Bass Line Transcriptions to Standards

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by jazzbo, Nov 2, 2001.

  1. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    I'm listening to a jam right now from last night. All standards, grab a real book, pick a tune and tempo, go. Anyhoo, I record these things, cuz hey, I record everything. Then, I listen to it, over and over and over, and tear myself to shreds.

    I listen to these tunes I play, and I swear to myself, "Don't you know any non-triad notes!" Remember, I'm still getting the training wheels of my new jazz bicycle, and these things come with time.

    My toughest task at first was just getting through the changes. Can I get through a tune? Can I play through without dropping the beat or getting lost? I feel that's important, I am a bass player after all. So, I feel more and more comfortable with that, but now I'm starting to feel that I need to expand.

    I feel now as though I stay too much on triads or chords. I really way too much on those 3 or 4 notes. I will acknowledge other colors, like a #4 or add9 or whatever, but for your basic chords, like let's say AUTUMN LEAVES, I want more variety, melodically and rhythmically.

    I know this is a seriously roundabout way to ask, but one thing that works for me is analyzing what others have done, and building off of those techniques and approaches. STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN was a tremendous guide for the R&B genre, because analyzing what Jamerson was doing, melodically and rhythmically, really helped me expand my vocabulary for that genre.

    What exists like this for jazz? Are there books with full bass line transcriptions to Standards? I know what you're going to say, transcribe them myself. Personally, I feel that this would be an excellent way to increase my sight reading abilities.
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Transcribe them would be an excellent way to increase your sight-reading abilities.

    Oh wait, you already knew that.

    There are plenty of books of transcriptions out there. With my students, I use the Aebersold ones first...I'll have a student transcribe 2 or three choruses of a play along line, and then give them the published transcription to check themselves with. If you do some searching on the net, you'll find more transcribed lines than you can shake a stick at. If you need info on which Aebersold volumes are available with transcribed lines, send me a P.M..
  3. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    My reason for this approach would be simply seeing ideas that have been explored previously. Not necessarily to simply mimic those ideas, possessing some sort of "bag of tricks," but the same way that a horn player comps a Bird lick over and over, eventually understanding what Bird was doing so that he might expand his musical vocabulary that way.

    This be the problem. When I work on them I experiment with the tune based upon what I'm hearing in my head. Sometimes that translates, sometimes it doesn't. (See sig.) More often than not, what my head says is what it's been saying over and over, so the same lines come out over and over.

    Right now I feel as if you had two songs, that I played, with the same changes, and you removed all other instruments, you would hear an eerily similar bass line for both. That's a major direction I need to expand.

    I don't hear it. Not yet. But I'm trying. This idea of transcriptions was to help in that area. Do you think that analyzing written lines would help?

    Also, it's not as if I don't listen to other cats right now anyway. Hell, all I do listen to is jazz. I mean, that's pretty much it. My ears hear what they're doing, but then when I sit down, and I want my head to hear it again, it's not there.

    Interesting side point: I attended a 2 day Aebersold workshop this summer. 17 hours of music, (jams, soloing, drills, theory, lecture), in a two day time span. Because of other life commitments, it's the most intensive study of music over such a period of time I've ever had. After I left that workshop, my ears were huge. Jamey could solo over changes and I'd be able to name the tune with nothing else. Now, far removed from that weekend, those skills have atrophied. What do us guys who don't do music for a living, and need that intensive study, and are getting 30-60 minutes a day, at best, do to reproduce that intensive time just hearing music?

    I will definitely check them out.

  4. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    <<My ears hear what they're doing, but then when I sit down, and I want my head to hear it again, it's not there. . . . What do us guys who don't do music for a living, and need that intensive study, and are getting 30-60 minutes a day, at best, do to reproduce that intensive time just HEARING music?>>

    When you practice playing with records, do you stop the music and try to make the line you just heard a second ago? I suspect that at this point, the shorter the time between listening and playing, the easier the transition will be for you.

