Made From Scratch Part III

“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.”

-Igor Stravinsky


I’m very pleased to bring you the third part in our series on composing from scratch! I continue to have hurdles get in my way, technological and otherwise; unlike the average blogger, I don’t have the most regular access to internet (on account of working in the middle of the ocean or in unusual parts of the world with no WiFi). I’ve actually been ready to post this video for about two weeks but haven’t had the internet to do it with!

I’ll be back on land in 3 months, so I’ll post one more Youtube video before then and another right when I set foot on solid ground. In the meantime, I’ll make another post or two directly to the blog (since they don’t take the same amount  of bandwidth).

As promised in the video, we’ll be chatting today about moving between key centers. This is a basic, but important part of composing larger forms. There’s a few ways to approach this, but most of them start with the circle of 4ths:

Circle of 4ths

The simplest and most basic movement is around the circle, in either direction. Moving counter-clockwise is the more traditional route (C to G or E to B, for instance), but circling to the right is also effective. There’s something important missing from the larger picture, however:

Circle of 4ths with relative minors

The above circle of 4ths is completed with each major key’s relative minor. The relative minor is always the 6th step of the corresponding major scale. The major key and its relative minor also share the same key signature (Bb major and G minor both have two flats).

Moving between the relative major and minor keys is always a strong motion, and this modulation is probably the second most popular after moving a 5th away. Much like the previous example, you can also move left or right around the circle of 4ths in the minor mode (Bb minor to F minor or F# minor to B minor, for example).

This also opens up new possibilities, as we can jump inside or outside the circle at any time. So, if we are in the key of C, we should consider G major, F major, A minor, E minor, and D minor all as strong candidates for a new key center. The latter two (E and D minor) are not as strong, but still function very well.

We’ve been successful moving around a circle, but what about other geometric figures, like a triangle?

Circle of 4ths + giant steps

When we add two sides to our figure, we get a slightly weaker relationship. However these new key centers are still strong candidates and add a lot of color. Jazz aficionados should immediately identify this relationship as the heralded Coltrane changes. They’re also exhibited in the bridge of the classic “Have You Met Miss Jones?”.

Using this geometric method, the triangle should always point towards your particular home key. Right now it shows Cmaj-Abmaj-Emaj, however I could easily rotate it for Gmin-Ebmin-Bmin. Likewise, I can always move outside the circle and transpose from A minor to Ab major. These relationships are more distant, but still useful to consider. Composers as old as Bach would cadence to the minor 4th (C major to F minor, for instance).

Let’s try another shape:

Circle of 4ths + tritone subs

As we add sides to our geometric figure, we get a more fleeting harmonic connection. The most common movement here would be from C major to C minor. However, the other transpositions are still fair game. It isn’t often someone composes a theme in G minor and moves to Db major, but it’s still a viable option.

Circle of 4ths + half step

Now we’re getting into shapes that don’t quite fit. I finagled my pentagon to show the C-Db transposition -which is especially common in pop and Broadway literature. Let’s try one more:

Circle of 4ths with hexagon

Well, at least the hexagon fits. You’ll notice that we’re chasing our tails now, since the hexagon identifies the same three keys our triangle did. The only new relationships are the 5th of the 5th and the 4th of the 4th (D major and Bb major in this case). Of these two directions, the most common might actually be C major to G minor (which I actually use as a cadence as the end of my A section in the above video). Still viable, but less relative.

We’ve exhausted our geometric options, but I hope that I’ve identified some strong key relationships to help inform your future compositional endeavors. If you get bored moving around the circle, experiment with the triangle, square, etc. You’ll find your music taking on new color and beauty.

Made From Scratch Part II

“Your ears will always lead you right, but you must know why.”

-Anton Webern


After a plethora of technical issues, we’re back with part II of our Made From Scratch series. We’re also very proud to announce the launch of our Youtube channel! More will come, and there will be a large variety of content –from instructional videos to interviews, demonstrations, and much more.


We’ll also be slowing down a little bit with our blog content in order to expand the store and deliver as high quality videos as possible. While the Youtube channel will be our priority this year, this blog will always offer additional information. There may also be the occasional independent post if what we have to offer is more appropriate in text form than video.


And as a thank you to our loyal customers, we’re offering a 70% OFF SALE from now until June 1st. Just use the promo code:





Today we’re going to go over some basic music theory: the 12-tone matrix. Then we’ll expand on how to use the idea of retrograde and inversion in everyday tonal composition.


In the above video, I discussed the use of permutations on a theme, but let’s just get some basic definitions out of the way:


Prime – the main theme

Retrograde – the main theme backwards

Inversion – a mirror of the main theme

Retrograde-Inversion – the inversion backwards


To take a simple example, let’s choose a brief prime theme:


C – D – E – G


The retrograde of prime is:


G – D – E – C


The inversion of prime is:


C – Bb – Ab – F


I got to this point by taking the intervals in prime and reversing them. C – D is whole step up, so I went a whole step down (C – Bb). The same is true with D – E (which became a whole step down, or Bb – Ab). The final interval E – G is a minor third ascent, so I made a minor third descent (Ab – F). It’s just that easy!


The retrograde-inversion of prime is:

F – Ab – Bb – C


It’s very simple to do, but these aren’t all of the permutations possible. Let’s transpose our prime theme up a perfect fourth:


F – G – A – C


We’ll call the above theme Prime 5, since it’s 5 half steps above the original prime theme. Its inversion will become Inversion 5, its retrograde will become Retrograde 5, and its inverted retrograde will become Retrograde-Inversion 5.


For short we’ll be using P-5, I-5, R-5, and RI-5 to refer to Prime 5, Inversion 5, Retrograde 5, and Retrograde-Inversion 5, respectively.


That makes R-5:


C – A – G – F


I-5 is:


F – Eb – Db – Bb


RI-5 is:


Bb – Db – Eb – F


In atonal, or twelve-tone music it’s common for music students to start off with a 12×12 table and write out all of the permutations. In reality, only P-0 (the original prime theme) and I-0 (the inversion of the original theme) need to be worked out. R-0 and RI-0 will be immediately apparent, and then P-1 through P-11 and I-1 through I-11 become simple transpositions.


I cheated and used the wonderful matrix calculator tool from (no relation) to create this matrix based on a twelve-tone theme:


Matrix Calculator cropped


The numbers along the top and left hand sides of the matrix denote how many half steps above the starting pitch (C) the new prime/inversion themes are. Each matrix will be slightly different.


Now in the above Youtube video, I discuss how to compose using these different permutations as starting points in developing additional themes. However, I take a diatonic approach. Returning to our original prime theme:


C – D – E – G


I can take the intervals and move them throughout the C major scale. Since I’m moving within a key, there are only 7 different starting pitches, so I’ll ignore the half step business and label them all 0-6. I’ll also substitute P, R, I, and RI with dP, dR, dI, and dRI to denote the fact that they are diatonic and not chromatic:




I chose C major as the key center since it seems the most fitting, but I could have easily chosen G or F major, since they both contain C and E naturals; moving along the circle of fourths, both Bb and D major would be out of the running.


If I choose a minor key, it gets a bit more complex with the introduction of melodic and harmonic minor. Let’s look at the same example in the key of F melodic minor:




I can get really into the minor mode by using melodic minor to ascend and natural minor to descend:




Note that the diatonic retrograde and diatonic retrograde-inversion are no longer true mirrors of their respective tone rows.


I can also use this same technique with partial scales (like pentatonic patterns), ethnic scales, diminished themes, whole tone themes, blues scale themes, or chromatic themes.


The above examples are also great ways to introduce motivic development into improvised solos. It doesn’t take much practice to plane simple motifs through various key centers.


Let’s take a look at how we can get further permutations out of our prime theme. This time, let’s move the theme throughout the diatonic key centers and see what we come up with:




Suddenly we get the introduction of new accidentals. Each of these new themes (the Em, Am, and Bdim themes) offers their own set of inversions and transpositions.


