Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by stephanie, Nov 8, 2001.

  1. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA

    I'm having a little trouble explaining my problem I think so bear with me...

    I guess my question is "How can I make my phrasings better?"

    Here is what I have to do for my next bass lesson:

    For the 1st part I have to make a 3-beat phrase and then a 2-beat phrase. The chords will be: G for 4 measures, C for 2 measures, G for 2 measures, and then turnarounds: D for 2 measures and G for 2 measures. Then the next part, using the same chords and 3 different phrases: a 1-beat phrase, a 5-beat phrase, and an 8-beat phrase. All the while using passing tones.

    The way my teacher told me to make up a phrase is by making up a sentence. For example the sentence "I'm saying a sentence." is 2 beats. The sentence "My hands are freezing cold" is 3 beats.

    For one thing, I cannot think of 'sentences.''d be a looong sentence to be an 8-beat phrase. And if I think of a long phrase like that, I can't remember it for the whole exercise! LOL.

    I know this all goes back to improvisation, and I'm not too well with my improvising skills yet, but is there a way...besides, yeah, I know: practice practice help myself in making better phrases, therefore making an interesting bass line?

    Sorry for the confusing post...if this made sense at all.

    Be well
  2. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    First thing: your teacher is insane.

    Second thing: if he's referring to the accents in the sentences, then okay, I can sort of see, with the aid of hallucinogenic drugs, how "I'm SAYing a SENtence is" is two beats and "My HANDS are FREEZing COLD" is three.

    For two beat stuff, just crib some Shakespeare. For three beats, steal the first line from a dirty limerick: "There ONCE was a MAN named JED..."

    Shouldn't your teacher be learnin' you music instead of poetry?


  3. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    Maybe that was a little flippant. I think I can see what your teacher is getting at. Try this: treat each bar as a "phrase". For the one-beat phrase, just play a whole note. For the three beat, play a dotted half and two eighth notes (or whatever pattern puts three notes in the bar). For the five-beat phrase, play a quarter, a dotted quarter and three pickup eighth notes (or whatever pattern puts five notes in the bar). If you find a bar too confining or too fast to cram in the requisite number of beats, treat 2 to whatever bars as a phrase.

    Then play around. Keep the accents on the bare-bones patterns you've written out, but add unaccented grace notes, ghost notes, passing tones, etc. Whatever else you add, the original one or three or five beats in the bar should stand out.

    Admittedly, it's a pretty mechanical exercise, but it beats the whole "make up a sentence" thing.
  4. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Hey Christopher,

    LOL. Yes of course my teacher is insane, but he's a damn good bass player....maybe he was just trying to teach me in a way I think I'd understand? (I know I've been acting a little "slow" lately at my lessons.). But, yes, I think he was referring to the accents on the sentences. Though, I love poetry, I do see the 'sentence' thing as kinda stupid. IMHO.

    I think I may have written the exercise wrong in my last post. Oops :eek: I think the 1-beat part was separate from the 5-beat and 8-beat phrases, but, oh well....

    Anyway, I think I will try and work on the exercise you gave me.

  5. Just a little off topic, but isn't improv about having no restraints and just playing what u will. I cannot see how if u have to have a certain amount of notes, and a certain pattern, then its not really improv.

    Thats just what i think anywho.

    If u have to use what ya got, start with what u know. like a 2 phrase, just play it until you understand it. Once u see the pattern then surely you could try to increase it to 3 then 4 etc.

  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well this is a common misconception! But actually Stephanie's example is a very good way of showing why this is just not feasible or practical.

    You have to be "saying something" when improvising or you are really not going to communicate anything to an audience.

    So if you take the example of words and language - if you just put random letters - this is not writing - this is just gibberish!! "Kh89sIsOuisl*&FG$%DFH:"

    Similarly in music if you just put random notes this is not music but noise ! You have to firstly understand the language of music and then you have to be able to write sentences or "musical phrases". Only then can you improvise meaningfully
    and not just "make a noise".

    Music is always organised or it is not music. Improvising is just playing music that isn't all written out - not just making a random noise!!
  7. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    This is probably the most annoying misconception regarding jazz. I have heard so many people say that they are playing "jazz" because they're essentially just noodling. I've always found this to be an insult to legitimate jazzbos. Improvisation is a skill which must be developed, and I doubt I could add anything to Bruce's elogant explanation. Any technique that people use to help develop these skills of improvisation is rewarding.
  8. Maybe the sentence thing was a metaphor? Like words are to sentences as notes, scale fragments, resolved passing tones, intervalic patterns, etc are to phrases?

    Anyway, if that's what he/she means, then try playing your few-bar phrases as if you were making a sentence. Don't think about the "words" (the notes or pairs of notes or even the 1-3 downbeats) but think about the rise and fall of the sentence as a whole.

    Is this too abstract? That's why it's music and not mathematics. :)

    So maybe some listening practice? Classical music can be a great example. A lot of their music just sounds stupid without good phrasing.

