New Theatre Tour – Music by SMARTassMusic

Sample Project 2- Theatre Show Live and Recorded Music

Sinatra Arrangements
The brief for this project was to produce arrangements for the live musicians and a click track synced to a video with additional instruments recorded. Sounds simple?

There’s so many Sinatra shows around that this had to be done well -every note was transcribed from the original recordings and then painstakingly re-recorded….tempo synced to the originals to give the correct feel. It was no easy task!
Have a listen:

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Sinatra Arrangements

Sinatra Arrangements

A while back, I heard this solo piano backing track through a great stereo system at a gig and it caught my attention. When I asked the singer about it he said “you did it”.
That really is embarrassing. I’d never heard the track in a live environment and I thought I was listening to a real piano. It was actually a virtual piano and I’ll let you into a few secrets about why this sounded so authentic.

1. Transcription:

I’d transcribed the original performance note for note, from the original Frank Sinatra performance:

sinatra arrangements

2. Phrasing:

I also recorded the new piano part in sync with the original so that the singer could phrase very naturally, having rehearsed the original Sinatra version. This is quite a complex thing to do, technically and musically and does require some experience to make it work.

3. Performance:

We’ll take it for granted that now we have the notes written down, we can play them properly, sensitively without having to program them in.

4. Mixing:

When most people use a virtual piano, they tend to just export to audio and maybe use some compression, EQ, and reverb. I like to treat a virtual piano just like real grand piano recorded with several microphone positions. I export several stereo tracks, adding different amounts of reverb and send them all to a group channel. I can then mix this much denser, more complicated sound which gives the piano more of a realistic timbre.
Yes, all this takes far more time than most people like to spend.

For more information on written arrangements or recorded arrangements visit smartassmusic arranging or music production

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Jazz Summer School

Jazz Summer School

The Original UK Jazz Summer School

For any aspiring Jazz musicians or in fact anybody just wanting to know more about the world of improvisation, I can’t recommend this UK jazz summer school highly enough.

Course Dates for 2012

We shall be running a one week course in 2012 at The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama from Sunday 29 July to Friday 3 August.

This Jazz course was recently held at Trinity College of Music, London, however this summer the course is returning to it’s original home of  Wales for 2012 where it will be hosted by The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama.

This college is a beautiful state of the art facility which has recently benefited from a £22.5m investment. It backs onto the picturesque Bute Park and is only a 10 minute walk from the lively Cardiff City Centre. Click here for a 360 degree virtual tour.

Course directors Dave Wickins and Buster Birch have had many years of experience running the Summer School, and during this time have assembled a world renowned team of tutors.

Alison Rayner – Bass, Chris Batchelor – Trumpet, Dave Hassell – Drums, Geoff Simkins – Saxes, Lee Goodall – Saxes, Liam Noble – Piano, Pete Churchill – Piano, Steve Watts – Bass.

I’ve played with some of these great musicians and I learned so much,  just from one evening.

The course is open to all instrumentalists of all ages and levels of experience. We also welcome singers, who are specifically catered for by our vocal coach.

For any question or further info please see FAQs or Contact

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Composer Wanted

composer wantedUntil Jan 1st we’re taking submissions to our stock music library. Submissions should be MP3 & MUST be very high quality, pro music. Please upload samples to

The agreement, is the usual non-exlusive, 50/50 split (you retain publishing rights too).
We will be in touch quickly if your music is suitable.

Good luck!

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Big Band on a Budget

Big Band Swing has been back in favor recently and you just can’t beat that sound. Gone are all the production effects, loops and synthezisers used in today’s music and the quality rests solely upon good arranging and good playing. We’ve had a lot of fun arranging Big Band music for a dance show, which will be touring the USA and Canada.

This particular 16 piece band actually consisted of 5 musicians, multi-tracking their parts and joined via the internet!
Our job has been to write the arrangements and make sure that they sound stylistically authentic and are easy to read.
These excerpts are completely unmixed but you can clearly hear the quality of the playing and hopefully, the writing too 🙂

Big Band 1 (unmixed) :
Big Band 2 (unmixed) :
Show Band (unmixed) 1:
Show Band (unmixed) 2:

If you’ve ever sat down to work out the notes of your favourite tune then you’ll have some idea of the daunting task of transcribing and arranging individual notes for 5 saxophones, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones and rhythm section. When it all comes together and you hear that sound, there’s nothing to beat it.
So if you need a Big Band sound but don’t have a Big Band budget…all is not lost 🙂

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It’s All About Time…and Space!

smartassmusic_100x100 Holidays are well and truly over now and although I’m hanging onto the last of the Indian summer we’re having in Britain (I’m still in shorts!), there’s no denying the workload which is building and it’s time to get back to the blog 🙂

The summer has been full of arranging for a variety of ensembles, managing the royalty free music site (more of that later) and the gig diary has been pretty continuous – culminating in a great evening with vocalist Sue Rivers last Friday.
Apart from the fact that the gig was a mile from home, it was a great evening for me because Sue is a great natural musician with excellent pitching and natural time. Very few vocalists are so reliable  that they allow the accompanist complete freedom to use frequent harmonizations and in particular, space!

