40 Years Ago Today: Chick Corea—Learning from Recordings

Highlights from four decades of Keyboard magazine
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In his column “Keyboards & Music” in the December 1976 issue of Contemporary Keyboard, Chick Corea described the benefits of learning and transcribing music from recordings. “I think you’ll find that once you yourself have traced down a melody note for note off of a recording, and in the process have gone over and over and over that melody, you’ll really begin to grasp the mechanism which is at the basis of ‘hearing’ melody lines. (Of course, this applies to harmonies and rhythms, as well.)

The idea is that you learn something by copying exactly the ways it’s done, until you make that particular technique your own, at which time you can apply it toward your own creations.

“The idea of making it your own is quite interesting. This partly involves a real willingness to create different being-nesses, different personalities and emotions. It’s very similar to the ability actors need. Of course, when this is done causatively, there’s no loss of one’s own identity. When it’s not being done causatively, however, then one is not being oneself.

“In the field of music, we have a vast reservoir of knowledge documented on recordings. When looked at from the student’s point of view, this is an invaluable source of learning. You can almost do a full apprenticeship with an artist who’s done a lot of recording just by learning to duplicate the techniques he or she has used on records.

“The trick here is to choose a part of the musical structure you’re analyzing that’s not more complex than what you’re able to copy down. For instance, you might just work on the melody line of the piece, or even just a portion of it. You can take this copying-down sequence on the proper gradient and work up your hearing ability until you’ll find you’re able to copy down quite complex pieces of music. This process can be very exciting and revealing.”

Visit keyboardmag.com to read Corea’s column in its entirety.