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Really slow tempos

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Steve Killingsworth, Apr 22, 2009.

  1. I have been asked to sit in with a local high school’s jazz band for a few Miles Davis tunes in their spring concert in a few weeks. Three are pretty up-tempo (Milestones, Seven Steps to Heaven, and So What) and the fourth (Blue in Green) is anything but. When I began shedding I expected the first three to give me the most trouble but actually I have struggled more with Blue in Green. They are playing it at about 55 beats. As a bluegrasser, I am having trouble adapting to this speed.

    Tips? Ideas? Advice? Prayers?
  2. I'm not too clear on exactly what's giving you problems, Steve.
    I've always loved playing ballads. Since you mention that you come out of bluegrass, that may give a hint to some stuff. Your bass is probably set up to defeat a lot of sustain. I feel with ballads, that less is more in terms of a lot of notes, but a bit of sustain helps to fill in some space. Do you have the original version? Listen to Paul...not a lot of sustain, but enough to let the notes blend into one another. Just a simple two notes to a bar that let the music breathe. You probably won't get much help from the drummer. I'd insist that the drummer NOT play his bass drum on one and three (or worse, four).....which most young drummers are prone to do. This mutes the sound of your bass.
    Again, it's mostly about breathing and savoring the music...
    Hope this helps....good luck.
  3. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Man, try playing some Shirley Horn tempos, where quarter note = 3 weeks!

    What UNKA PEADUB said. Learn the melody (by singing along with the recording so much that you just pick the notes out that yer singing) and play it in a variety of feels - bossa, waltz, 6/8. Ingrain that sucker. Use the REALLY LEARNING A TUNE method to get the chords in your ear.

    When the band kicks off the tune, KEEP HEARING THE MELODY. Keep hearing it in the same time stream that you started it. Stay relaxed, stay focused and play what you hear.
  4. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    What helps me is to think of subdivisions. On all time playing, including slow ballads, I hear/feel the triplet continuum underneath the quarter notes, and play on that.
  5. :D
  6. I guess the biggest problem is that at this speed, I find myself being a little early or slightly behind the beat. I just haven't adapted to it yet.

    No, my Cleveland will sustain for days. I see what you mean about less is more and that is what I am striving for. I have two versions (the original and the Evans/LaFaro version from Protrait in Jazz). Both of them say so much by saying so little.

    I see what you mean. I notice I have focused more on the chord structure and timing at the expense of the melody. I lose the time, than realize I have lost my place in the tune, then TENSION grabs my left hand.
  7. While some may argue, playing either very fast or very slow is difficult, but in a different ways. Playing very fast is a matter of getting very fluid in playing many notes in a short amount of time. Playing very slow is a matter of patience and resisting that urge to fit more in a given time. Let the notes ring longer and respect the rests. It takes practice... and Patience!

    For ballads, a nice root on the kick / fifth on the snare pattern works well.

    A nice example of a modern slow tempo song recording is "Polly Come Home" as performed by Robert Plant & Allison Krauss.
  8. jaywa


    May 5, 2008
    Iowa City, IA
    Wait on the two till you can hardly stand it, then wait a little more.
  9. Jefenator

    Jefenator Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2008

    Also +1 for subdividing

    IME people often get hypnotized then try and drag the tempo, which of course will be a disaster if they prevail. If I can tell some other guys aren't quite feeling it where it is, I'll throw in a bit of chatter to set up the next down beat.
  10. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Another + 1 for subdividing. But more importantly,

    The fact that the Band Director has chosen to bring you in reflects that s/he is open to your discreet suggestions to The Children about how THEY can subdivide (and play more musically in general). Particularly the drummer. In some situations that would be direct advice; in others, discussion with the BD about suggestions s/he could make.

    It is a rare joy to see a suggestion you offer take root in a kid's mind over the course of a year. (Perhaps all too rare, but that's another matter).
  11. Adam Booker

    Adam Booker Supporting Member

    May 3, 2007
    Boone, NC
    Endorsing Artist: D'Addario Strings, Remic Microphones
    I was always taught : The Slower the tempo, the faster you count. In other words, learn to feel the subdivision and how it fits in the over-all music. Not just 6/8 but even 8's as well. In fact, on really slow tunes, I'll count it in even eights. It helps to cancel out the pushing tendency of triplet swing and puts the downbeat squarely on the pulse. All IMHO of course.
  12. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    If you're concentrating on counting, you're not concentrating on making music.
  13. zeytoun


    Dec 19, 2008
    Portland, Oregon
    Unless, the lyrics to the song are "1, 2, 3, 4" :D
  14. darthbatman


    Feb 2, 2009
  15. BIG +1.
  16. Mike Arnopol

    Mike Arnopol Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 4, 2005
    Owner of MAS Soundworks
    Yeah, you can't concentrate on counting when you're performing. but for practicing it's a good idea. Slow tempos are often much more difficult that fast tempos because in fast tempos the tempo aligns easily with your internal clock. There's no way you're going to feel 1 2 3 4 at 55bpm. You have to feel the subdivisions. The slower the tempo, the smaller subdivisions. It might help initially to have your metronome set at the 16th notes. You'll find it much easier to line up consistantly with the 16ths. When you're comfortable with the 16ths, set the metronome for 8th notes. Try to hear the 16th note subdivisions underneath. This is all totally unnatural and unmusical at first. When you have the 16th notes comfortably internalized with the metronome on 8th notes, change it to quarter notes. At the same time still feeling the 16th note subdivisions. Once you've got that down, if your metronome goes slow enough set it to half notes. Once you have the subdivisions internalized this will all become natural and you won't have to think about it.
  17. Gornick


    Jun 23, 2006
    Bay Area, CA
    If your metronome doesn't go down far enough, check out Crystal Metronome for you computer. Not only can you set it up with the subdivisions clicking along, but it goes down to 10 BPM, which is definitely Shirley Horn territory

  18. brake


    Jun 23, 2003
    Nova Scotia, Canada

    +1. I don't necessarily count but I feel 8ths or even 16ths at slower tempos, it helps me a ton.
  19. EggyToast


    Jan 21, 2006
    Yeah, if you have to play at 55, find a metronome that plays at 27.5. YOU fill in the space. Practicing at slow tempos is a great way to refine your own rhythm, because you have to do it all yourself (with a click to say "nope, you did it wrong again").

    What I do is I try to play a song at tempo, to a metronome, and once I feel that I've "got it," I put the 'nome at half speed -- and see if I still have it.

    You can also perceive the song at 110, and just space out all of the notes (as mentioned above).
  20. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    +1. That's why they pay Ed the big bucks.

    For me subdividing never worked. I just end up concentrating on counting and not on making music. To me it is just a flow thing. Like folks have said I try to keep the melody in the back of my mind and just let it flow through me.

    I think tempo issues often arise when we try to impose or force some kind of pulse on a ballad. I think we do this 'cause space can be uncomfortable if you are not used to it.

    For the kids it is a different story as they are still fighting with their respective axes. Then metronome work as Mike talked about might be the only way.

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