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Ear training for Jazz Fusion

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by mrcbass, Aug 8, 2017.

  1. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Hi All.

    Looking for some advice on getting comfortable with "muddy" Jazz Fusion progressions.

    My background: I've been involved with music since a young age, beginning formal instruction in jr high and studied music all the way into college. Have a very strong theory background and long time love of jazz in general (played horns through school). Kind of moved on to guitar after school (no simple outlet for people o play with) and played that for about 15 years. Life situation had me back off of music for about 30 years and then it came back when my brother needed a bass player a couple years ago. Been playing Classic rock based stuff with little trouble. I've recently hooked up with a Jazz fusion project.

    I know that Jazz Fusion is a whole other animal and expected it to be a difficult transition. Amazingly, my band mates think I'm a great player (I'm very lacking in IMO, but am working my ass off). I know I'm not Jaco (etc) and never will be, and that's fine.

    I have a pretty decent ear and find that when I can get most any chord progression in my ear, I can relax and PLAY the tune. My question is in regards for help with learning unfamiliar tunes with "muddy" chord changes. I'm having a real hard time finding the groove on some songs even with the Real Book chords in my face - in some cases the chords don't even seem to fit right.

    For some of the songs we're working on, I'm finding that I need to formulate and memorize a very specific bass line in some cases (not really able to follow the chords by ear) and I'm just not comfortable with this approach. In some cases if I get lost, there's no hope to recover because I can't even find the beginnings and endings of phrases. An example of a song that is giving me fits, I have been fighting with for several weeks now is "One Finger Snap". In this case, the cover that I listen to has no signal for phrasing - it just seamlessly loops. We have a couple other in this vein that I've been able to force a line on, but I'd really rather be able to "understand the song".

    Any jazz players out there with advice on how I can train my ear to pick up on the subtleties of jazz fusion progressions? I really struggle with all the 11 and 13 chords as well as "odd" half step chord changes. I'm really enjoying getting back to jazz and while I'm sure I can just tell the guys, that I'd rather not take that song on, I don't want to be the guy who "can't play a certain song".

  2. tshapiro

    tshapiro Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2015
    Jax Florida
    Here's my approach:
    - Be sure you can count your way through the progressions. I.e.:
    E 2 3 4 2 2 3 4 3 2 3 4 4 2 3 4
    B 2 3 4 2 2 3 4
    C 2 3 4 2 G 2 3 4
    ...the counting is your guardrail to where you are until you can get a feel to where you are and the chord changes

    - learn to play the song with the root notes and when you are comfortable begin extending into the elaborated chords and scales. Remember, you can always play the reduced version of any chord/scale

    - if things begin to get ahead of you, let it go and fall back to the count and the root. Never lose your focus on the count and root.
    Inara and Nashrakh like this.
  3. This isn't your issue, but there are a couple of tunes that give me trouble in a similar way (I guess). Moanin' and Jobim's "Wave" get me twisted because they are AABA format, but the last chord of the last A section is the same chord as the beginning of the song - which is the first A section. So if I zone at all, I can get into a spot where I don't know when to go to the B section.

    I know, it's confusing.

    So what I do is stand on my left foot for the AA section, then stand on my right for the BA section. It makes me focus on where I am.

    This may not apply to you, but I thought I'd through that out there...
    bfields, Mushroo and GastonD like this.
  4. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Thanks tshapiro - I'm really hoping to avoid the mechanical act of counting measures. Besides at my age counting past three is that "one more thing" to have to think about... ;)

    I am definitely taking a very rudimentary approach to my lines when trying to work these songs out (hanging on the 1 and 5), but even with that, if I don't have a clue where the head starts again when I get lost, there's just no recovery. Maybe I need to find a more friendly version of the song to work off of.
  5. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Thanks Spin. Never thought of that approach before - it doesn't necessarily apply to this specific situation, but definitely a trick to keep in mind.
  6. Are you working from Herbie's version? I think this is a moderately difficult tune that sounds easier than it really is. Probably just need to work the hell out of it. You just gotta know the changes inside and out and it might take awhile. I think the reason the changes sound "muddy" to you is because you might not have listened to that type of jazz long enough for those changes to sound normal. They are pretty standard jazz progressions. I've never played that tune, but I probably could because I've listened to that album for 40 years.

    Play ascending arpeggios (1 3 5 7) over the chord changes about 3000 times. Then do descending arps about the same amount. Then mix them up between ascending and descending. Learn ascending linear and descending linear lines.

    You mentioned the 13ths, etc. If you are just walking the line, you don't need to play those extensions. The harmony instruments/ soloist will take care of that. Just be aware of the overall chord quality and you should be fine. Alternate between playing linear lines and arpeggio based lines.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2017
    Ant Illington likes this.
  7. Also, if you don't know how to create a linear bassline, I wrote this post some time ago when another guy asked that question. I think it might help.