Further more, we can take the original prime theme and move it through all of the major and minor keys for even more permutations:




This approach is one of the oldest and most basic. Let’s take a look at the first half of J.S. Bach’s Prelude BWV 846 to see how the master uses permutations to create theme and variation:


Bach Annotated 1


I’ve decided to ignore the left hand for simplicity’s sake. The downbeat of every bar functions as the bass line, and the second attack establishes the harmony. In that respect, only the right hand is melody (although to any ear, harmony and melody are virtually the same in this work). I’ve also color coded the themes to help make a point of when and where Bach alters his prime theme.


This may seem like a very elementary way to look at a work such is this –one with colorful harmonic progressions, but it really is just a theme and variation work. All of the variation comes from melody and harmony; there is no rhythmic variation.


Even a very young composer can grasp the simplicity and beauty of writing using permutation as a basis for variations on a theme. I encourage you all to try writing your own work.


I’ll close today with a simple etude I wrote for a young piano student I had. The first 8 measures are simply diatonic permutations of the theme:


Ewan's Song


Enjoy, and be sure to keep an eye out for new videos, blog posts, and scores in our online store!

Incorporating Solos Into An Arrangement

“Any guitar solo should reflect the music that it’s soloing over and not just be existing in its own sort of little world.”

–John Frusciante



Happy Thanksgiving from The Composer’s Toolshed! As we near the holiday season, I thought I’d start off with a gift: Paquito D’Rivera’s solo over Corcovado from the 2003 Latin Grammy award winning album Brazilian Dreams, featuring the vocal quartet Manhattan Voices. For anyone out there who has never heard this album, I highly recommend it. Every track is a masterpiece, and it easily falls into my top 20 albums of all time.







In the past, I’ve accompanied each solo transcription with some type of analysis. This one, however, speaks pretty much for itself. D’Rivera creates a virtuosic solo that navigates the harmonic cycle with near perfection.


Instead, I thought I’d discuss how to use an improvised solo to our advantage in arrangements that feature soloists. I was inspired by the beautiful use of D’Rivera’s solo in Corcovado. It has a double-time feel that ties together a trumpet solo with the recapitulation of the melody.



An improvised solo can be a powerful compositional tool when used correctly. We’ll look at some famously implemented solos while talking about the ground rules of integrating solo sections into an arrangement.


One of the first decisions when inserting a solo section is how much of the solo should be spontaneous and how much should be preconceived. While the tradition in jazz is to have a completely improvised solo, rock solos often begin with a riff that is part of the overall composition.


There’s nothing wrong with writing out the first (or last) 8 bars of a solo and adding “Ad Lib.” above it. This option gives the soloist freedom to interpret your music in his or her own intimate way. Below, Carlos Santana is featured on Smooth. He begins his solo with the opening riff and then elaborates with his own voice.



This is also an excellent example of how to incorporate a featured soloist into an arrangement. Santana accompanies Rob Thomas throughout the song with ad lib. riffs inserted around vocal lines. One of the most important virtues of an arranger using improvised solos is trust. Any good soloist will navigate their part with very little instruction. In other words, don’t write out every detail –let them do their job.


That being said, if you want something very specific, don’t expect the soloist to read your mind. I once wrote an atonal jazz song (technically it was a non-repeating interval series, but who’s keeping track?). I wanted the soloist to improvise using the tone row, its inversion, retrograde, and retrograde inversion exclusively. With such specific instructions, I obviously needed to write the permutations out for them.


Another important decision when incorporating a soloist is deciding how to use their solo in the overall form of a piece. In traditional big band repertoire, solo sections are inserted into the middle of a score. These sections are vamped with one solo after another. This is a pretty weak use of a solo, compositionally speaking.


Wherever a vamp exists, time essential pauses (I’ll elaborate about this in a later post). The forward movement of the composition ends, and the larger arc of the score is thrown out of whack. It’s much more useful, as is the case with more modern arrangements, to use solos as a means to move the score from one part of the form into the next. Multiple solos can be sprinkled throughout to accomplish this in a more through-composed manner.



In Aretha Franklin’s famous Respect, she uses a sax solo in place of bridge. The key change creates a lot of momentum. I really wish more solos were implemented like this –there’s no reason a solo has to be over the verse changes or the chorus changes. I’ve always felt the sax solo was the highlight of that song because of its transitional force.


Another great example of a solo providing structural momentum is Soundgarden’s Spoonman from their 1994 classic album Superunknown. There are a few ways to look at the form of this one, but it basically starts with a guitar riff we’ll call A. When the rhythm drops, we get our B motif. These motifs combined create the main theme of the work, which we’ll call V (A + B = V). At one point, the themes are combined with a key change. We’ll call this a C section.



Looking at it this way, the form is pretty straightforward for the first half of the tune: A – B – A – B – A – C – A – B – A – B – C – A, or more simply:

V – C – V – C – V (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse).


While the form may not be too exciting, the content certainly is. Soundgarden must have realized that a third C section (or chorus) would have been monotonous. Instead, the A section is extended and leads into a guitar solo (section D). This solo acts as a bridge and is the dynamic high point of the song.


The texture is brought down immediately for a percussion solo. We now enter an entirely new place in the form that I’ll call V2 (a false reprise in the sense that the A section bass line persists throughout). This leads into a sort of Coda section:


V – C – V – C – V – D – V2 – C – V.


Sometimes a solo can become an actual main theme in a work. While the notes and rhythms may change, the texture of the solo can become the overriding musical idea. Take The Ventures’ classic Wipeout, for instance:



The guitar riff is theme A while the drum solo is theme B. If the guitar solo in the middle is its own section, then Wipeout follows a sort of modified repeating rondo that shortens as it goes on:


A – B – A – B – C –

A – B – A – C –

A – B – C – A.





I’ve always heard anecdotally that Freddie Mercury wrote little bits and pieces of songs and then strung the most meaningful ideas together to make an entire song. You can certainly hear this approach in Queen’s megahit Bohemian Rhapsody. But let’s take a look at one of their less famous songs, Bicycle Race.


The form for this one is all over the place, and it features two noteworthy sections: A group bicycle chime solo followed by a guitar duet. Thankfully the sections are easy to identify, so I won’t over-annotate this one:


A – B – C – A – B – D – E – A – F (bicycle chime solo) – G – C – A – B


The interesting thing about the chime solo is that it is necessary for the guitar duet. Without it, there would be nothing bridging the main themes A, B, or C to it. The duet certainly isn’t necessary, but it’s the highlight of the song. Freddie Mercury was always creative when it came to escaping traditional classical forms, and he does it with great success in this wonderfully silly example.


Sometimes a single soloist can be inserted throughout a work to create a beautiful contrast of texture. Let’s look at a non-improvised solo in this J.S. Bach classic, the first movement from his Concerto in F Major for Harpsichord And Two Recorders (adapted here for a larger chamber ensemble):



After establishing the main themes, the keyboard takes over the principle theme. When the rest of the ensemble takes the theme as their own, the keys respond with the second theme. This propels the ensemble into the minor development section (with classic Bach counterpoint and canon).


When the theme finally returns, the harpsichord takes over again as the role of embellisher. In classic Bach fashion, the return of theme is false and more elaboration ensues.


Just as with a rock or jazz band, a soloist’s interpretation of a theme can create a great contrast to any static issues in the larger form. It’s important to remember that a soloist can serve not only as an extension of the form, but that they can facilitate textural changes necessary to support a longer work. A work whose form is A – B – A – B – A – B, etc. can sustain itself just fine so long as each section has a different timbrel contrast. Soloists can easily provide that role.


