The Musician's Secret Slang: A 'Crow,' An Oboe And A Cleveland Call-Out

Jul 11, 2014
Originally published on July 11, 2014 6:21 pm

Every profession has a jargon all its own, and musicians are no different. Oboist Alli Gessner and blues musician Brian Brickley offer a few terms distinctive to the music world: "crowing" and "good night, Cleveland," among others.

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Time, now, to hear more of the terms of the trade you've sent us. We asked you, what are the bits of lingo or jargon, common in your profession or hobby, that might stump anybody on the outside? Today, some musical trade lingo.

ALLI GESSNER: Oh, my gosh. There are always things that I think of, as a musician, and that I say accidentally to my non-musician friends, that they give me a funny look, and they're like, what?

BLOCK: That's oboist Alli Gessner of Chicago, who sent us the word crowing.

GESSNER: Crowing is definitely something that only is for the double-reed world. So that would be obo and bassoon. And that refers to a sound that we can make when we are just playing on our reed alone. What we use it for is to make sure that the reed works correctly - that it is actually in tune with itself. And that's how we know we're kind of ready to get started.

BLOCK: OK, here we go. Here is Alli Gessner crowing.


BLOCK: And Brian Brickley also sent us some musical lingo. He's a blues musician, and he joins us from Ypsilanti, Michigan. Brian, welcome.


BLOCK: And what's your bit of trade lingo that you want to talk about?

BRICKLEY: My bit of trade lingo that blues performers will easily recognize but most folks would not would be, hey, it's a one-four-five with a short four.

BLOCK: A one-four-five with a short four, which means?

BRICKLEY: It's referring to the different notes on a major scale, basically. So if you think of the do re mi scale, the one is the first note. And let's say we're in E, the four would be the fourth note. And if you're in E, that's A. And the five in E would be a B. So most blues progressions use that format. And as luck would have it, I have a guitar here. So I would love to show you.

BLOCK: OK, why don't you demonstrate for us?

BRICKLEY: OK, so you'll hear this in a million blues songs.


GESSNER: That's that one chord I just mentioned.



BRICKLEY: Then the fourth chord.


BRICKLEY: Back to that one chord.


BLOCK: Oh, there's five.

BRICKLEY: Five chord.

BLOCK: (Laughing).


BRICKLEY: And the one chord.


BLOCK: OK, but you said something about a short four. What's a short four?

BRICKLEY: Now, I'm glad you asked.


BRICKLEY: The short four is when you divide those first couple measures, and you add one measure of that four. So instead of staying on the one, you go one...


BRICKLEY: That's the short four.

BLOCK: So one-four-five with a short four - if I were to be sitting in on a blues jam and somebody threw that out, I would know what - I should know what that meant.

BRICKLEY: You would know. If you were familiar with the blues and had played it enough, yes, that would make sense.

BLOCK: We're curious, Brian, about one other bit of lingo that you sent us. And it's this - good night, Cleveland. What's that?

BRICKLEY: There are often these big, crescendo endings we'll do at the end of a song that are just over the top. Like, the drummer holds his stick in the air and - (yelling) good night, Cleveland. And it's just something people say often onstage to just say, here's an over-the-top, set off the rockets, turn on the smoke machines - this is the last encore. So it is a funny term that we often chuckle at.

BLOCK: And why Cleveland, do you think?

BRICKLEY: You know, I don't know. I think just because it's, you know, a little off the beaten path. If you said, good night, New York, people might actually get excited. So nothing against my friends in Cleveland, but it's just a little off the beaten path, perhaps.

BLOCK: And I guess the syllable pattern fits pretty well - right? - as opposed to Ypsilanti. That would be a little more of a clunker.

BRICKLEY: (Laughing) Exactly.

BLOCK: Well, Brian Brickley, thanks so much for talking to us about your trade lingo. We appreciate it.

BRICKLEY: It's a pleasure. Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Brian Brickley is a blues musician and bar owner in Ypsilanti, Michigan. If you have your own trade lingo, we would love to hear it. We're on Facebook and Twitter @npratc. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.