Friday, September 3, 2010

Surface Structure vs. Deep Structure

I have been going between two different approaches in my practicing lately. The first is a very traditional approach to learning to improvise: learning pieces of vocabulary (licks), taking them through all keys, and inserting them over appropriate harmonic situations in tunes. The other is an approach that I first came across in Jerry Bergonzi's great book "Melodic Structures" and have seen amplified by Ed Saindon. In this method, a small cell of notes is drawn from the chord scale in use, permutations are practiced and this becomes the raw material for improvisation. The cells are then rhythm-ized, "edited" and the player is left with harmonically and rhythmic sound language.

I have always had a hard time with the first approach. I never feel that I am really deeply connected to the vocabulary when I approach it this way. Using vocabulary that I have learned this way always feels forced.

The second method resonates more deeply with me. It made sense as soon as I started using it, and I feel MUCH more in control of my improvisation as well as more creative.

I have read bits about Noam Chomsky's ideas about linguistics, specifically the ideas of surface structure and deep structure and I feel that these two approaches mirror, in a very general way, Chomsky's model.

The first method is the surface structure; you are learning the sentence and using it verbatim. The second method is the deep structure; you are learning the building blocks of the sentence, understanding the linguistic transformations that take place, and using those rules to create your own sentence.

In my next post, I will post some examples of the two methods.

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