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How do I become a jazz bassist?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Duce-hands, Jun 13, 2012.

  1. Duce-hands


    Nov 4, 2010
    I'll try to make this a protracted post. I've been playing electric bass for approximately two years, and I've made the decision that I would like to focus on the genre of jazz, although I listen to everything from Airto Moreira to Mingus and just about everything inbetween. I apologize for covering a subject already covered but I have searched the forum and I feel my question may produce an answer a little better suited to my situation(hopefully). My question is how? I don't understand how do I go from where i am to where I want to be, which is a point of understanding.

    I read many post with different approaches including :
    "It's not really about "see this chord and play these notes" as it is "here's the composer's melody, here's the composer's harmony (chords), what do YOU hear going on? And can you hear it clearly enough that you can make ME hear it?"

    For me, there's three areas of skill sets you need to work on:
    PHYSICAL APPROACH - working on developing the ability to not have your instrument be an impediment
    UNDERSTANDING - what most folks call theory, function of chords, how to build harmonic, melodic and even rhythmic tension and release
    HEARING - how to hear with clarity"

    ....but that still is not providing me with understanding. I've been working my way through the Real Book and focus on playing song, but some of the changes confuse me. My practice routine consist of scales, appreggios,theory, transcribing, playing sheet music and, I try and steal from other great musicians but I just don't understand why it works. If you was to ask me to create an interesting jazz bassline, I could steal from a few songs but to improvise a line would be a complete impossibility. The last two songs from the real book I learned was Red Clay and Footprints, great songs i can play the changes but I don't understand why. I know i need to learn more theory but where do i being, I can recognize a progressions, but still don't understand. I'm frustrated but not unmotiviated I would appreciate any insight you can provide me. BTW I had an instructor. Thanks in advance for any information.

    FYI, I've read through Jazzology

    Signed I'm questioning my intelligence
  2. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    Jazz does not live in books. Jazz is an oral tradition and for that you need a teacher and people to play with who know more than you...it's the only way.
  3. Tampabass

    Tampabass Going Viral By 2080 Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2006
    I know you are, but what am I?
    very carefully
  4. Tampabass

    Tampabass Going Viral By 2080 Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2006
    I know you are, but what am I?
    1 - Listen, listen, listen to as much recorded jazz as you can. Absorb it. Feel it. Hear and try to understand how the bass functions as a rhythm instrument, how it works to state or imply the chords, how it interacts with the drums, how it solos.

    2 - Repeat no. 1; add live performances of good jazz.

    3 - Find good jazz musicians to play with, either one-on-one, in small groups, or in jam sessions.

    4 - Once you achieve 3, repeat as often as possible.

    5 - Get with a teacher.
  5. playbass0410


    Feb 8, 2008
    I've read lot, lot, lot in books about chords, substitutions, scales, analysis, construction - this never went right into my play and comping nor contributed to my solo capabilities.

    I was alway playing, playing, playing with others and better musicians and absorbing tunes - their feel, their sound.
    Tunes I've really absorbed I can solo easily. Sometimes transcribed my own solos and analyzed why they work - not the other way around - I did not construct them with theory in mind.

    Given this approach and with a good coach/teacher, looking at theory explained what I already was doing somehow and then ... gives better insight, deeper understanding and contributes to the livetime enterprise to get nearer and nearer to become at least an acceptable, mediocre Jazz player - more ambitious goals for me are reserved for another live :meh:

    Well, that's my personal experience and view.
  6. This is the way, the truth and the light....
  7. MontzterMash

    MontzterMash Supporting Member

    Dec 6, 2010
    I think the biggest key is playing with people who can give good feedback. Such as, say, a teacher.

    When I started bass last year, I wanted to start playing with others, and the main way I found to do that was to start learning jazz, and I started going to a local Jazz school (http://jazznightschool.com/ -- awesome!), and man, there's nothing like learning by playing with others.

