Marian Reforms

Marius Nordal: pianist, teacher, dude and nice hat.

Marius Nordal: pianist, journalist, teacher, dude and nice hat.

Marius “Butch” Nordal probably needs no introduction from me, but if you haven’t heard of him I strongly advise you to check him out. He’s got a lot of stuff on YouTube – his nom de toob is radiokid2, but the main website is here:

He’s my kind of musician and writer – tells it like it is, informs rather than bamboozles. (He doesn’t seem to waffle and swear as much as I do, but then I’ve never met the man in person…) He cuts to the chase. He won’t have you fannying around with abstract theory for months or try to keep “guild secrets”, he’ll get you sounding the way you want to within hours. His interviews are good too. Must be a relief for musicians to deal with a journalist who knows what they’re talking about, rather than asking them how they manage to play so many notes or attempting to create some “angle” via Sociology for Dummies


Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay…

Marius presents a lot of very useful concepts in accessible ways, and I hope he won’t mind me giving a very brief rundown of one of them here. There’s nothing new under the sun and there are lots of different ways of thinking about music – the more ways you have of looking at the world, the deeper your understanding. I’m sure he wouldn’t claim to have invented this, but the way he presents it is crystal clear. That’s as admirable a result in teaching as in music. As well it should be – at the end of the day, they’re both just ways of communicating.

To instantly get into the interesting stuff on dominant chords, just play the I, IV and V triads of the minor key a semitone up from the root. So, for instance, over a G7 chord start mucking around with the following triads: Abm Db Eb

That’s the rock classic Louie Louie (the song the Feds couldn’t understand, let alone ban). And as Marius points out, it’s a chord progression as old as the hills and it naturally produces strong lines. I’d add to his commentary that this method has the pleasant side effect of making the “difficult” keys “easy”. Frozen in the headlights and don’t know what to play on F#7+9? Okay, calm down, you can surely manage Gm, C and D triads, right? Now combine them. Hey presto, you’re into the chord sound.

This is a fast, in-a-nutshell way of tackling:

  • juicy chord tensions
  • the altered chord-scale as a mode of melodic minor
  • upper structures
  • bitonality
  • complexity by combining two types of simplicity
  • the weirder you get, the more structure you use

All notions that I’ve banged on about here for ages, but Marius manages to nail them all in one easy to grasp package. Kudos to the man. His book, Wisdom of the Hand, looks very interesting too. (Among many other things, he’s a fellow pentatonics devotee, and we have to stick together…)

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Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes, i) Reviews
10 comments on “Marian Reforms
  1. Congrats!…this is a brilliant and lucid synopsis in just a few words. Like my uncle used to say: “One shouldn’t speak unless it improves on the silence”…Ha!

    • Jason says:

      You’ve heard the one about Frankie Trumbauer?
      After a swanky dinner, a concerned guest approached his wife and said: “I hope I haven’t offended your husband – he barely said a word all night.” She replied: “You have to understand – Frank’s half-Cherokee. He won’t use one word where none will do.”

  2. Yes, I love to read/hear about his take on the complexities of jazz piano. I only lament that I rarely have the time to sit down and apply his methods. But what a fantastic resource to us aspiring jazz pianists!

  3. Paul Sorensen says:

    Jason – your take on whether a #9 or flat 10th (somewhere in here) makes me laugh!
    First of all most of us like to call it a plus 9. That way it dosen’t take on the connotation of it’s a sharp or flat! A “C” natural above a “C#” in a A7+9 chord surely is not thought of as a “sharp” 9th or flat 10th. The rule of thumb that I suggest is a plus 9 written as logically as possible, usually sticking with the tonality of the moment or surrounding tonality (if that is comprehended easier!) If we are in flats, then we write added notes as flats. if we are in sharps, then we write and think in sharps. Never mix the two, and you will be better off!

