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Fingering what you hear, bebop heads, and other ramblings

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Sep 18, 2004.

  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    This is kind of a broad topic, but more and more I've become dissatisfied with my old practice regimen, and I'm looking to design a new routine that will (I hope) take me more in the direction of where I want to go. To that end I'd like to list my old routine (which is going out the window), and start to build a new one, hopefully with some constructive feedback.

    OLD ROUTINE:
    - Warm up with scales/arpeggios in 12 keys, always 2 octaves and using progressively "faster" divisions; always with metronome.
    - A mixture of Simandl/Rabbath/Petracchi etudes with a metronome, always with a metronome and lately focusing on Petracchi.
    - Tune practice: either working on new tunes that I need for performance, or randomly learning new tunes from various fakebooks, usually chosen after listening to a performance of the tune that inspires me.
    - There's more, but this was the basis of it.

    I've been practicing this way for a while, and I think it served me well for a long time, but it seems like it's time to move on, since it gets harder and harder to motivate myself to practice this routine these days. Lately, I've been obsessed with the notion of improvisation being simply being the ability to execute what I hear (and always trying to hear new things as well, which kinda goes without saying), and I don't really see or feel how my old routine was helping me to do that.

    For instance, coming from the piano, I still hear a lot of "bebopish" type of lines that for years I didn't dare try to execute on the bass because I thought there was no chance that it would ever come out in anything resembling decent intonation. All well and good, but then it occurs to me...well, how do you expect it to ever come off if you don't try? And more importantly, if your goal is to be able to play (execute) what your hear, why shouldn't you be practicing that instead of all of this other ****? So in light of this, I have some new ideas I've been working with. First, I keep the scale/arpeggio stuff for a basic warm-up/chops workout, but get more creative with it so I don't fall into a rut. Next, since I needed a way to learn to finger more complex lines, I thought that learning bebop heads by ear (singing--> playing) would be a great way to explore those more complex interval relationships, then take the heads through all 12 keys...I started with "Joy Spring" and this is proving to be a real bugger, but also a great learning experience. Then, I can practice singing a "solo" line, (x)________ bars at a time, and then playing it back on the bass, no matter what it is. The key is to sing whatever I think would be a good line, as opposed to whatever I think I could execute, which is what I've been doing for years. So far so good. Slow going, but good going.

    Just wondering if any of the other folks around here have gone through anything similar, and if you might have some ideas about things I could try to get closer to this elusive "execute what I hear" goal.
  2. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

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    Check out trumpet lines. These tend to lay better on our instrument and will open your ear that way. Saxophone (piano, etc.) lines tend to contain things that are impossible (or near impossible) to execute. It took me years of finding my own stuff to realize that what I ended up with was very trumpetational in design.
  3. Davehenning

    Davehenning

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    Just play.



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  4. T Sony

    T Sony

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    My practice routine is very similar to yours Chris, I do include arco though. I agree with Ray, on transcribing trumpet lines etc....

    It's amazing how transcribing different instrument lines open up your ears.

    What I do for practice is the following:
    * Sing/hum the melody/solo/passage etc you desire
    * Get all the articulations and pitches close to perfect
    * Record yourself singing it, compare it to the recording

    This is one approach I use to break down trumpet/piano or any melodies I try to play.

    Anyone have any recommendations?

    I think Chris is on a good a practice routine...
  5. LM Bass

    LM Bass

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    Thanks for the great thread, Chris!

    I am in a similar quandary about jazz practicing. I spend most of my time on double bass practicing arco -Findeisen lately, but lots of other stuff comes in and out. I have used the Petrachi book, and I like it. Have you worked out of Marc Johnson's Concepts for Bass Soloing? Or perhaps Chord Studies for Trombone (berklee)? I enjoyed these.

    As far as playing what you hear. . . I have a sort of "slowdowner" in my head, and I take the ideas I hear and slow them down to make them playable. I am at the point with my 6-string electric bass where I can play what I hear, but the bull fiddle is so much harder to play that I have to edit my ideas. "Yep, I hear that, but I will play THIS!" I suppose Scott Lafaro could play what he was hearing, and maybe Gary Peacock. . . Not me.

    Playing heads is a great idea. Joyspring is a fun one, all those little triplet left-hand pull-offs, and the quick minor 7th arps. It's probably "cheating", but the Charlie Parker Omnibook is a great place to learn some cool solos.