Let’s keep all that in mind when we check out our final video – one of my favorites the Internet has to offer. Hocus Pocus, by the band Focus, is tedious in its form but thrilling in its execution thanks to improvised solo sections:


A – B – C –

A – B – C –

A – B – C –

A – B – C –

A – B – C –

A – B


The Life And Work Of A Cruise Ship Musician

“Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope.”



Check out our newest addition to the store: 5 Trios for Flute, Clarinet, and Piano!


For the last couple of years, I’ve been making my primary income working as a showband musician in the cruise ship industry. I realize that there are probably a lot of musicians out there who have thought about working in the cruise industry but don’t really know what it’s like, so I figured I could use what experience I have to enlighten their curiosity.


In fact, I’m frequently asked what my life is like from both musicians and non-musicians alike. So the following is a sort of Q&A based upon my most frequently asked questions. I’m formulating the answers from my own personal experience, as well as the experiences of some of my colleagues. Every cruise line, every ship, and every band has its own experiences and challenges that can easily differ from my own.


What sort of band do you play in? How many instruments? What kind of music?


This is a loaded question. Most ships have a variety of musicians from 4 or 5-piece lounge bands to Latin trios to classical pianists to guitar/singer soloists. Each ensemble handles a variety of music and caters to a specific type of crowd.


I’ve had all of my experience in showbands. The showband generally ranges in size from a 5-piece band (sax/guitar/keys/bass/drums) to a 10-piece band (2 trumpets/trombone/3 saxes/guitar/keys/bass/drums). There is often, but not always, a singer that is featured during the showband’s live sets.


While the other musical acts on the ship play mostly consistent repertoire, the showband is required to be much more versatile; showbands generally function as the house band for the ship. This means acting as the pit orchestra for the production shows, playing live sets (ranging between jazz, Motown, country, rock, funk, etc.), and being on call for any special events or performances.


How many hours a day do you work?


Like every question, it depends on multiple factors. The lounge bands, soloists, trios, etc. generally work 3-5 hours a night (plus breaks). They get roughly one night off a week.


The showband works anywhere from 1-6 hours depending on the day and the schedule of the cruise. A normal day would be roughly 3 hours of work (minus any rehearsals). Showbands generally get a full day off every 1-2 weeks.


That sounds like a lot more work than I’m used to on land.


Playing on a ship is a lot like working in a touring band. You perform on an almost nightly basis for 5-7 months, usually for packed houses. I know many musicians making a good living for themselves on land, but few have 2-3 gigs every night of the week playing large venues. It can be very physically demanding at times and mentally taxing as well.



How difficult is the music?


If you’re in a lounge band or soloist position, you’ll be choosing most of your own repertoire, so difficulty isn’t really a factor. The challenge of those gigs is having a diverse enough catalogue of songs to satisfy all the requests you’ll get. It’s as much about quantity as it is quality.


The showband book varies from Michael Jackson to Tower of Power, from Aretha Franklin to Journey, from Peter Gabriel to Chick Corea. Anyone with a college background will find the bulk of the music challenging, but not overwhelming. There are usually a dozen songs in the book that will take a good bit of shedding.


The hardest part of the showband gig is playing a variety of styles. If you’re only a jazz player or only a rocker, parts of the job will be extremely difficult. The 3 most important skills a showband musician has are excellent reading chops, a diverse musical background, and consistency in their performances.


The actual production shows range from simple rock tunes to intricate orchestral scores to big band style numbers. On some cruise lines, the production shows are full-fledged Broadway musicals (Phantom Of The Opera or West Side Story, for instance). I’ve encountered both the easiest and the hardest professional charts in the production shows –it’s really just a matter of chance.


The most difficult (and the most rewarding) part of being a showband is working with fly-on acts. A fly-on act will come on the ship in one of the ports, rehearse with the band that afternoon, perform two shows that evening, and then leave in the following port. This is where it’s most important to be a good sight-reader, since you frequently won’t receive the music until that rehearsal. The scores are often highly intricate, and the shows are usually a blast to play.


How good are the other musicians?


For some reason, ship musicians have a stereotype as being subpar. Many think of ship gigs as being entry-level jobs. The truth is that you see all kinds out here. I’ve worked with some of the best and some of the worst musicians on ships.


Generally speaking, the level of musicianship is high. Most of the comments I hear from our audience is that the quality of music exceeded their expectations.


It is my understanding that many gigs on ships are more challenging than land gigs, and because of this, the level of musicianship is fairly high. I’ve certainly come across some musicians who severely lacked in certain areas, but even more that were intimidating powerhouses of musical prowess. Most are in the middle: solid musicians with a professional work ethic and a variety of talents.


But you have to live on the ship, right? What’s that like?


Ship life, for many, is the hardest and worst part of the job. For some musicians it can be a breaking point. Others actually fall in love with the lifestyle. Most long-term cruise musicians have a sort of love-hate relationship with ship life.


On every cruise line that I’m aware of, each musician shares a cabin with one other person (usually another musician, a dancer, a stage tech, or an entertainment host). Some common exceptions to this are singers, soloists, and musical directors. The cabins are usually cramped, but not suffocating.


A common complaint on ships is the food. Some cruise lines allow the musicians to eat in guest areas during certain times, and some do not. Either way, the majority of meals will be eaten in the crew area mess. Meals in the mess are frequently reheated leftovers from the guests’ meals; their lunch is our dinner, and their dinner is the next day’s lunch. Steak dinner becomes beef soup at lunch. Meatballs for lunch become meatloaf for dinner. Sometimes there are a few genuinely good meals, but most are mediocre at best.


Living and working with the same people day in and day out is a double-edged sword. Everyone on ships get very close very quickly. But getting space is hard to do on a ship, and the little things that bug you about someone on land can quickly spiral out of control when you eat three meals a day with them.


In general ship life is hard to explain to someone who has never experienced it before. I often use the analogy of college. It’s a slightly artificial mix of ages, cultures, interests, and personalities in a confined space. Often life on the ship is more foreign and exotic than the actual countries the ship visits.


Weird. Well you at least get off the ship in port, right?


Of course! This is one of the big benefits of working on a cruise ship. I’ve seen 8 different countries so far working on ships. By the end of next year, I’ll have visited more than 20. I’ve seen beaches and jungles, gone scuba diving, eaten amazing food, and seen exotic ruins. It’s a great perk to the job.


Occasionally there will be something preventing musicians from visiting a port, like some sort of training or safety drill. On most ships you will have to participate in something called port manning once every 1-2 months. Port manning simply means that you have to stay onboard the ship for one cruise as a precaution in case something goes wrong and personnel are needed to assist in an evacuation or other emergency circumstance.



Wait, so you have to do things other than play music?


Sometimes. It isn’t a huge part of the job, but it is a regular part of it. Every crew member onboard a cruise ship has a responsibility during an emergency. It is common for musicians to help guests at their muster station (the place they go to during an emergency, in preparation to board the life boats).


While these types of emergencies are uncommon, there is a safety briefing held at the beginning of every cruise to show the guests where they are supposed to go and what they are supposed to do in the event an emergency does happen. It’s sort of like what flight attendants do prior to a flight, showing emergency exits and how to put on a life jacket.


Occasionally musicians are called on to do other non-music jobs. One of these might include welcoming guests onboard the ship and answering their questions (this job would be on a rotation, not every cruise). Sometimes musicians help out the entertainment team during special events, like handing out red, white, and blue swag on July 4th or blowing up balloons for a New Year’s celebration.


In general, my job is just playing music. Any other duties are unwelcome, but thankfully few and far between. Random trainings and safety drills are just another part of ship life.


How much do you make?


It depends on the line you work for, whether you have an agent, how much experience you have, and which position you are filling. The more interesting question is: How much do you save?


Ship musicians have very low overhead: no rent, little to no food costs, a free gym membership, free laundry, many free medications and medical services, etc. There are also crew discounts around the ship. In the crew bar drinks are usually just $1 or $2 each.


