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ambiguous chords in looping

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by MKS, Apr 22, 2002.


  1. Hi Steve,

    I've been thinking about chord structure when looping. With only (!) 28 seconds of loop time, it strikes me that in order to leave options open it is a nice idea to try to use chords that are tonally "ambiguous." i.e. Chords that can be used with a number of low bass notes, or chords that can accommodate changes in where the lead line goes. I liked Max's term "implied extensions".

    I'd love to hear any tips around how to construct chord patterns that allow you to be reasonably flexible in what you play under, or over the top.

    I "found" a nice chord the other day C-E-B-D which went nicely with your G-D-A-C "home" chord. I'm afraid I haven't worked out why this works or even what the first chord is. (Cmaj9 without the G at a guess)... The trouble is I've no idea how to construct more of these... And preferably in less than 4 notes. Oh yeah, and if it could make tea and toast on demand that would be ace. :D

    Confused of South East Kent.
    (This time playing a Dean Edge Q6 and DL4)
     
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Mike,

    good question! harmony is a very ambigous thing at the best of times, mainly because it's all about 'direction', and if you change direction then hindsight can often reinterpret what the chord was meant to be doing in the first place... :oops:)

    For ambiguous loops, I tend to use simple three note 'shell' structures - foot, five 9, or root, 5, 6 or root 5 Maj7, , then you can add other bass notes later on a minor third below, a major third below (best not to add both... :oops:), a fifth below, a minor 6th below (these are strict intervals from the root note, not the names of the notes within the key that you're in - ie if your first chord was C G D, a minor 6th below would give you an E - does that make sense? If not, I'll try and clarify, but I think you'll get it... :oops:)

    another fun and very simple loop is just to loop a root and fifth, focussing on making that sound as interesting as possible - great sound, cool rhythm, whatever - and then just experiment with different bass note options against it...

    there's loads more, but without me delving into photoshop and drawing some pretty extravagant diagrams, it's probably best to leave some of it to your next lesson... LOL

    cheers

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  3. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    I think I get the idea of what you're saying, but I don't understand how a chord would be 'tonally ambiguous' as such?

    Looking forward to the answer...!
     
  4. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Howard,

    Take the three notes of a CMaj Chord - CEG - how many other chords can you think of that also contain those three notes? Amin7? FMaj9? AbMaj7sharp5, Eminb6, D11, Dmin11... all depending on what the other notes are that are happening around it - you can 'imply' a chord by using notes from it, but not the root, in a place where you might expect it, and leave people's ears to fill in the rest... second time round you can confound their expectations by playing the same chord, but with a root other than the one that was implied by it's position in the key that you're in...

    For example a loop that goes backwards and forwards between CGD and AGD - the obvious bass note assumptions there are C and A, but they could be C and F, or even D and F, or just about anything in the Key of C if you contextualise it right... :oops:) the most obvious assumption about what those first chords might be can be either confirmed or confounded by your choice of melody and/or bass notes.

    I hope that's a little clearer - if not, ask for clarification! :oops:)

    cheers

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  5. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Aah, another steve lawson padowai! Cool!

    Initially I was thinking that a power chord was about the most ambiguous chord I could imagine, but then I remembered 'those notes I cant play in my metal band' so I figured it wasnt all that ambiguous after all! :D

    So, taking the example of a power chord, you can add minor or major 3rd to it and totally change the feel of the chord with one note?

    Is that the basics of what y'all mean?
     
  6. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Just a quick response to avoid getting stuck in a vortex of pre-responded responses!!!

    I think I get the concept... I'll have a think about it. Pls remind me at somepoint?!
     
  7. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    power chords are a great example, as they often get used in music that has a tonal centre but no functional harmony... :oops:)

    Riff based stuff always throws a spanner in works of theory discussions... try explaining Teen Spirit in terms of keys - four major chords in a row, in at least two different keys...? :oops:)

    But yes, you're right, a power chord can be taken in loads of different directions depending on what melody like you weave against it...

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk (new CD - listen and order here)
     
  8. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    My understanding of tonal ambiguity is that if you play a chord and then add another note (underneath, on top or smack in the middle) you can often consider different ways of naming the overall result.

    For example, if you ask a guitarist to strum a C chord, they may well produce the basic five string C chord that you find near the beginning of virtually every 'teach yourself guitar' tutor:

    C E G C E (missing the bottom E string)

    If you play a C against this, the overall effect is still a C chord. Play a big fat A (say, open A string) and you could conceive of it as Am7:

    A C E G C E

    That's tonal ambiguity - and you can of course do this on solo bass without having a friendly guitarist in tow - even without using a looping box. I was going to write more, but notice that I'm getting left behind on the conversation!

