For the past few days, I’ve been dedicating large chunks of time to writing charts for my salsa band, The Tropic Orchestra, and it’s been an EXCELLENT learning experience.
As a classical musician, I’m used to having my parts handed to me in a folder at rehearsal, or mailed to me a couple weeks before the performance. Even when I’ve played non-classical styles, it’s been as a hired gun with an established group that already has charts. So taking tunes off the record and writing parts for an entire salsa band was a daunting experience at first. But as I continued to work through each song, I noticed that the process became easier, and that my ear was able to hear much more precisely. Now, after finishing 5 charts, I’m excited about writing more, because transcribing has become fun!
I was astounded at how quickly I improved at hearing the correct pitches and harmonies, but I was even more surprised at the “fringe benefits” of focused listening. When I entered into this chart-writing venture, I had only been doing eartraining exercises that directly supported my trombone playing, like singing lip slurs to improve intonation across different partials. But transcribing these charts forced me to work on my ear in different ways, and to listen more intently to what different instruments were playing. And strangely, knowing what the bass player is doing has made my HIGH RANGE better!
Listening has quite a profound effect, but listening and understanding has even greater impact. If every middle-school trombonist listened carefully to what the clarinets were playing, how many pitch and timing problems would be solved automatically? (And how many band directors would be less frustrated !) Then, imagine if every person listened this intently to other people and the world around them. What a wonderful world this would be!