1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

jazz bass: where do i start?

Discussion in 'Ask Todd Johnson [Archived]' started by motherfunker, Jul 17, 2006.

  1. motherfunker


    Apr 29, 2002
    New York
    I've finally decided which genre of music i would like to be proficient at--jazz. The only thing is, I'm not exactly wealthy so i can't afford to hire anybody to teach me the essentials of improv. So I've decided to attempt to teach myself for the time being. There's just one problem, I don't know where to begin! could you offer some advice as to where I could start my self training? Perhaps you could tell me how you got started. Any help is appreciated. :)
  2. hateater

    hateater snatch canadian cream

    May 4, 2001
    Eugene, OR

    Well, the first thing you will lant to learn how to do is to walk a bass line by chord changes off of lead sheets. If you go to a local print shop or music shop, you can get a real book. Pick a tune with easy chords (Atumn leaves, How high the Moon.. etc.) and begin analyzing the chords. Once you have them all figured out, Use this formula-

    1st note of the walking line should be the root (for now) of the chord, the second and third note should be parts of the chord, or chromatic neighbor tones that lead to the 4th note, which leads into the 1st note of the next chord- repeat.

    Try to be very linear and not too sparatic.. if you plan on jumping up to a higher position on the neck, make it work musically.

    Starting out with improvising as you stated you wanted to learn wouldn't be a great route to take, since you have to get the feel of the chord changes before you start expressing yourself.

    Once you start to improvise, an easy approach is to learn the head (melody) and start to change the rhythm and note values until the melody is still recognizable, but it has your own flavor to it. After you can do that, you can create your own improvised licks. Just a warning, people dedicate their entire lives to getting the art of jazz down, and it isn't going to be terribly easy at first. the best advice I can give besides getting a teacher (eventually) or a book, is to practice a ton, LISTEN to EVERYTHING you can (try to listen to artists from fusion, bebop and swing) and HAVE FUN!
  3. Inizzep


    Oct 25, 2003
    Chicago, IL
    A really good book that I use with my students when we approach walking is "Building Walking Bass Lines" by Ed Friedland. It "walks" you through the process very nicely, starting with blues progressions and working your way into standards.

    At first it has you use only roots and 5ths, then you add passing tones, different approach notes, arpeggios, scales and so on.

    Once you're done with it, there is a second book that explores more rhythmic and sophisticated lines. It's called "Expanding Walking Bass Lines" by Ed Friedland as well.
  4. Funky-Wunky


    Jun 15, 2004
    Get the Jamie Aebersold playalong CD, "The 2-5-1"
  5. SmittyG


    Dec 24, 2003
    Texarkana, Texas
    You came to the right forum to ask the question and, as soon as Todd's schedule allows, you will get an answer from him directly. He has a DVD called "Walking Bass Line Module System Volume 1" that is perfect for your needs.

    You see, I have a lot of bass experience but, like you, wanted to get into jazz but had no local instructors in my neck of the woods. (In fact, if you don't mind my whining for a bit, EVERY "bass" instructor in my area is a guitarist doing double duty to increase student loads--and none of them play jazz.) So I had to find another source of material. I guess you could just get a book, but I wanted a bit more interaction than that. Todd Johnson's DVDs fit the bill perfectly.

    He goes through the material very thoroughly, starting with very basic concepts and building on each layer, and gives many examples so that you can see/hear what is happening over and over until you get it. Then, when you need the extra help, Todd is just an e-mail away with answers to your questions and further instruction. His teaching style is also very comfortable to work with.

    I got the "Walking Bass Line Module System Volume 1" DVD a while back and it has been my main source of study material for my daily practices. On July 4th, I played my first real jazz gig. I still have a lot of work to do and I'm no where close to being an accomplished "jazz man", but the materials I learned in Todd's DVD got me to the point where I survived the gig and have been asked back. I just can't ask more than that from a teacher.

    If you are serious about learning jazz bass and willing to put in the time practicing the material, Todd's DVD will get you there. If I can do it, you can too.
  6. SmittyG


    Dec 24, 2003
    Texarkana, Texas
    Oh, yeah, another thing you can do; pardon me--MUST do; start listening to jazz. My background was all blues and rock, which I still love, but it meant I had no listening vocabulary based in jazz. You really have to saturate yourself with it to make up for this fact. (And I strongly recommend anything with Ron Carter on bass--I really love his "Stardust" CD.)
    Coddfish likes this.
  7. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ
    Hi Motherfunker....(I have to be careful how I spell that;) )


    Basically, SmittyG took the words out of my mouth. I couldn't have said it any better. I would TOTALLY recommend you get my "Walking Bass" DVD....

