Carol Kaye's approach to improvisation

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by gbf, Sep 4, 2003.

  1. Is anybody here familiar with Carol's approach to improvisation and general playing? is more chordal than scalar thinking but i can't get any of her book here in Brazil. I have Ed Friedland's Bass Improvisation but it is all about scales and i would like to know more about chordal improvisation (i have already read all carol's site), so if you guys could help me out i would be very, very pleased.

    Gabriel :bassist:
  2. 20db pad

    20db pad

    Feb 11, 2003
    I been everywhere, man...
    None. At all.
    I've looked over some of CK's materials. That said, the Improvisor's Bass Method by Chuck Sher is a better choice as a guide to improvisation, IMO.

    I'm not a degreed educator or author, but the Sher book seems like a solid, sensible, and intelligently laid out educational reference. I know from personal experience that it's more in line with what is taught from High School to College level institutions.
  3. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    sher's bass method also has mountains of material... absolutely masses - so much more than you'll find in any more modern day book.
  4. chardin


    Sep 18, 2000
  5. Erlendur Már

    Erlendur Már

    May 24, 2000
    Hey, I have that book too! It's huge :)
  6. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Chuck Sher's book is great. Carol's method is equally great. The two aren't mutually exclusive, just different approaches to ordering the musical material you have available to you. Carol's focus is on being aware of what notes you have available to you in relation to the chord that's happening at the time, rather than reducing a chord sequence to a key that you can wail over. It's a more considered approach, and one that if you're approach to improv has largely been of the 'chord=scale' approach will do you the world of good.

    Carol's method also makes for a more logical connection with the concept and process of altering chords and adding tensions. The notes aren't littered randomly through the piece, and neither do you need to learn whole new scales to play over different chord types - you just change the note that's changed in the chord. So a b13 in a chord just requires you to flatted the 13th when you get to it... easier than trying to always think 'mixolydian b6' or whatever...

    Both are useful, and compliment one another well.


  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I agree with what you say Steve - but I don't like the idea of calling that "Carol's method " - hundreds, maybe thousands of Jazz musicians have developed and used this approach from roughly the time of Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker onwards.

    Carole Kaye is picking this up long after it was a way of life to Jazz musicians in the 1940s and 50s...
  8. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    absolutely Bruce, and if you talk to Carol, her reasons for teaching it are that it's what most musicians actually use, rather than most educators. She's not claiming it's her own work, just that she's codified it in a way that works for teaching it...

    I guess the contrast here is just the difference in the two bodies of work laid out thus far - Chuck Sher and Carol Kaye...

  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think there's a good reason for that. So - if you start playing Jazz and taek each chord as it coems in the sequence then it's pretty easy to start from the idea that you use the notes in the chord and then work on to extensions of the chord adding colour etc.

    But there are two main reason why Jazz eductors try to introduce the scale concept as early as possible.

    Firstly - soloists new to Jazz, end up playing very jerky solos that don't flow and have abrupt changes when the chord or key changes. Believe me, I've comped behind too many of these!! ;)Also the idea that you have all these possible notes in the chord tends to make new improvisors think they have to get as many as possible in - leading them to short flurries of lots of notes and nothing like what you want for a decent solo!!

    Whereas, if you introduce the concept fairly early on, that a II -V(7)-I is all actually based on one scale and that you can just choose a few notes from this single scale - then it calms them down and tends to make for more flowing solos that sound more musical - you can then re-visit the chordal approach later and explore this once people have got past trying to play too many notes.

    Secondly - you can find all the possible notes of a chord and extensions by yourself - it's just a case of putting in the work. But it's much harder to think of using alternate scales and I know for certain that if my Jazz teacher hadn't suggested certain exotic or alternate scales that could be used over certain chords - I would never have found these by myself in a million year of playing!!

    So the scalar approach can actually teach you something that can be like a "Road to Damascus" conversion - and you don't have to use it all the time, you can alternate - so I am not surprised that most Jazz educators concentrate on scales.
  10. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Carol emphasizes chords for a good reason.

    If you think about how a song is composed, the chords support the MELODY. When harmonizing melodies, you look for chords that contain the melody notes.

    So if you want to play a "melodic" solo, your solo should contain mostly notes out of the chords.

    Does this make any sense?

    Take a simple 3 chord tune like "Happy Birthday". Play a solo over the changes using ONLY notes in the I, IV and V triads. Do not use ANY other tones. Listen to what it sounds like. Now try playing a solo using the major scale (which fits over all 3 triads). Which one sounds more "melodic" to you? My guess is the one using only the chord tones. Go back to the original melody. How many of the melody notes are chord tones and how many are not (i.e. passing tones)?

    Here's a real fun exercise. In the key of C major, pick out the notes of the Cmaj chord:

    C E G

    Now pick out all the OTHER notes in the scale:

    B D F A

    This is a Bdim7 chord.

    Now play a solo where you play two bars using only the notes in the C triad and then two bars using only the tones in the Bdim7 chord. What does it sound like to you? To ME it sounds like the second two bars are over the V7 chord, and in fact if you look at the notes this way:

    (G) B D F A

    you'll see it's like a G9 chord minus the root. Notice how strongly it implies to your ear the V7 though you never played the root note!!!

    Hope this helps.
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well this seems blindingly obvious to me and I could have worked that out for myself without going to a teacher- but what if you want to add contrast to a solo - what if you want tension and then release to a more melodic sound - what notes do you us then - that's the more difficult question and where looking at alternate scales can help you.
  12. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I'm not sure I understand the difference in the two approaches?

    So, a piece of music is basically made up of a chord progression and melody.

    The chordal approach means you focus on the chords in the progression and the notes within those chords.

    I do find that the vast majority of melodies are made up of chord tones.

