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A question for Ed and the gang...

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by thrash_jazz, Jul 19, 2002.


  1. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    ... at least, those of you who are proponents of playing what you are hearing in your head.

    My question is this: There would seem to me to be (at least) two different ways of going about this. Both of them work, but I am having trouble combining them and was wondering how you folks went about doing it.

    One method would be to plan out what you are going to play and where you are going to go beforehand. For instance, in a 12-bar blues song, you can "plan out" how exactly you will walk up to the next chord. Your hear the notes, and then play them accordingly.

    However, this method doesn't seem to work so well for me in improvisational situations. Since you must constantly listen to what the others are doing, planning ahead is difficult to do. In terms of "playing what you hear", it's more instinctual in this case - you know what you want to do, but you don't have time to hear it in your head - you just play the notes, already knowing what the sound will be and that it will fit.

    As I said, I use both approaches, but I have some difficulty in combining them, especially in faster tunes, in which I have a tendency to rely on instinct.

    Just wondering, Ed et al., when you say that you play what you hear in your head, what kind of approach do you take to it?

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. Christopher

    Christopher

    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    I have exactly the same problem. I can play what I hear in my head...just not simulaneously!

    I have a fair amount of theory, so coming up with a decent walking line over jazz changes isn't a problem with me. The problem is doing it on the fly. I often end up having to write my part out, much to my chagrin.

    Suggestions appreciated.
     
  3. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    The more you do it, the easier and faster it comes. Christopher, keep writing your lines out if you have to. If you do this consistantly, you'll soon be able to do it on the fly.
     
  4. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    But, do you work out your lines a few bars in advance or play each note as it relates to the last one you played, the key, chord, and what everyone else is doing?

    I notice a huge difference in the quality of my bass lines (especially walking lines) at slower tempos. At higher ones, a lot of it winds up being fairly generic stuff that fits, but probably isn't what I'd do if I had time to think about it.

    I have been trying this method for a while, and I haven't really noticed any progress, so I was wondering if I was perhaps using an inefficient (or wrong) method.
     
  5. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Walking is all about where you're going, not where you've been. So I'm looking a few bars ahead, and trying to get there in a graceful, melodic way. Sometimes, especially at higher tempi, the lines can get kind of generic, but that's ok, too. There's nothing wrong with playing the root and the 5th, as a brilliant upright player recently told me. (I'm not going to argue with him, either, he toured with Basie!)

    You've got to have faith that this sort of thing will come. Continue writing your lines, listening and paying attention to the lines that you write that really stand out to you. Look at transcriptions of great bassists (better yet, transcribe them yourself) and analyze what you like about certain lines. It will come, you've just got to work it.

    keep it up!
     
  6. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Thanks guys.

    So what you're saying is... it pretty much is based on instinct and intuition, which is itself honed through mucho practice?

    I guess I don't have that kind of confidence in my instinct - I suppose I feel like I have to use the space between my ears to justify what I am playing.

    But, time will tell, and hopefully it starts talking soon.
     
  7. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    That's a huge hurdle in and of itself, one that I'm not over, either. It's a lifelong path, so I feel confident that I'll eventually get there.
     
  8. JimK

    JimK

    Dec 12, 1999
    Ron Carter will do that. In fact, he'll pedal between the Root & the 5th for entire chorus. Say it's a 12-bar Blues in "F"...Carter might play only the F-C-F-C for the entire 12 bars(the chords still change as expected).

    **PUNCH-IN**
    Just wanted to add that I did that(once) & got some looks...IMO, it does sound pretty cool. ;)
     
  9. JimK

    JimK

    Dec 12, 1999
    Don't think, play. ;)
    Seriously, use that space between your ears...don't forget what's in your heart, too.
    The heart can justify a lot.


    Composition vs. Improvisation quote-
    Derek Bailey asked Steve Lacy to describe "in 15 seconds, what's the difference between composition & improvisation"?
    Lacy said "...in composition you have all the time you want to decide what to say in 15 seconds, while in improvisation you have 15 seconds".
     
