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    Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2010 magical pig's Avatar
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    Default Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    I don't know if this has been discussed already. Even if it has, any fresh thoughts on it would be appreciated.

    Check out this interesting and thought provoking article on Casa Valdez: http://davidvaldez.blogspot.com/2011...-learning.html

    I must say that I feel that learning licks in every key is a total waste of time. First of all, licks work better in certain keys and do not lay well on the horn in others. Second, if learn a pattern in 12 keys then you're much, much more likely to repeat yourself. Even if you play the same lick in a different key it's still going to sound like you're repeating yourself. Wouldn't it be more productive to learn 12 different licks in 12 different keys than to learn one lick in 12 keys? It really wouldn't take much more time and you'd end up with 1200% more usable material at the end of the day.

    Don't get me wrong, learning to play in every key is critical, but learning licks in every key isn't the best use of practice time even though it's generally accepted as the way to learn jazz. Instead, practice moving small cells around to different keys, not entire phrases. This way you'll still learn to play ideas in different keys without becoming a lick machine.

    A good example of what I'm talking about is Mr.X's (well known teacher at a major Jazz school) teaching method, which is the common way of going about learning to play. He gives all his students pages of Bebop licks and makes them learn them all in every key. What's the result? They end up all sounding as stale and contrived as he does. Mr.X has this certain 9 note chromatic approach that he likes (C.B.Bb.D.F.A.Ab.F#.G) and he likes to play things in every key. Once I counted how many times he played this one very recognizable pattern in one solo and I think it was something like 13 times, in different keys mind you, but it still sounded redundant.

    The saxophone is set up a certain way ergonomically and some phrases just don't work well, or even sound good, in certain keys. A good illustration of this is to try to play through the Charlie Parker Omnibook in concert or Bb. The lines do not sound smooth and so they do not make as much musical sense. You would never want to play most of Birds phrases in keys other than the key he played them in. That was part of what made him sound so great, his lines were so effortless. They wouldn't have been effortless if he had been playing those lines up a minor sixth or up a fifth. Even Bird would've sounded clunky.
    I realize that many teachers would strongly disagree with me about this, but it seems pretty clear to me. The main thing to watch out for when you learn licks is not to sound like you're playing licks, so learning everything in all keys is obviously not the best solution.
    My take on it is as follows: the only way I've managed to incorporate vocabulary into my playing was through working on it 1 key at a time - and applying it right on to tunes. Transposing it through all keys may be great for technique, but I've never managed to actually learn vocabulary I've transposed to all keys well enough it shows up in my playing just by doing it. I use the 12 key approach to work on technique though (intervals, scales, triads, digital patterns...). It seems to me everybody's way of learning is different and force-feeding the 12 keys approach as an effective way of learning vocabulary (and a must-do) regardless of people's "brain wiring" seems like it could be rather counter-productive in some instances.

    However I have a few concepts I'm working on that I try to use in all keys. So let's say I'm working on II-V-I's. I would pick a key, work on it for a week or more and try to find ways to use the various concepts I've managed to make sense of in other keys. For II-V-I's, concepts would be using the altered scale on the V for example. Or I would try to incorporate some triad pairs, use the backdoor sub, try to make a highly chromatic line work, start and end lines on different beats, sub the major chord, use more intricate rhythm figures, make use of shapes that worked in other keys and so on... There are lots of things you can do with II-V's. In some instances, I just end up naturally transposing some lines I've mastered in other keys but most often I come up with new material.

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks.

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    DTExpress's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    I agree with all of the above.

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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    Sorry, I play guitar, but wanted in on this. Been thinking the same thing, even though the gtr is an easier instrument to transpose, there are still at least 5 ways to play every lick in each key, hundreds if you want to mix positions! For me, I want to play what I hear, but I know that to some extent we all hear what we play, ie, the ideas that come to us are what we are used to playing, much like the way we speak. So I think I hear certain ideas regardless of the key, which for me means I have to be able to find those notes I'm hearing in any key I wish to play in. I can't imagine only hearing specific vocab for each key, that would tell me I'm playing what my fingers find easiest, not what I'm hearing in my head.
    That's just what I'm thinking this week anyway!.....

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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    The saxophone is set up a certain way ergonomically and some phrases just don't work well, or even sound good, in certain keys. A good illustration of this is to try to play through the Charlie Parker Omnibook in concert or Bb. The lines do not sound smooth and so they do not make as much musical sense. You would never want to play most of Birds phrases in keys other than the key he played them in. That was part of what made him sound so great, his lines were so effortless. They wouldn't have been effortless if he had been playing those lines up a minor sixth or up a fifth. Even Bird would've sounded clunky.
    I realize that many teachers would strongly disagree with me about this, but it seems pretty clear to me. The main thing to watch out for when you learn licks is not to sound like you're playing licks, so learning everything in all keys is obviously not the best solution.
    I had a music professor tell me to leave his office because I had this exact same opinion. Regurgitating by rote is just regurgitation.

