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Getting fresh arpeggiations and melodies over repetitive chord structures?

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by jazzbo, Feb 23, 2001.


  1. jazzbo

    jazzbo

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    Location:
    San Francisco, CA
    Even though I don't play real bass, yet, I wanted to post this question on this side of the board as it applies more commonly to concepts applied by double bassists.

    I feel confident of my ability to create melodic and interesting bass lines over multiple chord changes. When the chord changes to a song are once a bar, or more, I enjoy making the transition to the next bar. I feel very comfortable of my ability to anticipate the next chord and create something that flows.

    My problem comes when one chord is repeated over several bars. Take for instance even the common 12-bar blues. If you have the I on the first four bars, after two bars I feel like I'm out of ideas. Because I don't have a new chord to move to I feel like the bass line can become stale or stagnated. There's a powerful Tori Amos-esque song my band is working on now that has a wonderful chord structure and is wonderfully melodic. I want to keep the bass line moving and interesting, and strong, as the piece is very strong, but there are two instances in the song where the chord sits on Ebmin. for 4 bars.

    Beyond just that last example, can anyone give me some tips on how to keep bass lines moving, original, and melodic under those circumstances?
     
  2. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Vancouver, BC
    Are you recording the rehersals? Listening back is the for me the most powerful tool in getting over a hump like you describe.

    To strip away everything that does not serve the song and try to put in enough that does I ask myself questions like:
    What can I steal that will work?
    What can I leave out?
    How does what I play relate to the other instruments including every piece of the drum kit?
    How does it relate to the ensemble as a whole.
    Are the notes appropriate? Is the rhythm?
    What chances can I take?
    Am I really playing what I hear in my head?
    Does what I'm playing serve the song?
     
  3. jazzbo

    jazzbo

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    Location:
    San Francisco, CA
    I do record all rehearsals. But the problem also exists with independant practice.

    Let's say there's a progressions that starts with 4 bars of Cmaj7. I have no problem with an ostinato line, but to keep something moving, and original, I get stumped. Rhythmically, there's no problems. I think my question is more, what note selection, or approach to selecting notes, can be implemented over 4 bars of the same chord? If we say that there are 4 notes to Cmaj7, within one octave at least, I could easily use up those 4 notes, with some scale notes and chromatic additions very quickly, and run out of ideas. I may not be asking this question very well.
     
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    Ed's gonna chime in here in a minute and tell you to take this up with your teacher (which is sage advice), or, if you don't have one, he'll convince you to get one with a careful mixture of unassailable logic, meticulously spelled colloquial pronunciations, and sheer force of personality. But until that happens, I have a few tips.

    First tip: unless you're playing a very "old school" jazz blues or "Johnny B. Goode", there's a good chance that many more modern 12-bar blues will have a built-in IV chord in the second bar. But that's not important...let's take the bull by the frog and look at a modal example like "So What" instead.

    Changes:

    .D minor - 8 bars
    .D minor - 8 bars
    Eb minor - 8 bars
    .D minor - 8 bars

    Now there's a set of changes that won't write your line for you. Eventually, as mentioned in other threads, you'll want to hear a melodic line and play it. But there are some things you can practice until then. The first thing NOT to do in general in a situation like this is to try to play the root on the down beat of every bar. This will make you sound a little like Fieldy, and annoy any jazzers you might happen to be playing with. The key to "opening up" the harmony in a modal setting is often to use the root of the tonality you're in as a "home bass" that you check in with every once in a while but don't squat on too often. Some exercises to help with this.

    1) play the root only every other bar on the down beat, and try to create a melodic line leading from one root to the next. You'll find that the line will stay more melodically centered (esp. if you are playing with nonprofessionals) if you play SOME chord tone on each downbeat, but this isn't a hard and fast rule or anything.

    2) as above, only play the root on the downbeat only once every four bars.

    3) ditto, but now only every 8 bars. This is difficult to make sound good unless two conditions are fulfilled: you are adept at spontaneously creating long and interesting melodic lines in a modal context, and; you are completely confident that the other folks you are playing with won't think you are lost and/or get lost themselves.