    For example, when it comes to making music, it's not always the complicated stuff (which is often the focus in various books, and of course, great to know), but the subtlest (how various ways of playing with the beat feel and sound, how busy comping leads to solos going one way while a simple comp results in the soloist going another way, how to recover when you forgot the chord changes and everyone's staring at you), that to a practiced and skilled ear are glaringly obvious but, however, are very easy to completely miss when you're a beginner.

    These are also things that are really fun and motivating to make progress on -- with good teaching, someone should be able to play perfectly good and musical bass lines (if perhaps on the simple and predicable side) that other jazz musicians will be happy with fairly soon.

    So, play with folks who have those ears and experience in the room, advising you, and you can learn a lot fast. See if there's ensemble classes or teachers near you, or others who are also wanting to learn.
  8. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Augusta GA
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Since you're quoting me, I'll respond. First, that's an outline, not instructions. PHYSICAL APPROACH, yes, you want to work on playing scales and arpeggios. But you don't really say HOW you're working on these. Or why. Scales and arpeggios are NOT improvisational exercises, you should be trying to work out fingerings, position shifts, right hand/left hand issues, plucking hand (or pick) control, phrasing/emphasis, things like that. So when you play scales and arpeggios, what are you working on and how are you working on it?
    UNDERSTANDING - as above, when you say you are "practicing theory", what exactly are you doing?
    HEARING - the only thing that you talk about is transcribing. That's using your ear, but it's not really ear training. Yes, if you want to improve your basketball playing, you have to play the game. But in order to IMPROVE your game, you have to do work that is NOT a replication of game play. You have to practice making left handed jump shots from 3 point range. Over and over. And move over a foot and do it all over again. And passing. And all of the micro activities that inform the macro activity.

    Finding a good teacher who can give you personalized attention in all of these areas, who can build a solid foundation in all areas of musical knowledge is a great thing, I highly recommend it. This music is a very deep well, nobody gets to the bottom. It's great that you "had an instructor", but just cause you did, doesn't mean that it's not a good idea to have one now.Especially if you say your understanding is not as deep as you'd like it to be. Personally, I don't think it's so much understanding, my feeling is that you're not really hearing any of this as music. I know I spent a lot of time plugging notes that were "supposed to work" into chord changes and progressions I wasn't really hearing. The thing that got me to the point where this started making sense to me was my teacher having me work on the exercises outlined in the thread REALLY Learning A Tune, that and his approach to ear training (which I've outlined on this site as well).
  9. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    DH, I think you're focusing alot on the nuts and bolts of being musical. Those are all important things and critical for having a good musical foundation. But what makes jazz or music great is not things you can theorize over - they're not always patterns. They don't need to have rhyme or reason, save that it "sounds good". There's a youtube out there where Charlie Hunter says that (paraphrasing) when you get on the band stand, you have to leave all that theory and book learning behind and bring the "magic". That magic can't be practiced at home and can only be done with others in a live setting. It can't be intellectualized, which is what you're trying to do. You can't put it in a bottle.

    To a certain extent, some would agree that playing with others is more valuable than book learning and practicing alone. No amount of Jazzology, Band in the Box, RealBook, Aebersold play-alongs, etc. can ever replace time on the bandstand or playing sessions with others.

    Beyond that, I think it was very helpful in hearing Kenny Werner (again paraphrasing) talk about the act of learning jazz is hard because you have to figure out a way to "imagine" pretty sounds. You can't teach people to imagine a solo. Once I realized that and that it's similar to learning a language (you have to imagine in that language to speak it fluently) I knew of an approach that I had to take. An approach simply that you have to go back to being a baby learning to speak. You mimic (transcriptions) and you blather (solo on your own), you blather to others (jam) and you repeat all of that until you start making coherent sentences. And teachers help with learning how to speak musically faster. After all, we didn't learn english by ourselves and much of it we got from mimicry.

