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Copyright 2002, 2014 by Chick Corea Productions, Inc.

. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Definition of Art 1991 L. Ron Hubbard Library. All Rights Reserved. Student Hat is a trademark and service mark owned by Religious Technology Center and is used with its permission.

MUSICIAN HAT by Chick Corea

Chapter 1


A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea


I thought I should add a few comments to explain how the idea for this book evolved. Basically, when others ask my advice on this or that about music and my life as a musician, I like to answer them with something that might be helpful. For a long time, I refrained from giving this kind of advice as I believed that everyone should find his own way and make his own decisions. As true as that is, I observed some instances where some of my cheap advice (all advice is cheap subject for another essay) was put to beneficial use. Or at least, what I advised led the advisee into action on a problem he was stuck in prior to receiving my advice. I then realized that in my own life and pursuit of The Muse, I have often looked intently at the lives of others who were accomplishing things that I greatly admired and learned from them in one way or another. I continue to do my share of observation and study of the ways and means of others whose results appeal to me. This could be seen as a form of advice. And in a broad look, any information that I choose to look at is potential advice. At my own choice being the operative principle. My desire to answer these questions with something that might help led me to write down how I operate as a musician. What I present to you here are the notes Ive accumulated since I started to write these thoughts down in the mid-80s. The original title for these notes was Musicians Hat a hat being a profession, post or job, or a description of what one does, especially the successful means one uses to accomplish the duties of a post or job. This then evolved into the idea of A Work In Progress because I regard learning new ways to do things and reforming old ways, to be a constant activity with the simple objective of continued improvement. After reviewing these chapters and renaming the first publication A Work In Progress On Being a Musician, I realized that this work will continue on and should be added to especially since there is so much that I have left out that I would like to add. These chapters have consolidated what I have summarized from all the main questions I have been asked through the years.

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A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

My next approach will be answering specific questions that seem to be areas of interest common to many musicians. If theres an area of music youd like to see commented on by me, please write in to the website In the meantime, heres part one of A Work In Progress On Being a Musician. I hope you can use some of it to your benefit and success in making music and being a musician. Chick Corea 6 July 02 (slightly revised 10 May 13)

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A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

These little write-ups were done 10 years ago (slightly revised this year) as an attempt to summarize what things I have found myself doing over the years to make music the best way I can. Ive always felt that music and art should never be taught as authoritarian subjects. I have never found a law anywhere that defines the correct way art should be made. But I have found that artists, professional and non-professional, seem to agree that the value and success of any work of art depend basically on each free-thinking individuals opinion and taste. Freedom to think and act on ones own tastes in art and aesthetics in general is one rule which seems to work for all. So my motto has become: Rule No. 1: Think For Yourself. The freedom to think for oneself is every individuals basic and native right and should be exercised all the time, not only in art, but in all of life. This principle is so important that, in fact, nothing is ever accomplished in the attempt to gain skills and abilities without ones own intention, understanding and ones own desires as a basis. Any attempt thats ever been made to enforce ideas on others has only resulted in mechanical and robot-like actions. This could possibly work for mechanical and robot-like jobs but certainly never works in the creation of art and good music. Because of these things, Ive wrestled with the subject of teaching music or music education. The last thing I would want is for another just to accept as law the way I or anyone else thinks about or makes music without using his own imagination and judgment. Yet I do enjoy helping and encouraging anyone who wants to learn to make music. So Ive written these chapters as a general answer to the questions posed to me: How do you do this and that? How do you think about this and that? A hat is a kind of job description. The name of the position is musician. Thats my job when Im making music, and these are the things I normally have done to get good results. Im not suggesting that others must do these things to get good results because each one has his own musical dream to fulfill and will certainly need to develop his own philosophy, techniques and approaches to things. Being a musician is what Ive been at the longest and is the hat Ive always loved like no other. So I present here a brief description of the way I think about, organize and do my work as a musician. I hope it can be of some help or interest to you. Chick Corea 15 Aug. 93 (revised Mar. 98) (revised Jul. 2000) (a few words changed 10 May 13)
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Chapter 2

Personal Policies as a Musician

A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea


These are the principles and policies I try to live by as a musician. I list these particular ones because Ive observed that when I apply them, things go well, and when I dont things dont go so well. 1. I spend as much time and effort as is needed to get the musical product being envisioned, no matter what the barriers or the inconvenience. I dont stop until Ive got it. Though I may become interested in the viewpoints and opinions of others regarding my music, I always rely on my own viewpoint, tastes and judgment to determine how I should present myself, what I should create and how I should communicate. I never compromise with the music Ive decided I want to make or the communication I really want to deliver. I consider others opinions of my music as a kind of survey and use this as secondary information to help me better understand my audience and their responses. I never blame the audience or make them wrong for their response to my music and my performance. I grant them the right to be how they want to be and respond how they want to respond as an audience. At the same time, I never compromise with the message I want to deliver to an audience and always grant myself the right to deliver it the way I see it. I try to work out how I can better reach audiences without altering my basic musical intent. Ive observed that what is enjoyable music to one person may not be enjoyable music to another. I use this understanding to deal with the infinite variety of peoples artistic opinions and tastes. I ensure that the audiences applause and praise of any one performance doesnt invite me to slacken off the preparation or delivery of the next performance. I evaluate all musical performance based first on the quality of its effect on the listener (myself and others) and secondarily, and much less importantly, on the techniques used.









