How to make the scales sound like music?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by mebusdriver, Oct 17, 2004.

  1. This is mainly a question for when I'm jamming with my drummer. A lot of times it's just the two of us, and when we start jamming I get stuck. Say I'm playing in the a major scale, well I'll be playing and I just get stuck in one mode (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian etc.). I'll pick a mode and start playing the notes from that particular pattern and it just ends up sounding like I'm playing a scale. And half the time, when the band is writing music, I won't even figure out what mode or scale fits what he's playing I'll just play and it turns in to a bassline.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm having trouble applying the whole scales and modes thing to my playing in a band setting, and when I'm jamming playing threw them sounds like I'm playing scales instead of basslines.

    So my question is about note relation in the modes. Are there any patterns? ie: play the 1 3 5 or play the 1 2 5 7 of the mode and you'll get a general kind of sound or vibe from the notes. I've played with some people and help write lines to their songs and in certain instances been told just play 7's and 9's or just play these notes from the pattern to keep the vibe.

    So anybody have any ideas as to what would help me? :help:
  2. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC
    Here's a simple answer:
    -Try singing along with your solo.
    See if you can play the ideas you want to sing.
    If you use your knowledge of scales, you won't play any wrong notes, so you can experiment without worrying about the results.

    More detailed answer:
    -Lots of people use Jamey Aebersold's books on improvising.
    They are good for any style of music, not just jazz.
    Some people like "Patterns For Jazz" and similar books.

    -If you listen to solos you like enough times, you will be able to sing them. Then go back to step one above, and learn how to play them too.

    -try playing and recognizing intervals within the scale or mode.
    Solos using 3,5,7,9, and 13 often sound 'prettier' than solos that focus on the root too much.
  3. sedgdog


    Jan 26, 2002
    Pasco, WA
    I highly recommend picking up Dave LaRue's "Essential Bass Concept" Video. He has a whole section on this subject which he presents very well.
  4. Couldn't have said it better myself
    Try singing your solo ?
    That's the best answer, here's a site to help with intervals
    or simply find a keyboard or even just use your bass
    know your intervals asce.and desec. just within the octave would do for starters
    Since you know your major scale play it slowly but try n sing the pitch before you play the note do this in different sequences as well
    The object of this is to get what youré hearing in your head out on your instrument ( In this case your bass )
    Also when you're learning a tune off a CD sing the line before you figure it out on your instrument ( Transcriping it would be even better )
    This must done regulary though maybe hard at first but hang in there the rewards would be well worth it if you put in the work then you can sit back and let the magic happen :hyper:
  5. Remember, you can use any of the 12 tones. Not all of them will sound good with the key you're in, but they most always work as passing notes.

    Just play whatever you hear. A good way to start out is singing solos, because you can sing straight from what you hear.

    The goal every musician strives for is to be able to play whatever they hear on their instrument, just like they would sing.
  6. Lyle Caldwell

    Lyle Caldwell

    Sep 7, 2004
    Never play something because your fingers know how to do it. Never play something because "this is the scale".

    If you don't hear a phrase in your head, don't play.

    This may sound like patronizing, or advice for the most basic of beginners, but it was the basis of Miles Davis' career.

    Sing melodies you know. It can be "Come As You Are," "Stella by Starlight," or "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Whatever works. Then figure out how to play the melody on your instrument. Then figure out what scales the melodies are.

    Over time, you'll recognize that if you hear a certain melody, you're hearing major, minor, melodic minor, phrygian, mixolydian, whatever. That's great, and it will come.

    But always hear a melodic phrase in your head when you play. And make every note count. Really mean it. No one cares about hearing technical wizardry- they care about hearing something musical, played with feeling.
  7. msquared


    Sep 19, 2004
    Kansas City
  8. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    And to add to the already great responses on phrasing and soloing...

    Instead of singing your solos as "la la la" or "do re mi" add words to it. Make up a sentence or phrase and repeat it. For example: say "I'm saying a sentence" :)D) out loud. Notice this has a certain rhythmic quality to it. And some syllables are more accented than others. Say it a few times. Now play it.