  10. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    A good idea is to incorporate this type of playing into your everyday practice routine and join a band where you can play and experiment with this stuff on a regular basis in real time. Ed has posted a regimine that he uses that covers most of the chord types that your likely to see, I don't have the link, perhaps someone else can provide it.

    One thing that helped me, was walking through the cycle of fifths starting on C and ending on C(C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E A D G). Preferably start with a Cmin7 followed by a F7 and so on, basically a series of iimin7 V7's, which is what you're likely to encounter a lot of on a typical jazz chart. Play one change per bar, then do the whole thing over playing two changes per bar and vary the combinations so you get an idea of what sounds like what, what you like, what you don't like, what sounds similiar to lines you've heard.
     
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    To be honest about it, we all play formulas, and if you play enough, you often repeat ideas. But remember that cliches are cliches for a reason - because they WORK. I try to think only when I practice, and I consider practicing to be "programming" technique into my hands and new sounds into my ears. And since you are what you eat, these things will eventually come out when you play.

    But playing is a time to give everything over to the moment, and there's no time to think. Often times, you might start out with a pretty generic line, but then your intuition takes over and you start reacting to what's going on around you, and then *POOF* , your lines start to build themselves. It's almost like a zen state when it's really working. And the key element (as far as I can tell) is FAITH. Without it, you'd never have the courage to let go of thinking long enough to create anything.
     
  12. JimK

    JimK

    Dec 12, 1999
    Bravo!
    (...the whole post, actually).
     
  13. stephanie

    stephanie

    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Just wanted to say thanks for this thread. This is something I was looking for actually. And it definately inspired me. :)

    Cheers,
    Stephanie

    PS: By the way, I attended my very first live jazz performance tonight. It was the band I might be in and I'm sitting there listening to the bass and it blew me away. I listened and tried to figure out what he was doing with the lines, the directions he was going in, cues from the horn player, and the relationship with the drummer. Some of the tunes had tempo changes and the bass got busier and I'm thinking 'wow how can you improvise over something that goes so fast?' LOL. But, anyway, it was definately and inspirational evening. :)
     
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    As an aside, the whole "thinking vs. reacting" issue is probably the main reason I became a jazzer in the first place. Before that, I was trying to become a "Composer" (why does that word always sound so pretentious?). I found out that I could compose just fine, but my intrinsic perfectionist tendencies made the whole process a miserable ordeal for me.

    After I wrote my Masters thesis - an 18 minute orchestral work - I knew that I wasn't cut out to do that much "thinking", as it ruined the whole musical experience for me. Jazz became the place where things all came together because there was no time to think, only time to react. So much of jazz improv playing is about learning to let go of your ideas and just get the hell out of the way and let them come. There's time to analyze and improve later for future reference, but as far as the music you just played, the moment and the mood are gone forever and the only thing to do is to get yourself ready for the next time you get to play - and this is the time for thinking. I find it a VERY agreeable dichotomy.
     
  15. Very well put!

    - Wil
     
  16. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Regarding the "FAITH" comments - it's true! Last week at an open jam, some guy came up to play a bunch of original jazz tunes. There were a lot of changes (and no charts :rolleyes: ), so he just told us the key.

    To cut a long story short, I wound up playing using only my ears and instinct and it sounded good. Room for improvement, of course, but I'm now convinced of the importance of turning off one's brain. :)
     
  17. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Ed - what I mean by "instinct" would be when, be it from practice, listening, personal vision or whatever, I would know exactly what I want to play next. From what you just said, sounds like pretty much the same thing as what you're saying. :) Thing is, I'm not actually "hearing" anything, per se, although in my mind, I know what I'm going to do next, in response to what's going on around me.

    Whereas, before I would sometimes be thinking so much about where to go next that I'd even lose the form at times.

    I guess it isn't really instinct so much as intuition, which is more based on knowledge and experience.