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A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

10. I always use the highest level of ethics and honesty in dealing with the people with whom I work in the music business and the management of music, realizing that performances of music just dont happen without being organized and managed into existence with the competence and sincerity of these good managers. 11. I try to make agreements (whether with other musicians or music business administrators and managers) that result in myself and the other person happy with what we agreed to. 12. I try to apply the level of quality and care I give to my music to all other aspects of my life. 13. If theres a doubt about how to deal with other musicians or businesspeople, I stop and consider how I would like to be dealt with if I were in their position, and deal with them that way. 14. When playing with other musicians, I attempt to always do things that complement and enhance their playing. 15. When working with other musicians, I always try to find and make good use of their musical and performance strengths. 16. I try to keep my instruments, recording equipment, and other music tools in good repair and in good order. I make a place for each thing and put things back in their place after Im through using them or finished with that particular project. 17. In fulfilling a commitment, whether a concert performance, a composition, or an interview with the press, I try to give even more than was expected. 18. I never forget those that helped me along the way musically and otherwise because I feel that no success Ive ever had was accomplished without teamwork, help and support from others. 19. I try to take good care of my physical health getting good nutrition and enough sleep so that I can be at my best. Chick Corea 6 June 88 (revised 2 Aug. 93) (again on 8 Mar. 98) (and again 10 May 13, adding 19) to the list)

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Chapter 3

Playing the Piano

A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea


Let me preface this by saying that what specific methods Ive used to learn to play the piano are ones that Ive used and that worked for me in various ways and are described here for your information and interest. In no way do I mean to imply that these methods and insights should be used or would be useful to other pianists. They are presented as possibly helpful information. Im glad if any of these ideas can be put to your positive use. I have found that becoming a good student of music, learning any subject, or acquiring any skill does have a few simple basics in attitudes and methods. These being: The intention and choice and interest of the student must be present to learn anything. A full understanding of all words and symbols using appropriate dictionaries. The use of gradients in study and practice: breaking the piece down and practicing it slowly enough to grasp each bit confidently. Learning by apprenticeship. What I mean by apprenticeship is working with other musicians who are more skilled and therefore learning the skills they have developed that most interest you by sharing life and making music with them.

The specific practice methods covered here are personal to me and are the things I did to improve my piano playing, composing and arranging abilities.

I spent some time learning to play the basic major and minor scales. Then I learned the diminished scales and the whole tone scales and finally figured out that any scale (series of notes up or down that sounded good) could be used so I began making up and using scales that I would devise myself. I also became familiar with the idea of arpeggios. I would take any three or four-note chord and arpeggiate it up and down the keyboard with the right hand, then the left, and then both hands an octave or two apart. I found this was necessary for me to get my hands and fingers toned up and used to executing the ideas I have for them. Doing this is a little like basic toning exercises for the body to keep the muscles and joints loose and flowing. Its also a great way to get familiar with the different shapes the hands make on the keyboard in the different keys. Playing scales also helped me get my hands and fingers to create an evenness of phrase and rhythm.

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A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

I found mirror-image exercises also to be very helpful. This is where one hand plays in an exact mirror image to the other. It helps reinforce the motion desired by the original hand. (Youll find the central point of the keyboards mirror-image to be the notes D or Ab.)

In Ex. 1 > 5 I wrote down a few variations of finger exercises in mirror image using a fixed 5-note phrase. Of course, you can invent endless mirror exercises depending on what fingers and finger motion you would like to limber or strengthen. In each case, the left hand should mimic the fingering of the right hand and vice versa. Ex. 6 shows how any melody can be taken and made into a mirror for the left hand thus strengthening the grasp of that phrase for the right hand. And, of course, it works as well the other way with the right hand mirroring the left to strengthen the left.

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A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

There were some of these mirror image exercises in an old Italian exercise book by Rossomandi that my piano teacher, Salvatore Sullo showed me when I was about 10 years old. Musically and stylistically, I found great grounding and many keys to the knowledge contained in the history of piano playing by listening to and sometimes attempting to emulate pianists whose playing attracted me. (A short list is at the end of this book.) I learned and was reminded of various things by so many different pianists. I would take the particular quality (technique, phrase, rhythmic motif, touch, attitude, etc.) that attracted me by a certain pianist and do various things to emulate that quality until I understood the essence of it enough to convert it to my own use. This would then lead to understanding how I could create some similar quality in my own way; or finally, create any other quality I could imagine. I found that this was an ability to duplicate that could increase and increase until, sometimes, just a glance at the way someone else does something can become mine if I want it to. I think the end result of study by emulation should be the ability to completely originate ones own music. The way others do it should be a guide-road that leads to ones freedom to think for oneself and therefore be what one wants to be and communicate in the way one chooses.

