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How to make a habit of improvisation?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Jeremy Murphy, Sep 3, 2019.

  1. Hello,

    I'd be interested in knowing how any of you experienced bassists go about practicing improvisation?

    I think the ideal situation for me would be to have an app that can generate chord progressions in any key, but I know no such app (hence this post).

    I am not talking about scale, arpeggios or any theoretical exercises. I am talking about literally putting your improv to the test with music.

    Kind Regards,
  2. Alternatively, is there a relatively easy way to muffle down the bass of a song so that you can play what you want to it instead?
  3. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    A looper pedal or a pedal that keeps the sustain (like the EHX Freeze or some of the Boss SYB pedals) can help. Just play your chord progression into the looper and then play over it - or play the root, hit the sustain button to keep the note and then noodle around.

    When I play to a record, the cheap and dirty way is to use a small mixer. I connect my audio source to a $50 behringer unit with a 3 band EQ, where I simply turn down the bass. This will either go to a powered monitor wedge or to the headphones.
  4. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Just find or make backing tracks to practice over. All over youtube just search "backing track".
    richntiff and Malcolm35 like this.
  5. Fred Pucci

    Fred Pucci

    May 2, 2019
    As mentioned, YouTube has a ton of no-bass backing tracks you can use to practice your riffs. I can also recommend you check out an app called iRealPro. It has a library of free tracks and much more if you want to pay for. No vocals, but the tracks can be modified and tailored to your needs. For example, you change change key, tempo, type of rhythm (pop, shuffle, rock), and set #of repeats. Good luck!
    LeeNunn likes this.
  6. Gravedigger Dav

    Gravedigger Dav Supporting Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Fort Worth, Texas
    The best way to do that is to go to lots of open jams.
  7. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol

    Generally speaking, as long as you play the 1 on the root with good timing, the rest is free territory you can use the way you want.
    mambo4 likes this.
  8. iReal has selectable instrument play capability on Real Book Standards.

    As far as how to practice improvising, I once read a post here that goes something like this:
    1. Listen to a songs and sing an improvised solo. Do this for a few weeks.
    2. Listen to songs and sing an improvised solo while fingering it on your bass with the sound off. Don’t worry about being in the right key position or intervalicly correct. It’s just a feel. Do this for a few weeks.
    3. Listen to songs and sing an improvised solo, while playing along on bass. The idea is for the fingers to follow the voice, not the other way around. You may notice a gap in accuracy at first, but over time it will narrow to pitch accuracy.
    I always thought this would be a good way to start.
    BassChuck likes this.
  9. Very interesting suggestions. Thanks everyone :)
  10. AFRO


    Aug 29, 2010
    I am just learning solo/improv skill so "Grain of Salt" as I am no means an expert. but hey I get by without.. anyhow I digress.

    my two methods are sort of mentioned above.
    I have a 30sec looper on my B1Xon. this has been a ton of fun in and of itself. With it I can make a beat (even though there are a ton of drum tracks, its far more organic when I make my own dead notes and thumps up on the spot) layer a simple bass line over that, (or even a drone) then layer some power chords on that. once all that is going I go noodle city and try to come up with some thing that resembles someone actually soloing in the moment.
    I also have an old Yamaha keyboard with a lot of backing tracks I can get down to. lots of different styles to mash out to.

    my other approach (a bit more practical) is to load up my Blues set list, sometimes through my amp with an aux cord. Ill play the bass lines as normal till solo time.

    then Ill do two things.

    first I will try to emulate the guitarists solo on my base. Key word on TRY :bag: so it obviously wont sound exactly like a guitar, but Im trying to draw from the inspiration. so a bend here, a trill there, and a long note here then some shreddy stuff when it sounds appropriate.

    The second step is to try to come up with my own solo while staying in that key and following the I IV V (for now, gotta crawl first ya know) either on the same track repeated, or on the next track in the list.

    I am just a hobby-ist Bassist, but I go the weekly open jam a cpl times a month and am working my way up to taking some solos. these steps are growing my confidence.

    I do not have a ton of 'formal' training. but I have a ton of fun learning and playing out:bassist: and that is what its about right!

    rock on monn
  11. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    What are you improvising, a bass line or a solo melody?

    Most of my bass lines are root fives or chord tones of the active chord. Not a lot of improv here. It's when we get into improvising the treble clef or the melody that THE MELODY takes center stage. So what do we practice - melodies.

    Begs the question can you play the tune to Happy Birthday? That's step one.
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2019
  12. jthisdell

    jthisdell Supporting Member

    Jun 12, 2014
    Roanoke, VA
    A couple of years ago I was in a gypsy jazz trio, I had a few songs where I would purposefully not play the root at all and play the other notes of the chord. Maybe the first time through I would start on the root, maybe the next time on the third or fifth. Kinda weird but very fun.
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2019
  13. jthisdell

    jthisdell Supporting Member

    Jun 12, 2014
    Roanoke, VA
    I find it useful when in my Dead/Byrds/Beatles. etc. band when I am playing behind a lead (i.e. not during a vocal) that I consciously think, how could I play a different bass line behind the lead that is different from what I would normally play behind a vocal. The guitarist loves it as I will try to echo him, follow him or sometimes anticipate where he is going.

    So I tend to think, based on the chords we are playing, what could I do differently. And sometimes it may be just hang on the root for for eight bars and then go off and do something more melodic.
  14. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Band in a Box does everything you want it to do, and some. It's a great great program
    Whousedtoplay likes this.
  15. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    What to practice so our improv improves?

    Cmaj7 chord = R-3-5-7
    1st inversion = 3-5-7-R
    2nd inversion = 5-7-R-3

    Chord substitutions.
    Take a chord and replace it with a related chord. OK which chords are related? The ones that have at least two of the same notes found in the chord you are replacing.

    Dirt simple substitution. Using the C major chord as the chord being replaced:

    Minor chord a 3rd below, for example; Am R-b3-5-b7
    Minor chord a 3rd above...Em; R-b3-5-b7
    Then the C major chord as a diminished chord will work; R-b3-b5-b7

    Is there more? Sure, but get this down first...
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019 at 12:03 AM
    jthisdell likes this.
  16. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Learn a scale. Then create music with that scale.
    Learn a chord. Create music with that chord. (if you like that chord, invite others chords to play along)
    Learn a song. Create your own song that has the same feel.
    Learn a song. Create your own song that has a different feel.
    Learn a phrase with 4 notes. Create as many ways as you can to finish the phrase with 8 notes (always keep the first 4 the same).
    Learn a phrase with 4 notes. Create as many ways as you can to start the phrase with 8 notes. (keep the last 4 notes the same).
    Never learn anything about music and not use it to create something. (don't worry if the music you make today sucks... likely tomorrow's will be better).
    Malcolm35 and SteveCS like this.
  17. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    Recently I've started singing improvised 'melodies' and trying to play them at the same time. I wouldn't go so far as to call it Scat just yet as it's limited to simple 'la-la', 'bam-bam' and 'doo-be-doo' type syllables thus far, but quite long reasonably fast phrases over several measures. But the idea is the same. Just conceive and sing phrases, then play along in real time. Nothing is 'learned' or repeated, just transient nonsense. It's not easy to avoid the temptation to sing what you play - it has to be sing and play what you hear in your head in unison... If nothing else it's great for keeping your ear up to snuff.
    Whousedtoplay likes this.

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