Scales and improvisation

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by GreggBummer, Jan 15, 2009.

  1. I have been playing bass since 1988 or so, but like many players I am mostly self taught. I have taken lessons here and there. As I get older, music theory and the mechanics of music are becoming more important... that being said there are HUGE gaps in my knowledge of music.

    My question is... I have been playing and practicing scales since '88 and I was wonder how musicians (esp. you blues and jazz guys) use them when you are improvising with a band. In the past, someone will say "Hey this song is in A" and I would listen and choose appropriate notes from an "A" scale. Sometimes it takes me a while to get a "feel" for it... I am hoping to increase my understanding to cut down the "feel for it" time.

    Suggestions? Links? Reading material?
  2. slybass3000

    slybass3000 Inactive

    Nov 5, 2004
    I'm sure there is a bunch of stuff here if you do a search.

    To practice improv I love the Aebersold discs.

    There is also a new book called "Cutting the changes " where you only use the Major scale to solo with on Standards.

    There is Band-in-a-box as a software too,

    Check out Mark Levine's book on Jazz theory,

  3. There are several things to keep in mind, in my opinion, when applying theory knowledge in a performance situation.

    Most important is the tonal center "of the moment". If somebody says "We are going to play in A", you simply need to know where the note A is on your instrument and then play it convincingly with the band. Potentially, and especially as a bass player, you could play that one note repeatedly over the course of an entire tune and it might work as wonderfully as anything else.

    The more information you can gather and perceive, the more complicated it can first at least. For example, if you know that along with the key of A, that the tune is going to be a repeating 12 bar blues, you have to understand how that further restriction works with the key. Specifically, that you are working with 3 basic chords from the "blues scale" which we can call I, IV and V (derived from the first, fourth and fifth tones of a major scale), and that I=A, IV=D, and V=E in the key of A. You also must be able to play through the "chord changes", or simply "changes"...that as the music moves through time, the key center will shift as the chords move. This is a basic theoretical explanation using chord scale theory and you can make it just about as complicated as you want.

    So my advice is this. It is a good start to be able to play a scale, especially if you can do it in all keys all over the neck without breaking a sweat. However, the study of the harmonic implications of the scale is what will most likely break new ground for you in terms of dealing with whatever comes your way.

    Ed Friedland has a book called "Building Walking Bass Lines" (with play along CD) that is a well thought out, practical explanation of these ideas. It's also a book that even if your reading isn't strong, it progresses slowly enough that you shouldn't feel overwhelmed. I know he has also done the Hal Leonard bass books 1, 2 and 3, which really helped my get on my feet in terms of reading in bass clef.
  4. Thanks for the above information. I have to admit, that while I can play a few scales, I should know more. I think that what I need to do is get back with teacher and try and nail this down. I have reached a plateau that has become a rut.
  5. Skywalker83

    Skywalker83 Guest

    Oct 19, 2008
    Tampere, Finland
    My advice would be to stop using books, and start playing!! Go to jam nights at bars, join bands and play along to everything an anything in your music collection. If you've had this knowledge of scales etc for 20 years or so, you have to ask yourself why are struggling to find the "feel"?? You will never be able to groove by reading books.

    There is one book i would recommmend for someone in your position, Victor Wootens' "The music lesson". I think it would be an ideal book for someone in you.
  6. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    Do some transcribing. It's free. You can see what your favorite players are playing and then copy them. There is no shame in that because they are copying their favorite players.

    If you have reached a plateau then it is time to work on stuff that you can't play. The Charlie Parker Omnibook in bass clef is a good place to start. How's your notation reading going these days?
  7. Dogbertday

    Dogbertday Commercial User

    Jul 10, 2007
    SE Wisconsin
    Blaine Music LLC
    Also The Groove Workshop DVD... It's really amazing and has a lot of insight into playing functionally and how to stop thinking so much
  8. Yes. It is time to learn some new stuff... I have been listening to a lot of new/old music that I adore... but have no background in. Stevie Wonder, Gov't Mule, The Meters, Moe, North Mississppi Allstars... bands that I love but haven't really messed around with on the bass.

    My notation reading stinks. While I know HOW to read, I am effectively musically illiterate. So, it looks like I have some work to do.

    Thanks to everyone for all the advice... keep it coming.