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Thread: Transposing tunes composed for horns

  1. #1
    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Transposing tunes composed for horns

    I've been playing a bit of 1920's era trad Jazz lately. Not being a facile reader, I learn tunes by repetition using the amazing slow downer (ASD).

    So many of these tunes were recorded in keys favored by horn players, especially Bb and Eb. Being primarily an old time music player, I am new to these keys. Its getting a bit easier to play in these horn keys as I expand my jazz repertoire, but remains a worthy challenge to my improv fluidity.

    Today I tried something new, using ASD to lower the Bix classic, “singing the Blues”
    From Eb to D. Doing that, I learned the changes and started developing lines and phrases immediately. It was a breath of fresh air.

    I'm curious what experiences the rest of you might share regarding the question: do I transpose or not?
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  3. #2

    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Eb and Bb are pretty common keys for jazz and swing. I would/did learn them.
    Play it like you mean it.

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  5. #3

    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    I have long wished that someone would transpose the Charlie Parker Omnibook into G.

  6. #4

    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    I hear you, Jim, but sorry that I can't help you. If a song is in Bb or Eb, my trio pretty much plays it in that key since I am usually the one singing the lyrics and flat keys fit my vocal range better than the sharps. Bb, in particular, is a pretty cool key and I actually enjoy doing tunes in it.

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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    If you're playing jazz, you're going to have to learn to play in those keys. A few reasons, a bunch of the repertoire is recorded in those keys and transcribed in those keys. If you're going to jam with other folks who know those tunes, they will play them in those keys. Asking them to transpose for you isn't going to go over well, unless you're a singer and that tune isn't in your range.
    So, the long answer is get used to playing in closed positions where you have few or no open strings.
    The quick answer, and one this jazz mandolin player uses (which I'm sure some will bash me for) is a capo. Buy one. use it. Don't give a damn what other people think.
    Capo at 1st fret and play in A and D.
    That doesn't mean not to learn to play closed position and develop a facility for playing in Bb and Eb. That will help you all over the finger board.
    In the meantime, you can still rely on what you already know to play those tunes now with the help of a capo.
    Spend time after you play with the capo and play without it to see what the differences are and learn about closed position playing. That in itself is an instructive lesson.
    Most of all, have fun!
    Best, Stevo

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    Registered User Pete Martin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    A friend of mine always says "there are no hard keys, just unfamiliar ones". He's right. If you spend time in a key, you will get comfortable there.
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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Jazz players get so smug about playing in the flat keys.

    But face it, Bb, Eb, Ab etc. is about the same for horn players as playing in C, G, D and/or A on a stringed instrument such as fiddle/mandolin. Let's see some of them hornies whip through an unfamiliar tune in concert E or B without some fumbling.

    Gb/F# is not a "friendly key" for C flute fingering.

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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    One of the main things that make the mandolin the greatest instrument in the world is it's symmetrical layout. By virtue of being tuned in fifths, patterns are consistent up, down and all around the fretboard. Learn a G major scale with open strings, you need only repeat that pattern up one string to play the D scale..up another yields A.
    Learn an A major scale using all fretted notes(no open strings).Now you have just learned all your major scales(!) as relocating that scale pattern to another fret yields a scale in another key..
    What does this mean concerning what key we play tunes in? Once one familiarizes oneself with patterns of tonality on the fretboard, aren't all keys accessible, same level of challenge? I think the answer is yes, and definitely easier to achieve on mandolin than other instruments.
    Concerning flat keys, I've found hanging out with Eb, Bb, F, Ab that they actually end up making more sense and offering more possibilities for improv ideas.
    Johnny Gimble was right though, "There aint nothing natural about B natuaral"..
    And Jethro often moved things to sharp keys, Jitterbug Waltz from Eb to D for example. But also said "get in one spot and milk it for all it's worth.." which I took to mean learn those closed fretted positions up and down the neck and live there...saves jumping around a lot.
    Yes there are tone differences between open and fretted strings, you'll want to have all of it at your disposal.
    Turn in your capos!
    The mandolin is your friend, sent from heaven. Easy to see where your going and find your own ideas on. Keep it fun and lots of good notes in all keys will come out.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Jim Nollman: what is unclear about your question is whether you are playing with other musicians or just fooling around with the tunes for yourself. Nothing wrong with transposing but also nothing wrong with playing in those unfamiliar keys. I have been exploring Quebecois and contra dance tunes originally written in F and Bb and (rarely Eb). Mandolin is pretty easy to find your way in these keys but I am also trying to work on intonation on the fiddle and even change positions. Challenges are good. However, I have not really played too many of these in public.
    Jim

