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Kurt is one of my all time favourite musicians, his sound is hugely innovative while somehow keeping an air of familiarity. There is so much to be learnt from his lines, reharmonizations and comping — expect to see more of his transcriptions on here.
This analysis will cover the contour and structure of his lines, the Harmonic Minor sound and his time feel. There are a few building blocks which makes his lines so singable and memorable.
Scalar motion and triad movements are some of those building blocks. The reason for this is that they such strong sounds that when utilised meaningfully, they have a lasting impact on the ear of the listener. Bars 7 and 8 are a great example of this. Scalar pattern at bar 7 and scalar motion at bar 8 These two bars are seemingly simple, but because they are played so intently I will talk about his phrasing further down , their simplicity is forgotten for their beauty.
By having internalised the sounds of each scale, pattern and arpeggio, he is able to put them in exactly the right places. In order to master this, we must train our ears — to sing and to recognise all of our basic melodic shapes.
For example, when learning a new scale, it is a good idea to sing along while playing if playing horn, perhaps pre-hearing the following note , and then doing the same thing away from the instrument. This technique will work for any scale, pattern, arpeggio and will improve your playing greatly by making the sounds so familiar that no thought has to be put in to produce them.
They will become second nature, although granted, it will take a lot of effort. Kurt builds micro-tensions within his lines by starting them in a low register to then go up and descend again. Bar 13 represents the most fundamental instance of this concept.
Rise and fall at bar 13 One more thing that is important about this line in particular is that he uses an arpeggio to rise, and scalar motion to descend. Using scalar motion or chromatics to descend is a great way to slowly release the tension which was quickly built on the ascent. Kurt uses this technique a lot and it becomes very apparent the more you listen to him. The key concept to practise here is to only ascend using a particular arpeggio or any intervals greater than a minor 3rd and to descend only using step-wise motion.
There are more lines that use that concept and more details to be looked into, I encourage you to do your own digging on this. Finding it for yourself will make it more meaningful than reading it in an article. Look at bar 14 for a start! Harmonic Minor This scale and its modes are some of my favourite sounds at the moment.
Kurt has developed his own approach and he uses it in very interesting places. But by looking deeper into it, we can realise that Bb HM is also Eb Dorian 11, the reason why that is relevant is because if we play that scale over the Eb7, we notice that it is almost like a lydian dominant scale except it has no 3rd, just a natural 9 and a b9.
The voice leading otherwise works in the same manner, with just the added flavour of the b9 going to natural 9 going to 5 which becomes root of Im , instead of the usual maj3 to b9 to 5 or 9 to b9 to 5. Again, singing this scale over a dominant sound 1-maj3-b7 on the piano will prove very useful in hearing the sound when improvising. I recommend you also take time to compose lines which feature this scale over a dominant chord and explore in which ways you can lead to the I.
Learning the lines in all twelve keys will prove useful for technique for most instruments and learning to sing them will also help for the same reasons as mentioned above.
This aspect of music and improvisation is often overlooked in educational environments, where the emphasis is often put on what to play. There are many exercises to improve phrasing and rhythm, but I want to talk about a few that have immensely helped me in my journey. The first exercise was to improve my swing feel and consisted of playing only two alternating notes, in swing 8th notes. Recording your playing here is crucial because you might think that you are playing right in the pocket, but the only way to erase any doubt is to listen back critically.
Once you feel like the exercise is getting easier and you are getting more comfortable at all tempos, you can start accenting the notes on the beat or the notes off the beat. For piano players, keep the mechanics of the instrument in mind and realise that the key has to be pressed at a higher velocity to emit a louder sound, which then affects when you should press it. The second exercise can be practised on a tune or on a vamp, but the idea is to switch between subdivisions within lines.
A really basic example would be to play quarter notes and switch to 8th notes in the middle of the line. There are endless variations of this and the more different the subdivisions are, the better it will be for your mastery of time. Try going from quarter notes to quarter note triplets or from swing 8th notes to straight — again, the combinations are endless.
I know that I missed some aspects of his playing in this analysis, Kurt Rosenwinkel is a undoubtedly a master and this solo still has many more gems left to be found within it. I will let you do your own analysis to find what you like and apply it in your playing. Analysis is easy, the difficult part is putting it into use which only happens in the practise room. Thank you for reading this Transcription Analysis!
Remember to share it with anyone who might be interested. I would love to hear your feedback, which you can leave here or any of my other social medias.
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Transcription Analysis #2 | ‘Round About Midnight – Kurt Rosenwinkel