Welcome to the 11th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is Modus Novus: Studies in reading atonal melodies by Lars Edlund.
Modus Novus is an atonal sight-singing textbook with instructions in Swedish, German, and English. It was first recommended to me by guitarist René Gely, my friend and collaborator from the Ottawa area. The first time I attempted to work from Modus Novus it was so unfamiliar and scary that I closed the book and put it back on the shelf for another year.
In May of 2012 I attended the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at the Banff Centre in Alberta. At the time the program was led by Dave Douglas. In the mornings the group would get together and sight sing from Bach Chorales and Modus Novus. He told us that sight singing and Modus Novus were an invaluable part of of his musical training and something that every musician should work towards mastering.
From then on I got over my fear of Modus Novus and continue to work through it over a year and half later. I use this book and Lars Edlund’s tonal sight singing book, Modus Vetus, with nearly all of my students.
That’s it for Book Love // 11. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can check out the last post in the series, The Jazz Piano Book, or see all of my book recommendations on the Book Love index page.
Welcome to the 10th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is The Jazz Piano Book by Mark Levine.
The Jazz Piano book a cross between a reference book and practice guide. It’s written for jazz pianists (obviously) but every jazz musician I know has a copy. Every chapter is filled with musical examples of theory set within the context of jazz standards. When I have been learning about intervals and modes and other foundational stuff, I have used this book to get the sounds in my ear.
I highly recommend this book for singers, especially those of us who don’t play an instrument like piano or guitar. When I’m writing songs or lifting charts, sometimes I know the sound I want for the harmony of the tune but I’m unclear on what to call it on paper. This book is a great resource for chord function and chord nomenclature.
It also comes with a pianist listening guide, tons of photos of jazz pianists, and lots more unexpected surprises.
That’s it for Book Love // 10. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can check out the last post in the series, The Right To Speak, or see all of my book recommendations on the Book Love index page.
Welcome to the 9th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is The Right To Speak: Working With The Voice by Patsy Rodenburg.
The Right To Speak is required reading at the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts in Toronto. My good friend, Evangelia Kambites, is an alumna of the Academy and I found this book laying around her apartment while on one of my frequent stays. (Fun fact: Evangelia and I became friends in high school because we both played alto saxophone in the concert band.)
Rodenburg’s book reads a bit like two separate books. Part one is about declaring your vocal rights, and goes into great detail explaining the ways in which our voices are affected through our experiences. It discusses vocal habits and where they can originate, from familiar mimicry to fashionable speech to stuttering. I feel that part one of this book is essential reading for any voice teacher who wishes to understand how privilege, power, and oppression can manifest as vocal issues. Considering you will be hard-pressed to find a vocal student who hasn’t experienced oppression in their life in some way, it’s obvious why this information is valuable.
The second part of the book is called An Owner’s Manual of the Voice. This section explains the physical mechanisms that go into breathing, vocalization, and phonation. It includes a detailed warm up, and a bunch of other handy considerations like how to deal with an accented voice, how to vocalize heightened emotions, and general health.
Admittedly, I haven’t explored the second section of The Right To Speak as much as I would like to. I have attempted her full warm up twice but each time it aggravated my chronic back pain. I would recommend reading through the warm up fully before attempting it and attempt it only if you are an experienced vocalist. If you are a beginner I would bring the book to a teacher and be supervised.
That’s it for Book Love // 09. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can also check out the last post in the series, The Jazz Standards. If you are interested in other resources for singers, click here.
Welcome to the 8th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire by Ted Gioia
Usually I read a book from cover to cover before posting about it in this column, however if you follow me on instagram then you know that I only received this book last week. However, I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait to share.
I first heard about The Jazz Standards in the Fred Hersch interview I posted about last week. Basically, the book is a reference guide to more than 250 seminal jazz compositions. Each entry is roughly a page and a half in length and contains information about the composer and lyricist, where it first originated (whether on film, broadway, a jazz original, etc), who most notably recorded it, and some interesting stories relating to the song or composer. Each entry also contains a “recommended versions” list which is order by year.
