Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Using music21 for Jazz Improv and Study

The following is a guest post from Daniel McGillicuddy, alias Basso Ridiculoso.  He can be reached at daniel.mcg [at] gmail.com.   -- MSC

Hello all!

I am a gigging musician and bass player who has discovered music21, but, alas, I am certainly not a musicologist or academic.

I have seen many of the amazing examples that showcase music21’s capabilities with classical and twentieth-century music, and wanted to show how I use music21. Hopefully these examples show that music21 can also be used to explore jazz and popular music, either via analysis for educational purposes or for developing improvisational ideas.

Jazz Standard Voice Leading Lines

Music21 has an amazing corpus of public domain classical music, but most jazz standards are not available for inclusion. But, since music21 has an understanding of seventh chords and reads MusicXML, a virtual corpus of jazz standards is available for analysis and exploration via another application called IRealPro. IRealPro is a virtual accompanist software program that has chord charts for over 3000 jazz standards, and which can export the chord progressions in MusicXML, a format that will allow music21 to understand the harmony. Once we have that outline of a jazz standard's harmonic structure, music21 can be turned loose.

For this example, lets export the chord chart to the standard “Alone Together” and generate a 3rd to 7th voice-leading line through the entire tune, based on this concept by Burt Ligon, as described here.

(links: Alone Together.XML and Guide Tone Lines with Music21.py)

Since music21 understands harmony, any kind of voice leading line is possible, for instance the 5th resolving to the 9th. Now these voice leading lines can be generated for any jazz standard (or for any chord progression) that can be exported as MusicXML format and these lines can be used as jumping off points for making solos or studying voice leading.

Jazz Solo Analysis 

Analyzing jazz solos from the masters is another way to get improvisational material, but it is better known as stealing someones licks! Since music21 can understand the relationship of any note to any chord, it can be used to analyze the functional relationship of the notes in a solo.

Here is an example of Miles Davis’s solo on “Freddie Freeloader” with the notes being labeled so they represent their function against the chord being played, for example, an F note on a Bb7 chord being the fifth.

(links: Miles Solo XML  and Melodic Labeler.py)

This same Music21 code was used to analyze Charlie Parker's solo on Bloomdido, and a walking bass line over F blues by Ron Carter.

Now any solo line that can be exported as MusicXML can be analyzed by music21 and then explored even further. What notes are favored? What beats of the bar do certain notes get played on? How many times do certain notes get played? Are there repeating phrases that a certain player uses over and over? All of this can be cataloged or graphed once it has been brought into the music21 world. The included code needs a chord symbol over every measure.

Hopefully these examples show that music21 is not only for musicologists exploring the pitch class space of Bartok's string quartets or for twelve-tone row composers! Students and musicians can use it for very useful and practical purposes as well. Many thanks to Michael for allowing this guest posting from big music21 fan!

(Ed: Thanks Dan! The examples included here are copyrighted by their respective composers and publishers. We believe their inclusion here for educational and instructional purposes are supported by all four factors of the Fair Use test).

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