Chord Tone vs. Scale debate

Discussion in 'Music [DB]' started by Chad Ball, Mar 5, 2002.

  1. If this has been beaten to death in other threads, please direct me, but I figured this would be a good topic:

    Which camp are you folks in? When faced with a jazz chart, do you walk/comp chord tones, thinking furiously of interesting and melodic harmony ideas...or do you go for the more linear "what scale works here" mindset? Does this change when you approach your solo?

    Since I started the thread, and my coffee has kicked in, i'll answer first. My teacher has really been suggesting the chord tone approach, especially when walking or comping. At first, this began to sound pretty stale (chord tones up...chord tones down...and repeat). Lately, though we've been listening to some PC and Gary Peacock where chord tones meet great motivic development...nice melodic chord tone lines and a new appreciation on my part. This changes when I approach my solo, but I think i'll wait and see what the rest of you have to say.

  2. JaggedB


    Jan 26, 2002
    Columbus, OH
    From what I have been taught about walking bass lines at least there are a few standard rules that you can follow anf then once you learn the rules then you break them :D

    Here's my stab a things, and everybody please correct or add on, as my grasp isn't secure.

    (quarter note walking bass lines in 4/4 time)

    1) First note of the measure should be a chord tone (generally the root)

    2) Second note of the measure scale or chord tone

    3) Third note of the measure chord tone

    4) Fourth note of the measure is a leading tone to the next measure (generally 1/2 step above or below but can vary)

    5) If a measure has two chords your first note is a chord tone and your second note is a leading tone (if chord changes are on beats one and three, etc.)

    Going beyond that you need to look at reharmonization and things like that when choosing notes and shifting key centers. I'm not that advanced yet so its a little fuzzy for me. Also, throwing in eigth notes and triplets follow the same basic principles (I think) but again I'm not that advanced.

    My biggest problem is the whole improv thing (and that's a bit of a problem in jazz ;) ) I can write walking bass lines and I can follow them in sheet music, but jst looking at chord changes is quite challenging. Because you have to always be looking two measures ahead to look for shifting key centers and all that. And my theory is not strong enough to keep up yet. And jazz is not my primary music that I like to play but it does build theory chops!!!

    Now, everyone have at it and tell me what I said wrong :D

  3. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Walking, or any other bass lines, serve two purposes, rhythmic and harmonic support. This'll cause you two huge discussions.

    Rhythmic support is more obvious and simple, so I'll leave it be. Harmonically, the walking bass lines in jazz can be as blah as simply outlining the harmony as you thump out quarter notes or you can play counter-melodically. A good bass line would be interesting listening if isolated, and relevant to what is going on in a parallel, counter, or neutral fashion.

    Chord-tones v. scale tones and all of that are just the same tools that melodic improvisers attack, especially at the beginning, and then they expand their horizons from there. As should you.
  4. At age 40 and playing for over 20 years, I still consider myself very much a student of the art of the walking bass line.

    If I recall correctly, I started out using a chord-outline approach and started adding melodic and non chord tones as I grew more comfortable with how they fit into the line.

    Now, I almost think of my bass line as a "slow-motion solo." But the main objective is to support the soloist. The acid test is: could the soloist hear the changes if a chordal instrument weren't there?
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
  6. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I prefer the chordal approach, although the scalar approach can be a lot less cumbersome in some cases. If it's total improv I prefer scalar, because that's simpler than trying to analyze every chord I hear (which is what I tend to do). It allows me to focus on the mood of the jam.

    If it's a written chart, though, I prefer to look at the chords themselves, because I find it easier to figure out what's happening in the song and where it's going by playing off the specific chords. If I have the information right in front of me, I don't have to try and do two things at once!

    If you have a road map, might as well use it...
  7. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Bay Area
    Also depends who else is in the band. With a piano or guitar player, sometimes the chords are covered well enough where you can play around with the melody - however I have always (in my limited experience in the realm of written music) started with the chords and waited until a scalular idea popped out at me, or until I heard a cool way to augment the melody within the context of the chords. However, when I play less complex things, like reggae or pop tunes, I tend to go for much more of a melodic, scalular approach.
  8. Hey, I want to draw beautiful pictures. What's the best approach to use, should I use straight lines or curvy lines?
  9. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Bach used a lot of curvy lines and would a straight one now and then to make a point.
  10. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
  11. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    My boss taught me to see the scales and to analyze entire phrases, not just momentary chords. Net result for me is more melodic playing.
  12. I've heard that in lessons myself, but have never had much success with it. By the time i realize a common thread between chords, it's already passed. I would assume that this is a work in progress. More times than not, when I approach things this way, I end up playing the fey, rather than the chord...sometimes this works very well, other times not. Any suggestions on how to approach this in practice?
  13. When I say 'playing the fey', what I mean of course is 'playing the key'?
  14. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Bay Area
    Yeah Ed, I am with you. I don't really seriously advocate trying to look at it one way or the other, but I do see how it is advantageous to think about things from different perspectives, like turning a gem around in the sun to see different aspects. By the way, by "scalular, melodic" I did not propose they were *synonyms*, but rather that grouped together they form one way at looking at what you are doing. Since melodies are constructed (often) from scalular ideas, and since both scales and melodies are horizantal ways of thinking about music, they both represent (to me) a more linear approach to playing music, one which is often augmented and completed by application of chordal and rhythmic ideas. I don't think you can get by thinking about music horizantally or vertically, but its all a work in progress, and whenever I stop seeing the gem, I need to turn it around and think about it in a different way.
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