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Concepts on modal improvisation

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Pat Harris, Apr 3, 2009.


  1. Pat Harris

    Pat Harris Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2006
    Austin, TX
    Hey all,

    I've been composing lately and many of the tunes feature sections that are simply one chord and a groove (not unlike Dave Holland, late Miles, Coltrane, etc). What do you all do to build a solo over something like E7alt? In my own playing, obviously tempo will dictate part of my approach, but I find I get more motivic in situations like this. The hard part is that as bass player, playing "out" simply sounds like you're changing chords rather than superimposing something over the top. If I use some sort of diminished cycle, it sounds like I'm just going diminished on the tune. Hope this makes sense. I'm just wondering what some of the more experienced folks in these parts think about.

    -Pat
     
  2. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Half-whole diminished uses natural 13. The altered scale would be another choice- over E7alt play f melodic minor aka the "diminished wholetone" scale... 7th mode of the mel min. Here all the altered extensions are there and it's basically an F major scale with a flatted third. Very easy to blow over.

    There's a thousand different ways to play outside, but you gotta know what's "inside" first.
     
  3. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Chicago
    I know what your saying about solo lines seeming to imply different changes and stuff. I think it is equally important to think about how your lines are resolving. The shape of your lines is important but if you don't take your phrasing into consideration the hippest lines might not have the affect (effect?) you want. The notes you start and end (and where you start and end) is just as important as how you get there.
     
  4. To extend what my colleagues have already wrought: try establishing a tonal center first before moving beyond it. One way of moving beyond is side-slipping which is basically playing up or down a half step from the tonal center. A simple example would be to play an ostinato in the tonal center (E for example) and then once it's established shift the same ostinato up or down a half step (Eb or Db) before moving back to the tonal center (E). A slightly more sophisticated example would be skipping the ostinato but playing something strong enough within the tonal center so that when you side slip up or down a half step, it sounds like you are going outside intentionally. There are thousands of variations of stuff like that.

    mark
     
  5. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    I'm no great improviser but to my ears the longer you stay outside the more likely you'll sound like you changed the harmony. If you play a b9 for a half note and resolve it then it shouldn't confuse a listener.
     
  6. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Great comments above.

    One major issue with playing "outside" on E7 alt is that every note in that chord is already "outside! Play a major scale with no 3rd and you'll sound like a real oddball.
    :D


    Regarding the original question, if you're going for a *modal* sound, you want to pick a scale and more or less stick with it. Again, the scale that nails all the altered funk is the diminished wholetone, as described in my post #1.

    Other fun scales to pick from- wholetone, lydian dominant, blues, diminished (H-W,) etc...


    Have you done much transcription? This will really open your eyes to how cats slip in and out of different harmonic/ melodic concepts.
     
  7. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Chicago
    The other thing that I think helps is to try to imply some cadences in your lines. Many bars of the same chord can get washy and meandering and kinda turn into musical 'white noise' after while. Making some 'place markers' can help IME.
     
  8. Pat Harris

    Pat Harris Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2006
    Austin, TX
    I appreciate the input... I think, perhaps, the question wasn't exactly clear. I'm no stranger to jazz, improvisation or how scales/altered tones are derrived, and I was wondering what some of your individual approaches are for playing over a modal tune. I have my own systems and methods, but with the instrument being a bass, no matter how "out" you try to get, it always sounds like you're changing chords rather than super-imposing something over a fixed tonal center. My default method on something like this is to start with a pentatonic scale and gradually add chromaticism. The hardest part for me is that there are no formal boundaries to use, and to not throw everything plus the kitchen sink into the solo in order to make it musical.

    -Pat
     
  9. Pat Harris

    Pat Harris Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2006
    Austin, TX
    That's cosmic, I must have posted immediately after you wrote this.
     
  10. basmartin

    basmartin

    Aug 6, 2007
    Sweden
    If the E7alt chord stays for like 8 bars, I would primarily use E minor pentatonic or blues pentatonic, like Scofield does, and use the altered scale when it´s time to change chord. The sound of the altered scale is very dominatic(is that a word?), so I don´t like so stay in that mode too long.

    If the chord vamp is Am7 you can have a lot more fun. Except for the obvious dorian mode, you could use, A phrygian, A melodic minor(with the major 7th as an "outside" note, be carefull), E altered, G# augmeted etc etc... Try finding triads, odd meter patterns, use big intervals etc. Play a phrase of any notes in the dorian mode and then play the same phrase up a minor third and then back again.
     