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A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

Methods of Emulation
When I isolated something I wanted to emulate from another pianist, I would do various actions to get the hang of it: 1. Transcribing from recordings the actual notes performed is always a great exercise in ear training as well as a way to analyze and understand a particular technique or approach. This was my most used approach when studying other pianists. This can be done by simply understanding and emulating the general direction or concept of what Im hearing. It can also be done in more detail by actually duplicating the specific notes being played off the recording writing them down or not. 2. Watching pianists play, especially live in a club, up close, has always been the most fruitful way to learn. Theres nothing, including recordings, that can replace the completeness, immediacy and emotional detail of participating directly in the live moment of creation. These were and still are some of my most memorable moments of listening, enjoying and learning to play. 3. Studying the notes transcribed by others of pianists improvisations never proved to be very helpful to me, as this method takes the power of direct observation out of my own hands and puts in its place the transcribers and editors viewpoints and opinions and often mis-copying. Studying a composers original written score is always very helpful though, especially in classical music where the scores I find are more likely to be the original notes of the composer. Essentially, Ive found that interpretations and editings of original scores and transcriptions of improvisations remove me that one step away from the originator enough to lessen their impact and value. It has always been more valuable for me to transcribe from a recorded performance myself. If for no other reason, its great ear training (the aural recognition of pitches and their relation to one another). 4. Lastly and least importantly has been browsing through biographies, autobiographies, documentaries, reviews and articles by or about the pianist I have interest in. This always turned out to be a collection of opinions which could sometimes be interesting, but never as rewarding as studying the actual person and his notes and music. Actually, any statements made directly by the pianist himself always prove to be more valuable i.e., recorded interviews, essays, or autobiographies, etc. But even these are (like what Im writing here) just the opinions of the pianist about what he does. The most valuable learning experiences by far are the pianists live performances even more than recordings.
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A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

Becoming Friends With the Piano Youre Playing

I lost a lot of time and wasted precious hours battling with bad pianos. I used to get stuck on the pianos weaknesses and start to complain about all the ways that it wasnt working or sounding right. All a lot of wasted energy. My best operation is, when Im there on a gig with the piano I must play for that night, I make it a point to have a friendly attitude towards it and try to utilize its best qualities. For instance, some old pianos that havent been kept very well maintained might sound awfully dull, with no life, as if the piano had been dunked in the river and was still soggy, etc., etc. In this case I notice that the best sound the piano had was when I played it very softly and mostly, say, in the middle register. So, playing softly and mostly in the middle register was a successful approach for the soggy piano and so on. This way I could extract what quality was left there in the instrument; somehow get through the night; and then later take stock of how I could improve the situation either for that gig or for future gigs.

The Piano: A Percussion Instrument

I made a lot of headway technically and musically with my piano playing when I realized that I could approach the piano as a terrific percussion instrument. 88 tuned drums! My fingers like ten drum sticks! SEE DIAGRAM #2 Ex. 1 A simple C major scale using two hands. Try to make it sound as smooth as if one hand was playing it. Ex. 2 Same C major scale going two octaves with hands crossing. Its just one way to finger it using two hands. Again, try to make the run sound smooth each note given the same value and attack. Ex. 3 A way to play a connected arpeggio up and down the keyboard with two hands. Ex. 4 This is a pattern that uses two fingers alternating in each hand like a pair of drumsticks.
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A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

The Piano: An Instrument

I also made terrific headway musically when I more and more, applied the idea that the piano was in fact, an instrument; a means to an end. The piano is a tool. Its a tool conceived and constructed to do certain things and achieve certain goals; mainly deliver the physical sound that communicates the musical emotion and message of the player. My ingenuity and skill at using this instrument well as a communication device then becomes the whole game. This realization got things put in the right sequence and at the right levels of importance. This idea makes communication of the musical intent and emotional content always the guiding principle. The piano as an instrument then becomes simply a mechanical means of attaining that purpose of communication and always a servant to it.

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A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

