Eight Ideas for Arrangers

25 May

I’m finishing up the arrangements for the concert at the Israeli Opera next week.

I’m certainly looking forward to sharing the stage with the wonderful Ralph Alessi, Marty Ehrlich, Drew Gress and Roberto Dani – all incredible artists.

During the process of arranging some of my favorite Israeli songs, I thought I’ll share some of my ideas about arranging.

1. New chords are not always more beautiful.

2. What do you especially like about the song? Express that in your arrangement.

3. What would be completely inappropriate on the song you’re arranging? Try it.

4. Is there a style of music that you absolutely love, but the composer might have been indifferent to? It might be useful in creating an original arrangement.

5. Nothing changes a song more than changing its proportions.

6. Sometimes you can use a song as a jumping point for writing a new song of your own. Test the limits of the term “arrangement”.

7. If you arrange for specific players, have them in mind.

8. Adding information to the song is obvious. Try reducing!


Dancing In The Control Room

18 May

Thanks everyone for coming to the Omer Klein Trio concerts in Germany, Sweden and France.

This trio is constantly growing musically, becoming more open, loose and surprising. Haggai Cohen Milo and Ziv Ravitz are simply the most incredible partners I could ask for!

Here is a video of the trio playing at Fasching Jazz Club in Stockholm, in what was a thrilling Scandinavian debut for us.

The tune is Yemen, composed by myself, and originally appears on my solo piano CD, Heart Beats.

I remember recording that take. My good friend Omer Avital just entered the control room after I finished playing the head in (the initial melody.) We spoke before the session and I knew he would come to the studio to say hi and listen to some takes, but I didn’t know when.

The solo I played on that take (which ended up being the take on the released album) had everything to do with Avital dancing in the control room.

Thank you Jazz Thing TV for posting this video.

I’m playing solo piano, and it’s a new song of mine entitled Something About Love. I think the editing is really thoughful and sensitive. The sound was recorded finely by Radio Bremen.

Next week: Solo Piano at the Loft, Köln, May 23.

An Approach to Studying Written Music

13 Apr

I have recently studied pieces by Beethoven, Bartók and Manuel de Falla, and used this approach. It proved to be helpful. Benjamin Hochman, a great Israeli Classical pianist, once suggested I will l give it try.

The basic idea is simple: for a while, refuse the temptation to play the music on your instrument. Get it ingrained in you in other ways.

1. Spend time reading the score. If you don’t have absolute pitch, you can check notes and phrases on an instrument every now and then. Not too much, though, as part of the idea is to develop your inner hearing.

2. Make note of the various tempo markings throughout the piece. Feel the tempo. You can use a metronome. Try singing the music in the marked tempos.

3. If the score includes foreign-language performance instructions which you are not familiar with, this is the time to look them up in a music dictionary and understand what they are.

4. Notice the appearance of new themes, new phases and so on. Begin to understand what the piece is about.

5. Get physical. You may move your fingers around, approximating the movements that you will later be required to perform.

Get a sense of the physicality of the piece: your hands go here, then they go there, then an immediate quick leap from here to there, and so on. This will supply major short cuts once you will approach your instrument.

6. Listen to recordings or watch videos while reading. This is not a must, and some classical players will advise against it, to avoid emulating others. I personally like knowing what other pianists are doing, and I still do the complete opposite when I feel like it.

7. Begin practicing the piece on your instrument; If you have never tried everything described above, the first moment of playing will most likely be a moment of revelation.

Note for Improvisers:

I have done this with Jazz as well. Learning the written music itself is usually a much shorter procedure then in Classical music; but figuring out ways to improvise on it, is a cool thing to do while away from your instrument.

First of all, it is effective. Singing a couple of solo choruses helps you internalizing the harmonic structure. You can think about improvisational strategies that the given tune may suggest, and become familiar with them.

Second, we all have our improvisational tendencies when we play our instruments. Beginning your relationship with a tune away from the instrument, you become connected to the music on a deeper level. It often provides you the starting point for a more original and genuine improvising approach.

Emotional Value

13 Mar

Lately I’ve been too busy playing and couldn’t blog. That’s a good thing.

I want to thank everyone who have been checking out Four Tips for Improvisers. I’m quite astonished by the amount of readers. I’ll be writing more on this topic, so feel free to send specific questions if you have any.

Shai Maestro, a friend and a great pianist, wrote a beautiful comment on “Four Tips”. It includes a wise piece of advice from Sam Yahel, another great pianist/keyboardist. Thanks for sharing, Shai!

“Sam offered to ALWAYS play in an emotional context. Never practice anything in a mechanical way. Practice as if you had to preform what you are practicing. It can be a very slow tempo, but it has to have an emotional value to it. That way, when you are on stage, and you feel something, your’e brain had already made the connection between the feeling and the action back at the practice room, then it just comes out naturally. It proved itself as one of the best advice Iv’e ever got.”

