Improvising over maj7 chords

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Yonni, Nov 24, 2021 at 2:23 PM.


  1. Yonni

    Yonni

    Oct 31, 2016
    Scotland
    This has been getting me all week. I’m trying to improvise a bass line over a chart with some maj 7 chords in it but if I play the root on the “one” for those chords it doesn’t sound good. For example:

    E | Amaj7 B | F#m7 | C#m

    Its fine on the rest of the progression but when I get to that Amaj7 it sounds off. Same happens with Emaj7 Ebmaj7 or Abmaj7 etc. any tips? What am I doing wrong here? Am I missing a key bit of theory?
     
  2. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    It's really impossible to tell you what note is "best" without fuller context regarding melody and rhythm, as well as knowing what you're doing that sounds wrong. Your best choices for bass notes generally over Amaj7 in the key of E are A, C#, and E. But that doesn't answer the question of what you're trying to say musically... improvisation means making a melody, and melodies often involve notes not in the underlying chord.
     
  3. Mushroo

    Mushroo

    Apr 2, 2007
    You forgot to say the name of the song and the artist?

    What notes does the melody play over that chord?
     
  4. Yonni

    Yonni

    Oct 31, 2016
    Scotland
    Its a slow country piece in regular time. I could get through the whole thing simply by playing root notes but when it comes to the maj7 it sounds like a bum note.
     
    Mushroo likes this.
  5. Mushroo

    Mushroo

    Apr 2, 2007
    I don't see how I could possibly help you, if you won't tell me the name of the song.

    Usually when I get stuck improvising, it's because I haven't finished learning the song. Have you learned the vocal melody yet? The guitar solo? The piano chords? The drum rhythm? The lick the pedal steel plays going into the bridge?

    Those ingredients are the raw materials for your improv.
     
  6. Mushroo

    Mushroo

    Apr 2, 2007
    Also can you clarify: Are you playing home by all yourself? Are you jamming along to a recording? Or are you playing this with other musicians? And, if you are playing this with other musicians, maybe it is worth a conversation about 1) making sure you are all on the same page about the correct chord changes; and 2) if their improv sounds better than your improv, ask them which notes they are playing?

    It's totally okay, if one of your friends plays a cool riff or lick, to ask them to teach you how. :)

    Another thing you can do, is record your jams and practice sessions, and get good improv ideas by listening back to these recordings.
     
  7. Groove Master

    Groove Master Commercial User

    Apr 22, 2011
    Montreal
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    Then it might be the voicing of the Maj7 chord that is not right. If the Maj7 is too low it will clash with the bass note.

    There is no other reason for a root to not sound right.
     
    Standalone, OogieWaWa, 31HZ and 8 others like this.
  8. Mushroo

    Mushroo

    Apr 2, 2007
    For example check out what Charlie Parker plays in m. 26 of "All of Me."

    Over a BbMaj7 chord he plays: G A F G D Bb F.

    None of those notes are shockingly "out" (they're all chord tones of BbMaj7 except for G, which is the 13th) but it's interesting rhythmic placement, that he puts the root Bb on beat 4 instead of beat 1.

    You can build a lot of "musical vocabulary" by studying solos by great improvisers. And rhythm is a huge part of that! It's not just the notes you play, but when you play them.

     
  9. Yonni

    Yonni

    Oct 31, 2016
    Scotland
    Its not a song. I’m preparing for a music exam. One of the tests is an improvisation over a previously unseen piece. I have about 10 charts varying from reggae, country and RnB and 4/4, 3/4 & 6/8 time to practice with. The accompanying tracks are very basic. Simple drum beats, strummed guitar and melody on piano. The root note played on the maj7 sounds harsh in all of them to me.
     
    Mushroo likes this.
  10. friend33

    friend33 Supporting Member

    Jul 2, 2020
    Colorado
    Maybe post a clip?
     
  11. Mushroo

    Mushroo

    Apr 2, 2007
    And the notes of that melody are what?

    You need to learn that melody, to do well improvising over that backing track.

    For example if the melody is emphasizing the G# (a perfectly cromulent note choice over AMaj7) but you play A, then of course it's going to sound bad, playing A against G#.

