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Walking Bassline Theory Question

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Rob Hunter, Dec 10, 2001.

  1. nypiano


    Feb 10, 2003
    Much scale yes/no questions depends on the speed and style of the music and the duration and direction of the changes. Also the fundamental issue—how good are you at making a melody? How high do you value your skill at determining this? Or someone else you respect? If you found out that you were making ass-kicking solos without ever playing a scale (that is 7 pitches in a row, in stepwise sequence up or down) would you care?

    This probably explains why some established masters, referred to in this post may not have had a cohesive knowledge (at least outwardly) of the very language they were speaking. Obviously it didn’t prevent them from speaking very forcefully. The more one refers to the mechanics—the more pedantic the speaker. They might bristle at scale analysis for this reason. It doesn’t negate the mechanics. It just means you have to arrive at your innate sense of the scales and harmony by listening and trial and error. You also have to codify your own language—so it has an impact. Once you find a strong phrase you have to build upon it—reinvent, make variations and find others in the same spirit—or of contrary spirit. The musician has to feel inspired to transmit that. You also need live situations to try them out--no quicker way to learn. The practice room can be a strange haven--where curious ideas are given more due then they deserve:)

    Sometimes you play more scales at faster tempos—because it is difficult to think and you have to generate rhythm and force with your hands. The few indications of thinking involve grouping the scales and arpeggios together in meaningful and distinct rhythmic accents and harmonic groups. -this is the challenge. Honestly the only way to handle this is by noodling incessantly and transcribing until you come up with a mix of ideas that cut across the changes with a certain amount of zip and style. But noodle with intent! Ha ha

    If your scales do not accurately convey the changes moving through time or make a repeatable melody—you will sound like you don’t know what you’re doing. Suffice to say—that if you can generate enough variety rhythmically, harmonically, intervallically—make interesting shapes, target key pitches at pivotal points in the harmony and retain a vocal quality in your instrumental solos you’ll be able to be figure out how scales figure in—or they will be there already without you asking. Not so hard right? Ha

  2. Ed, Look, There's not much I can say that can't be placed in a negative context.

    But to try to address your concerns...

    "Well, here we go. So how do you select the notes? What's the governing intent?"
    The intent is to play the notes you hear in your head. If you don't have anything to say, swallowing an encyclopedia of chords, scales, or transcriptions won't help. I personally think starting with the options presented with scales is a good place to start finding those sounds in your head.

    I really think developing the ear is more about listening then anything else. "OK, listening to what? And listening how? " . There are plenty of listening excercises but I was referring to listening to anything and everything to inspire the student's own ideas. When once asked about influences, Bela Fleck responded TV. (specifically the diminished and augmented chords from old horror movies)
    That kind of openess to all things musical is what I'm talking about.

    a scale is realy no more than a chord (or part of a chord) that includes suggested passing tones. "And a piece of chocolate cake is no more than the molecules that make it up."
    The point is the scale is the parts and it's up to the player to make it more than the sum of its parts.

  3. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    This topic can confuse the sh*t out of players who are just learning. I think it's important to point out (again, probably) that people have different ways of understanding the music. There's 12 notes, right? Whether you're thinking in terms of scales, chords, modes, whatever, you're applying a conceptual template for grouping a set of notes and their relationships. You do this to organize your thinking and to grok it somehow; at some level, you can't help notdoing it. If we compare close enough, we can all find differences in our templates.

    So, newbies, don't go thinking that one of these ways is right and the other wrong. Everyone likely agrees that you should play the music you're hearing. We all hope it's musical.

    Having said all that, this thread's about walkin' bass, not soloing or playing melodies. You know: walking your way through the changes of all those great American songs where the walk fits. Your job as a bass player here is to keep the time and to know what the $%*# is going on with the harmony. You gotta be a good functional bass voice in the ensemble, thumping out enough roots so the horn players know where the *^@% they are in harmony land. And, you know, you gotta fill out the rest nice (melody, chords, scales -- getcher template out and go to it).

    Me, I'm a chord man. It was a template that clicked with me way back when and now my brain works that way. It's just a way of approaching a tune, really, of starting out with it; it stops mattering very much once the tune's internalized. I have to be able to hear the melody in those changes, so I try to sing it or whistle it if I can while working with the changes on the guitar. The walking bass needs to have the stuff hinted at above (drive, support, taste, etc, etc), so when I'm first "building it" on the instrument I'm looking for all the exciting ways I can explore the interconnections of *those* changes with *that* melody. It might be scalar, it might be a "passing tone" kinda idea, maybe it's a substitute chord type idea that leads me somewhere (trouble, likely.)