    Anyway, consider me subscribed on this thread!
    LM
  6. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    I hear you on the trumpet stuff...I've been playing a quintet gig with a local trumpet player the last 6 months or so, and I can see why many of the same things that are difficult for the trumpet are difficult for the bass, and vice versa. I guess my question is on a whole different level, though:

    It may seem naive, but outside of things which would actually be impossible on the instrument, wouldn't it be nice not to have to "filter" your ideas at all to accomodate the instrument - or more realistically, to try to "filter" them as little as possible? This is what strikes me as the biggest challenge that I face. Sure, okay, I haven't been playing that long, and granted, I have a hell of a long way to go. BUT, I'm also growing very frustrated with "hearing" something internally that I think would be a great line to play, then having to decide that I can't pull it off, then trying to come up with something simpler to play. After a while (in my case at least), this kind of turns into not even trying to hear what I "really" hear and just trying to hear "what I think I can play". I don't know, more and more, the latter just seems like a cop-out.

    It's kind of funny, after the last round of TB Sampler stuff, I was thinking about the comments I got (on and off the board) about how it sounded like I was holding back too much. Then, I got a similar comment from Harry P. about a month ago, and he requested that I pretend I was a total virtuoso and just let fly...and if what came out was out of tune, then okay, it would be out of tune. On the two gigs that weekend (the second of which was recorded), I tried to do that, and the results were a hell of a lot better than I expected in most cases. What surprised me the most, though, was how hard it was for me to even hear the "unedited" lines after all of this time I've spent editing, almost like I was beginning to forget how to get into that headspace. Whatever happens, I need to remember how to hear fully without editing for my lack of chops!
  7. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

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    If it's not something that you're currently doing, then I don't think learning something new would limit your horizons. Only limiting your horizons can do that...
  8. Tom Baldwin

    Tom Baldwin

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    You must be aware of J.A.'s book How To Practice Jazz. If you don't have it I'll dig mine up and see if I find something applicable. Other than that, I would suggest practicing away from the bass. Either while improvising in your head, or listening to a recording, try to envision in real time how you would finger the lines on your bass. This would be in addition to your "on the bass" practice, of course.
  9. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

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    Disclosures:
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Geez, Chris, I use your old daily practice routine . . . over the course of a YEAR . . . no wonder you're such a monster. I'm nowhere near as disciplined as you or most people around here. My practice sessions (which I can hardly call "routines") usually include:

    * Warmups (sometimes with a bow) and practicing ugly facial expressions for use with poor intonation;
    * Play-along with straight-ahead combo records, often as possible with sides I'm not familiar with. Y'know, "Have Fun Practicing" and all that;
    * Work on improvising alone -- the line between "find things that work" and "not really improvising anymore, are you" is a real challenge for me;
    * Work on playing the sounds of the heros, usually tenor sax players. (It's not disciplined "work" in the way that you and Ed and Ray and Tom transcribe solos -- I just poke at it.)

    Can't wait to hear your new stuff, hombre.
  10. oliebrice

    oliebrice

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    This is a really useful thread, I've been thinking along similar lines of how to push my practice routine...
    thanks Chris..
    Don Cherry solos here I come...
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    Heh, well if I had been able to do that old "routine" every single day, then I guess I'd be a lot further along...that's mainly what I had planned until life got in the way. In reality, I would get through the scales/arpeggios in 12 keys, then do one of the other things, depending on how much time I had and how long I could stay awake. What kind of brought the thoughts of a new routine one was two things:

    1) 40th birthday. :D Hey, I figure a new practice routine beats gold chains and a red sportscar, right?

    2) A nearly weeklong break from practicing precipitated by a trip to Denver and a busy catchup schedule when I got back, followed by a couple of "less than stellar" performances the following week. I was really disappointed in what was coming out of my bass during those shows, especially since very little of what I was hearing made it through.

    Really, I'm just getting interested in practicing the things that I plan on doing/using regularly rather than a bunch of exercises which are prescribed as a general workout. I have to admit to being seriously interested in Ray's "chaotic fingering" concept, since that seems to be about having multiple ways to finger sounds that you are hearing on the fly. I'm torn between trying to learn a new bop head every two weeks, and learning one a month and really mastering it. I think I'll do the latter if I'm smart and can generate that much patience.

    The other thing that has been striking me is the concept of intervals which throw me for a loop in performance. As I've been working this week, I notice that most intervals that I hear are easy enough to find, but that the ones which really throw me the most are 6ths (both Major and minor, ascending and descending), since these cause the most difficult shifts and/or string crossings. So Ray, how about that "chaotic fingering" thread? :)
  12. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

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    There are worse scenes to be in than to be playing so much that the "tired of my ****" syndrome appears a little more regularly than for some of us.

    I tend to opt for taking a small number of tunes and really ripping them apart, all of that work really does translate into a much broader picture of the world than working on a bunch of stuff without much depth.

