1 The Empowered Musician The Infinite Guitar
What is Real Music to You?
Published November 6th, 2006. © Chris Juergensen/chrisjuergensen.com. All Rights Reserved.

More of your questions answered - This is one of the hardest questions I've had to answer and really gave me a chance to think about what makes good music. I've also included some examples of music I think make the grade.

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Q: Can you tell me what real music is to you?

A: This is a difficult question, I'll do my best. First let me clarify my answer before I give it. I'll give my answer to you assuming you want advice on becoming a good composer and musician. I'll do my best to point you in the direction I think is best. Your question finishes with the important three words; "is to you." So please consider my answers my own opinion. After all beautiful music is in the ear of the beholder.

Rocket Science - I think as practicing musicians, we risk making the mistake of concluding music is some sort of sport rather than what it really is, a form of expression. In its finest examples, music can be an enormous emotional experience, making us cry or laugh, feel great or depressed. Music has a wonderful quality that ties events to it. I can still smell my first real girlfriend Lisa's perfume when I hear "our song" in passing (thirty years after the fact). Of course music should have some kind of technical expertise figured into the equation. I mean, as a musician I enjoy hearing technically proficient musicians playing. But, I will also add that it is not the only thing important about music. Matter of fact, if that was the only good thing about a specific musician or band, technical expertise, I would probably not listen for any length of time. Take a minute and try to remember the time in your life when you first really got into music. Way before you started to learn your scales or music theory. You didn't think about if the guitar player was great or what kind of arpeggios he was playing. You most likely were in some way moved by the music. It somehow connected with you. You have heard it before but I will tell you once again: There are thousands of phenomenal musicians out there... So what? The musicians and music that is set apart has something different added into the equation:

Emotion - Is there a story? Besides the actual music, is there something being said? Of course, when there are lyrics involved, it is easier to say something. Music has the ability to create enormous emotional impact. The reason is simple; it is because a song is sort of a poem set to music. One multiplies the other. The music should create a backdrop for a statement, a canvas for a landscape. I often ask students; "Why do you think there is music, in all cultures, throughout all man's history?" The answers give you a hint to how to create music or at least help clarify your compositional goal. Searching for the answer to this question has been a task for me since I started playing the guitar thirty years ago. Let us examine music and our lives and the lives of our ancestors who undoubtedly created music before they even had a written language. Once again the question to be answered: Why do we make music?

Emotional Tool - I think that music is a tool to stir our emotions, motivate us to do the difficult, create an atmosphere conductive to talking to God or the spirit, comfort us in our troubled moments, help us enjoy the good times and rejoice. Think a second about what music started out as. I often imagine Africa thousands of years ago, and percussion being the first type of music. Maybe they made music to help them talk to God, the whole village in unison with the musicians, dancing and asking for rain or game. Have you ever been to a church that didn't have some kind of music? I've listened to music at both the local Baptist church in Los Angeles and at Saint Peter's Cathedral in Rome and at a temple here is Tokyo. Music is there to help us celebrate marriage or mourn death, connect with God and connect with our lovers. Maybe music helped prepare hunters for the kill. It takes a lot of motivation to kill an animal without a gun; music could turn the soul to a complete frenzy. Music helps us focus on the tasks ahead, dealing with our jobs and private battles, loves and hates, insecurities and infidelities. I've also come to the conclusion that when the soul moves the body follows, in dance or battle. It also probably helped us to pass on our stories and history before there was written language. Putting words to music, makes it a lot easier to remember. My four year old daughter can say the alphabet unless she sings it.

Melody - Especially regarding instrumental music, melody will become of the most importance. The melody has to have some kind of emotional impact. Does the melody by itself create a mood? Even without words does the song create a sense of anger, love, loneliness, happiness? Besides the melody itself, how is it played? Did the artist play it like he meant it? Jeff Beck always amazes me the way he interprets a theme.