    Anyone have recommendations for electric bassists with great phrasing?
  9. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA

    Well, at my lesson the other day we reviewed phrasing and delved more into it. The whole 'sentence' thing wasn't even brought up!

    I'd like to say, and this is what my teacher told me, that I am worrying too much and confusing myself. In writing my own phrases, I was limiting myself to only the chord tones, and only using a few passing tones here and there. All this time I thought the rules for walking bass lines (with passing tones on the 2nd and 4th beat) were the same with solo pieces...guess I was wrong! So, in trying to make up these phrases I was thinking too much of walking bass lines we did in past lessons.

    I was limiting myself. I wasn't using chromatic notes. (He said on a G chord I could start with an F note if I wanted to---is this right?) and that I could use a passing tone on the 1st beat if I wanted to! What an epiphany this was! :D

    As for main problem...what I find now that I'm having trouble with is keeping the rhythm. Even with playing against a metronome, I can't remember how many measures I've played! I don't want to be always be playing simple eighth notes ('one and two and...'), but when I go off into more interesting rhythms, I lose my count.

    I'd like to hear you opinions, though, is my teacher right in saying these things?

  10. Reading this makes me want to take lessons. I realize that I have no idea what you are talking about - and I want to know!!

    As an x-drummer, knowning where the ONE is, and counting(in4/4) 1 234,2 234,3 234,4 234 only comes with practice. Count out loud! It will make everyone else think you are crazy, and have them second guess you musical instincts, but it will help you internalize it ... and once that happens you will find yourself lost much less! Thats when you start to feel the music and things makes sense ... ahhhh! I can't wait for that to happen with me and the BASS!

  11. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Usually the best way to keep your place in a tune is to know the tune i.e. have the ability to sing the tune in your head. If you use this method you will know where your are because you're singing along internally with the tune.
  12. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Well, each situation is different. Chromaticism can definitely add a distinct flavor to the song. Some of the things you have to consider though is what's going on around you. Are you playing with a larger ensemble? If so, what are the musicians doing? If you have a piano player who's sticking strictly to playing the chords, without many variations in inversions, then this gives you more room to roam around. Do you have a guitar player that is already voicing the one on every downbeat? Then again, are you playing with a more skeletal group, like a duo or trio? If so, you may be counted on more to provide an "outline" to the harmony.

    As far as the F over a G chord, what kind of G chord? If it's a Dominant 7th, (G-B-D-F), I would be more inclined to play the lowered 7 of G, which is F. If it's a G major 7, (G-B-D-F#), I would be inclined to not play F, unless it were a passing tone, (probably a chromatic walkup or down), but I really wouldn't play it on the downbeat. I guess you could play an F on the downbeat of a Gmaj7, but I don't know that I would ever be caught dead doing it. Can you play F on the downbeat of G7? Yes. Chromaticisms can definitely add flavor to your line, but you want to stay in the context of the harmony. If I heard an F anywhere during a Gmaj7, unless it were a chromatic walkup, it would sound like a different chord to my ear.

    The point is that you don't have to play the one (root) on the downbeat, but you still want to make sure it stays within the harmony. My ear will always avoid chromaticism on the downbeat, and when diatonic, will usually avoid the 2 or 4. This is certainly not to say that occasions don't exist where these "rules" can be broken, but, there are several other things to consider. Listen to the others you're playing with. Like I mentioned this will be a factor.

    So I assume you're not playing as you read a chart. I've never really had this problem if I'm playing along with a chart.

    I've had counting problems if there's no drummer or if there's no instrument playing chords. I've played trios (guitar, bass, drums) where after we get through the head and the guitarists solos, I start to lose place on occasion because I don't have an instrument voicing the chords. If I'm reading strictly from the chart, it's usually not a huge problem, but still can happen.

    A song like SO WHAT can really get you lost. You've got 16 bars D, then 8 bars Eb, then another 8 bars of D, (AABA format). Well, after the B section, you've technically got 24 bars of D! I am always struggling to keep time. What worked at first was literally counting four bar phrases in my head, (1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, 4-2-3-4). Then, I just had to count what four bar phrase I was on. I don't know if this is the best method, but it's really helped for me. I struggled with being able to count straight quarter notes, while my line may incorporate 8th, 16th, half notes, or syncopation. Take it real slow. Real slow. And just work on something like that for 5 minutes a day. You'll be amazed at how quickly it starts to become just a little easier.
  13. Lovebown


    Jan 6, 2001
    Some people would disagree with that. I think that whether the notes that are being played are organized or not is pretty irrelevant in whether it should be called music or not. I guess it's like, what is art? Blah..that's a diffrent debate though :)

  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I think, as you mention, the problem with giving specific advice like this is that it may apply to the situation you are in but may or may not be helpful to someone else's situation - also a teacher may have programme in mind that seems hard to grasp but in the long term will work out.

