Dear Nano: Why Circle-of-Fourths?

Each week, I’ll be answering questions based on Pogcast material. Feel free to post questions on the Patreon site. This is a question that’s been posed to me many times by students and will become increasingly relevant in Pogcast episodes:

Why should I memorize the circle-of-fourths? Especially since I’ve already memorized it as the circle-of-fifths…

To clarify, the circle-of-fifths (which seems to be more common in music education) moves clockwise up a perfect fifth interval, while the circle-of-fourths (see the top image) moves clockwise up a perfect fourth interval.

If you’ve already learned the circle-of-fifths, it’s going to initially be a little awkward memorizing the circle-of-fourths (like memorizing the alphabet backwards). But it’s super-helpful when learning jazz tunes and theory because so much of jazz harmony moves through circle-of-fourths progressions.

I’ll talk more about this in future episodes, but for now I want to show you how it works in “Over the Rainbow.” Note that the iRealPro chart used below (shown in C Major) is available as a Patreon exclusive. The blue arrows represent a circle-of-fourths movement.

Here’s a highlighted circle-of-fourths, so you can see what I mean:


There are several movements from C-F, then F-Bb. At the end of the ‘B’ section, there’s a long fourths-based progression: F#-B-E-A-D-G-C.  The only time the progression moves up a fifth is at the very end of the ‘A’ section, when it moves C-G.

A lot of the “hacks” I’m going to show you on the Pogcast are learning the underlying structures of jazz so that you can “chunk” information (memorizing one set of information, rather than 12 different keys). Learning the circle-of-fourths is crucial to building this kind of understanding.

Dear Nano: 10 Must-Know Tunes for Jam Sessions

Dear Nano is a weekly advice-column-like post to answer to questions posed by NoJ supporters. This week’s question:

What are the top 10 standards you need to memorize for jam sessions? When I go to one, I want to be able to call three tunes and not have people cringe because I don’t know one.

First, the bad news: every jazz musician has a different list of “must-know” jazz standards. In my opinion, you should memorize the tunes that you think are important and bring a tablet with iRealPro to jam sessions. If the musicians there make you feel ashamed for not knowing a tune, find a different jam session (or start your own!)

Which brings me to my next point – jazz musicians are way too focused on jam sessions. Sure, they’re a great way to network and try true group improvisation, but they’re focused on one level of musical development: individual musicianship (see bottom level in the pyramid above). In jam sessions, you’re building skills in and often being evaluated on just timekeeping and/or soloing.

While musicianship is a good foundation, you also need teamwork (the ability to function in an ensemble) and leadership (the ability to improve group performance) skills. So rather than focusing just on preparing for jam sessions, you’re better off booking a gig, putting together a group, and constructing a setlist with common tunes (which you can then call at jam sessions).

I put together the tune list above, broken up into two sets, trying to create stylistice variety:

  1. Bags’ Groove (F Blues)
  2. Autumn Leaves (Medium Swing)
  3. Oleo (Rhythm Changes)
  4. Body and Soul (Ballad)
  5. Take the ‘A’ Train (Medium Swing)
  6. Sonnymoon for Two (Bb Blues)
  7. Summertime (Minor Blues)
  8. Someday My Prince Will Come (Waltz)
  9. Blue Bossa (Latin)
  10. There Will Never Be Another You (Medium Swing)

Later this week, I’ll put together a byte-sized guide to bandleading. Musical leadership doesn’t necessarily mean weekly rehearsals and regular, high-profile gigs – it can be as simple as playing an occasional backyard barbeque. By leading the occasional gig, playing in ensembles, and going to occasional jam sessions, you’ll develop all three levels of musical development.

What tunes would be on your list of 10?

Dear Nano: Staying Sane as a (Female) Freelance Musician

For this week’s Dear Nano, I’m writing a guest post for my dear friend and colleague Lauren Husting. This month, she’s blogging about mental health, work-life balance, and other topics that are valued curricula here at Nanoversity of Jazz.

Dear Nano,

How does a freelancing musician find any time for herself? What does it look like to balance ‘always being on’ with a healthy approach to playing and performing?

Thanks,

Overwhelmed Minnesotan

First of all, I’m tickled that it’s week two of Dear Nano and already we’re getting formal notes with moniker signatures!

