Monday, 31 October 2011

A Bit Of A Bill Oddie

I never thought I'd say it but it seems that me and Bill Oddie have something in common.

Now I realise that for much of my intercontinental audience the name of Mr Oddie may be a new one so I guess that first, before I start, it's about time for some history.

Back in the 1970s there was a TV comedy show.  It was much in the same vein as Monty Python - quite anarchic with ideas that were often off the wall: the main difference being that there were only three stars of the show and that each episode told a single story: such stories encompassing such things as London being attacked by a giant cat.

Our hero's of each story were The Goodies (also the title of the show), as portrayed by Graeme Garden, Tim Brook-Taylor and the short beardy one Bill Oddie.

The programme is generally fondly remembered but seldom repeated.  Garden, a qualified Doctor is still very much a writer and performer on panel shows, Brook-Taylor still turns up from time to time and Oddie...well...

Bill got into birdwatching and then that got him into regular work on Springwatch (live nature watch during the spring), Autumnwatch (similar during the autumn) and a variety of other shows.

But the reason that I mention that he and I have something in common is for a show a couple of years ago where various celebrities learned to play an instrument in a short period of time.

Child star and TV presenter Aled Jones learned the drums, comedian Frank Skinner learned the banjo and Bill....

Well Bill had always wanted to be a musician - and had spurred his fellow Goodies onto several chart toppers - but right from the start his teacher on the programme encountered problems, because our Bill wasn't prepared to put the work in to get his chords sounding how they should sound.

Not because he was lazy or couldn't be bothered, but because he felt that he had reached a level where he could achieve the sound that was sufficient for what he wanted to do.  Yes the chords were a bit muddy, no he was not suddenly Dave Gilmore - not even Dave's long lost milk float driving brother Roger - but it was enough for him to get a tune out and for the average listener not to know the difference.

And the reason I feel that I am akin to Mr Oddie is related to my saxophone. OK - I know that my high notes still need a lot of work and I'm prepared to do that - also my fingerwork could do with some excercise - but the thing that I'm struggling to give a jot about is playing a piece of music exactly how it is written.

For a start written music only tells me so much - I don't understand it sufficiently to know instinctively when there is an accent or a short or long note and if I play against the pre-recorded saxophone line its immediately obvious that my notes are too long, short, soon, late - whatever. 

But half the time I feel - so what?

I can still keep to time with the beat without being precisely to what is written and have no real intention of playing with an orchestra where it would be important to play exactly what is written - i'd rather take the piece of music and be able to a) play the music in a way that is pleasing to me and b) just good enough to fool the average listener.

If, in the privacy of my own spare bedroom, my notes are not precicely how they are written then does it matter?  Is it more important to put a bit of feeling and personalisation into a piece than to be a mindless automaton just doing what is put in front of me?

True - given 8 hours free time a day to practice I could probably get notes exactly how they are supposed to be played, but no amount of practice is going to make me Courtney Pine (1)

If I ever were to play my saxophone to a live audience then it would, most likely, be part of a blues band and I'm guessing, that much like the guitar solo, I would probably be able to get away with a few overly short, long or non-specifically played notes without too much maiming of the ears. 

Still - I guess that whether I want to be the next Courtney Pine, John Coltraine, Charlie Parker or, as the case may be, not - I do need to go through the pain of playing it how it's written if I want to be good enough to be happy when playing a piece.

In the end I guess it's the same as txt spk - yes it's ok to break the rules, but I think it's important that you should understand what they are first before you do so.



(1) I'm not a great lover of jazz music so shall have to interject a reference that applies more to my kind of music.  100s of guitarists practice for 8 hours a day and, no doubt, 100s of them are very, very good - but only one in a million can be Eric Clapton levels of good no matter how much you practice.

6 comments:

The Bug said...

I was just considering the ability to read music & syncopation yesterday at choir practice. We were trying to learn a new song for next Sunday. I'm the only one of us (there were four at practice yesterday) who even knows how to read music. And this piece was pretty complex with the rhythms. I was thinking that if I were singing a solo then it wouldn't matter if I got it right - but that with all of us trying to sing it might be a good idea if we were on the same note at the same time :)

Unless you're planning to play in a group I think you should play your music in whatever way makes you most happy!

Stephen Hayes said...

We don't get to pick the gifts we are born with and I'm grateful that I was born with the ability to express myself through my writing and painting, but I must admit there have been times when I would have traded both for an affinity with music. Unfortunately, I can't play an instrument or carry a tune. It's possible that this is the result of deep-rooted laziness.

Argent said...

Another reason to learn is that there isn't always going to be a handy playalong disc. It's one of those painful things that we do. Eventually the pain does lessen.

English Rider said...

Oh! the memories. My mother played piano with a well known dance band during and after the war. She played mostly by ear. Music spoke to her. The gift was not passed to me but my nephew has a music scholarship.
If you enjoy it, do it. It sounds as though your version is not unlike impressionist art. Not to be analyzed too closely but beautiful anyway.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

bug - at the end of the day if it stops being fun then i will stop

Stephen - a good place to start is with guitar - three chords and you're away

Argent - true, but as long as you can count to four then you can play with a live band and still not have to have your notes exactly right to the last stacatto

English - excuse the old joke, but i believe that playing the piano with your fingers as opposed to via ear is traditional (groan). Seriously though - good on your nephew :)

Friko said...

Learning the notes is not a bad thing. As you say, it's best to start with the basic knowledge and get on easy terms with a piece of music. Improvisation and playing 'with' it become easier the more you know the original.

Do what you like in your own four walls, in front of others it might be a tad embarrassing to be caught out.
There's always some clever clogs who 'Knows'.