How come scales sound so bland when you try to improvise in them?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by petchimps123, Aug 2, 2009.

  1. petchimps123


    Mar 28, 2009
    I've been looking through many lessons and they go over basic scales such as ionian,dorian, lydian etc... When I try to improvise in these scales, they never sound good in the chord progressions I play along with. Why is it that all these scales sound like generic crap when you try to make up something within the scale?

    Same with the minor pentatonic scale or the blues scale. The minor pentatonic scale consists of only about 5 notes. How the hell can you improvise around that? How can you use these scales when there is someone out there who probably already made up a bass line from it? especially a scale consisting of 5 notes... they dont even sound good over a chord progression.
  2. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol

    5 notes in the minor pentatonic, yet the most famous rock solos and riffs were made with them.
    Even more impressive, 100 % of western music was made with only 12 notes and all books were written with only 26 letters. All statues were made with a block of stone, a hammer and a chisel. See where I'm going?

    Scales are tools. They don't replace inspiration or ideas. Here are a couple hints :
    - Try to play something that sounds good and see within which scale it fits. Next time you play, try that same scale.
    - Transcribe solos you like and see what scale was used to make them. More importantly, try to understand how the scale was used.
    - Notes aren't everything. Tone, dynamics, rhythm and silence are equally important parts of a line or solo.
    - Try a chordal approach. Use the notes of the triad rather than the whole scale.
    - Work a big lot on scales in your bedroom. Forget about them when rehearsing or improvising. Just like you don't think about grammar or spelling while writing an email. They must come out natural to you. They're road signs to guide you, not gates you can't cross.
  3. ilovethesechord


    Jun 27, 2008
    Make Sure you know what key the song is in - Also, most modern music strays very far away for the "basic" scale. Playing in key like you are doing will sound the best only over music that is very rigidly "in key" I.E. tonal music.

    Another thing to listen to when improvising is the melody of the song you're playing with - Playing the 3rd (G#) of E Major while the vocal line has just moved to the 4th (A) will sound funny, even if the G# is in key with the rest of the song.

    Does this help? Please, ask more questions so we can help!
  4. basmartin


    Aug 6, 2007
    It´s nothing wrong with the scales. If your running the scales up and down, it will not be a neat sounding solo, you have to use some imagination to find melodies and phrases that will sound good. And again, it´s not which note you play, it´s how you play it, so work on your time and timbre too. Two ways of developing your vocabulary, is to transcribe solos and working on patterns. Find a good book with jazz patterns and get them under your fingers. Give it some time, it takes som hours to really get good at it.
  5. petchimps123


    Mar 28, 2009
    I understand that many riffs and solos were made from them, but each time i try to make up a riff or a solo, it never sounds right. It just sounds like something really, really boring.
  6. Intenzity


    Oct 15, 2006
    Seattle, WA
    I don't know, Carlos Santana has been making A minor pentatonic sound pretty damn good for about 50 years now.

    As did Cannonball Adderly, and believe it or not, Coltrane uses pentatonic A LOT. Herbie Hancock does etc. Yes these guys can play anything they want, but they have to use the same notes we do.

    But welcome to the lifetime-long road of turning notes and scales into music. Everyone is stuck with the same 12 notes.

    Start by figuring out solos from players that you want to sound like.

    Maybe start with a blues because then you dont have to worry too much about the chord progression and you can focus on the notes of the solo.

    Check out trumpet players and guitar players, those lines can work pretty good on bass. You will find lines that are nothing but pentatonic and dorian all over the place, but the way they get delivered makes all the difference.

    Yes, it is slow and tedious sometimes but it is that process that will make you not sound like you are just running up from the root of a D dorian to the root of a G dominant scale during your solos.

    Of course, this all assumes you are matching up the scales somewhat with the chord progressions you are playing along with. That is step one, obviously.
  7. because you havent learned how to phrase yet.
  8. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    The scales may sound kind of bland in their diatonic key, it's the chromaticisms that spice them up.
    It's also trying to resolve notes outside of the scale in an interesting way.
  9. Here's my 2 cents.....I use the MOST BASIC note changes....That said, "diggin' in and viusalizing the interaction with the snare drum, high hat and kick through the use of ghost notes, length on notes and FEEL will indeed add to the "experience".