Being Musically In Touch - I don't know exactly how to describe this so I've picked "In Touch" as my paragraph opener for the lack of something better. What I mean by this is that players can be technically proficient but not necessarily "in touch." In touch may mean maybe a sort of "sense" or "insight" if you will. Maybe "connected" is a better word. How can you get in touch? For me this means that you will have to back step and discover the roots of today's music and the roots of yesterday's music for that matter. For me the answer is simple: Blues. Ninety-nine percent of today's players will tell you that the Blues is easy but I have almost never heard anyone play is convincingly. It is not about playing the minor or major pentatonic scale over the twelve bar progression it is about the chord tones, timing, phrasing and motif and about the "story". If you don't get the blues together, you will be like the other ninety-nine percent of the players who are not "in touch." No matter what style of music you play, it started in the Blues so if you don't have it, your music will always be a big bore.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse - There is so much music written for the sake of a technical challenge rather than for the song. It should be the opposite. There are too many musicians who start writing their songs by thinking; "Let's see, I'll start out with a bar of 7/4 and follow it by a bar of 5/4. Not that odd time signatures are a bad thing but the process is wrong. I love to use the Beatles as an example. Think of the song "All you Need is Love." My four year old daughter loves for me to sing the song to her but she doesn't realize that there is a bar of three following the bar of four. She doesn't know that the E7 chord going to the Amin chord in the key of C can be analyzed as a V7/vi chord. A song that can hold a three year olds attention and mine at the same time is genius.

Tonally Dialed In - The great musicians are very tone sensitive. Getting the right tone makes it that much easier to make your statement. The choice of guitars and amps can make or break a great tune. Try to pay special attention to what the players you like are using. Miles Davis is easily identified by his sound as well as Jimi Hendrix.

Easy on the Ears - This takes me to my final point. The true genius song writers/musicians are the ones (just like the Beatles) manage to appeal to a wide audience and yet maintain a level of superb musicianship. I saw Jeff Beck a few months ago in Tokyo and he is a perfect example. He played instrumental music and sold out three nights at Tokyo's International Forum. Some good examples of songs that are easy on the ears but at the same time very harmonically complex are "Fall" written by Wayne Shorter and "Birdland" on the Weather Report CD "Heavy Weather" written by Joe Zawinul.

Candy for the Ears - An interesting arrangement can make the difference between a great song and a masterpiece. What exactly is an arrangement anyway? It means that you or someone who is an arranger takes a song and adds some hair on it. This "hair" could come in the form of many different things. It could mean an intro, a string part, a big fat B3 or percussion. It could also mean a rearrangement of the form of the song to make it easier on the ears. Guitarists, yours truly included, generally make for lousy arrangers. Keyboardists do a better job. Some arrangements I like are "Tonight's the Night" by Rod Stuart, the way the B3 and guitar get sort of mixed up in the intro. How about "Strawberry Fields" on the Sgt. Pepper's recording? Imagine "Cashmere" from the Zeppelin CD "Physical Graffiti" without the string arrangement. The whole "Dark Side of the Moon" by "Pink Floyd" is an arranging/mixing masterpiece. Jazz when played by a small group such as a quartet doesn't call for much arranging but the same simple songs can be arranged for Big Band which is a whole different thing all together. For some good Big Band arranging check out any Bob Minzer Big Band recordings or for more of a rock vibe check out "The Brian Setzer Orchestra." Some producers are know for their arranging and orchestrating chops.

Two Brains - Most of the most memorable music around today was done by two people. It seems that more often than not the chemistry of two creative powers can create music of enormous magnitude. Plant and Page are one example. Another, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul from Weather Report. How about Lennon and McCartney? It is an enormous undertaking to write music, then arrange it and write the lyrics (if the song is not an instrumental). Artists often hire someone on to take care of the writing and arranging and this is another kind of artistic chemistry. Miles hired on Wayne Shorter in the 60s and Marcus Miller later on. Jeff Beck used Max Middleton on the groundbreaking release Blow by Blow (on top of that the record was produced by George Martin). Elton John used Bernie Taupin to write the lyrics for his hit songs. I've also heard that Lyle Mays used to take Pat Metheny's melodic ideas and make full compositions of them. It is difficult to imagine what "Sgt. Peppers" would have come out as if George Martin wasn't involved in the process. The only artist I can think of that pretty much took care of everything himself was Jimi Hendrix but it is still interesting to imagine what kind of music would have been created if Jimi had found his musical soul mate (not too many people know it but Jimi was hanging around with Miles before he died). Anyway, my point here is that sometimes it is a good idea to work with someone else and most of the better music that has been released was created this way.

You'll have to let me apologize to you, unlike my other lessons I have not included scales or arpeggios for you to try. No sequences to baffle you either. But I wanted you to know that although these things are important, it is half the battle, the other half is your story and the way you connect to your listener.


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