What are you thinking when walking?

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by JKessell, Nov 29, 2017.


  1. JKessell

    JKessell

    May 12, 2017
    This is probably a pretty basic question so apologies in advance.

    I'm pretty new to walking bass lines but I do understand the theory of how to build them and can do so by following the lead sheet and basically thinking in a chord by chord sort of way.

    For example if it's a ii-V-I I'm completely thinking Dm7-G7-CMaj7 at the moment.

    I know this isn't how people really do it for obvious reasons (memorisation, transposing etc). As I understand it most people think in key centres and common chord progressions which I understand in theory but am finding it really difficult to think in this way as I'm playing so I was wondering what people are mainly thinking when playing?

    Are the chord names (e.g Dm7) part of your thinking at all or is it entirely in key centres, numbers and learn't vocab?
     
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  2. jlo95

    jlo95

    Dec 30, 2009
    This isn't a basic question, but instead can be seen as quite a complex philosophical/perceptual question.
    For the most part, outling the changes as clearly as possible is a great way to walk changes. As I'm sure you're aware, playing chord tones on strong beats (beats 1 and 3) and passing tones to connect is a great way to outline harmony well.
    If you're playing with a soloist, be sure to be listening to what they're playing and try and play complimentary lines.
    Transcribing the masters is a great way to learn as well. Ray Brown, Paul Chambers are great starting places. Might I recommend the Milt Jackson album Soul Route. Ray Brown plays bass and the fidelity is great, super clear and easy to transcribe. Dejection Blues is great for basic ii V language. Hope this is of some assistance.
    When I'm walking I'm trying to think of where I'm going. Hearing the line ahead of time, or at least the beginning of it. But one can't really think when playing, because music moves too fast. By the time you think of a decision, it's already gone. You can only react, so practicing chord tones and imitating language is a great way to engrain good habits into the subconscious.
    In short. Play chord tones on strong beats, transcribe, listen to soloist, Imitate.
     
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  3. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    @JKessell, if I'm playing a song I know, I'm not thinking, I'm just hearing ideas about where I might end up in a bar or two and going with the proverbial flow. Granted that I'm not wired like everyone - I have perfect pitch - but it's rather like transcribing or dictation, except that I'm playing what I'm hearing for the music that's about to happen.

    If I'm thinking of chords, I'm certainly thinking of the actual chords because I have to play actual notes. :) I don't know that anyone thinks in roman numerals in the way you're describing.

    -S-
     
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  4. Jay Corwin

    Jay Corwin Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    For a beginner, I would be thinking about chord tones primarily.
     
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  5. JKessell

    JKessell

    May 12, 2017
    Thanks for the replies, just to clarify:

    I understand what I need to play (chord tones, strong beats, approach notes etc) and can do all that to an OK level.

    What I'm confused about is this:

    So lets say you're at a gig and you don't know Autumn Leaves and someone tells you "Oh it's easy, it's basically just ii-V-I-IV then minor ii-v-i in Bb." How do you use that information? Would you convert that into chord names? Would you just play some vocab you already know for those progressions?

    If you know that the ii chord is a m7 with the root as the second scale degree of the key would it not be more beneficial to just learn every tune in roman numerals? That way you can transpose it easily and minimise thinking in general?

    This is exactly how I have always played music. It's only recently that I've learn't theory and am having trouble linking the two.

    I realise all thought while playing should ideally be kept to a minimum so you can be as creative as possible but when your learning there's going to be a fair amount of it.

    Did you have to learn the basics at one point or have you always just gone the flow? How did you think about it when you were learning?
     
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  6. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    I'm not thinking about the changes, I'm listening to the music and working within and around the structural grid that the changes create. Thinking can't help you flow with the music or respond to a new idea. It's like what the military types say: no plan survives contact with the enemy.

    The thinking part of leftover brainspace is occupied with signaling groove changes and structural points to keep the front players aware of where they are, watching and listening for similar meta-info from the other players, figuring out who's rushing or dragging and how to help them get back into the groove, and evaluating the approaching drunk as a fan or a threat.

    In short, listen. Everything flows from there.
     
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  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Agree - that's pretty much what it feels like for me.

    Actually, I think very much like that, in terms of function leading to the cadence points at the end of phrases. Not always in roman numerals exactly, but of the intervallic motion leading to V or V-I of the key center of the moment.
     