    • Jason says:

      Hi Paul,
      I understand what you’re saying and I tend to write “+9” and “+11” myself, but that can also be confusing, since unless people are familiar with the convention they may think you mean “add 9” or “add 11”. To be honest, I don’t think there’s too much confusion between the concepts of “sharp 9th” and “raised 9th”, regardless of the key.
      Surely though, to be consistent with what you’re saying, wouldn’t you also have to write A7-9 instead of A7b9? Maybe you do, but you have to admit it would be rare. Why should we be squeamish about how we use sharps but not flats?
      It’s all down to convention I suppose – incidentally, I’ve seen Bill Evans charts where he wrote 7 for dominant and 7 for major.
      Of course I agree with using flats in flat keys and sharps in sharp keys. But in my experience jazz is usually written in a less classical, more vernacular way. For instance, I don’t ever recall having seen Fb7 or A#m7 even where it would have been technically correct. And the bottom end of 7b9 and 7+9 chord-scales are essentially diminished in character – diminished harmony is a bit of a classroom rebel when it comes to notation conventions, flat keys, sharp keys and all that jazz.
      You can tie yourself in knots. For the first five notes of a 7b9 scale, I prefer to think: 1, split the 9 in half, 3, raise the 11, 5 – that applies universally to all keys. Trying to describe the same thing strictly in a sharp key: 1, raised 1, raised 9, 3, raised 11, 5. In a flat key things get even messier: 1, lowered 9, lowered 3, 3, no 11, lowered 5, 5. See what I mean? Anyway, sound doesn’t care what we call it – an F# doesn’t know it’s sharp. And that’s the clearest way I can find to think of things. Whatever works for you works for you. But I’m afraid I do draw the line at “flat tenths”.
      Thanks for the comment.
      (If anyone’s interested in where this came from, it was the post entitled A Rose By Any Other Name. If I could figure out how to do it, I’d transpose these comments to there!)

      • Paul Sorensen says:

        In all my years (75) of being on this planet, I find that the simplest explanation of a given theory is the best when trying to convey understanding of a new concept. You can get as dicey as you wish, but it will not win you many friends, or get your point across. Horace Silver uses what I would call a plus 9th voicing on many of his dominant 7 chords. This means the 9th has been raised a half step creating what some people want to call a flat 10th, lowered third, or some other designation which is complicating the labeling! It is ok in my book to have both the Major third and the flatted third in a chord. Your statement somewhere on this sight that you cannot have both, is totally ridiculous!

        • Jason says:

          I completely agree with you. Certainly about simplicity – most of this site is all about trying to suggest ways (hopefully helpful) to uncomplicate what is often made an unnecessarily complicated subject. Nor was I was saying that the two tones aren’t used together – a tune doesn’t go by where I don’t voice chords that way. I’m not trying to be cute either. I simply made the point in the original post that a chord is technically either major or minor (at least in traditional music) and thinking of a +9 as a b3 up the octave can be confusing and limiting.

          We seem to have got off on the wrong foot here. I’m genuinely sorry, Paul, if I’ve caused offence. And I value your interest and input here, whether you agree or not.

          • Paul Sorensen says:

            Don’t worry about it! We’re not off on the wrong foot – it’s just that there are better ways to “notate” something then others. Too many words have been around in too many books and articles on what is correct and how we must think! The fact is we think of all the ways we can account for each note, then decide for ourselves which way is the easiest and most plausible! Then there are those who would rather complicate things just for the sake of it, depending upon their own background, usage, publishers demands, or what ever reason.
            My point being – our world of musical sound is a very complex one, but needn’t be overly dissected by all those wishing to make a point – – or should it?! Do we really need George Russell’s Lydian Concept? I for one don’t need fifteen or more categories for Lydian scales. Ha

            • Jason says:

              God, I bought Russell’s magnum opus years ago – a rare import, cost me a fortune. So what you’re basically saying here, George, is that Lydian is the “brightest” mode and everything is possible if you go up high enough?
              Oh, thanks pal, for the keys to the kingdom. I hadn’t figured that out. Most expensive piece of furniture I own…

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