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Book Review

6 Steps To Big Band Writing


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6 Steps to Big Band Writing
Steven Feifke
44 pages
Jazz Lesson Videos

Big band writing is no simple task. As with any skill, musical or otherwise, it requires time, study, and patience to reach a true level of proficiency. In short, it's an art that shouldn't be minimized. But it's also a process that need not mystify. Foundational knowledge connected to big band scoring is, at it's heart, all about building blocks. That's what pianist-composer Steven Feifke shows us in this relatively concise, purchase-by-download book with accompanying video material (view here).

Part harmonic primer, part section-specific guide, and completely based on common practice, Feike delivers a nuts-and-bolts explanation of how it happens. Broken down into six sections—building chords, saxophone writing, trumpet writing, trombone writing, tutti voicings, and putting everything together— he shares first-hand architectural knowledge about the way things really work.

Opening on the harmonic highway, the book gives examples of various chords/voicings and transpositions. Worksheets, included in the mix, allow for some personalized practice, and the video material, featuring Feifke's own big band, provides pithy yet ample examples of how things stack up audibly. Then it's off to various horn territories. Starting with saxophones, he gets down to the nitty gritty. Melody, contour, articulation, and dynamics enter the discussion early. Then it's all about harmonizing the line(s). When it comes to trumpets, Feifke adds some thoughts on unison scoring, octave splits, and clustered chords. And with trombones, range considerations and linear encouragement enter the equation.

Having hit all of the horns, Feifke furrows into the sound and feeling of tutti passages. Starting with trumpets and moving through the other sections, he demonstrates how to fill out the harmonies before addressing slash notation and chord changes as a lingua franca for rhythm sections. Then he closes by putting everything together in a single chart.

If you're looking for an all-encompassing tome on the topic, this doesn't exactly fit the bill. 6 Steps to Big Band Writing is for people who want to learn the basic process and build from there. Nobody can successfully dive headfirst into the entire art form, so this slowly-dip-yourself-in resource is where you start. From that perspective, it's a home run. Looking objectively at the music and its constructional methodology, this a tremendous educational tool.

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