Chord Tones Approach to playing Jazz
This thread was started to shed light on how the Old Masters of Jazz played. My goal is to start with videos and various other information that sheds light on how the old masters of jazz thought and techniques they used to play music.
Let's start with a quote: "Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple." -Charles Mingus.
Remember this quote throughout the discussion.
In the opinion of many old jazz greats, they often state that young musicians today over complicate things. Music theorists over the years have gathered up notes and put fancy little labels on them and leave students believing they have to learn every scale and mode to play Jazz music. Remember the quote? "Anyone can make the simple complicated." This is what has been happening over the years. Let me say that anyone can watch a solo or a string of notes being played and gather them up and label it some scale name. However, that is not how these old jazz musicians thought or perceived things. They saw music and played music by identifying the Chord Tone Shapes on their instruments.
Some will argue that chord tones are within scales. Do you still remember that quote? "Anyone can make the simple complicated." My point is that the old jazz masters did not see the music around scales but rather Chord tones. Some will still argue that "Isn't chord tones scales?" The difference is how the old jazz masters perceived it. They saw Chord Tone Shapes and everything around the shape was passing tones and chromatics. Remember the statement, "Anyone can add up all the notes and label them some scale."However, the old jazz masters did not see it as a scale but rather they saw their chord tone shapes and everything else around that shape was a passing tone and chromatics to lead them into the next chord change.
Here is some testimony.
Brian Gough (From England) states I think all that stuff about modes and all the various fancy scales is overrated and a waste of time quite frankly. I have read many articles relating to or written by some of the guitar greats and they all kept things pretty simple and basically the technique they used was to just play over chords and follow the changes. Their choice of passing tones and the phrasing and timing they used is what made the difference. I watched an instructional video of Joe Pass playing a concert and then holding a clinic and he said on there "don't ask me anything about modes 'cos I know nothing about that stuff".
Do u remember the quote "Creativity is making the complicated simple."
Brian Gough goes on to state that to improvise a jazz solo you play the basic arpeggio of the relative chord and connect the notes using passing notes (a combination of scale tones and chromatics).
Brian Gough further states that he remembers once he was studying the transcription of a Tal Farlow solo, and the transcriber detailed his idea of the scales that Tal would have used. It was a tune in 'F' and he put down the notes of a scale which he then called 'Bb Lydian Dominant'. What it was in fact, and I'm sure it's the way Tal would have thought of it, was simply the dominant chord 'Bb7' or 'Fm7', which you will see later on is a possible substitute chord for 'Bb7'. He used the 'b5' note (E) as a passing note which is why the transcriber came up with a fancy scale name! I mean can you imagine Tal or any of the others thinking to themselves in the middle of a solo, "I think I'll play a lydian dominant here". What nonsense! Do u still remember that quote "Anyone can make the simple complicated.
Here is a link to a Carol Kaye video confirming the statements above.
The next video is an audio link to Pat Metheny stating that players that play scales often do not see the chord tones and rip through scales without any idea as to how they relate to the chords above each measure of music. He refers to these players as often "Floating above the melody without sounding within it."
This video is a video of Jeff Berlin teaching chord tones
More discussion to come!
I took lessons from a guy that stressed chord shapes over modes. I tend to agree, when im writing or playing with a group i dont tend to think about what mode im going to use, i just feel it out and play. To each their own though, if you're looking for a particular flavor, modes can come in pretty handy. These days i focus less on bass solos and more on catchy writig, harmonies and singing, and just being an overall good musician
This subject seems to have been well debated (or not so well...depending on your point of view ;)) in this thread.
You should really, really, really, post this over on the Double Bass "Jazz Technique" forum - I'm sure they'll appreciate it over there just as much, if not more than here.
I agree with your message but your post comes across with an angry vibe. Maybe it's just passion in what you believe.
I think chord tones are the way but it doesn't hurt to know scales too. Seeing the chords shapes in the scales and vice versa has really helped me understand what I'm playing.
Anyway, no hard feelings, I think you just need to lighten up a bit. :bassist:
Here is a Guthrie Govan lesson that reinforces your chord tone emphasis.
Guthrie is such a fantastic player in every type of music he plays. I bet he would be an awesome bass player too.
gmahoog, I am not angry. Sorry if the post seems to have an angry vibe. I am not sure why you think that? My only intent is to stress the importance of chord tones. As a music educator, I hear students of all ages wish they could play jazz, interested in playing jazz, or attempting to play jazz. Among all these students and the outside world, etc. I hear so much scales scales scales. Everyone has them on their brain. I hear so many jazz teachers teaching students play this scale for a walking bass line, etc. It is a bit disheartening to see and hear this when nothing is mentioned about chord tones. I have so many responses back from people that say, well duh, chord tones are basic and everyone knows that. My response back to that is B.S.! I say this because many students do not understand chord tones and have no idea what notes make up a chord like Fm7. I see it all the time. Plus, guys like Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Carol Kaye, etc., back in the day would have never been discussing walking bass lines in terms of scales. Rather he would teach the concept of knowing your chord tone shapes and playing around the changes and moving with the changes.
I just reread your post and I guess it wasn't so much angry as to the point. I'm sorry I posted about the angry vibe.
My trouble with chord tones is that I struggle making them sound like music instead of playing an arpeggio. I understand about leading tones but it's still hard to make it sound good. I guess the trick is to think of the next chord all the time. It's just not as easy as it sounds.
From my experience, learning scales and modes tends to result in playing scales and modes. I know them, and use them, frankly, when I don't have a solo idea in my head, or I want to throw something flashy out there. I learned a more horizontal approach - that is- to look at the chord progression as a whole, examine it for common tones and non common tones and use that to build a solo, and keep an eye on the existing melody, to help anchor the solo. In my school days, I would write down the chord notes vertically, the write down the next chord next to it, etc., and then look at the common tones and look for a horizontal pattern that I could use to build from, things that stood out, etc. I use a few "familiar" riffs, patterns that people recognize, to launch a solo, then build from there. This is more along the lines of soloing with chordal tones, although, in the beginning, solos built this way will be pretty much "inside" the changes. This will help you to build a framework to solo on, and, if you choose to run a mode or a scale, it will be in a more recognizable context, that is, as part of the structure of the solo, not simply a riff played to fill a hole. Once you get the hang of this you could try it but this time look at the extensions and modifiers, and try to build a solo only on those notes. For instance, only only the 7ths and the 9ths, the 4ths of minor chords. Hope this helps..
I naturally approached things the way you describe from having to learn everything quickly off of Real Book charts. The tonality which usually translates to a left-hand shape gets stuck in your brain. That said, to really lock down some of the stranger chord tones and what I should be doing, I went and reviewed the associated scale a bit.
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