    The thing that's nice about the "just going for the idea" approach is that it can really inform the "what do I work on" part. If you find making fingering transitions for 6th chords (or 13th chords?) is awkward, you get or put together some exercises to shed that.

    Hey was Denver a gig? Didja hook up with Paul?
  13. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

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    The more that I mess with the idea, the more I'm figgerin' out that it's a matter of ear training and getting over the fear of missing the note. Or, in other words, you just gotta want the note bad enough and give no consideration to anything else.

    It's easy enough to practice when you're walking lines. Another way to work on it is to take crap that you play all of the time (that which is REALLY ingrained into your ear) and remove (or add) a string crossing or two -- or play it all with one finger. Getting used to starting cold in 'no man's land' (the part of the neck between D and F on the A string, from my musical childhood fears) has been positive for me -- yeah, I'll miss the note more than I like, but generally only when I concern myself with worldly things rather than listening to the music.

    In short, after years of practicing fingerings, learning scales, etcetera, play the bass like you've never touched the thing before -- with all of the confidence of a madman or the fearlessness of a child. Like the difference between hearing Paul Motian play and seeing him play. I think that this is what I've been breaking the ice offa, but don't really have it together enough to share it yet without sounding like a self-help cassette.
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    That's kind of the way I was leaning - one bop head per month, playing SLOW AS HELL at first, then gradually speeding up. After a week or two, I'll do the "Bop head in 12 keys" thang. I'm a little worried about the TP versions of the more "rangey" heads (like Joy Spring), but I'll cross that bridge when my car gets there.

    What's getting me right now is 6th intervals in the middle of a line. All of the other intervals are pretty good as far as "hear & play", but the 6ths are smacking me down at the moment. So last night I added a "scales in 6ths" exercise, which must have been a good idea because it's kicking my butt pretty hard.

    Nah, Denver was a wedding, and Paul and I decided that there probably wouldn't be time to hook up after all of the family stuff was done. Next time, though...
  15. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    I agree completely, and I kind of figured it was something like that. Still, there is the whole "translating an interval into various shapes on the FB" aspect which is kind of intriguing, and may turn out to be something that is somewhat quantifiable...
  16. jcbassomatic

    jcbassomatic

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    All you guys are way ahead of me in a regards to the stuff discussed here, but here are a couple of things two of my teachers told me couple weeks ago that changed how I look at things.

    From my bass teacher:
    Intonation/pitch is personal. There is no notion of a defined pitch in reality. Its all man-made. Having the mindset of trying to achieve 'perfect' pitch with every note will set yourself up for a bad experience. With this mindset, you start thinking that the pitch you hear is wrong - bad mojo. Instead, think of pitch as being something fluid and flexible that can fit the moment - then try to hit the pitch in your head.

    From my other teacher (sax player):
    Start by hearing/singing a major scale slowly without thinking of bass. Then imagine fingering your bass while singing/hearing a major scale. Then move to arpeggios. Then pick up your bass and finger the notes with your left hand and don't use your right hand. The outcome - you start your practice routine (whatever that is) with your ear leading you - not your fingers, written music, etc leading you.

    Both teachers have encouraged me to sing every note I play while I practice. The sax player really tries to beat this into me - he's kinda jealous that I have an instrument that I can play and sing at the same time. :) I'm starting to find myself singing my solos on gigs now. Its like a built in security blanket that keeps my mind off things like intonation that can get me thinking negatively and get my mind on things that matter more - like musical ideas, phrasing, etc.

    BTW, this concept of practicing away from your instrument is a series of lessons. I haven't gotten the whole story yet. I'll write more as I learn more. The concept was developed by Gary Burton who was traveling to europe often for concerts. He would spend 8-10 hours on a plane, land, and show up to play a couple hours later. With that kind of schedule, he couldn't practice. Out of necessicity, he learned how to practice in his head on the plane. As the story goes, some of his best playing happened after learning how to do this...

    Anyway, I'm not sure this applies to anyone, but it sure helps me...
  17. Savino

    Savino

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    This is a great thread happenin here.
    While I believe a practice "routine" is essential to progress, I have found that staying on one thing for too long, makes my playing stale. After years of trying to perfect and optimize my routine, I have discovered there is really only one thing I need to practice. This is to develop the connection between me and my instrument. Hear it. Play it. Repeat.
    Essentially, if you can do this. No music will be a challenge. Take it from someone who at this time is juggling jazz, traditional arabic/turkish gigs, samba, and balkan wedding music. The "head to Joy Spring" in all 12 keys, although a great exercise for the above, will not solve your boredom. The music your already possess just might.