    Just another guy's way of describing it, newbies.
  4. nypiano


    Feb 10, 2003
    Sorry for cutting in at the middle-which got off topic on walking lines--newbyish of me

    I was just horning in on my bassist's (ED) board:)
    I will try to respond my organ left hand bass point of view

    I read the original question again. In reference to what to do about Fmajor 7 from a walking point of view-Bb or B:

    For the beginner--appliying absolute scales to walking lines-will probably result in little success and it has little application in real time situations. The longer the duration of the chord the more creative you have to be about which notes to pick. Bass players over Fmajor 7 will more often skip G in their lines on their way up and play both Bb and Bnat to get to C. An running arpeggios up and down sound amateurish and are distracting to the soloist. If you invert the intervals to get an up-down motion it will help ;then when you add neighbor tones around important pitches (ie F and C) it helps even more. The best results will definitely include leaps, reversal of direction, some chord inversion and upper and lower neighbors. The effect of the intervals you play up or down--from a momentum point of view-plus the feel is probably more important than the notes. The washtub bass player would probably agree--faking the correct notes in favor of good rhythm.

    I think Dave baker books linking the bebop scales to building bass lines, plus the Ron Carter transcriptions and instruction books might round out the original poster's study. I've seen some of RC's arpeggio studies written for a few of his students when I was at City College 20 years ago. They were masterful (regardless of what some of you might think about mr RC)

    Also what Lonnie P mentioned about Paul Chambers is absolutely true. I was checking out C jam blues from Red Garland and was first checking the piano solo when I became enthralled with Mr. PC's solo and then just his walking lines on the opening head.
    He used a lot of 4th and 5th motion--staying away from repeating certain pitches--almost running through a chord cycle--while Garland was on the same chord. He did this w/o you realizing it. In the hands of someone else this might get in the way. Some of this may have to do with that he gets the right touch, duration and dynamics for the lines that he plays.
  5. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    ... thanks for the "make the walking lines melodic" point, Ed. I was gonna make it myself, but I EDITED it out. The classical guys may jump on me for imprecise use of the term, but I think counterpoint when I'm putting a walk down. It should sound good on it's own, but it should really kick when it's mixed in with the rest.

    Yeah, yeah, there's real work to do over here too. I like to keep this little mojo wire running throughout the day to break up the bad brain syndrome that arises if I don't.
  6. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    I'm definitely still into this, and I'll be happy to put it together. If enough people are into it, I'll be happy to get on it starting in May (when the schools are out). With any luck, I'll also be putting a website up this summer that I could host some clips on. So anybody who's into the idea, chime in, and then start thinking about what cut you'd like to go on the disc. I'll be happy to do the compiling and burning (my new G4 will burn the copies at 24x speed :) ). If too many people get involved, I may need to ask for some bread for postage, but other than that, I can supply the rest of the materials.

    I have to add at this point that the Johnson Exchange program has been one of - if not THE - most valuable parts of my experiences here at TB. I hope we can find a way to continue it, and even expand it. We're all here to talk about music anyway, and the direct constructive criticism I've gotten on the stuff I've sent out has been great in helping me move forward. Also, I get to hear a lot of other great players from other places who do a lot of things that I might not have thought of. All in all, the Johnson Exchange is a winner.
  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Agreed. I hate getting bogged down in the whole "Chords vs. Scales" debate, because I have real problems with both "methods". Jamey teaches beginners that there's a scale that goes with each chord, and I have serious issues with some of the "passing tones" that get included in this method....and yet, when I hear him play, I hear a guy with great ears playing what he's hearing, even on those occasions when the piano and bass players start taking the changes out a bit. I remember once after teaching an ear training session at the camps, he remarked to me that he wished he could just put "sing what you hear, and then play what you sing" beneath the changes in all of his play alongs, but then he worried that beginners might feel cheated.

    I think that a lot of the confusion and debate on this topic has to do more with information that is given out to relative newbies as a way to get them started than it does for folks who are out there playing all the time and using their ears. It's funny, as many times as this has come up here at TB, Ed always says, "learn to hear the chords", I always say "learn to hear the chords, THEN learn to hear what's between the chord tones in that particular situation", and then it somehow comes off as some kind of big debate when we're really saying the same thing.

