitched Western instruments, an overtone is the same thing as a harmonic, except harmonics include the fundamental and overtones start with the octave of the fundamental).

Since the perfect fifth above the octave of the fundamental is 3x the frequency of the fundamental, dividing that frequency in half gives us an octave lower, the fifth between the fundamental, F, and its octave. Therefore, F x 3/2 = perfect fifth, and F x 2 = octave.

To get through the circle of fifths on a piano you need to start on the lowest C and move up in fifths to the highest C (the highest note on the piano). This is 12 fifths. To get from the lowest C to the highest C via octaves takes seven octaves.

So if a perfect fifth were usable, that would mean that doubling the fundamental frequency seven times should get us to the same frequency (the highest C) as multiplying the fundamental by 3/2 twelve times.

Therefore, F x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2

should = F x 3/2 x 3/2 x 3/2 x 3/2 x 3/2 x 3/2 x 3/2 x 3/2 x 3/2 x 3/2 x 3/2 x 3/2.

We can simplify this with exponents and say:

F x 212 = F x (3/2)7

Using a simple fundamental frequency such as 100 Hz, we get:

100 x 27 = 100 x (3/2)12


12.8 kHz = 12.9746 kHz

Those pitches are off enough for us to hear them as out-of-tune.

Tempering means adjusting all the fifths by a tiny amount to make the circle consistent, whether you go by fifths or octaves. They must all be made a little bit smaller. Equal temperament means dividing that discrepancy by 12 and reducing the size of all the fifths by that amount.   Well temperament can mean adjusting all the fifths by reducing the size of all the fifths by different amounts, so that all fifths are not the same but the math still works out and the music sounds “in tune” in every key. The sum of all the adjustments should still equal the discrepancy noted above.

There is so much more to all this and many implications that can be examined in much more detail. In the 16th century they would use perfect fifths for 11/12 of the circle and have one fifth be too narrow and sound horrible. This was called “the Howl”. Such a system would not work in today’s highly chromatic and modulating music. One drawback of using today’s most common tuning system, equal temperament, instead of another well tempered system is that our keys do not have as distinct of flavors or personalities as they did when each key might contain some slightly different intervals than the last.

You can find out lots of more details and implications by Googling “circle of fifths”, “equal temperament”, “the Howl”, etc.   I also highly recommend a few books:

– How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and why you should care) by Ross Duffin

– The Math Behind the Music by Leon Harkleroad

– The Science of Musical Sound by John Pierce

– On the Sensations of Tone by Herman Helmholtz – chapter XVI – The System of Keys





Back in my days at Opcode Systems developing Music Notation software, I was a big believer in descriptive variable names. I did this partly so I could understand the code myself, as opposed to some of the genius engineers at Opcode who could name variables things like “X24” and remember what they meant and how they all worked together years later.

One variable name I used was “acci” which meant “accidental”. Very obvious and totally my style. This is when C++ and Object Oriented Programming were fairly new and there were lots of objects and container classes that were direct reflections of objects on a page of music notation. I had variables (Objects) named Note, Notehead, Stem, Beam, Flag, Clef, Timesig, Line, Staff, Title, Composer… everything one would expect on a printed piece of music.

“Accidental” was a good word for something that would otherwise have to be referred to as “A sharp or a flat that is not in the key signature”. That would make a very cumbersome variable name. I needed to refer to the opposite of an accidental, “A sharp or a flat that IS in the key signature”. I used the word flarps for a little while until my friend Jarrell Irvin suggested the perfect name: Intentionals. The variable name became “intis” and I used it all the time; the opposite of “accis”.

Now 20 years later I teach for most of my livelihood. I find myself saying things to students fairly often about “pick-up notes” (anacrusis), like, “Don’t hit the chord ’til beat one, wait for the pick-up notes.” I find myself wanting to refer to the opposite of pick-up notes, but I have not been able to find a name for them. I have to say,” the first beat of the measure is a rest, don’t start the melody until beat two.”

I’ve been asking students what we should call them and the best suggestion I have so far is “drop-down notes.” Now I can say,” Wait for the drop-down note, the first beat’s a rest”.

As I’ve been saying this to my students since I first wrote this, I’ve discovered that it’s clearer to refer to the rest, instead of the note, as a “drop-down rest”, as in “Wait for the drop-down rest.”

Sometimes I say to students about various words, ironically, “I wouldn’t call it this, but they don’t invite me to the Worldwide Music Nomenclature Revision Committee meetings.”

When I am teaching chord inversions to students it is cumbersome that we do not call a root position chord an inversion. I want to be able to say that there are as many inversions as there are notes in the chord. For this reason, and another I will give shortly, I call the root position chord the “zero-ith inversion”. This should present no problem to MIDI users, or digital mathematicians, who are used to saying that 128 MIDI numbers range from zero to 127.  When we get to “rootless voicings”, which are ubiquitous in jazz, there is no such thing as a root position. Calling the first one the zero-ith inversion, the one that is still stacked thirds, makes for consistency in referring to rooted chords and rootless chords.

Another very practical wish of mine is that all note names were one syllable. As you’re saying note names to a student you say,” C, B, A, F#…”, and the flow is broken by the two syllables when you have to say “sharp” or “flat”.  I don’t know what the perfect solution is, but I have had European students who say “B” for B-flat and “H” for B-natural.

