Walking around roots

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by TroyK, Oct 5, 2005.

  1. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Jazz guys: As I transcribe, I notice that a lot of the guys who I really dig, frequently don't play the chord roots on the 1 or wherever the chord changes. I'm trying to get away from this as a crutch in my soloing, but in walking I still ALMOST always play the chord root on the beat where the chord first appears. Usually, when I do hear this, they are playing another chord tone or just blowing through the change, if it were a ii-V, for example.

    Are there rules or guidelines about when, where and how much to do this or is it just a matter of breaking the rules with caution?

    I'd be interested to know how married to the roots some of you guys are in your walking lines.

    I have a teacher, have had for years, I can ask him, but right now, I'm casting the net broader.

  2. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    It's not a matter of rules or guidelines, breaking or adhering. It's actually hearing what you want to play in relation to the harmonic framework AND what else is going on around you. Every note you play should be related to the one just played and the next on you are going to play and they should have an arc- just like a solo or a melody.

    How do you work on improvising currently?
  3. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Improvising is probably a different thread, but I do see the relationship. Generally, I feel like a very competent accompanist (walker) and haven't found my solo voice yet.

    To work on improvising, I transcribe, woodshed with just me and a trumpet player who I think is a really good soloist, play permutations on the melody, play the rhythm of the melody with chord tones from the changes, try to sound hip...

    The thing that's helped the most lately is just practicing a song, alone as completely as possible; head, walking, arpeggios on the changes and blowing last, after all the other stuff is pretty internal. Sometimes I listen to multiple versions of the recording and try to see how other soloists approach blowing on that tune and maybe cop a few things. I feel like I'm doing the right things to improve my soloing and am starting to see results, but of course want to be great right freaking now!

    So, walking is a strength, but observationally, I just noticed that I'm a bit more conventional than some hipper walkers and wondered where everyone else fell on this point.

    Thanks for your reply. It does make sense to me, some day, I will conceive of lines an instant before I play them and follow my muse rather than learn songs the old fashioned way. Looking forward to that day.

  4. nypiano


    Feb 10, 2003
    I think what Ed is telling you is pretty spot on here. The study of walking line in no different than improvising solo lines. Some of the aethetics that govern walking bass lines and solo lines maybe slightly different. For example I dislike when a bassist get's too happy :hyper: with his "melodic" basslines to the point where it becomes self indulgent and draw too much attention to itself. But in general the right idea at the right time in the right context is true on all fronts be it soloing, walking lines or drum accompaniment. And subtlety is always at the top of the list for any artist. This amounts to being a good listener and improving the scope of that as much as possible. You hear yourself, you hear everyone else and you try to play the best idea imaginable-always.

    The functional aspect of walking lines (ie nailing the roots) is something that is always there but what Ed mentions about making conscious decisions to avoid roots etc-that will end up making you lose the plot. It's like this: you could improvise and end up playing the melody exactly as part of your improvisation or you could change it. That's the aspect of owning the music not being a spectator.

    There is also a certain amount of unconscious prior vocabulary that we reuse that "covers" music. We all have our hip lines that we develop and regurgitate that can always sound good with the right intent. But you develop upon that.
  5. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Improvising is improvising, it doesn't matter if it's half notes or 16th notes. A walking line is a melodic response to your musical environment, just one that happens to be a steady stream of quarter notes. Learning the melody is good, I might suggest a little more formal approach to the other things you are doing. My teacher has me working on improvising in the following manner -
    1. Play the melody for one chorus (from memory)
    2. Play a chorus of "chord line", which is to say a line that arpeggiates the harmony, with a couple of parameters:
    a. in time - if a chord last a bar, it gets 4 quarter notes; if it lasts two beats it gets four 8th notes etc.
    b. in proximity - use root postion and inversions to maintain a proximity of fingering. By way of example a ii7 V7 Imaj7 in C would be root position, second inversion, root position or D F A C D F G B C E G B.
    3. Play the improvisational exercise (which is a lot to go into here), which has parameters based on note value, rests, where in the phrase you play the melody etc.

    There is no way to be "freaking great right now", improving your playing is a slow steady process. It IS a process based on time put in, so if you can practice 8 hours a day in a focused, consistent and progressive way you can make substantially quicker progress than if you can only practice an hour a day (in the same way).

