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Cello Lessons: “Summertime”

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Summertime is one of the most
played songs in jazz music.
It was written by George Gershwin in
1934 and it was part of Porgy and
Bess, an opera he wrote
that premiered in 1935.
With Summertime,
I'm gonna teach you the melody and
then we're actually also gonna learn
how to start making variations on the
melody of your own with different rhythms.
The exciting thing for you at this moment
is we are now leaving the land of D major.
We are entering the land of D minor.
If you've seen the movie Spinal Tap,
they call D minor the saddest of all keys.
With D minor, the main note that's
gonna be different is the third.
It's the third scale degree that
determines whether a scale is
major or minor.
And so we can have a major third like
we do in D major with an F sharp.
That's been our home base until now.
For D minor, we're gonna make
that note one-half step flatter.
And we're gonna play it
with the second finger.
Can you do that walk up on the D string,
and then land on F with second finger?
We'll find that note together.
Try and
match that.
Good, so
we're gonna be playing that
note instead of third finger.
We actually won't use third
finger at all in this song.
We'll only be using first finger,
second finger, and fourth finger.
Let me teach you the melody
phrase by phrase.
The other heads up I'm gonna give you is
that now that we've entered the land of
jazz, we're gonna play with
a little bit of swing.
I'll dive into swing more later,
but the basics of it are that
instead of every note being
perfectly even, like this.
We're actually gonna fudge it
a little bit.
We're gonna alternate long notes and
short notes, and it's a subtle difference.
And sometimes you can think of it as being
like dividing a beat into three parts.
And the first, the long note,
gets almost two of those parts, and
the short note gets just over
the last third of the note.
They'll sound kinda like this.
Try playing an upwards scale,
just of those five notes with me and
we'll play it with a little bit of swing,
a little slower.
One, and two, and three,
and four, and
Let's do that again.
One, and two, and three,
and four, and
Just keep that in mind as we learn
this tune, that the eighths,
the eighth notes will not be even.
They will be swung.
Repeat after me.
One, two, three
So, that's just three notes, but
we're utilizing our new notes.
Second finger on the D string.
Let's play that together,
ready and
The lyrics to that part of
the song are just summertime.
Now let's learn the next phrase.
And the living is easy.
Let's just sing that together.
And, and the living is easy.
And the living is easy.
That starts on the fourth
finger on the D string.
Repeat after me.
Let's just do that much.
Ready, and
Listen again.
So I'm picking up my fourth and
third finger in order to
reveal the second finger.
We haven't done that yet.
Play that.
Ready, play.
Let me add three notes to that.
So those last
three notes are F,
D, and A.
Two, o one.
Let's do just those three.
let's put it together
with the other phrase.
I'll play it first then you repeat.
Ready and
That last note is
anticipated a little bit, and
the living is easy.
It doesn't wait for the beat,
that's another syncopation.
We learned that word with our three,
three, two rhythm.
I'll play it again.
You can sing along and
the living is easy, and
then we'll play it
together the second time.
Ready, and?
And the living is easy.
One, two, ready, play.
We've got two phrases here.
I'm gonna play them both, and
then I want you to play it with me.
Bow circle back to the frog.
And the living is easy.
Let's play that together.
One, two.
Summertime, bow circle,
and the living is easy.
Let's move on,
you can go back if you need to.
But I'll keep going.
The third phrase
goes like this.
Fish are jumping.
Let's play that
together and
And that phrase ends with this.
So it starts on second finger,
does a little back and forth, and
then it does a little upper neighbor tone.
We go four, two,
then we end on first finger, E.
Listen once more.
Then we play the third and
fourth phrases.
Sing along the first time and
then play along the second time.
Fish are jumping.
And the cotton is high.
Let's play it together.
Ready, and.
Fish are jumping.
And the cotton is high.
Let's do the first four
phrases all together.
And I just want you to notice one thing
that I'll be doing in my vibrato.
Instead of like for the classical song,
French folk song, or
the Dies Irae,
I'm not gonna have a continuous vibrato.
For jazz, I'm only gonna vibrate
at the end of long notes.
And it's gonna be kind of
an extra slow vibrato.
Listen once, and
then we'll play it together.
From the top.
And the living is easy.
Fish are jumping and
the cotton is high.
Let's play all of that together.
One, two, three,
summertime, and
the living is easy.
A little vibrato on that note.
Fish are jumping,
a little vibrato on that note.
And the cotton is high.
A little vibrato on that note.
I'm kind of speeding it up towards
the end of the note, actually.
The last thing I'll say is
I'm throwing in one slur.
It's an up slur and it's so that I can end
each of these big phrases on a down, up.
Watch my bowing I'll point out the slur.
Summertime, bow circle, and
the living is, right there.
Living is, in is, is slurred up bow.
And the live, up, down, up.
Second half.
Fish are jumping.
Same place with up bow.
And the cot, up, down.
Let's see if we can put
those up bows in there so
that we end each phrase with
a strong down bow on the down beats.
One, two, three.
Summertime, bow circle.
And the live, up, down.
A vibrato.
Fish are jumping.
And the cotton is.
There was the other up bow.
We're almost done with this tune,
because the third big phrase is
identical to the first big phrase.
So [SOUND] well,
it's identical melodically but
it does have different words.
So let me teach you the words cuz that's
gonna change how we might play it
It goes, your daddy's rich.
And your momma's good looking.
[SOUND] It's just that
your daddy's rich part.
Which is a different
rhythm than summertime.
So, your daddy's rich.
We're basically going to play the same
melodic shape with five notes instead of
Repeat after me.
Your daddy's rich.
One, two.
Your daddy's rich.
So it happens on the and of three.
That first.
So it's one, two, three.
Your daddy's rich.
Right after three.
I'll count us in again.
One, two, three.
Your daddy's rich.
And then the second half is just the same.
And your mama's good with that upbow.
Let's both of those phrases together.
Listen one more time and
then we'll do it together.
You can sing the words.
You're daddy's rich and
your mama's good looking.
One, two, three.
Your daddy's rich and
your mama's good looking.
Let's play that together.
One, two, three.
Your daddy's rich,
and your mama's good looking.
So it's a small variation
on the first big phrase.
The fourth and final big phrase,
starts on the G string.
That's the whole thing,
let's divide it up.
So we're gonna start on second
finger on the G string.
That's also a new note for us.
Third finger would be the note B, but
second finger is the note B flat.
B flat is the sixth scale degree in
D minor, so we're gonna go like this.
We're gonna go second
finger to fourth finger.
then we're gonna go first
finger to fourth finger.
A little faster.
Let me play that for you.
Starting up bow.
Play that, starting up bow.
Two, four, one, four.
I'm gonna add a couple notes.
So it's like a
short long, short, long.
And those pitches are
two, four.
We use both open strings.
Play that.
Ready, and.
I'll put that together starting
second finger on the G string.
One, two, three
Actually, so I taught it before.
But actually,
that first finger is gonna be a little
longer than I taught it to you before.
Listen once, and
then we'll do it together.
Let's play that.
One, two, three.
Did you start
this phrase up bow?
You should have.
Let's try it again and
make sure we're starting up bow.
So, put the bow in the middle
of the placement there so
that we have room for the up bow.
One, two, three.
The last note we're gonna
play is gonna be a Slide.
We haven't slided yet,
slid we haven't slid yet.
We're going to slide from second finger on
the D string all the way to the open D.
Like that.
Try that a couple times.
The speed at
which you slide will
affect how it sounds.
You can slide as fast or
as slow as you want but the next note,
the open D has to come in rhythm.
So it sounds like this.
So it's
a big four one.
Let's try just that second
half of the four phrase.
One, two, three, four.
Four one.
You can even slur it into a big down bow.
Just so we hear all of the slide.
I'm gonna play the whole fourth big phrase
and it's gonna end with that slide.
What I do it twice and
you can join me the second time.
Sing along the first time.
One, two, three.
I think we're ready to play the whole
Summertime melody all the way through.
Why don't I play it through on my own and
you can sing along,
you can sing along while pizzing
the notes or just even singing.
The finger numbers,
whatever you wanna try.
But do sing along in one way and
even pizz along if you can.
One, two, three.
A little
A little vibrato on the long notes.
Up, down.
Your daddy's rich.
Full circle.
Up, down, fourth phase up.
There's a little mini bow circle we
do right before the fourth phase.
Actually cuz we start,
we end the third phase upbow and then we
have to go back further out in the bow to
start the fourth phrase upbow as well.
Let's play through
the whole thing together.
One, two, a one, two, three.
Summer time
and the living is easy.
Fish are jumping and
the talent is hot.
Your daddy's rich.
And your mama's good looking.
Full circle.
Now before we leave this tune,
I want us to explore what improvising a
variation on the melody could sound like.
We don't have to add any notes.
All we have to do is change
the rhythm up a little bit.
And we can try this vocally first.
This is a big part of jazz,
is beginning to vary melodies.
And we want to do a lot
of this practice vocally.
So, if the opening words
are summertime and
the living is easy.
[SOUND] Let's see if we can just sing
that phrase with a different rhythm.
I'll demonstrate.
One, two, three.
And the living is easy.
Sounds okay.
But I'm able to change the rhythms and
that way I could actually play the melody
different each time if I wanted.
Let's try it again.
This time on the cello.
Let's see if I can change
the rhythm just slightly.
One, two, three.
Let me see, what are the way
are the way you can actually for
the long notes?
We can just add a repeating note.
It could sound like this.
We're just sort
of adding maybe one, or
two extra notes per phrase.
Or, actually, we could even leave
out notes, and that would count too.
Let me try that.
I was keeping some of the notes but
I wasn't using all of the notes.
You can start to play around after
you've really learned this melody.
I want you to spend like at least
a week just playing the melody.
And then, we can start to vary the melody.
Once you have the melody
really strong in your ear.
In my performance track that we did,
you can see, I played the melody
through just as I taught the first time,
and then the second and
third times through the tune, I was
changing the rhythms up a little bit.
You could copy that or
come up with your own changes.
You don't have to change much.
And actually, you don't need to change
anything at all if you don't want to.
But that's a direction
that we could start to go,
to turn this melody into
a jazz improvisation.