Some examples of words that came about historically that has never changed, even though there could be much more descriptive and intuitive things to call them now:

– The Mixolydian mode. Wouldn’t it be completely obvious if we called it the “Dominant mode”? Why are ancient Greek mode names still in common use? How many people say Ionian instead of major scale? How many people say Aeolian instead of natural minor? Let’s extend that to as many of the modes as are obvious. Phrygian is the Spanish scale. Super-Locrian is the Altered scale. There only needs to be one melodic minor scale; what we now call Ascending. Descending is already covered by natural minor. Jazz musicians who use melodic minor every day already do this. I call the fifth mode of harmonic minor the “Hava Nagila” mode, but I would be just as happy with the “Jewish Mode” or something else intuitive.

– Change the name of “major seventh” to just “seventh”. Change the name of “seventh” to “dominant seventh” or “flat seventh”. It confuses every music student who first learns our current convention. The reason we mean “dominant seventh” by default when we say “seventh” is because when they first started using sevenths in chords in the Renaissance, there was only the dominant seventh on the V7 chord. There was no reason to differentiate it from a major seventh because that wasn’t used yet. So we are stuck with a default that made sense in the Renaissance. One more thing here: Classical musicians, please stop using the term “minor seventh” for an interval. It indicates a four note chord with a minor third and a flat seventh and is confusing.

– The word “tone” is confusing. We use it to mean “timbre” and” pitch” and “note” and even “whole step”. Let’s just use it to mean “Timbre” like on a stereo control. No more “whole-tone scale”: let’s call it the “whole-step scale”. No more, “Leave a message at the tone”. Leave a message at the note.

– Academicians might get mad at me for this one, but of what use is solfége (do, re, mi…)? When you teach someone to sing scales using “1, 2, 3…” instead of nonsense syllables, they are learning intervals and music theory at the same time for free. They are training their ear to know intervals by the names everyone uses instead of by names no one uses.

– This is one I am less sure of but would like to suggest: Our system of note heads, stems, flags, and beams uses one more symbol, and a lot more ink on the page, than seems necessary for quarter notes, eighth notes, 16th notes, 32nd notes… any note with a solid note head. A whole note uses just a white note head. Great! Then for a half note we add a stem. Makes sense to me. Then for quarter notes we jump to solid note heads with a stem. We never use a solid note head with no stem. I hypothesize we could use a solid note head with no stem for quarter notes, a solid note head with a stem for eighth notes, a solid note head with a stem and one flag or beam for sixteenths notes, etc.; one less glyph for every note with a solid note head.
The reason I am unsure of this system is because I’m aware that cognitive scientists have long known that our eyes follow text in paragraphs better when there are serifs on the letters. This isn’t necessarily true for billboards and headlines where people tend to use block letters, sans serif. Maybe there is something about introducing stems at the quarter note level that helps our eyes follow the music, or maybe there would be something confusing heirarchically about going from half notes with stems to quarter notes without stems.

– The sustain pedal on the piano is also called the damper pedal. Sustaining and dampening are opposites. It should be called the “un-damper pedal”, if we need a second name.

Clearly I like to invent names for musical entities that have not been named. The value in descriptive labels is that when you see the same thing again you can easily identify it. This helps us reuse and modify musical material in a variety of contexts, in different keys, different styles and grooves, etc. We have names for scales and chords, although not always descriptive. We also have cultural names for some other musical entities such as chord progressions. Many musicians are familiar with terms like “blues changes”, “rhythm changes” (the chords to I Got Rhythm), and Blue Moon changes (I VI II V). Other chord progressions I have named include La Cucaracha changes (Iko, Iko; Dreidel, Dreidel; Deep in the Heart of Texas…) and Spooky changes( im7-IV7; Evil Ways; Right Place, Wrong Time; Mr. Magic…).

I have also taken to naming licks that are in our cultural consciousness. I teach the Blue Monk lick; backwards and inverted it becomes the Rainy Day Women lick. I’ve listed a few dozen tunes that use variations on this lick, from Magical Mystery Tour to Sentimental Journey to the Entertainer.

There are other common licks I have named: the Fats lick (Fats Domino), the Allman Bros. lick (could have just as easily been called Jeff Lorber), the Cruella Deville lick (Thelonious Monk fans might prefer the I Mean You lick), a Chromatic Miles lick, a Hot House (bebop) lick, etc. I find my students are able to identify, reuse, and further develop these melodic snippets much more readily when they have been identified and labeled descriptively. It would be much less useful to have named these licks X24, X25, etc.

There are also many commonly used hybrid scales that have not been named to my knowledge. Speaking in musical set notation, what is the union, or superset, of Mixolydian and Dorian (an octatonic scale with both a major and a minor third and a flat seven)? What is a minor pentatonic scale with just a 2 or just a 6 added( adding both gives you Dorian)? What is the scale implied by the Cruella Deville lick (1 b3, 3 5, 6, b7)? These are scales used every day by blues and rock players, and they have no names?

Sometimes people think that labeling all these musical entities will somehow make them play more mechanically. There are many examples I use to show that people already know musical snippets by labels. Ask anybody to sing the Adams Family theme song. (duh, duh, duh, duh, snap snap). Their ear is already trained to be able to sing that when cued by the label, “Adams Family Theme Song”. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful if their ear was trained to sing it by the cue “5, 6, 7, 1, (snap, snap)”?
This can be a faulty argument in some instances because the musician doesn’t have to parse the phrase “Adams Family Theme Song” the way they do a list of intervals. But once the set of numbers is said enough times, musicians respond to the phrase by sound without having to parse it. This is true of the phrase “I-VI-II-V” which musicians recognize phonetically just as easily as the phrase “Blue Moon Changes”.