Bassists' perspective on advice from a jazz guitarist...

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Bass Momma, Jun 25, 2019.

  1. Bass Momma

    Bass Momma

    Dec 25, 2017
    I'm playing in a jazz trio with two guitarists... one just wrote me this advice, and I'd appreciate bassists' take on it. Is this how you think of it?

    "One thing that really helped me was to practice common chord progressions and memorize them - ii V I (major/minor) is the obvious one, but there are many others. For example, when I am learning a new tune I immediately see and hear all the ii V I progressions and view them as a unit - not as separate chords. That way of thinking makes it easier to memorize tunes and to play over them. Also, I see the large-scale form - A B A for instance - and how those common progressions relate to the form. I rarely think of individual chords when I play. As a guitarist, I learn the bass motion of these progressions as visual and physical pattern on the fretboard and I practice until my fingers are moving and my ears are hearing automatically, without consciously thinking about the individual chords. Of course, all this takes practice but I would start with smaller 2 or 3 chord progressions until they become automatic."

    I do practice (hard!) over progressions (standards, Friedlands', etc), and I do have a few ii-V-I licks that I use (thank you Ed Friedland!), but I wouldn't drop them into a song over and over again. Mainly, I'm walking through the chords using the various approaches I've learned (scale, R5, dominant, chromatic, arpeggiation, etc).
    It seems to me that he's thinking more about playing sequences of chords, rather than walking individual notes through chords. And yes, I get the concept of the visual pattern on the fretboard, and fingers moving automatically, but I'm dealing with the art of the possible-at-where-I-am-right-now.

    Maybe I need this translating into "bassese", or maybe I just need to play for another few decades. Maybe I need some wine...
  2. Lance Bunyon

    Lance Bunyon Supporting Member

    Jul 17, 2018
    Find him some isolated Ron Carter tracks and laugh at him. This is the guitarists dillemma...they see bass as simple (because we don't generally play chords) and they don't get the bigger picture that our ROLE in an ensemble is vastly different than theirs. His info was good advice for a guitarist, but unless playing solo jazz most guitarists don't go anywhere near a walking bassline. I also tend to think in numbers but if I tried to think like a guitarist (I used to play guitar) it would mess me up and divert me from my role as a bass player.
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  3. Bass Momma

    Bass Momma

    Dec 25, 2017
    Have I told you recently that I love you? Purely platonically, of course! Thing is, when you're a newbie, trying to suck up as much knowledge as you can as fast as you can, and playing several miles out of your comfort zone, that kind of thing can knock you off kilter. Thanks!
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  4. This guitarists advice applies to playing solos, not walking basslines. When he talks about hearing 2-5-1's as a unit, he's making that progression as wide as possible, not chopping it up into fragments. I don't know what the other poster is talking about when he says "solo jazz". I'm not sure that's a thing, (as related to bass playing) but just a description of what he thinks something is. Is he talking about pianists, guitarists? The fact is, bassists play solos all the time. If you're gonna play jazz, you need to be able to do it, but it doesn't happen over night.

    Anyway, a lot of people talk about the "role" of the bass player. As soon as I hear that, I instantly cringe. Your role as a bass player is to have something to say or to help someone else say something. That's it.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2019
  5. This is the answer.
  6. Dead on. What's nice about the advice is that it gives you a roadmap through the mind of your guitarist. Also sounds like he's more formulaic than soulful, so take his bass playing advice as interesting, but not essential.
    Artman, Lance Bunyon, govknoc and 4 others like this.
  7. There's a much bigger picture at work here... Bassists on TalkBass always seem to think everything is ONE thing or the OTHER.

