Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns by Nicolas Slonimski

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Dana, Jun 16, 2006.

  1. Dana

    Dana Guest

    People are always saying that Coltrane used this book. Is this recorded in a biography or an interview? I'd love to learn how Coltrane initially found this book, and his approach for using it to improve his soloing.

    Have any of you ever spent time with this book? If so, what was your approach to it? What exercises did you come up with? What ideas did you get? How did it help you? Do most people simply learn the lines and play them Cycle 4? :crazy

    Thanks in advance...

    :RoCkIn
     
  2. drummondrs

    drummondrs Member

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    I have the book and its way too advanced for me. You really already need to know quite a bit of advanced theory and be an accomplished improviser to use it. I doesn't really give you lines as such its just pages and pages of notes. I wouldn't recommend unless you are well schooled in both improvising and music theory knowledge.
     
  3. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    It's just patterns, basically. It's written for piano but much can be played on the guitar. He gives you what, 4-note scales, 5-note scales, 6-note scales, etc. etc. (and tons of them). Then he interpolates and extrapolates from those. It's basically showing you a vast amount of scales and making patterns based on systems. It's a scale book basically. How you practice it (I imagine, unless I'm missing something too arcane for my little brain) is how you practice scales and patterns. You are given "master chords" for each section, but I'm sure if you're using these ideas in a (jazz) improvisational application, you're going to be trying these ideas over more chords than are given in the book.

    I don't doubt Trane used it, but I can't site any authoritative source or interview. I hear he also used Sigurd Rascher's 158 Saxophone Exercises, which is another good book, not as advanced as the Slonimsky work.
     
  4. SteveStevens

    SteveStevens Member

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    I'm not sure where I heard this, but apparently Slonimsky appeared on the Dick Cavett show once. Apparently he has said that he wrote this book as a joke. Lots of people took it seriously, I guess. Pretty time consming joke if you ask me...This thing is a compendium of information. You get from it whatever you can glean. There are no instructions as to what to do with the patterns.So it's pretty wide open in what you want to do with it. Wayne Krantz has said that he tried to use it as a lick source, but soon discarded it. I would say that if anyone could have made use of it, it would be him...
     
  5. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    Yeah, I heard the thing about the book being a joke too. Not sure if that holds water, but I'd like to know if Slonimsky really thought it was a joke. Like SteveStevens said, it seems like a lot of work (pre-personal computers and desktop publishing no less) to be a joke.
     
  6. spencerbk

    spencerbk Member

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    As a(nother) guy who also bought it since he heard about Coltrane practicing from it but didn't find much useful stuff to practice on his own, the only thing I can point out that hasn't been said already is that it is NOT a thesaurus in the traditional sense of the word. You do not get any musical synonyms or antonyms (and only a few definitions of words Slominsky may have invented) - just a lot of scales and patterns.

    I'm sure there's something useful in there to help me - but with limited time I try to practice other stuff that strikes me as more useful.
     
  7. DrSax

    DrSax Member

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    well, from "John Coltrane: His Life and Music", by Lewis Porter:

    "What about the second half of "Giant Steps"? Demsey points out that the most direct source for the second eight bars is the late Nicolas Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. Published in 1947, this book seems to have circulated among jazz musicians by the mid 1950's, and by several reports including Tyner's, Coltrane spent time with it. Dempsey, with the help of Robert Wason, has convincingly demostrated that the second half of "Giant Steps" derives from this book. One of Slonimsky's "ditone progressions" (dividing the octave into three parts by major thirds, or ditones) on the top of page 40 is Coltrane's melody starting at C (Coltrane's starts on G). And right on page iv of the preface---the only part of the book with text, explaining how one could apply the music examples in the balance of the book---is basically the same melody (starting on E), this time with chords underneath that are practically the same as Coltrane's. Slonimsky's purpose here was to show that one can make his abstract patterns more tonal by underpinning them with dominant-tonic chords".

    page 149-50
     
  8. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    Thanks, Dr. Sax!
     
  9. KRosser

    KRosser Member

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    I have the Thesaurus; I really love it. I think it's incredibly useful, but not as a 'lick' book at all.

    How I usually work with it - I'll take a random section at a time, start with the first one, work out some fingerings and try to play it really slow but completely connected from one end of the fingerboard to the other, throught the entire range of the guitar. Then I increase the tempo by a couple clicks until I hit my threshold. Thendo the same with the permutations that follow. It can be a really great way of exploring some unusual shapes & fingerings. Then I'll do it again changing around the rhythms. Then I'll improvise around with one of them, maybe see what kind of harmonic ideas I can extract from it, etc.

    Then, I put the book away and completely forget about it. In other words, I don't try to take away licks I can 'apply' to different places. I just use it as a way to stretch my technique and harmonic/melodic imagination. Nothing more - nothing less. As such, I find it pretty fascinating. If anything from it has seeped into my playing and/or writing, it's done so very sub-consciously, which is fine by me.

    I do this every so often, when I find it interesting, or I just want to throw myself into something unknown and see where it takes me. I don't feel at all compelled to 'complete' the book. There are times it's on my shelf undisturbed for months, if not over a year.

    As for it being a 'joke'...hmmm...I know a few people that knew Slonimsky. The impression I got from them about him was that he was both very perverse and very obsessive. I can see how that combination might produce the "Thesaurus". But, even if something's a joke, it doesn't mean it's devoid of intelligence and potential for insight...
     
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  10. SteveStevens

    SteveStevens Member

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    Having brought up the "joke" topic, I don't mean to denigrate the book in any way. To try to use it as a lick source is kind of a dead path. I own the the book and have used it much in the same way as KRosser has stated. Open a page at random and go on a little musical journey. If any of it stays with you in some way you are a better musician for it. Joke or not, it is monumental work. As an aside, I have been looking for a book that Bruce Arnold recommends by Howard Hansen called Materials of Modern Music: Resources of The Tempered Scale. It is long out of print. Anyone have access to a copy or know of anyone who deals in used music texts?
     
  11. lhallam

    lhallam Member

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    I use it more for composition than learning licks. I steal a little motif and see where it takes me.
     

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