Improv Question - 1 key or a group of Chords?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by rodoherty1, Oct 31, 2003.

  1. Hi Guys,

    I have yet another question about Improvising Lines/Soloing.

    Background: I've been playing Electric Bass for 8 years and and I'm due to take my Grade 3 (Rockschool) exam in a few weeks. I can physically play but my theory is a little weak so Grade 3 addresses these weaknesses. One weakness is improvising over a given Chord Chart.

    What I do know: I have been practicing playing my scales in all 12 keys for about a year now. I know my circle of fifths and, given a certain key, I could wander around the fretboard, playing a bunch of neighbouring notes from that key. This is technically a solo but there are two problems here.

    Problem 1: Let say I'm in the key of G. As I play my big scale of G, the notes I play may not go well with some of the chords in the key of G. i.e. I may not be playing the 1st, 3rd or 5th of the chord and so, from a simplistic point of view, my notes may not suit well. This is addressed by ensuring that I keep an eye on the next chord and then try to ensure that, when the chord changes, I choose a note from the next chord (e.g the 1st , 3rd or 5th ... safe choices).

    Problem 2: What happens if the next chord in the progression is not in G? Let's say we have an F7. I know Em is in G. I know F#dim is in G. But what do I do if I hit an F7? It's sounds like alot of work to stop playing the big G scale (which is my solo ... because I'm solo over chords in the key of G) and turn my attention to the notes in F7, and then resume my big G scale when the chords from key of G resume.

    I read an article in a recent issue of BassPlayer Magazine by Chris Chaney. He suggested learning a scale for each type of chord (e.g. sus4, maj7, min7, 7, 7b5). I also recently read that Jimmy Haslip, when asked to solo over a given chord chart, assigns scales to individual chords.

    My question is ... Should I be looking at a chord chart as a individual chords instead of trying to shoehorn them into a certain key?

    I'd appreciate any little tidbits of info that are on offer. I'm well on my way to making that final jump to free improvisation but I have one or two last pieces of the puzzle to fit before I can unleash the glory of my first improvised bassline !!!

    Take Care,

  2. Just playing the chord notes will make your solo sound kinda dull. Neighbouring notes add spice to your solo, so to speak. You easily can play non-chord tones over chords, as long as you keep on listening closely to how these notes sound against that chord. So, for instance, don't end on an F when the chord is C major.

    Concerning chords that are not in the scale: yes, you will need to change your scale, as you will need to do anyway to keep your solo interesting. Unless the rhythms you choose are exceptionally fascinating, just doodeling in one scale won't do in playing an interesting solo.

    BTW: playing an F#dim against a F7 chord might sound very interesting, try it!

    BWT2: check out the Music Theory Forum at the Double Bass side of Talkbass. That might help, too.

  3. Samurai


    Sep 13, 2003
    I kinda think you answered yourself; yes some chords go outside a key so yes, also learn to solo following chords. You obviously know what you are doing so I don’t think this will be too hard to go over this a little more. Plus you got an exam to motivate you.
  4. Slot


    Oct 17, 2003
    Sydney - The Shire
    The thing you should working on, is learning all the different chord scales and arpeggio's that go with each chord. This way, you learn all the guide tones for each chord(3rd's 7ths 9ths etc), and it gives you a starting point, and a resolution point, for each line of your solo

    Problems that arise from this however is that for the 1st year or two you may find that your solo's are very linear, due to the fact that through habit and ease, you end up basing your solo's on hand positions and shapes, rather than by pre-composing each line aurally before you play them(hearing the line before you play it).

    I'd recommend working hard on your arpegios upto to atleast the ninth though(1, 3, 5, 7, 9, -(Cmaj 9)- C, E, G, B, D) ..........Then just play the arpegios over the given chord progression, so you can get an ear for the different colour tones of each chord..

    Here's an example of a 2 5 1 progression in Gmaj


    Outline the chords by playing the arpegios ...egs


    Its a bit hard to explain through a keyboard, so i apologise if im making no sense:meh: .....If you say what tune you're working on, i can help you out with what chord scales and arppegios to play over each chord.

    Its all just maths for the 1st few years of learning to improvise. But once all the different "equations" are glued into your brain, thats when you begin to be able to hear your lines before you play them.

    Another thing ......Practice singing(yea, i know its gay) the chord scales aswell as playing them. It's something i didnt work hard enough on when i was 1st introduced to it all, and im really regretting it now(though im working hard on it at the moment).....If you can sing the scales, you're half way there IMO.

    good luck dude.....(post what standard you're working on)
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    This is the big question in Jazz!! ;)

    So - many early Jazz improvisors looked at each chord as a separate entity - but they devloped an approach of adding the upper extensions to chords when soloing - i.e. the 9th 11th 13ths. Once you have done this - you have virtually outlined a scale that is specific to that chord!

    I think you do have to say something about each chord and you can't just ignore it if you think you're in a particular key and then come across a chord that is clearly notin that key - then your solos must say something about that chord and not the key you think it should be in!! ;)

    So - if you are going to ignore key changes then you are effectively re-writing or simplifying the chord sequence - fair enough if that is what you want to do - but I would guess that your teachers would say that is just a 'cop-out' or "lazy"!!

    I think this is why peoepl often get into Jazz once they start studying theory!!

    So - you start to appreciate that Jazz soloists - Sax, Trumpet players etc. - are actually finding a melodic way through the chord changes that flows and also says something about every chord in the sequence.

    Of course if you have several times round a chord sequence - sometimes you can find the common notes and maybe only play one note for whole sections, but I think somewhere in the solo, you have to be saying something about every chord in the sequence - or you are just not playing that sequence but something else.

    So - this is really hard stuff and once you realise the, difficulty you realy appreciate how good a lot of Jazz soloists are - and everything else sounds pretty dull in comparison.

    It's a lif-long journey and most Jazz improvisors would say they are continually learning and developing - even after 30 or 40 years of playing!! ;)

    But as you can imagine - there are really no simple answers and especially no short-cuts - and as a consequence - there are many views on this and how best to approach it - lots of arguments and controversy!!
  6. Hi Guys,

    My thanks to all you who took the time to mail such detailed replies. I have alot to start working on.

    I have so much to work on but I've come a long way in the last year so bring on the homework.

    Take care,

  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    As a PS - I would say this sounds like a good starting point and if it worked for him - then who are we to argue? ;)
  8. ClarkW


    Aug 1, 2003
    Provo, UT. USA
    My teacher calls the difference in the two methods you are talking about "horizontal" and "vertical" soloing.

    Horizontal is playing in a single mode over a group of chords that are all in the same key. Vertical is taking each chord individually and playing the scale (with alterations and everything) that would be specific to that chord.

    Playing a blues solo with a pentatonic minor scale is a good example of a horizontal soloing situation. A lot of songs, like you said, pretty much require you to use vertical soloing at least some of the time when they throw in chords that are out of the key, or at a key change.

    Either method can produce very effective solos, but it is generally acknowledge that vertical soloing is a bit more difficult, especially when the song is bopping along at 240bpm or so. :)
  9. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    I always figure, why should you necessarily have to choose between the two? Why not use both, maybe shading toward one or the other as circumstances dictate?

    You could also think of vertical soloing, to an extent anyway, as simply moment-by-moment tweaks of horizontal soloing.
  10. tim99

    tim99 Supporting Member

    Jan 28, 2003
    Wow. You are in a very good place.

    Ok. When you come upon a chord that is not in the key you are playing, figure out the one strongest note that is in that new chord/scale but NOT in the key you were just playing, and play that note on the 1 beat to anounce that change.

    Good Luck.

  11. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    This is good terminology, it makes sense when you think of those chords on the staff.

    Horizontally, meaning that you choose your notes from the selection of chords, written across the staff, horizontally.
    Vertically because you vary your note seletion (although not neccessarily) with each chord, written vertically on the staff.


    Anyway, I'm with Richard, both sounds like a good idea to me :)
    Most tunes will have a section that can be played horizontally, with a diatonic key or some sort of scale/mode... and many tunes will have chords that do not fit into the main key signeture.

    Personally, I find there are always a number of notes that strongly outline a chord change that are a semi-tone or tone apart.

    Do all that after as you read and you're laughing :D

    (n.b.I'm not laughing :( )
  12. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    I see no one here has mentioned studying the melody i.e. learning it so that you can play it on your instrument and can sing it. Why?
  13. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Good point. Why dont you mention it? ;)
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well the discussion was about chord sequences and their relation to scales etc.

    I have been in many situations where there was no melody - you can't assume there is one, or that you will have the chance to study and learn it.

    So a very common thing in Jazz for me, has been - chord chart put in front of you - count off and let's go!!

    So - the melody doesn't come into it - you have to find notes to play, from the chord sequence in front of you.

    But I agree that it might well help the original poster if he studied melodies and learned to play those.
  15. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I've been playing my way through a basic aebersold CD recently - I went through each track and looked at the notes that made up the melody and how they related to the chord - in most cases the melody is made up of chord tones.

    ..but then these are very simple tunes in jazz terms I guess.

    More on the horizontally Vs vertically - I'm finding it easier to play horizontally when the chords are a) diatonic and b) not changing too quickly.
    Where I'm finding a three bar phrase with two changes per bar I find it a lot easier to play vertically.

    That's all folks :)

    For the first time I'm genuinley walking through the changes, it's really, really satisfying, I like it :)
  16. ClarkW


    Aug 1, 2003
    Provo, UT. USA
    Indeed, you often will end up doing a long horizontal soloing passage and then have to vertically solo over a few bars for a key change or to add some flavor. Melodies themselves are very often in a more-or-less vertical feel. Some songs (Little Sunflower comes to mind since it's modal jazz with long chord durations) may as well be vertical and horizontal at the same time, because they stay on the same chord until it's time to change modes.

    Other songs such as Airegin ( provide the framework for a nice combination. Key of Fm to start out, horizontally if you like for 3 measures, then you can either go vertically on the F7b9 or switch into the key of Bbm for 4 measures. Then I would go vertically over the Bb7 right before the first ending since it's kind of like a dominant VI in the key of Db, which is where we start in the first ending. Then you can do a series of 2 measures of "horizontal" soloing as the key center changes from Db to C to B to Bb to Ab then back to Fm at the top. And so forth...