Most ship musicians will find themselves spending roughly $50-150 per week on expenses. This includes getting off in the ports and having a nice lunch or going on an excursion. Frugal musicians can easily spend only $10-20 per week.


I saw a show on a cruise ship once. I heard a full string section but didn’t see any violins in the pit orchestra. Do you use tracks?


On many lines, there are backing tracks to support the live music. There are many reasons to do this: it’s a lot cheaper and easier to have a Koto on the track than to hire a Japanese folk musician to play one song every cruise, there are electronics and pyrotechnics that accompany the show and need to be fired of at precise moments, musicians can get sick or injured during the cruise without anyone to sub in like on land, it keeps the shows uniform in length in order to schedule other activities appropriately, and it is a back-up in the event of a complete malfunction between the live band’s microphones and the sound board.


In general, it’s like any modern stage show outside of major opera or Broadway shows –a mix of live music and electronic backing that create a polished, professional sound. The drums you’re hearing are real drums. The horns you’re hearing are real horns. The singers are really singing. Those bagpipes are probably prerecorded.


Tracked instruments are often supplemented with live ones. A strings section might be doubled by the keyboards. A banjo part might be doubled by guitar. Pan flute might be doubled by a modern flute.


It’s way more live music than a Super Bowl halftime show, that’s for sure.


As an aside, I’ve always worked with some sort of a personal mixing board. Each instrument has their own track on the board, and I can dial them in or take them out entirely. Any strings, folk instruments, auxiliary percussion, etc. will be on a different track. This way everyone has control over their own in-ear monitor. Mixing the monitor is a skill inside itself, but a useful one to have.


I never feel like having a track of supplemental instruments takes away from my musical integrity. It’s a support factor that helps ensure consistency and adds texture to the overall sound of the pit orchestra. A bad band will still sound bad, and a great band will still sound great. No amount of tracks can hide talent or lack thereof.



This whole cruise thing doesn’t sound half bad. How do I sign up?


There are generally two ways to go about it: Applying through an agency or applying directly to a cruise line. Agencies take a percentage of your paycheck but can open doors to a number of cruise lines. Theoretically, agencies can get you your first ship gig faster than if you audition with a single line.


If you want to apply directly to a specific cruise line, you can usually find an email link via the line’s website. A simple Google query of “X cruise lines careers” or “X cruise lines musician jobs” will help you out too.


Two of the major agencies are Proship and Landau Music, but there are others. Searching for “cruise ship musician agency” will yield plenty of results.


The audition process I went through was very intensive. The audition was conducted over the phone (and videotaped to confirm that it was actually me auditioning). Music was emailed to me roughly 30 min. before the audition took place. The audition was somewhere between 2-3 hours, playing a large variety of styles. I was required to play with backing tracks, play alone, and to improvise a few solos in multiple styles.


I know others who have had similar audition processes. I also know some who had a considerably easier audition. It seems to vary based on the agency, the cruise line, and which instrument you are auditioning on.


After passing the audition, I was required to get a physical done. This included blood work and a urine test. A valid passport is necessary, and if your homeport is in a foreign country, a work visa will also be required.


Is there anything else I should know about?


It’s impossible to cover every aspect of living and working on a cruise ship. The audiences are usually a very diverse demographic ranging from young families to college kids to retirees. Spending 6 months working while everyone else is on vacation can be a strange experience.


There might be 1,000 other crew members onboard a ship, and interacting with them is also a very unique and sometimes daunting practice. In my experience, most are friendly, but there are exceptions. Sometimes the musicians, dancers, and entertainers onboard are treated differently by the rest of the crew because we work fewer hours than they do.


The hardest part for most ship musicians is the sacrifice of living at sea. Being away and out of touch from friends and family can be difficult. Internet is slow and expensive. There is a significant loss of freedom and individuality.


If a guest onboard is rude or offensive, you have to be polite to them regardless of how tired or stressed out you might be. You’re living where you work, and the line between the two can get grey at times.


One of the big upsides is that I am one of the few musicians I know that actually gets a vacation. I will usually have some work on land between ship gigs, but for the most part I get to relax. I have time to practice, compose, visit friends and relatives, and basically enjoy life. I’m not constantly hustling my next gig or worrying about whether or not I can pay rent.


Working on a ship is not for everyone. It’s not a paid vacation. It’s not a “starter gig”. It’s a unique touring engagement with a lot of sacrifices and a lot of perks. It takes a certain type of person to handle the worst parts of the gig –otherwise the benefits just won’t be enough.


If you have any questions, I encourage you to leave them in the comments section, and I will do my best to answer them.


How To Format In 10 Easy Steps

“When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment, we have no compass to govern us, nor can we know distinctly to what port to steer.”

-Edmund Burke


I’ve got a few pet peeves. Everyone does. It bugs me when drummers leave their snares on during long tacet sections. I think a beautiful fermata at the end of a chart doesn’t need every single horn player arpeggiating and embellishing their note. I find it truly offensive when guitar players noodle during rehearsal… You know who you are.


But my worst pet peeves all deal with formatting music. Since a poorly formatted part can mark the difference between a chart being easily sight read and being completely unplayable, I thought it would be useful to take a look at some of the most common errors.


Now I don’t normally do top 10 lists, but I feel like setting a few rules down in stone could help me run into fewer headaches down the road, so here we go…



#1 Don’t hide big downbeats. Especially beat 3.


This should be every serious arranger’s mantra. A simple, mundane rhythm can easily turn into the most foreign, perplexing figure without clear downbeats. Unfortunately, I still run into this mistake time and time again.


When I say to show the downbeats, I really mean that there should be either a note or a rest on nearly every downbeat, but especially on beat 3 (when in 4/4). The following is an example of a hidden downbeat passage:


And this is how I fixed it to be more readable:


Beats 2 and 4 can be hidden with half notes or half rests. Obviously, a whole note is perfectly acceptable. Another rhythm that tends to work perfectly is a quarter note followed by a half note, and then another quarter note:


It gets even more important to show downbeats when there’s a sixteenth note subdivision. Here’s another example of a simple rhythm made complicated:


And a much more sight-readable edit:


When there’s a complex time signature (6/8, 7/8, 12/8, etc.) the same rules apply. In 12/8, show beats 4, 7, and 10. In 5/8, 7/8, 11/8, etc. your downbeats should reflect the subdivision. For example, the following passage is in 7/8 with a 3+2+2 subdivision:


The left hand is clearly 3+4, but the right hand is too ambiguous:


If there is any question of the subdivision (which can be the case in highly syncopated pieces), it helps to simply write it out on top of the measure (see rules #3 and #4). This is especially true in a piece that maintains the same time signature but switches feels (i.e. a 5/8 chart that alternates between 2+3 and 3+2).


One hidden downbeat almost always equals one measure that won’t be read correctly.


#2 Give as little information as possible


Music should always be clearly notated, but the less information on the page, the easier it is to for the musician to process. Sometimes trills, dynamic markings, tempo changes, and style feels show up all at once in the same measure. But more often than not, simple notes and rhythms can become painfully obscure when there’s simply too much ink on the page.


This is something I’ve actually run into before in a professional arrangement:


And how to fix it:


This isn’t the only solution, but taking out all of those sixteenth rests helps the reader find the downbeats (see rule #1).


Don’t be concerned that I’ve altered the length of notes. As a young student I was taught that a staccato marking cuts the length of a note in half, but in practice the two examples above will be performed the same every single time (except that the second one will be sight read correctly).


Here’s another example of simplifying notation to give less information and a greater chance of success:


The above passage is just two bars repeated, so why not just write it out that way:


*Note: I would never use the two-bar repeat notation if it was only repeated a couple of times (see rule #5).


