Harmony with LEGO Bricks

In memory of Conrad Cork 1940 – 2021
Conrad died on 25th April 2021

Before Conrad retired, he brought out a final edition in 2008 of the New Guide to Harmony with LEGO Bricks (NGHLB). We are delighted to be able to ensure that the book is still available by selling it for the first time in 2021 in PDF e-book form on this web site alongside Insights in Jazz.

There is also a limited number of copies of the print-edition of NGHLB remaining for sale on a first-come-first-served basis from Jazzhouse Records.

Where this book is coming from

Understanding music has nothing to do with reading notation, playing an instrument, or knowing technical terms.  If you love and can remember whole performances by your favourite players, then you do understand music.

While this is true of all music everywhere, it is especially important for jazz players.  A jazz musician personally decides on every note s/he plays, so any attempt to play jazz without the requisite understanding in place is the wrong thing to be doing!

There is even more to this issue of personal choice, though.  It is because you choose what to play, that you don’t have to have a virtuoso technique in place before you engage with the process.  As long as the understanding, (or taste as it is also called), is there, you can start with any level of competence. And without it, you can’t start at all, no matter how ‘competent’ you are.

All that the technical terms, the musical analysis – and even the historical background – are for is to explain the understanding that you already have.

The achievement of this book is to have identified what it is necessary to explain up front, and to have discovered that the amount of knowledge you need is unbelievably small – as well as being very easy to learn.

This book works by separating out the pre-requisites.  It doesn’t clutter and confuse the learning process by mixing them up.  And it always places ‘theory’ after practice.

It starts with the problem of understanding.  And from there, but entirely without the paraphernalia of technical language, leads you from just listening to jazz, to a deep appreciation of the processes involved.

It then shows you the tiny knowledge components you need to be able to translate thought into action, separately and clearly so you can see the ‘theory’ for what it is.

Applying the knowledge (practising) is where the playing begins.  So you will find a lot of deeply practical help about what and how to practise.  This book will give you:

  • A thorough understanding of the jazz repertoire as a whole.
  • The ability to play anything you know in any key, with no effort.
  • Matters for further thought as you grow into a more rounded player.
  • The most thorough programme of playalong material you will find anywhere.

Is this book for you?

This book is about getting you ready to hold your own as a jazz player, on bandstands, with the fastest company around.

Even if you don’t play an instrument at all yet, there is enough here to do that job for you, starting from scratch.

But the book is structured so that the price you pay for not getting all of the way through it is trivial.  You can bale out at any point, and still retain all of the benefits gained to date.

This has two immediate and inevitable payoffs, almost regardless of how little attention you pay:

  • First, whether you are a musician or not, this book will show you how to get more out of listening to jazz.  The section called What to Listen for in Jazz is a complete guide to what happens during a jazz performance.  It shows you the view from the improviser’s head, as it were.  You get to discover the thinking behind the solos.  And yet it does it all by directed listening (to great music, needless to say), and has no pre-requisites in terms of musical knowledge.  Just dive in, and dig the music.
  • Second, if you are already, or if you want to become, a jazz musician, this book will help you improve the quality of your improvisation.  It will remove, almost at a stroke, one of the major obstacles which aspiring players of all levels confront- that of the conflict between having to know harmony thoroughly, and the discovery that applying that knowledge, consciously while playing, limits your power of expression.  Harmony with LEGO Bricks solves this problem.  Your detailed knowledge of harmony will be immense, as will your view of the repertoire.  But you won’t consciously have to think about it at all while playing, whatever key you are playing in!

So you can answer the question ‘is this book for you?’ quite easily for yourself.

If you are not interested in listening to or playing jazz, then it will have little to offer besides perhaps some intellectual curiosity.  And if, as a player, you are not interested in developing your potential, then it certainly isn’t for you.

“Conrad was a true educator with a proselytising zeal for jazz and improvisation. He was a great and benign influence on all who encountered him, and his pride in his book is totally justified. It offers some of the deepest insights into jazz aesthetics and has had a wide influence on the jazz community.”

Andy Hamilton, Durham University