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Django and music theory

woodamandwoodamand Portland, OR✭✭✭ 2015 JWC Favino replica
in Technique Posts: 226
As I am happily getting myself educated with all the new chords, scales and arpeggios that I am trying to learn with this music, I am wondering: was Django mostly a by ear player or was he schooled in music theory?


  • NylonDaveNylonDave Glasgow✭✭✭ Perez Valbuena Flamenca 1991
    edited November 2015 Posts: 444
    I used to have a friend I went cycling with. When we started going out he was in his late forties and I in my early twenties and just starting. He still held some local time trial records when he died two years ago. It took me about five years to once get home before him and another couple to get to the top of a mountain with him.

    One day I was talking to him about training and he was not very interested. So I asked him what he had done and he said.

    'I started competing at eleven and raced most weeks and cycled to school and then work and back.'

    I laughed and said,

    'I'll do that next time'.

    Thomas died on his bike, literally, boarding a ferry between two Northern Isles on a cycle tour.

    Would it be ridiculous to suggest that he never trained ? I think so, but he might have seen it differently.


  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,027
    Django had a very high level of perfect pitch, and he grew up from a very young age performing. He had to learn a whole bunch of songs, and he had to accompany a lot of musicians. I'm sure some people showed him a few things or two.

    By the end of life, he probably knew the basic names of certain chords, but everything else was learned through life experience.

    That's why I always stress the importance of trying to learn tunes by ear and not by using sheet music (nowadays Ipad). The more tunes u learn by ear the quicker u'll be able to memorize them, and you'll also internalize the sounds.

    Randall Just Randall
  • Jeff MooreJeff Moore Minneapolis✭✭✭✭ Lebreton 2
    edited November 2015 Posts: 476
    I think Django was highly "schooled". I think it's is obvious from one minute of listening to him play. But "the school" was between his ears, and no one else attended class. He was the teacher, the librarian, and the student.
    I believe that he was not just the leading "theorist" of his time, he seems to me to be the leading Improvisational composer. His education is in a "class" all its own. His education has also proved impossible to reconstruct, though good minds (and guitar players) have tried.
    The problem is we associate "education", "learning", "knowledge", etc.....with formal and largely written or at least linguistic forms and to be done in libraries and classrooms.
    But really, what does dance, music, and art have to do with any of those things that depend on language and what we associate with "education". They might be all about them, but they might also be largely or entirely independent.
    This concept of education so prevalent that even someone at the top of a field of endeavour will still say they are "uneducated" just because the word implies formalized instruction and what they've learned was from a different path.
    "We need a radical redistribution of wealth and power" MLK
  • Django had to communicate his musical ideas by playing as opposed to writing dots on paper.

    From what I have read he had little interest in discussing music. He listened and played.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • NylonDaveNylonDave Glasgow✭✭✭ Perez Valbuena Flamenca 1991
    Posts: 444
    I think Bireli was teasing the questioner. 'What is a dominant chord ?'
    Sometimes it is a I others a II others a III or a IV a V or a bV a VI or a bVI bVII or a VII. It doesn't really exist out of context unless it is OK for it to have no meaning.

    If the question robs the answer of context do we give up on questions ? Or do we improve them.

    I know which option I prefer. I also realise that there is an easier position to sell which is more self congratulatory and leads to .... nothing.

    But I repeat myself.

  • NylonDaveNylonDave Glasgow✭✭✭ Perez Valbuena Flamenca 1991
    Posts: 444
    OOPS, I missed one, there is often a dominant on the bII.

    But why trouble Bireli with even such a specific question ?

    Simply put on any album of his and usually he will usually have answered that in the first minute of the first track, on the guitar. But maybe only for that song, on that day.


    PS, bIII7 also.

  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,027
    Bireli only knows super basic chord theory. I don't know about the term "dominant" but he would know say G7. You have to use very specific vocabulary with him. Someone posted Bireli's workshop at DFNW on youtube. It was kind of dreadful because a lot of people don't understand that about Bireli and asked him very specific/technical questions. It got to the point where he misunderstood just about every question and went off on a tangent. Things like "traditional la pompe" and "modern la pompe" mean absolutely nothing to him. To be fair, they don't mean much to me either, as you can define those two terms in so many different ways. The term "Gypsy picking" will earn you a blank stare from him, and someone asked him about it hahaha...

  • woodamandwoodamand Portland, OR✭✭✭ 2015 JWC Favino replica
    Posts: 226
    OK, so Django did it all by ear, as do many others. I have been learning things by ear for decades, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that, especially if you want to get as close to the actual sound made by the artist as possible. But just learning more about the technical aspects does not mean at all my playing will become worse. It will and has improved, and most of all, I really dig the chord theory, very enjoyable. So what could possibly be wrong with learning, however you do it?
  • anthon_74anthon_74 Marin county, CA✭✭✭✭ Alta Mira M 01
    Posts: 560
    I go by the guideline - learn as much theory as you need to understand how to get something you've learned to show up in your playing. That can vary from one thing to another.
    Generally speaking, with whatever new phrase, riff, chord comping idea, etc, that I'm learning, I need to know enough theory to transpose it, and to know when to use it, where to put it, etc.
    Anything more, and I get bogged down. The amount of theory that can bog you down varies as well per person.


  • Teddy DupontTeddy Dupont Deity
    Posts: 1,163
    Django had absolutely no idea of or interest in musical theory. He played purely by ear although in reality, he completely understood music as against understanding musical theory and musical notation. He had no interest in discussing music either. He just wanted to play.
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