Theory and Practice

What do you think of when you play? Which notes go with which scales? Is that augmented note part of the chord or just a passing tone? How do I know which chord is right? How do you read chord symbols? Whats the right way to place your hands on the piano? These are some of the types of questions that often come my way. Well it seems to me that music is an expression and communication of an intent and an emotion. Music has a message and uses physical sounds to communicate emotions. You have something you want to say or show an emotion you want your listener to feel. The act of creating and communicating these messages is the act of making music and is the practice of music. Music making is a form of communication. It happens. Its an action. Once I begin to inspect, study and analyze the bits and pieces that make up the mechanics of music the notes, the timbres, the durations, the rhythms, the harmonies, the melodies, the forms as soon as I try to find out if there are some recurring patterns or if there are some technical things that can describe what makes the music sound that way Im now in the land of theory, and always recognize that these analyses have a different purpose than the simple act of making music. How I technically think about and describe whats being played is a different subject from the act of playing. And its only use is to help me more fully understand how to better do what I want to do. How to play better; perform better; communicate better; be a better musician. Music theory is a statement or description of how music works or why it works that way. Its an attempt to explain in words why the notes go together the way they do; or to show how notes could go together in various ways. I find that sometimes an idea (theory) about a scale or a harmony or some other technical bit can lead to some rewarding experimentation and discovery. But the main point I use and recommend to others about music theory is that only the ideas and theories that one freely creates or understands and accepts on his own judgment are the ones that have value to him and therefore can be put to good use. One can always change in any way he wishes the ideas about music that he has. And even more basic to that is that music and art theories, laws, ideas and principles dont rely on physical phenomena like gravity and the weight tolerances of wood and metals and so dont need to remain exact or static instead art and music exist in the more spiritual realm of awareness, communication, emotion and personal tastes. These arent physical things and so are much more individual and much more flexible. This is creativity and ones creative imagination at work.

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A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

Therefore, I try to create and play around with theories and patterns of thinking about music for study and learning purposes only; or sometimes to try to explain to someone else how I do something. But these significances all get put aside when Im actually playing and making music. Playing music combines intention and action into one thing with absolutely no thinking at all. All analysis is for the practice room and rehearsal. Theory and practice seem to have an intimate relationship. I try to balance them. Understanding how to do many things opens up possibilities of many more things and so on. Lack of understanding how something works can stop me from doing it. Certainly, trying to analyze and think about what Im doing only gets results in a practice room. Playing in performance has to be a pure act.

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A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

The Pianists Ive Studied and Been Inspired By

Heres a list of the pianists Ive listened to, been inspired by, learned from in one way or another, some of whose notes Ive transcribed, whose compositions Ive played and studied in no particular order of importance. My rapport with each one is a unique story unto itself. Im sure this list is somehow incomplete. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Martha Argerich Bla Bartk Ludwig van Beethoven Paul Bley Dave Brubeck Billy Childs Frdric Chopin Gayle Moran Corea Claude Debussy Duke Ellington Victor Feldman Don Friedman Glenn Gould Friedrich Gulda Herbie Hancock Andrew Hill Vladimir Horowitz Keith Jarrett Cyprien Katsaris Steve Kuhn Ramsey Lewis Mulgrew Miller W. A. Mozart Makoto Ozone Samuel Prez Oscar Peterson Bud Powell Gonzalo Rubalcaba - Sachi - Domenico Scarlatti - Carl Schroeder - Alexander Scriabin - Salvatore Sullo - Cecil Taylor - Lennie Tristano - Cedar Walton - James Williams - Krystian Zimerman - J. S. Bach - Count Basie - Alban Berg - Victor Borge - Jaki Byard - Herman Chittison - Nat Cole - Liana Corea - Nicolas Economou - Bill Evans - Tommy Flanagan - Red Garland - Dave Grusin - Jan Hammer - Barry Harris - Earl Hines - Ahmad Jamal - Hank Jones - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Wynton Kelly Andy LaVerne Les McCann Thelonious Monk Paul Neves Danilo Prez Michel Petrucciani Ivo Pogoreli Sergei Prokofiev Arturo Rubinstein Erik Satie Peter Schickele Robert Schumann Horace Silver Art Tatum Bobby Timmons McCoy Tyner Alexis Weissenberg Alfredo Rodriguez Beka Gochiashvili Gadi Lehavi John Novello Hiromi Peter Serkin Evgeny Kissen Stevie Wonder Joe Zawinul

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As an added thought, since drummers and drumming have played such a big part in my musical growth, Id like to include a similar list of drummers whose playing has been inspiring to me. This list is also incomplete. - - - - - - - - - - - - Rashied Ali Barry Altschul Art Blakey Tom Brechtlein Dennis Chambers Kenny Clarke Vinnie Colaiuta Al Foster Roy Haynes Philly Joe Jones Airto Moreira Gary Novak - - - - - - - - - - - - Vinnie Ruggerio Bill Stewart Patato Valdes Dave Weckl Tony Williams Don Alias Jeff Ballard Willie Bobo Roy Brooks Joe Chambers Jimmy Cobb John Dentz - - - - - - - - - - - - Brian Blade Marcus Gilmore Steve Gadd Elvin Jones Pete La Roca Lenny Nelson Max Roach Mongo Santamara Art Taylor Bobby Ward Lenny White Shadow Wilson

Chick Corea Aug. 88 (revised 3 Aug. 93) (again 8 Mar. 98) (and again Feb. 2001) (and slightly again 7 Feb 2014)

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Chapter 4


A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

(Improvising an Accompaniment)

All Comps Make Melodies

When Im making an accompaniment at the piano for a soloist, my first principle is to always create melodies with the accompaniment. I try to make the accompaniment exist as a piece of music on its own. An accompaniment should be able to stand on its own and sound musical by itself and at the same time provide a backdrop and sometimes a dialogue with the soloist or solo part.

