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eNotes, Issue #002
August 21, 2007
I hope you are having a wonderful summer. In this issue of eNotes, you are in for a surprise. I have just finished transcribing the interview I had with Peter Eldridge from the highly-acclaimed vocal jazz quartet called "The New York Voices".
Also, I have included a section for the pianists out there (and singers too for that matter!). You will learn some easy tips for how to figure out a song by ear! You'll see that it is not nearly as mysterious as you think it would be.
And finally, the program that I have spoken about in past issues called "PLAYING WITH STYLE - Easy Tricks and Fun Techniques for Playing Piano in 12 Different Styles" is AVAILABLE! It is a book and 2 CD's. I'm very proud of how it came out and I think you'll get a lot of valuable information on how to enliven your music! If you click on this link, it'll take you directly to the product page on my web-site to order your copy. In the next few days, I will be adding all of the other products for singers and pianists that I have written (mostly by me).
Playing With Style
Debbie: Hello, Peter. I wanted to ask you some questions about your background and the New York Voices. First of all, how did the New York Voices get started and can you tell us more about your group?
Peter: Sure. We met in college. Three of the four of us all went to Ithaca College in upstate New York and were part of the vocal jazz group there. Dave Riley, took some of his favorites over to a jazz festival. Darmon, Kim and I were part of that. The experience went over so well that we thought, what if we really try to do this. We were all living in different parts of the east coast.
Debbie: And how long have you been together?
Peter: Oh, twenty years! Itís pretty daunting.
Debbie: Well, in the music industry thatís a very long time.
Peter: Yes, we get asked a lot what we are most proud of and we say ďthat we still do this and still get along and make the best of a pretty crazy businessĒ. Weíve been the little train that could. Weíve had a lot of incredible experiences along the way.
Debbie: What has been a high point?
Peter: Oh, gosh. . . . playing with Ray Brown over in Finland, having Bobby McFerrin come up on stage and join us, singing on Nancy Wilsonís album.
Debbie: I notice that you have been doing a lot more international travel.
Peter: We do. We are probably better known over there than here in some regards. We keep hoping that will change. We have pockets of the states that know us and we seem to have a sort of underground, cult following that is very devoted and loyal.
Debbie: Well, you sold out Scullers (jazz club in Boston) last week.
Peter: Yes, Boston is really a second home for us. They have helped us start our relationship with the Boston Pops who we have toured with a lot.
Debbie: I noticed at the Scullers gig that you went over to the piano and played. Do you write or arrange music for the group?
Peter: Oh sure. But Darmon is the chief cook and bottlewasher. But what I like to do more than anything is write songs but they donít always lend itself to the New York Voices. But when it does fit it is great. Itís fun to try to present a song with the harmonic element that will enhance the tune. Peter: I was a pianist first. I became a singer much much later. Singing always freaked me out. I would never sing by myself. I remember when I was in a childrenís chorus as a child, I was asked to do a solo and I went running from the room. There was no way I was going to sing by myself. I felt too vulnerable. It wasnít until college that the fear went away slowly. It wasnít until my sophomore year that I switched over from being a piano major to being a voice major.
Debbie: I noticed your piano skills there and most singers donít play. Which leads me to my next question? I teach a lot of piano students mainly how to play pop/jazz and I am a singer too. So I am interested in integrating those two Ė teaching the pianists how to sing and teach the singers how to accompany themselves. I wondered how important you feel your piano skills have been to your singing?
Peter: Well, incredibly important. Itís interesting though, how integrated I was to the piano as a singer. I realized that I would physicalize the notes on the piano. Now, being a singer, I try to teach the singers not to do that.
Debbie: Why is that?
Peter: Because you see the ascending and descending lines and you physicalize them in your body. One of the goals of good singing is freedom. You want to avoid lifting you voice and body up when you see an ascending line, for instance. Your head goes up and all kinds of bad habits that I find myself doing to this day! If anything, a melodic line comes from a horizontal place. The shape of the sound that youíre making is a vertical shape but the line itself is horizontal. For a lot of singers, when going from a low note to a high note, they tend to bring the weight of the sound up. On the other side of the coin, piano playing certainly helped my ear and being able to read intervals and be a good sight reader.
