The NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony &Concert will be webcast at 7:30 pm EST on January 13,2014,from The Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center. As we honor Jamey Aebersold,Anthony Braxton,Richard Davis and Keith Jarrett with the nation’s highest jazz award,we will hear incredible performances by past honorees and the 2014 NEA Jazz Masters themselves.
I am glad for all these great musicians,all of them deserve this award but –indirectly and a bit paradoxically –the one in the group who did more for jazz diffusion is also the less popular one among the “average”jazz lover. My sincerest wishes to James Aebersold,to whom several generations of jazz musicians owe so much.
I finally got some spare time to have a look at a few music books that are stacking on my desk. The one on the top is Slick Licks That Stick,by saxophonist Bobby Stern.
Some (or many) of you might already be familiar with Bobby,him being the author of The Minor Melodic Handbook:A Jazz Player’s Perspective,published in 2006 by James Aebersold. More recently he turned to self-publishing,and the e-book I am reviewing here is his first work. (There is also Slick Licks That Sticks,volume II,that was released some days ago.)
Slick Licks That Stick contains 167 pages of exercises and etudes,plus an index and some notes. However the book uses the landscape orientation,pages are smaller than the standard A4 and each page contains only 4 staves. Broadly and large,it therefore corresponds to an 80-page book in standard layout.
Unlike most exercise books,it doesn’t attempt to cover every single chord progression or scale. Instead,it contains 10 specific (and partially unrelated) sections,that analyze topics on which the author believes he can provide a better insight,and rightly so. While the quality of the material is high,on the average,there are sections that I like very much and other that I don’t find particularly exciting. Let’s see each section in detail.
Chapter 1:Pentatonic Modes is arguably the least interesting of the entire book. It covers the classic Major Pentatonic (e.g. CDEGA),the Pentatonic b3 scale (derived from the Melodic Minor scale),the Pentatonic b6 scale,and the Pentatonic b2 scale (derived from the Diminished scale). For each scale it displays straight runs over its five modes. I assume that any average player will not even look at these pages once he or she understands the obvious pattern used to build the exercise.
Chapter 2:Augmented Scale Patterns is where the interesting stuff begins. It shows how to use arpeggios and intervals over this often-neglected scale and in this case I do welcome the fact that each pattern is repeated for each key (more precisely,for each of the 4 distinct versions of this symmetrical scale).
Chapter 3:Coltrane Changes shows how to use basic 4-note patterns over a Coltrane change chord sequence. You will find this chapter very useful if you are new to this sequence,yet it might be a bit too basic if you are already familiar with it. At the end of the chapter you can also find some interesting patterns built using the Augmented scale.
Chapter 4:Triad Pairs shows how to alternate a Major triad with a Minor triad a 3rd minor above it. Rather than leading you into creating musical ideas on this sequence,the chapter includes just one series of ascending arpeggios,repeated in all 12 keys. As it is the case with chapter 1,I found that transposing these arpeggios in your mind is a better exercise than reading them on a book.
Chapter 5:Chromatic Finger Busters is exactly what the title implies,that is a series of fast exercises built over the chromatic scale that aim at improving your chops rather than providing complete musical ideas. If played at up tempos these exercises can be truly challenging,and I like them a lot.
Chapter 6:Intervalic ii-Vs includes a couple of ii-V patterns built over fourth intervals and pentatonic scales,and shows how to momentarily play “outside” and then back inside at the end of the pattern. Good stuff that doesn’t sound as “already-heard-of.”
Chapter 7:Melodic Minor Bebop Scales includes runs of the little-used Melodic Minor Bebop scale (e.g. CDEbFGG#AB). Nothing else but straight runs up and down the seven modes of this scale. The same considerations I gave for Chapter 1 apply here as well.
Chapter 8:Melodic Minor 4th Stacks contains non-obvious arpeggio patterns built over the Melodic Minor scale,which can be useful if you are tired of playing using plain thirds.
Chapter 9:Melodic Minor Polymodal ii-V7 explains how to cleverly use modes of the Melodic Minor scales over the classic ii-V7 progression. It contains 15 different patterns (in all keys),all of which sound quite intriguing to me.