    Maybe we could just sum it up by saying "learn to hear, and then play what you hear?", and leave it at that? When I hear FOGHORN play, I do hear a more chordal approach to some things than I use, but what I notice more than that is the bounce with which all of those notes are played. When the bounce is happening, it's almost like the notes barely matter.
  8. nypiano


    Feb 10, 2003
    Yes- Chris

    This is the eternal debate. You want to give less advanced good instructional info--a shortcut- what have you. But then you find what you have offered is not precisely the way you learned it. You used a combination of techniques. And did a lot of work that the student has yet to do. You don't want to hold out and say "you just hear it" etc. but at the same time--you have to a do a lot of work and not do any one thing to the exclusion of others.
    Trial and error is really more important than anyone would care to admit. Transcription is really important too. Again there are enough masters out there that have admitted to dutiful transcription of their idols- without sacrificing their originality. It's like getting a live example in an instruction book--hey wouldn't that be a great idea. Digital instruction books with mp3 snipits? demonstrating the concept? Then a few years down the road--you can click the virtual hologram master link--who can pop out of the book and sub for you when you're panicking and don't have your **** together. Anyway I digress

    aside-- Chris were you the bass player I saw playing with Tim Whelan in 1995? when I came to town?

    Ed--stop goofing around
    don't you have anything better to do than write these treatises on company time?
    ha ha
  9. Ed, I see your point but I dont think it is exclusive of mine. I'll try it this way, I see chords and scales as being analogous to words and the alphabet.

    Trying to learn a large vocabulary word by word without applying our knowledge of the alphabet would be very difficult to say the least.

    So why not apply our knowledge of scales to musical phrases we want to create. Consider the following practice pattern.

    played and spoken w/ a metronome in all 12 keyes (ofcourse) along the cycle of 4ths
    1 3 5
    1 3 5 6
    1 3 5 7
    1 3 5 b7
    1 3 5 2
    1 3 5 4

    This is a great excercise for learning scales and developing the ability to quickly spell chords. Spelling any chord becomes using one of the above patterns or altering a couple of notes by a half step.

    Developing walking lines and solos by experimenting with scales works fine. It seems like when people talk about chordal playing, they're really just taking their knowledge of the scales for granted.

    Kind of like me writing this long winded saga of a post without counting each letter in the alphabet with every character.

  10. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    There's some kind of conceptual, point of view difference going on here. It's in the language, what we're calling chords, scales, etc.

    Dave, I look at your example and from my framework of understanding I see that it asks me to "arpeggiate" (surely this is not a real verb, is it?) a major triad (1-3-5) with another note thrown in with the triad (in all but the first example.) In all the examples but one, that fourth note jumps to a non-neighbour note. So, the fourth note is a 6, a 7, a flat 7. Put together with the triad, I call these arpeggios of four part chords, Dave. I don't see anything I call scalar going on, except possibly for the second last example where you ask for a 4 (neighbour to the 5 -- see my theoretical genius here?)

    They're chords, man. Spell out the notes individually and they're arpeggios.

    Gotta run and make supper for the kiddies...

    After supper edit: OK, there's another example in there that's "scalar" in the sense I used above: your major 6th arpeggio.
  11. Damon I agree the excercise is about chords. It is also about scales and the point I'm trying to make is that chords are not studied in a void, that knowledge of scales are very important.

    The pattern is spelled out using scale degrees. We don't think of an e as the second note of a c major chord, we think of it as the 3rd of the chord because we relate it to the scale.

    So chordal vs. scaler really isn't an issue to me. Scales are required to understand chords unless you want to memorize every note of every chord as if each chord was unrelated to the next. (sort of like whole word instead of phonetics)

    I never said just run up and down scales which is what I think "chordal" proponents think "scaler" is.

    So back to Chris's point about execution. No, you can't just run up and down scales. And you can't just run up and down chords. Either can be boring.
  12. nypiano


    Feb 10, 2003
    If I might interject here.

    The question is how applicable is a particular exercise in a real situation? In this case walking; if immediate, great. The more pressed for time you are the better it would be to learn a scale or note sequence that would permeate immediately into your automatic. Bassists use a great deal of habitual motion in walking. Your practice might literally be trying to broaden what you do out of habit. You have to pick the best possible notes in the shortest amount of thinking time.

    For example, my beginning ensemble had a bassist who really didn’t know what to do. He was trying to play walking lines and was arpeggiating the chords as his walking line—and repeating the same positions-it sounded pretty bad. That is, arpeggios played straight up. Inverted creatively it might have sounded better—but that’s a whole another world to be able to interlock your arpeggios in different positions with the closest common tones. When he walked 1-5-1 on the chords it sounded better. This is a rank beginner ofcourse. So his practicing arpeggios didn't help him so much because they didn't sound good as walking material- at least not yet- the way he was doing it.

