Knuckleheaded question of the day

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by DeepThought, Jan 1, 2001.

  1. DeepThought


    Dec 31, 2000
    Here's the background. I'm a geezer who played guitar and bass when I was a kid. I went to the Robin Trower school of the endless solo. Beck, Hendrix, blues rock, fast fingers, all that. Sold my Sunburst '66 Strat and my little Hagstrom bass, which I used when I filled in a little jazz group when I was a teen (my (now) brother in law hogged the guitar parts), back in the early 80's. About a year ago I got back into playing. Then, I remembered how much I missed the Deep End of the Pool and bought a fretless Jazz. Haven't picked up my guitar since.

    So here's the question. Any advice for a blues/rock guitar player trying to be a jazz bassist? When I played with those older guys all those years ago I was just thumping along with blues and pentatonic scales and a few arppegios - not really knowing what I was doing.

    I first learned guitar the usual way, strumming chords along with the singing and that's how I always found my way around a tune. Now, I get lost. I think I have a pretty good sense of time, but I lose track of where I am. Especially playing a repetative line many times.

  2. sbassett


    Apr 2, 2000
    My background is similar to yours. After not playing any kind of instrument for about 25 years (I played rhythm guitar in a rock band in high school - I wasn't very good), I picked up my old guitar about 18 months ago to see if I could remember a few chords. Then, a little over a year ago, in order to fit-in a bit better with some friends of mine who were forming a jazz group, I bought a used bass. I had no prior experience with the bass, but I have barely picked-up my guitar since then.
    I attended the National Guitar Workshop in Conn. last summer and the bass instructors emphasized the need for a jazz bassist to know the "form" of the song (AABA, etc.) While I still get lost a bit, trying to memorize the form as well as the chord progression seems to help.
  3. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    OK, you asked for it: I wrote this a while ago to someone who asked basically the same question. Hope it does you some good. Email me if there's anything I can clarify.


    First thing to know is you want to use the notes you play not only to define the chord you're playing, but to provide forward motion by setting up the chord that's COMING UP. So you need to look ahead to the next two or three chords to decide how you're going to handle "this one."

    Lots of jazz progressions move down in fifths, as in iii-vi-ii-V-I. I'll confine my comments to these progressions since they are so common. Chords last largely either 4 beats or 2 beats.

    If a chord is 4 beats, you can go scalar down one scale degree per beat, or you can go scalar up inserting an accidental between the 2nd and 3rd scale degree. Also note that the half-step is the most powerful force in music. You want to propel the music forward, and you can do that by
    setting up anticipation of where the next note will be. For this you can use the tritone substitution.

    Examples of all of the above, using the progression Bb7 - Eb7:

    Scalar down: | Bb Ab G F | Eb.....
    Scalar up: | Bb C C# D | Eb....
    Tritone sub: | Bb Ab F E | Eb....

    Notice in the last two examples how inevitable the Eb is after the two half steps right before it. That is the propulsion you want to create.

    You can also add the tritone sub to an arpeggio like so:

    | Bb D F E | Eb.... (try this with the D BELOW the Bb too!)

    Or mix up the arpeggio:

    | Bb F D E | Eb.... (Again, try the F either below or above the Bb.)

    Also consider repeated notes:

    | Bb Bb D D | Eb.....
    If you do this for a whole chorus, it can really "lay down the law" and bring everyone "back to earth" if things have been kind of wild for a couple of choruses.

    For two beats per chord, the easiest 2nd note choice is either the 3rd or the tritone of the chord you're in -- which amounts to approaching the next root from either above or below by a half step.

    | Bb D Eb....|

    | Bb E Eb....|

    This will work in either the front half or the back half of any bar.

    Within all of this, you need to keep track primarily of the 3rd and the 7th. You need to play major chords as major chords and minor as minor. Similarly, you need to play maj7 chords with the major 7th, and dominant ("plain old 7th") chords with the lowered 7th. The tritone substitution
    does not work well with maj7 chords. To my ear, the tritone sub works OK under minor 7th chords. You may not agree -- in which case, it's your bass line, play it how you want it!

    NOW: Atmospherics. Feel.

    I've always tried to mix up these approaches within a chorus. But use your ears: If the arpeggio thing is sounding kind of sing-songy, go to scalar. When the repeated note trick wears out, drop it. And when the quarter-note thing gets kind of ploddy, try to anticipate when the drummer (or anyone else, for that matter) is going to hit a syncopated accent (like the "and" of beat 4 in the last bar of a whole chorus), and HIT IT WITH 'EM. You will then be entering the world of really playing together, learning each others' styles and tastes and complimenting each other. With enough playing time with a particular musician (I discuss the drummer fequently because the drum-bass interaction is so important), you'll get to know how they set up particular little phrases, and you'll be able to communicate what's coming UP through what
    you're playing NOW. (It is also entirely legal to use your face and body to communicate as well.) This communication through music is the essence of good jazz. It's a lofty goal but entirely achievable.

    Good jazz is a dicussion -- you want to interact and inspire each other to play better. Kick people in the pants once in a while by playing something unexpected!

    This little lesson ought to keep you busy for a rehearsal or two. It's kept me busy for the last 25 years. Good luck!
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think Eli's post is a great tutor on walking bass lines,I had the same sort of experience as the first two posters a few years ago and could have done with something like this.

    I picked up Ed Friedland's book, which is just called "Jazz Bass" and this was very helpful when I first started playing Jazz. I dug it out again recently as somebody I met locally described almost the identical situation - he had been a blues/rock guitarist, but had bought a bass and was wondering why it was so hard! I loaned him the book and he said it was very useful.

    If you go a bit further, I think that "The Jazz Theory" book by Mark Levine is very useful. The main thing about not "losing the form" is something that just comes with experience - the more you play with other people, the more thse things get into your head. Playing along with records is no help and you have to get to the point where you only rely on yourself for where you are in the sequence.

    I found it helped to split these things up into say 4 or 8 bar chunks and look for the distinctive parts of a sequence - chords that don't appear elsewhere and use these as "milestones" - but in Jazz you will get times where the harmony is just down to you and chordal instruments will drop out so there are no "clues". When I started, I clung on to piano players for dear life, as I could always hear where they were, but you can't rely on this and they might be having as much trouble as you! ;)

    But in the end you have to become self-reliant and memorising whole chord sequences does help - the sooner you can put away a chart and play from memory a 32 bar sequence say, the easier it gets - you don't have time to rely on reading if you're required to provide a continuous walking line at fast tempos. (Of course you might have a written "head" but I mean playing the sequence over for "blowing")

    The other thing is to look out for the logic behind the structure - after a while in Jazz you tend to realise that there are only so many forms and they are often only very slightly different. So it's like a II-V-I in one key followed by another in another key etc. And it's an AABA 32-bar form.;)

  5. drpocket

    drpocket Guest

    Learn every Miles Davis tune you can and practice every day for 20 years. It will come to you.
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    You're 7 years too late with that !! :eek: