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Tips for bass improvisation

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by justdroppedin, Dec 1, 2017.

  1. justdroppedin


    Dec 1, 2017
    Hi all, I'm new here and I've really only been playing bass seriously for about a year. I need to work on improvising. Which are your go-to scales and/or techniques for this? I appreciate any input.
  2. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    This might be better placed under 'General Instruction' but here is probably OK...
    First - Welcome to TalkBass!
    My improvisational skills are quite weak so I'll be watching this thread...
    There are books - I've been reading Jimmy Haslip's 'Modern Improvisation for Bass Players' lately.
    For me (and a lot of guitar players) the Pentatonic and its offshoot Blues scale form a good (if somewhat predictable) foundation.
    It's not a bad place to start.
    There are any number of references that associate specific modes and scales with keys and changes...
  3. Go to scales? The major scale and the natural minor scale to start with. Major does all I need with the music I play - Country and Praise.

    Are you going to compose some improvisation or are you going to improvise around a tune that already has been written? If around a tune -- where you want to be a year from now is play -- THE TUNE and improvise your interpretation of that tune.

    The tune has to come in there somewhere. The people have been listening to the vocals, the story being told in the lyrics and it's is now time for your improvised solo... Yep, you should continue with your improvisation of the tune - that they have been listening to.

    Pentatonic scales is where you start. Ed Friedland's book, Pentatonic Scales for Bass would be my recommendation of a place to start.

    It's probably quicker to just learn 24 bars of the tune and then add your improvisation around the established tune.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2018
    ted Parillo and Rich Fiscus like this.
  4. Everyone I know that can improvise well, either has a monster ear, or an expert knowledge of theory, or both.

    No one I know, that has only been playing a year, has either—yet. In the meantime, work on developing your aural skills and theory. Once you have either of these, you won’t have to rely on tips, tricks, or shortcuts to solo.
    Bob_Ross and bholder like this.
  5. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    What are you goals for improvising? I've played for over 40 years in groups that include improvisation. Many of the people who are 'good' at this sort of thing play a lot of scales, and that basically isn't a whole lot of music.

    With every piece of music there is something that is a reason for its existence. Mostly melody or rhythm, sometimes harmony. With improvisation there should be an 'improvement' or at least a look at the players take on what makes the piece worthwhile. Some of the best improvisers stay close to the melody and create something that encourages a different look at the melody. Same is true for rhythm.

    Scales and things of that ilk will get you through difficult situations and can be used to fill the space between the better ideas (music) of your improvisation, but it should never be the sum total of the solo. Scales and such are also great for answering question like, "how do I solo?", and "what's going on with this solo?". They also form the bread and butter of lots of jazz teaching classes and books. Don't be fooled, many of the really fine improvisers have a huge collection of melodies and phrases they call on. They spend years collecting them from recordings and practicing. Yes there are times when inspiration takes hold and something wonderful is created on the spot... but that is the exception, not the rule.

    Keep your ear on the music. And in the end, it's a lot like life, if you don't have anything to say, keep your seat.
    ted Parillo and bholder like this.
  6. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Learn your intervals and arpeggios so well that you can sing them on demand, then learn to play what you're singing.
    movinngruvin and old spice like this.
  7. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Learn your major/minor scales in all keys up and down the neck. Learning your basic chords within those keys is very helpful as well. This was my first step to getting into improv. That is followed by intensive listening of music and simply sitting down to practice improv by playing along with tracks you like. Being able to throw on a recording, identify the key, identify the harmony, and just "sit in" with the track is a great skill to have before starting to improvise with others in real time.
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  8. twelvetrombones

    twelvetrombones Martian Ambassador Gold Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2017
    Portland, OR
    What are you looking to improvise? Are you looking to solo? Make up a bass line based on chords?
  9. StyleOverShow

    StyleOverShow Still Playing After All These Years Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2008
    Riffing on the melody is a jazz standard.

    Overall, start slow and if you can keep transitioning across the fingerboard, up, down, etc.

    Plan your exit, how you get back to the next section after your solo. Don't be too high up the neck.

    It gets easier with practice
  10. justdroppedin


    Dec 1, 2017
    Thanks for the tip about better placement!
  11. BassAndReeds


    Oct 7, 2016
    Listen and transcribe to the greats.

    James Jamerson. Pino Palladino. Jaco. Marcus Miller. Stanley Clarke. Ron Carter. Et al.

    Recordings and headphones is all you need. And maybe a little understanding of music theory
  12. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Don't just listen to bass players, either. Try learning licks from any source you can - helps shake out some of the bass player habits. I particularly like trying to copy voice or wind instrument solos (though I'm not any good at it yet), since they have completely different approaches to phrasing. Or practice thinking up a melody and then playing it - try to get to the point where you can play anything you can think so that it becomes automatic - so you can just play what you're hearing in your head (I'm only a little further along with that effort than I was 45+ years ago, but hey, forward progress). ;) Interval ear training is a huge help, imho.
    Basstards likes this.
  13. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    The thing about phrasing is that we string players don't have to worry about our breathing, but wind players and vocalists sure do - leaving a little space or "taking a breath" now and then does seem to help phrasing on strings, though, makes it sound more "natural" to most ears somehow. (And I know there are wind players who use circular breathing to go on and on and on, that's something else entirely....)
  14. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin Banned

    Dec 11, 1999
    Just sing what you play... you'll naturally breathe and therefore develop that natural sense of phrasing
    bholder likes this.
  15. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    From interviews I've read, it's how Dave Gilmour created his most memorable solos - he sang them first then figured them out on guitar - I've always said the most singing vocal melody line in any (post-Syd) Pink Floyd song was in the guitar solo, not the actual vocals. He's right up there with Santana in terms of making it "cry and sing"...
    IamGroot and ted Parillo like this.
  16. Badwater


    Jan 12, 2017
    Check out YouTube for tabs or watch and emulate the music you like to improve to. That way you'll learn some licks and tricks in the process. And if you have a good feel for the music, you'll see why some licks work and others don't.
  17. Lots of really great suggestions so far. Used almost all of them.

    So this is a little strange.......

    I have kept my bass by my bed for over 20 years (married, separate bedrooms). If i wake up, i reach for the bass without turning the light on. Usually, I play what i am hearing in my head. Sometimes it is a walking line, sometimes a tune, sometimes a solo.In this manner, i have trained myself to play what i hear in my head without thinking about it or looking at the fingerboard.

    I really think the above improved my musianship and creativity.
    Btw... its a beatle bass.
    bholder and Mike Dimin like this.
  18. Aberdumbie


    Jan 22, 2016
    South Carolina
    I take five minute piano snippets. Doesn’t matter the piece. There are a myriad of notes in a snippet of a piano music. I been doing that for a couple years now and my ability to improvise and land the notes I want has improved tenfold over my previous forty years of playing.
    bholder likes this.
  19. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    Check the following videos about improvisation.


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