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 Playing Advice: 4-String (Jazz, Blues & Other Trad Styles)

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davidcava - Posted - 02/08/2019:  18:43:24

I'm always searching....and recently found this young lady. What do you think of her? I post here, because I know you guys/gals are all's the nature of Jazz. I know through my own thought...." I do not hold this innate ability at present "....I'm a worker.....I'll sift through tons of dirt....for an ounce of gold, until the day I die.....but..... certain individuals hold a natural instinct towards innate ability to "flow". I know this young lady holds it in the palm of her hand in the classical.......and some of you hold it in your own way. Is it a born instinct? and can this instinct be learned over time with study? I'm a student....but....I know in my heart it can be learned.....but this may be a higher learning, that may take an extraordinary teacher?

Your thoughts my friends?


Mooooo - Posted - 02/08/2019:  18:58:59

I'll have what she's having.

davidcava - Posted - 02/08/2019:  19:48:14

When I listen to this young Ladys musical thought process.....this is beyond anybody's current ability to teach.....I mentioned in an external thread....about Bela's composition of Slopes....only a few liked it. It's certainly not Bluegrass...which I love to my core.......but people are going to like what they like.......but I want to learn what I an extraordinary way.

Omeboy - Posted - 02/08/2019:  20:53:31

The great Steve Allen used to do a musical improv bit where he would use photographs taken of birds sitting on telephone lines. In each instance, there would be around eight birds randomly sitting on five lines, so they could be read as musical notes on a treble clef staff. Steve would then play them as if they were written notes on the piano. After establishing what the birds had accidentally created musically, Steve would then improvise a complete little jazz piece "on the spot" based on that opening phrase made by the birds------much like your little girl friend. Of course like her, Steve was another instance of unbounded genius at anything he approached.

parlour player - Posted - 02/08/2019:  21:04:22

Wolfgang walks beside her.

davidcava - Posted - 02/08/2019:  21:06:00

Let's hear Steve Allens improv.... I would love to compare it to my lovely young girlfriend.

Omeboy - Posted - 02/08/2019:  21:09:20

Good luck finding it. I distinctly remember it.

davidcava - Posted - 02/08/2019:  21:11:38 sound like a politician Paul

Omeboy - Posted - 02/08/2019:  21:15:31

I'm a big Steve Allen fan. I hate politicians. But I did look for it without success.  (Be careful, they'll ban you again.)


Edited by - Omeboy on 02/08/2019 21:24:59

Banjosephus - Posted - 02/08/2019:  21:20:15

Steve Allen was said to have composed an astronomical number of songs, well over a thousand, I think.
But, the only one I remember, since it was well covered and very successful: This Could Be the Start of Something Big.

davidcava - Posted - 02/08/2019:  21:21:11

You wouldn't happen to have Allens tax returns would you?

davidcava - Posted - 02/08/2019:  21:23:03

I'm hoping to get a couple hundred back this year.... maybe

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 02/09/2019:  09:30:52

I think that improv certainly takes a natural talent, but I also believe that it also depends largely on a long-practiced familiarity with your instrument, which is usually gained by playing from an early age. There are people who can think of scads of phrases in their head but lack the ability to transfer those thoughts to a banjo, piano, fiddle, or what-have-you, simply because they lack that familiarity.

In other words, I believe that improvisational skill combines a "born-with-it" talent and a lot of learning. I suspect this young lady has been playing for a long while, but has the advantage of being gifted from birth. She also seems to have perfect relative pitch and a fine memory.

rfink1913 - Posted - 02/09/2019:  12:31:16

What I would love to hear is her explaining what she’s doing. There is a little bit of the parlor trick about this. The same eleven year old is fluently improvising grammatical structures in English in real time (ie, she’s talking), and no one thinks it remarkable. She’s not a genius, but she clearly has spent a lot of time at the keyboard playing 19th-ct style tonal music, and can string together a bunch of conventional gestures in such a way that they make sense. During the heyday of the classical-romantic style, any competent musician was expected to be able to do this.

aintbrokejustbadlybent - Posted - 02/09/2019:  15:23:06

very interesting topic. I'm envious of persons with perfect pitch like this young lady. A friend of mine sent me this youtube about perfect pitch and how adults cannot develop perfect pitch . Only children exposed to music at a young age are able to develop this ability. I think the attached video bears on this discussion. IMO worth the 20 minutes.

aintbrokejustbadlybent - Posted - 02/09/2019:  15:37:03

I didn't mean to hijack the original comment about improvisation with the perfect pitch video.
Here is an excellent example of improvisation with Buddy Wachter. The more I listen to him the more I appreciate him. Seems to me he flies under the radar.

hobogal - Posted - 02/10/2019:  00:26:45

Hi David - that was a great clip. I recently read a memoir by Min Kym (a violinist, considered to be a child prodigy) - yes, she had perfect pitch but what really came across was her absolute focus: ' practice isn't simply about the hours you put in. It's about concentration.' She also talks about the violin as a physical terrain - knowing the routes like a London taxi driver.
I recently found a copy of Jim Riley's Routines for Better Banjo on ebay - it's helping me think about how to practice. There is a chapter on improvisation which talks about drawing on established patterns and muscle memory. So, basically, you've got to think like a London taxi driver and do 'The Knowledge!'

