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More "legato"?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by jneuman, Oct 12, 2004.

  1. Help needed.

    My jazz band director at school is always on me about my sound and phrasing. She says play more "legato", not so thumpy. I'm trying to achieve the Ray Brown type sound that I think she wants, making sure I sustain each note for the full length etc, but still no dice. I'm starting to doubt my ability to swing at all. It sound and feels good from where I'm standing but what the Heck? BTW for this gig I'm using a plywood bass with old spiro mittels, an underwood pickup, good preamp and a small Ampeg amp. Could it be my sound, or just note placement?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance,
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Wow, a lot of stuff there. Do you have a teacher? If not, then there ya go!

    But until then, there are several aspects you can look at:

    1) The bass (not too likely, but it's a factor): Some plys just sound "thumpy". You could also have a setup issue if the strings are too high, which contributes to both volume and "thumpiness". My suggestion would be to let a player with stronger legato technique - like a bass teacher :) - play the bass and see if he or she can get a better legato sound out of it.

    2) Your Left Hand technique: With pizz, it's absolutely essential to get a good clean stop. Try to get closer to the tips of your fingers if you aren't already, and use your arm weight to press the strings down rather than squeezing with your thumb. Just guessing, this is the most likely cause of the lack of sustain. When you shift from one note to the next, make sure that you don't insert a "breath" by releasing the pressure on the string(s); using your arm weight, just shift the weight from one finger to the next.

    3) Your Right Hand Technique: You need to be pulling a good strong sound out of the string, likely at the end of the fingerboard and with a lot of meat on the string, if you want to sound like Ray.

    A good teacher will be able to show you all of these things. :)
  3. Thanks for the tips Chris. I think it may be a combination of all of these things. Actually I am a fairly experienced classical player and am taking lessons so I don't think left hand technique is the issue other than when I get fatigued, I might release the left hand too soon. I pull fairly hard with the right hand beacause I like that non-linear thump at the beginning of the note. I think I will try some newer strings and let the amp do more work, and concentrate on phrasing the swing longer so I don't get too old school.

  4. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    RH positioning: more legato will be obtained by using the as much as possible of the side of the fingers. This is quite simple with one finger RH technique, but requires serious sheddin for the 2nd finger with two finger way.
  5. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC
    To me, legato is a term that means notes are held for their full value, or a connectedness between notes. The right hand can start a note, but the left hand contact with the fingerboard carries the sound.

    I play classical and jazz, and I have found that pizz demands a bit more "weight" and care with the left hand than arco. I have noticed that classical players often get a pizz that thumps and dies away, and I think it is partly due to the left hand not firmly pressing the finger into the fingerboard for the full value of the note.

    In addition to the above comments on shifting and string height, I would suggest you record yourself practicing and playing in the band. Perhaps when you listen carefully to what you do, a solution may present itself.
  6. Jon,

    I'd get a second opinion of how you sound from someone who's heard a lot of big band jazz and quizz the director for recorded examples she'd like you to emulate. To me it's the only way to get to the bottom of this. What drives a band is the percussive thump at the beging of a note. As you're a classical guy I can't imagine you leaving too much of a gap between the notes. Often people don't leave enough. It could be something simple, like the bass is a touch too loud or the director hears a BG in her head. Even old spiros will sustain far more any gut or pseudo gut string sound so beloved of players. I'd want to know a lot more about what the director is hearing and how you sound from a good set of experienced ears before exploring changes to technique or set-up. It would be interesting to know how this works out. Good luck.
  7. Thanks to everyone for the valuable input. I think the director maybe thinking bass guitar since she it an itinerate fender player. When I play classical pizz, I kill the note right away and pluck more like a harpist as do most classical bassists. With Jazz, I pluck mostly side of 1st finger using the 2nd occasionally with string crossing and skips etc. and I try to hold the note for 2/3 of the beat approximately using my right hand to damp the string on the last half of the swung eighths. What I was taught was to think swung 1/8ths even if I playing walking 4 to make sure it swings. Some of this may come down to my conception of what Jazz bass should sound like, especially on two chord to the bar old timey stuff. What I am having trouble with is that hard swinging Basie style groove which I think she wants more of. It will probably come in time. I think I used to be able to it back when I played more Jazz.