    The goal, as Ed says, is not to write down or memorize the music, but to INTERNALIZE it. The difference is this: If you memorize something and get off track, you're s.o.l. Remember that speech in fifth grade about the habitat of the beaver, and how somebody lost their place and had to sit down? If you've internalized the tune, you may not be able to write out a chart for it, but you can hear it and play it right with people.

    And as always, "The first two hundred are the toughest."

    Hope this is some help.
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I must say jazzbo, that your experiences are remarkably similar to mine - what you write could describe exactly how I have felt at various times.

    Jazz requires a lot of concentration and even more practice time - I know that I just don't practice enough to reach the standards that I would like - especially when it comes to walking lines. And sometimes I know that other things (like life!) are intruding into my concentration

    Sometimes I think there must be some trick to it that I'm not getting, but at others that I just don't don't have all the chords/scales under my fingers.

    I tend to think that double bass players often have a more systematic approach as they have usually worked steadily with a teacher; but that electric bassplayers are more self-taught and more adhoc which doesn't help in this context.

    I know the approach to improvising over blues and in these sequences you have time to think of new lines - but when it comes to a 32 bar sequence with two chords a bar, I'm just hanging on and if I find a line that satisfies me, I will tend to stick with it and find it hard to break out of that.

    My feeling is that I play better when I'm playing with others who are better than me and know exactly what they are doing and won't be put off - I can relax and know that everything won't fall apart if my line isn't exactly nailing it for a few seconds, so I can develop different lines.

    But often I find myself playing with others who need a lot of help and clues about where we are in the tune and this is when I end up picking one line that works and get stuck on it. As soon as I vary slightly, the soloist or pianist or drummer start to get out with everything - or it just sounds less together.

    I'm also going to go through Ed's lessons - just found the first one and am determined to improve my walking lines - went to a worskhop last Weds and I was terrible - there are always excuses - like it was a bad acoustic - too many horn players who weren't that secure etc etc But I feel that I should be able to cut it now whatever happens around me.
  6. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    The similarities are certainly interesting. I find myself whole-heartedly agreeing with your entire post, especially time constraints. I "snipped" out this byte because of the last part, the "hanging on and finding a line that satisfies you." The struggle right now is really getting new, fresh ideas every chorus. I find something that works once around, then guess what, nothing new or original for the next chorus. It's this 1-3-5-7 rut that I feel stuck in. You listen to my lines, and I think I lay down the time fair enough, but I want creativity in rhythm and melody.
  7. Interesting post, and I feel for you as I'm in just about the same position myself...

    reminds me of a quote which went something like:

    "...good prose is being able to find the right words - good poetry is finding the right words, and putting them in the right order..."

    However much I listen, I'm continually amazed at what I hear when a master plays what is seemingly a simple line, but with such an elegant choice of notes - I'm not talking about "dazzle" and speed, (although that can be impressive) but the thing which stays with me is simply the choice of notes!

    My definition of a good photograph is one which I wish I'd taken, and by analogy, my definition of a good bass line is one which I wish I'd thought of :>

    - Wil
  8. Damn that rut!!!!One of the most helpful books I have is from Ron Carter. Very basic reading material but has forced me to hear new harmonies. I use to blaze through material not really paying attention to what I'm doing (or hearing) and still expect to learn something. Mr. Carter reminds you throughout the book to take it at a slow tempo and LISTEN to what you are playing. This has made all the difference to me. I play the lines over and over until I can play by memory. Then I play the lines in different keys and continue to build on them. The problem I have is trying to hear the entire chord when I practice alone. I guess I need to record myself comping the chords on guitar for a better lesson.

  9. Ed, I dig what you're saying about hearing, but I think part of Ivanhoe's problem is his vocabulary. The richer one's vocabulary is, the richer the thoughts he'll be able to express. You really can't work a word into a conversation unless you first are aware of the word, and secondly, you know what the word means. I don't think a cat's going to hear a chromatic passing tone unless he first knows what it is and then goes and practices the application.