    I'll elaborate more on this...what I got personally from the example above is (and using a note for each syllable): D DD Db C A (rest for 2 beats) D DD Db C A (rest for 2 beats) D DD Db C A...etc. The rhythm I counted sort of as "and one and a two and (three four)".

    Hope this makes sense. :)
  9. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I understand and agree with this, but I also think it's a bit too black and white... also, Miles left loads of spaces, what if his rhythm section did they same thing as often as he did?
    I find that a lot of the time when I'm playing a tune I dont know (which happes a lot), it helps to let my fingers play through the chords a few times so I can familiarise myself with the movement of the changes and get a feel for it before I start trying to develop it.

    Also, sometimes you're just not in a creative mood... sometimes you just cant find anything to say! While silence has a truly awesome power equally in both life and music, it might not go down too well if you just stand there and say "I've got nothing to say" :D
    I find sometimes I have to 'play chords and scales' rather than music because sometimes my music isnt ready to come out. I cant believe I'm alone in this and I often find by just holding things down, outlining those chords, ideas come along soon enough

    When you learn a scale, create a bassline, melody, lick, or groove making sure you use at least some of the tones of the scale. By this I mean the chord tones AND any other tones that give the scale it's individual sound.
    For example, creating a bassline using A Aeolian you could use the chord tones A, C, E, G, to outline A-7, but this could still be derived from A dorian. So you would also use F to get the sound of the minor 6th that makes Aeolian sound different from Dorian (which would use F# by comparison). This helps you feel and hear the sound of scales when you learn them.

    Also, I often find that lines sound like scales if you play too many notes. If keep it as simple as possible and I'll bet that 99.99% of the time your lines will sound more melodic.

    Start off dead simple (like root on the 1, and 3rd on the 3) to get the feel of how the chords move into your head... so you can hold this down until something a bit more creative pops into your head :)

    Simple lines help keep the groove grounded, they allow everyone hear where they are and they give you time to find something more creative from wherever those creative ideas come from?!

    stephanie - that's a really good excercise above, great idea!

    ...maybe standing there saying "I've got nothing to say" isnt such a bad idea, makes a quite a nice 3/4 groove :D
  10. You guys are awesome, thans so much. But your not alone on the "having nothing to say" stance. My band can only play during the summer due to college, in different parts of the country. So when we do play we do it all day everyday while we can. Man you should see the frustration in the room when nobody's in a creative mood. That's the worst feeling. Thanks for all the advice though. Time for some serious woodshedding. :bassist:
  11. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Most melodies are not made from scales, they are made from CHORD TONES. That's why running scales sounds like running scales!
  12. Lyle Caldwell

    Lyle Caldwell

    Sep 7, 2004

    I agree that that concept by itself can be too simplistic or not always pragmatic. But I wanted to stress its importance, knowing that other posts would supplement it.

    I would just add that if you work through a set of changes by playing the root on the one and the third on the three, you shouldn't be thinking just "ok, this chord is major so I play the root at the x fret on the y string and then the major third is one fret lower on the next string" or anything along those lines.

    You should hear the tones you want to play in your head as you play them. You should hear that you need to play a major third here, and a minor third here.

    This is why practicing scales is good- get the mechanicals down so that your hands can find the notes you hear in your head. That's what practice is for.

    But when actually playing, it's time to leave the mechanics in the practice room. Hear a phrase, no matter how simple, in your head, and then play it on your instrument.

    And remember that you can always just pedal roots, as long as you really mean it, focus on the sound, and pay strict attention to accents and note durations.

    A bit more on that- the difference between a good player and a great player is often none when the part is transcribed. It's the timing, touch, and phrasing that makes the music come alive.

    I don't mean the Pattituccis, Wootens, and Pastoriuses of the world- that's a whole other thread (though everything I mention here applies to them as well). I mean what distinguishes the James Jamersons, Hutch Hutchinsons, David Hoods, and Joe Osbournes, etc of the world from the thousands of other players who play very similar parts. The parts may be simple, but the musicality and committment are 100%.
  13. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    BRAINRUST - actually melodies are made up of scalar motion, chord tones, intervallic leaps, sequences etc. It ain't any ONE thing.