    But....to add something to that....well....how I got started??
    Frankly, playing only by ear and relying on my "lack" of knowledge lead me to working at "Green Giant" and saving my money so I could study with someone who could unlock the mystery of this music I loved so much.

    That's the honest truth!!

    Trying to learn jazz on your own is REALLY a tough way to go. Sorry....I feel your financial pain....but......a teacher and some solid help is REALLY the way to go!

    Here's some advice I gave to someone else in my forum a while back......I'm cutting and pasting it.....I hope you don't mind.....

    I hope this helps.

    1. I would recommend finding the best teacher you can find in your part of the world and study your tail off.
    It sounds obvious.....I know,....but a good teacher should be able to help you to invest your time wisely and in the right direction. "Work SMARTER......not HARDER"!!! As John Wooden would say; "Don't mistake activity for accomplishment"!!

    A good teacher is a wise investment!

    2. Get your walking bass skills together. That's a requirement.... it's non-negotiable!
    I would like to recommend my "Walking Bass Line Module System" DVD to you. It's a concise and organized method for learning how to walk. The DVD is cool because " I DEMONSTRATE" everything for you.....you can play along with me......then you can download the mp3 and play without me. You can also download all the printed materials as well.....so you get the best part of a book....with the play alongs you'd normally get with a cd.....PLUS....you can watch me demonstrate everything. Now you can learn with confidence....because you'll KNOW you're doing it right!!

    3. Invest in your jazz collection.....itunes is GREAT.....plus, you can buy individual songs for $1..... If you're not sure what to get, then drop me a note and I'll get you started.

    It's REALLY IMPORTANT to immerse yourself in the jazz "language" so to speak....and you can't do that if you aren't listening to it for hours and hours everyday. Not just having it on in the background.....but actually listening with the intent of learning, being able to sing along with it, .....you need to ABSORB it...so to speak.

    4. Once you get your walking together and you're listening A LOT.....then.....and only then you should start working on IMPROVISING.

    Check out the advice I gave on the "APPROACH TO SOLOING" thread.....
    That'll keep you busy.....

    Let me know if I can help. Happy to do so.

    Keep me posted on your progress!
  8. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ

    God bless you my friend for you kind words and advice to our friend here.

    I'm so proud of you and the hard work you've put in....PLUS the fact that you just realized and accomplished one of your musical goals!! That's HUGE my friend!!:hyper:

    Keep up the good work!!
  9. tom grossheider

    tom grossheider

    Oct 14, 2004
    Great thread! I've been wanting to pursue something like this for a while and now you guys have given me some motorvation... Thanks Todd, I'll be checking out those DVD's very shortly.
  10. steveb98

    steveb98 [acct disabled - multiple aliases]

    Mar 15, 2006
    Venice, CA
    I'm mainly adding my vote to what you have already been told. Work on Walking Bass lines and Todd's DVD is a great way to do that. Walking bass lines in some ways are soloing on bass. If you can Walk, soloing is just the next step.

    I know you said you are on a tight budget, but the Music Dojo has some good Jazz Improv classes taught online by Adam Nitti. Being online the classes are very reasonably priced.

    Welcome aboard getting into Jazz is a fun journey that never ends. There is always something new to learn and add to your musical toolbox.
  11. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ
    Dear Motherfunker,

    Here's some soloing advice I gave someone else in another thread from my forum. I hope you don't mind me doing a "cut & paste" thing here....

    This is good advice..... and hey, the price is RIGHT!!!;)


    Here's a step by step method for getting a great start on learning how to improvise.

    1. Get a good recording of the song you're trying to learn. Too many people try to learn jazz/soloing from a book with their eyes. You wouldn't learn to speak Japanese out of a book, would you? NO!! You'd use the book, but you'd also hang out with Japanese speaking people, watch Japanese TV and DVD's......you get the point. Jazz/music is the same way.....you have to LISTEN to what you're tying to learn. So, get a "reasonable" version of the tune you're learning....Autumn Leaves for example; (Miles w/Cannonball is one of the great versions) I highly recommend itunes for this....anyway..... It's REALLY important to have something to listen to and imitate etc. CRITICAL STUFF......

    2. LEARN THE MELODY............ Most bass players try to learn how to solo and play melodically, yet they've NEVER played a melody in their life!!! How can we hope to sound melodic if we've never played a melody??

    As bass players.....we learn bass lines....no wonder our solos sound like "doubled up bass lines...up an octave". Sound familiar??? Make sense???

    So.. learn the melody. Practice playing along with Miles....play along with Sinatra, Nat Cole etc.....it's important to have an idea how the LYRICS go...that'll help you with your phrasing.