    When he managed to get more creative and mix up whether he went down a fourth (to the fifth) and back up again or down another fifth to the root (completing the octave) it sounded better. As he got more creative he would play and 8ve first then down to the fifth and back up to the 8ve. He then through trial and error managed quick double ups on a swung eighth note. Over time, thirds started coming in. I gave him a few tips on sample lines that used inverted intervals.. For example on F blues: F-C(up)-F(up)-A(down)-Bb(up)-D(down)-F(up)-C(down)-F(up). As an alternate finish I told him to try to change the Bb chord with this bass line cliché that uses chromatics: Bb-D(down)-D#-E-F. I asked him to pick which he liked better. Although he never did it, with the incorporation of variety he was now in a better position to transcribe a master bassist because transcription ability increases when you can liken what you play to others who do it better than you.

    The creativity and urge to practice comes from trying to flesh out the simplest material. Trying to get the most out of simple things—reversing direction, adding a third, a chromatic neighbor, a diatonic one, etc. Eventually the person would study all arpeggios—in all positions and interval sequences to avoid excessive repetition (as mentioned above). The facility to move through keys can be just as important as the chord knowledge. Your brain finds it hard at first. But making difficult things suddenly do-able is at the very heart of practice and mastery. Which is why real time key cycle practices is particularly good for bassists.
    Also incorporating variation—immediately—has the most application to a real time situation, because your brain is constantly looking for ways of applying more creative solutions. This is at the heart of feeling like you know what you are doing. You are working within your means but you have an eye on pushing yourself a little. Also—the metronome! You have to get that flow going. You adjust the duration and the feel of the notes you play for the optimum sense of forward motion.

    Just another perspective
  13. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Thanks, nyp, for playing the root for us. Never forget that all this is about playing music. Don't confuse tools (theory, technique, concepts) with music. Two different things.

    And, while we're talking "how-to" details, don't forget that it's also part of the gamebook sometimes to play the same note consecutively in your walk. Particularly on older, faster stuff, you'll often hear "root-root-move-move, root-root-move-move."

    Sometimes repetition is cool, and sometime's it's boring. Takes musical taste to know the difference, and you gotta have it or develop it to know the difference.
  14. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    As a pianist myself, I agree with Ed here, on the chords issue.
  15. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    I knew the Red Rodney thing would be a bit inflammatory. I'm not saying I agree with him by the way. But he was Parker's pal and they played next to each other for four years, I believe.

    Talking Jazz -- An Oral History, by Ben Sidran. I've got the expanded edition published in '95 by Da Capo. The Rodney interview is pp. 45-54.

    To save you the trouble of digging it up, I'll type out some quote material (and hope that it counts as fair use from a copyright perspective; I believe it does.)

    So, on pp. 48-9 when Red first broaches the topic:

    "...I always felt that Bird didn't really play with the knowledge of chord changes. His instinct was so great, and his ear was so great and his ability on his horn was so great that he really didn't have to know. But I caught him a couple of times. I asked him, 'Where does the bridge go?' Like on 'The Song Is You'. And he said 'B flat seventh". And I looked at him, like 'what'? And I saw that Al Haig was laughing. And I thought, 'Wait a minute, is he putting me on or what?" And it happened two or three more times on different tunes, and it was always 'B flat seventh'. You know, it might have been F sharp minor seventh or something, and I said, 'Oh oh, maybe he doesn't know'. [...] But what's the difference? He never played wrong. He always played beautifully."

    At the end of interview (p. 54):

    "I said that I suspect he didn't know the changes, formally. He didn't know that B flat minor seventh went to E flat into A flat. He didn't know that. I think. I'm not sure I'm right... Yes, I am sure I'm right, because many times I asked him where we were, what chord that was and he always gave me that off-the-wall answer."

    Make of it what you will. Sounds to me it's just as likely that Bird and Haig were pulling his leg. On the other hand, give Red some respect. They were together night and day for four years. Red knew a thing or two about music himself, and that was a thoughtful Red at the end of his road, happy, sober, teeth fixed, and making the music he wanted to after many years slaving in Vegas pit bands.

    It's an OK book, BTW, but nothing too exciting in there. It's cool to hear musicians talk in their own voices about themselves and the music. GREAT Sonny Rollins interview -- that guy just doesn't talk much, so that's rare air.

    I wish Sidran wouldn't talk so much...

    So, Ed: will that suffice for a reference?

    And, fer chrissakes, Bird was a f*cking musical genius if anyone deserves that label. An exception if there ever was one, not a rule.
  16. Sorry Ed, I missed that you asked for an example. Hard for me to offer one because I don't think any one example really covers what I'm saying.
    Take any line you want and I can show how the scaler perspective applies.

