What if you don't know the next chord?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by pskelly, Nov 16, 2005.

  1. pskelly


    Nov 7, 2005
    Hartford, CT
    I'm a new upright player and helped out as the bassist at a local open mike session recently. Several songs were brand new to me, including some originals, so the first couple of times through them I didn't know what chord was coming in certain places.

    What do you do on the bass when you have absolutely no idea what's next? Do you just try to play a note that might fit several chords, or play a string without pressing it to the fingerboard so you get a sound but no note, or do you not play? I tried to watch the singer/guitarist's left hand but when you're standing behind him or her you can't see too much!
  2. I generally try to position myself to be able to see the pianists left pinky, who, if he or she is kind, will play roots the first couple times through.

    Otherwise, I've faked my way through many gigs. Just look confident, play with conviction, throw in lots of ornaments and glisses until you can get your ear wrapped around the changes.

    If they're doing original tunes, it would seem neighborly to call out the changes at least for the first chorus.
  3. Kelly Coyle

    Kelly Coyle Supporting Member

    Nov 16, 2004
    Mankato, MN
    Pedal the key root.
    Go up a fourth or a second.
    Play chromatically until something clicks.
    Play really low.
    Glare at the pianist as if he or she is wrong.
    Use glisses as if confident.
  4. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Listen to the melody as it's passing by with about 70% of your available concentration and give the rest to the chordal folks. You can also get ahead of the game by practicing this skill by trying to figger out the changes of things that you hear on the radio, TV, elevator, etc.
  5. christ andronis

    christ andronis

    Nov 14, 2001
    Listen, listen , listen. Put on tons of recordings and play along with them. You'll find that the more you play, you'll see how similar the changes to alot of the standards (and alot of times they don't have to be standards) really are. DO NOT practice in one key( although I personally hate the key of Db... :eyebrow: ) Train your ear and DON'T get discouraged.


  6. This reminds me of a friend's wedding....

    I knew all the guys in the band and they asked if I wanted to join them (I was playing 6 string guitar only at the time). "Okay", I said, "What are you going to play?" No answer. Oh, well. I was handed a Strat and joined with two other guitar players. Again I asked what they were going to play. "I dunno" was the reply. "Okay, do you have a key in mind?" "G" Okay, I'll follow the chord change. Things started off well with a pretty standard G-D-C progression. Then they went into some song that only they knew and I was totally lost. As not to ruin the song and just walk off the stage, I did a quick "Milli-Vanilli" and turned off the volume on my guitar. I just kept strumming a bunch of B.S. chords and even stayed for a couple of more songs doing the same thing.

    Well, I should mention that we were tipping glasses quite a bit before all this happened.
  7. SteveC


    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    Wasn't it Chick Corea that said "if you play a wrong note, play it again and it'll sound right" or something to that effect.
  8. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    Something like that. A beginner may play a wrong note and quickly try to find the right one. An experienced player may make a motif out of the wrong note.

    Or . . . a right note is only a half step away from the wrong one.
  9. pskelly


    Nov 7, 2005
    Hartford, CT
    Thanks for the help everybody!
  10. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    IMO, the whole "play a wrong note twice" thing just makes you sound wrong -- twice.

    The "right note is only a half-step away," however, is good stuff. Doesn't sound right? Gliss up or down a semitone. BAM.
  11. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I dunno. I still say, if you DON'T hear it, DON'T play it.

    That singer/songwriter crap is ALWAYS hard to hear your way through. Most of the time they are making songs out of a limited harmonic vocabulary (and have created some beautiful things doing so), so the chords don't really resolve in a functional way. You've got to work on hearing root movement and have a good "memory" function for getting the form down as quick as you can. If it's original stuff, I don't see why you can't have them play through the form once and then come in...
  12. mister_k


    Jul 27, 2004
    Los Angeles
    I've been following this thread with a great deal of interest since I've been doing a lot of pickup gigs with singer songwriters lately. And if ever you wanted to test your intuition, this is the way. Phrases magically change length, chords seem to appear arbitrarily, and (seriously) God forbid you ask what chord they're playing.

    Last night I did one where he was insistent on hearing arco for most of the set, and I was already sweating it based on my brand new (very bright) bow was giving me trouble. Then I start to realize he has a habit of adding beats on the turnarounds of choruses, but I couldn't nail down a count.


    lots of drones, and melody playing.

    I second the concept of sitting out the first go 'round whenever possible, and use the melody as a guide. you can't go wrong (until the guy/gal changes the melody mid phrase in a way that defies all logic, but that sounds so out that your mistake will seem perfectly appropo.)