~ classical conversions ~


~ Amer Afro Euro convergence ~

~ you are a classical music artist with some chops, you read and enjoy the collaborative strength of reading music together, and are ready to become a stronger improvising soloist in the music you enjoy to play and share with others, well these next ideas, suggestions and discussions are written and formatted expressly for you :)

play by ear
sing the chromatic scale
count if off / 2 and 4
spell the chords
1 / 8th note evolutions
'... there's only a couple of places it'll go
soloing over the changes
' ... a jazz leaning artist ... ?
soloing through the changes
for the guitarist
for the bassist
forward motion


'suggestions for teachers using this method, for those who appreciate music and for legit players with seriouso classical chops now wanting access to the magics of the 'Improv Americana ...'

"I have to be my own teacher, curious to know the reason for things."
wiki ~ Laurindo Almeida

In a nutshell. The first distinction is to realize that when we play Americana musics, we don't read the music generally. Especially the blues, which can flavor all of our genres and styles. It's a mess in notation really. Here's a 'Far Side' that never got made, I think.

Dancer uncertainty s coming out for the new blues band oh no ...

So, we who study music and do read a bit, simply prepare our existing skills in a different way to enable us to improvise our parts.

When performing with a group, we want to be able to make up our parts as we go along. And the easiest way to do this, once the song has started, and we're moving along in time, is to learn to relax while the groove is going down. We relax into it, and in doing so, get bits of time to think ahead where the music is going and prepare something to play. We 'chime' our part into the mix going down.

The rest is easy really, as long as we're realistic about the parts we are currently capable of sounding out. So we 'sing for our supper' so to speak, sing our parts with our guitars, and mix them in with the other folks in the band.

Pick a genre. In our learning, to say that' I just want to improvise' is a good start, but the thought needs some clarity. Art clarity actually, with a historical weave too. With some clarity and once defined, clear genre shedding paths open. Once we hear music that turns us on, a style or genre we also want to play, we have got us songs to learn. And in learning songs to play, we learn the music elements we need to make the sounds happen. All builds from there really.

Historical era's in our improvs Americana creates focus points and methods to learn them. For once we decide what we want to sound like and in what musical setting, the classical studies we achieved are restructured to provide us each with an improv vocabulary of pitches, melodies, chords etc.

Easiest way in. This next discussion simply looks at the Americana musical elements that sets our Americana weave of aural colors apart from the other indigenous styles of music from around the world. The top to bottom format should be helpful for teachers who need a step by step curriculum to begin a student's artistic evolutions in music. For classical artists with technique and reading chops looking to improvise. For dancers who are looking to better shape their movements to the flow of the music and perhaps create their own vocabulary of moves that corresponds with their music. And for listeners of all stripes just curious about what makes our Americana music's tick.

Essentials teaching method. 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.


Classical conversions. In this Essentials method, trained up, legit classical players coming over to the Americana styles have an easy place to start and really just one initial one task to master. The easy place to start goes like this.


Think back to the first bits of melodies you learned as a child. One's you learned away from your formal trianing, schooling etc. The melodies you learned on the schoolyard, from siblings, friends, me Mom and Pop, Aunt Emma and all. Here are a few of mine. Example 1.


Classical conversions. In this Essentials method, trained up, legit classical players coming over to the Americana styles have an easy place to start and really just one initial one task to master. The easy place to start goes like this.

Think back to the first melodies you learned as a child. One's you learned away from your formal trianing, schooling etc. The melodies you learned on the schoolyard, from siblings, friends, Mon and Pop, Aunt Emma and all. Here are mine. Example 1.


; 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. This skill is then transferred to the radio; finding an Americana song being played, find 2 and 4 in the groove and use your fingers to snap you into the groove. Once solid, simply change stations finding a new Americana song, and repeat this process of finding 2 and 4 in whatever music it is, repeat until mastered, (about two weeks). Then when practicing, with something providing a 2 and 4 beat, sing your line the find its magic on your instrument. Sing the line play the line, sing the line play the line, easy. Need some ideas? Easy.

chord melody
diatonic 3 and 3
interval studies
ideas to sing and play

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 with the next push of the station button.

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 one pitch repeated, groups of pitches, 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 more 'even eighths' found a way into jazz and evolved the 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.

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.