    There are a few different ways of developing this. First, _The Evolving Bassist_ by Rufus Reid is the best book out there. It has step-by-step excercises that demonstrate the different ways jazz basslines are constructed. You can check out transcriptions. But the point of a transciption isn't just to see what note a cat played, but to analyze it; how does that note fit into the harmonic framework, how's it functioning, is it on a weak or strong beat, sh*t like that. The most important thing is to practice playing stuff you might have picked up from the first two things I mentioned and work it into your thing with your own idiosyncracies. Then you have go and play the sh*t for someone (teacher) who'll hear what you you're doing and get you to examine it from another perspective and help you out with some vocabulary you don't know yet. If you want to talk like a sailor, you have to hang out with some sailors, right? You can find all the words in a dictionary or vocabulary book, but they can't help you talk like a sailor.
  10. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Ok, ok, cool. So, let me see if we're straight. The sight-reading thing, well that's cool and all because I'm sight reading, I'm developing that important skill, but I'm not playing jazz, I'm just playing jazz. Transcribing it gets it into my head on a deeper level.

    The point of me wanting the transcriptions, is so that I can look, and say, hey PC did this or that over this ii/V7/I, (or whatever), and that's an idea I can explore....blah blah blah...

    But, what you're saying is, reading it doesn't internalize it in the same way. Singing it, voicing it, is what makes one able to understand it. The internalizing required in transcribing it helps one hear the bass line as a whole. Is this close?!

    I think this is the biggest thing I'm pulling from what you're saying. Ed, I've often heard you talk about playing to what you hear. You have to play as a group, responding to what they do, just as they respond to you. So, reading what PC did on ALL BLUES isn't the same because I can't hear it against Evans or Trane. Is this what you're saying?

    Once I hear what PC's doing, then I hear it against what everyone else is doing, and that's what the great bass players are doing. Am I making sense?!

    Cuz how often does that situation come up, and what do you do for the umpteen number of times it won't?

    What about those "soloists" who are doing just that with Miles, Trane, and Bird? What happens when the Bird-enthusiast gets up and plays CHEROKEE just like Bird was playing it one day, but it doesn't vibe with how that band played it that day? Now this may seem rhetorical, but from my experience, I get the idea that a lot of guys are doin' this. "Hey, look at this Bird solo I know. Let's play CHEROKEE so I can swing it!" Of course, the obvious answer is that it doesn't swing. Is this only happening with the beginners?

    You've just described me at a jazz gig. How'd you know?! :D

    I know all 12! :D

    Okay, cool, I'm going to have to check out the lessons cuz I'm still not fully getting this. You're saying play the blues form, chord tones, half notes only, solo. Play this so you can hear the bass line singing the changes. Then move to quarter notes. I'm not sure I see right now how this is going to build up what I'm talking about. Can you elaborate?

    Then I don't want to do it. Where are my TaBZ? :D

    This is where I want to be.


    True. This becomes part of it. I mean, I know the scales and the chords as they fly by on the chart. I know how to apply what sort of methodolgy, but I'm not hearing the chromaticisms that I may want to hear. I'm not hearing the non-chordal diatonic tones that may add flavor. My head plays a groove, and I feel it, and I hear it, but my hands aren't translating it. I put on the CD, and I can sing a bass line I like, but my hands won't translate it.

    Thank you for the tip. I will definitely check it out. Any resource is cool! Especially Rufus!

    More often than not, my analytical nature gets ahold of me, and this is exactly the type of thing it craves. I often feel that my creative side is too dependant on my analytical side. This type of analyzation I think can help me.

    And luckily, my teacher is always supportive of this type of experimentation. It's my perfectionist insecurities that keep me from growing, he's always been right on in helping me.
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I do a lot of workshops - sometimes twice a week and the Jazz Summerschool is very interesting for what you describe here. So the students are always trying to get in their licks and show what they can play with little regard to others and the tutors are always saying they want people to try things they can't play already - otherwise it's a wasted exercise, apart from masaging your ego.

    So the Sax students are saying - we want to do some bebop - we know the licks - and the Tutors are saying - let's try some original compositions or a South African tune with an odd time signature - or some free stuff!