    B
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    Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
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    Distinguished SOTW Member Kelly Bucheger's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    I saw David's post on that, and I think it's great to get a contrarian point of view -- but I do disagree!

    It's been *incredibly* beneficial to me to work out phrases and licks in all 12 keys -- it's unlocked improvisational doors that were closed to me until I did it. I agree that some stuff just doesn't lay in certain keys -- and yet, without a doubt, working on material that occasionally felt awkward in certain keys *still* got me more comfortable in those keys, and brought to mind news ideas for those keys that I wouldn't have had otherwise.

    Taking a lick that feels and lays GREAT in a certain key into a key where it feels awkward and cranky has forced me to figure out what exactly makes it feel like a bad fit, and what can I do to make it feel good ... if that makes sense.

    I do agree with him about the Omnibook -- buying a Bb book would be a waste, as any saxophonist would want to play Bird's lines in Bird's key, to understand better what he was doing and see how his stuff lays on the horn as he did.

    But certain licks there that especially grab you -- twelve key those muthers!
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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    Quote Originally Posted by modman View Post
    I had a music professor tell me to leave his office because I had this exact same opinion. Regurgitating by rote is just regurgitation.

    B
    Deconstructing a "voicing" and working it in to your vocabulary I think should be the ultimate goal of an improviser, using the material as a spring board for "original" ideas. We have a finite number of characters in our alphabet and there is a finite number of words in our language. I suppose new idiomatic expressions are born and work their way into our conversations. I agree that some things lay better on a sax in certain keys. I've been copping some trombone solos on tenor lately to try to keep my mind and fingers going in new directions.

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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    I meant to say we can have an infinite number of conversations with a finite alphabet. New expressions, cliches and slang make their way in....

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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    I think an objective of any practice is to develop some vocabulary one can use -- and the sooner the better, even if it's in just one key! Once you're using the vocabulary naturally in one key you will start looking for it in others.

    The reality is, no one gets to the point where their licks are equally accessible in all keys. Listen to the Brecker videos and he echoes this sentiment.

    Having said that, I always practice a little something in all twelve keys every day with the ultimate purpose being to develop myself as a musician. As it feels more like working out/warming/exercise. And this kind of technical exercise is good for the mind AND finger even if the specific licks won't ever be played in an improvisational context.

    It's a bit like meeting someone for the first time where you force their name into your sentences the first few times. Over time it becomes more natural and you're not even thinking about it. Eventually, you are addressing all your friends by name and it comes off quite natural and engaging.
    "The key to improvising is being able to play and listen at the same time."

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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    I see what Dave is saying. I usually work my licks through every key but over time I gravitate to certain keys for an idea. I think it is the way they lay on the keywork and the way they sound. Whatever the reason, over time I play certain things over certain keys and not others. I do mention to people studying out of my II-V-I book that it is fine to pick a II-V-I in 12 different keys and master them for those keys. You'll get a lot more immediate results from that then from working on number 1 in all 12 keys for 2 months. One way you could play Cherokee and play one lick on every II-V. The other you would have material that is different for every ii-V. You can't discount working on things in every key though as there are a ton of benefits to that.

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    Forum Contributor 2011 TMadness1013's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    I can see both points. However, I feel it can only help you in the long run to work things out in all 12 keys. If for no other reason, it forces your brain to work & forces it to work quickly. Thinking about interval relationships in all 12 keys is going to help you to improve your ear, your technique will improve, and you'll find that making your brain work this stuff out will translate well to helping you learn tunes faster & learning tunes in different keys with greater ease (Helpful for songs played in more than one, like Green Dolphin St., Autumn Leaves, etc.)

    We shouldn't be afraid to play a blues in B if someone calls it.

    I realize we're talking more about licks or patterns in all 12 keys, but I definitely wouldn't call it a waste of time - it's definitely going to improve several aspects of your playing. I wouldn't allot an entire practice session to it, but it's important.

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    Distinguished SOTW Member Dr G's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    By definition of the subject header, the key (for me) is that it is VOCABULARY.

    Once learned, it is up to the player to choose "words" appropriately. But if you cannot use the vocabulary equally fluently in all keys, it limits your options. I'm with the camp of "Learn the licks in all keys and then select where to use them." If you preselect/match lick/key, you are immediately limited in opportunities to express yourself.

    Example of the constrained approach "Whoops, I can't play the phrases I want to use in that key, I'll have to switch horns."
    Go for The Tone,

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    Forum Contributor 2014 Pete Thomas's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    Quote Originally Posted by magical pig View Post

    Any thoughts?
    +1 to Dr G

    It depends on how you view licks and solos. If they are just licks, then yes it may make sense, but if you endeavour to make your solos melodic and a personal statement, then I think it's important to be able to play in any key.

    In other words you are in control of the licks, not the licks in control of you.

    Another way to look at it: say I come up with a nice lick, that I feel is "mine", kind part of my style. I would want to be able to use that anywhere I want, not just in keys that it is easiest to play in.

    Plus, when it boils down to it, most licks sit well in the traditionally easiest keys so if you follow that advice, you'd only be really able to play in the easier keys. Fine if you want to be limited like that but Im prefer to have a wider palette available.

    Also I don't get this bit:

    "licks work better in certain keys".
    I understand that they can be harder to play in certain keys, but if a lick "works", then it works. Unless it relies on some special effect that only works in certain keys (e.g. Texas Wobble or double densities)

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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    Do you have the ideas and creativity flowing to practice your jazz in all 12 keys for an extended period of time? Do you even know how to start practicing? The art of practicing is significant. If you have 45 min to practice, what are you going to do with that precious time? Do you have the melodic mental ammo? Have you transcribed enough Stitt, Mobley, Getz and Dexter Gordon and Rollins?

    When it comes to improvising, I practice in all 12 keys. Maj/Min blues, Rhythm changes, bread and butter stuff like that with either Band in a Box or just a metronome. When it comes to transcribing, i will do it only in the key the original solo is in as per the Charlie Parker Omnibook comment above... And for difficult bebop heads, I will select randomly 4 keys to work it out in... 2 easier keys and 2 harder keys. I think working on Giant Steps in all 12 keys is a colossal waste of time. I work on Giant Steps in tenor and alto keys only, and even that gets boring fast.
    "We sax players need to stick together and save the world." Sonny Rollins, 1993 after a show.

  14. #14

    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    Yeah, how can a lick not work in any particular key when transposed? Ridiculous!
    Just because it may feel a bit odd in the fingering just means you definitely need practice
    in the overall scope of the instrument. It's just an indication that you aren't as fluent with the
    instrument as you may think you are.

    If you're a serious musician then you NEED to feel comfortable with any passage that comes your way.
    If a certain passage doesn't work well, it's not the passage, it's the musician that is in need of servicing.

  15. #15

    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    i practice the scales & chords in 2-5-1 in all 12. a number of oliver nelson's excercises go through all 12 and i practice those too. my teacher tries to make me practice licks in all 12 keys but i refuse because i don't have time (maybe i'll do it if i'm unemployed or retired), instead i focus on keys and chord progressions most used on an alto. i eat the spinach and do the excercises but with the very limited practice time i don't want to turn this into a rote nightmare either.

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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    Obviously Mr. Valdez doesn't play in bands with a singer... If you aren't choosing the key you will certainly end up in places on the horn that are not as convenient as others. You still gotta sound good on the tune in that moment. So knowing how to play a lot of vocab (or have complete freedom) in every key is the only way to go. Suck it up and get to work...
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    Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2010 magical pig's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    Quote Originally Posted by guido View Post
    Obviously Mr. Valdez doesn't play in bands with a singer... If you aren't choosing the key you will certainly end up in places on the horn that are not as convenient as others. You still gotta sound good on the tune in that moment. So knowing how to play a lot of vocab (or have complete freedom) in every key is the only way to go. Suck it up and get to work...
    I don't think David Valdez has any problem playing in any key. That's one of the reasons the point he makes is interesting.

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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfgfo1cj_BQ

    Watch this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfgfo1cj_BQ

    Don't get me wrong, I think practicing things in all 12 keys is absolutely essential. But I don't think the purpose would be to build vocabulary.
    "The key to improvising is being able to play and listen at the same time."

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    DTExpress's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    A lot of vocab in every key is different than having the same facility with every "saxophone voicing" in every key over the entire range of the instrument.

  20. #20
    Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2010 magical pig's Avatar
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    Default Re: Learning vocabulary in all 12 keys: a waste of time?! (Casa Valdez blog)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike1955 View Post
    Yeah, how can a lick not work in any particular key when transposed? Ridiculous!
    I don't think it is that it doesn't work but rather, as the range the lick covers changes, depending on the key you're playing in, the same lick won't sound the same in every key.

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