    I would caution you against "trying to sound hip"; drummer of my acquaintance said something pretty smart - don't let what you WANT to happen get in the way of what is ACTUALLY HAPPENING. It ain't about "trying", it's more about "letting". Any musician with ears out there is going to be able to get with somebody who is playing some true and personal **** more than they are with somebody who is trying **** out that they don't really hear yet, oblivious to what else is going on musically. If you feel that music is a conversation, think bakc on this exchange we've just had. You didn't need to go grab a dictionary in order to have it, right? You had something you wanted to say and you said it, using the words in your vocabulary that said most specifically what it was you wanted to say. You want to play like that too. Jim Stinnett said something that I liked, he said that whenever he hears players talk about playing hipper, he asks them to think about target shooting. Do you need to work on your aim or do you need more ammunition? More ammunition doesn't get you to hitting the target.

    Work on playing with meaning with the vocabulary you have NOW. The other stuff will come with work.
  6. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    San Francisco, CA
    I love my teach. :) During one lesson, I was "trying to sound hip" while comping for him and avoiding roots. Right in the middle of the 2nd chorus, he slams on the brakes and yells at me a while back for not playing enough roots.

    Another time playing in a class ensemble, he does the same thing in front of all the other students. I'll never forget him telling me to "be proud of playing roots" and to stand behind them.

    Since then I've tried to weave root playing into my walking while still trying to make up some kind of story. I think I've been (and the music too) all the better for it.
  7. dex68

    dex68 Guest

    May 5, 2005
    A good little excersize for bass lines, handed down to me by Cecil McBee, is to work on making sure that you always land on a chord tone on down beats (doesn't have to be root on 1st beat, but you have to hear root in relation). Try to get to these tones from either a half-step below, or above (or whole step sometimes). Of course, you wouldn't always want to play this way, but it can get some nice bass motion in to your lines, and give you a way to always sound good. But in the end it is true, bass lines are melodies. Remember, every note you play has to mean something.
  8. jstiel

    jstiel Jim Stiel

    Jun 5, 2004
    Lake Orion, MI
    I don't necessarily think that roots are a bad thing on 1, especially when a new chord is being introduced. If the change is a Cm7 and I play a third in the bass on 1, is the chord a Cm7 or is it an Eb6? If you want it to be a Cm7, you probably want to play a root on 1, especially if its a ballad (although a third in the bass often can give a nice effect). The bass note tends to define the chord.
  9. I couldn't agree more.

    I couldn't agree more. I think I think what KEYSTONE is asking is, what kind of work can I do to get to the other stuff. Specifically, ways to construct a line which involve notes other than roots on downbeats. At the risk of opening a hole nuther (sic) can o' worms, some of this info can be had in a BOOK :eek: by Ed Friedland, Building Walking Bass Lines Volume 2.

    Now for some nitty gritty, and this has nothing to do with when to do it or how often. Let's take a simple ii-V-I progression in C, D-7|G7|CMA7, a bar each.
    1. Delay the resolution from ii to V by 2 beats.
    ex: D E F A|D Ab G Db|C
    or: D A C C#|D E F G|C
    or: D D# E A|D C B G|C

    ii and V are essentially interchangeable, so by the same token you could

    2. "five the two"
    ex: G F E Eb|D A G B|C

    3. Substitute the 3rd for the root, making sure to use good voice leading (half-step approaches)
    ex: D C A A#|B D G Db|C
    or: F E D C|B A G D|C
    or: D D Db C|B G D Db|C
    Note that frequently the 7th of one chord resolves to the 3rd of the next. Also, to avoid ambiguity in the 2nd measure, it's important to hit the root and fifth to spell the G triad. This way it won't be misconstrued as a B chord.

    4. Another type of delayed resolution, this one is more melodic in nature and uses the double chromatic approach.
    ex: D C B A|F F# G B|C
    or: D E F D|A Ab G D|C
    Notice how these lead your ear to expect the G on the downbeat only to "overshoot" the target and return to it from the other side.

    I got a bunch of 'em.
  10. So that's the real question, eh? The answer to that is, it all depends. What does the situation call for? You have to use your intuition, and decide how much based on the style and level of the music and the other musicians in the group. Nobody can tell you how to play with good taste in this medium (much as I love TB), and it's probably useless to try and guess what kinds of musical scenarios you might be in without actually being in the room to hear you.

