Bobby McFerrin, just killin’ the point.

I have long felt that just about everybody “knows” basic music theory, even if they don’t have fancy names to go with the concepts.  Some things in life just tap directly into the human hindbrain.  I try to describe it, usually along these lines:  “Look, I could sit down and play a simple sequence of chords in a room full of ‘tone-deaf noobs’ , and yet everyone in that room will know–know–if I end the sequence ‘correctly’, or if I botch it.”  Seems to make sense to me, but I still get blank stares.

Well.  Perhaps my problem is that I use too many words* to try and make that point.  Behold the glorious gift of nature that is Bobby McFerrin, who needs no words at all to demonstrate what I would argue is very nearly the same idea.

Wow.  Just–wow.  It’s almost impossible for me, as an instructor and an advocate, not to get juiced when the audience responds perfectly to each successive, unannounced note.

I’m delighted to be able to point to such a great example of the “everyone understands already” idea, but hell, part of it is just the joy of watching a true master at work.  And McFerrin is at least that.  I recall vividly the first time I got to see him live;  he had a set at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2005, which was awesome enough on its own (at that time I had some–some–idea of what he could do), but it was the usual TBF cross-pollinations that really took it beyond the planet.  When he came out and sat in with the trio of Béla Fleck, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Stanley Clarke (!!!), I figured it would be something spectacular, and it most certainly was!  But the actual high point, believe it or not, was when he guested on Alison Krauss’ set;  he said he wanted her to sing a particular tune of hers (don’t recall now what it was), and she agreed…and then Union Station (Krauss’ backing band, one of the most accomplished in the genre), clearly in on whatever this deal was, left the stage.  She seemed both giddy, to be singing with one of her heroes, and also a bit terrified, not to have her usual crew behind her, and not quite sure what was going to happen…but she took a deep breath and started singing…

And McFerrin “played” all the band’s parts, with his voice, at the same time, against Krauss’ vocal.  It was absolutely stunning;  I have never seen anything remotely like it.

So, by all means take the point from Bobby McFerrin, instead of from me.  Believe me, I don’t mind that a bit.  🙂

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* No snickering, now.

Steve Ball’s Airport Exercise.

Long-time Gaucho and general ace Crafty Steve Ball demonstrates his workhorse Airport Exercise, designed to stretch the fingers and otherwise provide a calisthenic challenge within a simple form.  Here, the brilliant addition of the moving bass line is a good reminder that exercises can also be musical, if we listen for it and respond in kind.

The tuning in the video is the Guitar Craft standard tuning, C2-G2-D3-A3-E4-G4, but obviously the core idea could be extended to any tuning with reasonably minor arrangement.

The exercise can be as simple as the core five-note pattern, which systematically stretches the fingers and provides a basic alternate picking challenge (the “1” alternates between an upstroke and downstroke), or as rich as what you see Steve doing here, adding parts, playing with muting, staccato vs. ringing notes, and having the exercise move against ensemble parts like Tony Levin’s added bass.

Bookmarked here for easy reference!