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  18. #10
    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Thanks for all the good comments. Actually what I am doing is threefold. First, I'm practicing alone to learn some of the old jazz tunes I have always loved. I am fairly familiar with F from Scottish reels and strathspeys, but I have only ever played Bb on Garfield's Hornpipe, which sounds a lot like a simple version of something by Scott Joplin. So confronting Eb and Bb is my first challenge. If I ever play with a jazz band, I won't ask them to transpose to some key outside the canon. I have no interest to use a capo. And yet, it seemed effortless to play along with Bix's "Singing the Blues" after bumping it down to D.

    Second, I'm listening not only to the melody but also to the general technique of early jazz jamming. How do all those horns improvise almost all the time without actual soloing or even getting in each other's way? It is so much more captivating to me than the soloing structure of bluegrass or modern jazz.

    Third, once I get a grounding of old jazz improv technique, I plan to experiment with some of the more talented old time musicians I play with regularly. I think Bill Monroe probably did something similar when he introduced improvization to old time and called it bluegrass. He chose to introduce it as a series of solos, one at a time, rather than structuring it like New Orleans improv which is all at once and almost all the time. I do hear the influence of New Orleans jazz on arrangements by southern string band groups like Skillet Lickers and Leake County Revelers, although the scales, the syncopation and phrasing structure of early jazz is very different than most other old time, so I have no idea what the result will sound like.
    Explore some of my published music here

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    Registered User Bruce Clausen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Bevan View Post
    I have long wished that someone would transpose the Charlie Parker Omnibook into G.
    I'm pretty sure that book (like many other transcription books and fake books) came out in three forms: one each for C, Eb, and Bb instruments. A tune played in Bb on piano/guitar/etc. is in G for an alto sax player and in C for a trumpet or tenor sax. So you could get the Eb book and play all the tunes in the easy keys Bird himself was in.

    (But they still may not be all that easy to play.)

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  22. #12

    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Ya, but there's no Omnibook for Ab instruments ('cuz, do they exist?), where a tune that's in Eb (so, in C for Bird) would be written out in G.

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    '`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`' Jacob's Avatar
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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Horns - Low brass:
    Valves - All keys & modes are equally difficult/easy.
    3 or 4 valves - push the key, open the valve, play the note.
    Not quite in tune for all notes?
    "The fleas come with the dog."
    Slides - Different strokes.
    All notes can be played in tune, but, they do change locations.
    Hide & seek? (Alternate positions?)
    Sing through the horn.
    Play on.

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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Nollman View Post

    Second, I'm listening not only to the melody but also to the general technique of early jazz jamming. How do all those horns improvise almost all the time without actual soloing or even getting in each other's way? It is so much more captivating to me than the soloing structure of bluegrass or modern jazz.

    Third, once I get a grounding of old jazz improv technique, I plan to experiment with some of the more talented old time musicians I play with regularly. I think Bill Monroe probably did something similar when he introduced improvization to old time and called it bluegrass. He chose to introduce it as a series of solos, one at a time, rather than structuring it like New Orleans improv which is all at once and almost all the time. I do hear the influence of New Orleans jazz on arrangements by southern string band groups like Skillet Lickers and Leake County Revelers, although the scales, the syncopation and phrasing structure of early jazz is very different than most other old time, so I have no idea what the result will sound like.
    I'm not at all sure that Monroe "introduced" improvisation to string band music (what about Western Swing and its immediate predecessors?). But one thing is certain, he did NOT name a genre and it never was his intention to "invent" or originate one. The Bluegrass Boys were formed i 1939 and went through various stages of experimentation (mostly undocumented because of the recording ban) before Earl Scruggs joined the band in late 1945. And, really, BG as a genre did not exist until 1949 when Flatt & Scruggs took off on their own and early bands like the Stanley Brothers and Reno & Smiley were formed. The label "bluegrass" came even later. No one knows exactly when, but it was well established by the time Alan Lomax published his article in Esquire magazine in the late 50's.