Chapter 10:Melodic Minor Etudes contains three etudes on the minor scale. It’s a good departure from the usual all-eight-notes exercises.
The bottom line:Slick Licks That Stick contains some great sections and some less useful ones. The chapters on the Melodic Minor scale (7-8-9) are surely the most interesting one,and they justify the $9.99 price tag,unless you believe that you already master this topic.
I haven’t had a look at the just published Slick Licks That Stick volume II, so I can’t really recommend it. This second volume is twice as thick (369 pages) and sells for $13.99,thus you might find it convenient to get the Volume I and II bundle for $19.99.
For more information and purchase,visit Bobby Stern’s website.
Even if you aren’t interested in this e-book,I strongly recommend paying a visit to Bobby’s blog,where you can find TONS of useful tips,ideas,exercises,and more.
One of the good reasons for jazz players to own an iPad is the ability of using it as a score reader. Unfortunately,finding a score reader app that satisfies all your needs might not be as simple as you might imagine. Before diving into a more detailed review,let me briefly outline the features that,in my opinion,the ideal music reader app should have to appeal a demanding jazz/rock/pop/fusion player.
The primary goal for such an app is replacing tons of fake books and paper scores,therefore the most obvious feature is ability to store,browse,search,annotate,and bookmark large PDF files,such as the many editions of the Real Book and other fake books you can find on the Internet. If you play original compositions or songs that aren’t included in those fake books,adding your own PDF should be a very quick and simple process.
Secondly,I want the ability to associate one audio file to each score,so that I don’t have to switch to the iPad music player to listen to the original song or practice over a play-along version of the tune (e.g. Aebersold or Hal Leonard CDs). Ideally,I’d like to associate a given score to multiple audio files,so that I can quickly reach different versions of the same song,or play-along tunes with different tempo or harmonization.
Another important feature is the ability to quickly e-mail my scores to other musicians,backup them on the desktop computer (or the cloud,Dropbox,etc.),move scores and associated audio files to another iPad,create song subsets (great for creating the song list for a gig),and print them when necessary. Additionally,a perfect score reader should automatically turn pages,or at least give you the ability to do that with a foot controller.
There are a few other,less critical features I’d like to see in a music reader app:a metronome,a tuner,a virtual keyboard (very useful if you are a singer or a choir director). Being an alto and soprano sax player,I’d also like the capability to store multiple versions of the same song,one transposed in Eb and one in Bb.
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As I anticipated,finding the music reader app that fulfills all my needs hasn’t been simple.
The first one I tried was forScore. It features an elegant and simple user interface,an integrated music player,the ability to turn half-pages (i.e. displaying the upper half of next page while you read the bottom half of current page),and an impressive arsenal of tools and music symbols for annotating a PDF score. Unfortunately,forScore doesn’t provide indexes for the most popular fake books,therefore you have to create such indexes manually. (Alas,the app occasionally crashed when trying to organize and re-arrange large PDFs.) All in all,forScore is a good app that addresses the needs of classical music players,yet it is less useful for jazz and rock musicians.
My next attempt was iGigBook,which claims to be the perfect replacement for jazz and rock fake books:it comes with the index of 70+ popular fake books (including many editions of the Real Book,with Bb and Eb versions),plus over the chord progressions of 1,000+ jazz tunes that can be transposed to any key. While these indexes are theoretically very useful,in practice they work flawlessly only if you own exactly the same PDF used to create the index,which isn’t often the case:iGigBook provides a way to define a page offset and compensate for missing pages near the beginning of the PDF,but if your PDF lacks one or more pages in the middle or if own a PDF of a different version of the fake book used to create the index,the iGigBook index is useless. (Needless to say,the iGigBook documentation can’t include links to the PDFs used the create the index,because it would infringe copyright laws.)
