The intersections between jazz and classical music have long fascinated me, and within my own music I often use contemporary classical ideas. For the most part this was a personal journey that started bearing fruit back in the early 1990’s from a combination of my interest in hexatonic scales and a thirst for knowledge that was spurred by access to the Princeton University Music Library during my 30 year tenure there as a music instructor. But this journey was also started in part from the influences that my teachers Charlie Banacos and Jerry Bergonzi had on me in my formative years and their ways of organizing materials for practice.
I recently found the music education genealogical chart of my teachers Charles Banacos and Jerry Bergonzi Interestingly it is also a timeline showing the flow of the teaching of classical music into the teaching of its elements as applied to jazz. I think people generally don’t realize how the techniques used in composing and playing classical music are closely related to their counterparts in Jazz.
Looking at the genealogy chart, I also realized that I am the product of these great music teachers, and those who taught them. I owe so much to Charlie and Jerry because they took the time to show me what they knew, all in the cause of education, and that is why I feel compelled to pass the torch to my own students.. Charles Banacos and Jerry Bergonzi, were gurus in the fullest sense of the word. Every lesson with them was a revelation that encouraged me to study and practice more, and I would not be the musician I am now, without their guidance.
It turns out that the methods I’ve both learned from, and have presented in my books have a long history. They did not start with Charlie or even his teacher, but have been used to educate countless musicians over the ages, many of whom went on to become masters we still admire today. From looking at the Genealogy chart below you can see it’s an impressive list; virtually a Who’s Who of music running from the Baroque period through Classical, and Romantic and right up to Jazz. I am really amazed (and humbled) when I look at this.
Although it is hard to find much information on exact teaching methods prior to Czerny, when I perused his various books it confirmed that many of the concepts he taught were also taught by Banacos, Bergonzi, Chaloff and Vergerov having been passed down intact, and one can assume that these ideas were picked up from their predecessors, such as Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn, as well as anyone who had studied with them.
This certainly explains why some key elements that are found in my books appear in Czerny’s Complete Theoretical and Practical Piano Forte op 500 from 1839 as well. I found many basic concepts such as how to learn scales, arpeggios, ear training and rhythm could be traced from what I was taught by Banacos and Bergonzi back through to Czerny and presumably beyond. I did unearth an interesting concept used in the time of Czerny. In early music instruction a student had a lesson every day rather than once a week. This is precisely why I created muse-eek.com and offered free email interaction, so that a student can get answers to their questions immediately, without waiting for the next lesson. This ensures maximum productivity at practice time, between lessons. Banacos, who taught correspondence lessons, often told me that he never taught concepts such as ear training through correspondence because you needed closer interaction with a student to teach them correctly. Unfortunately, even though he was intrigued by computers and what they could do, Charlie was not computer literate. We spent many lessons discussing this. He was very curious as to how they could aid in the “multitasking” of musical study –and any student of Charlie’s would understand why!
My teachers’ main principals as great educators were compassion, humility, kindness and a deep sense of caring about guiding a student to fullest potential. Anyone who has studied with Charlie or Jerry would instantly recognize this in their character. I have attempted to follow in their footsteps.
From reading through Czerny’s books and comparing the education I received, here are some of the correlations I have found. I’ve also listed the relevant books or series of books available from Muse-eek.com that I’ve created to help my students master these aspects of their musical education.
1. A student should learn music theory and know what all the notes are on their instrument. Music Theory is a language that should be second nature. A student must learn both note names and degrees when working with various exercises. To help achieve this goal I created:
2. Reading music on one’s instrument is essential, and reading through the music of the great composers is invaluable. I have created a comprehensive series of books on sight reading. The Time Series encompasses a wide range of books specifically addressing the rhythmic aspect of reading. I’ve also created the New York Guitar Method Ensemble Book Volume One and Volume Two which along with many other exercises includes classical music to read by such artists as Corelli, Bach and Beethoven.
3. Technical ease is not achieved through stress or tension. I always encourage ergonomic movement so that there is no wasted energy, or harmful fatigue. Playing through pain or simply holding an instrument incorrectly is a common mistake. I believe it is the main reason students may not attain the mastery they deserve. I wrote Right Hand Technique for Guitar to deal specifically with right hand issues along with the video course Guitar Physiology to demonstrate proper technique.
4. Learning essential scales, chord progressions and other patterns in all keys is crucial to mastering an instrument. This is a simple concept but completely ignored by many teachers. All of the books I have written stress the importance of learning the information in all keys and being able to hear this information in all appropriate key centers. Books such as Essential Scales, Sight Reading Solved, Chord Workbook for Guitar Volume One and Two and the 3 Volumes of Jam Tracks all contain exercises and MP3s that cover all 12 keys.
5. Music should be heard in key centers so it is necessary to learn everything in relationship to them. This is the main point behind my whole Ear Training Series and is the rosetta stone of understanding how to play music. When a student is playing a scale or any other combination of notes they should always hear these notes in a key center. The MetroDrone is a set of MP3s I recommend for every student to help them practice in this way.
6. I always recommend applying everything learned to a real life, real time musical situation. I use Jam Tracks Volume One, Two and Three along with the Direct Application books to get students to apply each technique they learn.
7. Articulation and embellishment are the keys to personalizing ones’ music. Each idiom has its set of articulations and embellishments. A student needs to learn these through transcription.
8. Practicing music in shorter periods throughout the day is better than one long marathon session. This is because our memory is engaged more by repeated short sessions, and we learn and retain information better.
9. Learning all the possible ways music can be notated is key to great sight reading ability. It also teaches you many articulations and embellishments that you can use in your playing.