    Most important, if you have a question like this about any tune, find a recording of that tune in which the bass line played on the recording strikes you as being THE SH*T, then listen to that recording ceaselessly. If you do this, the melodic line concept from the recording will begin to seep into your subconscious like drunken rednecks into a strip club. Or something like that...and then you can go about the business of making the parts of that concept that appeal to you your own. If you really wanted to dissect what's going on, you could transcribe it.

    I could go on, but I feel that I'm rapidly entering the "yaddayaddablahblahblah" zone, so I'll stop here.

    Good luck.
     
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  6. jazzbo

    jazzbo

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    Well, Chris, I wish you wouldn't have stopped. Please, go on!

    Thank you a million. Sage advice.

    I did bring this question up with my teacher. He never gave me an answer I was comfortable with. I'm in the process of starting with a new teacher and we're just working out scheduling right now. You can bet I'll be working on this tonight.

    So What is an excellent example because I feel so lost. After two bars I'm stressing to get back to the I and every instinct I have tells me not to do that. I especially like the tip about listening to songs that have great bass lines under those circumstances and analyzing those. I think to start with I'll really look over PC's bass on So What.

    God I love that cat playing bass!
     
  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    Another good place to start is from written transcriptions which are readily available from various sources that supply jazz educational materials (Jamey Aebersold and Lemur come to mind). I have about 6 or 7 books of transcribed lines from the Aebersold play alongs, many of which contains transcriptions of songs/ exercises which have long sections of static harmony. If you'd like, I'd be happy to copy a few choice ones from the Ron Carter, Rufus Reid, or Tyrone Wheeler volumes and send them to you via snail mail. Just send me your address in an email if you want to follow up on this. It might take a while for me to get to it, but I'd be happy to help when I can.

    About the cat pic, thanks, and you can thank JT for turning me on to that. I'm a cat nut anyway, and when I saw that pic, I knew I had to do something with it...
     
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    DOH! I may be guilty of a rather silly FAUX PAS (down here in the bluegrass, that's pronounced, " Fox Pass" ). Did you mean my member photo, or PC himself? Sorry if I misunderstood!
     
  9. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Gold Supporting Member

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    What are yer choices? Pound the root. Arpeggiate. Invert the chord. Imply harmonic motion. Add harmonic motion. Lay out. Lock rhythmically and or harmonically with another part. Counter another part harmonically and or rhythmically. Any combination of the above and whatever else you can think of. You're having difficulty with a Tori Amos-esque song? Do you think you really understand the style you are trying to fit? What other styles can you fuse? Chris's (oops) advise is really good. How is the So What example gonna translate to your song? Making those kinds of connections is important.
     
  10. jazzbo

    jazzbo

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    Chris:

    I was referring to your picture.

    Ed:

    A little over my head! One of my biggest problems is my ear. I hate to admit it, but I don't recognize quickly enough what everyone else is doing. I mean, sure if the pianist is sitting on a second inversion of the chord, okay, I'm cool with that. If the soloist is stuck on a particular chord I can swing with that, but when you say that the pianist is cruising down the whole tone scale, and the sax stuck on A, I'm thinking, "Man, I can't pick that up and tailor my line to it. Too much." Now, I certainly know that that is something that I have to work on. But let me see if we're on the same page:

    So, let's use So What as an example. If the pianist is just voicing the chords, that gives me more room to roam, right? If the pianist is playing more melody, than my approach might be more minimal. And is it a given to say that we want to move in the same direction. Is there too much tension if we don't? Also, what if the soloist, let's say sax, is flying all around the scale, or mode, how do I use what they're doing along with what the pianist is doing, to create something harmonic? What are some of the beginning steps to establishing those rich harmonies?

    I know I know, really basic questions, but it's a major hurdle for me right now! Thanks guys.
     