Think Like an Orchestra

I find it helpful to think in orchestral images when using the piano for accompaniment. Playing the piano like a flute, or like timpani, or like a brass section, or like a string section, etc., helps me create the illusion of a very diverse collection of sounds and a variety of colors and approaches.

Use Space and Drop in Small Things

A good contrast to continuous sounds coming from the piano comp is stretches of space where the piano doesnt play at all, and where the next entrance of the piano comp is placed intentionally so that it creates a surprise and a pleasant change. Ahmad Jamal, for instance, is a master at this. So is Herbie Hancock. This surprise and pleasant change can also be gotten by choosing the right spot to drop out the piano comp. Both the ending of a stream of comping and the beginning of a new one can create nice effects: instant arrangement and orchestration.

Use of Repetitive Phrases

Another nice contrast for comping is to contrast a section of repetitive phrases with a section of comping thats non-repetitive. Repetitive phrases vamps or riffs also work well when the melody or soloist is playing phrases that are particularly loose and flowy. A contrast.

Take a Phrase from the Soloist

Occasionally taking a motif from the soloist and weaving a comp from it can make very good musical sense and knit various parts of the orchestration together in a harmonious way.

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A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

3 Kinds of Comps
Here are three different kinds of comps named in the sense of different types of communications: 1. 2. 3. A comp as an acknowledgement would be one that sort of finishes a soloists statement, or puts a period on it or answers it. A comp as an answer will say something back from a bit that the soloist just said, making it sound like the answer to the soloists question. A comp can be any type of response to the soloists statement such as: a disagreement, an encouragement, a question, a surprise, a playful rebuke, a validation, etc., etc. Any kind of communication game that we get into in verbal communication can be translated into music terms and many more that are never used in verbal conversation. A comp can be an originated statement or a new theme as a contrast or parallel melody. Some Dixieland playing is like this.


Make the Soloist Sound Good

A good basic intent for comping is to make the soloist sound good and to enhance his lines and expression, to orchestrate his melodies, and to make the orchestration harmonious. One way to show respect for the soloist is to leave big spaces when hes making his expressive phrases; to accompany in a way that doesnt get in the way of his lines, but only enhances them. Sometimes the soloist will respond to a busier comp where the accompaniment begins to dialogue with the soloist to one degree or another. It will work if the soloist likes it and wont if he doesnt.

The Accompaniments Importance

If the comp is done mechanically or timidly, or thought of as a lesser part, then it wont sound as good. I find it best to think of any accompaniment as an important and integral part of the music being made and put as much thought and energy into it as into the rest of the parts. Chick Corea 15 Aug. 88 (revised 3 Aug. 93) (again Mar. 98) (and again Feb. 2001)

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Chapter 5

Making Time

A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

Ive found good control of rhythm to be the single most important element in making good music. One of the most useful ways Ive found of making improvements in my control of rhythm has been to listen to recordings of my playing closely and honestly notice where I would unintentionally speed or slow the tempo or movement of phrases. Then, I would go to the piano and play those sections or phrases over and over, paying full attention to controlling the tempo and phrasing until I could execute that section or phrase, now, with the control of tempo and phrase that I want. There is no simple, mechanical way of explaining making time except that it must be made causatively and comfortably with no effort or force. Playing alone, solo, is one kind of time playing with another or others is another kind of time. When Im playing alone, I dont need to be in agreement with another player for the time or the rhythm feeling and groove. Of course then, playing with others requires some agreement about what time it is what the feel is and simply how to hit beats together that are intended to be hit together. Just a comment about making music with metronomes: I feel they can be helpful in noting the general speed of a piece of music like indicating the metronome number marking on a written score. But for my personal tastes, the best grooves and feelings in music can never be attained using a metronome or mechanical click to guide the musics rhythm and tempo. I find that the rhythm and tempo in music naturally breathes (slows down; speeds up) as any human expression does and this natural breathing gets inhibited when playing to a click or a metronome. This is not to say that using a click cant be useful in certain situations but for a creative rhythm section, I never use a click. Its a taste and a preference. I also find it helpful to notice when a machine-like evenness is unmusical and where it becomes necessary to accelerate or decrease the speed of a phrase or alter the placement of a single note to get the desired musical effect. Basically when creating time is done causatively, and is the intent of the player, then no more can be asked for at that point. Learning to create simple and steady basic rhythms and grooves is at the basis of controlling melodic phrasings properly. And the basis of creating a steady rhythm is creating an uninterrupted flow. This, I find, can be worked on to a degree by just repeating the phrase while calmly getting in good control over it by shaking out the kinks that turn up and continuing to intend the ideal flow.