10. Learning rhythm on an internal level is key to developing full musicianship skills. Through my Big Metronome, Odd Meters, MetroDrone and Time Transformation books I explore the key aspects of developing the ability to feel, rather than count music on various levels.
11. Classical composers were expected to improvise when they performed, although this practice fell out of style for a while. But improvisation plays a major role in musicianship, and indicates an understanding of structure as well as a high degree of creativity. Czerny called this preluding. By applying each thing you learn to an improvisational setting it helps spur artistic expression and an understanding of the techniques you explore.
12. Music must be learned on the micro and macro level especially when it comes to rhythm. My book Sonic Resource Guide explores a Macro understanding of all possible scales and their application. Neither Banacos, Bergonzi nor Czerny taught music using Pitch Class Sets but the way they approached the organization of musical ideas was right in line with the organizational principals of Post Tonal Theory. On the other hand much of my Rhythm Series which helps a student gain basic ability with rhythms. My Big Metronome, Doing Time Series and the MP3s found in MetroDrone which helps a student feel music and rhythm in a larger scope came directly out of ideas I learned from Banacos and the ideas of per mutating rhythms learned from Banacos as well were augmented and further organized via the computer program SuperCollider.
13. A student should use modal sequencing as a means to improve their technique but also to master scales and other musical patterns. Czerny’s books are full of modal sequences as a way to master scales. Both Banacos and Bergonzi basic concepts of learning were centered around permutation of everything ingredient of music. I furthered this idea by creating a series of books called ChopBusters that require a student to apply modal sequencing to common scales but also to various pitch class sets, thus obtaining a more modern sound.
14. You must learn music with a positive state of mind. It is a scientific fact that frustration leads to poor retention. Learning and practice should be an engrossing, joyful experience, not one filled with disappointment and feelings of inadequacy. Patience and self-tolerance will yield the most fruitful practice time.
15. A student should be encouraged through the example of their teacher to strive for playing and understanding music of the highest artistic standards. By checking out the Recordings Section of the muse-eek.com website students can see and hear the scope of recordings I’ve created to demonstrate both the standard and non-standard application of the techniques they are learning.
16. A student should work on a limited number of exercises so that they are not overburdened with too many exercises pulling them in multiple directions. This is a common problem with students who are dedicated, but make very slow progress due to taking on too much at once. Both Banacos and Bergonzi were known for the extra large assignment which they expected you to finish before moving on to the next concept.
17. Performing in front of people is an excellent way to put one into another context and stretch ones ability even it’s just for a friend, and is an under utilized tool for becoming a great musician. I often tell my students how I would play 5 duets a week with other guitarists for years to increase my flexibility, learn from others, and to play various types of music I might not necessarily gravitate to otherwise.
18. As I’ve stated earlier, music is like a language. Learning to express music naturally can be compared to speaking ones native tongue. There is no stopping to think about about individual words or grammar. It just flows.
19. A teacher should repeat the important rules over and over again until the student actually realizes their importance. I’m sometimes criticized that in my books and videos I keep repeating some important aspect of learning music. Through 30 years of experience in teaching I’ve found this is the only way to make sure a student understands a subject thoroughly.
20. In order to learn music you need contact with a teacher. You can’t expect to just go on YouTube and surf and find something that will fix some core problem in your musicianship that is holding you back. Even in Czerny’s time (the early 1800’s ) he was teaching students through letters when he could not do it in person. You can see an example of this in his “Letters to a Young Lady on the Art of Playing the Pianoforte.” Muse-eek.com does this through Skype and email to keep the distance learners in touch to make sure they are developing correctly.
21. By reading through Czerny’s books I can see that successful teaching techniques that I was taught, reach way back into the past and have been taught to many of the great musicians in history. Here are some of them:
- Strive to be able to play all notes with equal velocity to acquire smoothness and musicality.
- The ear develops more slowly than the eye; teach and learn accordingly.
- Always learn a piece of music starting at a tempo that is comfortable. Once it is perfectly played, speed can be adjusted.
This will avoid engraining poor techniques and mistakes.
- If a piece of music is too difficult to learn then learn one element at a time and then try putting the whole piece together.
- Do not try to play things that are above your level. Work up to these goals over time or play the pieces at an extremely slow tempo.
- Solfeggio is an excellent tool for understanding and developing your ear when not using your instrument.
- Correct, ergonomic fingering on any instrument leads to maximum proficiency.
- Understanding that time and space are infinitely divisible. While rhythmic accuracy is of course important there is know end to the finding the exact correct placement of a rhythm. This is why human feel is so important to how music is performed and why both Banacos and Bergonzi stressed listen and learn the music of other great musicians.
22. Every scale or group of notes creates a number of modes equal to the number of notes in the grouping. Remembering that these groups in turn can create unique key centers and learning to think and hear these key centers is crucial to understanding music on a higher level. This is really the core of the ear training taught by Banacos. The common idea of learning a scale and then “thinking” this scale in situations where it is not the key center is a very unmusical and fruitless approach to learning music. For instance thinking a C Melodic Minor Scale over a B7 Altered chord is not recommended unless you are hearing the B7 Altered in the key of C. My Secondary Dominant book looks at the proper way to approach the learning of scales within a key center.
As I have stated before, in Czerny’s time it was expected that a master musician would be able to improvise not only on a given piece of music but be able to improvise a prelude that embodied the spirit, content and feeling of a given piece. I believe this is still true today. Another common practice from Czerny’s time was reading in all clefs which enabled smooth transposition and the ability to read any score. Charlie Banacos stressed this in my lessons making me read through Bach’s two part inventions in all clefs. It worked wonders.
I seem to be one of the only students who actually asked Charlie Banacos where he got his ideas for the techniques he taught. He recommended many books to me and you can find a list of those in the Further Investigations section of this website.