This is a resource that I will treasure always and return to often.
That’s it for Book Love // 08. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can also check out the last post in the series, Singers & The Song.
Welcome to the 7th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is Singers & The Song by Gene Lees.
Gene Lees is a Canadian music critic, biographer, singer and lyricist. He is responsible for the English language lyrics to many tunes by Antonio Carlos Jobim, including the popular Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado). Singers & The Song is a collection of essays about vocal jazz including biographical looks at important singers and songwriters (Edith Piaf, Johnny Mercer, and Frank Sinatra to name a few), the evolution of the English language and it’s use in vocal jazz lyrics, and the cultural links between the dance band, the rise of radio, and the fall of the electric train transit system.
This book solidified Lees’ reputation as one of the finest jazz writers of his time and it’s easy to see why. Each essay is more intensely interesting than the last. Reading them has changed the way I think about vocal jazz by helping me understand the historical legacy to which we’re all a part of. For instance, in his first essay, Lees talks about how the etymology of individual jazz lyrics fit into a broader cultural context and reflects the moral attitudes of the time. I never considered how unusual it is for the canon of jazz standards to be made up of almost nothing but puritanical, sexless love (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just almost never the case in real life).
It seems even more absurd when contrasted with the topic of Lees’ second essay: the music of Edith Piaf. Piaf sings about issues that American jazz standards never even get close to like prostitution (with Love For Sale being the obvious exception), stalking, death, and juvenile sexuality.
And all that is just the tip of the iceberg. I found myself having a paradigm shifting moment practically every few pages. This book came out in 1987 and in an expanded second edition in1999 with an additional seven essays included.
That’s it for Book Love // 07. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can also check out the last post in the series, The Private Voice Studio Handbook.
Welcome to the 6th instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is The Private Voice Studio Handbook: A Practical Guide to All Aspects of Teaching by Joan Frey Boytim.
I have a habit of buying books impulsively, especially if it’s the kind of book I can justify as a business expense. The Private Voice Studio Handbook was just such a purchase. When it arrived at my door I thought “I have been teaching voice privately for years, what could this book possibly teach me that I don’t already know?” I was surprised to find myself reading it cover to cover in a week.
The title says it all, this is an extremely practical guide to teaching voice. Everything is covered in plain language and nothing is left out. Boytim shares her resources, excerpts from her handouts to students, contracts, lesson cards, and vocal exercises along with her years of experience.
The book is geared towards those expecting to teach young, classical singers but most things apply to a teacher of any style. She explains how to audition a prospective students, how to prepare a student recital, how to ask for recommendations and much more.
That’s it for Book Love // 06. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments. You can also check out the last post in the series, Leonard Cohen Selected Poems 1956 – 1968.
Welcome to the 5th installment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Since April is poetry month around here I’ve decided to dedicate this month’s Book Love features to some of my favourite authors and collections of poems. Today’s book is Leonard Cohen Selected Poems 1956 – 1968.
I first came across this book while sitting cross-legged on the floor of a beautiful house on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. Craig and I were staying with friends while on vacation and the house where we stayed was brimming with books and maps and musical instruments. I always knew Leonard Cohen was an outstanding songwriter but at the time I really didn’t know anything about his poetry. When I opened this book I was shocked by how stark and simple and beautiful the writing was. Of course, I am drawn to his poems about love and people and heartbreak.
I so love the unexpected images he uses. Take this excerpt from the poem above, for example:
“The naked weeping girl
is thinking of my name
turning my bronze name
over and over
with the thousand fingers
of her body
anointing her shoulders
with the remembered odour
of my skin”
When I can read that I can see her holding his memory in her hands like an object. It’s at once sad and sensual. Whenever I feel uninspired or that my life lacks beauty, I almost always reach for this book.
