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In Tune -- by Bill Fuller
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In Defense of Non-Musicians        
Despite the title above, this is not about drummers. It’s about two ways of listening to a tune. It’s
about how a musician and a person without much musical education might process what they hear.
Let’s take a tune like Walter Donaldson’s 1925 composition, “Yes, Sir, That’ s My Baby.” A
composition can follow a number of different patterns in jazz but by far the most standard is the
pattern that runs AABA, where AABA equals one chorus. In “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby,” the first
AABA chorus is 32 measures (bars) in length (each 4/4 bar containing four beats).The first A part
states the melody (8 bars); the second A part repeats it (8 bars). Now the B part (called the “bridge”)
serves as an 8 bar transition back to the melody as stated in the third repetition of the A part – all of
this is called :

                                            O N E   C H O R U S         
- First part A - Yes, sir, that’s my baby           -Second Part A–Yes, sir, we’ve decided
                No, sir, I don’t mean maybe                              No, sir, we can’t hide it
               Yes, sir, that’s my baby now.                             Yes, sir you’re invited now.

-Part B (bridge)-By the way, Oh by the way    -Fourth Part A-Yes, sir, that’s my baby
                When we reach the preacher                          No, sir, don’t mean maybe
                We’ll say, Oh yes we’ll say                            Yes, sir that’s my baby now.
                                       S E C O N D   C H O R U S (E S)
Next, the whole AABA pattern (as above) is repeated but improvised with variations (either vocally,
or instrumentally) by each individual wishing to “take a solo.” Thus it may actually be repeated 3, 4,
or more times – a chorus for each soloist.
                                        F I N A L   C H O R U S
Finally, after the solos, the tune ends by going back to the “top” (see “One Chorus” above) and
playing/singing the AABA pattern a third time.

*               *               *

Now, this is a very simplistic explanation and it must be noted that there are a lot of variations in the
way the AABA pattern is applied as well as variations to the pattern itself; but, in jazz, the knowledge
of this pattern is fundamental to every player; and consciousness of the structure of a tune (like
AABA) surfaces when a musician listens to  it. There are other elements of a tune’s performance that
an experienced ear might also focus upon: rhythm, melody, harmony, the tone, style, and skill of each
player as the tune progresses. All of which is to say that this is pretty much the way a musician
processes what he hears.
Nonetheless, there is sublime joy in the more holistic approach of the non-musician who takes it all in
at once with unbridled foot-tapping, head-bobbing, finger-snapping, and knee-slapping. His/her ear-to-
ear grin does not come from knowing how the tune is structured, but how it’s performed. The only
questions such a listener might ask are: “Does it swing? and Does it ‘send’ me?” – two valid (though
subjective) questions! I’m partial to this approach. But, then, I’m a drummer!
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