    The quiz is testing your ability to hear the melody and play something appropriate in response. Maybe don't think of it as "improvising" but rather, think of it as, you are adding the final musical garnish, to a recording that is mostly finished.

    Do you have any friends in the class? A fun exercise is, a few of you could get together and practice improv together, bouncing musical ideas back and forth like a game of hackey sack.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2021 at 3:39 PM
  12. Mushroo

    Mushroo

    Apr 2, 2007
    Here's an example kind of what I'm talking about, "Careless Whisper" by Wham, which features a BbMaj7 chord.

    Look at what the sax plays in m. 3, and then compare that to the vocal melody in m. 7.

    The sax plays the root Bb on the downbeat, but George sings the 7th A on the downbeat.

    Both of those are excellent note choices (because they fit the chord tones) but if you played the sax melody and the vocal melody together at the same time, Bb against A, it would sound awful!

    https://cdn3.virtualsheetmusic.com/images/first_pages/HL/HL-252722First_BIG.png

    There's a lot more to improv than just mathematically finding a note that "fits" the chord. You also have to listen to the other musicians and play something that fits with what they are playing!

    "Careless Whisper" works because the sax and the vocals each have their own, separate, moment to shine.
     
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  13. friend33

    friend33 Supporting Member

    Jul 2, 2020
    Colorado
    Just to clarify, measure #2 is two chords, and not a slash chord (B in the bass), correct?
     
  14. bass12

    bass12 Not a "groovehacker" Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    It could be that the voicing of the chord is emphasizing a note that is drawing your ear away from the root (that you are playing) in a way that makes things sound weird to you. Regardless, in any normal circumstance it doesn't get any more "right" (for the bassist at least) than playing the root of a chord on a strong beat (unless it's a slash chord).
     
  15. Yonni

    Yonni

    Oct 31, 2016
    Scotland
    Yes, 2 chords in the second measure, not a slash chord.
     
  16. Yonni

    Yonni

    Oct 31, 2016
    Scotland
    This must be what is happening - my note choices clashing with the melody rather than the chord, because, as @bass12 says, the root would be fine if it was just played over the chord (without the melody). It happened in a few of the pieces so I began to over think it. I’ll try again tomorrow and see if I can take account of the melody next time.
     
    Mushroo likes this.
  17. bass12

    bass12 Not a "groovehacker" Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Do you have the iReal Pro app? If you don't I would suggest getting it. It's a great practice tool and you can use it to zero in on whatever chords you want.
     
    Yonni likes this.
  18. Matty Koff

    Matty Koff

    Aug 21, 2014
    Tennessee
    It's improvisation right? You say it's only on the 1. Is that a full quarter note? Could it be an opportunity to add a passing note or a fill or some other nuance?

    If all else fails you only have 11 other choices to sort through. If you can hear "off" you can find on.
     
  19. Wasnex

    Wasnex

    Dec 25, 2011
    If I were improvising a country bassline over these chords, I would play primarily roots. Depending on the style, you might also play chord 5ths. If you only play roots over the first chord, consider a walkup (F#, G#) to the root of the AMaj7.

    If the chord progression repeats, I might use some sort of minor pentatonic to go from C#min back to EMaj
     
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  20. Esteban Garcia

    Esteban Garcia bassist, arranger, aelurophile Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2018
    Portland, OR
    Sometimes the major 7 is implicit, sometimes it's in the melody, and sometimes, rarely, it's in the bass. (I feel like we just had this discussion!)

    Context is everything, and the bassist's job is to support the melody and lead the chord changes. Without knowing what the melody is doing, or how the piano or guitar is voicing the chord, it's impossible to say.

    If the root sounds wrong to you, maybe you're not accustomed to hearing chords with half step intervals. There's a certain amount of dissonance, depending on the octave the seventh is voiced in. Does a maj7 on the piano sound dissonant to you?

    Another possibility is that the transcription is wrong. This happens a lot; I have learned to trust my ear over transcriptions.
     
    AGCurry, Yonni, HolmeBass and 3 others like this.
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