    AMOEBA'SDIVER - Lyle had some nice stuff to say. If you're not hearing something as music, it's not gonna come out musical, no matter what it is. If you think of music like a LANGUAGE and all these scales and modes and chords and altered chords and polychords as VOCABULARY, then your question kind of becomes "whenever I try to talk to somebody, I can't think of anything to say even though I know all these words." The problem isn't learning more words (right now) it's trying to use the words you have in a meaningful and communicative fashion. And in order for you to play something that communicates what you want it to, you have to be able to HEAR what you want to do with enough clarity and understanding that you can get it out into the air on your instrument so other people can hear it, too. And that takes some skill sets in at least 3 different areas
    PHYSICAL APPROACH - or technique if you like. We're not talking about slapping or arpeggio rakes or whatever. We are talking about the instrument becoming an extension of your internal concept. You practice scales so that you can work on position shifts, finger crossing and accenting on the pizz hand, fingerbaorad familiarity. You practice arpeggios in all inversions and in open and closed positions for fingerboard familiarity and to help get the sound of chord quality in your ear. You play lines and solos you transcribe to work on the concept of getting a note from inside your head out into the air, so that the aural input corresponds to a physical response (I'm hearing THAT NOTE, THERE).
    CONCEPT - your ideas, basically. When you hear a chord (or read one) you can respond, really, only with what you can hear with enough clarity to identify specifically what you are hearing. And whether or not your UNDERSTANDING identifies that as just THAT NOTE, THERE or as the b13 of a dominant chord, you HAVE to hear it clearly enough that you can PLAY (not FIND) the note on your instrument. If you are playing patterns without hearing a specific internal line, it's kind of like trying to carry on a conversation by picking words out of different piles marked NOUN, VERB, ADVERB etc. You aren't going to make any sense.
    UNDERSTANDING - and it's going to be easier to continue to get deeper into music if you have some way of comprehending what you are doing. But all of this has to work concurrently; what theory you are trying to understand has to be absorbed by your ear so that you HEAR and UNDERSTAND, it has to be under your fingers so the you can HEAR, UNDERSTAND and EXECUTE what you have conceived.

    Teachers are good at all of this.
  14. Scooperman


    May 28, 2004
    Brooklyn, NY
    Ditto to what everybody has said about learning/singing melodies, playing what you sing, putting your soul into it, etc.

    In addition, here's a hint to help you incorporate modes and scales in a more melodic way:

    Break the mode or scale down into the triadic chords that can be made from the notes of that mode/scale

    For example, let's say you wanted to play over a D minor chord. Obviously an arpeggio of a D minor triad chord (D F A) would work, but there a lot of other triads you could play. If you wanted to play a D Dorian mode, you could play triadic arpeggios based on the notes of D Dorian: D E F G A B C D.

    If we're just talking about major and minor triads, these are the triads that could be made with the notes from the D Dorian Mode: Dmin, Emin, Fmaj., Gmaj., Amin, Cmaj.

    So when you're practicing a scale, instead of just running up and down the scale, break it down into the triads that can be made from those notes. Practice them going up and down, Practice them starting on the root, the 3rd and the 5th. Mix them up with running the scale, vary your phrasing: try to challenge yourself to make up little melodies without leaving the scale or triads.

    But, as somebody already said, one of the best things you can do is to simply practice playing lots of melodies that you already know. Practice playing those melodies using only 3, 2, or 1 string, to keep yourself from becoming too "grid pattern based". Practice them backwards. But mainly play lots of melodies. All soloing usually is, is playing some kind of melody (even drum solos!). An improvised solo is when you make up the melody on the spot, so practice without your bass by singing made-up melodies to songs you already know. Then pick up your bass and try to play what you sang.
  15. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC
    I like the way this one is going!