In practice,only few of the PDFs I own perfectly match iGigBook indexes,thus I had to create my own indexes. Unfortunately,creating a custom index is a slow and an (unnecessarily) contorted process:you must upload the PDF to the iGigBook website (after creating an account),then enter information about individual songs (title,start page,number of page,etc.),one by one. If your Internet connection isn’t optimal,the workflow can take a lot of time. There is the option to upload a text file in comma-delimited format,containing data of multiple songs,but quite absurdly this simplified procedure can be used only for PDFs with 50 or more songs. This threshold prevents me from using the simplified upload method for many of my scores (e.g.,none the Aebersold booklets can be uploaded in this way). Once you have (painfully) created your indexes,you must download them from the iGigBook site to your device,which happens automatically the next time you launch the app.
On the plus side,iGigBook (as well as forScore) allows you to bookmark any page in the score,can import bookmarks scored in PDSs,and can search your music library for music tracks that match the name of the song title that you are current viewing with the option to automatically play the track and repeat it. (Thank you Phil for correct me on these points)
iGigBook has other shortcomings too:its interface isn’t user friendly,it doesn’t offer context-sensitive help and,more importantly,it lacks many other features which I consider as essential. For example,it has limited sorting capabilities,no integrated tuner or metronome. Conclusion:after wasting a lot of time for my tests,I decided to delete iGigBook from my iPad. For sure,it isn’t worth the $15 I paid for it.
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There are a few other score reader programs in the App Store,but their feature list was too short and/or readers’ comments were negative,thus I was about to abandon my search for the ideal iPad score reader when I finally bumped into Calypso Score.
Calypso has an impressive set of features,which almost perfectly matches my wish list. For example,it can handle large PDFs and associate any number of audio files to any song. In addition to setlists,you can create “books”,i.e. collections of scores that you can then share using iTunes,iCloud,Bluetooth,Dropbox or email. A song can belong to zero,one or more books,and all of them are automatically inserted in the special “All my songs” book (see figure). You can remove a song from a book,but it will be deleted from the device only if you delete it from the main “All my songs” book.
The book list in Calypso
You can assign a color label to a song for your own purposes. For example,I might use a red label for songs I play on alto and yellow label for those I play on soprano,but you can find other interesting uses. You can sort the songs in a book by their title,composer,poet (i.e. lyrics’ author),genre,color label,or creation date.
Calypso comes with indexes for many popular fake books in PDF format and,as it happens for iGigBook,you have to create the index manually if you don’t own the same PDF file used to create the index that comes with the app. However,the workflow to extract a song from a large PDF is much simpler than in iGigBook:you open the PDF (which you must have copied to the device using iTunes sharing),move to the page where the song begins,and press the “Add Page” button once for each page in the song. It took me a relatively short time to index a couple hundred songs from my Real Books. As a bonus,you can quickly create a page from a photo taken with the iPad camera,which is very useful during jam sessions.
Unlike forScore and iGigBook,Calypso doesn’t really create an index into PDF files. Instead,it allows you to browse a PDF and then take “snapshots” of one or more pages,which don’t have to be consecutive. This approach has so many benefits that it surprises me that other apps fail to adopt it. For example,individual pages can be resized,tilted and cropped to better fit the iPad display. These snapshots are stored in a single database and you can later remove the original PDF,so you don’t actually waste any memory on the device. In addition to pages and songs,the database includes books,song information and annotation:you can backup this database to your computer or copy it to another iPad. Even more important,a score can be formed by pages taken from different PDFs,thus I can combine the Eb and Bb version of a song (taken from different Real Book editions) in a single score,so I can switch between these versions by simply swiping to the next or previous page.
Calypso can associate a song with one or more audio files from the iPad music library,a feature that I consider as essential when practicing. These audio files aren’t stored in the database,yet an option allows you to show them in the iTunes folder,so that you can easily backup them and move them to another iPad. By the way,you can also record an audio file yourself using the iPad mic,a feature that might be used to music teachers to monitor their students. Calypso lets you to slow down an audio file and/or modify its pitch,a feature that can be very useful when practicing over a though piece of music. There are other iPad apps that offer this feature alone (and honestly do a better job than Calypso),but having it embedded in the score reader app is a real bonus.