    The chasm isn't wide at all. Any technique you learn and that is valid can be used at any given time during a bassline. You can use arpeggios, scalar forms, broken chords, pentatonics, etc. But I think each technique is a separate entity and that they are additive, meaning the more tools you have to use, the better you can get your ideas across.

    So I'm gonna give you one tool to check out. It has nothing to do with arpeggios, which you can learn elsewhere. This is about using the scale tones and chromatic approaches.

    It's long, so you might wanna print it out and look it over to see if it's something you are interested in...

    Anyway. This method uses Ascending Linear and Descending Linear basslines. The main thing you need to know is whether the chords in the song are major or minor. Then you need to figure out the first three notes of the SCALE that defines the chord. These three notes, plus a passing tone are all you will need to write out for each measure of the song. Since jazz and blues operates in quarter note pulses, you only need four notes per measure.

    For example, Take the chord progression CM7, E flat 7, Dm7, and G7

    In order, these chords are: major, major, minor, major.
    So for the CM7 chord, write out the first 3 notes of a C major scale:
    For the E flat 7 write out the first 3 notes of the E flat Major scale:
    E flat-F- G
    For the Dm7 write out the first 3 notes of a D minor scale
    For the G7, write out the first 3 notes of a G major scale

    So now you have 3 of the 4 notes you will need per measure. To join the measures together, use a chromatic passing tone. Previously used notes work well but you can use whatever note you want if it sounds good, so the passing tones are in parenthesis:

    C D E (D) | E flat F G (E flat) | D E F (F sharp) |
    G (one octave lower) G A (B)

    Notice there are two G notes together in one measure for the G7. “Typically” you don’t want to use the same note twice when they are one after the other, but they are an octave apart, so my subjective music rule says it’s ok. The B is the passing tone back to the original C.

    Note also that the Dm to G7 is a ii-V progression that will lead back to the C major. Notice that from the root of D to the root of the G, every note is chromatic. This will ALWAYS work when you ascend a walking ii-V progression.

    This is called Ascending linear because you may have noticed how the first three notes ascend the scale.

    So the name Descending Linear should tell you that the next set of lines will descend the scale:
    So the Descending linear line will be:

    C B A (D) | E flat D flat C (D flat) | D C B (G flat) | G F E (B)

    For a song that has two chords per measure, just use either a root and 3rd or a root and 5th. Your choice.

    So, learn your ascending line down cold, then learn the descending line cold. Then, mix them up. Ascend sometimes, then descend sometimes. Take it all over the place. Believe me, this is 85% of what the best jazz guys do when walking a line. There are other approaches and techniques, but this is so easy a caveman can do it.

    After awhile, you can add other techniques and knowledge, but this will get you started.
    Ant Illington likes this.
  8. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Yes it is the Hancock version. And it's not so much that it's a difficult tune - like I said the version just never lets me know it's back at the top once it gets out of the head, and the rhythm section is very vague when it comes to the chord tones - hard to hear the definitive changes. Very hard to stay on track.

    Yes you're right - part of my issue is that I haven't listened to this style for 40 years. Yeah I followed jazz a bit in high school, but since then, my ear has been pretty much filled with classic rock. That's why I'm trying to find a way to get my ear used to these irregular progressions. I'm not even tying to be fancy, keeping it real simple 1 5 occasional 3 or 7. If the progression has a identifiable groove, I pick it up fairly quickly, but I'm finding a lot that just don't progress in a manner that is consistent with what I recognize as "structure". Don't get me wrong - I don't need everything to be 145 - I just need to be able to feel where a song is going and how it gets home.

    Regarding the 11ths/13ths, I'm not good enough to intentionally hit 11ths and 13ths in my walks - if the tempo and length of a chord's exposure allow me to explore, I try to fit in 9ths, dim 5s and sharp 5s (whatever may be irregular about it), but a lot of time I stay very grounded - especially when learning.

    I'll be jamming with our keyboard player tonight (who wants to play this song). I'm going to try to get him to keep looping a basic melody over the chords so I can get the damn thing in my head.

    Thanks for your insite.
  9. Yeah, I'd say its mainly a familiarity issue.
    Rock/Blues is 145. Jazz is 251. That's the key progression you will need to get into your ear. OFS has snippets of the 2-5 progression in a couple different keys all through it.

    Don't play those extensions. You will just get in the way of the soloist. When you walk, play the letters, when you solo, play the numbers.
  10. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    251 is no problem - that falls in line with a recognizable feel. It is also used in some blues progressions, so very familiar.