Although the repeat bars are an improvement (and will save paper when printing out the part), I’ve personally begun to prefer the following method of notation:


This is not the formal way to use slashes, but it gets the point across clearly. Numbering every other bar will not only let the drummer get his head out of the chart, but it saves a lot of space on the page. Now, if I add an ensemble hit on the part, it sticks out and becomes a very simple read:


A clean part is an easy part. The less ink on the page, the better.


#3 Put everything the musicians need to know right in front of them


One of our goals as a practical arranger is to bring in a chart, put the music in front of the band, count it off, and have them play it nearly perfectly by the second reading. We should avoid any amount of dialogue. Put everything from style to articulation right in front of the band.


I generally don’t like to overwrite articulations unless I’m dealing with student music (since they need much more guidance than professional players). That being said, some ambiguities exist that always need clarification. Quarter notes in swing charts are one of them:


A couple measures like this will almost always lead to the question “Are these quarter notes short?” Truth be told, there’s no way of knowing whether they’re legato or marcato. Experienced bands will have standard ways to treat these phrases, but a studio band thrown together may not. And it may take a few readings for the lead players to decide for themselves and relay the information to the section.


All of this can be avoiding with just a few keystrokes:


I don’t need to mark that the first eighth note is long, nor do I need to mark the last quarter note short and fat. Conventional players will already recognize these clichés and play them accordingly. Plus, I don’t want to over mark the parts (see rule #2).


How about this situation:


A jazz drummer might interpret the hi-hat notation as the pedal, while a rock drummer would interpret it as sticks on a closed hi-hat. A little bit of language will pre-empt any questions:


Which leads us to the next rule:


#4 When in doubt, use words


This is somehow so easy for us to forget. In a world of precise notation and a library of Italian phrases, sometimes all we need is some plain English (or whatever your primary language is).


If you want a soloist to use multiphonics, just write it on the part. If you want a guitar riff to sound like Led Zeppelin, write “a la Jimmy Page”. A few simple words can be much clearer than an overwhelming amount of notation (see rule #2).


I find words to be most effective on drum parts (both orchestral percussion and drum set music). The clearest way to notate a choked cymbal is often the word “choke”. The simplest way to notate a china cymbal are the words “china” above the notehead.


#5 Avoid codas and repeats. Keep the musician’s eyes moving left to right, up to down.


This is a rule of thumb that must be broken every now and again. That being said, musicians train for years to keep their eyes moving ahead in the same direction. Every time you write a repeat, D.S., D.C., or coda, you’re asking them to go against their naturally trained instinct. Of course we all have experience dealing with these notations, but it just takes one member of a band to train wreck a D.S. al coda.


As an aside, there’s a right and a wrong way to notate codas. When you do need to use them, it helps to have a big visual cue. That cue, more often than not, is space. Look at the following example:


Not only is the coda indented, it’s on an entirely different page. Finding that jump is made so much easier by not sticking it in the middle of a system.


If you want all the music on one page, a simple indentation can help:



Likewise, when creating a 2nd ending in a repeat, use a new system. Musicians’ eyes should never have to leap far. Putting the 2nd ending on a new system allows the reader to just jump down casually, not dart around:


This leads to the next rule:


#6 Keep double bar lines and rehearsal letters near the left side of the page.


This isn’t always possible, but it helps for three reasons. The first is that it’s easier to get a band back to the same spot if they get off during rehearsal. Shouting out a letter is useless if it takes them 5 bars to find it.


The second is that it will help to clearly format parts. Most musical sections are 8 bars long. Most phrases are 4 bars long. Since double bar lines and rehearsal marks usually accompany the starts of phrases, it keeps the musical line together. A 5 bar phrase of music should stay together just as much as a 4 bar phrase. It helps not only readability, but execution.


The third is that it creates more space. If you format your parts with the key signature on every system (and I hope you do –see rule #3), there’s always room to move the rehearsal letter/number around to make room for dynamic marks or ledger lines that might otherwise get in the way.


This is a simple rule to keep, and it tends to really improve readability. Some good exceptions to the rule are pieces that have strange phrase lengths or that start phrases with pick up bars:


*Note: The above example breaks rule #2 by using too many cautionary accidentals and rule #7 by being inconsistent in how they are notated (one in parenthesis and the rest without).


Another key exception to rule #6 is in order to reduce the number of pages on a part (see rule #11).


#7 Be consistent within a single chart.


Since you won’t be using lots of codas or repeats (see rule #5), you’ll have to rewrite your themes a few times. Every time one comes back, make sure it looks the same way.


Don’t use a G# the first time and an Ab the second time. Don’t write Moderato the first time and q = 120 the second time. This is even true of formatting. If you break up the 9 bar phrase with 5 bars on one system and 4 bars on the second system, do it the same way every time that phrase reappears.


Musicians will more easily recognize the reoccurrence of themes if they look exactly the same every time. Humans are visual creatures, and recognizing visual patterns are far easier than discerning them using intellectual and aural receptors.


#8 Never write an eighth note on a downbeat unless you’re in 6/8, 9/8, etc.


This infuriates me to no end. Write a quarter note with a staccato or marcato accent. Simple rhythms can become painful thanks to that extra eighth rest you’ve just created (see rule #2):


Every time I see this I cry a little. Just write it this way:


As an aside, I have seen examples of eighth notes on downbeats in classical literature, especially if the performer is subdividing to the eighth note. However, music notation has grown and changed much over the past hundred years, and I feel strongly that this is one rule worth standing by 95% of the time.


#9 Sharps ascend and flats descend in chromatic sections, but not in modal or scalar sections.


Enharmonic notation can give clues to the performer. A#s tend to resolve to Bs. Ebs tend to resolve down to Ds. These visual cues can help especially with keyboardists or woodwind players who need to use certain fingerings to get through a passage.


The following example is made difficult by its mix of notation:


And simplified here:


The Db at the end of the first bar could have stayed, but it hides the major third relationship with the A that follows (see rule #10).


When writing within a particular mode, however, it’s more important to be consistent with which enharmonic is on the page (see rule #7):


The above whole tone example is confusing with the mix of flats and sharps -especially the penultimate bar, which includes both a Db and a C#. Using all sharps is one way to alleviate the problem:


Alternatively, a mix of sharps and flats can be used (just be consistent!):



#10 Make 3rds look like 3rds and scales look like scales.


Musicians practice 3rdsand scales all day long, year after year, come rain or come shine. There’s no reason to hide it from them:


The previous example hides the 3rd relationship in the second bar and obscures a basic A major triad:


The same holds true for scalar passages:


A simple F dorian is hidden with a perplexing mix of accidentals:


The C# at the end of the phrase remains there to accentuate the implied resolution to A major. Using a Db would simply obscure the 3rd relationship.


The same rule holds true for vertical chords:


The inconsistency of sharps and flats (see rule #9) hide a simple progression of C#9 – F#7alt/C – Bminmaj7:


*Note: Writing the chord symbols above the voicing would make things clearer to a point (see rule #4). Just don’t break rule #2 by writing too many needless chord symbols.


And finally…


#11 Horns need to breathe, drummers can’t turn pages, and pianists only have two hands.


Try as I might, I couldn’t keep the list at 10. This final rule is important, but often overlooked. A composer can’t shrug off a physical impossibility in the hopes that the performer will just “figure something out”. That’s our job, not theirs.


At moderate tempos, always give horn players at least one beat to breathe every 6 bars. 4 bars are ideal, especially for students.

*UPDATE: To clarify, this depends largely on the ensemble. Orchestral musicians are not only trained to sustain notes for longer periods than jazz and rock horns, but they are playing at softer volumes (which requires less air).


Give brass players two bars to put a mute in and one bar to take it out at minimum. They can do it quicker, but don’t expect them to nail it every time.


Doublers need ample time to switch instruments. In extreme cases, only one bar can be enough, but around four measures at a medium tempo gives more leeway. Since saxophones are the only woodwinds strapped around the neck, it’s always easier to switch from saxophone to flute/clarinet/etc. than to switch back to saxophone.