Calypso lets you associate one or more songs to each score
One of the most intriguing features is automatic page layout,i.e. the ability to create jumps and bookmarks inside a song,and synchronize them with the associated audio file,so that Calypso can automatically turn pages for you. The process to associate a measure in the score to a position in the audio file is simple and effective:you just tap an area in the score while the tune is playing (see figure below). Calypso can interpolate between the bookmarks you defined,therefore you only need to tap when there is a repetition or a-capo,or when the tempo gets faster or slower. All in all,automatic page layout puts Calypso ahead of its competitors,even though – admittedly – preparing a score for it requires a good degree of manual labor.
An example of automatic page layoyut (taken from Calypso's user manual)
Calypso includes a simple metronome and the ability to annotate the score with text and markers,even though it isn’t as flexible as forScore in this respect. It lacks a tuner,a virtual keyboard,and a few other frills. It does have the ability to turn pages using a Bluetooth foot controller such as Air Turn BT-105.,yet I would also like to see the same half-page turn feature seen in forScore,that would be useful with scores that haven’t been prepared for automatic page layout.
All in all,Calypso is very robust and can be used with confidence both at home and during gigs. To tell the truth,the program crashed a few times during my tests,but I was impressed by how quickly the offending bugs were found and fixed. Not only that:Siegfried Koester,the developer behind Calypso,was nice enough to share with me some details about future development plans,which are very interesting.
Like any piece of software,Calypso isn’t perfect,even though it gets quite close. Some users have complained that the program didn’t behave as they expected,and wrote somewhat negative reviews on the App Store. In many cases,however,the workflow makes sense once you understand that Calypso stores PDF scores using snapshots rather than indexes. It is essential that you read its manual before trying to use it in a real environment. Calypso’s most recent release offers a more detailed context-sensitive help and introductory screens,thus this is going to be less of a problem.
Context-sensitive help,with links to the relevant section in the manual
Calypso shares with iGigBook the limitation of pre-built,non-flexible indexes for popular fake books. However,the author told me that a future release will make much simpler to modify existing indexes to adapt to PDFs with missing pages or taken from different editions of a given fake book.
There are a few other features I’d like to see in Calypso,for example additional fields for song metadata and the ability to filter the song list by these fields;the capability to loop between two positions in the audio files,that would be useful to practice the most difficult sections of a song;an integrated tuner and virtual keyboard (as in forScore);the ability to turn page using the new IK Multimedia’s iRig Blueboard or other MIDI foot controllers (in addition to dedicated Bluetooth page turner foot controllers). These are minor improvements,though,and the author told me that some of them (and many others) are planned for future versions of Calypso.
The bottom line:if you own an iPad,Calypso Score is a must-have! It changed the way I study and play with my band. At just $6 it’s a bargain you can’t miss.
P.S. If you aren’t sure yet,try Calypso Jam:it’s a free version that comes with indexes for 25 popular fake books and allows you to add a limited number of personal scores,so you can see whether Calypso Score is your ideal music score reader app without spending a dime.
Thanks to Michael Neff for sending one dozen trumpet solos transcriptions from his personal collection!
If you like this material,pay a visit to Michael website.
I’ve updated the saxophone and trumpet solo index with about one hundred new transcriptions.
Some of the new additions are actually great videos that show the score WHILE playing the actual solo,which is a terrific educational approach. The ability to visualize the melodic lines and listen to the music at the same time reveals a lot about the performer’s intention and style.
Big thanks to Geoff Spector for sharing several transcriptions with saxopedia!
Thomas Høeg-Jensen from Denmark transcribed a lot of solos in the ’80s,from funk and fusion sax players of the caliber of David Sanborn,Michael Brecker,Tom Scott,Marc Russo,and Jay Beckenstein. He kept this precious material in the closet until last week,when he scanned the hand-written scores and sent them over to Saxopedia. You can find these never-published-before solos in the transcription index.
I just discovered a very informative lecture by sax/ewi expert Alistair Parnell,that covers an introduction to the EWI,demonstrations of sounds,sampled sound via laptop computer,looper pedals and software sound manipulation. The lecture was given at XVI Worlds Saxophone Congress St Andrews 2012 (Scotland) and the YouTube video has been viewed fewer than two thousand times,which is a shame because it deserves a much broader audience. Give it a look and share!