I should mention that I spent the rest of my trip in Victoria trying unsuccessfully to find this book. When I mentioned it to Craig’s brother, he pulled his own copy of a shelf and handed it to me. I have it now on long-term loan. Thanks, Eric.
That’s it for Book Love // 05. Let me know who your favourite poet is in the comments below. You can also check out the last post in the series, Book Love: The Songwriters Idea Book // 04.
Welcome to the 4th installment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is The Songwriters Idea Book: 40 strategies to excite your imagination, help you design distinctive songs, and keep your creative flow by Sheila Davis.
This book was recommended to me by the wonderful and talented Megan Jerome, herself a great songwriter. Megan is a wealth of songwriting information and resources and this will not be the last Book Love inspired by her.
Sheila Davis is well known for her books on lyric writing including The Craft of Lyric Writing and Successful Lyric Writing, but The Songwriters Idea Book is an invaluable resource for anyone looking for lots of different ways to get inspired and seed new songs.
This is a great book for songwriters of any experience level who wish to keep up a regular practice of songwriting. I mentioned in my post on my songwriting process last Friday that regular work is way more effective than only writing when you are inspired. This book has a ton of jumping off points for you to work from included a variety of title strategies, plot devices, and wordplay.
My favourite title strategy found in this book is “book title titles” where you write a song with the same title as a book. I will often go to the library and fill a page with interesting book titles I find and then try and write songs with my favourite titles. It doesn’t always yield my best results but it certainly gets the creative juices flowing.
That’s it for Book Love // 04. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments below. You can also check out the last post in the series, Book Love: Writing Better Lyrics // 03.
Welcome to the 3rd instalment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is Writing Better Lyrics: The Essential Guide to Powerful Songwriting, Second Edition, by Pat Pattison.
This book fell into my life in a most unusual way. A student came to me for a consultation and we agreed to start lessons right away. The following week he came for his first lesson and brought me this book as a gift. After that lesson I received an email from him saying he could no longer continue taking lessons due to extenuating life circumstances and I never saw him again. It’s as if he came into my life just to give me this book because I use this book all the time.
I love this book because it clearly lays out the most basic elements of lyric writing, like rhyme, metaphor, and cliché and includes easy and fun writing exercises to increase creative writing skill by using more interesting metaphorical language.
I use this book with my songwriting students all the time. My favourite activity to do with them is from chapter 4, Learning To Say No: Building Worksheets. This chapter lays out an extremely simple way of fleshing out lyric ideas using word lists. I do this activity almost every time I sit down to write a song.
But this doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the juicy lyric writing tips in Writing Better Lyrics. Between the 50 different exercises, I’m set up for at least a few more years of creative writing practice.
That’s it for Book Love // 03. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments below. You can also check out the last Book Love: Scat! Vocal Improvisation Techniques.
Welcome to the 2nd installment of Book Love: a series in which I tell you all about the resources, guides, and inspirational books that I love. Today’s book is Scat! Vocal Improvisation Techniques by Bob Stoloff.
I first picked up this book after I saw that it was required reading for Elise Letourneau’s vocal improvisation workshop at Alcorn Studios. The books contains a short history of scat followed by a whole whack of exercises ranging from rhythm etudes to II-V patterns to bass lines to drum articulations. It really provides someone new to scat singing a solid foundation from which to work on.
What I really love this book is it provides syllables to vocalize on for every note on every page of the book. The syllables written provide the singer with the most efficient route through the line. These syllables have really helped my speed and dexterity when improvising.
The book also comes with a CD where you can listen to Bob Stoloff demonstrate some of the exercises. It also includes some sing-along tracks where you can trade fours with Stoloff and practice improvising. The CD clearly demonstrates the principles outlined in the book, but also shows how they can be built upon to create your own personal voice.
Ultimately, this book is a super affordable, invaluable resource for beginner to intermediate vocal improvisers.
That’s it for Book Love // 02. Let me know what you think in the comments below. You can also check out the last Book Love: The Dynamics of the Singing Voice.