Try to keep rhythm section parts as short as possible. If you can only fit the music on 7 pages, try to find a spot for them to turn pages halfway through. For example, if the piano goes to one hand for four bars midway through page 3, try to reformat those bars at the bottom of the page instead (or the top of the next page). This frees up one hand for the page turn.


Sometimes the best solution is to create repeat signs that only apply to the rhythm players and not the voice, horns, or anyone else. This usually involves creating two files for a score –one that’s just for rhythm, and one for everyone else. Taking a small amount of time for the performers will make their lives immensely easier. Be sure to mark rehearsal letters accordingly to avoid confusion.


Read through each part before printing. Imagine being the performer and dealing with the challenges you’ve laid before them. Are they reasonable challenges? Is there a way to make them easier without taking away from the musicality of the piece? I generally prefer practicality over virtuosity.


Unless you know the musicians in the ensemble intimately, don’t assume that they can perform super-human feats.


So in conclusion:


1) Don’t hide big downbeats. Especially beat 3.


2) Give as little information as possible.


3) Put everything the musicians need to know right in front of them.


4) When in doubt, use words.


5) Avoid codas and repeats. Keep the musician’s eyes moving left to right, up to down.


6) Keep double barlines and rehearsal letters near the left side of the page.


7) Be consistent within a single chart.


8) Never write an eighth note on a downbeat unless you’re in 6/8, 9/8, etc…


9) Sharps ascend and flats descend in chromatic sections, but not in modal or scalar sections.


10) Make 3rds look like 3rds and scales look like scales.


11) Horns need to breathe, drummers can’t turn pages, and pianists only have two hands.


Follow these simple rules and you’ll be golden.

By The Numbers

“Love is the best school, but the tuition is high and the homework can be painful.”

-Diane Ackerman


I have two degrees in music: a BM in Jazz Studies and a MM in Theory & Composition. So when I say that music school is mostly a scam, I speak as someone who has gone through it twice.


Maybe scam is a bit harsh… My professors were giving and caring. I learned more than I could have hoped for, and I sincerely doubt that I’d be making a living today as a professional musician and composer if it weren’t for my studies at university.


My bone to pick isn’t with any of the teachers, but with admissions, the loan process, and the simple math behind it all. But we’ll get into that in a bit.


First I want to draw your attention to the new prices in our online store. Many scores have been slashed in half –some even less. Plus, check out the addition to my Jazz Duets for Saxophone! The price is still slashed, and anyone who has purchased the duets previously has already had this one sent to them for free.


And to top that off, we’re launching our Back-To-School Sale! Get 50% off the entire store by using the promo code:



Did you check out the store yet? I’ll wait here watching this video until you’re done.



Okay, now that that’s taken care of we’ll get back on topic: My first and biggest issue with music college is the sheer number of schools out there. Going to school for music didn’t use to be a regular thing; there were a few select conservatories. Many musicians didn’t even go to those schools. They learned from an older generation and from experience going up through the ranks.


C.P.E. Bach went to law school. Joshua Redman has a degree in Social Studies and nearly pursued law himself. Granted, both had virtuoso musicians for fathers, but they learned the old fashioned way –trial and error coupled with an abundance of natural talent.



The first music schools were really intended for the religious class (monks, priests, etc.) or the servant class associated with church music. They were never intended to cultivate careers –they were meant to train one in a skill used to humbly live in servitude. But let’s take a look at the modern university:


Numbers on music schools are a little difficult to gather, but at a glance there are 27 music colleges in New York City. Now every school is different, but Manhattan School of Music has their enrollment statistics posted online: 113 undergraduate jazz majors. Presumably, MSM has a larger body of students than the average music school (not only one of the elite jazz schools, it’s also strictly a music conservatory), but let’s take a look at some of their numbers:


With a graduation rate of 73%, they’re releasing about 21 new jazz musicians into the New York scene yearly. If, between the 27 music schools in NYC, they average only half of what MSM graduates every year, that’s roughly 277 new jazz musicians on the scene every year. Maybe a city with a population of 8 million people can absorb 277 new jazz cats. So let’s take a look at how many gigs there are:


Well, there are approximately 148 jazz venues in NYC. This doesn’t include the random brunch spot, wedding gigs, or busking. If each venue features live jazz 5 nights a week (some will be 7, some only 2 or 3), that’s about 740 gigs per week available to the 33,000 musicians that are active in NYC (that’s right, someone actually keeps track of these things). If 2/3 of those venues feature two acts a night (the major ones do not), that’s about 1,233 gigs available each week.


If the average sized band is a quintet, it works out to 0.18 weekly gigs available per musician. That’s right: not even one gig per month! The future’s not looking bright for those 277 young musicians entering the scene. With school costs around $22,000, that’s over $6 million invested from each graduating class!


Just stop a second and think about how ridiculously out of line those numbers are with the reality of the job market…


So how does the city come even close to supporting the tens of thousands of musicians that call it home? Some are doing the wedding band circuit (which is being taken over by DJs). Others perform at local cabarets or school musicals (which are being taken over by mp3 players). Many teach all day or work in a music shop and simply call themselves musicians to support their ego. Some are in a transition period where they need to pick up extra work on the side doing odd jobs.


Don’t get me wrong –I’m not implying that just because someone isn’t making their primary income from gigging that they aren’t monstrous virtuoso musicians. The difference between amateur and professional is just a basic matter of definition (and not a matter of ability).



It certainly isn’t fair for an institution to take hundreds of thousands of dollars every year with no return. It isn’t healthy either –especially when we are all paying for it together.


Many students take advantage of government- and bank-backed loans that easily total over $10,000 per student per year. Since the majority of music students graduate with little or no work prospects, most of these loans are subsidized further through government tax relief. So we pay not only to send hundreds of thousands of youths to music school without returns, we pay the interest on those loans for years or decades.


It’s a system that is very beneficial to banks, but not to the families that pay for it or the musicians who are entering a bleak career field. It’s a very profitable racket for universities, many of which accept larger class sizes every Fall.


Granted, this same situation can happen in any field –not just music. There are certainly engineering majors or nursing majors who also graduate unable to find a job, but there must be fewer than those in the arts and entertainment.


Of my graduating undergraduate class of roughly two-dozen performance majors, I only know of 3 others that are independently making a living at music full time. That isn’t a proud record, in spite of the overwhelming talent that graduated beside me. I was only able to make it as far as I have through extreme hard work, sacrifice, a very supportive family, and more than my fair share of luck.


So what’s the solution to this problem? It’s (relatively) simple, and two-fold:


1) Smaller and fewer music departments. We can’t control what private schools do, but many states have multiple colleges and universities that each offers their own Bachelor’s programs in music. Instead they should consolidate, and only have one per geographic-region (or state) that offers a major degree (the remainder can offer Artist’s diplomas and/or minor degrees).


2) Target student loans. Student loans are a great investment provided there is a return. Since the government will pay off the loans no matter what, the banks have every incentive to back what would otherwise be a “bad” loan. The government may not have the best track record at sticking its fingers in the economy, but we should really be targeting the bulk of our loans toward the technical job fields.


Young artists, musicians, actors, dancers, and writers who truly deserve support should be awarded loans through a competition-based scholarship. Currently the loans are given out indiscriminate of talent, but performance-based jobs certainly are not. In truth, I may not have been eligible for such a loan in my youth; I was a late bloomer (and I admittedly would not have gotten where I am without my college professors). But I still could have gotten a loan for a music education program and grown through that experience.


These scholarships should be awarded with the oversight of college educators and local professionals. They would be the most experienced in recognizing the talent necessary to make a career in music.


My advice to young students think about a career in music is simple: Only consider it if you are truly willing to sacrifice. I love my life, but I didn’t get here without a lot of hurt walking a hard path. It still may not be easy for me going forward either; a musician never knows what lies ahead of him or her.