Saxopedia is a website devoted to sax playing,and more in general jazz/rock improvisation with traditional acoustic instruments. However,I am more and more intrigued by the countless possibilities of the computer as an innovative force in music,from education to training,composition and live performance. I have written a few MIDI-oriented apps for Windows,and sooner or later I will publish them on this site.
I have used my PC to help me in my musical interests for years,yet more recently I really fell in love with the iPhone and the iPad for their enormous potential in virtually any music field. There are thousands and thousands iOS music apps,ranging from toy apps that are just pastimes to professional DAWs that allow you to author a song from beginning to end,with every degree in the middle.
A noteworthy difference between the iPad and the PC/Mac environments is that in the latter case you have relatively few software to choose from:Ableton Live,Reason,FL Studio,Logic,and a few others. You tipically don’t need to purchase and learn more than two or three of them,because they are enough flexible to satisfy most of (or all) your needs.
Conversely –and in spite of the short time elapsed since iPad debut –the number of music apps that run on iOS device is overwhelming. There are a few established leading apps –e.g. GarageBand,Music Studio or SampleTank –but none of them is sufficiently powerful to meet all the requirements you might have. For example,I routinely use no fewer than 30 music iOS apps,ranging from drum machines,synthesizers,samplers,effects,and loop stations to MIDI editors,MIDI controllers,audio processors,multi-track recorders and various utilities.
In recent years I have spent a lot of time and energies (and money!) trying many different iOS music apps,and I’d like sharing the results of my researches with saxopedia readers. For this reason,I am opening a new section titled Best iOS Music Apps,where you can find the list of my favorite apps.
There are many websites and blogs that do a great job in keeping us up-to-date about new iOS music apps,for example dischord and Palm Sounds. I don’t want to duplicate the information you can find on these great sites,which in fact are among my primary sources of information.
However,a quick look at these sites show that many –if not the majority –of existing music apps they review are meant for people who don’t necessarily studied music and who are more interested in ambient and dance music,including styles such as trance,D’n B,techno,etc. With all my respect for sort of music,these styles aren’t at the top of my interests and probably this is true for most saxopedia aficionados,who are more likely to be “traditional”players who can leverage a good knowledge of music theory,harmony,scales,improvisation,etc.
Saxopedia’s Best iOS Music Apps section is going to be different from what you can find elsewhere on the Internet. To being with,it contains a selection of the best-of-the-breed apps that,in my opinion,can be useful to amateurs and professional musicians,with an interest in jazz,rock,pop and R&B and who are interested in adding new possibilities to their live equipment,or in practicing/improvising/composing music in a novel way.
For example,you will find delay/reverb/chorus processors,harmonizers,loop stations and MIDI controllers that cost one hundredth of equivalent hardware devices,including pitch-to-MIDI apps that allow you to convert the acoustic sound of your sax,trumpet,clarinet,flute or guitar into a MIDI message that can drive a software or hardware synth. Likewise,you can find apps to practice ear training,to learn how to improvise with scales and chords or that can replace tons of printed music scores.
Another important difference from the reviews you can find elsewhere is that I am inclined NOT to add an app to my list if the list already contains applications with similar or better features. There are exceptions to this rule –for example,free and less expensive apps are often included even if there the list already includes a similar,nonfree app –but in general the items in the list don’t overlap with each other. To you this means that you can avoid cluttering the scarce memory of your iOS device with apps that substantially perform the same task.
Currently this section includes the description of nearly one hundredmusic apps,grouped by their main functionality:
- Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)
- Synths and samplers
- Percussion and Drum machines
- Effects for voice,guitar,and other instruments
- DJ-ing and alternative music players
- Apps for learning music
- MIDI controllers
For each application I provide a separate page with a more detailed descriptions,demo/review videos,links to the app home page,manual,forum,etc. Also important is the compatibility list,where you can quickly check whether the app supports specific iOS protocols (e.g. Core Audio,Core MIDI,Virtual MIDI,Audiobus),hardware accessories,direct upload to DropBox or SoundCloud,and more.