    3. NOW......practice playing the melody with EMBELLISHMENTS! Practice just using your ear to "dress up" the melody. You'll be amazed at what your ear will tell you. PLUS....the whole idea is to learn to PLAY WHAT YOU HEAR....so you need to start practicing that skill!!!! If you don't practice that skill,......then you won't get better at it.....

    I don't mean so sound like a "wise-guy", but VERY FEW bass players practice this way.

    4. NOW.....Use these simple improvising tips:

    Play the 3rd of every chord. (a half note will do for now...in time... with a play-along etc.)

    Play the 5th of every chord.

    Play the 7th of every chord.

    Play the 3 & 5 of every chord.

    Play the 3 & 7 of every chord.

    Play the 12321 of every scale – play 32123 of every scale. (simple eight note patterns)

    Play the 34543 of every scale - play 54345 of every scale.

    Play the 56765 of every scale – play 76567 of every scale

    You'll notice that most of these DON'T START ON THE ROOT!! As bass players we're taught to ALWAYS play the letter name of the chord on the downbeat.....which is what we're supposed to do as bass players, OK? Good.

    BUT.....that training doesn't lend itself to good melodic playing. SO..........we need to develop the ability to look/hear a chord change and NOT PLAY THE ROOT.

    This was REALLY hard for me personally......but once I broke free, it opened everything up. It's hard to see a Bb7 chord and "not" play a Bb on the downbeat. Can I get an Amen? Ha!

    Another tip I would mention is to try NOT playing on the downbeat. Start on the "and" of one...or on beat 2.

    DISCLAIMER: Now realize all this information is "ONLY" for melodic playing.....not for bass playing. When you're playing bass, PLAY THE ROOT ON THE DOWNBEAT....sorry....just wanted to protect myself.....I don't wan't somebody to get fired from a gig and then saying, "Todd Johnson said not to play on the downbeat"..... You get my point!!

    Also notice that I have you playing "fragments" of the scale instead of the whole scale.

    It's been my experience that when you teach bass players to play scales over changes, they play them from the root to the octave and back down. Then they wonder why their solos sound like scales??? DUH!! That's because that's what you just practiced!!


    I would recommend learning/transcribing all or part of a solo. Pick one that is "attractive" to your ears, yet is "playable".

    Too many guys start off trying to transcribe Coltrane or Michael Brecker and then get discouraged because they can't do it. DUH!! That's because it's WAY TOO HARD!! SO.....pick someone that's GREAT, but playable....like Miles Davis....or Wes Montgomery.....Stan Getz......Chet Baker etc. You get the point. Start there and work your way up.

    Realize that soloing is a LANGUAGE!!! You don't start off learning English by learning the "Gettysburg address"....do you? NO.....you learn a language by saying....momma....daddy....counting to ten....where's the bathroom....how much is that?.....etc. You get the point. Then you work your way up to longer phrases with deeper content.

    I hope this makes sense.......

    You asked! ....but this is how I teach improvisation. It takes just a little longer than most methods, but with MUCH BETTER RESULTS!!! ........and that' the whole point.

    Well, there you go.....have fun and PLAY SLOW!! Take your time. It takes kids 10 years to learn to speak at a high level......learning to improvise is virtually the same process.

    Good luck!
    steve66 likes this.
  12. SWParis


    May 8, 2004
    Bolivar, MO
    Hey Todd,

    Was cruising thru some old posts on the forum and saw this:

    I to am just starting my foray into jazz bass and the sheer volume of music is rather daunting. Do you have a list of tunes 15, 20, 100 whatever that you recommend to start with? tunes that I'd be expected to know or heard if were at a gig. I'm willing to put forth the $ to start building a collection but at the same time I'd like to not "waste" resources on material that's less "common" for lack of a better term.

    Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated. I'm ready to immerse myself in the music but need to fill the pool


    pm sent
  13. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ
    Hey SP,

    Got your PM....sorry I'm so slow...Been editing a new DVD and playing like a madman....Anyway....

    Here's a list to start with:

    All Blues
    All of Me
    All the Things you Are
    Alone Together
    Autumn Leaves
    Beautiful Love
    Black Orpheus
    Blue Bossa
    Body and Soul
    Bye Bye Blackbird
    Days of Wine and Roses
    Don't be that Way
    Don't Get Around Much Anymore
    Fly me to the moon
    Green Dolphin Street
    My Funny Valentine
    My Romance
    Night and Day
    Our Love is Here to Stay
    Out of Nowhere
    Satin Doll
    Scrapple From the Apple
    Shiny Stockings
    Softly As in a Morning Sunrise
    Someday My Prince Will Come
    Sometime Ago
    St. Thomas
    Stella By Starlight
    Sweet Georgia Brown
    Take the A Train
    The Girl From Ipanema

    I know it seems like a daunting task..:help: ....but this is a good place to start.

