Playing in a Piano Trio

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Hamlet7768, Dec 27, 2016.

  1. Hamlet7768

    Hamlet7768 Here to chew gum and rock. Still have gum.

    Jun 5, 2011
    Sup guys,

    I've been lurking in and about, and I guess it's time I start a thread again. After a few years of being one of Those Metal Bassists, I'm going to be jamming out in a trio. I'm on a six-string bass (standard tuning), with a pianist and a drummer who sometimes plays trumpet instead. Our first jam there was a guitarist, too, but apparently he and our "producer" (the guy whose home studio we're using) are having a rough patch, so it might be primarily the aforementioned trio. This is very much a low-key fun project, but I'd like to make some good music with it.

    The problem is that I don't know HOW to do that! I've never played with a piano before. My main experience is in heavy metal, bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and Rush (okay, they're not metal, but you get the picture). Heavy on the minor pentatonics and such. I've been listening to some of Hiromi's Trio Project with Anthony Jackson, and I'm mostly just getting intimidated, as I don't know what he's doing! I like it, but I don't understand it.

    Like I said, I'm on a six-string bass in standard tuning. The pianist is big into improv and he's good at it, sometimes improvising around an ostinato part I'll play. What homework should I start doing to be able to bring some interesting stuff to the table?
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  2. NoiseNinja

    NoiseNinja Experimental-psychedelic-ambient-noise-drone Inactive

    Feb 23, 2011
    Sounds interesting.

    But I am afraid I would probably not be able to come with other advice than you probably figured out yourself already.

    Listen to a lot of improvised music evolving around a piano and including a bass guitar (and don't let it scare you off, you'll get more comfortable with it over time).

    I guess the only practicing I would be able to advice you to do was to improvise to a lot of piano music, especially in what ever style you are doing (again don't let it scare you off, and don't be afraid to make mistakes, you'll get better at it over time).

    I am not really good at musical theory, I just play whatever I find fitting to a given piece of music, you know use my ears, intuition and experience on the fret board/bass (as well as obviously common sense, aka don't step on your others toes and make sufficient room for the others to do their stuff as well!).

    Practicing some different scales you are not already familiar with might be useful too, just to make you comfortable playing outside your usual musical vocabulary and expand on it.

    I obviously don't know if this is anything like the stuff you are on the path of doing, but a couple of years ago a Talk Bass member posted this, of some project said person was involved in (can't remember his or her name), on the forums:

    Great stuff if you ask me, but it might not be anything like the trio you are in, or even remotely useful for you.

    Good luck though.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2016
  3. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    1. Keep listening to more piano trio music. Go back to the classics like Oscar Peterson and the Bill Evans Trio, and listen closely to what Ray Brown and Scott LaFaro are doing.

    2. Transcribe and analyze great basslines. That's how you "know what he's doing"!

    3. Incorporate some/much of what they do into your own basslines.
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  4. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    Normally when a bassist joins a piano trio, the pianist will provide a list of songs, and if they are not well-known, a "lead sheet" with an outline of the song's melody, harmony, rhythm, etc. Then when you play together, you have a road map for your improvisation, you are not just randomly wiggling your fingers. Has the pianist provided you with this material? Or is he just expecting you to come up with great musical ideas out of thin air? (Which is NOT how most of the great musicians do it.)
  5. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    You talking piano as in Cecil Taylor, or piano as in Amad Jamal?
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  6. Piano, bass and drums and I would think one of you will provide vocal melody.
    Here is what I would do. That does not make it correct, just what I would do.

    Find out what you are to furnish; don't assume, ask. (You may find that there may be more bread and butter instead of "interesting stuff" needed.) Most times it's harmony and rhythm. And most times that is just plain ole bread and butter harmony and rhythm. Roots to the beat, need more bring in a 5, need more bring in the octave 8 for R-5-8-5. The rhythm you play that to is more important than the notes being played.

    Rhythm - you and the drummer decide how you are going to lock with each other. Normally this is locking with his kick drum. However, there are many other ways you two may work with each other. Main thing is that you do work out how you two will provide harmony and rhythm. Your main concern is to hit the chord changes dead on while calling attention to the root and staying in the groove that has been developed. Plus not stepping on anyone's toes.

    Melody - I leave to the piano or the vocals. Hoping the piano will leave some bass clef for me.
    video, nora jones, and bass - Bing video

    The rules of what will work and what will not is pretty much cut and dried, the rhythm used is what sets one style apart from the rest.

    You'all will work it out, have fun.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2016
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  7. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver BC
    Listen obsessively. Without the sound of what a jazz trio is doing firmly in your head learning songs and working on walking lines won't have any context and will be unnecessarily frustrating.