    I'll keep your comment in mind regarding the 9ths and irregular tones - I'd never heard that philosophy before. I am very aware that my role is to support the soloists. When I do hit them I don't linger or over use them - just a little seasoning to hint that I'm aware that we're not in Kansas.

    We really haven't jammed too much as a group (we've all been on different vacations since we started the project), so of course I'll adjust to what feels right for the players. Partly, my inclusion of the odd notes in my preparation is for my benefit - to get used to the fact that there is more to jazz than 1357 that I'm used to so that when I do get comfortable soloing, I'll know where these little gems live.....
    Spin Doctor likes this.
  11. AngelCrusher

    AngelCrusher Supporting Member

    Sep 12, 2004
    Mesa Boogie, Tech 21, Taylor
    You sound fairly new to jazz. It takes a lot of ear training and study. I would highly suggest getting a teacher (you can skype lesson with some incredible players). I still do one offs to bounce ideas off of other players, like Rufus Philpott who is absolutely fantastic for this kind of stuff. He gets all the new fusion styles and can show you classic examples of modern chord progressions so you can see how they were inspired from old records.

    Honestly, the one on one sessions will get you there a lot faster than anything else.
    Spin Doctor likes this.
  12. Jazz is hard. And if you play with really good people, it can be intimidating. You just gotta keep putting in the work. And like AC said a good jazz teacher will help a lot. You will get access to the all the best teachers though Skype.
  13. You HAVE to count, not sure why you're resisting that. Ask the other players to VERY CLEARLY indicate musically and using verbal/spoken cues when the head starts. Drummers are great for that ie. signature drum fill plus count out loud at the start of every head.

    Listen to many different versions of the song. Find one that 'clicks' with you and workshop it daily to internalise it until you can hear it in your head without the audio.

    Practise playing along to this memorised song in your mind during the day. This is when I know it has all fallen into place for me.

    Learn to play a song on several instruments. I'll ask my band mates to teach me the exact part they're playing, or parts they've 'transcribed' from the recording. This has helped speed things up for me.

    I play some guitar & piano which have really helped understand and memorise the chord changes & esp complex harmony. It's REALLY helped me when learning to sing the melody/lyrics, esp sections I struggled with pitch/phrasing whilst playing bass.

    Sing the melody, sing solo lines, sound out the syncopated parts that contrast with your bass line. These all help me.
    LeeNunn likes this.
  14. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Thanks - Good stuff.
  15. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    On Bass, very new - just a couple of months. But my soul has a very deep jazz impression. Yes I know time will help this dramatically - just looking for tips to help speed up the transition. Lessons just might be the answer. Thanks
  16. AngelCrusher

    AngelCrusher Supporting Member

    Sep 12, 2004
    Mesa Boogie, Tech 21, Taylor
    I don't work for Rufus, but I do think he would be a great fit for what you are looking to do.
  17. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Wow - I have all the doctors on this case! Sweet.

    Yes I understand the counting is part of the deal - I just hate the concept of having to mentally drone the count just because I can't feel the progression. Maybe this will all smooth out once we actually start playing this stuff live together and I can lean on someone to get me back on track when needed - I just don't like being unprepared for group rehearsals.

    I use all of your suggested techniques daily (practicing mentally, utilizing other instruments, learning the melody) - in a few cases I'm just having trouble hearing the progressions.
    Spin Doctor and Groove Doctor like this.
  18. This is deep learning. In these situations you really need the other band members to flesh out their parts in much greater detail than the skeleton chords in the RB.

    It sounds like you've got an excellent ear and are very honest about areas you need to improve. Keep plugging your way thru it. Once you've broken thru on one song though, all the other songs get exponentially easier.

    I remember spending about 12 hours on just one song over the course of a week. Struggled with it at first. Next rehearsal I nailed it, really surprised my bandmates.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2017
  19. Ahh, but you're the bass player. YOU are the one people lean on to get back on track, lol.

    But seriously folks, it just takes time. I was in my band for prolly 2 years before learning the tunes stopped being a grind and started becoming fun... My bandmates were pretty tolerant of me since they are both really good. My thing was that I never wanted to sound corny. You know, how some guys play jazz and it's mostly "jazzy", but not jazz. I wasn't trying to be that guy.
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  20. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Yes it is deep learning. And I know the other guys will be a little patient with me, but my insecurities about my lack of jazz bass background is making me a little crazy about being prepared.

    I have found what you say bout learning one song that helps another to be true. And I do have a dozen songs in order (not locked down by any means) that were all brand new to me a couple weeks ago. Just not used to having this much trouble hearing progressions - especially when I have the chords right in front of me.
    Spin Doctor likes this.

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