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A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

Pulse and Time Flow

I find it natural to imagine a pulse while laying phrases over the pulse. I find that creating time (tempo) is best accomplished by simply putting it there or creating it intentionally. Its very unstable to only follow and rely on the tempo of other musicians, a conductor, or a click. Music flows only when each musician playing creates in agreement the time of the music.

Playing Lightly on Fast Tempos

I find that the trick of playing fast tempos or fast streams of notes with good time is to play very lightly with a feathery touch on the piano (or any instrument). Its also helpful to eliminate all frantic (extra) motions from the body as these detract from the flow. Of course, this is all very personal. The faster the tempo or phrase, the more easily and lightly I try to execute. Chick Corea 14 Aug. 88 (revised 3 Aug. 93) (again Mar. 98) (and again Feb. 2001)

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Chapter 6


A Work In Progress ... On Being a Musician by Chick Corea

I think of composing music as the act of creating a musical game to play. And I find that gaining skill writing music is like gaining any other skill. The most effective way to improve is just to do it a lot. Now having said that as a truth and a simplicity: To create a game I must first conceive of one. And the straightest way I find to do this is to decide what Im trying to do with it (the game the composition). I can think of times when trying to compose something was a great effort. At these times, I now realize that I didnt have a clear enough idea as to the game I wanted to create or the occasion I wanted to put this new composing into. What band? What rehearsal? What gig? What occasion? And times when the ideas just flowed one after the other were always times when I had a good understanding of what the end result was to be: a sure date to rehearse, to perform, to record. Of course I can always decide Im practicing. I can recall that some of my first productive periods of composing were during times I had working ensembles to rehearse and perform with. With a little trio I had while in high school, I wrote and arranged a lot of music. We rehearsed more than we actually performed, but the anticipation of playing at the rehearsals was enough to encourage me on. Each band I worked in gave me the possibility of playing music that I would write. Upon moving to New York City after high school, almost every band I worked with I wrote and/ or arranged some music for. First for Mongo Santamarias group; then for Cal Tjader; then for the Willie Bobo band; then for Sonny Stitt, Blue Mitchell, Sarah Vaughan (some arrangements), Stan Getz, Miles Davis and then my own bands after that. Composing music seems most naturally done when its the first part of a definite twopart sequence, the second part of which must be to realize the composition in a musical communication within a band or, more completely, in performance to an audience. Composing music without then realizing its performance to listeners seems a waste and a lonely experience unless, again, one is practicing or doing exercises. So the composing part is the part where I envision the game to be played and often the players who will be playing with me. Then write the notes.

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Stretching the Definition

I like to also extend the idea of composing to wider areas and views of life. For instance, I can start with a smaller or larger idea. To write one melody that might someday be finished and fit into a completed song is the smaller end of the spectrum. Whereas conceiving of a longer-term creation would then extend the idea of composing to say the making of a 1-hour program of music to be recorded and performed many times. Or even the creation of a band that would create over a series of recordings and tours. This could be the starting point of a musical game, a creation, and could, stretching the concept, be considered a kind of composition. (One definition for compose in the American Heritage Dictionary is: to make by putting together parts of elements.) I can stretch the definition of composing even wider and bump right into the mysterious (to most) act of improvisation in music. If I use the simple definition above, it works out. But Ill talk about improvisation in a separate section. Now to more practical matters:

Piano Scores
Sometimes when I start a composition, I find it handy to write down the first musical idea I find. I use pads of 8 by 11 sketch paper or whatever else is handy and make a single or double stave system (treble clef on top and bass clef on the bottom a piano score) depending on whats needed. I just quickly jot down the idea without attempting to fill it in any further. I then can use this 2-stave piano score form through to the end of the piece. I set formalities of proper notation and page format aside and just work quickly to get all the pertinent ideas down on paper, knowing that I can go back and edit it into a final form as a later step. I just try to capture the ideas in writing as they come as quickly as possible.

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Fishing Around
Theres occasionally a period after deciding to compose a piece and before a final concept or direction has been decided upon. I might try various directions: different tempos, keys, progressions, feels, emotions, etc. until one appears that I like. Then its just: Go. I often take the first ideas that I invent. I find that pondering too long with choices between this motif and that usually goes nowhere and also makes me groggy and tired so I take one of the first ones that come along and just go with it. I must say though that this approach is definitely inferior to having firmly decided on the overall result and game first. The best condition is when all these factors are just one action: compose.

Writing a Quick Sketch

After an idea forms enough for it to be a little tune with some recognizable shape I write a quick sketch so that the idea doesnt evaporate. Theres an important balance, I find, between going too long before writing it down and writing it down too quickly before something that seems substantial enough is formed. While Im writing a sketch, if I find a phrase that I really like, no matter how small, I always find some blank space later on the score paper and write it down. Sometime these little bits yield fruit later and sometimes not but I find it good practice to write them when they appear. The trick seems to be capturing the first thoughts like trying to capture an improvisation and write it down. Which, actually can be another fruitful way of composing just improvise into a recorder or sequencer and write that down as the composition. I have found success with that approach. I know many friends, including Joe Zawinul, who have also used that approach.