Playing in time is NOT about playing on the beat – in fact I have a pet hate of that. It’s about knowing where the beat is and either playing in front, on or behind  it, depending upon the mood/ style of the music and the instrument.

Groove and swing is all about the rhythmic “pull” between a group of good live musicians which relies upon their ability to hear the “invisible” internal beat. You must hear the constant, imagined beat although you may never play on it.

For me, when musicians are able to do this, everything starts to flow, musically and technically. You can stop “fighting” the groove and trying to jostle musicians into hearing right time or feel. Sometimes it happens immediately and sometime never, but it’s the most rewarding experience when it occurs because ideas flow naturally and you are able to use the musicians most powerful tool……

The key to all of this is not the ability to hear the notes – but the ability to hear the space that surrounds them. It took me years to understand what this means and it’s not always easy to do. I first heard Keith Jarrett talk about it with reference to his period in the Miles Davis band. Miles was “all about space”. If you learn to hear the silence, the notes are easy.
Some very good musicians never understand this although their natural gifts allow them to play very well, but for me their music it never artistic – it just does the job.


You must first imagine the beat (and “groove” or various subdivisions of the beat), then the harmony……. and only then you start to play! If you cannot conjure up these aspects before you play then it’s highly likely that you’re music won’t be very good.

If you’re a visually inclined thinker then the image to the left may make sense to you. This is quite literally what I see very often when playing. If you’re not visually oriented…. don’t be put off!

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How to Get Beyond Music Theory?

How to get Beyond Music Theory

How to get Beyond Music Theory?The subject of balancing a knowledge of theory with “instinctive” playing came up in a music forum the other day. It’s obvious that musicians have strong views on this but I really don’t see the two aspects as being in conflict with each other. In fact, I have very strong views on the matter! :-))

Learning How to be a Natural:
My whole teaching approach is based upon how to play “naturally” or “instinctively” but it’s also based in a very sound knowledge of theory.  When you learn an instrument you have to perform a great deal of conscious work because you need to tell your hands what to do. We learn this by moving through small conscious steps until each element is allowed to be controlled by the subconscious. We can then move to the next level. If you put in enough hard work you may eventually reach the stage where you can forget everything and just play – but  there’s really nothing instinctive about it.

When playing Jazz, I’m only content  if I’m able to play utterly within the moment and play (only) what I’m hearing in my head. As a result I may improvise within the chords, or outside of them. I’ll play whatever I feel at that moment and even though it appears and feels “instinctive”, it’s really no such thing, as this ability has been very hard earned and I’m still able to explain what I’m doing in terms of theory afterwards.

Learning to Hear:A knowledge of scales and harmony not only helps you understand the logic within different styles and helps you discuss musical ideas, most importantly, it allows you to HEAR the music better!
Very few people  have the ability to hear music and immediately and replicate it. For the rest of us the ability to hear music accurately can be made far easier by breaking it down into smaller elements.
If you familiarise yourself with the sound of a basic chord (for example C minor-C,Eb,G) and then add the 7th (C,Eb,G,Bb), add the 9th (C,Eb,G,Bb,D). It doesn’t take long before you can recognise this chord precisely, anywhere at the keyboard by recognising a combination of the chord quality and it’s texture (or voicing). For example a Cm9 played in “closed position” in the middle of the keyboard (Middle C,Eb,G,Bb) will sound rather ordinary, but open up that chord so that you have C in the bass with G above, then Eb, Bb and D – you have a large resonant chord. You could invert it so that you have C in the bass the add Bb (below middle C), D,Eb,G. It’s the same quality chord (minor) with a different texture. Learn all your keys and you can now recognise a minor chord with any extension in any position on the keyboard. (See Jazz harmony posts).
There’s no real difference between this method and recognising a particular model of car in different colours. Some cars may have slight modifications but it’s still the same car and you’ll recognise it every time. Instead of hearing a bewildering array of notes, you’ve brought it down to thinking about the smallest possible elements. When you come to play, you don’t think at all-you hear and you’re subconsious does the work that you’ve taught it.

