Theory and Learning Rhythm; ear training; approach to learning chord transcriptions.

PassacagliaPassacaglia Madison, WI✭✭✭✭
edited June 2020 in Gypsy Rhythm Posts: 1,471

HI all,

I guess this belongs here as it relates mostly to rhythm.

I'm almost certain I've seen this covered, but I did do some digging to see and wasn't coming up with much specific to learning rhythm; sorry for any redundancy.

So, "previously" I knew some very little theory, not a ton but enough to understand some "why" of progressions, and minimal understanding of subs.

Last time I was in this, I basically made the conclusion I'm too old and a bit busted up to play lead, so decided to focus entirely on rhythm. That, and I love rhythm, as I've said elsewhere.

So I find myself at a question I probably asked then but my memory is faulty so there may be a redundancy here, too. My focus has been working over Denis's rhythm material on his site, as well as the Nous'che courses on his site. Michael's book is my Bible. Working about a song per week but my focus is on emulation - Nous'che - simple pompe, tone, etc. (holding off on Latin rhythms to I am pleased with the pompe). What my old master (Fumio Toyoda) would have called "stealing the mind" phase of training.

-good pompe

-simple grilles, skeletal chord changes of the tune

-clean chords

-clean transitions

-basic chords; I'm depending on Michael's book for all my shapes, progressions, enclosures, turn-arounds, etc. Right now, basics are good.

Missing from the above is any theory. I marvel at you guys who play lead at the language you speak. Looking through searches on the site, I've seen many approaches to learning and playing, but even among those who seem the "leanest" in terms of either transcribing directly, or learning arps, licks as cut and paste, etc. (I know I'm mischaracterizing this approach - sorry, bear with me), they seem to have some kind of theoretical library they can speak.

FINALLY, some questions: I'll never play lead at any level, but having learned to not care, ironically, I'd like to play some lead; rhythm still fascinates me to no end.

-What are your thoughts on theory and accompaniment in this music?

While here:

-Thoughts on going about learning theory - just go through the Levine?

-Ear training. WEAK. I would like as much as possible to learn by transcribing chords (as many suggest, and I understand why), but I feel totally blind here and am afraid charts are usually my go-to. Any suggestions to ear-training in general, and approaching this for chords and accompaniment?

Edit: Btw, I bought the Dunayevsky course on Soundslice last night. I know it's way beyond, but the 1930's aspect really got to me. Tucked away, we'll see how much I can pick up down the road. Thanks for the suggestions in the search, all.


pas encore, j'erre toujours.


  • Russell LetsonRussell Letson Prodigy
    Posts: 360

    I initially learned fingerpicking out of books--the old Oak Publications collections of tabbed-out blues and rags and such--but even having charts would have been useless without lots of listening to the tunes I wanted to play. I don't think I had much theory beyond an understanding of which chords went where in a given key. And when I started taking workshops in the mid-1980s (after playing for nearly 25 years), I noticed that what stuck from the lessons were specific bits and pieces of observation or advice from the teacher--I'd think, "Ah, that's how you manage that passage." Probably the biggest single piece of fingerpicking theory was "Either you pinch or you don't."

    I suppose my failure to absorb or implement formal lessons--to go home and practice what I'd seen preached--is one reason it took me sixty years to get to my current modestly competent state (just in time to have my hands finally start to stiffen up), but I never stopped listening and trying to get my hands to at least approximate what I heard. I think the music starts in the ears and somehow filters into the hands. And I had the great good fortune of finding experienced players who encouraged me to sit in with them, week after week, so I was able to gradually absorb their habits as I tried to keep up with them.

    And every once in a while, some fragment of a workshop lesson will float up into my awareness and I'll say to myself, "Ah, that's what X meant by that" or "So that's how that piece of theory applies." For me, theory is descriptive and follows practice, even though formal practice might be shaped by theoretical understanding.

    As for rhythm--that's definitely an ears-first thing for me. I have no idea of how I manage to get it right. Though I do listen to drummers a lot. And to Bucky Pizzarelli and Freddie Green and Steve Jordan. . . .

  • bbwood_98bbwood_98 Brooklyn, NyProdigy Vladimir music! Les Effes. . Its the best!
    Posts: 674

    Russel and Passacagila, I think Pass is asking about how to hear chords; and identify what voicing exactly are being used . .

    To be clear, I believe this is mostly trial and error.

    I'd start with triads - major, minor, dim, augmented - and perhaps basic dominant 7th. learn these on one string (ie. arpeggios - but seeing the relationship physically will help you hear them) , and from piano root position voicing. then attempt to learn a specific version of a tunes chords in the style by ear - and see what you get.