    Hey listen, ......It's not so much the number of notes but the "feel" (e.g. quality over quantity..). Ya dig??
  10. RUN to your local bookstore and buy The Music Lesson by Victor.
  11. Dogbertday

    Dogbertday Commercial User

    Jul 10, 2007
    SE Wisconsin
    Blaine Music LLC
  12. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Not only not learned to phrase, but hasn't sat down and tried to come up with musical ideas?

    Like Charlie Parker said, you gotta know your scales and arpeggios, and practice that stuff all day long. Then get up there, forget all that stuff and play music. He didn't mean to ignore all that stuff, but you gotta NOT think about it when making music.

    So, forget the scales. Sit down and SING what sounds like a cool solo to you. Don't even have your bass out of its case when you do this. Record what you sing. Then and only then get your bass out, and learn to play EXACTLY what you sang.

    Go to the threads in the technique section that specifically ask about soloing (there're two of them right now). Those two threads have a ton of great information and ideas on this subject.

  13. +1, I dig the Chapter "Space"
  14. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    You should watch these lessons HaVIC5 does an excellent job explaining how to make those tools sound musical and cool.

    If you still think those modes like dorian and mixolydian still sound bland, well, you're right. They are just derivatives of the major scale and they are boring. Spend more time with the modes of the harmonic and melodic minor such as superlocrian and lydian dominant. They are much more colorful.
  15. Yes, yes, yes. It's partly about what you've got, but more about how you use it. Phrasing. Check out some Jazz maybe?
  16. rcarraher


    Dec 21, 2008
    So right. Have you ever listned to an examined a song like "Sunshine of Your Love"? Brilliant! and what is it? Pretty Much a blues DM played from high note to low. With just the right amount of note left out.Money from Pink Floyd is a similar tune in anothe rkey. Scals by them selves are pretty boring. But important. Here's a rather comical if oh, so true rant someone posted on here months ago:

    "Play them as fast as possible.

    See here

    . There are no wrong notes, but at the same time, some notes are wronger than others. You might hear things like - "Sometimes the wrong note is the right note and sometimes the wrong note is the right note. Ah...." This is called ambiguity.

    Below is the wrongness continuum. It is a sliding scale from obviousness to wrongness.

    Obvious - - -> - - - Clever - - - -> - - - Wrong

    Aim for the middle. This means a scale that comes lower down the list on the chart.

    Example for scale choice over a Imaj7 chord (see chart)

    Ionian (obvious, duh) -> - Lydian (clever, vg star) - > - Harmonic Minor (wrong, oh dear)

    Hope this is helpful."

    When you stop laughing, read this and take it to heart.
  17. ^lolololol!!!!....."Orcs and Goblins".....hahaha...!!!
  18. This has already been covered pretty well, I'll add this.

    Melody should harmonize with the chord tones being played at the same moment, i.e. If you are playing over a C chord you can harmonize that chord with either the C note, the E note or the G note as those three notes make up the C chord. My point you only need one of those notes to harmonize -- sound good. Don't worry about just having 5 notes. And don't worry about coming up with something original from only 5 notes, people have been writing original scores from chord tones for centuries.

    And yes, to phrases. A string of notes is just sound, throw in a pause or two and the string of notes begins to breath and take on life.

    If you want to use a 7 note scale try two notes close together (no more than a tone) then a skip of at least a 3rd. If you land on a 7th go up scale for your next phrase. If you land on a 6 or 4 go down scale. If you land on something else (1, 3, 5 - the tonal center notes) go which ever way you like. Yes, I know I left out the 2, still working on the 2. Take it into another octave, pause, repeat, pause, come back. etc. etc. etc.

    Do that until your fingers just know where to go and what to do, i.e. practice. I found what SMU had to say about wave action interesting.

    Watch his right hand and copy down the hints that are shown as he plays. See how he uses the pentatonic scale in his improvisation.

    Have fun.

  19. Put the bass down for a second, maybe listen to a drum groove and come up with a riff in your head. THEN pick up your bass and work out how to play it. Odds are all the notes you made up are in a scale- in fact usually your riff will be found in a pentatonic.

    Good luck man.
  20. Zombbg4


    Jul 15, 2008
    My high school band teacher once said "The music is only boring if you play it boring". Same applies for scales. A helpfull excersize we'd do in jazz band was to improv a chorus of blues or something using no more than 3 notes. Really helps getting you to focus on making an interesting and effective solo instead of "playing the scale".