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Trying to escape 'root bias' in my soloing, any advice?

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by MikeBarber, Jan 11, 2005.

  1. I'm hoping my sagely peers here can give me some advice on this...

    I am working on escaping/deprogramming my 'root bias' when it comes to walking basslines. But where I really find the challenge is in my soloing. When it comes to my turn to take a solo, I keep falling back into this mode where I feel that I have to constantly imply the chords. Taking Coltrane's Mr PC as an example, the changes are:

    4 bars Cm
    2 bars Fm, 2 bars Cm
    1 bar Ab, 1 bar Gm, 2 bars Cm

    So what I end up doing is soloing:

    4 bars C blues
    2 bars F blues, 2 bars C blues
    1 bar Ab Lydian, 1 bar G phrygian, 2 bars C blues

    and always starting off on the root (especially for the Ab, G, and C at the end). It's kind of a compulsion... since the only thing accompanying me is the drums, there is nothing but my implying the chord, thus I feel it is my responsibility to keep the chord changes heard. I won't even attempt to solo over something like "I've Got Rhythm"... the thought of trying to solo with a different chord change every two beats terrifies me! :eek:

    Is this something I should accept and live with, or can I strive for something more?
  2. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Strive for more, definitely. Listen to and transcribe horn players, using the methodology I've described elsewhere, and you'll hear how folks who don't supply the foundation hear harmony.

    Getting past that psychological hurdle of "must play, must aloow NO silence" is a hard one. Not that I don't still need to have "Just shut up" tattoed on my forehead, but having a solid foundation in hearing harmony, hearing melody and just trying to play what you hear (instead of what notes you know are 'supposed' to work over certain chords or patterns etc.) is what is going to communicate HERE IS WHERE WE ARE to the rest of the band (as well as the audience) better than an endless stream of notes.

    It's been said before, SING improvised lines over the changes. then play what you sing. Since that's just transcribing what you would solo, why not transcribe what Lester Young would solo?

    There's no quick and easy, but that's where we are all headed. To get to the place where you just paly what you hear, you hear with some depth and beauty.
  3. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    What Ed said.

    Here's an exercise with two componants. Next time you practice,

    1) Start every phrase with the last three notes of your previous phrase; and

    2) Wait at least three beats between phrases.

    This is only an exercise. Use of this exercise in concert will cause your fingers to smell bad.
  4. tww001


    Aug 13, 2003
    Telford, PA
    I don't have the experience of Ed or Sam, I'm still in college in fact. But an exercise (if you can even call it that!) that has really helped open my ears and ideas, aside from transcribing, is to put on a music-minus-one or play-along that I'm not familiar with, and randomly pick a track, and fast forward into the middle of the track so that I don't initially know where I am in the form. I simply play completely by ear, without the changes in front of me. Most of the time I sound way out, but after a chorus or two, I get a feel for the song. I find that learning changes by ear rather than by sight helps me to stay away from that terrible root bias, which I know I am guilty of all the time :eek:
  5. nypiano


    Feb 10, 2003

    I don't think you should look at the "responsibility issue" in regards to the root. If you play a good line or hip idea it doesn't matter. The root is a perfectly good note to start or another will do if it spawns a good melody. You don't have to outline changes if you're not hearing ideas that contain that content. Perhaps you have just described the territory you use in above but, you should really be thinking melody over changes rather than a "now this scale", "now that scale" approach. That can make soloing a chore. The minute you look at a solo line as something outside yourself in such technical parameters--you remove yourself from the more visceral proceess of connecting with your inner melodic dialogue. What you can do is hum stuff to yourself away from the instrument until you hear something working. This is to help get away from fingering things and organizing your thoughts a bit prior to jumping in. The reality is rhythmic composition is as big a deal as the notes you pick. Start simple with something that is repeatable that you can develop to start that dialogue. If you are having trouble simplify further. Add more complicated stuff later.

    I can't upload but let's see if can give an idea of what I'm talking about for this 6 measure sample Cminor fast blues.
    -=eighth --=quarter ---=dotted quarter, etc. +=the "and" of the beat

    D-D--D-(tied) 3,4/1,2+ D--F--Eb-/D--Bb-C-(tied)/

    This starts on the ninth and resolves to the root.
    If you are able to follow/decode the rhythm of above ex you have an a bit of motivic development and resolution on this that cut across the changes and develop a motive that transposes from C- change to F-change. Plus has that jazzy minor 6th note on the return of C-(A). Sam mentioned as having the content of previous bar- I would go further and say the intervalic and rhythmic content or shape. I can't stress enough that rhythmic content & composition is a big deal-especially from bass--which for others is a bit harder to hear than higher pitched or amplified instruments.