    The truth is, it's EVERYTHING... Music isn't just about "roles". It's about communication.
  8. Bass Momma

    Bass Momma

    Dec 25, 2017
    The origin of that very well-meant advice I quoted in my original post is that I’d expressed the desire/intention that we should improve our musical communication/responsiveness when playing. On a blues gig, no prob. Party time. But in jazz, I’m still at the stage of having my nose stuck firmly on the chord chart, as is the other guitarist to some extent. So exactly that - communication. When I’ve really learned the charts, that’ll help, of course. I guess it’s planting that intention so that it can grow at its own good pace.
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  9. Unless you are calling out random songs on the gig, you should have all your songs memorized and internalized. No charts.
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  10. Goatrope


    Nov 18, 2011
    Sarasota Florida
    Agreed. Communication. I wish an experienced player like that had shared this type of insight when I was just starting out.

    Quick anecdote:

    I was accompanying a guitarist friend to his lesson with a jazz guitarist named Dave Davenport. This was probably 1977-78. We were basically kids just staring out without a clue.

    Of course I had my bass with me, so he wanted me to play through the lesson with my buddy. I choked and didn’t know what I was supposed to do.

    His advice/ direction to me was short and sweet: “Just WALK the mother f-er”. :roflmao:

    So much for sage advice.
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  11. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    May 24, 2006
    There’s benefit to learning what the “standard” chord progressions and the stylistic conventions of various genres are. Build up a sufficient vocabulary of those musical “chunks” and you eventually will start to perceive there’s a deeper structure in a lot of the music we play. So it does no harm. But while it’s something that will make you a better musician in the broader sense, I’m not sure how directly applicable to the specifics of being a bass player it is.

    The way I think when selecting which notes to play is in terms of chord triads and scale intervals. It’s more an elegant “mathematical framework” for lack of a better way to describe it. And also what it was that made the bass function in music so attractive to me in the first place - the fact it’s one of the few things in this world that makes absolute and total sense.

    Or at least it does for me. YMMV. :):thumbsup:
  12. Bass Momma

    Bass Momma

    Dec 25, 2017
    Yeah, I know.... I'm very new at this (4 months), so that's a goal ...
    Spin Doctor likes this.
  13. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    May 24, 2006
    Excellent. :thumbsup: You’ve already taken a very important first step - you’re thinking in terms of goals.

    A goal is basically just a dream - but with a deadline attached. So keep focusing on achievable incremental goals. It’s the most efficient way to progress.
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  14. hennessybass

    hennessybass Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2008
    Bayou City
    I think what he's saying is to think of things with more of a big picture view... maybe.
    Take a 12 bar blues for example. You're not thinking of the progression as I IV V, and thinking of the form of the song (counting 12 measures)... someone calls a blues and you just play the blues. Then maybe you come across a song that's not a straight ahead "blues" but you instantly recognize that the chords are I IV V, but the form of the song is not 12 bars, instead is like a verse/chorsus/verse/chorus things... and it's no problem to play it because the I IV V thing is so internalized and the form is something you've heard in a million pop songs. And you know exactly what to do.

    Well, the same with the jazz stuff, right? I recognize this progression and this form, and no big deal because it's internalized and you can apply it to what ever situation. And when the situation throws a curve ball with the form or progression, no big deal because it's just like this, but a little different... which comes with listening, playing, and practice... sounds like you are on the way there.

    Not jazz, but I'm having a bit of a struggle with some of this in a group I'm playing with now. Some of the guys get really hung up on the changes and forms and parts and who is doing what and what goes where. There were really struggling with this one song and it kept breaking down. The were trying to work out all this business about intro / verse / transition/ pre chorus/ chorus / guitar solo/ post chorus / guitar riff / verse / etc...
    The song is three chords. The form is A B C B, and it does the entire form 4 times. But those guys are so focused on the little stuff, they are not seeing the bigger picture.

    -- I think Mingus said something like making the simple complicated is commonplace, but making the complicated simple - that's creativity. I think maybe that is the direction your guitar player is trying to get you to head in. Stop thinking so much about the little bits, and try to see the big picture. Easier said than done of course.