  11. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon

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    jazz. I don't know the extent of your exposure to harmonic theory, but you have to get it somehow - community school, private lessons, whatever you can find. Access to a piano is important, so you can immerse yourself in a chord and experiment with different scales housing a particular triad. On another bass forum, Carole Kaye is adamantly opposed to thinking of scales, and I think she does alot of damage with it. My studies with Michael Moore are all about scales. Another overlooked point - Moore insists that I write music incorporating principles discussed. Nothing fancy, the blues or a head on some standard. There's something about grappling with harmony as a writer that seems to help with "owning" the principle involved.
    Bob Brookmeyer has a website in which he has discussed understanding harmony in down to earth terms.
    I have a style which breaks most of the accepted rules unconsciously, (Chris, this is why I didn't join your theory thread.) and I don't know how to explain it, but it satisfies the other players. Brookmeyer once described his best playing as "finding the right wrong notes." Once, while jamming with Michael playing piano, he expressed his disapproval of my playing by saying "you sound like a bass player." He wants to hear that I'm thinking like Lee Konitz.
    Finally, there's the matter of left-brain/right-brain. Too much for this post.
     
  12. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    Good lord, I hope nobody thought that thread (or that approach) was about establishing more rules...It was really just an attempt at finding a very intuitive and user-friendly "jumping off point". Once you're airborne, the only rules are what Zappa described in the quote I used from him. When I'm playing my best, I couldn't begin to tell you where it comes from, or what (if any) rules apply.

    But true as these things are, it is not difficult to remember a time (waaaay back when the world was still in black and white and my father and I used to put on our bearskins and go hunting brontosaurs after all the clan rituals) when I was in a situation similar to jazzbo's and needed some new structures/concepts to explore when I would get in a rut.

    I had a wonderful composition teacher back in college who taught 16th century counterpoint from two perspectives: one was the concept of writing 2, 3, and 4 part counterpoint by simply, as he put it, "putting on your Palestrina ears and going where they take you"; The other was systematic and analytical, the way counterpoint is usually taught. His idea was that the first way almost always produced better music, but it occasionally left you neck deep in quicksand of one sort or another. The second approach then became the rope that pulled you out. He believed that knowing you had a safety net to fall back on would make you a more fearless explorer, and I think he was right. If you wrote a "stylistically correct" piece by the first method in this class, then you had to go back and analyze what you did. This almost always ended up being the same thing as your "safety net" theory that was your backup plan, but finding it on your own made it sink in so much better. This guy was a major influence on my musical life, and I'm guessing no one will be too surprised to find out that he was also a jazzer as well as a "serious" composer.

    I'm again in YADDAYADDA territory, but the point I'm trying to make is that theory isn't a bad thing if it's understood that it's only a crutch, or "training wheels" if you will, to help get you up on the bike and moving forward. After that you learn to find your own balance by falling down a lot and getting back on.
     
  13. jazzbo

    jazzbo

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    I definitely appreciate the concept of abandoning the rules and allowing your creativity to flow, but I can't abandon rules until I fully understand something. I would love to learn some of the things that speak of Don, but I definitely feel that right now I'm building more of a foundation in these concepts. I think a better understanding of these concepts is critical to finding my identity and sound, which I'm still very much developing, on bass, or in music in general.
     
  14. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon

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    jazzbo
    You're interpreting my remarks exactly the way I intended. Your mind-set is just right.

    P.S. I had to come back to edit this. I just scrolled back to the top. jazzbo's first words (with capitals by me) were: "Even though I don't play REAL bass yet..."
    A BIG round of applause, please.
     
  15. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon

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    Not at all. I was responding to Ed's quote of Carter's comment about having four choices on beat one, four on two, etc., and as you well know, I haven't mastered qoutes and bold face yet.

    I'm at a point where I can't even agree with Carter as quoted, but my reasons take alot of explaining, and they provoke the semantic hair-splitting that bogs things down, as in "What do you feel when you play".

    I'll post this now and see if I loused up the screen. To be continued...

    By the way, did I tell you I got my AI Contra last night, 10 days early?
     
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    Proud of our new amp, are we? Do tell...

    :cool:
     
  17. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Gold Supporting Member

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    Originally posted by Don Higdon
    On another bass forum, Carole Kaye is adamantly opposed to thinking of scales, and I think she does alot of damage with it. My studies with Michael Moore are all about scales.

    Damage? How so? Her perspective is just another way to view and hear music and her playing bears out the validity of her way.