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Putting it to Score Paper

When the idea, or tune, or section is relatively complete in form with a beginning, middle, and end I then put it to score paper. In the past, because of lack of time or laziness, I would often not then write a score, but use my sketch and other written bits to write parts from. This, more than not, usually resulted in some added confusion later on. Since there was no original score, it became difficult to check which notes were correct or what was the correct sequence of sections I had come up with, etc. Also, the piece became difficult to publish since no original score existed and the complete piece wasnt written anywhere in full. At a later date, the score would have to be compiled from the scrap written bits of the sketch(es). It then became many others opinion which way was correct. The extra time it takes to set the sketch to score from beginning to end completes the composing process and provides a stable original reference.

Writing the Score

I use the written score as the basic guide for the form and shape of the composition. Even if there are parts and details yet to be added later, penciling in what I already have and spreading it out it in time on the score from beginning to end sets the basic framework. The piece can then be viewed graphically in time as a whole piece and the holes and spaces can then easily be filled in.

Allowing for Performance Interpretation

When setting the melodies down that the players will read and play from, I try to write the phrases as simply as possible and only add grace notes and slurs and expression marks where they must be to have that melody be what I want. I find that the simpler the notated phrasing, the more it invites the players to evolve their own interpretation and own the music. For me, this is always a desired part of the musical result, especially when the artistry of the player is great.

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Use of Chord Symbols

I use chord symbols as a direct invitation to the player to improvise and add notes and embellishments. I use the chord symbol to indicate the scale that is intended to accompany the notated melody notes. The notes that make up a chord can be written out note for note or can be improvised by the player as when the music sheet has a chord symbol and melody note only. I find it confusing to try to write out a chord structure by only adding extra numbers and signs to the chord symbol without notating the actual notes on paper. Chord symbols that indicate the first four notes in a chord (bottom to top) are usually sufficient to give all the information that the player needs quickly and at a glance (for example: C = C root, E third, G fifth, B major seventh ( = Major seventh); G7 = G root, B third, D fifth, F dominant seventh). Altered notes (notes that are raised or lowered from their key position) that are in the written melody I almost never also include in the chord symbol (i.e., if theres a C# notated as the melody and its a G7 chord, I never add b5 or -5 to the symbol as its already indicated by the notated C#). When there are important notes that need to sound, I write the notes into the score and part instead of attempting to add them as other numbers to the chord symbol. Most altered notes are passing tones anyway (a transition note; a tone not at rest, that leads to another tone which is at rest) and if a little extra time is taken to write them on the score often a nice counter melody begins to develop. I use chord symbols for a quick appraisal of the harmony and scale of the part it applies to. They invite improvisation.

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Each Voice Makes a Melody

Thinking melodically about all voices and parts, including percussion parts and non-pitched sounds, is a communicative key to composing for me. A melody is something one sings whether its sung by a voice or any other instrument including percussion. Thats why each moving line in a musical structure is called a voice. Art is a word which summarizes the quality of communication, (quote by L. Ron Hubbard from the book, Art) is a definition of art that I find very true and useful. 1 If each part and voice of a composition has its own communication and is its own melody or voice, the composition as a whole is stronger because it is singing and communicating with all its parts. Each part or voice should talk as if it were being rendered by an individual musician just creating that voice. When I write a harmony part to the melody below or above it in pitch I dont confine myself to the rhythm or shape of the melody I think in terms of writing a second melody that may or may not go in parallel motion with the top melody voice. The term line writing has sometimes been used to describe this independence of voices and parts.

Pencil and Eraser

I always use pencil and eraser for my sketches and scores. This way I can always quickly erase something, change it, and therefore keep things looking relatively uncluttered. After a score and sketch are done, I have them immediately Xeroxed, in case the original penciled score is smudged or lost.

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The notation of music is like an architects blueprint. It shows exact measurements in time (rhythm and duration) and space (where a note is played on an instrument its pitch). I try to make my notation uncluttered so that all the details can be seen easily. I also find it a good practice to represent graphically the amount of time going by. For instance, four sixteenth notes would take up approximately the same horizontal space as one quarter note or two eighth notes. The trick of good, clearly written notation is dividing up the measure into beats that have equal allotments of space for the same duration for example:

might be easier to read looking like:

I think of graph paper where each line is one unit of the smallest note value, i.e.,

Also whenever multiple notes are struck at the same time they should line up vertically on the score, i.e.,

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Whenever Im not sure what the standard notation would be for something, my reference is Gardner Reads Music Notation, which Ive found to have all the information on the subject that Ive ever needed. I only use a key signature if the melodies stay mainly in that key for the whole piece or for a very long section otherwise, I find it simpler to use no key signature and just use accidentals when needed. This works especially when the tonal centers change frequently. My formula is: the least amount of accidentals per number of notes is the best way to go. The choice on time signatures is basically whether to use a smaller or larger note value (i.e. sixteenth note, or eighth note is the common choice). The rule I use is: I check how I naturally count 1, 2, 3, 4, and I then make those units into quarter notes. See which version of Diagram #4 is easier to read the eighth note version or the sixteenth note version.