    Once you start down that path, you just have to get out there, get out in front of others and start flailing away. Record yourself playing by yourself and with others so you can get feedback on things you don't like so you know what to change. Take classes, get lessons, and get feedback from fellow players and teachers on what you can improve. Sometimes, I like to have teachers around for the sole reason of having them identify areas where I suck so I know what to fix - not so much to learn something completely new.
  10. acubass


    Oct 10, 2007
    Albuquerque, NM
    Learn to read music and then work on the feel. That is the advice given to me.
  11. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt

    Sep 20, 2000
    Endorsing Artist: Kiesel, Carvin, Accuracy, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
    "Boy learn karate from book? Ouuuuyyyyeeee....."-Pat Morita The Karate Kid
    OK, all kidding aside, there's good stuff here:
    and here:
    Find a teacher and find some players (even just a pianist or guitarist) and start to work on the Music and you become involved.
    It's a process, not a destination.
  12. JGoldberg


    Jul 10, 2011
    Westchester, NY
    If you aren't understanding the changes try playing tunes that are more diatonic. Autumn Leaves would be a perfect example. Play the 3's and 7's of all of the chords to get a good idea of how and why they move the way they do. It might be helpful to work it out on a piano first.
    Bach can also help you to understand Jazz. Play a little Bach every day for the next 3 years.
  13. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Augusta GA
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    That's one of the things that Joe talks about, overcoming that fear that you don't have a true, personal voice. You don't have to teach people to "imagine a solo", those of us who are attracted to this music, to the idea of improvising over a loose harmonic framework, have that "voice" deep inside. What you CAN teach people are the skill sets necessary to get to that voice and to trust that it's YOURS.
  14. iJazz


    Jan 9, 2012
    Sussex, WI
    Don't over-analyze, or over-intellectualize. Give your heart and spirit room to respond to what those players around you are providing you. Playing jazz isn't an outcome, it's a process by which the more you do it the better you become so long as your intent is true, your ears open, and your desire outweighs your fears.

    iJazz - Just Do It!
  15. thefaceofbass


    Feb 19, 2008
    SLC, UT
    I highly recommend Ed Friedland's 3 books- Walking Bass, Jazz Bass and Expanding Walking bass lines. Those books have been a great source of info for me. Maybe someone earlier mentioned it, but the Jamey Aebersold play along books are indespensable as well.
  16. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Funny thing is finding that basic voice isn't that hard. Years before I got even into playing jazz I started scatting things only to realize later on that it what got things started. You just have to approach it with a child-like mind. I think Joe's point about the fear is spot on. The voice is always there, you just have to go for it and cast the fear aside.

    One of the best bits of encouragement I ever got was from a guitar teacher way before I started on bass. He said that he would rather that I crashed and burned while "going for it" than play a lick or something I know that is "safe". It was like someone giving me permission to **** up while attempting for the higher goal.

    You can't be afraid to sound stupid at first or you'll never get anywhere.
  17. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    En route to overcoming that fear it's worth considering the barrage of media stimuli designed to keep you from your natural voice, to make you believe you don't have one. You don't necessarily have to do anything about it (although turning off your TV and leaving it off isn't a bad idea) but being aware of it makes it more transparent and less adhesive.
    Plain and simple: people who look inward are not the best consumers.
  18. FenderBassist


    Oct 28, 2005
    What the others have said, plus:

  19. pbass888


    Jul 8, 2009
    I am on the same journey as the op and have taken the following steps which may help achieve his/her goals

    1. joined a local ensemble to play a few times a week under a jazz director
    2. transcribe -- both walking lines , solos etc
    3. jamming with friends- 1 to 2 x a week usually focused 2-3 tunes
    4. going to clubs to see the many greats here in my area
    5. playing with a teacher .. individual practice daily
    6. starting to goto jam sessions (yikes!!!)

    Im hoping this will get me there over a long run and I can point to the benefits of each. I have decided on this approach as opposed to music school ( based on the fine advice of those here). Will I get there???? All will be revealed I guess :)

    Good luck!
  20. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Good on ya. You can never get started too soon in the task of getting a thick skin on the bandstand.

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