Carl wrote:I feel that there is this thing which I can only call "musical thoughts". These are not representational of anything outside themselves/music. It is like a language, there are things that make musical sense, just like words make linguistic sense.
I think I know what you mean. There is an internal structure, grammar, and syntax in solos and rhythm that stands all by itself and has aesthetic value. Just like certain colors go together and make for a visually pleasing experience, even if they have no shape that would relate to the outside world; the color combination all by itself has aesthetic value. Similarly, in music, there are tonal intervals that we perceive as pleasant and others that we perceive as unpleasant (such as the tritone interval, which was apparently banned in some places in medieval times as "the devil in music"). These intervals sound pleasant or unpleasant independent of their surrounding harmonic context.
This is greatly complicated when the music has to relate to something outside it's-self, like playing for dancers (or writing opera, where there is a plot to consider, not to mention dialog!)
Yes. Scoring for a film comes to mind as an extreme case of where external events shape the music. I've always thought that the role of music in movies is grossly under-appreciated in its contribution to the emotional impact of the movie. Most of the time, viewers aren't really aware of the music and all their focus is on the visuals, dialog, story line, and sound effects. Yet, without the music, a movie has much less of an impact. (I've had the opportunity to watch movies without the music track, but with everything else intact. It is amazing how flat a movie gets when the music goes missing.)
When you first start soloing, you have simple musical thoughts, and they can be "said" in a relatively short solo. That's one reason why some people can solo for 10 min. and it will sound amazing, and for others, if they solo for more than 40 seconds, it seems like it is going on forever! The more complicated your musical thoughts, the longer it takes to say them.
I only know a handful of drummers in person who can solo for 10 minutes and keep me interested for the entire time. Without exception, all of them are West African masters.
I agree about the complexity angle: if I take 10 minutes to say something, there had better be 10 minutes worth of content. And because good soloing requires maintaining a theme, managing a tension curve, reiterating previous points, and so on, that implies a story underneath it, not just a long sequence of interesting phrases.
I just listened again to Mamady's Djembe Kan
solos. Technical wizardry aside, listening to those solos makes it very clear that there is a story here, with a development, highlights, little jokes along the way, and element of surprise, and a plot. (To me, these are the best unaccompanied djembe solos I have ever heard.)
Everything mentioned in the list of "bad solos" can be related to speaking or writing, talking "over the heads" of your audience. Not making logical sense with your words. using complicated words just to use complicated words.
I wouldn't say "everything". For example, bad micro-timing seems to be just that, bad micro-timing. But I agree that most of the features of bad solos relate to not relating and talking over the heads of the audience and/or fellow musicians. After all, solos are communication. If the communication goes one-sided, with the speaker ignoring the audience, pretty much by definition, there is no longer any communication (because communication implies a two-way exchange of information).
One of the ways that I think about it, is that each rhythm is a subject and I solo on that subject. If you listen to a LOT of music, I think you will naturally "stay on subject" when you solo on the songs that you are familiar with, because you've heard a lot of people "talk" about it in their solos.
I strongly agree with that. What you call a "subject", I called the "essence" and "identity" of each particular rhythm. Respecting that subject or identity is essential to good soloing.
The danger comes if you learn a lot of solos, but do not hear them in context. For example, while my class way playing Soli - Rapide one of my students played a very Soli-des-manian type solo technique. (I had just explained some of the theory of the technique, and he was playing with it...) It sounded very strange to my ears! like someone talking about his favorite pizza in the middle of a conversation about auto repair. What I find particularly interesting in this case is that there is a exra-musical relationship (they are both from the Soli family) but the musical grammar is in conflict.
Totally agree. I've come across the same thing many times. A drummer plays a set solo they have learned somewhere, but plays it over a different rhythm than the original one. I listen and recognise the solo. And I listen to the overall effect and shy back. Quite often, my inner voice goes "yes, these are nice phrases, and I know you learned that solo from such and such, but don't you realize how you are fighting the rhythm with what you are doing?"
That's not to say that I'm berating that person. It takes time and experience to develop a feel for what works, and doing things wrong is a necessary step along the path to doing them right. I know that I still miss the mark quite often myself. But, as my experience grows, I find that it becomes easier to pull out those phrases that work and avoid those that don't without having to slavishly stick to a set solo I learned in the past, and without having to play with my head thinking "what should come next" when I'm soloing.