  11. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    If you have Reason or something similar, try putting on a vamp with a drum loop and playing around with all the different scales you can think of to fit over E7, one by one, trying to get a taste for the flavor of each one. Eventually you can move seamlessly from one to the next, or better yet, improvise freely without any constraints whatsoever.

    Just a shell of root third flat 7 will allow you to play around with all the possibilities...
     
  12. You motif sets the boundaries. As you add chromaticism or play your diminished stuff, you're developing your motif and everything you play, if people are following, is heard against those original self-created "boundaries."

    Who cares about sounding "out?" Are you going out for the sake of "out," or because it makes melodic sense?
     
  13. Pat Harris

    Pat Harris Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2006
    Austin, TX
    I only like to go "out" if it makes musical sense within the solo. That said, I think it's harder to take things outside as a bassist because you don't have the same kind of support that a horn or other rhythm section instrument has when you're soloing.
     
  14. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    What kind of support do you usually have?
     
  15. Pat Harris

    Pat Harris Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2006
    Austin, TX
    Typical bass solo comping from the drums and piano.
     
  16. MLysh

    MLysh

    Oct 11, 2007
    MD/DC/VA
    Well, there's your problem, right there!:p
     
  17. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    The piano player's not anchoring the harmony for you?
     
  18. mattt

    mattt

    Apr 12, 2004
    albuquerque NM
    If the changes are not complex have the piano lay out, if you want to take it from a rhythmic approach then maybe the drummer should take a break too. I seems that bands tend to be afraid of an instrument actually soloing. This open space could be just what you need to bring out the creative.
     
  19. basspirate777

    basspirate777

    Mar 21, 2009
    Latrobe, Pa
    My 2 cents...probably more like 2 pesos...

    There is the school of thought that you want to start on a root to establish your tone center. This is definitely a proper way of doing things, but also a bit conventional. At the time you begin your solo, you are going to be the only one in the room thinking about the tone center.

    Think of, for example, when The Most Honorable Miles Davis starts one of his many solos in something like 'So What'. Almost always the first note off provides tension against the chord and isn't the root.

    This I have found, as a bass player, helps the listener bring your voice out to the front of their concentration and helps them understand that you're simply not just playing a lot of notes under the rest of the band. Also, unless the ensemble is completely acoustic, I like to have the rest of the band comp underneath solos. To me, having the rest or most of the band break off says that the bass is an instrument that really shouldn't be taking solos, but the other players were kind enough to grant you a slot in the rounds. You just need to find a guitarist/drummer/organist that can TURN DOWN or adjust to your level. ...I spent five years in Nashville and didn't have much luck!! Even with self-proclaimed, schooled jazzers. (Granted, I wasn't playing with the top-tier, cream-of-the-crop group of players)

    Also, when it comes to the world of improvisation (or music performance in general) I highly, highly, highly recommend reading Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner. He talks a lot about letting go of the ego and the mind and simply letting your unconscious speak and intuit over the music.

    Of course, before taking that step you need to be uber comfortable with your scales and modes so that they are front and center in your fingers but nowhere to be found in your mind.

    Also, when I solo I like to take time to simply play different two or three tone chordal tensions over the chord that the rest of the band is vamping on. I lack the proper term, but I like to apply these small voicings to what I call 'chord scales/modes'.

    This probably sounds like a bunch of hippy-dippy ******** :D, but it's the method that finally allowed me to feel like I was conveying a message in my own language rather than reciting the common vernacular. As far as playing out, if you sound deliberate and confident AND can take your self from an 'out' passage back to something way 'in', you'll win the audience everytime.

    Lastly, it's important to use both types of playing 'out'. Melodic and Rhythmic as was stated earlier. Even in his bluegrassier stuff, Edgar Meyer is a master of extrapolating the time signature and suspending himself over the meter. Take a listen to the song 'The Low Road'. People go crazy for that ****!

    Anywho, I will stop my blathering. I'm sure you all know what to do with your basses. :p:p
     
  20. Natrix

    Natrix

    Mar 21, 2009
    Sydney Australia
    as others have said , there are a ton of things you can use on an altered chord .
    I think it works to decide what alterations you wants to go for to give the lines a 'flavour'
    For example , if you just want to alter the 9 ths & have a natural 13 th use H/W diminished.
    If you want completely altered , use 7th mode of Melodic Minor.
    On an E7 alt you can get some good mileage out of combining E maj pent & Bb Maj pent.

    The E gives you the 1 , 9 , 3 , 5 , 13
    The Bb gives you the #11 , b 13 , b7 , b9 , #9 .
     

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