Intervals in Action

Greg Fishman & Greg Alper

By Paul Haar

Where Greg Fishman’s talents as a saxophonist are well documented, I believe his legacy in music will be cemented as an educator.  Fishman is one in a lineage of great player-based teachers.  Like Frankie Trumbauer, Lennie Tristano, and Jerry Bergonzi before him, Fishman has a unique talent for taking the most analytical of concepts and making them accessible for the average player.  Fishman’s newest book, co-written with former student and colleague Greg Alper,  Intervals in Action is yet another example of his wonderful pedagogical talent.


Have you ever attempted to learn a bunch of patterns only to discover you absorbed one or two at best?  The reason typically has to do with your mind’s level of stimulation in relation to the intervallic structures of the pattern.  Simply put, you remember what you like.  But typically we don’t associate the mathematical with the emotional.  


Intervals in Action is a wonderful exploration into the power of the interval.  Unlike licks and pattern books, this text really moves the player through the colors and potential applications of intervals in our improvisations.  The book is presented in four parts.


Part one is a presentation of intervals through the cycle.  Each interval is presented separately without chord symbols or reference to the harmonic relationships.  I like this as it allows the player to experience the color of the interval, both descending and ascending, without concern for harmonic application.  This is a very holistic approach and one that is necessary for the development of a strong ea.


The meat and merit of this book can be found in chapters two and three.  As I read them I kept thinking, “Man if I had this presented to me when I was young, I would be ten-times the player I am today.”  


Chapter two presents the various intervals as they can be used according to chord type.  Typically intervalic discussion is presented as it related to the harmonic foundation or function of a chord.  In this text, Fishman presents a given interview with all of its possible usage.  This means structurally (harmonically), diatonically, and chromatically.  In this example, you can see how a simple minor 2nd can be used in just one dominant chord. 

If chapter two shows the player all the possible applications of an interval, chapter three shows how one interval pitch class can find a home in a myriad of chords.  This chapter really blew my mind and punctuated how two notes can become an entire palette of improvisational colors.  Has you can see in this one example, the minor second interval doesn’t have one or two applications.  In fact, it has nine!  This is Sonny Rollins-type insight here and I am thankful for Fishman’s attention to detail.  


The fourth and final section, aptly titled Intervals in Action is a presentation of how the various intervals were used in the construction of melodic lines and licks from Fishman’s various books.   I think this section is useful in tying together the entire interval presentation.  


Fishman offers a great “how-to” section at the beginning of the book, showing the reader how the book can be used.  I used this book for six weeks with some of my students and in my own practicing and couldn’t believe how quickly it influenced my playing and listening.  I even noticed how I began to recognize the various intervals in my classical playing.  


Be aware that Intervals in Action is not a book for those seeking a quick fix.  If you are not willing to put in the work and us this text with the heart of an explorer it will be a complete waste of your money.  But if you are someone who values meaningful learning and discovery this book is a wonderful took for learning.