    And, ze FAAAAIIITHHH of which you speak isn't, in my case, a simple hope for the miracle of good sound to come from nowhere. I do have a decent background in theory - it's just that I'm just beginning to realize that a lot of it has sunk in to the point where I don't have to consciously think about what to do to create a line that fits. I guess it is confidence, but it does seem to require a leap of faith (of sorts) to get that kind of trust in yourself going.
     
  18. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Splain, more simpler. You know what you're going to do next in your mind. OK, how? If you're deciding what note to play without hearing the note, how is your line going to make sense?

    Well, I don't actually HEAR the line in my head... but I know what kind of sound I'm going for (ie, melodic, dissonant, harmonizing, whatnot) and I already know what a certain note is going to sound like against a certain chord. Essentially, my brain tries to translate the sound it wants the bass to make, straight to my hands.

    This is why I started this thread - I was wondering whether you did this the same way. If, as I understand it, you are hearing the actual line BEFORE translating it to your hands, how far ahead do you plan? Plus, what happens in improvisational situations, in which the direction can change at any time?

    Please forgive me if it seems like I'm asking the same question over and over, but I think I may be missing something here...
     
  19. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    By "FAITH" I mean "ACCEPTANCE" in a way... Basically, the idea is that, at whatever particular moment you happen to be playing, you are what you are, and you have under your fingers and ears what you have under your fingers and ears (which implies that whatever **** you DON'T have down yet isn't going to magically come out in a fit of divine inspiration). So the FAITH (acceptance, confidence, whatever you want to call it) part is just about getting your mind and ego and whatever else the hell out of the way and letting the music happen TO THE BEST OF YOUR ABILITY AT THAT MOMENT.

    No matter how accomplished you are or (conversely) how much you might suck, when you start to play, you are NOT going to sound like Christian McBride, Peter Washington, or Ray Brown...you're going to sound like YOU, so you might as well accept that fact and just BE WHO YOU ARE while you are playing. And for me, that takes a leap of faith sometimes, to accept that what I am and what I can do will be good enough for the situation, even as I know that IT HAS TO BE, because it's all I can do anyway. Every time I get nervous or scared about playing what some heavy dude or another - like a couple of weeks ago, when I got to play a set with three guys whose regular bassplayer is PETER WASHINGTON himself, or someone on that level - I have to stop and remind myself that if I try to play like anybody else, the result isn't going to be as good as if I just let myself be myself. Ergo: FAITH. Actually, I think we're kind of saying the same thing.

    And of course I don't think that FAITH is going to help me play in thumb position if I can't already play in thumb position. But it does help me with my attitude in practicing thumb position, since experience has shown that when I practice something over time, it gradually gets better. So, when practicing, I have faith that whatever I'm working on will eventually come together once I've put in the time.

    Tomato, Tomahto.....
     
  20. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    So what I don't get is this - this approach will get you through if everybody plays the same chord in the same spot everytime, that way you don't have to hear it, you know the chord is going to be Dm7b5 and you know what notes work over that. But what happens if somebody plays something different?

    That'e exactly the reason why I don't want to "hear" things and then plan them out too much - I never know when the mood will abruptly change, and what I had in mind might suddenly sound like a**.

    The other thing I question is by what mechanism your brain is going to "translate" to your instrument if you are not clear about what it's supposed to translate? My experience tells me that what is happening is that your hands are going to spots they know will work and rather than your brain translating for your hands, your hands are determining what the music will be. The bass is playing you. For me, this is exactly what I needed to get away from.

    This might be the case, but it's something I won't know 'til I reach the next level. The way I see it, the mechanism is the memory of what each note will sound like and how it will fit in with the chord, the melody, etc.

    How do I get away from this? Do you "hear" the notes as you play them, or do you hear what you are going to do, say, half a bar in advance? 'Scuse me for being a bother, but can you give a specific example of how you might "hear" a line in you head, and then play it? What do you hear first? Does it start vaguely, or is it note-for note?

    I suppose this is something I should bring up with my teacher, but one thing I've noticed in this thread is that I've had a lot of trouble expressing exactly what the difficulty is.