    I would suggest trying 1 new tune a week. Start with All the things you are...then Autumn Leaves....Take the A Train...Blue Bossa... etc. etc.

    I hope this helps....I assume this is what you were looking for. If not, let me know.

    Have fun....let me know how I can help...:cool:
  14. SWParis


    May 8, 2004
    Bolivar, MO
    Thanks TJ,

    Now at least I have a place to start.

  15. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ
    Hi SP,

    Cool....Keep me posted on your development. Let me know what tunes you're working on etc.

    Play slow!!...;)
  16. Attenergy

    Attenergy Living to be ONE with the Low End 4orce !

    Mar 26, 2007
    Mr Todd Johnson,

    What advice do you have for a new to the instrument "fretless" bass player that is looking to play jazz and needs the basics?!?! What scales and chords should I pursue ... what should my practice routine look like ... should I play e major to perfection before moving on to f#?!?!
  17. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ

    Start at the beginning of this thread and check out the advice that I gave the other guys....It's really all right there.

    As far as "fretless" is concerned....You should probably ask Steve Lawson or Michael Manring.... I'm not a fretless player...even though I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night!! :D Sorry, I couldn't resist.

    Have fun...

    I hope this helps....if not, then let me know.
  18. tyadams2006


    Jan 2, 2012
    I too want to learn Jazz bass. I don't need to be a master at it but I have been thinking of starting up a jazz metal infusion band and I just need to start learning a bit of Jazz for that. I am what you might sorta call a Jazz aficionado. I listen to a lot of Jazz and can listen to it for hours on end. However, I rarely listen to any modern Jazz because in my opinion its mostly boring garbage and most modern Jazz players wouldn't know a thing or two about the original Jazz players or at least they don't sound like they do. I hate the modern slow Jazz except for Kenny G and most other modern Jazz styles I just can't get into. I do listen to some of the modern Jazz/swing/ragtime bands/Artists like Harry Connick Jr., The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Leon Redbone, Ray Charles, ect. but I mostly stick to the original 20's, 30's, and 40's Jazz, Big Band, and Swing. I do love rockabilly as well (If you consider that a sub-genre of Jazz).

    Lately I have been listening to some Charles Mingus. He was a Jazz bass player and very good. I'd love to learn some of his music. Also I love to listen to Miles Davis as he is my favorite Jazz player. He was a great improviser and rarely followed the rules of strict Jazz. He did his own thing and broke free of the box that most Jazz players stay in. I also love John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Sidney Bechet, Thelonious Monk, Louis Armstrong, Artie Shaw, Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Count Basie, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Nat King Cole, Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey, Fletcher Henderson, ect.

    These are the Jazz musicians to really listen to if you wanna get into Jazz. Every Jazz artist has it's hard and complicated songs and they have their easy songs as well. Trick is to find the easy ones and start with that. But just learning songs isn't really gonna help because honestly I know a bunch of rock and metal songs or at least parts of them and I still don't feel like I know how to play better or play like the pro's. I need more in depth teaching or something I can learn that will help me to be able to play good enough to be able to pick up and jam with other players and not play like I don't have a clue what I am doing. I feel like I haven't gotten that 'click' (meaning the light bulb goes on over my head and I get how to play) that other people have that makes them know how to pick up and just simply jam along with other players even if they don't know how to play a particular song or are just improvising/playing whatever comes to mind. Ya know many of the pro bass players or guitar players that we hear today did not start out as the pro guys they are now. But they learned their instrument and basically had that 'click' and they could play well enough to jam with others and play a few songs and get them started. Over the years they have developed their playing. a little example, Eddie Van Halen can't count in music to save his life, Yet he knows how to play very well and play with a band. He found that 'click' that allows him to play even if he can't count or read music, ect. I need to find that same 'click' and so far no one has been able to get me there. If anyone can get me there I'd be really appreciative of it.

    Side Note: I do listen to Jazz vocalists like Billy Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Sammy Davis Jr., Cab Callaway, Doris Day, Lena Horne, Dinah Washington, ect. Also, I'm not super knowledgeable about any of these Jazz musicians Like I could probably only tell you a handful of Jazz songs offhand and most of the Jazz songs I could not recite by heart or even begin to sing or hum any part of it. Jazz up until now I have really only listened for fun and not to really know the songs like I can do with most of today's music. However, I do know the artists. Honestly, its hard to tell many of the artists just by listening to the songs. At least for me it is.
  19. Re: learning to play jazz

    The most important thing to do is: Listen to jazz.