Understanding Forward Motion
My original three articles on Forward Motion were published in Down Beat Magazine in 1980 & 1981. Their purpose was to show how melodies work as well as offering a way of practicing scales more in the manner they are used than in the way they were originally learned. Since that time my understanding of the subject has grown and the way I use FM in my teaching has been modified. Originally, I used FM to correct what I saw as a technical and theoretical problem. Now I see FM exercises as being used to correct what are basically perceptual problems. As most problems with playing music are perceptual in nature, to change the way you play you have to change the way you think.
When the articles were first published, I was sure I had come upon original research that no one else had duplicated. It wasn’t until I read Albert Schweitzer’s biography of Bach (J.S. Bach, Vol. 1 & 2, Dover Books) that I realized that the musical laws inherent in FM were universal. Anyone exploring this subject would come to the same conclusions that Bach and I did. The rules that govern music are universal, not affected by the passage of time, place or genre. There are concrete reasons why some music sounds better than others.
In volume 1, Pg. 312 of the Schweitzer biography is his analysis of Bach’s concept of phrasing. “If we follow the principle indicated by Bach’s manner of writing his phrases, we see that he usually conceives four consecutive notes as grouped in such a way that the first is detached from the others by an imperceptible break, and belongs rather to the previous group than to the one that follows.” Thus not
He gives the following phrasing example from Bach’s Prelude in A minor (Peters II, No. 8):
On page 375 of the same volume (referring to Rudolf Westphal’s metrical study of the fugues in Bach’s Well-tempered Clavichord) “…he proves again and again that those who regard the bar-lines in Bach’s music as the borders of the rhythmic factors are bound to play him unrhythmically. In a Bach theme everything surges forward to a principal accent. (Emphasis mine). Till this comes all is restless, chaotic; when it arrives the tension relaxes, and at one stroke all that went before becomes clear, – we understood why the notes had these intervals and these values.” And again, on page 396 of volume 2 “If we do not experience this sense of tension followed by relief, the theme has not been properly played; it has been phrased in the ordinary rhythm of the bars, instead of in its fundamental rhythm.”
Beginning with our earliest childhood education a tacit conditioning occurs. We see “one” of the bar before we see any other beat or note. We count first beat of the bar as “one.” Since “one” is the first number of the number series, years of perceiving music this way has conditioned us into thinking of “one” as the first beat of the bar. It would then seem logical that melodic phrases begin on the first beat of the bar, or “one.”
However, Tension and Release Theory states that “one” of the bar is the strongest beat of the bar and as such, is the ultimate resolution beat in the bar. “Resolution” means that something has ended, consequently “one” of the bar is not the first beat of the bar; it is the last beat of the bar. It is the beat to which melodic ideas are played toward and at which they end.
FM is based on the laws of the physics of sound and rhythm. These laws are immutable and as applicable in Bach’s time as in ours. FM is also based upon the physiology of how the ear functions, another universal. The mind loves logic and rejects chaos. It has an innate tendency to want to make sense out of chaos. When faced with a problem or something that doesn’t make sense, it automatically tries to make sense out of it by relating it to the familiar.
Such is the case, for example, when looking at a modern abstract painting by Klee. The mind tries to force the eye into making sense out of it by looking for ways to make the painting’s content fall into recognizable representational objects: cars, trains, houses, animals, etc., as one does when looking at clouds. This same tendency is present in the ear as well. The ear tends to reject chaos and has a marked tendency to automatically make sense of the sounds it hears. To the ear, tension is intolerable and needs to be resolved. Have you noticed the problems you have going from one melodic fragment to another? How you have a hard time “hooking up” your ideas from one to the other? That’s probably because you’re starting your melodies on “one” and/or “three” of the bar. “One” is a resolution beat, a point of rest for the ear and stops the line. When starting a melody on a tension beat, the ear wants to resolve the tension by jumping ahead to it’s nearest resolution beat. If you start on the “and” of “two,” your ear will want to hear towards the resolution on the up-coming beat, “three” of the bar.
FM is a practicing technique that takes advantage of this innate tendency to hear an idea in motion toward future rhythmic and harmonic resolution points. This ability can be developed to a highly sophisticated degree.
All art is the projection of an illusion created by the artist. This is no less so for the musician. When listening to a jazz solo, it is perceived in a static fashion. You are being subjected to an illusion. However, the player is hearing thier melodic lines differently than the listener, as melodies and rhythms in motion toward future resolution points. Instead of hearing in a static manner, the soloist is hearing ahead of where they are in the music at the moment.
The ear can be trained to hear: two beats, four beats, two bars, eight bars ahead. The great jazz drummer, Billy Hart, once confided to me that he “hears” his whole chorus in approach to “one” of the next chorus. Since this is a natural innate ability, anyone can learn to hear and play in FM.
Forward Motion is divided into ten chapters:
Melody and Embellishment creates a historical context for the following chapters by creating a framework for understanding how the process of jazz improvisation became increasingly more sophisticated from its beginnings in the early 1900’s. It explains the historical connection between how it was done then and how it is still done today, clarifies those aspects of improvising that have changed and those that haven’t and why.
Rhythmic Forward Motion introduces the basic concept of Forward Motion, starting with how my study of it began and how music is almost universally taught “backwards” from the way it really functions. It describes the functions of Tension and Release patterns rhythmically and melodically and how they can be played to create strong melodies that “spell” the changes out. This chapter also includes a discussion of playing in half time and its effect upon a player’s conception of playing in tempo ending with a short treatise on Rhythmic Syncopation.
Scalar Forward Motion applies Forward Motion techniques to scale lines and how “Key Scales” can be transformed into “Chord Scales.” Three categories of scales lines are discussed: scale lines that descend for chords of two beats duration, scale lines that ascend for chords of two beat’s duration, and scale lines that ascend and descend for chords of four or more beats duration. The chapter illustrates the almost infinite ways that chord tones can be synchronized with the strong beats of the bar to clearly “spell” out chord changes. The use of Inner Guide Tone Melodies is also discussed.
Arpeggios and Forward Motion elaborates on how to add pickups and resolutions to arpeggios giving them a feeling of motion demonstrating the difference between themes that are in and out of Forward Motion. It then applies the technique of Melodic Inversion to insure you have explored all the possible ways arpeggios of different lengths can be combined.
Appoggiaturas and Forward Motion shows how chromatic embellishments can be synchronized to spell out chord changes. An abbreviated list of some of the infinite ways chromatic embellishments have been used in the jazz vocabulary is included.
Intervals and Forward Motion adds pickups and resolutions to large intervals (broken arpeggios) to give them a feeling of motion including examples of their use by modern composers and how they might be used in a solo context.
Harmonic Forward Motion details the advanced technique of spelling out chord changes in advance of where they are written and how to make them work within a solo line. It illustrates how current transcriptional analysis leads to misconceptions about how a soloist has spelled out the chord changes.
Forward Motion and Pentatonics and Cells applies Forward Motion techniques to pentatonic scales, arpeggios and “Cell Playing” as well as how to delineate their Inner Guide Tone Melodies.
Superimposition is an advanced technique describing how musical freedom from the predictable elements of music: meter, harmony, melody and form can be achieved. Otherwise known as “being able to play anything anywhere,” it illustrates how the masters used these elements only as guides to made up their own solo content over the predictable elements to create rhythmic and melodic freedom during a solo.
How To Practice Forward Motion debunks mechanical “repetition” as an outmoded practicing process. It offers a step-by-step process for retraining your hearing to hear in Forward Motion.