I recently had mixing sessions with the brilliant engineer Christian Heck, for my upcoming trio album with Haggai Cohen Milo and Ziv Ravitz.

Listening back to the trio, I found myself thinking about my musical and personal relationships.

What I hear in those tracks could only be achieved through quality-time spent together: traveling, talking, laughing, playing live, recording, going through life.

Someone recently asked me about my collaborators. I began naming names, and eventually said “I basically work with my friends”. That’s somehow true. I can’t recall the last time I was on stage, without at least one of the other musicians being a close friend.

Of course, I also play with new people all the time. I love that. You have to do it  if you want to keep fresh and learn new things. But it seems that the ones who become my friends and the ones who become my long-term collaborators are the same people.

I feel very blessed to have in my life people like Omer Avital, Rona Kenan, Alon Lotringer, Ziv and Haggai, and others. With each of these people I have been developing a long-term friendship and a strong artistic bond – we’re playing on each other’s projects, share the bandstand, consult each other.

In my musical life, I cannot think of a bigger asset I have.

Four Tips for Improvisers

1 Feb

Many have reacted warmly to my Seven Tips for Composers; thank you all!

Here are some ideas regarding the unique art of improvisation.

1. Learn Languages.

If you want to improvise, study what other improvisers do. It is essential.

It’s surprising to see how many young players seem to believe they will be able to get ahead without it. I think that’s impossible. Also,why would you want to skip it? Why not tap into beautiful universes filled with musical ideas that were created on the spot by masters?

Most improvisers want to be original, and look for general concepts that will allow them to shape their own ideas; That’s fine. But avoiding learning the common and/or obscure vocabulary of improvised music (be it in the realm of Jazz or any other musical world) is not practical.

Why? Because you can only create something personal if you know what you’re doing.

Imagine someone who wants to express profound and beautiful ideas using the Spanish language, without having learned Spanish vocabulary, grammar and so on – for fear of becoming less original.

Now imagine a great poet, who, out of her deep knowledge and understanding of the language and its contexts, can eventually create singular, personal and powerful work.

2. Record and Analyze Your Improvisations.

An invaluable process. When you’re improvising, you’re so busy coordinating all the various musical elements, that you hardly get a clear picture of what it is you’re doing; especially in the beginning of your life as an improviser.

If you never record and listen back, there’s no way that you will be aware of everything that was going on; there’s no way you’ll be able to say that you liked what you just played, and be sure.

Listening to recordings of yourself can be cruel, but it’s an effective way to understand – according to your own taste and judgement – what are the things you want to improve.

3. Separate the Elements.

Let’s say you’re listening back to a recording of a solo you just played, and you’re not happy with one of the elements in your playing.


1. Your time rushes when you get excited.

2. You tend to begin your phrases at the same place in the bar.

3. You don’t go out of the prescribed harmony enough, to your taste.

4. You’re not using various dynamic levels in your solo.

And so on and so forth.

Now is the time to work on an element that lacks quality, according to what you hear in the recording.

To do that, the best approach is to begin by working only on that single element.

For example, you practice beginning your phrases in new and unexpected places rhythmically. You work on it, disregarding all other elements.

While you practice this concept, you don’t care about anything else: quality of melodic ideas, using various registers, anything you would normally care about – you stop caring about it for a while. You play as if the only important thing in the world is to begin phrases in interesting places.

Then, when you feel you’ve made progress with this topic, you isolate another element and work on it.

Later you can combine two of these; now you’re worrying about two things – where you begin your phrases, and playing more “out” harmonically, for example. Slowly but surely you bring those improved aspects into your general playing, and actually hear yourself becoming a better improviser.

4. Why are you playing?

This doesn’t have anything to do with music per se. It’s a human, spiritual, existential idea.

Practicing can be a technical activity. The actual playing of music, once you’re performing, rehearsing, or even practicing ‘real’ playing, should not feel technical.

The situation: You are creating music on the spot, on a given day and time, at a given country, city and venue, in front of a given audience, and with given collaborators.

The uniqueness of each event is what lends improvised music its incomparable magic.

It shouldn’t sound the same every night. You are never in the same exact mental state, and if you sound the same, that means you’re ignoring that fact.

Some of your current emotions, ideas, thoughts and so on, should find a way into your playing on a given night. There should be a reason why you’re playing what you’re playing tonight. It has to be that you must play what you’re playing. What story do you have to tell?

When a good friend asks you how you’re feeling these days, you always have something to say. Improvisation can have some of that quality too.

For me, this is crucial in generating a great, even a needed, improvisation.

Red Sea Next Week

15 Jan

Next week I will perform at the Red Sea Winter Jazz Festival in Eilat, Israel. It will be a solo piano concert, in which Rona Kenan  will be my special guest:

Red Sea Winter Jazz Festival, Eilat – Friday, January 20, 21:00.

Rona is one of my favorite singer-songwriters in recent years. Her texts are strong, poetic and uncompromising; her compositions have surprising and interesting twists; and her vocal performances are always honest and convincing, and very varied in tone and energy.