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 02/10/2019:  09:30:00


Originally posted by rfink1913

What I would love to hear is her explaining what she’s doing. There is a little bit of the parlor trick about this. The same eleven year old is fluently improvising grammatical structures in English in real time (ie, she’s talking), and no one thinks it remarkable. She’s not a genius, but she clearly has spent a lot of time at the keyboard playing 19th-ct style tonal music, and can string together a bunch of conventional gestures in such a way that they make sense. During the heyday of the classical-romantic style, any competent musician was expected to be able to do this.

Can you explain the processes you use in improvising a tune? Composing an original melody? 

She is not stringing together "conventional gestures," (unless that's what you call playing in a particular idiom) but has taken four specific notes and invented a musical piece, That's not so easy. 

I don't call this a "parlor trick" (parlour trick if your from the U.K.). Sure, she's been playing a while, and sure, competent classical musicians had to do this, but they weren't required to do it at age 11. I also don't know how you can claim she's not a genius without further tests (I wouldn't say one way or another without hearing from an expert.) It might be that she is not a genius generally, but she seems to be pretty gifted with musical abilities. 



rfink1913 - Posted - 02/10/2019:  11:24:41

She's gifted, but no more than any musician was expected to be during the time the musical style she's working in was "live." In 1800, there were plenty of 11-year-old apprentices who could improvise fluently at the keyboard on a four-note theme. They weren't all little Mozarts and Beethovens.

As I hear it, what young Alma does is take the four notes she's given (Bb-E-Bb-A) and turn them into the opening gesture of a waltz theme in D minor, in the style of Chopin's waltz in C# minor, and then continue that waltz through a series of conventional (that's not a slam, but a technical judgment) harmonic sequences using generic passagework from the grab bag of 19th-ct piano technique. If you listen carefully, the four note theme disappears pretty quickly.

There's nothing "wrong" with this -- as I implied in my previous post, this imitation and redeployment of conventional phrases is how we learn our native language -- but most piano students are trained *out* of what should be a natural ability by the very same ideology of "genius" (play what's on the page, who are you to change it) that is easily thrown around when someone like Alma shows up without the same inhibitions. Bravo for her!

If this type of improvisation "in the style of" intrigues you, I can recommend the work of Gabriela Montero ( This is where Alma will, hopefully, end up.

davidcava - Posted - 02/10/2019:  13:41:55

Robert, how do you know for sure there were "plenty of 11 year olds who could improvise fluently in 1800?" I like your link to Ms Montero by the way. I also would like to know how to perform this Parlor Trick.

davidcava - Posted - 02/10/2019:  14:43:17

There's no doubt in my mind that most prodigy's are born with this "instinct". As I wrote before, I believe anything can be learned.....but I don't think it can be accomplished in the traditional sense. It will be an extraordinary method.

Mike, on the topic of Buddy. I was at one of his workshops at a banjo gathering, and I'll never forget one of his sentences. After completing a beautiful piece of complicated music....he said....Do you know how easy this is for me? and he said it again........I love Buddy, and I believe him to be one of "the top banjoists in the World"....theres no doubt in my mind. He plays everything with his soul.

I'm sure Buddy was an intense study.....but I have to believe he was born with that something "special".


Edited by - davidcava on 02/10/2019 14:53:38

davidcava - Posted - 02/10/2019:  15:55:06

This "method" does not exist at present.


G Edward Porgie - Posted - 02/11/2019:  09:02:19

"If you listen carefully, the four note theme disappears pretty quickly."

Actually, if you listen carefully, the four note theme does not disappear; it is manipulated somewhat in the manner of a "Theme and Variations," or a typical Jazz manipulation of an "old Standard." She inverts some notes, embellishes them, alters the rhythmic pulse by starting on a different beat, changes registers, at one point transposes it to a major key, and still finishes up--"recapitulates"--the original theme. These techniques have been around for centuries, but not everyone is good at them.

I also question your comments about the prevalence of gifted 11 year old apprentices. The apprentice system was a different ballgame than what happens now. An apprentice wasn't always taken on by the "master." He had to already possess at least a hint of talent. We will never know just how many youngsters were rejected because they couldn't carry a tune, couldn't count, couldn't tell one note from another--in short, those who didn't know their Assai from a hole in the ground.

The point about language being learned by "imitation and redeployment of conventional phrases," I have to point out that there are many people who can't form a decent sentence, constantly misuse words, or misinterpret the obvious. Not everybody becomes a Mellville, and most can write a decen email message. That should say something pertinent about David's comments about "innate abilities." Not everyone has them, and some of it can't be learned. This can also be applied in a musical setting. There are people who can't carry a tune or can't count, and no number of lessons or practice seems to help.

I will agree, though, that "genius" is a term thrown around too hastily, and that talent is many times over-hyped. I certainly hope that at age 11, this young lady is not manipulated as if she is a performing monkey, and uses her abilities to go beyond a transitory internet fame that may only profit others.

Laurence Diehl - Posted - 02/11/2019:  16:10:42

This clip is certainly interesting and I agree that this girl has a lot of innate talent. But I too wonder - where is this all going? Perhaps she will grow up to be a master musician. At my stage of appreciation, music is about emotion, not about impressing. It either has it or it doesn't.

davidcava - Posted - 02/13/2019:  15:04:12

I don't think she's trying to impress.....the television show may be trying to, but, if you close your eyes and start listening at 1:19, it's beautiful improvisation to me, and for an 11 year old? It's totally heartfelt. I hope she Rocks the World.

Edited by - davidcava on 02/13/2019 15:11:27

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