    'Nuther thing to add. Dave Holland, in a workshop I was at a million years ago, mentioned the use of "cliches". He meant it in a positive sense -writing down the licks you gravitate toward, learning them in 12 keys and playing them all over the instrument. (You're GOING to play them, right? Why not do something interesting with them?) Then you have your own patterns and licks in your back pocket at your disposal.

    I've also heard John Scofield mention that playing jazz isn't always a spontaneous opening up of the musical heavens of creativity. (Maybe not those words, exactly. :) ) But that one plays what one knows, so learn some reliable "go-to" patterns and ideas that you can use on those occasions when the creative spark isn't dazzling you with brilliance.

    The "patterns for jazz" books will give you some useful licks. The only problem is that 1,000,000 sax players and guitarists are already playing these, and their uniqueness is therefore rather lacking. Marc Johnson's book with Chuck Sher "Concepts for bass soloing" has some good things to say about the whole topic.

    Worth remembering, is that soloing is fun (I do it all the time), but playing the right note in tune at the right time with great feel is job #1. :hyper:
  16. Jazzin'

    Jazzin' ...Bluesin' and Funkin'

    Try using the pentatonic blues scale, it's a good scale for beginners of improv. It's 1 -3 P4 x4 P5 -7
  17. tkarter


    Jan 1, 2003

  18. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    Dynamics - forte (loud)
    Tempo - lento (slow)
    Mood - appassionato (passionate)
  19. Scooperman


    May 28, 2004
    Brooklyn, NY
    This is true. However, the notes don't have to be just the notes of the chord that the other musicians are playing.

    If I'm playing a C Maj. triad (C E G: the root, the third, the fifth), there are still the other notes of the "extensions" of the chord: the 7th, the 9th, the 11th (or sharp 11th if you're feeling be-boppy), the 13th (B, D, F [or F#], A). All of those notes will work over a c Maj. chord. As mentioned in my earlier post, these notes can combined into a number of major and minor triads:

    C Maj., D min, E min, F Maj., G Maj., A min.

    These will all sound good over the C Maj. chord. You might say: you're just recombining/re-organizing the notes of a C major scale. You'd be right! But that's one of the ways that the relationship of a particular chord to various scales/modes is established.

    For example, take a C Dom. chord: C, E ,G, B flat. The extensions to this chord are the same as the C major chord but dominant chords give you more options because you can use a flat or sharp 9th instead of a regular 9th, and a flat 13th instead of a regular 13th. Because of this, you can create more triads for the tones of the chord:

    (assuming that you use the sharp 11th, instead of a regular 11th): C Maj., C min, D flat min, D Maj., E min, F sharp min, F sharp Maj., G min, A flat Maj., A min, A Maj. are all triads that would work over a C Dom. chord.

    These triads will give you all kind of different colors to use on top of the plain ol' 4 note c dom. chord. Have somebody (or use a recording of yourself) play the basic chord on a piano. You can play the chord with and without the 5th (G), giving you more flexibility for what to play on top. Then play arpeggios of all those triads on top, from the bottom of the fretboard to the top, starting of the root or the third or the 5th of the triads. Mix 'em up. See what different colors/flavors you get from combining different triads on top of the basic chord.

    After a while, try playing recordings of tunes you want to solo over. Try to make up melodies to play over the tunes, using combinations of the triads.

    Which brings me to something related to improvising in general:

    There's nothing wrong with a composing a solo instead of improvising one. In fact, a lot of solos are simply people playing a song's melody and messing around with it a bit. Improvising is simply composing on the spot instead of working a part oout over time. Before you learn to invent a solo "in real time", why not create one ahead of time? When you practice playing that melody, attempt to play it, but don't worry if you get some notes wrong, don't feel constrained to play exactly what you came up with, even if it means letting yourself make "mistakes". Actually, especially if you make mistakes! Then you can try right there and then to make your mistake sound good by what you play (or don't play) afterwards. Sonny Rollins one said that the hippest lines were played to get out of trouble.

    After awhile, your variations on your composed solo will be so different from the melody in your head, that they will sound different each time.

    Actually, that's another tip: when soloing over song where you know the melody, keep that melody in your head (maybe even sing it to yourself) when you solo.

    Hope this helps!