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Published on September 26th, 2012 | by Sam


Where do you find the Vocabulary??

Part 2 of 3 read Part 1

If you decide to approach music from the perspective of vocabulary, where do you find it??

 Surface Level/Cliches

No one wants to stay on the surface level of music very long, but you should start there.  Imagine the rock player who never learned the open chords-pretty weak foundation right?  So in whichever style you learn you should start with the musical vocabulary that seems to be shared at the surface level.

Start with some of the ‘greatest hits’ of the genre.  They should be easy to find-you probably are listening to them anyway as your own introduction to the style.  If you’re having a hard time finding these, take a look at compilation recordings.

As you listen to these recordings start to pull out any of the licks that strike you as common ones in that style.

You can also approach this level by looking for the ‘cliché’ licks of the genre.  Of course you don’t want to sound like a cliché, but you do want to have a basic background by learning them.

First Tier

Every style has several tiers or levels of playing.  They aren’t set in stone, just a general way of organizing who plays each style.  The first tier are the players who set the tone over time.  Or the ones everyone finds as influences.  Let’s look at jazz guitar:  I would say the top tier would include Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall.  Really everything that came after those two guys points back to them.  In jazz in general, we could say Miles Davis and Charlie Parker would be among the top tier.  The important thing is to make sure you’re not making the group too large-3 or so players is perfect.

The next step is to try to absorb the vocabulary of these players.   Of course start with what you like about these players, but go for their most often played phrases and ideas.

It’s important to go with these guitarists first because they set the foundation of the genre.  If you gloss over these guys you do not get as clear of an understanding of the context.

Second Tier

The second tier would be the players who are very often included as ‘the best’ players in the style but maybe not the cornerstones or foundations that the first tier are.   If we go back to jazz guitar some of these players would be Joe Pass, Pat Martino, Kenny Burrell, and Grant Green.

With these players I would make sure to get to each of them in order to be thorough, but really focus on the ones that grab you.

Third Tier

This is where you get into some of the specialists, where things get really interesting.  Find some of the players who are less known but who you are really attracted to.  Again in jazz this tier might include players like John Abercrombie, Scofield, Adam Rogers, George Benson, etc.  So still pretty high up on the list overall, but far less likely that non-guitarists know about them.

One of the most interesting parts of this process is that you can get really detailed in who you study once you get to the later tiers.  It’s possible to start adopting vocabulary from pretty obscure places and make it your own.

If you are able to go through this process you will end up with a really detailed picture of the style you’re going after.  Plus you’ll have listened to and studied a ton of great music!

In part 3, we’ll look at keep track of what you’ve learned.  Make sure you check out Part 1 if you missed it!

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2 Responses to Where do you find the Vocabulary??

  1. David Karl says:

    Just tuned in, and want to let you know that this is inspiring.
    Thanks for writing.

    I hope the new job is going well!

    • Sam says:

      David-thanks so much man! The job is working out great so far, I’m really enjoying teaching at the university level. I’m glad you find the vocab talk inspiring. It’s one of my favorite topics and feel it’s a subject that’s too often passed over. Let me know if there’s any topics you would like to see in the future on this site.

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