    I haven't practiced the bass guitar much for a number of years but this morning (on the eve so to speak of it becoming my main instrument for several months) I picked it up and ran through some arpeggiated ideas. After a while it occurred to me that I was thinking very differently playing this bass than I do on the acoustic. Tuning is not an issue and that of getting around the neck is greatly eased with the shorter scale and by the frets. As I arpeggiated through a harmonized major scale it seemed natural and more "guitaristic" to think in terms of related and interwoven chords than in terms of scales.

    Kaye was a guitarist before a bass guitarist and this chordal kind of thinking makes sense given that context. Note she doesn't say don't learn scales just that thinking in terms of them may not be as musical as thinking in terms of the chords related to them. How can this cause damage? The logistics of getting around on the big bass make the close referencing of scales much safer and for my limited ability essential but even so arpeggiated ideas vs scalar ideas in general sound more musical to my ears.

    Another overlooked point - Moore insists that I write music incorporating principles discussed.

    David Friesen did the same for me. Incorporating this into my daily routine has taken my playing to a new level. By writing, ideas that could otherwise be dry, abstract concepts emmediately take on flesh and become meaniful, useful and more deeply understood.
     
  18. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon

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    Probably somebody by now is telling Carole Kaye I'm dissing her, so I'll say the following:
    My 'damage' comment is in response to advice I've seen her post at times.
    What I do with Michael Moore is in fundamental disagreement with this advice.
    I haven't disputed it, but I'll say here that I'll accept that she's the very best studio/recording bass guitarist alive, or top 10, whatever.
    That has no bearing on what I said.
    The players that know me say I'm playing better than I ever have.
    I ignore her advice and follow Michael's teachings.
     
  19. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Gold Supporting Member

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    Originally posted by Don Higdon
    Probably somebody by now is telling Carole Kaye I'm dissing her

    Oh well.

    The players that know me say I'm playing better than I ever have.
    I ignore her advice and follow Michael's teachings.


    I have studied with someone who studied with him so I am familiar with his ideas and I'd study with Michael waaaaaay before I would with Miss Kaye. In general though I do believe thinking chords before scales makes my playing more "to the point". I still don't see the damage in this view. If there is something specific she's said that you believe is wrong that's what you should attack rather than a general idea that can not rightly be though of as correct or not. You've said what you said in an advise giving role but so far you haven't defended it with any substance. Sh*t or get off the pot Don.
     
  20. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon

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    If you understood my prior post, you'll see that I was reluctant to put my views in Chris' theory thread because my style "breaks most of the rules unconsciously," and that "my reasons take alot of explaining and they provoke the semantic hair splitting that bogs things down..." Duh, look where we are now. Duh, that means I didn't want to be in an advice-giving role while espousing an unconventional, or controversial, (or whatever adjective you want) position. OK, you want to say the difference between advice and opinion is meaningless, here's the deal: you don't like my opinion, reject it. I have no intention of defending it to you. Don't expect me to argue with you, or "prove" myself to your satisfaction.
    Off-line, I have said to Chris that I could not explain my theory ideas without prior discussion of several concepts that I listed for him. Since you "have studied with someone that studied with him" (Moore) and you are "familiar with his ideas," you already know what the concepts are. Maybe something will be worked out, maybe not. I'm not the one best suited to answer jazzbo's question now, much as I'd like to.

    "Sh*t or get off the pot Don" ????

    Classy.
     
  21. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Administrator

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    jeffbonny,

    Chords before scales...yaddayadda.....scales before chords....blahblah...chicken before egg....blahyadda....egg before chicken....yadda blah.

    I think we're all agreed that you have to practice both, since chord tones are the skeleton of the animal and scales are the flesh and blood that fill it out and make it whole. I don't hear anyone arguing that one or the other is better.

    But the bottom line is, if you're thinking about either one instead of thinking of melody, you're missing the boat. What I really hear here is different people standing on the same spot and agreeing that it's the place to be. If this is the case, why argue about which path leading to this "spot" is the best? I hear chord tones as stepping stones within scales, generally as the the sonic "resolution tones" in the "tension/resolution" game. You may find it easier to approach the same topic from a chordal perspective, i.e. staying on the footstones being the focus. But we're both trying to play melodically, right? Each player has to find his/her own way in the end.
     

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