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How to solo on a funk tune?

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Tbeers, Jul 13, 2005.

  1. Tbeers


    Mar 27, 2005
    Chicago, IL
    Recently I performed in a concert mostly on upright, but the band director also wanted to do a funk tune called "The Chicken" (there's that famous recording by Jaco and Scofield). I didn't end up soloing on the chart, but I started to get interested in how differently people play over changes in a funk tune. So I bought some Brecker Brothers recordings.... Ultimately my favorite track I found was this little gem called " Straphangin' " from one of their best-of discs. Anyway, I keep hearing something so distinct about the way everyone solos as soon as it's funk. Like everyone just starts playing these wacky patterns that sound unbelievable! I feel like it's some common knowledge and I'm the only person who can't do it....

    I'm sorry for being totally vague... but from a theory standpoint, is there anything distinctive going on with funk solos? Any scales or arpeggios that sound particularly good so they get used repeatedly? I'm hoping someone can share some insight on this.

    Part of the problem is, funk basslines put such a heavy focus on the rhythm that I've never learned to think melodically in that context.
  2. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    A minor pentatonic will get you far. Once you're comfortable with that, then move on to other things. You can study blues players for a lot of material.

    The Breckers are maybe a bit advanced for a place to start.
  3. Jeremy Allen

    Jeremy Allen Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2002
    Bloomington, IN
    Much as I dislike book-learnin' (as opposed to ear-learnin'), there's a great volume on using pentatonics in Jerry Bergonzi's five-volume "Inside Improvisation" series. I'm sure you can get it in your neck of the woods, especially since Dave Santoro is Jerry's bassist of choice. (Man, if I were anywhere near Hartford, I would definitely try to hook up with Santoro for lessons. Are you in Hartford, Three-Beers?)
    The Bergonzi book offers a very systematic (of course) and thorough approach to wringing every last drop out of the minor pentatonic thing. And for contrast in your "funk solo," just play your pentatonic madness up or down a half-step (or tri-tone, major third, whatever) every once in awhile for "instant hipness."
    It is a good book, though; also listen to some guy named Herbie Hancock during his "Headhunters" period for a great example of a brilliant jazz musician turning his energies towards funk--my personal fave "funk soloing."
    I'm trying to think of any cool bass solos in "real" funk (like, pre-Marcus Miller and all of that), and nothing's coming to mind. Bootsy, Paul Jackson--those guys just groove. "Just!" Even Jaco doesn't take a solo on "Come On, Come Over," the funk tune on his first album. Hmmm...
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Funny you should have made that connection, as for me, the "famous " recording of the Chicken is with the big band on Jaco's 30th Birthday concert and this has Michael Brecker soloing on it !! ;)
  5. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    You're talking about a funk solo on DB?

    I discern two schools of funk bass playing. There's an older sound, a Sly Stone / P-Funk sound, that's got a slidey, sloppy, slur-ey kind of thing happening. Very, very, very much concerned with making some strong groove soup vis a vis the whole band. In this way of doing things, just a few notes (and not necessarily fast) will work. Maybe a tune like Flashlight is a good example.

    The second school is the pyrotechnical school, in which the bass player temporarily becomes the whole band. Thump slapping the low strings, fingers popping mostly the G string with syncopated pops. Vic Wooten is probably as close to state-of-the-art as it gets on this side of the spectrum.

    In both styles, syncopated accents behind the 1 or 3 beats are pretty typical.

    I think the first school is quite playable on DB, the second pretty tough.

    Drummers tend to get a bit psychotic with funk, so volume problems can arise. The funkier things get, the more I like the drummer to just work the snare and hi-hat.
  6. you've got to really dig into the Funk to know how to solo on it....did you solo over jazz heads without listening to jazz first ? it's pretty simple, get a truckload of classic funk albums, when i'm teaching people how to really git down and groove the Funk....you've got to start with late 60's 70's James Brown, almost everything you need to know about funk is there, just jam along with it, his tunes are never ultra-complicated he stays in the same mode for like 10 minutes at a time, learn the basslines by ear and then start throwing in little stabs here and there on the offbeats of your basslines... mimic James's grunts and hollars too...his vocals are all rhythm.....it's all there brother..
  7. nypiano


    Feb 10, 2003
    This jaco transcription page might give you a lot to chew on.
    http://jacop.net/transcriptions.html . Tons of free stuff!