UPDATE: in the App Compatibility Table you can compare all the apps in the new section and check which ones support a give hardware or software protocol,such as Core MIDI,Virtual MIDI,or Audiobus.
VERY IMPORTANT: Please notice that saxopedia is NOT associated with any software vendor and that I have not used any complimentary review copy to create the list. An app is in the list only if it meets my personal criteria for inclusion and not to return the favor of a review copy.
Creating the section and keeping it up-to-date has been and will be a major effort. I hope you can appreciate and will benefit from it. Needless to say,please let me know if you use an app that you believe should be added to the list.
NOTE FOR ITALIAN READERS:I have written a book entirely devoted to this topic,entitled Fare musica con il tuo iPad (Make Music with your iPad),where I cover the many facets of this fascinating field. You can find more on saxopedia’s Italian edition.
With today’s additions Saxopedia’s index contains 1521 sax solo transcriptions,plus 1520 transcriptions of other instruments.
This amounts to no fewer than 6-7000 printed pages in total. Or nearly FOUR days of continuous playing,if you prefer! WOW!
I’ve been practicing for a while on Robert Hartig’s The Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete,whose subtitle –155 Licks and Patterns in Every Key to Help You Master John Coltrane’s Challenging Tune –gives quite a precise idea of what it’s all about.
What the title and subtitle don’t say is how well the book is organized. Unlike most other pattern books,which take a pattern and transpose it along all twelve keys,this book takes the opposite approach:it contains twelve chapters,one for each key. The material is basically the same for each chapter,except that highest or lowest notes might be altered to fit the sax range.
Each chapter is 20 pages long and is further subdivided in two sections,which reflect Giant Steps’A-B structure,where A and B sections are 8 measures each. (Section A is what is usually referred to as the “Giant Steps cycle”.) Patterns in the “A”section of each chapter are 4-measure long and must be manually transposed by a major third down to cover the 8 measures,whereas patterns in the “B”section of each chapter are 8-measure long and require no manual transposition.
Both “A”and “B”chapter sections end with one page devoted to patterns over the augmented scale. This is interesting because you can play the augmented scale over the entire Giant Step progression without sounding too dissonant. (You can also sound too boring,if you play the augmented scale long enough,but that’s another story…).
My experience with this book is quite positive. Most patterns aren’t the kind of 1-2-3-5 pattern that you can find in other similar books and are more musical and less predictable than most Giant Steps pattern seen elsewhere. I should add that I haven’t practiced over it for as long as I wished. Even if the author explains that the book is the result of his own studies over many years,he himself admits he hasn’t practiced all those patterns in all possible keys,and in fact I doubt that many sax players in the world can ever play Giant Steps in any key. At any rate,if you want to be among that small elite,than this book surely gives you years of studying.
The unusual A-B structure of the book is intriguing,even though in some cases I found myself wishing I had all possible transpositions of a given pattern in one page,something that may make sense if you want to play “outside”or want to superimpose the Giant Steps sequence over a modal tune or a tune with a different harmonic progression.
The pages devoted to the augmented scale are welcome,for me at least,because I never practiced this scale as intensely as I wished. To be true,I would have liked to see more rhythmic variety,as most patterns just straight 8th notes,but tweaking a pattern to make it look like an original musical idea is part of every musician’s bag of expertise and it isn’t the goal of this book.
The author recommends to practice these patterns along with an Aebersold,however it is very impractical to do so,because the A-B structure of the book means that you can’t practice a pattern over an entire chorus. Instead,you should use a Band-in-a-Box file,which allows you to repeat portions of the songs. (Of course,this latter piece of advice assumes that you own BIAB.)
As a saxopedia reader,you have a third,better choice. To practice on Giant Steps I created a chord sequence with ChordPulse,and you don’t need to buy anything because you can download the free ChordPulse Player. You can now practice any portion of Giant Steps,in any key and at any tempo,without spending a dime,by just download this ZIP file. (I have described ChordPulse in this post and also prepared some common chord sequences,which you can download from here.)
You can order The Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete e-book from Robert Hartig’s Stormhorn web site,where you can also find many other interesting articles related to sax playing and specifically on Giant Steps,such as this one.
Happy reading and happy practicing!