Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sound in Motion (David McGill)

I recently finished reading Sound in Motion by David McGill. This is a great book. Originally written for wind players, the book discusses the fine points of phrasing and performance. The central theme on phrasing generally follows that put forth in Thurmond's Note Groupings, but in a more enjoyable and clear presentation. My read on McGill's directive of putting motion in your playing is that one should focus on grouping notes much as one groups words into sentences when speaking. In doing so, one must not look to the bar lines as indicating the end of a phrase (just as one would not look to the end of a line of written text when grouping words into sentences), but to the natural completion of the musical idea. In Thurmond's book, he focuses the reader/player on looking at the upbeats in a phrase as indicating the demarcation points of phrases and notes that should be emphasized. McGill presents this idea in a more illustrative way, with many clear examples.

As a bassist who spends most of his time accompanying others with walking lines, I found McGill's book an enjoyable and insightful read. After having finished the book, I tried to implement some of the ideas in the coarsest form: at a gig I tried guiding my playing by playing the root on the down beat of each phrase (I was playing with a jump blues group) and used the rest of the bar to phrase a line that moved towards the next chord. This a musical phrase was not walking over a chord, but rather a series of notes that brought me to the start of a new chord. This did not always mean playing other notes in the chords. In fact, I tried to avoid playing the other notes in the chord by focusing exclusively on creating a series of notes (starting on the second beat of the measure) which formed a complete phrase ending on the root of the next measure (first beat of subsequent measure).

The results were mixed. While the guys in the band commented that I sounded great that night (a noteworthy event as these guys are pretty short on complements) there were some grinder blues numbers that it did not work. In retrospect, I know why... and should have known at the time. That said, the gig was a success: I got a complement from the band, learned something, nobody got hurt, nothing got broken.

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