Vertical Harmony – You’ll Hear It

On this episode of the You’ll Hear It podcast, Peter and Adam answer a listener’s question about playing tunes with vertical harmony.


AM: I’m Adam Maness.

PM: And I’m Peter Martin.

AM: And you’re listening to the You’ll Hear It podcast.

PM: Two charming guys giving you some daily jazz advice. Coming at ya.

AM: Let’s not oversell it.

PM: Well, now that we’re back together with the pod, in the podcave, on the podcast, I’m feeling good.

AM: Dude I can’t see you at all. Andrew, are we getting a new microphone or what? This is crazy.

PM: Yeah, speaking of vertical,
you’ve got quite a vertical, what’s up with that?

AM: I don’t like it, it’s a great sounding mic but it’s not a great podcasting mic, I think. Well. But you know, I’ll deal.

PM: We’ll have the Shure black back soon.

AM: Okay, so today we have a Speakpipe. Wanna hear it, here it goes.

SpeakPipe: Hi Peter and Adam, I’m a huge fan, binge watcher of your YouTube stuff and your, all your podcasts and all, so. I’m wondering if you could answer some of my questions about tunes with really vertical harmony. Like a “26-2”, a “Giant Steps” or “Countdown.” And maybe address the particular issues that a piano player might have in working through these tunes. And so, yeah, I mean, one of the problems I have or I don’t know, one of the issues I find is that I can, I don’t really play through the tune the same way I do a, you know, like a “Bye Bye Blackbird” or a very standard tune that has, excuse me, that has harmony that you can sort of alter easily and kind of even avoid at times to, you know, for the bigger picture. In the case of like a “Giant Steps” or whatever I find it hard to, like, find that sort of underlying thing that you could access to kind of make it easier to go through the tune and maybe even just do things that are a little more creative than just sort of carving through the changes all the time. So, yeah, I’m hoping that you could answer this for me and that would be just awesome.

AM: Cool, great question Paul.

PM: Yeah, thanks Paul.

AM: Yeah.

PM: We are going to, not only are we gonna answer this, we’re going to answer all your prayers and your dreams and your aspirations about vertical harmony today. How ’bout that, we’re going next level.

AM: Okay, so we’re not overselling? (laughs)

PM: It’s like overselling Wednesday here, I like it.

AM: It really is.

PM: Yeah.

AM: Now I actually, so I’ve worked quite a bit on both “Giant Steps” and “Countdown.” I’ve done “26-2” sporadically throughout my career but it’s not something that I pull out in my own gigs, you know?

PM: It’s not one of your jams.

AM: It’s not one of my jams. I do love it, I love listening to Trane play on it for sure. But I’ve developed some strategies. I know you’re great at “Giant Steps.” So how do you approach tunes like this?

PM: Well, you know, actually there’s a couple of things we can talk about but Paul and his question, I think, kinda got me to think just as I was hearing it of one important thing he was talking about something that maybe he was missing underlying theme or thing that would help him navigate, you know, the chords as a progression, as opposed to just, you know, vertical stagnate kind of things that we play over which you don’t really sit on long enough to get comfortable with.

AM: Yeah.

PM: And, you know, the thing that breaks, that jumps out to me is two things. Well, it’s really the same thing, is the melody. And we would think about, you know (playing keyboard) Obviously that’s the melody and, but the other part of the melody, what I think of it as the melody is the root movement. (playing keyboard) So if you learn both and, you know, same thing for “Countdown” (playing keyboard) If we think about that as the horizontal, kind of underpinnings of the vertical harmony, I think that’s our gateway and entry point to being under, being able to understand it over longer kind of phrases. So we get out of that stuck, just playing over each chord. You know, if we really think about the flow of the melody. And then further to that probably is (playing keyboard) Let’s see, oh man this keyboard is whack. (playing keyboard) Like really being able to hear (playing keyboard). Whoa, I turned it up, it went down. Oh, there we go. (playing keyboard) The relationship, you know, of the static melody is the, and the root movement was just as important as the regular melody but also relationship of the intervals at any point, that’s when the vertical comes back in.

AM: Yeah.

PM: And so this is a little esoteric, what I’m saying but basically if you practice these individually, in time, out of time and really learn them by, by phrase that that becomes something that’s kind of an underpinning that you can use, as opposed to even thinking about the chords. Yeah, we’re gonna learn the chords and feel what that is but this is gonna be our guidepost. (playing keyboard) Like where you’re referencing that melody and really hearing that bassline as sort of an entry point to each of the chords.

AM: Yeah, and I love that and Paul, I think there’s some things you can do that I like to think about this, you know, speaking of this, this idea is to simplify some of these things. Like, he was talking about altering, you know, on a standard if it’s in the same key.

PM: Yeah.

AM: The thing about tunes like this is you don’t really have to do that. You know, the nature of the tune itself is gonna give you this angular sound, right. Like, you don’t need to put all flat 13 sharp nines on every dominant chord because it’s, it’s, and to that effect even, so, and you were talking about basslines. Sometimes in the original recording, I know, PC would play down whole steps.

PM: Yeah.

AM: You know, like down a whole tone scale instead of, especially those first two phrases.

PM: Yeah.

AM: Instead of the major root movements. I know some people put, you know, treat that as just, like, a Dorian sound. So they’re not thinking about these big jumps. Simplifying how you think about it can help. So instead of B, D seven, G, B flat seven, E flat.

PM: Yeah, don’t be, yeah.

AM: You can think of.

PM: My mind is getting confused hearing all those chords.

AM: B, A minor seven, G, F minor seven, E flat. And that’s one way to kind of simplify it and think more, you know.

PM: I like that.

AM: Instead of these huge leaps, you can think of that. And then again, you don’t need to alter anything.

PM: No.

AM: You don’t need to think about altering what you do. And then, I mean, for me man, if I’m having trouble hearing things on these things, which I still do sometimes, I do, I’ll kind of spell out the harmony in my own way the first few times around. Still trying to make it interesting and musical but, like, you could think about two note per, like, (sings notes) just whatever. Two thirds or two intervals, it doesn’t matter what it is per chord so that you’re kind of getting this, this theme going and I think that’s an important part of tunes like this.

PM: Yeah.

AM: Is being able to take a theme, even if it’s a simple two note theme. Like do, exactly. (playing keyboard) Around those changes.

PM: Oops (playing keyboard)

AM: That’s your first entree into this world of getting around and then you can try then doing longer themes that sort of blend over the changes.

PM: Right (playing keyboard) A kind of pattern, well not necessarily pattern as in jazz pattern but pattern in that you’re taking, you know, like a third or a second and then a third and then diatonically fitting within what the chords are.

AM: A thematic theme.

PM: A thematic theme.

AM: A thematic theme, wait, a thematic pattern.

PM: That’s a double entendre isn’t it?

AM: Yeah, a theme that’s also thematic is double positive.

PM: I was, it’s so funny, we didn’t talk about this but I was gonna say the exact same thing, in thirds. That’s what I was thinking and that’s why having a good feel. Should I go a little lower here? (playing keyboard) Is that legal? Okay, so, if we go, if you’ve got that understanding of the root movement with the melody and then sep, (playing keyboard) like really from a structural standpoint. That’s too low. Then the thirds. (playing keyboard) Ah, why do I keep messing that up? I don’t have a good understanding of it apparently. Hey, if you don’t know how to not do it, how are you gonna learn to do it? (playing keyboard) And really I only did one little alteration and that was actually by accident. So that’s, you know, to your point about not needing to alter things. I mean Trane’s solo

AM: There’s no need to. I mean, you can do it, yeah, Trane’s solo (playing keyboard)

PM: Yeah actually everything is (playing keyboard) I mean a little flat nine, yeah.

AM: Once you get into it you can certainly start doing that but there’s no need to go at it from that same perspective you would do if you were playing, you know, “Our Love Is Here To Stay” or something where you can really mess with little movements or whatever. The movements are the changes themselves.

PM: Yeah.

AM: Another thing you can maybe practice is some slow scale running.

PM: Yeah.

AM: You know, where you’re changing the scale mid.

PM: And continuing to go?

AM: And continuing to go. (playing keyboard) And none of these things on their own make for great music.

PM: Especially not on the Keystation 49MK3. Big shoutout to M-Audio.

AM: But you do need to kind of change the way you think about playing to play these kinds of tunes.

PM: Yeah.

AM: I mean, it’s a meme now, the Tommy Flanagan solo on this, right, even though, I think for reading it, basically he killed it.

PM: Oh, yeah.

AM: I mean, really it’s hard if no one’s ever saw that before. But he was thinking about music up until that point in a completely different way. We all, everybody was. I almost said we all were like I was alive in 1959.

PM: Looking good man.

AM: Yeah, thanks but.

PM: Benjamin Button.

AM: But you have to kind of shift into this section of your brain that maybe is not the same aa playing a “Great American Songbook” standard that’s just in one or two keys that moves very logically.

PM: Like a “Bye Bye Blackbird” like he said.

AM: Right, exactly something where there’s a lot of five one cadence that’s in the same key, you know.

PM: Well I think a fun thing too and you could even take this third thing and I would recommend this pretty early on with the practice idea ’cause you could kinda go. (playing keyboard) You know, where you’re really just sort of running through the intervals, running through the scales but try to connect it with musical ideas as you’re kind of learning it, you know. Again, this is why it’s good if you really know that root movement ’cause it can get you out of that individual thing but (playing keyboard), see how was I gonna do this? (playing keyboard) I mean it’s hard to make it be, but you try to kind of make it hip with some rhythms and stuff just sticking to those thirds, you know, obviously it’s gonna (playing keyboard) Because then when you add in that little, and this is really the way Trane soloed over this. A little bit of chromaticism. I think he’s, like, maybe the first (playing keyboard) which is really just a bebop scale.

AM: Yeah. (playing keyboard)

PM: And when you, you know, this tune, you gotta remember half the tune is just two five ones. They’re, and yeah, they’re going in a little bit of an unexpected sequence but that definitely gives you more time to kind of, you know, continue to play melodically, hopefully. You don’t want to change up, play the first half differently that the second half.