Debbie: Did you find your knowledge of theory to help you?
Peter: Absolutely! I recommend any singer to learn fundamental piano or guitar especially if you are going to jump into any realm of improvisation. Improvisation is like learning German. You donít just get up one day and say, ďheh, Iím just going to improvise my brains outĒ. Itís really understanding whatís going on underneath you and changes (chords) so being a piano player really helped me out a lot. I think itís so important even to just be able to play a triad like D7.
Debbie: In terms of vocal technique, in your private teaching at the Manhattan School of Music, what do you tell your students about strengthening their voice?
Peter: Thereís a number of exercises in terms of getting the breath going. I try to concentrate certainly on working to get the vowel sounds all resonating from a certain place. Most people would put the vowels all in different parts of the mouth and there are exercises to sort of line up the vowels so that they are all resonating in a more forward place. Especially for a jazz singer, that is a very important element Ė to make it conversational.
Debbie: Do you still get nervous before gigs?
Peter: For New York Voices gigs, not so much. I can do them with my hands tied behind my back! But for my solo gigs, I do get nervous because I donít do them enough. They are getting more frequent though. I try to give myself a few minutes before a gig to get myself centered. Not to sound too ďdiva-ishĒ but, for example, if there are friends in the audience, I try not hang out with them because that is too distracting. I need time to think about the music, be respectful of the music. I think about the composer, whether it is someone elseís tune or your own. Iíll think about the chord progressions and other things about the song.
Debbie: So you just need to really take the time to focus?
Peter: Yes, exactly, because there are so many things to distract you. You need to take a few moments to find the most relaxed and comfortable place that you can be in as well as the most concentrated.
Debbie: Do you have a solo CD?
Peter: Yes, three so far. You can visit my web-site at www.PeterEldridge.com. I am hoping to do a new one in the near future Ė mostly Brazilian stuff.!
Debbie: Well, I guess thatís it, Peter. Thanks so much for talking with me.
Peter: Youíre welcome, Debbie.
How many of you pianists out there feel like you could never figure out a song by ear? I think many people feel that way. Well, I am here to tell you that this is a totally achievable thing! Now, you wouldn't want to start with a Steely Dan or Stephen Sondheim song, but that leaves about a million other songs at the very least!
You see, in every key that you can play a song in, there are 3 Primary Chords that go with that key. In other words, you stand a 90 percent chance of seeing those Primary Chords REPEATEDLY in the key you are in. That begs the question - how do you know what those primary chords are? That's simple. The primary chords are the chords that are built on the first, the fourth and the fifth note of the scale you are in. The scale is the 8 notes that comprise the key. How do you what those notes are? I'm going to give you a great formula for finding the first, fourth and fifth note of any scale.
If you are starting with the key of C, the first five notes of the scale are CDEFG. We know this because there is a whole step between the first two notes (C-D), another whole step between the second and third notes (D-E), now a half step between the third and fourth notes (E-F) and finally a whole step between the fourth and fifth notes (F-G). So the pattern is
Now just make major chords beginning with the first, fourth and fifth notes and you have your Primary Chords. These chords will serve as the foundation for most songs that you play.
I suggest that you pick a simple melody that you will sing. Try a folk song or children's song. Start on middle C. Now as you sing, try putting the C, F and G major chords where you think they might go. Use your ear. Some chords will song good and others will sound blatantly wrong with the melody that you are singing.
This is how you start off learning to play by ear! More on this is the next eNotes newsletter!
Well, that's it for now. Fall is upon us (boo hoo!)so it's time to buckle down, get back to that piano and/voice and explore this wonderful, awesome world of music. As usual, consider me your consultant. So if you have any questions in your musical journey, send me a note and I'll try to help you!
All the best,
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