    As for ensemble playing in NO jazz it's made possible by the farily well defined and formulaic roles of the clarinet and trombone (assuming the cornet or trumpet playing lead) in their respective ranges.

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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    Jazz players get so smug about playing in the flat keys.

    But face it, Bb, Eb, Ab etc. is about the same for horn players as playing in C, G, D and/or A on a stringed instrument such as fiddle/mandolin. Let's see some of them hornies whip through an unfamiliar tune in concert E or B without some fumbling.

    Gb/F# is not a "friendly key" for C flute fingering.
    Jazz players are supposed to master all keys; this is strongly emphasized in most books devoted to jazz didactics. One book exemplifies by citing All the Things You Are (5 keys), Body and Soul (3 keys), and Cherokee (4). Done in their printed keys they cover 10 major keys, only F (a rather common key) and F# are missing.
    However, a few keys, like A, E, and B, aren't used that much.

    And, of course, on mandolin and guitar that is no big issue at all (although Joe Pass advised beginners to avoid D, A, and E, because of those open strings).

    If you can play in A on mandolin you can play in Ab, just move your fingerings one fret back.

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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Stiernberg View Post
    Concerning flat keys, I've found hanging out with Eb, Bb, F, Ab that they actually end up making more sense and offering more possibilities for improv ideas.
    Johnny Gimble was right though, "There aint nothing natural about B natuaral"..

    And Jethro often moved things to sharp keys, Jitterbug Waltz from Eb to D for example.



    ANd, to quote Svend Asmussen (Danish is such a sexy language): "H dur (B major) har fem krydser (five sharps) og er en ikke eksisterende tonart (key) i jazz".

    Jehtro chose very strange keys, indeed, e.g., Corinne, Corinne (usually done in Bb) in G.

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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Learning to play in F Bb Eb etc is a good idea. I have a couple of thoughts.
    First, if you like swing music, Django and Stephane generally played in G C F and
    associated minor keys. There's a lot of repertoire and maybe local hot club musicians.
    The music is definitely Jazz -- 1930s and 40s American Songbook standards.
    Second, if you capo at the first fret and play in A, you are playing
    in Bb. Learn to avoid open strings [after a while] and then play them without the capo.
    You are playing movable scales. Do the same with D to Eb etc. This is just an exercise
    to get the feel of avoiding open strings, and recognize familiar chord forms.
    You do have to memorize the flat key progressions, and to think in those keys.
    Also, its really helpful to think in terms of "the 2 chord" "5 chord" etc.
    Basic Jazz stuff...

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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    ANd, to quote Svend Asmussen (Danish is such a sexy language): "H dur (B major) har fem krydser (five sharps) og er en ikke eksisterende tonart (key) i jazz"...
    That was a funny quote from Svend: "B major has five sharps and is a non-existent key in jazz".
    What a great musician he was. I was friends with him.
    Will send you a personal message here on Mandolin Cafe in a few days.
    --Joel

  32. #19
    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Frankly, if I was playing with horn players (but why would a mando [acoustic] even try to compete with them sonically? unless it was on electric and then you might as well go to a mandola or short scale octave down where lower sounds better)…… but say it was jazz with people (sonically compatible instruments) who insisted for some inane reason that it was criminal to play "Lullaby of Birdland" in Gm/Bb instead of Fm/Ab, I'd simply have a mandolin tuned down to F-C-G-D, and read off Bb instrument transposed lead sheets.

    PS: Aside from Boots Randolph, how many sax players played a C Sax? So why do mando players insist on jazz tunes on a G tuned instrument.

