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Soloing concepts

Discussion in 'Ask Michael Dimin' started by LiquidMidnight, Jun 9, 2002.

  1. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    Hello Michael, I was wondering if you could give me some advice about using the bass in a soloing role.

    While I can play the bass in it's supporting role very well, I always have a little bit of trouble when it comes soloing, since the approach is completely different. I know that the purpose is to play a melody and I know my theory, but I'm having trouble getting it from my head to the fretboard and making it sound like a complete idea.

    One of my main problems is playing something that has a melody line, yet still keeps the song "grooving". I've played some pieces that my father wrote, that I solo on with my fretless bass. My father plays guitar during the solos and I solo over the chords just like any guitarist, sax player, piano player, ect. would solo over it. I have no problem there and play very well since I only have to concentrate on a melody line. The problem I have, is the "other" approach to bass soloing. The approach where all of the other instruments expect the bass and drums take a tacet. The more traditional jazz solo approach I guess you could say. When trying to play a melody line, it feels as though the music bottoms out and loses it's groove. (I'm mainly referring to jazz style swing pieces, though they might not always be pure jazz) Is that because whatever drummer I'm playing with isn't doing his job, or am I letting out an important piece of my soloing approach and that is to keep the groove going while playing something that has a melodic approach?

    Melody brings me to another question and this is my other big problem. When all of those other instruments take a tacet, you aren't playing over any chords. Do you then base your melody on the chord pattern of the song (even though it's not being played), do you make up your own progression in your head that is different from the chord progression of the rest of the song, and base your melody around those chords, or do you disregard chord structure all together and just play whatever comes to you at the moment, no matter if it follows a chordal center or not?

    I also want to avoid cliches, such as using pentatonic runs in rock/blues songs and such. How should approach that, cause it seems like when I try to stray from pentatanic runs and blue notes in those styles of music, the solo sounds like it doesn't fit.

    I hope I did't sound to much like a goober with these questions. :D I greatly appreciate you reading and answering my questions.
  2. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999
    Wow - great question - I could write a book!

    Let me try to take each question or concern individually. The last lesson that I wrote for Bass Frontiers Magazine dealt specifically with "Groove Based Soloing"

    That is the first problem. As a bass player we put certain limitations on ourselves. We see ourselves as supporting cast and not as soloists. This is further reinforced by our bandmates. Think of a guitar player in a rock band, He/She solos on EVERY tune. We might get 1 or 2 a night. A sax player or a guitar player doesn't really approach the solo differently, it is part of their psyche. We think that we have to get into a solong "frame of mind". Really, however, we have to get out of any frame of mind. We have to let the music flow through you regardless of whether you're grooving or soloing. I've recommended this before, but check out Kenny Werner's book "Effortless Mastery". It is a difficult read, but well worth it. It really works at removing the ego aspect of the music - how we tie our musical successes and failures to our self worth. The books speaks to letting tehe music flow from someplace deeper than our knowledge base.

    Do you KNOW the melody that you are playing? How is it constructed? What techniques does the composer use to create the melody. For example the melody to Autumn Leaves is a series of 2 measure sequences. When you solo over it you can quote the melody, play off the shape of the melody, play off of the sequence, use your chord scales, etc.

    Trying to create a grooving bass line is always a challenge, as it should be both grovving and interesting. You have a base to work from, the original bass line. From that starting point add in melodic, rhythmic and stylistic variations.

    From a melodic standpoint, you can add scalar or chromatic approaches, fills, sequences, chords or double-stops, octave displacements and more. Your can reharmonize the chord changes and alter the bass groove to fit the new changes.

    From a rhythmic standpoint you can syncopate the rhythm by accenting weaker beats, offset the line within the rhythm, double the feel, etc.

    Finally, in terms of the stylistic variations, you can add slaps, taps, harmonics, whatever style that fits your musical vision.

    If you take a line and develop it SLOWLY over time using one or more of the above techniques, you'll keep the groove as you develop your solo.

    I think it always sounds better when your solo follows the form and function of the tune. What I mean by this is that the solo should follow the harmony or a reharmonization of the tune. In that way the function fo the harmony is in tact and the solo is an integral part of the tune. You ask
    I try to base my solo on the MELODY of the tune and use the harmonic structure as a foundation for the origianl melody and the solo.

    There is much that you can do. First, (I'll say it again) learn the melody of the song. You might find some nice notes that you wouldn't have thought to play lurking right there. Look at some alternative scales. I often play a major scale line over the b3 of a blues key (Dmaj over Bb7), I'll then add in the blue notes, etc. You can play really outside if you have taken some time to set up an identifiable motif in your solo. Let me explain. If you develop a motif that the audience can "grab on to", you can get pretty outside as long as you come back to that anchor. The noted music theorist George Russell said something to the effect that if you play everything that the audience expects, it will be boring. Conversely, if you play everything too foreign or avant gard, they'll hate it. You must balance the new with the old. Setting up this motif works for that.

    Hope this helps

  3. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    Thank you. Those answers helped with a lot of questions I asked. The idea of starting a solo around the tonal center, then leaving the center after I've established a motif makes a lot of sense. I've never really thought about that, but a lot of people do that. Espcially guitarist. I'll definatley look into the book you suggested.

    Again, thank you very much. :)
  4. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999
    That really is what developing a solo is all about, isn't it. Unfortunatley, as bass players, no one ever teaches us that. We always learn how to be the support