Second, it’s funny that you should mention finding “time for herself.” The vast majority of books about freelancing are written by White men. It’s not that they don’t have good advice, it’s just a totally different game if you’re female, a POC, LGBT, disabled, etc. (or some combination thereof)

Advice like “take time for yourself” and “learn to say ‘no’” is great unless you’re having to work twice as hard to prove yourself and are the only person fighting the good fight on an issue. So instead, I’m going to offer some advice to female freelance musicians that’s going to sound a bit crazy and require some explanation and pop-culture references: embrace your animus.

Growing up, my mom was really into Jungian psychology and effectively passed it on to me. Jung postulated that men have a feminine anima and women have a masculine animus. In true dude fashion, he wrote mainly about how it affected men, which is why there’s no widely-discussed counterpart to “a man being in touch with his feminine side.”

There’s a whole book on the topic called Invisible Partners (available in full on Scribd), but at almost 40 years old, it’s a bit dated (such as some cringe-worthy discussions of how homosexuality is sometimes the product of maladapted anima…)

Instead, I’ve opted for pop-culture references. I was recently watching the video for Kelis’ “Caught Out There” (1999), directed by Hype Williams. Just listen/watch and I’ll explain what I mean.

Notice that the only time the male actor speaks with his own voice is at 1:55 when he says, “I love you” – that’s her philandering ex. The other times, when he’s lying on the floor or bruised on the therapist’s chair, it’s her voice which (IMHO) represents her animus.

I totally get it – when you’re betrayed by a male partner (or watch male superiors and colleagues get away with annoying, abusive, or criminal behavior; or get constantly told that femininity is inferior to masculinity), you get mad as hell and pummel your “invisible partner” within an inch of his life.

The video outlines a good course of action: tear shit up (my primary regret of being rendered homeless by my last breakup was that I didn’t get to destroy a living room in such an epic fashion), march in solidarity with other rightly angry women (or honor your feminine archetypes, if you want to read it that way), but ultimately embrace your masculine side (the way Kelis kicks it with the Neptunes (who produced the track) at the end of the video).

This isn’t about manning up or copping male entitlement, it’s about becoming a whole, balanced person in the face of hardship and trauma. If you’re going to be a successful freelancer, you need to be a one-woman-army and have all archetypes on deck – including some strong, sensitive masculine ones.

Dear Nano: Key for Autumn Leaves?

Dear Nano is going to be a weekly advice-column-like post to answer to questions posed by students or colleagues. This week’s question:

Which version of “Autumn Leaves” is going to get called on the bandstand – G or E? Should I memorize both? In the Real Book, it starts with an A min7 chord.

Calling “Autumn Leaves” always gets confusing because it moves between two key centers: the major and its relative minor. When you call it in ‘G,’ you mean Bb major/G minor. For ‘E,’ it’s G major/E minor.

When in doubt, ask everyone to identify their first chord. In Bb/G, it’ll be a C min7 (ii of Bb); in G/E, it’ll be an A min7 chord (ii of G) – as you identified.

In my gigging experience, “Autumn Leaves” gets called more in Bb/G – mainly because that’s the key it’s in on Cannonball Adderley’s classic Somethin’ Else recording (featuring Miles Davis).

(Bass players: make sure you’ve transcribed Sam Jones’ opening bass vamp!)

I’ll analyze “Autumn Leaves” in a future post, but for now I’ll say that it’s important to memorize it in both keys to start thinking more functionally (ii-V-I-IV instead of each individual chord).

If you just memorize it in one key, you can skate by with muscle memory on your instrument. Learning it in two or more keys gets your brain more involved.

That said, I usually bring my tablet with iRealPro to each pickup gig or jam session. Sometimes, you’ll play behind a singer who requests standards in atypical keys or someone will call more obscure tunes.

I was always taught that “real” jazz musicians know hundreds of tunes in all 12 keys, but I’ve moved away from that line of thinking. Being a jazz musician in the digital age requires a lot more “soft” skills than it used to, so outsourcing some of the “hard” skills to technology just makes sense.

I’d encourage you to memorize “Autumn Leaves” in those two keys (at least) because it’s such a common tune and it’ll help you build your knowledge of jazz theory.