Knowledge of scales and harmony enables students to make sense of the bewildering amount of patterns that we use in music. These patterns are entirely man made and many of them are learned in our childhood without knowing it. To western ears, Arabic music or Chinese music can sound very out of tune but it’s because the westerner’s brain hasn’t learned the same patterns. The same applies to Jazz. Many people don’t like Jazz because their brain can’t work out the patterns and it may sound discordant or agitated to them. This type of learning is below the conscious level and might be described as “instinct” in exactly the same way that we learn a language (and accent) when young. When we talk, we don’t think about how the words and sentences are made up (because we learned that when young) , although in order to teach somebody else we need to have a very good understanding of spelling and grammar.

Thinking Orchestrally:
It should be said that the piano lends itself to thinking theoretically because of it’s visual, logical layout. We can think orchestrally the whole time-and by “orchestrally” it matters not if it’s Ravel or Bob Marley. You can hear the notes and mentally overlay them onto the keyboard. The mistake that most pianists make is to play the piano! The best pianists are trying to emulate orchestras or Big bands or other instruments. It adds colour and another dimension to piano playing. Vladimir Horowitz is the most wonderful “orchestral” pianist. An example of pianistic playing is the wine bar “Jazz” that you hear, with loads of pointless runs and arpeggios.
Guitarists approach their instrument differently and find the guitar more of a “feel” instrument because they can’t really look at what they’re doing. Also, guitarists don’t have to learn a completely different shape for each key, anything like the extend that a pianist does. This does mean that they can learn faster without the need for much theory- but beware. I can’t tell you the amount of amazing guitarists that earn a fraction of what they could,  because they can’t read music properly.

Don’t Limit Yourself:My point is that a thorough knowledge of theory helps you HEAR music better and learn how to forget the rules and play from your heart. Without this, even with a lot of talent you’ll probably be stuck within one style and be musically restricted. I’ve seen it time and time again.

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Blank Manuscript Paper Download

music arranger

I thought this may be useful for the musicians amongst you. I’ve produced some blank manuscript paper for you to download and print out.
The links below are single stave versions in treble and bass clef as well as double stave piano manuscript. They’re also in US and UK paper sizes.

Single stave Manuscript paper- treble clef. US
Single stave Manuscript paper- treble clef. UK

Single stave Manuscript paper- Bass clef. US
Single stave Manuscript paper- Bass clef. UK

Double stave Manuscript paper- US
Double stave Manuscript paper- UK

Simply click the link above, download the PDF and save a copy o your hard drive.

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Jazz Piano Harmony Tutorial

jazz harmony tutorial

This worksheet is another quick overview of Jazz piano styles within 2 sheets of A4 paper.
Whatever your standard, it’s always useful to be aware of these harmonic stylistic differences as it’s particularly useful for solo piano as you can mix and match the different approaches to provide textural interest.

Download Jazz Harmony Tutorial
Fig 1 shows the basic II-V-I progression in closed, root position and you should always be aware of this in the back of your mind.
Fig 2 Shows these chords opened up in 2 ways, to provide a more resonant chord using only the same notes.
Fig 3 is an example of Bebop voicings, which are usually very sparse using only 3rds or 7ths and thus known as “shells”.
Fig 4 extends the harmony by the use of added 9ths and 13ths. Notice that this is still based on the basic “open” voicings.
Fig 5 extends this idea and shows chromatically altered extensions.
Fig 6 shows the rootless voicings used by most modern Jazz pianists. These take the important notes of the open chords (3rd,7th and possibly 9ths,11ths,13ths) and inverts them to produce intervals of 2nds and to enable the chord to fit within one hand. These voicings are only effective in the tenor register of the piano.
Fig 10,11 shows how these voicings may be used when “comping” in a rhythm section. The right hand adds a stronger trumpet like element with an octave and 4th or 5th, boosted by the thick rootless voicing of the left hand.
If you’re familiar with these approaches in all keys then you’ll have plenty to work with, especially for solo piano.

Happy practising!

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Jazz Harmony PDF

Our harmony downloads are proving popular so here’s another Jazz Harmony PDF.
This sheet is titled “Practise Worksheet – intermediate” but it’s vital for all serious Jazz/Commercial pianists to know these chords inside out.

The first exercise is a simple series of II-V-I progressions in closed position, around a cycle of fifths. These are vital and even if I’m playing a weird large chord with loads of extensions and no root-I’m still am aware of the closed position voicing underneath it all!

When this is familiar, move on to the next exercise which then opens out these chords using an interval of a fifth in the base and adding the 3rd and 7th (or 7th and 3rd) above.
These voicings are absolutely vital to good jazz piano and indeed, good arranging. This style of opening out a simple chord uses the least amount of notes (in Jazz harmony) to the greatest effect.
The next exercise goes on to add extensions to these chords, utilising a bass note in the left hand and chord in the right.

The final exercise is to play the previous chord shapes in the left hand with the intention of leaving the bass notes to the bass player so as to allow the right hand to improvise.
There we have it-most of Jazz harmony, all on a single sheet of paper!

Jazz Harmony PDF download 

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