A real option is taking private lessons and attending weekly jam sessions. 4 years of devoted study at $50 a week ($2,600 annually) with an experienced teacher is considerably cheaper than the cost of college, and it gives you the opportunity to move immediately into the work force.


To conclude, I do not regret going to music school. I have the highest respect for my teachers and for the education I received. However, I am not blind to the problems with the system. I want nothing more than arts and culture to thrive in our society –I simply want to see the musicians we do graduate to make use of their knowledge, not to rot in a limbo of joblessness.


The Cooker

“The saxophone lives in a strange world. It’s neither fish nor fowl. Not brass yet not quite a woodwind. The saxophone has never been fully embraced by classical music or by the classical orchestra and, outside of the jazz world, the saxophone has a poor reputation. This can sometimes seem confining. It is, however, an amazing instrument with huge possibilities that have only been partially explored.”

-Lenny Pickett

Let’s talk about motivic development.

But first, let’s talk about Stefan Redtenbacher. And then Lenny Pickett.

We have much to discuss… Plus a solo transcription!

Stefan Redtenbacher is a funky bassist all the way from Salzburg, Austria. A product of both the Vienna Music Conservatory and Berklee College of Music, he landed in London where he has become a staple of the world funk scene. With his own ensemble, the Redtenbacher Funkestra, he’s pooled together some of the greatest living talent into a hard-hitting, super tight funk band.

While Redtenbacher is a virtuo bassist himself, the most famous member of the band may be his drummer, Mike Sturgis, who’s toured with everyone from David Bowie to Bob Mintzer. The Funkestra also features a slue of A-list guest musicians, not the least of which is Lenny Pickett.

As an aside, I recommend you check out Redtenbacher’s website for some hip bass transcriptions!

Lenny Pickett is one of the most profound saxophone players to go through the legendary Tower of Power Horns, but is, perhaps most well known to the public as the current Saturday Night Live musical director.

Scratch that. He’s most well known for recording on a Katy Perry album.

But aside from recording Kenny G’s greatest sax-syncing paycheck ever, Pickett has shaped the way that the funk/R&B saxophone sounds. From his stint with Tower to working with the Borneo Horns to becoming the sound that people fall asleep to every Saturday before Showtime at the Apollo comes on, Pickett’s altissimo-centric sound has become iconic.

Now let’s take a look at today’s featured transcription:


The Cooker - Tenor Sax_0001

The Cooker - Tenor Sax_0002



You can download the solo for C, Bb, and Eb instruments by clicking here.


I recommend that younger student don’t waste their time attempting the altissimo register without consulting their private teachers first. Instead, learn the solo in an octave you can manage. Be sure to play along with the recording!

As I mentioned earlier, this post is really about motivic development. Since the solo is comprised entirely by the blues scale, there really isn’t much to talk about in terms of harmonic or melodic development. And because there is a very definitive structure to the solo, our previous discussion on implied form is irrelevant.

First, a brief definition: A motif is a brief musical phrase (usually 2 measures or less). Sometimes a single musical phrase contains multiple motifs within it. Motivic development is the act of elaborating, inverting, retrograding, transposing, or otherwise altering a single motif to create a coherent musical idea. We’ll be exploring exactly that today.

Pickett’s solo uses chiefly three motifs. The first (which we will call motif one, or M-1) is in the second beat of the solo: Descending eighth notes from A to F#. This is repeated in the beginning of measure 3.

The second motif (which we will call M-2) is in the first half of measure 4: ascending sixteenth notes A-B-C#. Interestingly enough, he resolves M-2 using M-1 in measure four.

The third motif (M-3, of course) is in measure 6, a descending blues line.

Arguably, a fourth rhythmic motif exists (bars 17-19 and 23-24), but we won’t be dealing with rhythmic development today.

To recap:
M-1 = A-F# descending
M-2 = A-B-C# ascending sixteenths
M-3 = Blues descending


The Cooker annotated_0001


The solo begins with M-1 repeated several times, with a brief introduction of M-2 in bar four (resolved with M-1). M-3 makes an appearance in measures 5 and 6.

Now that the motifs have been introduced, Pickett begins to develop them. Firstly, M-1 is developed in measures 7 and 8. The original A-F# motif is expanded to B-F#, C-F#, and C#-F#. Changing one note in a motif such as this creates both excitement and musical tension as the interval increases.

Measure 9 into 10 exhibits M-2 once again, undeveloped. Pickett proceeds to M-3, which always looks and sounds different but provides the same blues flourish.

Now back to M-1 in measure 13. This time a B is inserted between the A-F#. Elaboration, or the addition of grace notes and ornamentation, is an old composers technique to get more out of a simple motif. Pickett’s use hides some of the original motif, but the descent to F# is still prevalent.

Next, M-1 is developed once more through the use of octave displacement (measure 14) –a fancy term that means the F# is played up the octave while the A remains the same.

Bar 15 yields an inverted M-2 (C#-B-A) resolved with an M-3.

Now Pickett gets away from motivic development and focuses instead on rhythmic variation, but he never ignores his old friend M-2, which reappears at the end of bar 19 (this time on the downbeat)

The Cooker annotated_0002

Measure 20 into 21 brings back the descending third of M-1 back, this time modulated to C#-A. Then once M-3 is once again used as resolution (measures 21 and 25)

Now the motif M-2 is juggled around and transposed. Instead of sixteenth notes A-B-C#, we have C-A-B. The C# is modulated to C and displaced to the beginning of the phrase. This displacement could be argued as a new motif, but it is not dissimilar to the way atonal composers handle tone rows. In annotation, I’ll refer to this as M-2T (motif 2 transformed).

The transformed M-2 is intermittently punctuated with M-1. Ultimately, M-3 is used in its familiar capacity of resolution (bar 28 into 29).

M-2T reappears briefly in measure 31 followed by M-3. The solo is ultimately resolved, however, with a final M-1.

Relentless And All Strung Out

“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.”

― Leonard Bernstein


When most people hear what I do for a living, they think I have an easy life. And I really can’t complain; I get paid to travel the world and play for thousands of people every night. My music has been performed in half a dozen different countries. During the day I get to dine on exotic foods by the beach, and most nights are spent laughing with friends under the stars.


So when I tell someone my life is stressful, I get a lot of eye rolls. But I was reminded exactly how stressful the musician life can be when I stopped by the doctor for a simple wellness check; my blood pressure was over 150.


I had been rehearsing and traveling for two weeks, eating poorly and sleeping even worse. I had roughly 6 hours of music to learn, some of it memorized. I was working with a new band, new equipment, and in a new venue. My reeds were all shot and I was putting in 10-hour days. I had no time to exercise, eat right, or unwind.


Sure, I was happy –but I was still stressed out beyond belief. A few days later, my blood pressure was back to normal, but it was a stark reminder of how fast things can spiral out of control when you stretch yourself too thin.



According to a survey done for The British Performing Arts Medical Trust, musicians exhibit “unbelievably high levels” of stress and depression, with 70 percent suffering performance anxiety. I see it all the time: It starts as a weary and run down musician that forgets to take repeats or codas. It ends with a severe physical injury, an alcohol abuse problem, or at worst a complete mental break down.


The trick is evaluating your stress, managing it, and at times using it to your advantage.


As a performer you need to be aware of when stress is piling on. Musicians frequently have slow periods and busy periods (like Christmas and New Years). Because of this, we feel obligated to overload ourselves (sometimes double- or even triple-booking gigs) during the heavy seasons in order to sustain ourselves through the lighter times.


When you’ve only got a few gigs a week, little notes on a calendar can help you stay on track. But if the work starts piling up, it becomes almost mandatory that you write out schedules for yourself. Seeing your life written on paper can help you make the important decisions of what to prioritize.