Right after my concert with Rona, The Bad Plus will perform on the same stage. I’ve been following this great band since they started out and their music is extremely original and beautiful. In Eilat they will perform On Sacred Ground – their version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Several years ago I took one lesson with Ethan Iverson, the band’s pianist, in New York; It will suffice to say that I still sometime practice the simple and profound things he showed me. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing this performance.

I will stick around at the festival to hear my friends Third World Love on Saturday. They are an incredible group and their show is highly recommended. And Thank you Omer Avital and Avishai Cohen (TWL’s bassist and trumpeter) for this nice mention at an interview for Ha’aretz this week:

“Among the newest generation of jazz players, Cohen and Avital praise guitarist Gilad Hekselman and pianist Omer Klein as outstanding young musicians now working abroad who are leaders in their fields.

‘In April, my new album with Omer Klein will be released’,says Avital, showing that “three generations” of Israel jazz musicians abroad are continuing to mingle and influence each other.”

The full story is here.

The album Avital is mentioning is a release of a recording we did a long time ago – in 2006 I think – playing his music with Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Joel Frahm on saxophone and Daniel Freedman on drums. We were playing a lot together at the time and I can’t wait to hear this music mixed, mastered and out there.

Seven Tips for Composers

9 Jan

Since I’ve been asked about this often, I’ve decided to pile some composing tips and share them with you. I’ve used all of these ideas and they have proven to be very beneficial to my creative process.

1. Repeat.

If you have a good beginning that doesn’t tell you how it wants to proceed, or a complete tune that seems like it can get better and more interesting, try repeating it many times. ‘Many’ can mean 10 or 20, but also a 100 times, until you get what you’re looking for. I’ve done this. The point is to be open for new things to happen every time you repeat the tune. After several times I usually start repeating the music in different keys, meters, tempos, registers, etc. There’s a tape of John Lennon working on Strawberry Fields Forever. It’s startling to hear how loose he is with trying extremely different ways of playing the same song.

Trying other keys is especially effective for finding the continuation of a melody you’re stuck with. Musicians come up with different ideas when playing in different keys, and you will find that the C minor melody that got stuck at bar 8, will miraculously find its next bars when played in Eb minor ,for example.

2. Set an alarm.

Fred Hersch told me he sometimes just picks a pitch (Db, G# etc.) or two as a starting point, sets an alarm for 45 minutes, and writes a tune. The goal is to have something coherent, with a beginning, middle and an ending, by the time the alarm sounds. Then you can come back to the tune in the next days and fix what needs fixing. If you don’t like it you can always throw it away; but it’s a good way to get the creative juices flowing.

3. Have some other music in mind.

I’ve done this with Neila, which is based on an old Jewish ‘Piyut’ (sacred song); with Abutbul, which, being an homage to my friend and great composer Omer Avital, hints at some of his tunes; and with other compositions. It can be a nice starting point.

4. Avoid your instrument.

I compose at the piano a lot, for sure. But some of my music was composed away from it, and I believe it gives it freshness. España was composed on Guitar and voice. Yemen was just sung. The Wedding Song was composed by drumming and singing. Malchut was composed on a keyboard, toying with the (fake plastic) organ sound, which must have inspired the song’s atmosphere.

5. Record a free improvisation and find parts in it you want to develop into compositions.

This is a great method, especially if you are happier with your improvisation skills than you are with your composition abilities. It’s been said that composition is slowed down improvisation, and it’s partly true. But the downside in the process of composing is the fact that you have to stop whenever you hear something that you really like, from fear of forgetting it. Pushing the record button and just going at it for a while does that double trick; It allows you to go on without stopping, while the best moments are being captured for you.

6. Imagine an instrument.

It can be highly beneficial to imagine a specific instrument with a distinct sound playing the melody while you’re composing it. Of course you’ll do that if you’re actually composing for that instrument, but that’s not what I mean; my point is that imagining the sound of a certain instrument can sometimes inspire your melodic writing and send you in new directions. I wrote Oud Song from Introducing Omer Klein while imagining an Oud playing it, and ended up recording it on piano; but I wouldn’t have composed it otherwise.

7. Imagine specific musicians playing with you.

I’ve often composed with people like Omer Avital,  Ziv Ravitz or Haggai Cohen Milo in mind. I really hear the person’s playing in my mind and it immediately gives me a better sense of what the tune can be like and where it could go. I’ve also imagined players I’ve never played with. When I sat down to compose Shalvat Nefesh from Heart Beats, I knew I was going for something a bit more serious and profound. Somehow Charlie Haden and Brian Blade came to my mind. I never played with them but I know their playing very well. I closed my eyes and started playing the song, and their mature presence was just there – as a metaphor, as a guiding force for me to come up with something clean and sincere.

—> I hope this helps!  I would love to hear your input, your experience with these ideas, and other tips. Enjoy making music.