~ teachers ~

~ classical players ~

~ play by ear ~

~ no charts ~

~ spell chords ~

~ even 1/8th's ~


'suggestions for teachers using this method and legit players to cross over into the Americana improv magic ...'

Essentials teaching method. If necessary, the following teaching topics are a beginning way for teachers to use this book as one of their method books with their learners. For not all students learn the same ways, and there's also times when we just want to try something new. And once in motion we tend to stay in motion. Following the links here in listed order should get some learning motion going.

2 and 4
8th notes



In a nutshell. In this Essentials method, classical players coming over to the Americana styles have really just initial one task to master; to consistently find the 2 and 4 beats of a measure of 4/4 time from of a series of steady metronomic beats. For once this is mastered, mucho more coolness should fall in place.

Overview. Players and artists of the Euro traditions; the classical cats, coming here with renewed interest into Americana musics, have a super exciting journey ahead of them here in Essentials. For if you already have the chops to play the musics of the legit library, most everything you need is already under your fingers. Plus, chances are you read notation, a colossal help if transitioning into jazz and soloing through harmony.

The following suggestions ideally are combined together to create some ownership of the process of creating the Americana sounds. Time, forms of music, creating space, understanding and creating cliche ides and repetative practicing of ideas are a few of the main things we can strengthen here that are necessary to get comfortable in this new performance environment, one where all of the 'instructions' of what to play are not on the written music.

A place to start / count it off.


A way of beginning the merging process into the Americana way of thinking and making music is a snap. That snap happens on the 2 and 4 beats of a measure of 4/4 time. That any of us can create the pocket by simply snapping fingers or clapping of hands, the groove is on the tip of our fingers.

For in practice. When classical music typically begins, someone counts off the music. This usually happens one of a couple ways depending on the setting of the gig, the players involved etc. One thing though, is that classical musicians never start off their music by snapping their fingers to find the 2 and 4 beats in a measure of 4 / 4 time to count into the time of the music which follows. Never? Eh, hen's teeth rare :) And therein lies the rub.

And while training up and mastering to count of an Americana song is the first suggestion and task in this classical to Americana transition, it'll still probably be a couple of months or so before the 'pull' of the 2 and 4 starts to naturally find its way into one's reading and improvised lines. Patience? Yep.


We Americana players also have a few ways of counting off the music. A quick survey of style from folk to jazz finds snapping the fingers as the most common way to start a group off. Well, the folksters might not, but they surely could. Snapping fingers for the 2 and 4 beats to count off a blues, country song and rock'n roll? Is there a backbeat? (there better be :) Then yes sir ree bobber we snap our fingers to count it off. Jazz? But of course.

Swap the downbeat / 1 & 3 becomes 2 & 4.

First tasking is to snap or clap right on and along with the click. When the sound of clicks goes away, we know we are right on the beat. Example 1.

Find the click. First tasking is to snap or clap right on and along with the click. When the sound of clicks goes away, we know we are right on the beat. Example 1.

Count 'one' before the click. Once we are on the case we then simply verbally count the number one before each click. This 'one' is the downbeat of the measure. "One, click, one click etc. And if 'one is one' then the click must be two yes? Example 2.

Count a four bar phrase. The conclusion of this process is to add in counting a four bar phrase whereby the first number of each group of four represents the downbeat of each measure. Example 3.

Swing. Chances are I can teach you how to recognize the physical feel swing in a couple of heartbeats by using the pulse of a metronome. Might take a couple of tries but it will happen. And once you can recognize the magic of swing while listening to performed music; in person, radio, on the hifi or stereo etc., then all is upon your shoulders to infuse this sense of pull as you feel it into your own musical ideas and expressions.

What swing is. The rhythm feel commonly known as swing is simply the results of rubbing two rhythms up against one another. This is what happens when the various rhythms of bandmates are sounded together in real time. In most cases, there's a wee bit of discrepancy between each players consistent finding of the beat. The swing lives right in this search for the beat.

Described here as the 'pull' of the swing, that one pulse wants to pull the other along becomes the physical sense of force we feel in the music. This is the force that makes us smile when we hear, feel and embrace the wee bit of wobble in the loose matching up of all the beats. Example 4.