    What I enjoy at the Summerschool is seeing how this all develops over the week. The tutors get to play as well every night and in groupings that they wouldn't normally work in - so like one groups was 4 alto sax players bass and drums - but it always works with the Jazz pros - they play for the group and change their style from what they might play in their regular groups that I have seen during the year. In fact they always say that they enjoy this part of the week(s) - meeting up with friends they don't see during the rest of the year and having musical conversastions with them - and it shows.

    I sometimes think there is a musical Catch 22 going on here as I mentioned that I always play better with musicians who are better then me and this helps my playing no end - but of course I won't get to pay with these people on a regular basis unless I get up to their standard myself! ;)

    To pick up on your point about creative and analytical sides - this is also some thing that I experience and these are almost completely separate most of the time - mine don't talk to each other! ;)

    What I take from Ed's posts is that you have to get to the point where using more variety is not an analytical exercise but something that comes naturally from your creative side and you don't really have to "think" about it in terms of analysis - you just hear it as what fits the situation?

    I feel I'm really learning a lot from this thread - just have to put it into practice now!! :D
  12. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Just a word about the Rufus Reid book.

    While it's a good book, for self instruction I found it lacking. Yes, he has examples of line construction but doesn't tell you much about WHY the line is built that way. Jim Stinnett and Ed Friedland have much better books as far as describing the process of bulding lines.

    Stinnett starts by having you play 1/4 note roots over a blues. Then he has you add ONE additional note on beat 2. Half step below, half step above, whole step below whole step above. Then do it again on beat 4.

    Then he adds a chord tone on beat 3, either the 3rd, 5th or 7th then runs you through all the approaches on beats 2 and 4 again.

    Freidland starts with half note roots, then root/five, then quarter notes with chord tones before he gets into half/whole step approaches.

    I think Stinnett stresses the step approach as the key thing while Friedland uses the chord tones as the basis. After working through those books, Rufus makes a LOT more sense!

    There is one other cool book to try:
    "Jazz Bass lines" by Dan Pliskow. This was written for rock guys moving over to jazz. It gives you lines for a few standards, each in both half-notes (for playing over the heads) and quarter notes (for laying over the solos). No concepts here just some "instant" lines you can use. Includes "Just In Time", "Satin Doll", "Autumn Leaves", "Misty", "Foggy Day", "It Could Happen To You", "My Funny Valentine", "Like Someone In Love", "Green Dolphin Street", and "San Francisco." Sort of fits what jazzbo was looking for.

    All these are available at Aebersold.
  13. I bought the Rufus book last year I gave up on it pretty quick. I am now inspired to give it another try.
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I think you need to learn to write down what you THINK you're hearing, and then go back and check what you wrote for inaccuracies. The best progress I ever made with transcriptions was made in this way...I took a walkman tape player and a pad of MS paper to a place where I had NO access to a musical instrument, and transcribed as much (Kenny Barron) as I could get down on paper. Later, I'd go to an instrument and check what I wrote against the recording. At first, this resulted in a huge Cluster**ck, but after a while it got easier.

    The big benefit you get from this kind of exercise is the ability to hear INTERVALICALLY, which is very close to what happens when you improvise. Whether I'm playing lines or solos, I almost NEVER think about what note name I'm playing, or what scale degree it is (practicing is a different story). I just try to hear where I want to go from where I am based on what I'm hearing from the context of the situation I'm in. Ed's singing analogy is a good one...when you're singing, it's all about PURE SOUND as opposed to artificial constructions. Singing is the key element to any transcribing you might do.

    But before anybody starts complaining about "why should you write it down, why not just take it straight to the bass?", I should mention that writing is very important for several reasons:

    1) at some point, your memory will become overloaded if you don't write your transcription down. 6 months from now, will you still remember how to play the whole thing if you don't write it down? How about 6 years from now?

    2) if you truly believe that music is a language, then writing is a part of that language that can help you deal with complexities that you may not understand yet. If you were a budding writer and wanted to analyse a great novel or short story so that you could figure out how it was put together, would you rather have a printed copy or a "books on tape"?

