Excerpt from Paquito D'Rivera's Lesson:
Working on Tunes
When Iím studying a tune and working on the chord changes, I never think of scales. I think more in terms of thirds, and I relate to the notes in the chord rather than what scale would apply to that chord. I first learned to improvise by ear and I didnít analyze what I was doing. I just hear the melody and the chords and then I just play naturally. When Iím playing a song that I know, I just play. Itís difficult to explain the process. I donít see the chords in my head. I canít think of iiĖVĖIís. If I had to explain to you the harmonic structure of a tune by memory, I donít know what I would say to you. Iíd really have to think about it because Iím not conscious of that when I play. If you sat down at the piano and played me a iiĖVĖI in the key of C (Dm7ĖG7ĖCmaj7) I would hear a line, I would hear a melody over those changes. I think in terms of music, not letters or numbers. I know how the system works, but itís not in my system! I always think in terms of what something sounds like, rather than what it looks like. If Iím playing a tune and the piano player is voicing a chord with some alteration that is different than what Iím playing, I hear and feel that itís not right. I wouldnít say to him, ďYouíre playing major 9th on that chord when Iím playing the flat 9th.Ē I would just play him the note that I didnít want him to play. If I stopped and thought about it and analyzed what was going on, I might communicate in a more theoretical way, but itís not in my nature.
Donít misunderstand what
Iím saying: you want to know and understand as much about music and
theory as you possible can. I just learned to play in a different way.
Some people say that they donít study music because it gets in the way
of their creativity. I donít agree. Iíve never heard a doctor say that
he decided not to go to medical school because he wanted to be more
creative when he operated on your liver. Music is no less than that. I
believe a student should strive to learn as much as he or she can, but
the student also has to realize that in order to be successful,
eventually you have to develop your own way of doing things.
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