Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Translating Herbie Hancock’s 1960s-Era Harmonic Language to the Guitar
by Heath, Matthew David, M.M., California State University, Long Beach, 2019, 59; 13857953
Abstract (Summary)

While the guitar has come a long way over the last ninety years, jazz musicians still prefer the piano as the primary harmonic instrument within ensemble playing. This has forced modern jazz guitarists to rethink how they approach harmony. One of the most common methods of developing a harmonic vocabulary on the guitar has been through learning multiple voicings for a given chord type while also retaining effective voice leading. While this library of chord voicings has given students a starting point in providing chordal support, it has completely neglected rhythm, touch, dynamic contrast, counterpoint and the ability to improvise harmony that is also melodic. To escape this tendency and to further cultivate the guitar’s ability to provide harmonic support within an ensemble, guitarists must look outside their instrument and examine the piano’s approach to harmony.

Translating pianist Herbie Hancock’s 1960s era harmonic language can give modern jazz guitarists new resources for accompaniment. This project report will reflect an analysis of Hancock’s harmonic vocabulary on “The Sorcerer” and “Autumn Leaves.” I will discuss techniques for reducing one- and two-handed voicings from piano to guitar with a specific emphasis on how to select the all-important notes within a given voicing. I will address technical considerations for guitar: right hand finger picking technique for tone production, development of right hand/left hand touch and dynamic control, strategic use of the fretboard in providing strong resonance points with consideration for the use of open strings and the importance of retaining simplicity within a complex harmonic framework.

As I will show, the benefits of translating the musical language from one instrument to another are confirmed in the writings and interviews of prominent jazz guitarists. I will explore how nineteenth- and twentieth-century classical and jazz music significantly influenced Hancock’s harmonic approach. Hancock’s influences are wide ranging and encapsulate a strong and varied harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary while also presenting new technical challenges when translated to the guitar. The two transcriptions presented provide a foundation to his harmonic approach; “Autumn Leaves” demonstrates his proficiency within a functional tonal harmonic framework while “The Sorcerer” demonstrates non-functional and modal structures. Approaching harmony on guitar in this manner can provide new avenues of harmonic creativity for jazz guitarists.

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Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Briggs, Ray
Commitee: Lindau, Elizabeth A., Jarvis, Jeff
School: California State University, Long Beach
Department: Bob Cole Conservatory of Music
School Location: United States -- California
Source: MAI 81/3(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Music
Keywords: Jazz guitar, Harmony, Piano
Publication Number: 13857953
ISBN: 9781088336977
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