While I don’t consider myself a traditional “academic” anymore, I still love exploring  twentieth-century music theory. My previous teacher, pianist Bill Carrothers, was the kind of person who could sing along with Stravinsky, Ives, Messiaen, or whatever other composer he was checking out at the time. As a result, he has become one of the most harmonically innovative musicians on the scene today.

Ever since studying with him, it has become my mission to bridge the gap between advanced theoretical systems and improvisation. In other words, for those of us that are not geniuses like Bill, how can we best internalize the colors, melodies, and overall concepts we encounter in great classical works? How can we simplify and apply those same ideas to our own compositions and solos?

I owe many of my discoveries over the past two years to professor Dariusz Terefenko, a great theorist, professor, and pianist. This last semester, he helped me put together a presentation outlining some twentieth-century approaches that students can easily use to discover new sounds. I focused on the harmonic and melodic approaches of Messiaen, Hindemith, and Persichetti before going into the system of “trichord improvisation” championed by saxophonist John O’Gallagher. If you’re a student hungry for new material or a teacher looking for ways to challenge some more advanced players, I highly recommend checking out the presentation below!