    That aside, if things start to sound ambiguous and feel tentative, it's probably time to get back to roots.
  11. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    These are all good responses and I appreciate them. I'm going to play TBal's examples and woodshed it a bit to see what comes out of it. If I really dig, it maybe I'll check out that book. I'm generally pretty happy with my walking and am focused more on some other aspects of my playing, like playing heads and blowing, but the point was made well above that these things are not really unrelated.

    A couple of observations and responses. First, I played tonight and thought about it a little more and I probably opt around roots on the 1s more than I thought. I don't stick to prearranged lines and am improvising the lines as I'm playing them and in reaction to the other music on the stage, so as tonight, I noticed that there are cases where the line to where I'm going doesn't pass through the root, but I play the line and not the change.

    Also reflecting on the advice above, there are times when I intentionally play ambigously when it feels like what the music calls for. If the soloist is playing kind of outside, I think it sounds bad to really clearly outline the changes behind him, so I tend to play a little more modally, for example, keeping in mind where the changes are and hitting occasional signposts so that we all keep the form. I come back to the strict chordtones when the music seems to want to go there. There are tunes like Stolen Moments, off the top of my head that sounds like minor blues when you play it that way and like an Oliver Nelson tune, which you don't play the root at every 1.

    So, my observation came from transcribing and since you never transcribe yourself, I guess, I wasn't really aware that it's not uncommon for me to make non-root choices sometimes. And, as previously stated, I tend to like my walking and I get compliments on it, so I'm not really trying to fix anything, but still sometimes I hear someone else walking and think..what is he doing that I don't that makes it sound that way? So, the exercises above and continuing to pick apart other people's lines will only open up other ideas for me to choose to play or not as the music dictates.

    Thanks to everyone for your responses.

  12. Maybe, but not necessarily. When a soloist wants to play out, the measure of "outness" is how it relates to the inside stuff. So if eveybody goes out with him, he's not really outside, is he?
  13. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Yeah, I thought about that after I wrote it and thought it might draw a response. My underlying point was that I do actually listen and adjust what I'm playing to the situation (song, soloist, drummer...)

    When I'm practicing walking at home, alone, I think is where my non-traditional idea (about walking) are hard to come by.

  14. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    I always think of how adventurous to get based on the gig and the players too. If I'm playing behind a singer I generally stay pretty close to root harmony but when the solo starts I listen to the soloist and piano players and listen to how they are treating the same harmony and try to communicate.

    The trick is to try to get good enough at hearing what's going on that you can be part of the conversation (solo) instead of just being blank white paper. I think of my role as providing a medium on which a soloist can paint a picture. Whether it be white paper, canvas, or rocks. Also recognizing what kind of medium the soloist wants. I know that is kinda abstract but does that make sense?
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I had the same thing in Jazz Summerschool - so in the small ensemble sessions I would often get slightly bored with the horn players taking a lot of time to 'get' the tune or whatever was going on and I tended to then amuse myself by looking for ways of avoiding roots - but the tutor (who was very friendly) came up to me and said - "Bruce, you need to play more roots"!! ;)
  16. Yeah - I've been told off too.

    Funny thing - I know you're a big latin buff Bruce and IMHO if anything teaches you the beauty and artistry of landing roots in the right place it's latin lines - which to hip jazzers look simplistic easy peasy - until you try to do it like a latino!
  17. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Uh, no. While not as difficult to finger perhaps, Cuban music kicks my a$$. I love it and I'll devote some time to it some day, but where the stress the time and place the roots is very counter intuitive from a jazz perspective.
  18. mister_k


    Jul 27, 2004
    Los Angeles
    I was playing in a combo with a vocalist a couple of weeks ago, and the keyboard player (who was himself a ham-handed caberet man) comes up to me after a particularly smoking jam. The drummer and I were locked right up, and just flying. Now, I'm telling you, this was hardly super adventurous or "out." Just smoking along. The keyboard player comes up to me and says, "I don't think you're playing the right chords."
    The drummer looked over and said to me, "You were playing chords?"
    Funny as it all was, I now keep my walking very close to the roots in that combo. Just concentrate on keeping the piano player from ramping the band into lightspeed.

    So, I agree that the situation dictates taste and class. Do whats right for the whole project.

    that's my .02