In grad school I found myself staying up till 3:00 or 4:00 AM working on scores or analysis only to wake up a few hours later for an early morning rehearsal. When I started keeping a written schedule, I understood when and where I needed to cut edges (maybe doing a simpler reharm for my jazz arranging class instead of reinvented the dominant 7 chord) and where I needed to push myself a little harder (shedding for a big gig that weekend).


I also had a stronger realization of when my free time was. A quick glance at my schedule might show me that Saturday between 6:00-11:00pm was “me time”. That knowledge would relieve a lot of the stress: a finish line, an end in sight.


One of the more memorable anecdotes I’ve heard about Gil Evans describes his curse as a perfectionist. He was supposedly still marking parts for Sketches of Spain moments before they cut the first take. True or not, the story illustrates how there is no perfect scenario, no chance for perfection in the professional world. We work with the time given and do our best to put out a more than satisfactory product. Even with these limitations, however, genius is still very reachable.



Sometimes stress can be a tool that musicians use to our advantage. Just as the stress of a deadline with Miles Davis drove Gil Evans to arrange one of the greatest albums of all time, we can utilize stressful situations to elevate ourselves beyond the boundaries of our normal ability and cognition.


Just as pressure can turn coal into diamonds, performing in a large venue or with a famous headliner can push a mediocre musician to greatness by virtue of bodily changes that happen with stress.


According to UC Berkeley researchers:

…Acute stress – short-lived, not chronic – primes the brain for improved performance.

In studies on rats, they found that significant, but brief stressful events caused stem cells in their brains to proliferate into new nerve cells that, when mature two weeks later, improved the rats’ mental performance.


Every semester at my alma mater, we put on a festival featuring a jazz-household name. As soon as he or she stepped on stage to play with the students, the level of musicianship skyrocketed –even if the headliner wasn’t blowing. Why? The positive stress of being in such close proximity to greatness forced the students to utilize technique and talent that had been stored but previously untapped in a performance situation.


One of my guilty pleasures is watching Hell’s Kitchen. The show pits a number of contestants, all trained professional chefs, against each other, vying for a head chef position worth $250,000 a year. They are taught and judged by Gordon Ramsay, one of the most famous and widely renowned chefs in the world. The show is aired in primetime on a network station for an audience of potentially millions.


It is exactly the type of stress that can make or break someone. Chefs who are underdogs in the early rounds frequently rise to the top by the end of the season. Likewise, strong contenders early on often crack under the pressure and become self-destructive.


On the show, they make elegant, gourmet dishes. But what is the most challenging plate? In the early seasons of the show it appeared to be the not-so-difficult risotto or scallops that tripped everyone up. Lately, however, the culprit has been the lowly egg.





These are seasoned chefs making mistakes that an 8 year old wouldn’t. Stress has turned them completely dysfunctional and self-destructive.


Don’t let yourself get as scrambled fried yolked hot under the collar omelleted as these chefs. Vent your stress in healthy and productive ways: exercise, laugh, treat yourself to a nice meal, indulge a guilty pleasure, go on a day trip.


Stress builds character, and like a well-toned muscle, a little bit of stress here and there can make you stronger –not weaker. But just like a muscle, if you take on more than you can handle, you can leave yourself crippled for a long time.


Mister Magic

“It goes on to relating to people too, because how many times have you seen a musician with a little infant? And the musician will be playing, and you will see a whole range of emotions walk across their face -which means that you are communicating. ”

-Grover Washington Jr. on why he plays music


Welcome back from an unexpectedly long break! As I’ve said before, we all need a vacation every now and again. Of course, my vacation came with a bunch of projects, deadlines, and some computer trouble to boot. But that’s all over now, and it’s time to start fresh again with a song for the beautiful Spring weather…


Grover Washington Jr. is a surprisingly controversial figure for someone so equally talented and humble. These qualities haven’t stopped musical icons as big as Leonard Feather or the Heath brothers from hurling insults his way for fathering the genre of smooth jazz. Love him or hate him, the Buffalo native was able to metabolize the sound of the pop saxophone from its gritty R&B roots to what may be the most common wind instrument on mainstream American radio today.


In 1971, Washington was lucky enough to be in the studio to record Inner City Blues. The alto sax part was supposed to be performed by Hank Crawford, but Washington asked if he could try laying down the track (in addition to his tenor part) since Crawford wasn’t in the studio that evening. The producers agreed, and the rest is history.



In 1975, Washington would record one of his most popular title tracks, Mister Magic, which critics met with better than average reviews, invoking Prestige Record’s Gene Ammons as a possible influence. Let’s see what we can learn from a minute of Washington’s virtuosic playing.


Download the transcription in Bb

Download the transcription in Eb

Download the transcription in Concert

Mister Magic Bb


Washington’s chief tool is of course, the Dm Pentatonic Scale (D-F-G-A-C). He emotes through the 5 pitches chiefly using rhythmic variation and alternating scalar and arpeggiated patterns.


But what I really want to talk about is implied form. In terms of notation, this solo section is essentially a straight concert Cm vamp. However, Washington uses chord substitutions and timbre changes to create the illusion of double bar lines, form, and structure.


The first 8 bars of the solo are marked by syncopated lines throughout the middle of the staff. The sixth measure emphasizes the fourth degree, G. As you’ll see, Washington uses his melody to create the illusion of a i-IV-i progression.


At bar 9, Washington leaves space, almost punctuating the end of an 8 bar section. He then proceeds to create a new motif at bar 14. It repeats in bar 16, but this time emphasizing the G. As before, this creates an illusion of harmonic movement as Washington implies a suspended i-IV progression (which was previously resolved to back to Dm). This suspension creates… well… suspense to imply another double bar line and the start of a new section at measure 17.


Here, Washington resolves his lines, outlining a sort of Fmaj6. Now we can bicker and argue about what was actually going through the soloist’s mind, and we certainly have to agree that the solo never leaves Dm, but bear with me:


The B natural and E natural not only contribute to that iconic Fmaj7#11 sound, but they also are idiomatically used to outline an F major resolution in bebop (C-B-C, A-G#-A, F-E-F) versus the C# that you would expect to see if we were in D. This departure from the mostly exclusive pentatonic sound is even more evidence that we’ve entered a new structural part of the form.



As for the rest of my implied chords, they are largely irrelevant except for the A chord (whether it’s an altered A7 or simply an Am chord is not as important as the root’s function). Measures 19-23 show an unprecedented use of the pitch, hammering home this idea that we’ve somehow modulated toward the five chord.


After ultimately returning home to Dm, the listener is left with the feeling of a rounded ABA type form. After 28 measures, it really feels like we’ve navigated through one chorus of a solo with the basic structure of i-i-V-i (or maybe i-i-III-i).


And for your bonus:

New Year’s Resolutions

Last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.

-T.S. Eliot


My closest followers have probably noticed a slight lapse in the content being added to the site. It’s certainly not intentional, but a simple consequence of being a working musician –the Holidays are never a time to relax.


So, I wanted to let you all know a little bit about what’s in store for 2014. Most of us make New Year’s resolutions, so I’ve decided to make a few of my own:


-Expect to see a plethora of content being added this year. Not only will I be uploading new scores to the store, but free downloadable content and lessons in this blog.


More transcriptions! I have a few in mind, including a virtuosic clarinet solo by Paquito D’Rivera and a bluesy sax solo by the great Lenny Pickett (not the Katy Perry one). I’ll also try to branch out to some non-woodwind solos as well. My aim is to please as many tastes as possible.

(Yes, that’s Kenny G miming a Lenny Pickett solo. Maybe that should be a post in and of itself.)


-I’ll finally launch my Youtube page in full with some great video content. You’ll see interviews, how-to’s, DIY’s, and maybe even a little bit of humor.


Sorry for the brevity, but check back in to start seeing these resolutions become reality!