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How to jam and improvisation

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Argojit, Oct 15, 2016.

  1. Argojit


    Aug 29, 2016
    Hello guys. How can i jam with my friends or someone. Should i use scales or chords like I-VI-V should i play all the scale up and down. How to choose the rythm. Can you help me with the basics?
  2. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Why not go to a jam and watch what the bass player does? Recordings help also. Check out some of the Jam Bands of the 60's and 70's, good stuff there.
  3. Yes - find a jamming circle and go find out what is done. Jamming circles are different, not all do the same things. What things....

    • Things like how is the song called?
    • Is the song passed around the circle, with each player playing and or singing a verse, or does the caller play the entire song and everyone else accompany his/her efforts?
    • How are people invited into the circle? Do you get on a list and wait to be called? Do you look for the nod, or do you just drag up a chair and start playing?
    • Is it all acoustic or can amps and drums sit in?
    Just go and take notes on how jamming is done in your neck of the woods. Keep a list of the songs called, yes and go home and practice those songs.

    In my neck of the woods it's all acoustic, no drums and no amps. Anyone that shows up with a stand up bass is automatically welcomed into the circle. Electric bass forget it, no amps. Here it is all country or ole rock and roll. Which means it's all major key and a I-IV-V7-I chord progression will keep you in the circle.

    After they have seen you at some of the jamming sessions you'll be welcomed and if you need help someone will take you under their wing. Jamming circles are a very safe place. I've never seen a newby beat around the head and face, quite the opposite people will bend over backward to help you.

    But, if it is acoustic only you'll have to bring an acoustic bass or your rhythm 6 string guitar.
    Good luck and have fun.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2016
  4. Now to the how to play..... We will provide the rhythm and the harmony so you'll be playing chord tone note to the chord changes. Roots and fives with an octave R-5-8-5 will give a good bass line to what you will be expected to do. Yep you will have to listen for the chord changes, take heart, an ole dirt simple I-IV-V will normally get the job done. A good steady beat is what they want from you.

    Someone in the jamming circle will call out the song that is to be done next. Most of the time it'll be something like this; "The next one will be Kiss Ole Kate in G, ready 1 & 2 & ..... So your question about rhythm. The person that called the song will normally sing the first verse or two. That person sets the rhythm to be used with this song.

    The melody will be provided most of the time by a vocalist. Everyone accompanies the vocals. Until the lead is passed to you. One good thing about the bass, we normally are not expected to sing or provide lead melody breaks. The guitar guys will hog this part so don't sweat it right at first. If the lead is being passed around the circle when it comes your turn, just step back one step and the lead will pass you by. Couple of times and everyone knows you will not be singing...

    Go absorb what is done in your neck of the woods and then do likewise.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2016
  5. Argojit


    Aug 29, 2016
    Hey thank you very much. If we are going to play a song we plan it before and play it. We jam for fun. Once this happened. Drummer and guitar played and i just looked at them i was supposed to play :D. We play electric bass electro guitar keyboard and drum. Like if we play in A can i play power chord for A and IV D and V E is this the right order. And just do it with rhytm and playing them i dont know how it is called but like 1 time a 1 time d and 2 times e. 2/4. Can i use scales for jamming. The guy plays bass told me that like walk on A minor. Can i play up and down or how should i play it. Or it may be a dumb question but can i just play something that sounds good to me :D thanks for your answer.
  6. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    How does anyone learn anything? From people who already know how to do it! If you are a lessons type learner, then take lessons from a teacher who is good at jamming. If you are a book type learner, then read books by masters of the art. If you like videos then watch videos; if you are a live music fan then go to jam band shows. Above all else, train your ears and listen to music constantly. The musical idea for your next jam could come from: your favorite song, a solo by your favorite bassist, a TV/movie theme, a nursery rhyme, an advertising jingle, or a folk song. The more songs you learn to play, the better you'll become at jamming, because you will have a bigger vocabulary of musical ideas.