    3) writing music in this way (from sound to paper) will make you a better all around musician, because it will help you understand the relationship between the paper and the SOUND. Doing this kind of transcription will not only make you a better sight reader, it will make you a better sight-HEARER, which is really what reading is supposed to be all about anyway.
  15. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Plus, different people learn differently. I remember words I have written better than words I have read. I've met folks who have photographic memories (whew!) and they don't need that.
  16. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    The way that I learned, and I believe to be the best way, is a good teacher. Particularly if you can get a teacher that doesn't play bass. Pianists usually make the best bass instructors because they do most of their work with the 'meat' of harmony and can really guide you in what needs to be done harmonically to make the structure of a tune work.

    Also, all the work that you do on melodic things, soloing and composition, works to your advantage. An example that I use with students is that I take a portions of a bop-like melody line and then edit it down to a bass line. This also indicates that walking bass lines and eigth-note melody line are just two different, similar paths through a set of chord changes, where the melody lines wander more from the middle of the chord to upper harmony and bass lines tend to wander more from the root of the chord through middle harmony. This leads to working through theory with the same approach that melody instruments take. Bass lines are just counter-melody if done right.

    Transcribing can be a useful tool, but I don't recommend that too much time is spent on it. You do learn good things, but you also learn the other guy's mistakes and bad habits. My experience with people who transcribe too heavily is that they are often a little short on ideas of their own.

    Duo playing, which I do a lot of, is a great excercise in playing bass, particularly when you are playing with a single-note instrument like a horn or voice. In this case, the fundamental groove and maintenance of the chord structure lay heavily on you -- and then you have to make music with all of this added responsibility. The only danger that I've found in this is that quartet and quintet gigs can get a little mundane as you have to play much more foundationally to balance all of the weight at the top of the band.

    I'll offer up a RealAudio clip from my web site that I'm pretty happy with. This is one of my main mentors playing guitar, and me on bass, on the standard I Love You. I went back a reviewed this recording while writing this and think that this represents well the result of all of the work my teachers have done on me. This represents a lot of what I have been poking at; I'm not playing a lot of roots, yet the harmonic structure of the tune isn't lost, there is relevance between the melody instrument and myself, etc. I kinda wish I'd hit that first note more in tune though.

    Ultimately, the best approach so to find a good teacher.
  17. Like a lot of players, I was first introduced to walking bass lines via high-school jazz-ensemble charts. Many of them had full bass lines written out, and while some of them where a tad cheesy, many of them were quite good (Nestico charts spring to mind). After playing them 20 times or so, you got to know how a bass line should feel under your fingers.

    Then, when I got bored, I'd throw in some of my own notes and using ideas I'd heard from other bass players. Sometimes they even fit. In this way, these pre-written lines were a very useful reference points. Eventually, I became more hip to theory and was able to dispense with the written bass line if I wanted.
  18. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    I should mention that I do have a teacher.
  19. Ed wrote

    . Which is different than getting a transcription and saying "Oh I see PC using this chromatic device to get from the ii7 to the V, I think I'll do that", because you are coming up with an intellectual construct that has nothing to do with the environment around you. You are playing to an agenda, not to the music that's happening.

    heck out the lessons first, that may answer some of your questions, if not (or if others are raised) e-mail me.

    Sure to get to deeper levels, vocabulary is one of the things that you need to work on. But the mistake I made coming up was just this one, working on the vocabulary but not working on learning how to say something that means something. [/B][/QUOTE]

    I dig what your saying Ed. I think our different views might be due to coming from different directions. I think I came up just the opposite way from you. My main thing was always just wanting to be able to play what's in my head, getting that out. I dint realeyes dat watt I wuz sain dint have no cents an wuz all illitrate 'n' sh*t so I had to set about learning the rules of the language so that I might say something that not only is the thought I wanted to communicate, but others my understand it as well.

    Regarding the PC example you gave. I don't think doing something like that is the way you're saying it is. If I analyzed a transciption I might discover an idea I hadn't already thought of. So I'll digest it, practice it, then forget about it until one day it comes out without having even thought of it because the moment brought it out. I think that's one way of learning and deepening your understanding of the language. Like the scientists (for lack of a better example) build upon one another's discoveries.
  20. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Ray - nice sound clip. Duo is also one of my favorite formats.