    Alternatively; don't worry too much about theory and labeling of things and just go on youtube and learn the rhythm parts when you can see the players - a great one is Herve Ganguinetti that irene just posted this past week (playing on webster- with some very cool chords/subs/rhythm god moves!). Keep in mind you can slow down you tube using the gear in the bottom right, and you can pause it to see the hands. . . super useful.

    One caveat - horn players and singers will often prefer different keys, and being able to transpose whole progressions may/may not depend on your theory knowledge . . . (learning roman numeral/function/moveble do solfege ideas about chords is fairly easy, may/or not help you hear, and doesn't really take that much work - though it does take some!)

    Passacagila, pm me for more details - I can email you some thoughts directly on this.

  • PassacagliaPassacaglia Madison, WI✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 1,471

    Thanks guys.

    Bbwood, yes, that's one thing - transcribing chords and hearing better. Denis taught me the value of transcription over charts - but charts are easier and I guess as I'm older with limitations, I war between just trying to be in the pocket with good tone, swing, and learn a bunch of tunes. That, or do it the harder and right way.

    The other thing, which interests me more, actually, is how much theory you guys think is a good accompaniment to rhythm learning. I found on Daphne yesterday, for instance:

    Instead of





    I was doing

    D6/9 / Bm7/Eb7#9/D6/9

    D6/9 / Bm7/Eb7#9/D6/9


    D6/9/Eb6/9/D6/9/Eb6/9 or D6/9/A7/D6/9/A7

    -so, I like how that sounds. I guess the main thing is the progression going Am6 at the 10th fret and B7/Eb7#9/D6/9

    over D/D7/G/Gm.

    It sounds "right" to me, and I seem to recall at least some of that was how I used to play it. I filled the holes to a nice sound, to me.

    I don't know if any of these progressions are right, or make sense. What I really would like to learn are the whys - why

    "you could always go with a G7 there, in place of.__" kind of thing.

    In searching, I've just seen you guys blaze with ideas, and it seems these ideas are suffused with theory. I could be wrong but if so, wondering how much theory you would say is useful in learning accompaniment.

    I'm not kidding myself. My first and only goal now is to get a good, solid, tonally pleasant, in the pocket, on very simple chord progressions and chords in gathering a repertoire. But as I go on, would something like Levine be a worthwhile thing to spend some time in?

    Long, sorry. 2 things:

    -ear training for harmony/accompaniment (thanks Bb)

    -Learning theory for a rhythm player?


    pas encore, j'erre toujours.
  • Let me ask a bit of a loaded question:

    When you add alternations or subs, is this where the melody or soloist is going? Meaning are you working in convert with them to help augment an idea? Its something to keep in mind.

  • edited June 2020 Posts: 92

  • PassacagliaPassacaglia Madison, WI✭✭✭✭
    edited June 2020 Posts: 1,471

    First, hi man - been a very long time and I'm really glad to see you again.

    Oh, I'm not there, Jim, though that's very much where I want to go. Nothing that doesn't support the lead. But I want to have the vocabulary to be able to do that well. As it stands, I tend to stay very skeletal, with maybe more of an emphasis on 6ths over straight M/m. That, and known 1-6-2-5's, etc. Basically, I used to know a ton of chords, but that was almost exclusively straight drilling Michael's book, and my knowledge of what works when and why, almost nil. Ted Gottsegen got me thinking of moving horizontally to follow the lead, even moving into strings 1-3, etc., where I'd previously tried to stay in lower positions and bass strings.

    But that's about it. When I hear "this [chord] would work nicely over...." I'd really like to learn why, get it in the skin, so I can go there without thinking. "No mind," to repeat a cliche.


    pas encore, j'erre toujours.
  • bbwood_98bbwood_98 Brooklyn, NyProdigy Vladimir music! Les Effes. . Its the best!
    Posts: 674


    Short answer - these are mostly just common tone subs . .

    So - lets see if this crazy makes sense (with your first two alterations)

    Normal some sort of ii chord (emin6/7/triad/occasionally also just a E7): E, G, B, C# - ps. as a function this would be sub dominant normally . . a chord preceding a chord that generally goes to the 'root'.

    First thought - looking at this your chord is Eb, G, Db, Gb. - two common tone. so could sound good and is within 'jazzer' rules as such. . but functionally this is a great sub for the A7 - simple tritone exchange. Thus it might be heard by a soloist as a dominant rather then a sub dominant. (of course if they're a barry harris student they ignore the ii, or sub dominant here anyhow . . )

    The second alteration D69 for A7 is as follows: D, F#,B,E,A instead of A,C#,G,C# or A,G,C#,E. once again - as you can see there are two tones in common - and thus fits with the above two common tones sub; and once again changes the function of the chord - so turns what would be a dominant (A7, going back to D69) into a root. . .

