Best Scales for Jazz

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by elvinstheman, Jun 22, 2005.

  1. elvinstheman


    Jun 16, 2005
    Seattle, USA
    I'm a DB newbie and have been working on major scales quite a bit. But I want to do a really basic jazz jam with some friends, so what are the best scales practice for jazz/be bop? I'm guessing most of the uptempo be bop tunes are in major keys, but what scales are most of the walking bass lines based on? Regular major sacles? Pentatonic blues scales?
  2. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Bebop used all kinds of scales - in fact there is a scale with an extra note which is often called the "Bebop scale" - Thelonius Monk was noted for using the whole tone scale.... etc. etc.

    Well I'm sure somebody like Ed will explain ..... but there are threads about constructing walking bass lines - Chris F has posted a sort of tutorial around here - look for the Newbie Links! :)
  3. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Bass lines often are pretty thick with root scales (scale from where the chord comes) and neighboring tones / chromatics.
  4. Hawkeye

    Hawkeye Canuck Amateur

    The Myxlodian scale seems to work well for a lot of jazz / blues walking bass lines.
  5. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Chromatic? I dunno, I try to play music, not scales....
  6. This is critical to the proper approach. I think of scales as existing in music as a sort of after thought analysis. The music has to exist first.

    If you are just talking about straight exercise, practice every scale you've ever heard. You'll end up drawing them together.
  7. larry

    larry Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2004
    My $.02...

    Any jazz book will tell you about what scales to learn. Understand major & minor scale harmony, blues scales, bebop, diminished, whole-tone, etc...You'll need them all.

    Which scales to use will make more sense when you can look at a tune and pick out the key centers and see ii-V-I's, iii-iv-ii-V's, minor ii-V-i's, etc...

    Once you can do that, you can stretch your scale choices over several bars and make musical phrases out of them. Then work on musically connecting the key centers. Learn melodies too. Most everything you play should be in context with the melody.

    A good teacher can really help.
  8. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004

    I strongly agree with this statement. I think the approach of playing jazz by getting the right scales to fit with the right chords takes all the 'music' and individuality out of jazz.

    I would rather advise listening, transcribing, and incorporating some of the things that you hear from players you like in to your own playing. The thing I often do is sing along with myself (not major holly style, just to myself). This seems to get me to really concentrate on musical ideas and not play exercises and revert to muscle memory.

    Music is all about the ears. I try not to be analytical when I'm in the moment on stage. I do that later.
  9. larry

    larry Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2004
    I agree with Ed, Fingers and Silver that being musical comes first.

    My post seemed to imply that you learn all the scales then try to make music. That's not it.

    That said, at some point we all have to learn the nuts & bolts - learning jazz does not have to be so mysterious, but the goal is certainly not to think about what scale you should be playing.
  10. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Sounds like the OP doesn't even know how to walk over a set of chords and would probably be a long way from "soloing". I guess his question should have been more along the lines of; "How do I walk over changes"

    To the OP:

    There are some good books out there, for starters I'd get Jim Stinnetts, or Todd Coolman's book and once your done with that, I'd get Mike Richmonds book "Modern Walking Bass Technique".
  11. Flynn


    Apr 10, 2005
    Well, I suppose when I'm walking over chord changes, I'm not thinking about scales as much as I'm thinking about the key of the song and what chords are being played. I think it'd be pretty dumb to limit yourself to one single scale through an entire jazz song without playing any non-diatonic notes.
  12. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    I dunno, unless you already have some kind of scalar way of understanding music I'd say forget about 'em at this point. Work with the tones that make up the chords and imagine ways of connecting them together. Don't freak if any of these notes that you're imagining "aren't in the scale" or "aren't diatonic". It's jazz and you can play what you want, but you're going to have to come to grips with the structure of jazz harmony if you're gonna play jazz bass.

    This should get you hearing the harmony and using your imagination in a musical way.

    You should hear your bass parts against the melody and chords of the tune, if at all possible. Get some Aebersold records and play with 'em, or just play with records. Make tons of mistakes and try and figure out why they're mistakes.

    And get a teacher! This stuff ain't exactly simple but it doesn't have to be a lifelong mystery, either. A teacher can help you, big time.
  13. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Scales are the letters of your alphabet. Studying the construction of music from a music-theory/ear-training standpoint will show you ways to categorize sounds so that you have a vocabulary that you can use to converse musically. You can almost draw a one-to-one correspondence between reading, writing, philosophising, conversation, joking, story-telling, love-making, etc, and music. In all cases, there is natural instinct at work, but study and practice can tremendously enhance your efforts. Streamlined, efficient study gets you where you want to be ASAP.
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    As someone who has done a lot of Jazz education over the last 5 or 6 years - as in attending and being a student at classes. workshops, Summer Schools etc etc - this is an interesting area of debate and a big "schism" !! ;)

    So - you mention the Aebersold materials - if you look at the books, then they do have things like : play this scale over this part of the chord sequence and the scale is even spelled out for you over the tune!

    6 or 7 years ago - people were teaching this stuff at every Jazz education thing I went to - but in the last 3 or 4 years there has been a big reaction against this approach and many teachers I have met are saying - forget about chord/scale relationship - let's do some free improvising, play what you hear - let's transcribe together, throw away the written music etc. etc.

    But there still seem to be these two opposed camps - so there is a particular teacher I know, who teaches on the UK Aebersold Summer School and when he takes workshops he gives out sheets of scales and licks etc etc.

    I know Chris F has taught on the Aebersold courses as well - so I was wondering what they're saying to people new to Jazz?
  15. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    I'm not opposing anything. My advice was directed toward a person who is obviously starting from scratch with jazz. He needs to get started and he only needs one or two useful concepts to do that. If he wants to keep going beyond the start line, he'll do the scale thing, don't worry.
  16. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    This is SO RIGHT ON it bears repeating. Thanks, Ray.
  17. kwd


    Jun 26, 2003
    silicon valley

    If you're in a pinch to come up to speed for a jam you might want to consider the book "Bass Lines In Minutes". It's not going to take you very far and I would recommend that you never look at it again after you've moved on, but it will get you going. As you move on it should be about your ears, not scales or books.
  18. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Study, yes, but study what? I've made the most progress as a player by working on ear training, arpeggiation exercises, some specific improvisational exercises. The scale work I've done (in my course of study with Joe) has ONLY been to work out issues with positional playing, fingering and physical approach. And the only scales we have been working with have been major, and the 2 minors (harmonic and melodic).

    ELVIS wants an easy answer - give me some scales that will work. Unfortunately, that isn't going to get him to the place he wants - playing a tune with his buddies that makes some kind of sense. The answer is that there is no "easy" answer, that all of us got to the place where we can play a compelling and melodic walking line in many cases despite the approaches we started with by working on a lot of things concurrently - our ear, our grasp of the language (over and above just learning its component parts) and the growing ability to express our intent in a musical and conversational fashion.
  19. Even though I am a free form player, I will not forget or forego blues progression and Rhythm Changes progressions and working scales within these forms. Works for the newbie and for the seasoned player.

    You can't play out if you can't play in.
  20. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    This is pretty much the same approach my teacher -- Steve Hamilton -- has been taking with me. Every now and then I get this crazy idea that there are some secret scales he and all the other really good players are hiding from me. Every time he sends me back deeper into the arpeggio thing and I come out happier.