    Chris, If your mind knows all the right steps, teaching your fingers is the easy part.
  18. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

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    Another thing, as far as intonation, is that I've been employing as skill that old cabinet makers and the like used that was called 'layering' (as it was related to me). What this means is that cuts and joins were layered under other things. Where I've been developing my instinct for this on the instrument is that (and this is part of the chaotic fingering thing) is that I will layer shifts and difficult string crossings, etc., under the more important notes in a phrase.

    I've also found that spending careful focus to the 'little' notes in a phrase with make the 'big' ones come out more successfully -- both in pitch and the control that I have over the big notes (and the phrase in general).
  19. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

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    I'm also inexperienced and uneducated when it comes to bass 'n jazz but... more on the lines of singing your lines, I liked Kenny Werner's idea (from the Effortless Mastery book) of just free-playing and not having any form or structure. Just play anything that isn't thought out in your head but just heard and try to do it on the fiddle. Maybe you can use that to come up with new ideas as well. Maybe once you get a handle of playing anything/everything at any instant you can start moving to doing the same with a structure, like a tune in rubato. When I get the chance to do it from time to time, feels pretty good when it works.

    I also made up a game to play when practicing. I just come up with a short phrase (like 1 bar) and try to repeat within a song (transposed in another key for another key change) or just in any number of keys... kinda like how you're doing the 12 keys thing, but at a more microscopic level. Like a motif I guess, but the idea is to build the muscle that lets you hear what's in your head (and transposed in other keys) and use it to build more ideas in different keys and such in an effortless manner.

    Just some ideas.
  20. Mike Crumpton

    Mike Crumpton

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    The only thing I can contribute here regards 6ths (and 7ths 9ths 10ths 12ths for that matter) but it doesn't stop me respectfully sugesting a different approach Chris. My teacher told me these were a pig but I've never had any problem and am thinking about it it's down to my odd approach.

    1stly sting crossing exercises are all borrowed from Rufus Reid. Secondly, it was my approach to the BG and Chuck Sher's book giving fingerboard patterns. My ideal was to play BG like I palyed clarinet (stay with me here) and play each scale in all its intervals and arpegios. Secondly, although Sher breaks each fingerboard pattern for any major/minor scale into five blocks, they are a pattern that repeats like wallpaper strips and you match them like such, the pattern at the top of one isn't necesarily at the top on the next strip to be hung but the order of repeating is the same. And they all make one big sideways pattern when you get it right. You can explore all parts of a BG without any problem. I wanted to be able to do the same on DB and carried the approach accross (but not the fingerings!!).

    I used to like chess. And thinking of the possibilities of moves is much the same to me as moving round a particular pattern. Each 'move' is an intervalic sound. My ideal is to make each chord scale a single 'position' in conceptual terms, up down, sideways diagonally or whatever. I want the freedom to move in any direction at any time on any part fo the fingerboard and know where I am.

    Just in case some wiseacre says you're better hearing it you still have to hear it, but its funny, I know if I get it wrong even if I've got the pattern wrong. One reinforces the other. Its a slog and is it worth it or a viable way to proceed - can't say finally yet but its working. I'm open to any polite disagreement. I play intervals within each of Sher's sideways block and then up and down a pair of strings. I have to point out that not everyone will be happy with patterns in their head - its not necesarily an advantage - people learn differently.

    However, what do you want to acheive? Improvisation doesn't have to mean regurgitating jazz greats' phrasing but it could be. (As an aside I think it gets forgotten that improvisation doesn't mean jazz.) It depends on whether you want to develop your own language. I think the two are mutually exclusive to a degree because there is only so much time in the day. But developing concept on the instrument is a waste of time IMHO. You do that best listening and thinking and driving down to Denver or wherever. My teacher always presents playing ideas and then says explore this, see what you can do with it - whilst others teachers I've had (not bass players BTW) say copy these for 7 years and eventually your own voice will come out. Sher's appraoch in both his books is the former. One example given recently was a Sony Rollins sols in that he takes and idea, plays with it for while like a dog with a bone and develops it. By structured and purposeful exploration (using the above) I think I learn a lot more. Again, polite criticism if you must have a pop please.

    One thing I haven't mentioned is rythm and accenting, and whilst I think we spend too mcuh time talking harmony I'll just leave it that it goes without saying that you explore also the effect of accents and rythms in your practise. When something sounds the way it does and its good, I don't just want to copy it, I want to know why. Its like drawing portraits or cartoons especially - what is it that gives the essence of a face etc?

    ps - nice post again 'jcb' - that's a mechanical digger over here BTW :)

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