    However, you have hit upon the most important part of all this - if you think it sounds good, and the 'band' digs it . . your are safe. I would recommend trying yours with a (audio) version of the tune . . and see if you think it still works.

    The Levine - or perhaps the David Berkman books would be good.

    Bon working!

  • AndoAndo South Bend, INModerator Gallato RS-39 Modèle Noir
    Posts: 277

    -What are your thoughts on theory and accompaniment in this music?

    It depends. Theory is really "understanding," and understanding is always good. Being able to communicate an understanding of music with a common vocabulary is very useful, not least because it saves time.

    But it all depends on the situation. If there's just two of you, then the rhythm part may have to a little busier and supply a bass line. If you're playing with a bass, forget playing a bass line. Play the middle strings instead. If you're in a mix with another rhythm player, lock in with the other rhythm part and be an empathic mirror of it. Don't get too loud.

    Then, you have a soloist to deal with. Some want a fairly blank harmonic canvas, i.e. not a lot of altered tones. I played a few times with a guy like that, and it's great. This frees the soloist to supply all kinds of interesting harmonic information themselves. In that case, just keep things simple and lock into a good groove.

    Other times, you might hear a soloist kick back, or fall back on some stock ideas, in which case, you could gently suggest a diminished idea by the chords you play, or you could stress an altered note to signal to the soloist that that color might be good. It becomes a gentle conversation about harmony.

    Because all this "depends," the way you go about increasing your understanding can be very targeted, very efficient. Learn what you need to increase your ability to play song X -- don't try to learn the entire history of world harmony. By the time you learn it all, you'll have forgotten everything at the beginning.

    So that's what I think about "theory." It can become a rabbit hole unless you exert a little discipline to make it directly useful to what you're doing.

    -Thoughts on going about learning theory - just go through the Levine?

    It depends. Are you a complete beginner?

  • Russell LetsonRussell Letson Prodigy
    Posts: 360

    Ando's post indicates why there's a good practical reason most swing-guitar workshops (outside the GJ environment) emphasize minimal voicings--variously called "shell chords" or "Freddie Green chords"--along with inversions as practical starting points for accompaniment. In fact, my first systematic workshop teacher emphasized just two notes, the root and the third (the "heart of the chord") along with the seventh, and built fingering exercises that outlined the harmonic shapes of dozens of standards. From there, it was possible to add elements for anything from comping to chord-melody arrangements. The only "theory" I needed was a very basic sense of chord-building and of what an inversion is. After that, it was a matter of listening and fitting in with what my duo/trio partners or bandmates were doing.

    I don't know how typical I am, but knowing-why has always come after knowing-how, and I am rarely able to think about why or even what I'm doing while I'm doing it. Some simple things I can explain while demonstrating--but that's because the behaviors (the fingers/ears connection) have been so thoroughly absorbed that I can say, "Listen to how these two notes outline the song's chord progression" while playing through a I-vi-ii-V pattern. (This seems to extend to many of my skill-sets. Despite the years I spent teaching writing, I still can't explain how I generate sentences, though I can describe how they work after they're outside my head and explain how I revise and edit a draft.)

  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 655

    When I started with this music in 1993, the only book with any real information on how to play it was Ian Cruickshank's little book. He showed how to play pretty accurate chords for Ultrafox (key of Fmaj, G shape), Manoir... (key of Dmaj I think, D shape) and two blues, in Bbmaj and Gmin, and all mostly triads. In other words, not too much. I had zero jazz background, so I took this small amount of information, and painstakingly figured out how to use these basic chord shapes to play nearly all the early quintette sides.  Using those three-note chords taught me voice leading, how to use passing chords, economy of LH motion, etc. By comparing the chord names, I figured out (for example) that there isn't much difference between a Gmin and a Bbmaj, and then how to apply that to a given tune. I did a lot of that sort of thing. Best of all, it sounded right when I played with the recordings. Eventually I learned more advanced chords and ways to use them, but the work I put in in those early days was essential. And in a group situation today, I could and would still play that same clean and simple way.

    Today, when there is so much information, much of it contradictory or else really advanced - I wonder if it wasn't easier back then to learn from the start when there wasn't very much to learn from, but what there was was very straightforward and pretty accurate.  

    There is an old zen expression: "Too quick to understand, too quick to misunderstand".  Master the basics.

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