    I can see all the things that Stephanie mentions as
    valid approaches and things I have heard from Jazz tutors.

    So on the chromatic thing for solos - I have heard abbout Sax players approaches where you take the target note in the scale and "surround" it with chromatic notes and make some sort of pattern - this could very well mean playing a chromatically unrelated note on the first beat of the bar.

    In fact one of the problems bassplayers typically have when they come to soloing, is that they are stuck on playing a strong chord tone on the 1 and this gets very hard to break out of and so rather than sounding like a "solo" it sounds like just another bassline and nobody in the audience realises what you are doing!

    The other thing in Jazz is that there is a tradition of everybody else stopping when it comes to the bass solo - mostly because DB is quiet. But the number of times this has happened to me! You play chorus after chorus of supporting people and then when it comes to "your turn" everybody else just stops and while you'd love to play something that doesn't just outline the chords and keep the rhythm going, you end up playing something very basic just to make sure that you don't lose where you are!

    The point though is that you have to get used to not relying on another instrument like the piano - as they may well decide to lay out!

    My feeling is that you just get to "feel" firstly what a 4-bar section is and then an 8-bar etc. It only comes with practice and experience, but you have these "sections" going past and eventually you hear them without having to play them all the time and get confident enough to leave big spaces - if that's what you want to do! The initial temptation is to fill up all the space and it is very hard to avoid this, but if you don't the solos get very boring! ;)

    Lots of people mentions singing the tune in your head or singing what you want to play, but there have been a few occasions I have come across where this doesn't help - although, no matter what you do, it is hard work and will take time - this is the sort of area where there is just no substitute for putting in the hours, I'm afraid.
  15. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    You know, I think I may have just missed the point that Stephanie was referring to soloing. My posts were written from the perspective of playing a bass line, not a solo.

    I've been overworked and stressed, go gentle on me. Please........
  16. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    I was gonna mention what Bruce has already offered; break out some of those Abersold books of your's...there's gotta be some swingin' examples of the bassists playing 'upper/lower' chromatics on the DOWNbeats(IMO, & to maybe echo Bruce's comments, this was possibly copped from horn players).
    In any event, there's countless recordings where the bassist, in the context of walking 4 through the simplest of 12-bar Bkues' changes, is playing an 'upper' chromatic on Beat 1, a 'lower' chromatic on Beat 2, the ROOT on Beat 3, & some other 'connecting' tone/note on Beat 4(leads into the Beat 1 of the following bar).

    Maybe in Jump Blues, one should be sparse with chromatics & stick to playing the Roots on Beat 1 & maybe emphasize the chord tones...who knows.
  17. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Great, great post, Ed...thanks.
    And to touch on Cruise4's comment about phrases needing a 'beginning, middle, & end;...true, but as Kung Fu has mentioned:
    WHERE you start 'em, finish them, HOW you play them(long notes, staccato notes, accented/tripletted notes, etc)makes the stuff breathe &, hopefully, unique.
    Being able to start any of my half-baked phrases/grooves 'anywhere' within a bar has long been one of my woodshed goals...basically, almost an obsession of mine(& to the sacrifice of serious harmony application).
  18. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    What do you do when there is 'no melody'(or a totally unfamiliar one)?
    I'm talking some 'free'/improv'd piece...maybe there's a chording instrument, most ofter not. ;)

    I do agree, 'singing the melody inside-your-head' helps...
    But, IMHO, one has to go a step further & "internalize" rhythm & learn/develope a concept
    of time.
    ***See KungFu's comment regarding practicing "WHERE" phrases begin...***

    (Amazin' to me how many decent bass players get lost whenever a decent drummer deviates from 1&3/2&4...then, again, I don't live around NYC like youse guys!) ;)
  19. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Well what I do is listen to what's going on and then determine what I'm going to play. Even in a "free" piece you still have to listen to what's happening to add your part to the "mix". My experience with free playing is that it's more conversational and not bound by rhythm or tonality in the same way a chart is. There are times where a tonality and/or a rhythmic structure develop but you can always deviate from that possibly giving rise to a new tonality and/or rhythmic structure.

    I was doing some free playing last night, and for me the challange is to stay away from the familiar. I like playing in the pocket, the usual "bassist" role, but have to interpret what's happening differently at times when I'm playing "free". I do like the sound of "free" stuff on top of a pocketed groove though.
  20. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999

    Me, too...I live for that stuff!
    Ornette LIVES!
    Fact is, when these "free" episodes cropped up for me, I really did my best to make it groove. Now, when all Hell's going about you, that's the challenge: Keeping it "in the pocket"(?) & 'free' & knowing where you are(sorta) short, I couldn't depend on the others to find my "1"(back to the issue of internalizing 'time' & NOT "counting" on the other musicians).

    Thanks, Ed; hopefully, one of these daze I'll finally get 'it', though I doubt it.
    "These Foolish Things" & "Fall", huh? ;)