    Oh--one other thing. Be careful with transposing blues scales. That often sounds too forced. It often sounds better just to play or imply one (ie C-blues) over all the changes- making sure to emphasize the most relevant to the chord you're on. For example when you're on the Ab7 change in C-blues you can emphaze the F and Gb of the dominant-avoiding the G until the G7change. Blues scales are an idiomatic imposition of sound over the changes. A much more horizontal notion. That is you say- this one sound works over these changes because I hear it that way.
  6. tzadik


    Jan 6, 2005
    Play less notes. Play very simple phrases. Don't start on beat one. If you need theory to get you going, play arpeggios minus roots.
    But mostly, don't worry about what note you're playing. Use your ears. Play each note with a purpose. Simplify. Less is more!
  7. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Not to toot Dan's own horn (since I don't play tenor) and also because I really am not much for just gathering vocabulary, but this is something that Dan's book really tries to address.

    See this.
  8. nypiano


    Feb 10, 2003
    Well you know..like minds..yadda, yadda.

    Hopefully one day I can get it together to write something too. Though I guess I'd should bring a shovel with me just in case... :eyebrow:
  9. jtlownds


    Oct 3, 2004
    LaBelle, FL
    One of the reasons that nobody likes bass solos is exactly this. Why is it that every soloist in the band has the support of the entire rythm section plus. But when the bass solos, everybody drops out except the drummer, leaving you hanging out to dry. Some comping by the guitar or piano or both (toned down) will make a bass solo a lot more palatable, and reduce your need to play off the chords, so that you can concentrate on improvising around the melody. The bass players deserve the same level of support that is given to every other soloist in the band.

    Jim Lownds
  10. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    This is a great point. When soloing on bass and you are going for melodic things -- and the band drops out -- it can get pretty ambiguous without accompaniment. If the rest of the band doesn't give me the support that I like, I'll find a moment where I can request that they give me what I want. Most people are pretty cool about this, and tend to lay out for bass solos as so many bass players want it this way.

    Now, that said, I've also found that I have, and it's easy to develop, habits from compensating for poor support. Things like playing close to the changes in a fundamental way (Bach plays bop), and endless phrasing to keep things going feel-wise during the solo. I so infrequently feel comfortable enough with the rhythm section to lay back on the groove and phrasing, putting things on the fat side of the groove and leaving space.

    The best way, I think, to get around playing 'bass solos' is two-fold. First, fill your ears with non-bass solos. Listen to melodies and solos of other instruments, particularly trumpet as that instrument has similar limitations as far as range and things-difficult (arpeggios, etc). Sing this stuff to yourself -- contstantly. Sing along with the records, later on the subway, whatever. Get your ears working in that range (harmonically). As you get this going, then try to pick off what note phrases/melodies start on. Then try to recognize what tools the melody line is using: Hey, that's diatonic scale / chord tones / diminished / pentatonic / yada yada. Then, what is being done with that tool -- patterns, neighboring tones, patterns with neighboring tones, etc.

    Secondly (at the same time), you have to get comfortable with phrasing. You can practice this in any number of ways. Limiting yourself to, say in a blues, a short, singable phrase every four bars. You get the idea.

    Another thing that bassists tend to overlook, because of technical deficiency (sp?), is range. Run your scales (The Exorcises?) and get comfortable all over your instrument. You have almost 4 usable octaves on the thing -- why limit yourself to a 13th or so?

    And -- for practice -- work both with and without accompaniment. Record yourself and see if your lines hold up.
  11. I'm no expert myself, but something I've done is to grab a few notes or phrases from the melody to get things started.

    On something with a strong rhythmic motif such as Mr PC, I tend to hit a starting note, and imitate the rhythm, going whereever my fingers take me.

    I hope this makes sense to someone other than myself.
  12. spc


    Apr 10, 2004
    South of Boston
    Thanks for a really great exercise! To me, this is one of those exercises that sounded easy but turned out to be quite the opposite! Thanks again!