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  8. lurk

    lurk

    Dec 2, 2009
    NYC
    Mostly I think about my financial situation
     
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  9. lz4005

    lz4005

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sort of.
    Any learned-on-the-bandstand-via-the-number-system-tune to me becomes shapes on the fingerboard. The key and first number tell me where to start making the same kind of geometric patterns that have worked in other songs I've played with the same number sequences.
    Simultaneously I start thinking about how to flow from one shape to the next.

    I may be the only one who thinks that way, I don't know. But it's gotten me through a lot of gigs where I'm playing songs for the first time that I've never even heard before.

    And of course that's totally different from learning a song in advance and then playing it live, or reading notation or a chord chart, or playing by ear. Each engages different parts of the brain.
     
  10. JKessell

    JKessell

    May 12, 2017
    Right, completely get what you're saying. When I'm playing just for fun I'm not thinking at all, just paying attention and listening as you say.

    What I'm trying to ask though is what you thought about when you were learning? When you have learnt something well enough I agree that thought gets in the way but you must have had to conceptualise the changes and do a lot of thinking in order to build the mental "structural grid" as you call it that is now so ingrained that you don't have to think about it.

    My question is how would you label the grid if you had to. When learning a new tune did you learn it in numerals or chord names?

    Does that make sense?
     
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  11. ba55i5t

    ba55i5t

    May 24, 2006
    Left foot right foot

    Chord tone approach tone

    Rising up going down

    Not where I'm going or where I've been but where I am
     
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  12. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    I wouldn't use that information - that's nonsense to try and play from, IMHO.

    It's not ii-V-I, it's i under the 3 pickup notes, then it's iv, then it's V of III - the thing is in minor, not major. In E minor, it's Emin, Amin7, D7, Gmaj7, Cmaj7, F#min7b5, B7, Emin, more or less. The numbers you gave would be if it's in G major with those chords, and skipping a chord under the pickup notes (which is OK when the tune starts but it's there every time it turns around again).

    -S-
     
  13. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    OK. First I learned about roots and the chords that go with them, on guitar. On bass I first learned to hear the bass inside the music and play something like what I heard. I built on that information into the sort of geometric understanding of harmony on the fingerboard that lz4005 wrote about in #9 above. Basic first-position guitar chords were the shapes I started with, and over time I connected those up into diatonic grid shapes. When I eventually encountered the Nashville system, I saw it as a way to freely apply my grid idea to play in any key, anytime. By clearing away the specific key information it also provides more fundamental information about intervals and how they work, and highlights the color tones that are so important to complementing and supporting melodies. Over time I've come to think much more in terms of intervals than keys. The Nashville system fully exposes the bones of the structure, and facilitates recognition of the structural patterns that apply through and across tunes and whole genres.

    And for the teachers reading this, you're right, I'm completely self-taught beyond occasional pointers from my betters, so YMMV.
     
  14. JKessell

    JKessell

    May 12, 2017
    So you mostly think in chord names? And yes it’s really in Em or Gm or whichever but I said it starts with ii-V-I in Bb because that seems much easier to remember and practically useful.

    To me, i’d Just think of it as major ii-V-I-IV in the relative major then minor ii-V-i in various combinations.

    You honestly would analyse everything in reference to the minor key even when you could just think of it as drifting between the minor and relative major key? That just seems like a lot of unnecessary information to me.

    Also wouldn’t the turn around chord just be the last chord and may not even be the i but would probably be a secondary dominant? What’s the sense of mentally adding another chord to the start of the tune that you don’t even play? I know it’s technically there but are you really thinking about that when you play?

    Just trying to get inside peoples heads here
     
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  15. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I think everyone is different in this regard, as evidenced by the replies in this thread. I don't know the Nashville system, but the more I hear little references to it the more they seem to resonate in many ways.

    If I had to describe my current thought process for how I hear a simple tune like "All Of Me", it would go something like this:

    A
    I-->III7-->VI7-->ii
    B
    III7-->vi-->II7-->ii-V
    A
    I-->III7-->VI7-->ii
    C
    IV-bVII-I-VI7-ii-V-I-(V)

    Caveats:
    - I'm a theory teacher, so I understand things like "III7 is really V7/vi" etc.
    - There are variations/other substitutions on the C section that some people prefer, like minor iv instead of bVII7, etc.
    - When I was first learning to play, I had to learn changes more literally until I understood them intuitively in this way

    Having said that, this is the way my brain currently processes most tunes in performance these days. I find it useful because it makes it much easier to transpose to other keys. In my best moments, I'm never thinking about note names when I'm playing, even in the original key. As always, EEMMV.
     