    Wulf
     
  9. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Cheers Wulf... that was something Steve explained in my first lesson, but admittedly I never really conceptualised it as 'ambiguity'.
     
  10. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Follow up question... surely every chord has a certain degree of ambiguity on the basis that you can play a number of different root notes beneath it to change the feel?

    Are there any chords that just aren't ambiguous at all?
     
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Jazz Chords!!

    Like : C13sus(b9), C13(#11), C7 (#11 b9), CMinor 11 (b5) etc. etc.

    There are loads of them! ;)
     
  12. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    So a bass player is limited to a single root beneath these jazz chords?
     
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well - I was just saying that they are "unambiguous" in the way they are spelled out - slash chords are probably the least ambiguous in repect of specifying a root for the bass player.

    So if I saw Bb/C, then I would know unambiguously that the composer wants me to play a C as the root.
     
  14. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Is this an example (a v-simple example) of what you mean?

    The written chord is Cmaj/B - the guy on the casio keyboard plays Cmaj (CEG) and the bass plays B. The resulting chord is Cmajor over the root of B. The root is unambiguous as it's written.

    If not, I'm going to quit before my brain starts to overheat again!
     
  15. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Howard,

    slash chords are both unambiguous and confusing at the same time - C/B would quite clearly seem to indicate a CMaj7 chord with the 7th in the bass, whereas Bb/C (Bruce's example) doesn't really mean anything beyond a 'shape' - as the notes that you've got there would form a C11 chord (Bb being the 7th, D being the 9th and F being the 11) - however, since none of the other notes in the chord are indicated, it's ambiguous in regards to what else you would play... :oops:) It could also be a C minor11 chord, or it could indeed be a Bb chord over it's 9th... so I guess after all that it does mean something, the important element being what is left out...

    confused? :oops:)

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well - in a way that's why I chose that example, because Howard was saying does ambiguous mean you can play different roots.

    So Bb/C is not ambiguous from the point of view of a bass player - you just play C! :)

    But initially I was saying that something like C13sus(b9) is less ambiguous because having six specified notes in the chord, everything is pretty much covered, but I could choose lots of notes as a bass player ? ;)
     
  17. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    all good points, Bruce, though a couple of things come to mind - if someone writes C13susb9, they are still expecting a C in the bass, as much as if they wrote Bb/c - if they weren't, they'd write something else. Working on the principle that 'I'm the bassist, I'll play the bass, thanks' if there were something that sounded better than a C against a Bb/C, I'd play it (situations where someone else is paying me to play the C notwithstanding... :oops:)

    ..and even if I do play a C on the down beat, what about the rest of the bar? :oops:)

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  18. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Hmmm... yes, I suppose really the only occasion where it is totaly unambiguous is where something is specified - like pedal points - I've seen in some tunes that bass players should pedal on beat 4 on the same note, during this part of the tune, for example.

    I remember asking Julian Nicholas (Jazz Sax/composer) about some of the Jazz(y) tunes he wrote with lots of slash chord and he said that he wanted to make sure the pianist was playing the particular inversion or voicing he had in mind when he composed it... but I suppose it depends on the composer and their original intention?
     
  19. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Ed,

    Bb/C seems to me to be an indication to whoever's comping to play that - it doesn't seem to contain much in the wa of harmonic information, and there are loads of ways of interpreting that, at least to me. There are certainly situations where it would be non-idiomatic to play anything to outside from what's dictated in the chord, but the four notes that are contained within the specifics of that chord symbol could imply all manner of harmony - how I would interpret that would depend on how well I knew the person who wrote the chart and whether they were in the habit of writing in 'short-hand', ie using a symbol like that to indicate what they played rather than what is happening in the harmony... ?

    I'm still not sure I'm making total sense... :oops:)

    Steve
    www.steve-lawson.co.uk
     
  20. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    That was what I was getting at... just a little less eloquently!

    I am confused, yes, but if I wasn't I'd be a miracle of nature and probably be known as 'Chordo' (i.e. one of the X-Men) for the rest of my life?

    I'll check this thread out at home when I have my bass in front of me so I can look/listen to the chords discussed and have a think about it!!! (Hopefully that will help?!) :rolleyes: