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Approach notes in a walking line.

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Rockin John, Dec 12, 2004.

  1. Hope you DB folk won't mind this post running parallel with the original post in BG.

    Hope the Mods are OK with it, too.

    Basically, I'm middle aged BG player looking to get into Jazz with view to getting gigs playing Jazz on BG. This is effectively my first shot at written music, music theory and Jazz. Here is my post as done 'over the other side':-

    Ed Friedland's book, Jazz Bass, discusses how to work out the approach notes. He discusses Chromatic, Scale and Dominant methods.

    I've had a go at them all and understand how they're done, though I'm obviously not profficient.

    Cutting the story down, I chose one of his pieces and wrote the Root / 5 thing on the staff. I then wrote all the available note names on pieces of paper, cut them out, put them in a hat and drew them for the approach notes.

    The complete line sounded quite good against his drum + chords on the CD.

    Now, I'm certain to get flamed for this but I had to give it a go because (it seemed to me) each method of finding an approach note produces a different result. So I reasoned that one method's no better than another.

    OK, Jazz Gurus, flame me at your will (prolly deserve it anyway) but serious comment / help on this subject genuinely welcome.

  2. larry


    Apr 11, 2004
    I'm no guru, but I'll throw my two cents in.

    If your goal is to be able to create jazz bass lines (not just "approach notes"), I would think about the following:

    1) Start with understanding major scale harmony. Be able to indentify ii-V-I's, iii-vi-ii-V's, etc. Be able to play the "correct" notes over these progressions, then continue with other scales like minor, diminished, etc. Learn the bebop scale. You'll need a good reference book such as "The Jazz Theory Book" by Mark Levine (preferably a teacher as well).

    2) Look at the bigger picture in you bass lines. Try to look at a group of chords rather than just each bar. Think of a progression, like a ii-V-I as a phrase and try to make your bass line make sense over the progression, not the bar (your "approach notes" will come from this, and be more in context). Work on playing linear lines that move up or down the scale over the progression or several progressions. You do not have to play the root of every chord you see, in fact, you really shouldn't. Contrast linear lines with big interval jumps. Add passing tones that are not in the scale, learn how they sound and where they are appropriate (often these will be "approach notes"). Transcribing recordings is good excercise here. (Do it yourself, don't just buy transcriptions, you really internalize it if you figure it out).

    3) Always play with a metronome clicking on 2 & 4. Good time is often more elusive to players than which notes to play. Get in the habit of learning how to swing now. (Playing along with recordings, Aebersolds, etc. will help).

    4) When you learn a tune, learn the head (melody) too. It's just a good habit that will help you in many areas of your playing.

    That's my $.02. Hope it helps.
  3. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    RJ - don't worry, we ALL been through this. Larry brings up some excellent points, to hit them from another angle, lets' us think for a minute about having a conversation. Not a "It's nice we're having weather" conversation, but a talk with your buddies down at the bar.
    Somebody says something, somebody responds to that, somebody else chimes in. But the talk is specific responses to specific directions in the conversation, each related with as much specificity of idea and language that the person contributing to the exchange has "at hand". Each person responds in such a way that conveys their thoughts and feelings on the issue, relates it to other situations or thoughts with similar content or direction - in general everything that is said pushes the conversation forward through its twists and turns.

    Now imagine that, instead of using words whose meaning and usage were very clear to you, you instead read a book about how words could be used, and cut up a bunch of words and put them in a hat and then pulled them out to use them in a conversation with your buds. How much meaning do you think you would convey? How much would what you were saying push the conversation forward?

    Playing a bass line (and soloing) is very much like a conversation. and as such, your lines HAVE to be developed in such a way that they convey the MEANING of how you are hearing the music, how you are hearing the line in your head.
    All of this analysis - chromatic approach, sequence, motivic development -that comes AFTER the fact. You can't be thinking about that while you're playing, you can't be THINKING about anything. You have to get out of the way of your ears and let the line develop as a natural response to what you are hearing and how you are hearing it.

    Do you sail or hike or anything? Another analogy is sailing, most people look at the sky and just see a bunch of lights. If you know how to navigate, those random points of light "lock" into specific constellations. If you are playing notes without any INTENT, it's just going to be random points of light. If you hear the "constellation" you are building, then each note you choose has meaning, intention. And that is what communicates to the other players. And to the audience.
  4. I assume you're talking about chromatic vs. scale vs. dominant approach notes, in which case I'd say that you reasoned wrong. You have to look at context and the big picture and creating a line that has meaning, yes, but you have to put the puzzle together one piece at a time.

    So down to brass tacks (I don't know why that means what it menas, but I say it anyway). You can almost always be safe with a chromatic approach. It is also the choice with the strongest pull, or tendancy to resolve the way it does. However, you don't want to use it all the time because that would be predictable, and there are the other two options. Here is where you have to take into account the chord quality, as well as style and tempo.

    For example, take the progression D-7b5 to G7. Ab and F# are the chromatic approaches to G. You would not want to use A natural because it's not a member of the first chord. A note which has a dual function as a chord tone AND approach note is generally a strong choice. F natural, for example, is the 3rd of D-7b5 AND a scalar approach. To know when that might be the note to use, consider context, style and tempo. If the chords last 2 beats apiece, it might be good to use the F not F# because it helps to define the quality of the minor chord. If you are playing a slow tempo, and/or in an older style, and/or with "Freddie Green - style guitar" chunking quarters, more of an arpeggiated or scalar bass line will sound best. In a more modern and/or looser time feel and/or faster tempo, a line with more chromaticism might be in order.

    You probably can't be thinking about all this stuff on the fly, nor should you. You have to learn it and relearn it until it becomes deeply ingrained as part of your fundamental understanding or music, then let your instincts govern any split-second "decisions" you might make while playing. Plus all this theoretical gobbledegook doesn't amount to a hill of beans if what you're playing doesn't sound good to you, so make sure it passes the "ear test" as well.
  5. Not to derail what could become a very informative thread but you made me wonder about this. I found this on wordorigins.org

    "Brass Tacks
    The phrase "get down to brass tacks" is of uncertain etymology. No one knows why it was originally coined, but there are several explanations. What we do know is that the phrase dates to at least the 1890s and that it is American in origin. Beyond that, there is only speculation.

    The earliest citation in the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang is from an 1895 letter by Frederick Remington: How little I know ... when you get down to brass-tacks. The OED2 dates it to 1897.

    Morris postulates two explanations. The first was that general stores used to mark out a yard on the counter with brass tacks so that customers buying cloth could "get down to brass tacks" and ensure they weren't being cheated. The second is that brass tacks were used as a foundation for upholstery. So getting down to brass tacks meant getting down to basics.

    More likely is the explanation in Partridge's A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English and in Brewer's, which hold that brass tacks is rhyming slang for facts."
  6. Phew...

    Double pheww...

    perhaps the problem is that I am such a raw novice at all this that I've not developed the 'hear it in your head' thing: I just can't relate to it yet.

    I certainly have an empathy with certain types of Jazz and have resolved myself to be involved with it. But, at the very start, I need guidance (hence buying Ed Friedland's book) and I find it easier to start with to see things written down. Perhaps I could say that to have a 'mechanical' understanding of a subject's basics tends to give me a better chance of getting good at it later.


    Steve, to check out your theory of rhyming slang, you need to check that with someone from London, England. More specifically, you need a Cockney. This rhyming slang = Cockney Rhyming Slang. A Cockney is a person who was born (in a non-specific area of the City) within the sound of Bow Bells. The bells are in a church at Bow. Bow is pronounced like the bow you use on your bass, not bow = the pointed end of a ship.

  7. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    John, being that I'm still a bass novice, I would also tend to think that your untrained ear is making things difficult for you. When I first learned this approach note thing, I thought that a notes-from-a-hat line sounded "good enough". However, my teacher kept telling me that it sounds really awkward and incohesive and I didn't understand why. The more I practiced, the more my ears opened up to realize that he was right... it didn't have a melody, feel, or buoyancy. I took TEEBALL's suggestion in another thread and recorded myself playing so I can listen and review what I did moments before. It tends to reveal alot (maybe a little too much :(), and also that the "random" lines weren't remotely sending any kind of message or idea.

    So now I'm trying to take it to next level and focusing on getting some ideas going and trying to work with that. I sorta tried to avoid transcribing until recently. So far, nothing as been as effective as transcribing just like HARDBALL says. Reading from a book is good, but sampling how it's done by the masters combined with help from a teacher (have you got one?) works best for me.

    BTW: Come to think of it, transcribing probably won't help as much if you don't already know some basic theory (scales, chords, modes, etc), which is why it's even more important to have a teacher to show you these things. Books can get a bit cryptic and don't always fill the holes. At least with a teacher you can ask questions to make sure you have a firm grasp on all the subjects.
  8. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    So rather than blindly using a formula to plug things in, why not start with training your ear? Because THAT'S the final arbiter. Rather than drill half step below, half step above, whole step below, whole step above etc etc etc. work on learning to hear the triads and 4 part chords. Hearing that I chord moving to IV, hearing notes that will define that movement, knowing where those notes are on your instrument and playing them. Hearing the two chords, hearing the notes that make them up, and (here's the good part) hearing notes not in the chord as a line that links the chords and provides forward motion, THAT'S what playing a walking line is about.

    Sure it seems easier, learn these patterns, plug in these notes. But my own bitter personal experience is that this leads to a dead end. And then you have to start working on the things I'm talking about. So (as my teacher says) it sounds like it's the slow way, but it ends up being the fastest way because once you start playing with that intent and authority, the path just opens before you.
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    What about a compromise? I think I'd tell ROCKET MAN to learn to hear the patterns of approach notes he's playing (chromatic versus diatonic, etc.) and to be able to sing each possibility before playing so that he can choose the one his inner ear thinks would sound best. This way, he gets his feet wet on the "hearing" concept while still having something solid to hold onto with the walking line conception. What say, master Fu?
  10. Matt Ides

    Matt Ides

    May 12, 2004
    Minneapolis, MN
    I would say the mechanical approach is good when you first start to create walking basslines (foundation). As someone who has not been playing that long, the hearing it (or play a melody or counter melody) is what really let me get a grasp of what I wanted to play in the context at that moment. It freed me up from falling into my old habit and challenged me to really listen and play what I was hearing and not thinking ok a ii-V-I and I want to play Root-fifth-Root-Approach note.

    In the past I would fall into the the trap to easily. I know these things work (A,B,C,D) licks and would just repeat in various ways.

    Hearing, ear training, and a good grasp on Harmony is what really started to free me up. Although I still have long way to go.
  11. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    RJ is, of course, free to pursue any course of action he deems fit.
  12. Just a quick word of apology is required for all those who gave me help and advice.

    Once again, illness and my circumstances have kept me away from TB and the bass, generally.

    Things are slowly starting to sort themselves out so I hope to pick up roughly where I left off ASAP. Until then, thanks to all who contributed to these threads.