Slonimsky saves the world

Q: "Is there a good way to practice out of the Slonimsky book? Do you
transpose that shit or just run over it in the key of C to get more ideas. It's very interesting but dense harmonically, I never considered all the different permutations that are there." Markos

I've never gotten round to transposing the Slonimsky material. The 1:6 are whole to
ne, 1:4 diminished and the 1:3 can be used over whole-tone or three tonic progressions, each one of those already cover several keys. The diminished and whole-tone patterns are cool because they are based on the scale but not all the notes are diatonic to the scale. That makes them close enough to use in place of a whole-tone or diminished scale. Remember also that as long as you move a pattern in minor thirds or whole-steps it sounds like diminished or whole-tone respectively.

The 12-tone patterns don't need to be transposed either. You just need to land on a good note when they resolve. This is because they have no key center, just a powerful gravity to the final tone. In fact you can really think of all symmetrical scales as having a strong dominant function, so you can get pretty wild and loose with them. Just make sure you resolve them strongly, you'd be amazed what you can actually get away with and still sound good.

Another way I like to practice from the book is to read through in a loose manner. I might just follow the shapes of the lines but use different notes. TSMP is great for opening your ears up to new directional motion in lines. There are shapes in TSMP that you just don't run across in Jazz. It also can introduce you ways of covering larger intervallic space, the first scale in the book (the 1:2 tri-tone) is a good example of this. Watch out for the trap though that many players who practice out of TSMP too much fall into. This is the strong tendency to start your lines at the bottom of the horn and head to the top of the range before going back down. I call this the 'Slonimsky Roller Coaster Syndrome'. There is one of my peers in particular who does this all the time (who lives in NYC and is on the Verve label). This cat is a great guy and a truly fantastic player, but up-down-up-down thing really gets on my nerves. Take that book away from him!!!

I think what Trane and generations of players found in TSMP were lines that had so much forward motion that they could be used over ANYTHING. These lines are strong enough to make outside playing sound logical. Tonal harmony is after all mainly about forward motion, so the lines found in TSMP offer away to still retain forward motion while playing outside. It just becomes a matter of being able to resolve these lines in a logical way.

Later in the book there are some very exotic sounding pentatonic scales like the Javanese pelog scale, the Japanese Hira-Joshi scale and Scriabin's pentatonic scale from Sonata number 7. These all could be used over various types of C7 chords. They could also fit over other chords with a little ingenuity. All these exotic scales still sound uniquely exotic no matter what chords they are played over.

The Bi-tonal Arpeggios section of TSMP is a topic that has already been thoroughly fleshed out in Gary Campbell's Triad Pairs book. These pairs of triads offer a goldmine for the Jazz musician. For more on this topic see my Triad Pairs articles.

For me TSMP offers an entire new world of 'directional ideas'. The lines in TSMP snake, interweave, spiral, converge & diverge, jump, lurch, and infra-interpolate. Practicing this book will break you free of overly simplistic vertical/horizontal concepts of linear thinking. TSMP has been without a doubt one of the main modes of transmission of contemporary classical ideas to the Jazz world. There is still much in TSMP that has been untapped. Can you imagine what would Jazz sound like in thirty years if young players worked out of TSMP instead of David Baker's Bebop books???


Rob Ewing said...

Hi David,

Just stopping by to say I'm enjoying keeping up with your blog.


Rob Ewing
San Francisco

Anonymous said...

Hey David -

Any tips on how to internalize these odd scales so that they naturally come out in your solos?

Thanks for a great blog.

David Valdez said...

Thanks Rob! Keep in touch.

David Valdez said...

Internalizing exotic scales takes the same practice as any other scale. Try practicing them in different keys and try fitting them over different chords. Once you have an idea where these exotic scales can fit and have them under your fingers start throwing them in. At first they will sound contrived, later when you start to hear them in your imagination they will come out more naturally. Part of the usefulness of exotic scales is that they sound so different from the scales we normally use. Usually we want to create a contrast to standard diatonic chord/scale harmony when we break out an exotic scale, so it's ok to sound contrived at first.

Listen to Yusef Lateef to hear someone who uses a lot of exotic scales and uses them well.