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  16. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    I'm not really sure I understand the question - you seem to be saying you like, or are more comfortable thinking in, major keys. If that's a fact, Jack :), then you have to deal with it, I suppose. The song we're talking about is in a minor key, so I can't see any reason, given that I'm fine thinking in minor keys, that I'd want to think of it any way other than what it is musically.

    A couple of stories:

    I remember one time in undergraduate school when I was discussing a fairly gnarly exercise we'd just done in class. My conversation was with someone who also had perfect pitch, and as we started talking about this particular bit of music, we both were surprised to learn that, the fact that we both knew what all the notes were all the time not withstanding, we thought of it in quite different ways. We had both been expecting the conversation to have a, "Yeah, right, that's how I heard it, too" flavor and it didn't at all.

    Another one - I was in dictation class at Mannes, 4th year, and because I was pretty good at that, the teacher gave me a particularly busy, odd thing. (Class format was that one person as a time worked at the blackboard with the teacher while the rest of class worked on their own with pencil and paper at their seats.) When we got to talking about the piece, she said she heard it in F# major and I said I heard it C major. Go figure, eh? ....

    All this by way of saying that as long as you have a way that works for you, no one else can tell you that your approach is wrong. But these things do make for interesting discussions at times.

    @JKessell, no "drifting" in this one for me - it's in minor. We could have a conversation about the fact that the relative major often plays an important role in pieces in a minor key - and that's a good conversation to have, starting with secondary key areas in sonata form in classical music (where the difference minor and major movements is very plain and on a large scale) but that doesn't change what key the piece as a whole is in. What, if anything, suggests to you that you'd hear or want to hear Autumn Leaves in major?

    -S-
     
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  17. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    On the gig, I prefer going by numbers rather than someone spelling out chord names for unfamiliar tunes, especially in keys I don't play in much like F#. The worst is when someone starts naming the chords but mixing up the sharps and flats like "It starts on F# then goes to Ab and Db". Saying "It's in F# and it goes I, ii, V7" is clearer.

    I practice new material in all 12 keys. If working from sheet music or a recording, I learn the original key first and then go around the circle of fifths. When doing this I do try to keep in mind what the chords are that are passing by, simply to drill that into my brain. It's important to do this because different keys will require different fingerings. I'm trying to get my muscle memory in synch with my ear, so when I have an idea I'm not hobbled by the inability to play it because I am in an unfamiliar key.

    Disclaimer: when I have to learn 40 new songs in 2 days for a pickup gig I don't have time to learn them all in all 12 keys, so I learn them in the keys that will be used on the gig. If some are worth really learning, I'll work on them after the gig.
     
  18. Jay Corwin

    Jay Corwin Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    Reading this makes me wish I had a formal music education.
     
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  19. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    @JKessell, more on this. @brianrost mentions learning new things in all 12 keys. That's how I taught myself to play standards at the piano, by learning a tune in the key from the fake book and then playing it in all keys. At the beginning, this was hard enough that I couldn't just play any tune I knew in all 12 keys, so what I'd do is work out my own arrangement, and then pick a second key and play my arrangement, note for note, in the new key. And after I was able to do that, I'd move on to another key, and so on, and over time, my abilities improved. FWIW, I never wrote my arrangement down, just figured out what I wanted to do but it was all kept in my head, so none of this involved printed music once I'd learned a song.

    But _how_ one goes about playing things in other keys is, I think, highly personal. I have to do this pretty often - my wife is a voice teacher, and if the key of the printed music isn't right for her student, she'll ask me to come in and try a few keys and then play it in the key she settles on. When people ask me about how I do that, my usual reply is that my entire lifetime as a musician up to that point is involved, and I think it is - to play something in another key, I'm using whatever I've got in real time. Sometimes I'm analyzing the song and playing it in another key, sometimes I'm thinking up or down a particular interval from what's on the page in front of me, and sometimes I'm just taking educated guesses, to be honest, because it's all going by a little too fast.

    -S-
     
  20. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    It is, literally, never too late. Well, maybe if you're dead, but other than that, learning new things keeps you young. I have, in the last 15 years, taken up the double bass, the French Horn, the trumpet, and now the viola. (I'm having a viola lesson tomorrow, first one in a while, and very much looking forward to it.) And I still take bass lessons, the fact that I teach it not withstanding. And I try to go back, every few years, and have a few months of piano lessons, too, and studying classical guitar again is on my list, too. I am a teacher of music; I am a student of music.

    I, and lots of other folks these days, teach long-distance. Skype/FaceTime/Messenger/WhatsApp, etc., phone calls, email. I've corrected lots of theory homework that was sent to me as pictures taken with a cell phone or scanned into the computer.

    -S-
     
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