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Part Writing
I try to put what information about the score that helps the player know and play the piece the easiest. For instance, I may include: Chord symbols to invite improvisation The melodies of other parts so he can fit his part in better Brief written explanations of whats happening during rest sections on that part.

I very often, on drum parts, just use the piano-conductor score for the drummer when I want the drummer to invent his own rhythms. I sometimes make a piano-conductor part that I can use to rehearse which includes all the main parts cued (written usually in a smaller size as a grid but not meant to be played) in such a way that the part can be completely written on a double stave system (with the occasional exception of needing to add a third staff to the system). This makes it handier to use than the full score, which has more staves per system and more pages to turn. I leave space on the manuscript paper of a part to add things in as changes and additives usually happen. For example, if there are several bars with no notes but I predict that notes might be added later, I leave the bars blank instead of putting rest signs in them so that the space can be used to put new handwritten notes in. I lay out each written line so as not to squeeze notes and bars into too small a space but leave more space than is needed and leave extra lines if possible. I only use ink for the final copying of a part. Otherwise, pencil works best in all situations. All efforts are geared towards easy readability and thus a high level of communication from the composer to the player. 2 Chick Corea 1988 (revised 2 Aug. 93) (again Mar. 98) (and again Feb. 2001)

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Accidentals sharps, flats, or natural signs used to raise, lower or return a note to its intended pitch. Accompaniment supporting part. Altered Notes notes whose pitches are raised or lowered from the original scale. Arpeggio the notes of a chord played in succession (harp-like); a broken chord. Augmented referring to an interval, increased by one half step from a major or perfect interval. Bar a measure; the space between two bar lines. Bar Line a line drawn from the top to the bottom of a staff to denote the division of the meter in a piece of music. Bass Clef an F clef on the fourth line of the staff, used for bass and baritone voices, the left hand of the piano and lower-pitched instruments. Beats the basic pulse measurements in music. Chord the sounding of two or more notes simultaneously. Comping providing accompaniment for a soloist; an improvised arrangement that backs up a soloist. Degrees the tones (or notes) of a scale. Diminished referring to an interval, made smaller by a half step. Dominant Seventh in a major scale, if you play four-note chords built in thirds, the chord starting on the fifth scale degree is called the dominant seventh chord. Duration the length of a note or rest. Embellishment improvised addition. Expression Mark a word, phrase or sign indicating how a composition is to be performed. Fifth the interval of five diatonic scale degrees. Flat the symbol (b) placed before the head of a note that lowers its pitch one-half tone. Gig a job for a musician. Grace Notes a note or notes of short duration, which slide or trip into the next major note; a kind of embellishment.

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Grand Staff a double stave used for keyboard writing with a G clef as the top staff and a bass clef as the bottom staff. Key Signature the sharps or flats written on the staff at the beginning of a piece to indicate the key. Major Seventh Chord a major triad with an additional major seventh. Measure the space between two bar lines. Middle C The C near the middle of the keyboard. Motif a short melodic pattern or musical idea that recurs. Notation a means for representing musical sounds; written music indicating pitch, duration and rhythm. Note a symbol used to express the pitch and duration of musical tones. Orchestration the arranging of music for instruments and voices. Part the music for an individual voice or instrument. Passing Tone a note that is a transition between two more important notes. Phrasing the grouping and articulation or expression of a group of notes. Pitch the word used to indicate the relative highness or lowness of a tone or its frequency. Register a specific area of the range or compass of a voice, instrument or composition. Rest a symbol used to indicate relative periods of silence. Rhythm the motion of music. Root the fundamental note of a chord or scale. Score a manuscript or printed representation of a musical work that shows all the parts of an ensemble arranged vertically with time moving horizontally. Sharp the notation (#) placed before the head of a note that raises its pitch one-half tone. Staff (stave) a set of lines serving as a guide for writing notes and indicating their relative position. System two or more music staves joined together by a line or a brace in a score to show that the written notes on the joined staves are moving together. Third an interval of three diatonic scale degrees. Timbre the color or tonal quality of a sound.

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Transcription the written notation taken from a recording. Treble Clef the G clef falling on the second line of the staff, used for the right hand part of keyboard instruments, the vocal soprano part and the higher melody instruments. Voice one of the parts in music that has more than one part. Voicing the arrangement of notes voices in a vertical structure or chord. Whole Tone Scale a scale composed of whole tone steps.

The book Art by L. Ron Hubbard has been a great reference for me on the action of art as a communication in its many aspects.

In the past 10 years Ive begun to use computer sequencing notation as well. Logic has long since been my tool for quickly recording ideas and making demos of compositions in progress, and Sibelius has become my tool for creating a finished score when I have time to do that myself.

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