I guess it is appropriate that my first post on this new education blog is on a tune that, while I am familiar with the tune, I’ve never attempted myself. Specifically, it makes me really work through the process that I go through when adding a song to my repertoire. Quickly, let me list off my steps and then I’ll get to the meat.
- Intro and Ending
- Finishing touches
Our first step is a big one. Especially if you are tackling an unfamiliar tune. Here we are looking to listen to many different versions, find chord and lead sheets and lyrics, and look for context.
It’s important to find variety in what we are listening to. Swing and jazz are good for this because most tunes have been done by a lot of recording artists. Younger tunes or tunes by singer songwriters will be more difficult to find variety. But look. Don’t dismiss someone’s homage you find on YouTube as I find them to be fairly creative.
Here are a few things I found that are good listening for Scotch and Soda. I narrowed it down to three that are nice and different. Each has different styles, intros, endings, solos, etc. Great takes on each.
- Kingston Trio – Original group who recorded it.
- Lou Rawls – A nice, lounge version that I really like.
- Manhattan Transfer – A more modern adult contemporary jazz version.
When listening, make sure you listen close. You aren’t just listening for different styles, you are listening to different takes on I tros, endings, solos, comping… All aspects of the tune. Listening to music as a musician is a skill in and of itself. Overtime, you should practice listening by trying to hear individual instruments. Try to hear beyond the lead and find the bass line or comping lines. If you find something cool, take another listen or two another day imagine how you would play it.
Lead Sheets and Chord Charts
Firstly, thank God for the internet! It can make this part easy.
Secondly, I hate the internet… Anyone can post the wrong chords and lyrics and they become accepted and repeated throughout.
As a general rule, I avoid sites like Ultimate-Guitar.com or AZChords.com or 911Tabs.com. They tend to use an algorithm to share or steal chords from other sites. Plus, they are mostly fraught with errors. I only go to these sites as a last resort. Usually, I would transpose by ear before looking at their chords (and then only verify ideas).
This is one reason listening is such an important step. You want to be able to reality check when you start playing the chords to make sure they are right.
I suggest you find these books in PDF form. It isn’t exactly kosher, but you will find a lot of tunes (and a lot of versions of tunes).
- Firehouse Jazzband Fakebook
- Django Facebook
- Anthologies de Grille
- The Book
- Club Treble out of copyright
- The Real Vocal Fakebook
These books are leftovers from the pre-internet days of buying a xerox copy of handwritten fake books from a garage of a guy who knows a guy… There is a bunch of these floating round and they are great perspective. Sometimes they can be hard to find, but once you have them…
In addition, if you have an Android or iOS device, consider getting the app iReal Pro. The songs aren’t in there to begin, but can be downloaded via an online forum. Also, it’s just chords, no lyrics or melody. But, it can be better than none and you can easily use the backing tracks and chord shape suggestions for practice.
I found Scotch and Soda both in iReal Pro and in The Real Vocal Fakebook; standard key being Eb. That’s not the best key for ukes, but we will talk about transposition later.
For clarity, I put together a cleaner lead sheet for us using a sheet music software. I based mine mostly off of the one from The Real Vocal Facebook, but I also did a small bit of chord correction as I went using the chords I got from iReal Pro. In later episodes, I may make corrections to the document which will likely include transposing it to a different, more uke friendly key.
The last thing we need to research is where the tune came from. You could consider this optional, but I feel like knowing something about the tune and the writer is essential to representing the song. For instance, if we were talking about Woody Guthrie’s Pastures a Plenty, you may want to know something about dust bowl history and migrant labor to really appreciate it and be able to perform the song with the right attitude.
For our song today, Scotch and Soda, there is a very interesting factoid available to us from wikipedia. From wikipedia:
“Scotch and Soda” was discovered by the Trio through Tom Seaver’s parents, who had first heard it in a hotel piano lounge in 1932 when on their honeymoon in Phoenix, Arizona. They liked it so much that they had the piano player write it down for them so it would be “their song.” One member of the trio (Dave Guard) was dating Seaver’s older sister (Katie) at that time, and heard the song on a visit to the Seaver home. Although it is credited to Dave Guard, the trio never discovered the real songwriter’s name, though they searched for years.
That is exactly the kind of back story that gives us some awesome context!!! Here we have a tune from an unknown writer who just happened to write down his song for the parents of someone who would later record it and release it to the world! There is now mystery and wonder as an undertone to the song. I can imagine a lonely piano player who had been hired to play for some bar to entertain patrons noodling this together and playing untold hundreds of times before anyone so much as turned a head. It gives a loneliness to the song that underlines the lyrics.
Concluding for Today…
That was just step one. I know, there isn’t any fancy technique stuff going on and we didn’t talk about how to play yet. But that is good, actually. We need a good foundation to start from. And now that we have taken a good look at the tune from the outside, in the following lessons we can start taking a look on the inside, and then start taking it apart and putting it back together again.