    So, next time the guitarist and drummer strike up a groove in A Minor, what do you play? Two suggestions: One, your musical vocabulary is growing every day, so take a bass line or riff you already know, move it to the key of A Minor, and test it out to see if it sounds good with what the guitarist is playing. For example, maybe you could get ideas from "Smoke On The Water" or "The Chain." Second, your musical ear will be getting better and better each day, so listen to what he is playing, and echo back some of his musical ideas. If he plays A, D, E then maybe it would sound good if you play A, D, E too?

    Jamming is much like learning to have a conversation. You need to know the vocabulary and grammar, and you also need to have something to say. "Hi, how are you? Lovely weather. Did you watch the game last night?" Jamming is like that too, and with time and practice, you will learn to speak the musical language.
    MalcolmAmos likes this.
  7. Argojit


    Aug 29, 2016
    Do you mean like if i play riff from She is only 18 from rhcp its starts at C i think if i play the same pattern on A will it work?
  8. Yes the ole I-IV-V will always work out. However, when A is active (for one measure, or however long the A chord is still harmonizing what is being played) we should be playing notes found in the A chord. Lets just pound out roots to the beat and keep this example simple. Then when the song moves to another chord, we play notes of that chord. Let's say the music moved to the D chord so we could pound out D notes to the beat as long as the D chord is active. My point. We have to pay attention to what chord is active at this moment - and play notes of that chord.
    As to using scales for jamming, I'd say this; If the song gives you room to use a scale do it. Lot of guitar guys will tell you to use a pentatonic scale over an active chord. I very seldom do that and instead use notes of the active chord. Why do I shy away from scales? If you are running a scale and hope it fits and sounds good, well good luck with that. IMO scale notes work great in the melody, however, our job is to provide rhythm and harmony. If I play notes of the active chord I'm going to harmonize with the melody. Why? Because that chord was placed in the song because it has some of the active melody notes in it's makeup. If the melody line and the harmony line share like notes we get harmony and sound good together. I trust the songwriter knew what he was doing when he placed that chord at that spot in the song. If I play notes of that chord I two will harmonize with the active melody. Read that again, it's kinda important.

    The bass guy telling you to walk the A I would think he means play the notes of the A chord and then walk chromatic or diatonic notes to the next chord. Long story and best to leave alone right now. Walking is a very large subject.
    If what sounds good to you and does not clash with what is being played, yes you can. Something that gets left between the chairs; every note within a key is going to sound good with any other note in that same key, so there is not a lot of bad things you can do if you stay in key. If we shorten that down a little and play notes of the chords that have been placed in the song ..... that is going to sound good also. So... if you play notes of the active chord when it is active you are not going to be wrong. Which means in a jamming session with no sheet music in hand we have to rely upon our ears to hear the chord changes and know what chord the music moved to..... so we can play the notes of that chord.

    There is a method in all this madness. Sheet music does help, but, if you are in a jamming situation with no sheet music some theory of what could be happening does help. Little today and then a little more tomorrow and before you know it you are making good sounding music.

    Good luck.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2016
  9. Argojit


    Aug 29, 2016
    Thank you. I got that i can use I IV V thank you for that. If A is active what are the notes of it. Do you mean idk is it called like that third and perfect 5. And what does key mean. I'm not a native english speaker what does key mean in music every note within a key is going to sound good with any other note in that same key. Thank you again i hope i will be able to jam without failing :D
  10. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    I don't know that song specifically, but I like the way you are thinking! Especially if the guitarist and drummer are also RHCP fans. RHCP is part of your shared musical language, and you can use RHCP ideas in your jamming. :)
  11. Chords are made from the chord's name scale. For example the A major scale has these notes:
    A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#. If you take that A scale and skip a note A, C#, E you have built the A major triad. Go one more skip a note and A, C#, E, G# is the Amaj7 chord. Next chord in the key of A would be the Bm chord. It's notes, again skipping a note will be - B, D, F# and if you take it on out to a four note 7th chord it will be B, D, F#, A for the Bm7 chord. You figure out what notes are in the C# chord. So the notes in any chord are obtained by skipping a note. I think in A, B, C's and 1, 2, 3's. So that Amaj7 chord in scale degree numbers would be written as R-3-5-7. The A triad would be written as R-3-5. If I have the generic R-3-5-7 I can take that same pattern and play under any maj7 chord. All I do is place the major scale pattern over a new root then play the generic spelling for any maj7 chord I want. Now to your next question.......