    We're not talking about opposing ideas. Knowledge of the scale helps you identify the "function" you mentioned. Thinking of a scale does not mean you can't think about how the chord notes will resolve.

    If a student has little experience improvising lines, knowing scales helps the student find the notes belonging to the chord. If it helps, I'll concede that the scaler thought is in support of the level of thought you're talking about.

    If I can revert back to the english analogy, scaler is like sounding out words where chordal is like learning whole words and sentences. Learning in whole sentences or phrases comes in time as his/her vocabulary grows.

    I still think we're taking scaler thought for granted. When you mention ii's V7's and I's your refering to scaler thought. When someone says "I vi ii V" that's scaler thought, even though the character of the chords do not necessarily adhere to the I's major scale.

    And now I'll play right into the negative stereotype of scaler by offering a line that is nothing but running the G major scale to cover the turnaround on I'll Remember April.

    This is for
    A-7 | D7 | B-b5 | E7b9 |

    A-7 | D7 | GM7 | */*||

    Conventional thought says this line is wrong in the 2nd, 6th, and 8th bars (especially the 8th)
    But it works and makes for a novel alternative of a line.
    (feel free to play broken 3rds when comming down from the G in the 7th bar... :)

  17. nypiano


    Feb 10, 2003

    I would have to side with Ed on this one. Although scalar refers to the material it’s still a question of functional harmony not scales. There is even a theoretical basis for functional harmony being the father of scales. I read somewhere that the scales were arrived at by a 17th century analysis –that the most predominant chords used were I,IV & V. If you combine the notes of the three chords and remove the duplicates you get the major and the natural minor scales.

    Your example works but I wouldn’t like to hear it too often as a pianist. You would give me the impression you’re playing pantonally behind me. I’m sure you just put down the ex. to prove a point though. Your ear forgives the E in bar two on the down beat because you give me enough D7ish pitches. Without the strong B arrival note on the downbeat of the next bar however you might catch a “ray” from me. (Ed is familiar with this phenomenon of light) I also would rather hear Fnat than F# on the way down. This is where functional harmony comes in—bVII-VI. I like to call that “bII” of VI.

    At the risk of being longwinded, I think of like this. The 7th chords formed from the major scale- give the basic “expected qualities” for each chord. That is—I is maj7, II is minor7 etc. But if tunes and the composer’s harmony never altered this—it would get pretty boring. Secondary dominants substituting dominants for minors–II7(Vof V) III7(V of VI) etc actually serve to strengthen the key by providing strong arrival points away from the root—then establish motion back to the root. It’s a paradox somewhat- or perhaps related to physics. You establish more momentum to the root by moving away from it.

    In your defense—if you had heard that scale while you were playing it—and heard that it would fit the chords ahead of time that would be ok. But—you would be using Ed’s principle though. That is you could hear both parts in your imagination- the harmony and the line contrapuntally.
  18. It sounds like we're back to the misperception of scaler.
    The bassline I posted was a novelty demonstrating logical extreme of only using a scale.
    I wouldn't want to hear it often either (but it's fun to see how far it can go every once in a while)

    As I said before that example (or any other 1 example) could represent my point because it would lock me into whatever pigeonhole the example might fall into.

    But back to the point, I learned to spell notes chords by first learning scales. There is an obvious linear relationship between A and B.

    Now there some lucky folks who don't need to know a single note but can instantly pick out exactly what they hear in their head on the instrument. These players don't need scales, chords or the ability to distinguish a dotted eighth
    from a whole note. They just hear it.

    For the less fortunate, there are labels to the sounds we hear. I think using a scale as a point of reference to access those sounds is as valid as memorizing chords.

    I'm not saying the scale has to dictate the notes you play. They're just a point of reference.

    Some of this is generational too. It seems to me more modern jazzers lean more toward an open air-y
    sound in the bassline as opposed to a more driving bassline (which comes with a more linear line)

    Maybe that's it. If you want to say your taste is a more mutidmensional line vs. a linear line. I can see that. I still wouldn't discourage students from thinking about scales because of it.

  19. Jimmyjazz

    Jimmyjazz Guest

    Jul 19, 2002
    Dave, I would say the more traditional bass lines derived from the standards of the 40s,50s,60s played by the great bassists Chambers, Brown, Carter et al may have been linear but they were all firmly based on the chords and not scales. The scaler way of thinking was a product of the rock era and has been applied to standard type tunes through ignorant teachers, misinformed teaching methods and a lack of understanding of what chordal theory really is about.
  20. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Not wishing to be pedantic, but rather asking the question, as it may be a US/UK thing - isn't it scalar?

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