AM: Yeah, and, you know, that’s, that’s true. This is, I, tunes like this, especially “Countdown,” this is a good opportunity to, Paul, to really work on something that we talk about a little bit on here, which is getting your chord voicings together in your right hand. This is when having, like, broken chord voicings together comes in super handy. Like, it’s even in that Trane solo, like (singing melody) is really like a little, could be a voicing on the piano, you know, so.

PM: I wonder, like, it almost seems like he, I’m sure he sat down and was, like, working this out with some little same voicings and then you just put it right to, yeah.

AM: Yeah. But, like, combining a scale. On the piano it lays so great to, you know, if you’re on “Countdown” or “Giant Steps,” especially the first part of “Giant Steps,” to, here I’ll.

PM: Should I throw it, nah I can throw it over to you, man.

AM: Wasn’t expecting to play “Countdown,” it’s gonna be fun.

PM: Weren’t we gonna do a turntable here at one time? (mimicking turntable scratching) “Giant Steps”

AM: So like, something like if, in “Countdown” (playing keyboard) That kind of idea of. (playing keyboard)

PM: Yeah.

AM: Where you’re doing, like, part of a scale and then you do a broken chord, right, so.

(playing keyboard)

PM: Yeah.

AM: Those, this tune, like, lends itself and this style of play lends itself to that so well. (playing keyboard) Like breaking the scale, your scale run up. I’ll do it slower so I can actually do it. (playing keyboard) And it’s something we do all the time but having these broken chords, four note voicings (playing keyboard) because they line up symmetrically really come in handy on something like this.

PM: Ah, that’s great. (playing keyboard)

AM: And in all kinds of ways, Paul, like so. (playing keyboard) Up, down, up and down, mixing it up. Mixing your scale practice with your arpeggio practice. (playing keyboard) That kind of thing.

PM: Yeah, absolutely, and I mean, because that, I think that’s where the, a lot of times, the magic of, of this type of playing. It’s funny, this is one of those terms I didn’t really know what it meant. Even today I was kind of like oh, I’ll just figure it out as you’re describing it in the question. Vertical, I’d never really heard that term.

AM: I don’t really know what it means either.

PM: Oh, maybe he’s asking about
something else, you know.

AM: I just figured from his

PM: I heard him say “Giant Steps”

AM: Exactly.

PM: “26-2”

AM: Yeah, I know that. Is that vertical?

PM: No, but this concept of, like, how you actually combine the arpeggios to intervalic playing and the scales, like, that’s where the magic of it comes in. And that’s gonna lead, well at the end we’re gonna have our ultimate tip on this which will really pull that together. I don’t wanna give it away though but that’s coming.

AM: All right, right before the ultimate tip though, we’ll get into that in a minute. One last thing from me on this, and we’ve talked about this when asked about tunes with weird changes, is also you can work on finding the common tones between those weird jumps. There’s always something, so find something that you can lean on because ultimately we want to make music out of this which means we want to make melodies, ideally, out of this.

PM: Yeah.

AM: So you can’t just do scales and arpeggios the whole time, I mean you could, but you’d sound like a jerk.

PM: Right.

AM: You need to be able to create some kind of melodic content and so working on that with knowing what intervals you have to choose from between those two chords and different keys can be a very effective way of getting there.

PM: Yeah, and I wonder if even, like, kind of. (playing keyboard) Well I guess that’s not common tones but it’s close by, at least.

AM: Yeah, neighboring too. Knowing what’s different, just being aware, just understanding what your options are. (playing keyboard)

PM: You know, that’s how you find them. Cool, well awesome, nailed another one.

AM: Yeah.

PM: High five on that. Bam!

PM: Okay, so, what’s the ultimate tip? Oh, I’m doing the ultimate tip.

AM: Yeah, I was gonna say.

PM: You don’t know what it is.

(both laughing)

PM: I don’t remember what it is. Oh, no I do remember. The ultimate tip: transcribe.

AM: What?

PM: Transcribe solos, this is back to the vertical playing. Because this is the way that you’re gonna develop your ears and you’re probably thinking oh, I’ve already transcribed or that we’ve already talked about that.
Yeah, we did talk about it but the idea is that it’s, transcription, remember, is the journey, it’s not the destination.

AM: Absolutely.

PM: You know, now there’s something nice at the destination, which is being able to play John Coltrane’s solo on “Countdown” or whatever but it’s the journey that you’re really gonna learn. So I want everyone really thinking about that as a sort of foundation for their shedding, no matter what your instrument is. And you can learn anybody’s solo, anything that you like over whatever you consider to be vertical changes, for vertical playing. But remember that the journey is when you’re acclimating and training your ears to be able to develop to the point where you can start to hear the stuff that we’ve been talking about. Because this is all stuff to practice what everybody ultimately you have to be able to hear it which is why we call this podcast.

AM: You’ll Hear It. But wait, there’s more.

PM: Okay.

AM: We’re going out today on a listener tune. This is “Overdue Library Book” by Luke Thering. And now really.

PM: You’ll Hear It.

AM: Yeah.


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