    Some insight into that funk groove and then all that outer stuff that works off the groove might by gained checking out Teen Town as well. Especially those funny twists of phrase that are written into the tune near the end (the C section).The tune is basically a cycle of dominants starting from E. That might be some of what your hearing-like if you thought of the whole tune in E and the cycle on the other chords as dark twists against E. This might be similar to when players take phrases that move logically against a basic harmony and back in again. This is a good inventive technique against a static harmony.

    Like for example do a miles turnaround with a G in the bass funk groove against Cmaj Ebmaj Abmaj Dbmaj. Stay on basic groove on G on the downbeats of the bar and in the spaces try to detail on those harmonies in jazzy but funky way. Always make sure you hit the 1st beat of the bar no matter what you do in the middle. In a nut shell get a pocket going and then work the other stuff in as Marc Decho suggests. Maybe play the line and then on the 4th or 8th bar work out/write a little riff that is funky, jazzy, and perhaps pentatonic. Do another that uses a polytonal phrase. Nez pah?

    I recall a great video from a TV show years ago hosted by Herbie Hancock on funk bass. The guests were Larry Graham and Bootsy Collins. They all talked about the basic core downbeat and working off that--especially Bootsy

    I think the soloists are working off the original modal/pentatonic language developed by McCoy and Trane. That's where Brecker got it from and he used it over funk. I've seen the Bergonzi stuff on pentatonic. It leaves me a little cold somehow. I learned a lot more from transcribing McCoy.
  8. TomSauter


    Dec 22, 2004
    Kennesaw, GA
    Listen to George Benson. He plays some great solos on "Breezin'" and "Body Talk"
  9. Jeremy Allen

    Jeremy Allen Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2002
    Bloomington, IN
    Yes, the usual caveat regarding technical exercises applies: they are a means to an end and not an end in themselves, n'est-ce pas? I personally find myself unable to focus on the stuff in the pentatonic book for more than about ten minutes, but that ten minute chunk always shunts me into a different zone for the next fifty minutes wherein I focus on my own variations of the same thing. 'S kinda fun.

    Tbeers, have you heard that album "Fingerpainting" wherein McBride, Nicholas Payton, and Mark Whitfield offer their tribute to Herbie Hancock? I can't recommend it as a work of art, but there are some funky double bass solos on it that may be worth checking out.
  10. NYPIANO – interesting insights to Teen Town I never saw it as a cycle 7’s, can’t wait to give it a try, I have always loved that song but have been too scared to try it.

    Chicken used to be our funk set lead off song, freaking cooks when you have enough soloists. I always had trouble soloing myself on it because I was so busy with the groove, it’s a busy song. My solos pretty much entailed nailing the 1 then playing in the blues box, moving with the chord changes, pretty basic.

    I remember seeing a video of Jaco on stage (30th bday??) doing it and I can’t remember if he in fact did a solo, I seem to remember him holding it down for the entire song, probably wrong though.

    Ps – I love “Fingerpainting”… McBride!!!
  11. Tbeers


    Mar 27, 2005
    Chicago, IL
    Well thanks all... I guess the most valuable answer I got in this thread was the minor pentatonic stuff. I'll definitely try to get into that more.

    But in a way I feel like it is a futile effort. Those Brecker solos, while they kick ass, wouldn't be half as cool without the bass line under them. So how could I play the same lines in my solo without it sounding empty? I'm starting to think that a lot of what makes horn solos on a funk chart sound so cool, is that rhythmic juxtaposition against the bass and drums. So I guess I could never really have the same freedom as any of them, because I would have to be keeping the groove down at the same time.