    Very cool man, and you are an inspiration for getting out there and challenging yourself.
  15. juggahnaught


    Feb 11, 2018
    Seattle, WA
    This is not bad advice. (Not sure why people think it is.) For a bassist, it's possible to do the same thing by approaching a specific chord progression (especially in jazz) as a single phrase or walking unit. It's always good to have "patterns under the fingers", as it were - specific ways of getting from one root note to another.

    Honestly, it sounds as though you're already doing what he's talking about, when you talk about your walking (in terms of approaches to target notes - it's the same thing). The more you play, the better it gets, and you'll definitely find yourself with a repertoire of more "automatic" phrases that you'll play through a 2-5-1, a 1-6-2-5, etc, etc. These start to come into play a lot more at speed, in my experience.

    Essentially, he is correct, and you are fine.
  16. As a guitar player myself, that advice you were given is a very cool one.
  17. Moose22


    Apr 14, 2019
    Oh man, you're just a baby bassist in Jazz. You have so far to grow! I met a kid three years ago just getting into jazz guitar and he has no idea how far he has come, but I do. I've seen it from the start. The difference between one year and four years of experience is amazing, though he has good hands, plays out a lot, and spent plenty of hours in the woodshed. But it's really something how much he has learned by playing with more experienced jazz musicians.

    I take what your guitarist means. It's a good way of understanding how to be on the next chord without thinking of individual chords. I'm a guitarist, though... but still, when I'm playing bass I will get lost if I'm not thinking ahead while improvising, especially when I am using charts. I haven't read in a lot of years so it's super rusty and not coming back quickly so if I only think a few beats at a time I'll never land on the next one. I have to break it into phrases, even on bass. And sometimes I internalize the group better.

    We all have our ways of seeing the patterns and understanding the song structures so it's cool to hear someone else's.

    But if that isn't how you see things just keep it in mind and do things your way. Maybe you can try to see patterns differently later. And if you do use this idea, don't worry about being repetitive. At least while learning the standard stuff. Improvisational music takes experience and it might be a LONG time before you get to the point where you have a genuinely large, rich vocabulary of those riffs. But that vocabulary grows. It comes on slowly, over time, and there's no substitute for playing with people to build it.
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  18. IamGroot

    IamGroot Inactive

    Jan 18, 2018
    Good advice, but dont follow it slavishly.

    Your solo and walking ideas are a patchquilt of many things you have learned and chosen to blend in the moment. The more ideas you have in your arsenal, the better.
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  19. DavC


    May 17, 2005
    Tallmadge , Ohio
    short answer = Cool , thnx i guess .?!
  20. TheDirtyLowDown


    Mar 8, 2014
    I've been a bassist on-and-off for decades, but now I'm in a new side-project jazz trio, and it's making my head spin. So I hear you loud and clear on that front. For me, right now, the primary problem is that I'm expected to have something significant to say melodically over changes that I am still struggling to get my head around.

    So, in this context, I hear the guitarist telling you (and me) to think about the form of the piece and the sub-forms of the changes that make it up, and how your fingers can learn to fit some of those forms on the fretboard. I expect it is useful as a way to develop muscle memory, and as a way to build something to rely on when things are fast and furious.

    But that can really take you a long way away from musicality, if you let it. We used to have a sax player who was fast as lightning, and he'd go into great detail about what (memorized) scale(s) he was playing over which measures of the tune. And you know what? His solos sounded like a collection of convenient things he had memorized, and plugged in, piecemeal, at warp speed. I admired his practice ethic, and his speed/virtuosity, and he's gotten lots of gigs... but after a while for me it's exhausting listening.

    I'd like to be that fast, but what I'd really love is to really have something beautiful and perfectly formed and musical to play, even if it is with a lot fewer notes. So I agree with @Spin Doctor that it really IS everything, and in addition to all the above I do need to know my stuff cold and train my hands and ears better. But lately, I'm struggling the most with the 'why' of what I play, than the 'how'...

    Now I need a drink, too... Thanks for an interesting question and discussion.
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