On Saturdays I get to do one of my favorite things in the world: play and teach jazz at the Kansas City Jazz Academy. Saturday posts will be about jazz and music.
Music is much more than just notes. We spend a lot of time focusing on notes, especially the “right notes,” but notes are really just a small part of the whole picture of making music.
Equinox by John Coltrane is a beautiful song. It’s filled with sadness and longing. In many ways it’s a jazz lament.
It’s also in the key of C sharp. This isn’t a key that anyone plays in frequently. At the academy we spent many rehearsals talking about what scales can be played for solos over the chord changes of Equinox. We spent a lot of time practicing those scales. Then we spent a lot of time playing those scales and notes from those scales to make solos. It’s hard. The kids in the band really had to work at it.
But if we only focus on the notes we lose the bigger picture of the piece. Emotion doesn’t come from notes. Notes alone can’t tell a story or convey an experience. They are one piece of the puzzle, but it’s easy to focus so much on that piece that we forget all the other parts of music that we need in order to really make music.
When you’re in the weeds of your work or your art, never forget about the bigger picture. The song isn’t the notes.