    Still, thanks for all the replies. Especially the minor pentatonic, and nypiano thank you too for your more specific examples.
  12. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Unless you're Stanley Clarke.

    Everyone has their own idea of what funk is, but if you haven't spent a lot of time listening to James Brown, Slave, Skyy, Mtume, Cameo, The Ohio Players, or many bands out of Ohio in the 70's, I would say that your idea of funk is equivalent to someone elses idea of Jazz being Kenny G.

    TBeers, if you want to hear some funky DB playing and soloing, check out "Face The Music" by George Duke with Christian McBride. Check out track 2 called "Chillin'". If you can't get a hold of it, let me know and I'll see if I can excerpt his solo for you to check out.
  13. hmmmmmm I'm wondering if the sampler is still running ? I spent a day listening to everyone's music and enjoyed it very much, I was very very impressed to say the least, our common ground in my trio is a sort of heavy broken beat african stomp funk....very hard to put into words what it sounds like, but because we're trio the guys let me break out and solo as much as needed...i'd love to get one of our tracks on there so everybody can hear it and TBEERS can hear at least how I solo over funk, doesn't sound remotely like anything i've heard on here :bassist:
  14. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    Check out James Jamerson too, he's the bassist on all the motown hits and influenced generations of bassists. There's a book called "Standing in the shadows of Motown" (there's a DVD by the same name too) which has a lot of history on Jamerson and that music, and transcriptions of all the hits he's on, which will be of help no matter what kind of music you're playing. I'm not sure but it might even come with a cd with all the tunes on it, but if not it wouldn't be hard to get ahold of them.
  15. Don't forget Sly and the Family Stone....

    Oops, I see Damon mentioned them a while back...anyways:

    Don't forget Sly and the Family Stone!
  16. Superdave


    Apr 20, 2003
    St. Louis, MO
    If you really don't want it to sound too 'empty' while you're soloing, just play the bassline and throw in little inflections and changes. Keep the groove going, but mix it up a bit; don't go into an entirely melodic solo, keep it rhythmic.

    Just a suggestion.
  17. It's not double bass but Flea has an 8 bar solo on 'Naked in the Rain' off Blood Sugar Sex Magic.

    The verse is a repeated 1 bar pattern. For the first 4 bars of the solo Flea plays the first 2 eighth notes from the verse pattern in each bar then wanders away for the remainder of the bar. There's then two bars of hammer-ons around the octave, then the last two bars are on similar lines to the first four.

    He's got a nod to the bassline, to keep it all together. Much like Superdave suggests above. It might help, of course this is definitely from the pyrotechnic school.
  18. basss

    basss Supporting Member

    Aug 27, 2001
  19. alexclaber

    alexclaber Commercial User

    Jun 19, 2001
    Brighton, UK
    Director - Barefaced Ltd
    Listen to Maceo's solos on the classis JB recordings. Very few (if any) changes but he really shows how to make the funk happen when stretching rather than grooving.

    Or take a groove solo. Or bounce phrases back and forth with the drummer.

    If you're going to really stretch on a funk tune you need the band to keep the groove going, otherwise the funk won't be there. If you're pumping the groove hard enough, you could probably sit on a single note and make it a solo.

    Feel the funk y'all,

  20. dodgy_ian


    Apr 9, 2001
    Newcastle, UK
    Re.Chicken in particuar, a nice thing I worked out was that you can play the melody and slot the groove around it at the same time so you end up playing the groove and the melody. Sounds great on this tune, its still cooking and you're kinda soloing as well.
    Worth a try, as its a slightly different appraoch to taking a solo - people always dig it when I pull it out.

    As for the rest of the funk soloing thang, fewer notes well place so you kinda grooving and soloing. I've always loved the bass solo on Airplane by the Chillis, he's absolutely ripping but right on the groove. To my mind its a brilliant example of a short but beautiful groove based bass solo. Its also worth trying to throw out short rythmic phrases and try and get the rest of the ryhthmn section to jump on them, esp the drummer, that always sounds cool during a solo!

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