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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    J Let's see some of them hornies whip through an unfamiliar tune in concert E or B without some fumbling.
    I know of any number of horn players that can rip in those keys...even sightreading.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    I'd simply have a mandolin tuned down to F-C-G-D, and read off Bb instrument transposed lead sheets.
    I have one mandolin tuned down to Bb so I can read duets with my clarinet playing buddy.

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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    I'd simply have a mandolin tuned down to F-C-G-D, and read off Bb instrument transposed lead sheets.
    What a good idea. I never thought of doing that.

  35. #22
    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    A few more thoughts. As far as a mandolin playing with horns, I’ve done it a few times, my favorite was a few old time sessions with a tuba player. I recall having great fun with notey tunes without a lot of chord changes. Things like sandy boys, grub springs.

    I had dinner the other night with a clarinet player who has been playing trad jazz for many years. I asked him if New Orleans horn improv could be translated successfully to a string band of fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and bass. He told me that jug bands sometimes try that approach and it works ok up to a point.. He thought the New Orleans traditional style works so well because different horns sounds very different from each another, and all of them are able to play long sustained notes. String instruments are mostly a sound of many “pin pricks”, and it’s simply more difficult to differentiate what is what. For example an arpeggiating banjo can’t stay out of the niche of a fast cross picking mandolin, so to make it work for trad jazz, both would have to be restrained to playing single notes. To make his point, he described how trad jazz relies on the simple vamping of a percussive tenor banjo. That’s also one reason I own a mandolin built and sold as a jazz instrument. Slightly tubby with lots of pop and sustain.

    As far as the history of bluegrass. I wasn’t commenting on bill Monroe’s historical awareness of what he started, (of which I know nothing), but his evolved style of instrumentalists who were mostly steeped in Appalachian music, getting to play distinct solos one at a time. Even today, some session leaders I know refuse to allow even the hint of alternative note selection in an old time session.

    And lastly, can anyone here offer any recorded examples of a string band playing in the multiple improv style of New Orleans trad jazz?
    Explore some of my published music here

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  37. #23

    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Nollman View Post
    And lastly, can anyone here offer any recorded examples of a string band playing in the multiple improv style of New Orleans trad jazz?
    Well, the last "jam" that I attended had two guitarists playing over the top of my solo even though I had given each space to take their own solos earlier. It wasn't pretty and you should be glad it wasn't recorded.

    Have you seen this site? http://www.offbeat.com/articles/new-...f-the-century/

    This band, Edmond “Doc” Souchon’s 6 7/8 String Band, with rhythm guitar, mandolin, “Hawaiian” slide guitar and bass, may be the best surviving evidence of a string band in the style of collective improvisation on early ragtime, society, pop and novelty tunes played around the turn of the century.

    Isn't this the "collective improv" that you are looking for?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeFEAtFudCI

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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Here is what I came up with a youtube search on the string: "string band collective improvisation".

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntruYgVlFVM

    Not the same as collective horn improv, as you said the "tinky tinky tinky" of stringed melody lines doesn't work like smooth horn lines. Thus, they ended up chomping chords behind each solo.

  40. #25
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Transposing tunes composed for horns

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Nollman View Post
    I asked him if New Orleans horn improv could be translated successfully to a string band of fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and bass. He told me that jug bands sometimes try that approach and it works ok up to a point..
    As a native New Orleans string player, this guy is wrong.

    You can play jazz with a string band!

    Quote Originally Posted by James Vwaal View Post
    Have you seen this site? http://www.offbeat.com/articles/new-...f-the-century/

    This band, Edmond “Doc” Souchon’s 6 7/8 String Band, with rhythm guitar, mandolin, “Hawaiian” slide guitar and bass, may be the best surviving evidence of a string band in the style of collective improvisation on early ragtime, society, pop and novelty tunes played around the turn of the century.

    Perfect example, the 6 7/8 String Band.

    There used to be others in the past, the 6 7/8 String Band was together for many decades and is well known.

    So what about all the Gypsy jazz players? They sure play string band jazz.

    Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti?

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