    Yes. What I am about to say will not really help you if you play from standard notation sheet music, however, if you are jamming or playing from fake chord sheet music I have found the scale degree number system and the major scale box pattern to be a great help. I'm listening it below:

    Major Scale Box.
    G|---2---|-------|---3---|---4---| 1st string
    E|-------|---R---|-------|---2---|4th string
    The Amaj7 chord is coming up in the song. If I place the box's R over an A note on the fretboard and play the scale degree number spelling for a maj7 chord (R-3-5-7) those notes are automatically placed under my fingers. Here is the spelling for most of the chords you will come up on.

    Basic Chord spellings
    • Major Triad = R-3-5 aka C
    • Minor Triad = R-b3-5 aka Cm
    • Diminished Chord = R-b3-b5 aka Cdim
    7th Chord spellings
    • Maj7 = R-3-5-7 aka Cmaj7
    • Minor 7 = R-b3-5-b7 aka Cm7
    • Dominant 7 = R-3-5-b7 aka C7
    • ½ diminished = R-b3-b5-b7 aka Cm7b5
    • Full diminished = R-b3-b5-bb7 aka Co
    • Major Scale = R-2-3-4-5-6-7 Home base
    • Major Pentatonic = R-2-3-5-6 Leave out the 4 & 7
    • Natural Minor Scale = R-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7 Major scale with the 3, 6 & 7 flatted.
    • Minor Pentatonic = R-b3-4-5-b7 Leave out the 2 & 6.
    • Blues = R-b3-4-b5-5-b7 Minor pentatonic with the blue note b5 added.
    • Harmonic Minor Scale = R-2-b3-4-5-b6-7 Natural minor with a natural 7.
    • Melodic Minor Scale = R-2-b3-4-5-6-7 Major scale with a b3.
    Let the major scale be your home base then change a few notes and you have something different. No need to memorize a zillion patterns. Let the major scale pattern be your go to pattern - then adapt/adjust from there. If jamming an old I-IV-V song when the I is active a R-3-5-8 would work as a bass line. It'll also work for the IV chord, however, for the V chord the R-3-5-b7 would get that dominant seven into the mix. And then as we all know roots to the beat always work.....
    I went to the book "How to play Bass Guitar for Dummies for this one. It had a better explination than some of the other sources. Here is what it had to say:
    Playing the Piano: Understanding Musical Keys - dummies
    As the key is made from a specific scale and that scale's notes become the chords found in that key, everything reverts back to the original scale structure. So if you stay within key all the notes and chords within that same key are going to sound OK with each other. One other important thing to take into account is the tonic note/chord is home -- and you actually feel the need to return home to end.

    Good luck.

    P.S. There is a lot of good stuff on this thread; How to get started?
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2016
  12. Sav'nBass

    Sav'nBass Supporting Member

    Jan 18, 2009
    Northern Va.
    I suggest you do two things...
    1. Go to WIKILOOPS and join that site. It is a great site for getting music that people create themselves and jam with. There may be two or three bass players on one song.. and of course some songs with no bass. It is a great tool and something different. It is like a studio session over the internet where no one can hear your flubs till you want them to... :).
    2. Got to YouTube and search for bass backing tracks. There are all kinds..... but they will help you to practice improvisation.
    Mushroo likes this.
  13. Argojit


    Aug 29, 2016
    Thank all of you guys You helped me a lot.

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