    Here are some pianists to look for.
    Bill Evans
    Oscar Peterson
    Cedar Walton
    Tommy Flanagan
    Hank Jones
    Lennie Tristano
    Thelonius Monk
    Bud Powell
    Mike Longo
    Wynton Kelly
    John Hicks
    Bill Charlap
    Mcoy Tyner
    Red Garland
    Herbie Hancock
    Chick Corea
    Horace Silver

    I'd also be checking out guitar trios.
    Jim Hall
    Joe Pass
    Grant Green
    Wes Montgomery
    Jimmy Raney
    etc. etc. etc....
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  8. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Some friends of mine...
  9. silky smoove

    silky smoove Supporting Member

    May 19, 2004
    Seattle, WA
    I too recently started in a piano-driven group. A big eye opener for me was when I showed up to a rehearsal with a bass wearing tapewound strings as opposed to my usual roundwounds. Rounds tend to sound a little piano-like on their own, whereas the tapes sounded nothing like a piano. Having this tonal separation really helped the two instruments stand apart, not step on each other's toes and ultimately lead to a clearer mix. Give it a shot with tapes or flats if you're so inclined.
  10. Bodeanly


    Mar 20, 2015
    Old school Ben Folds Five and you'd have to fight me for the the gig.

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  11. ThudThudThud


    Jun 4, 2010
    +1 on Ben Folds Five

    This looks/sounds like a lot of bass fun.
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  12. rufus.K


    Oct 18, 2015
    I'm in an organ trio (same thing).
    Don't over think it.
    Listen to Medeski Martin & Wood.
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  13. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    An important factor is whether the pianist knows how to work with the bass. See Ron Carter quote below. If the pianist can't keep from playing bass lines, you'll be in constant conflict and there'll be little you can do about it.
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  14. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Inactive

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Listen to a lot of Oscar Peterson.
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  15. pnchad


    Nov 3, 2005
    Played with just piano for years. It's more important that you understand the music fully especially the harmonic part. And, the pianists left hand style can be an impediment - so true.

    It can be a lot of fun (I'm a jazzer) though since you have a great deal of influence about where things go.
  16. pbass2


    Jan 25, 2007
    Los Angeles
    I think this is pretty key---find a tone that blends well. Personally I think the reason URB works so well is the quick decay and "soft" quality without zing. So, yeah, flats could be great. On the OTHER hand, check out Steve Swallow--he somehow sounds like the marriage of an upright with a guitar, playing with a pick on a very hi-fi sounding bass with rounds--check him out with Carla Bley for example on their "Duets" album:
  17. shwashwa


    Aug 30, 2003
  18. OK, piano, bass and drums. But I am unsure what kind of music you will be playing. I work almost exclusively with a piano trio. We cover the American song book, the Real Books, show and pop tunes in a relatively low key and appropriate jazz style. This to me is the other side of the planet compared to metal or most rock genres. improvisation is expected by all. Sometimes, trading 4's or 8's (measures). A lift of the eyebrow could mean a 3 tag ending. In other words there are conventions which are commonly used and expected of you. The jazz diet is radically different from metal. Are you familiar with the standards? The musically historic giants? Could you sing 3 or 4 Rodgers and Hart tunes right now if you had to? When i'm fishing for improvisation ideas, I may start by thinking about the root, major or minor 3rd, 5th, dominant 7th, octave notes to anchor my improvisation (not necessarily played). It helps if you know the tune inside and out, use passing tones, chromatics maybe as fills. (don't over play) turn arounds, etc etc. And yes as others suggested, the pianist can get in your way, so make your peace with him or her left hand. Again, a piano trio infers traditional straight ahead jazz to me. Might mean jazz fusion to another, (which actually be more like metal because of the tendencies for speed and theatrical technique). Or if I'm wrong a piano trio could mean something completely different and progressive and hard to catagorize. In any event, there are many benefits, you will be able to show up with a Rumble 100 v3 combo and a vintage Precision as I do, and have plenty gear. The venue will be way quieter than a typical metal room. More benefits: You will not be" getting old" in such a setting. Clientele and venues will probably be more refined. Repertoire (in my opinion) much more interesting. Best of all, no deafening guitarists!
    In short going from metal to jazz? (Remember Less is more in terms of stage production). Your knowledge of theory, sophisticated extended chords and the traditional chord cadences, reading will be challenged and there are many performing conventions that you will only realize you need to get familiar with; when you get there. For now, get the Real books, hang with horn players. attend jazz workshop type jams. (not blues). This probably will not happen over night.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2016
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  19. rufus.K


    Oct 18, 2015
    In our organ trio, we cover Black Sabbath, Gil Scott Heron, Miles Davis, The Zombies, Bela Fleck, The Beatles, among others. We have originals that go from jazz, latin, rock, and funk. Point is... you have to find the collective center of the 3 of you and play whatever music that is. It's a great opportunity for you to not play the traditional bass role all the time.
    You came from a metal background I believe, so you're going to go though growth as an improviser and try to hear the missing piece of your arrangements ...
  20. Eric Swaim

    Eric Swaim GOD, U.S. MIlitary, Country Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2004
    Murfreesboro, TN
    Give me a call, I have experience in that area.

    Eric 615-594-1595