    Also I often approach basslines by looking the notes in each chord and seeing which notes change from one chord to the next (e.g. the 3rd in the V7 flats to become the 7th in the I of a blues progression) - I find this helps me get maximum movement with very few notes - which i really dig!

    So how does the scale approach differ? I dont think I really understand?
    Is it that the chords are looked at in sections to recognise a key signeture - or to find a scale that suits as many chords in a group as possible, or??? :rolleyes:
  13. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK

    the two approaches aren't that different. In fact, aren't different at all if you're talking about the available note set.

    The difference is in the priority structure of what to learn...

    The Scale approach gets you soloing sooner, and gets you playing some fairly OK jazz pretty quick - any old muppet with a modicum of technical ability to run up and down a CMajor Scale over a I vi ii V progression in C and sound vaguely like they know what they are doing.

    Carol's method would focus on learning the arpeggios of the chords, looking at the notes from one chord that lead into the next, the notest that create tension and heighten the sense of resolution. A far more specific way of approaching harmony. It probably takes a while longer to get there, but by the first hurdle, you're thinking about the function of each note, not just the vague effect of the scale over a set of chords, hopefully...

    Of course, ultimately a 'musical' person will gravitate towards musicality anyway. What's a musical person? One who thinks about music in a certain way, I guess. One who's managed to step back from their own playing and think about the context it's in. And is then focussed on developing their own control and awareness of music, through, listening, practicing etc.

    I teach both methods, and combine them into a process of looking at the neck as a grid in any particular key, and work on developing a degree of facility between any note and any other note within that, so that whatever you hear in your head, you can find on the neck... Both of these approaches help you to do that - the scale one frees you up to play something that will sound good in a short period of time. The chord tone approach ties that down a bit and makes you think about the function of each note. I find that the latter slows down the playing of most musicians, which given the inane waffle that passes for much jazz soloing these days, can only be a good thing... ;)


  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I agree that you should do both - especially as a bass player the chord approach is essential - but I still don't know how it would be possible to infer some of the alternate scales that you can use - just from studying chords?

    Like using a whole tone scale with a dominant chord?
  15. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    OK I see. Thanks for explaining

    Hmmm, it would seem much more valid to learn the chordal approach as a bass player.

    In my opinion our role in a group (can of worms anyone?) is to groove (keep time, play a suitable rhythm) and reinforce the harmonic function of the chords in the progression (IMO of course), so it seems to me that our understanding of every chord and note in the progression is vital to creating a functional bassline (...but not neccessarily a good one ;) )

    So, is it possible that quite often when people play a jazz solo riddled of notes they are approximating a key and choosing particular scales to solo over the progression.
    Like choosing melodic minor and mixloydian to solo over a progression with a tonic minor?

    I mean, I can look at bunch of chords and know of a load of different scales to play over each chord as part of a solo - but when i do it it just doesnt sound jazzy unless i make a point of playing something that is out of the scale that fits the chord.

    It often soudns to me as though jazz soloists play modally, so they might play C ionian over a c major chord, then another c scale over the next chord and so on...
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    The point is that all great Jazz soloists are doing something different - that is what gives their distinctive 'sound' !

    This is the big appeal for Jazz fans - how soloists create long solos with light and shade, tension and release - different scales, combined with different chords. A lot of soloists will play "out" and make it sound in and then other soloists never play out and stick to the chords - but it is all about how you resolve it.

    You may be able to play certain alternate scales but if you can't resolve them then it won't sound convincing.

    At Jaz Summerschool - Julian Siegel - the great UK Jazz Sax player (our Michael Brecker - but younger!! ) - gave a master class on how to play out with structure. So he demonstrated playing different chords to the pianist - by different techniques - so like picking a part of the sequence and repeating it over the whole time frame - or feeling the chords moving more quickly or more slowly - this can build up incredible tension - but also a feeling that all players know what they are doing. The trick is that you have to know how to get back and wher you are at all times!! ;)
  17. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    See that is weird.

    The whole tone has the M3 and the m7 - the two most important chords tones, but it also has a b5 and #5 - so why would you play whole tone scale over a dom7 chord unless the was a X7b5 or X7#5?

    Surely this is JUST playing outside the chord tones to "make it sound jazzy"?

    I read that a dim scale (tone/semi-tone) starting a semi-tone up is a great over an X7 chord also - because it contains all probable jazz extensions of that chord.

    ...But if the chord contains one of those extensions then you're not playing outside the chord?!
  18. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    This is fascinating.

    FYI - I found a local jazz class - in Hungerford. I'm gonna go along next month and watch/listen and see what I think. Gotta lot of practice to do, but I'm hoping it will be inspiring/encouraging to go along and see some other people who are just starting out playing with some people who aren't!
  19. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    I guess the trick there is about knowing what a whole tone scale does to the harmony. It's not just a bunch of notes you can use, but does do specific things to the harmony, and there are certain notes within that resolve well to a tonic major (assuming the dominant chord is resolve V-I) and others the resolve to the minor.

    I think in that case, finding out the scale tones via the scale approach is a good route in, but to understand what's going on, the harmony route still makes sense...

    either way, it's what you do with it that counts... ;)

  20. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Hmmm... do you mean extensions or altered extensions?

    Taking G as an example, if you play Ab whole-step/half-step diminished (or G half-step/whole-step diminished, there's very little difference) over a G7 chord, that will give you most of the altered extensions - the b9, #9, and #11 (but unaltered 13th).

    If you play Ab Melodic Minor over a G7, that will give you all the possible altered extensions - b9, #9, #11, and b13.

    But you'd most likely use that on altered dominant chords (e.g. G7alt or G7#9#5), rather than just straight dominant chords (e.g. G7 or G13) - unless you're reharmonizing, that is.