Out of thin air ... So if we combine the above elements and internalize the concepts, chances are we can conjure any of our grooves right out of thin air. Really? Yep. For all we need to do is think of the style and tempo, find the pulse, find two and four and snap or clap on these beats and count ourselves on in. We can pull the groove right out of the cosmos :)

Takes time. Just turns out that recognizing and feeling this pull of the swing and the getting it under our fingers in performance are two, quite different challenges. In an instant of thought, the recognition of the magic will happen. Reproducing this magic in real time in various styles, with other players, tempos, melodies, chord changes under the lights in performance et al takes time, often a fairly long time, weeks and months if not years for some as time to devote to art is often challenged.

Sing and swing. This correlation of sing and swing is most likely are clearest inner connect for creating the magic. If my melodies and rhythms swing when I sing them then chances are I'll eventually find it on my instrument too. Don't swing when I sing? Long row to hoe. The Americana melodies included in this work, many of which we learned as kids, become the deeply ingrained melodies that we learn and play by rote, and hopefully this ingrained, we get to swing. Most of the rest is just a matter of the shedding.

Listening. Once the above abilities for finding and conjuring 2 and 4 are internalized, might be worthwhile to spend time identifying the rhythms in the music we listen to. As an exercise, modern radios with a 'forward to the next station' button feature creates a fun way to skip through the dial and styles, and at each stop find the pocket created by 2 and 4, or not as the case may be. Nine times out of ten when we bump into the classical music station, the Americana 2 and 4 pocket vanishes only to return to some sort of Americana.

Improv / 8th notes and swing. Eighth notes are the cashola of so much of the Americana magic for the improvising musicians. For classical players coming over to Americana, developing their eighth notes can become a essential component of their transition. The beginning of this could be based on playing 'even eighths', an unaccented stream of pitches and rhythms subdividing the big four into eight. These can be scales, intervals or arpeggios etc., easily shaped with the metronome.

Even eighths are super hip in today's musics and improv. With a notable big step into jazz in the 40's with percussionist Chano Pano with Dizzy Gillespie, the even eights found a way into jazz and swing beautifully, and in some ways harder than the original dotted figure when employed in straight ahead settings. Of course, the musical environment we find even eighths today has evolved in its time and harmonies from back when accented eights were king.

straight ahead jazz

Once comfortable, a first level advancement of even eights is to accent the off beat eight note. This approach can be viewed as a direct evolution from the traditional swing eights as based on the looping feel of the dotted 8th / 16th pattern. Compare the possibilities. Example 5.

Mix and match? Use all of the feels to shape the expressive contour of your idea? Unless it's the style you totally dig or the one for your gig, might want to be careful of practicing and getting too deep into the lope-ing eights, for when you want to even things up, it might be a challenge to shake it out of your chops. Muscle memory and all of that ya know :)

Improv. Those players transitioning from classical to Americana will bump into the near certain necessity of developing a solo voice. It's just too much a part of the music and too much fun to miss. Not overly present in the classical world, although at one point in history it was rumored to be. Herrs' Mozart and Beethoven were said to be the greatest improvisors of their day. Given a theme to variate, they could work the magic.

When starting out, if you're reading is strong, consider finding the written solos of the cats you dig and shed those ideas. Transcribing is a sure way into building a vocabulary. Sing the line / play the line is most likely the the original way into this self expressive magic. Speaking from the heart helps keep things true.

If entering the jazz world, chances are you'll be playing through the changes and not over them with a parent scale. If this is the case, knowing the theory of spelling chords completely into through their upper structure is a worthy goal. For in the improv of jazz, creating lines through changes is a core historical strand of its DNA.

Musical fun with a master. In this next idea we use our 2 and 4 skills while listening to J.S. Bach's Well Tempered Clavier. Simply click on his pic to start of the music. Find the downbeat and click yourself into the music with 2 and 4. Might take a try or two but Herr Bach, in spots, is one hard swinging bro :)

Review. So in transitioning from the legit world into Americana, once a cat can conjure a 2 and 4 based groove from right outta the thin air good things will happen. Once in the groove, singing melodies known deep in the heart become the first lines to swing. Once these rote lines are swinging, no limit at all. The 1/8th note is the currency of Americana improv, subdividing the big 4, the common time we roll too. Even eights rule the day today, off beat accents a next challenge. Finding the triplet feel and a gallop completes the entry level chores for the classically trained artist.