  8. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    From you last post, I would guess that this is the problem:

    Forget about swing 1/8 notes.
    Play a full quarter note.

    Feel is FEEL, purely. Walking 1/4's are even and jazz eight notes are really pretty even, aside from 12/8 or implied 12/8 feels. The impression of 'swing' 1/8 notes has more to do with accenting and articulations than uneven notes.

    If you're cutting 1/4 notes short, you'll sound like a classical guy that read about playing jazz from a book. I would recommend listening a lot -- on top of getting yourself a jazz player for a teacher -- as a cure to your ills.
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Excellent post - deserves to live on in syndication. :)
  10. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    What Ray said.

    Here is a thread about note-length while walking, including a handy audio reference provided by M. Rondeau.

    Based on your last post, Jon, I would be hesitant to focus on the instructor's alleged shortcomings -- this might be an opportunity to take some constructive commentary to heart. Good luck.
  11. Log some practice time with the metronome, practicing playing each note on the front of the beat. I don't think you'll generate much drive if you're always starting your notes on the back of the beat.
    Also, do some keys give you more trouble than others? Big band charts in Ab, Db, Gb are quite common, these keys don't give you many open string notes and thus require more left hand endurance and fussier shifts. The upside is there are many possible fingerings. Spend more practice time in more difficult keys.
    -The 'long note', starting on the front of the beat, is what you're after.
    -Freddie Green was a huge part of the reason Basie's band swung so hard. It'll be tough to recreate that sound and feel without a strong guitar player.
  12. Yes, I suppose that's what I am although ironically, I have played "Jazz" a lot longer in terms of total years logged. I never gotten any complaint before, that's what confuses me. I have done quite a bit of listing to all of the great bassists so I don't think that's it. Maybe I'm just squares-ville man. The bass teacher at college is quite the jazzer. Maybe I should put pride on shelf and get him to critique me sometime.

    Thanks again.

  13. All better. My swing is back. I think I was just out of practice and my stamina was low. No problems now. Played two nights of big band and nothing but compliments. Whew.
  14. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Peter Washington has some wonderful things to say about the importance of the left hand and its contribution to sound and feel in the BASS PLAYER article (of all places), I highly recommend checking it out.

    Not to totally harsh your mellow, but I would recommend not placing too much credence in either criticism or praise coming from outside. If somebody has specifics to talk about -time is funny or solid, sound is not distinct or projects well, you're not making the changes or your line/solo really makes it easy to hear the harmony or your idea- that's one thing.

    But the whole "you sound great. No YOU sound great" thang (and even "Man you sound terrible, can't you play more like THIS") really seems to be more about how the speaker feels than any real objective assessment.

    Especially saxophonists. If the whole band is lying horribly mangled behind them in a train wreck, but they got off a couple of nice ideas it's "Man, dint we sound great tonight?"
  15. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    My vote goes to rethinking the left-hand-not-stopping-the-string-for-the-duration-of-the-note and lifting off too soon. The spiros on my bass "sustain long time" (LOL) when I thump.

    The rest of the advice here is too cerebral for me to offer support or rejection. How you pluck the note or when you pluck it doesn't matter if you don't keep the string stopped for its duration.
  16. A search of their website doesn't turn up an article on Peter Washington. An older issue, I guess. Which one, Ed?
  17. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    This October's issue. The one with Brian Wilson on the cover.
  18. Ed

    I know what you mean. Sometimes I forget that some people sling praise in every direction just cause they took their vitamins or something. I forget that, sense I rarely praise people even when they are doing great. And I don't criticize them either. I either continue to play with them or I don't. We're all grown-ups and I assume that if someone has been playing for a while they intend to play however they play, and It's not for me to voice my opinion one way or another. That said, Now that things have settled down with my Jazz Band director, and I've either survied the hazing or my feel has slipped back into place, the pressure is off and I enjoy playing the jazz again.