Improvisation problems due to notes/fingerboard knowledge

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by LyonsBass, Sep 22, 2013.

  1. Hi all,

    Recently I'm in a rut with my improvising (mainly arco) on double bass because my fingerboard/aural knowledge is not up to par with the melodies and motifs that I am developing in my head. This especially evident in more difficult keys.
    I would consider myself a competent improviser on electric bass but double bass is getting the best of me when it comes to developing more intricate solos especially with loads of shifting.

    Some notable problems
    - Relying on 'safe scalic forms' for soloing.
    - Arpeggios take a LOT of concentration to execute correctly with harmony.
    - Concentration on notes is taking away from the articulation and other musical elements of the solo.

    I vaguely remember this 'phase' on electric bass but the visuals, frets and technique made it extremely easy to 'break out' and continue to improve steadily.

    So I've tried to cure this problem by running through scales/arpeggios in many ways, using drone chords for harmony while playing arpeggios and transcribing solos in my head to double bass. Progress seems to be extremely slow and I'm sure there could be a better way..

    Are there any solutions or exercises that anybody could prescribe?
  2. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    It sounds as though your goal is to play what you hear in your head. If that's correct, then scales and arps will help, but why not practice your goal - to play what you hear in your head?
    Start slowly. Sing or transcribe a relatively short phrase, a measure or two. Ensure that you can sing it accurately with all of the dynamics and nuance you hear. My experience is that that's harder to do then I expected and at first I had to record my phrase to ensure that I didn't alter it after I started trying to recreate it on the bass - I found it was hard to lock the phrase down and keep it the same throughout the exercise.
    Once you've got your phrase locked down, recreate it on the bass, with all of the nuance you can. Move it to different keys, different octaves, TP, etc. Once I got going with this, it got easier pretty quickly. Start slow and simple and work up. It's the nuance that makes it sing.
    Hope that helps.
  3. Thanks tcl. I've been working on that for a while but not through different keys.
    Noted! :)
  4. bassisten


    Sep 15, 2004
    Bergen, Norway
    I can only agree with the fact that "playing what you hear" will improve your improvising a lot. It takes time, but it will pay off for sure.

    Many bassplayers seems to be stuck in thinking scales/arpeggios all the time, when soloing you gotta come clear off that. It's a somewhat different ball game than backing the band as a bass player.

    I worked at lot like you, using drones. Worked/works for me. Maybe you should record some progressions and play over them? Or maybe try to record a beat on your bass using misc. techniques on your bass (slap, pop, bow, etc). I tend to do that a lot.
  5. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    +1 on the play what you hear/sing. What I found very useful for myself is that initially I was very much inaccurate when reproducing phrases that were coming to me. I'd noodle for it and as soon as I screwed up, I'd noodle some more to either cover up the initial mistake or wander closer to the intended phrase. Things start to change once I forced myself to accurately reproduce the phrase. For instance, I'll try to play a phrase I hear. If I get it right, I'll keep going to the next phrase. If I screw up, I'll actually practice and figured out every single note in the phrase. I'll keep working on til it's right and then actually use that and transpose it to other keys, just to make sure that I can reproduce that phrase in any key. In a way, I'm kinda studying the phrases that I've invented.

    It's slow going at first but the more you do it, the more accurate you get the first try. next think you know, you're just ripping right off every phrase that's coming to you with a high percentage of accuracy. IMO, it's an example of where technique is serving the inner voice. All the arps and scale were are done as a foundation so that this type of immediacy can happen. But it also assumes that you have the sonic imagination to come up with a phrase in the first place.
  6. Thanks for the advice guys. It's good to get an external opinion.
    I'll be slotting in more 'play what you hear' practice into the schedule.
  7. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    Setup and repair/KRUTZ Strings
    If this has been covered already, sorry. Work arpeggios, phrases, whatever in all possible positions using appropriate fingerings. Then invert or modify them and keep at it. I used to do the simandl exercises this way and it really helped me learn the fingerboard.
  8. Violen

    Violen Instructor in the Vance/Rabbath Method Banned

    Apr 19, 2004
    Kansas City Metro Area
    Endorsing Artist: Conklin Guitars (Basses)
    Close your eyes.
  9. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Petracchi's thumb positions can really help. A pitch can often be reached with a combination of ear and inspiration, but have solid fingering system can help work the pitch into an idea.
  10. A few things I've found that help are singing solfege while practicing scales. I'll also sing a drone for myself while running scales, arpeggios etc. Theres a nice YouTube channel called/by "LearnJazzStandards" which is just a rhythm section. The bass is recorded low enough that it doesn't mess with what you play. It's a nice way to practice whatever you need.