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Chromatic tones in improv . . . .


shniggens

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OK,

Percy Heath's bassline from Miles Davis - Volume 1 1954 - Blue Note...Lazy Susan, can't remember which chorus

 

Roots for the first beat of each bar:

1, 5, 1 and 5 together, 6,

1, 3, 1, 1,

1, 9, 1, b5,

1, 1, 1, 5, 1, b5

 

OK that's unusual.

There are a few Monk tunes where Wilbur Ware plays only the roots on one and generally:

 

"Myth #1: The more harmonically complicated a bass line is, the better it is.

 

This is a myth that I believe many players fall prey to. As a young bassist, you see chord charts with symbols like A7(#9), Fm11, E13, and assume that you must incorporate these extensions (the 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, 13ths) into your bass line for it to sound hip. It becomes even more convoluted when these extensions become target notes used on the downbeat of the measure. The problem with a bass line like this is that the foundation can be easily lost amongst all the hipper notes. Since you are providing the foundation, it is important that the foundation is easily identified (especially when playing with less experienced musicians). The simplest way to do this is by incorporating the stronger chord tones into your bass line, i.e., the root, thirds, and fifths. Another reason why this straightforward way of playing works so well is because the piano or guitar player is already playing the extensions of the chords. Also, the soloist will appreciate that you are not stepping on their toes with your bass line, but instead providing a sure and solid foundation for him or her to blow over. Take a look at Example 1 , Paul Chambers' bass line over the bridge of Stablemates. On the Fm7 chord, Paul walks up the F minor scale to the fourth. Then he plays a Gb Major triad over the Gb13 chord. In the fourth bar, he will use a descending C Major arpeggio on the C7 chord, without even adding the seventh. "

http://www.talkbass.com/images/lessons/image001.jpg

 

Courtesy Pete Coco

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Sorry to take this so far off, Shniggens! Just play the dissonance like you really mean it and make sure you resolve. Also make sure that you're playing note choices that you personally enjoy.

 

"let's talk rock, pop and country"

I think that's part of the issue. You won't find much dissonance in country or pop and very little nowadays in rock. Listen to how Hendrix used in maybe or the pianist on Bowie's Aladdin Sane - Mike Garson.

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I will check that out Kanker.

 

Just curious Phil W, when a bassist goes on the 5th or non root note on Beat 1, what's the rest of the rhythm section doing? Is there someone still covering the root? If the pianist is doing rootless chords and the bassist skips the root, how's that going to sound? It would feel like a different tune. So when a Bassist skips the root, I would like to know the context of the whole band instead of looking at it in isolation and if it still sounds good. Otherwise isn't it a reharm at that point? (like using a triton sub which would be typical).

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1

 

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Well yes Jazzwee but people aren't always playing at the same time. Sometimes only the bassist will play beat one; basslines that use a lot of non-roots on the one run the risk of not clearly outlining the changes.

When the bassist plays a non-root note it's far from certain that another player will be playing it. The sound of a rootless chord with the bassist playing a third or fifth underneath is fairly common. The ear hears it within the context of the changes.

I suppose using a trirone in the bass does change the actual chord but 'in the moment' the pianist may conceive G7 as the bassist conceives Db7 under that - Ok it comes out sounding as something else. Using a third or fifth is very common though.

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When you say using a third or fifth is very common, are you talking about some passing chord? Like on part of a quick turnaround 2-5-1? Or are you speaking of faster tunes? Or do you intend on going back to the root on the I chord?

 

If the piano player is playing rhythm and can hold the changes, you're right that there's no problem with the 3 or 5 or 7. But are you really saying that once the soloist goes off, the bassist will go off too and nobody covers the root? How's the ear going to track the changes then? (assuming this is not free jazz here).

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1

 

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Well even if you just play guide tones, your ear can track the changes - I'm not suggesting bass players do that. We need to play the roots on one a great deal of the time but sometimes the melodic contour of the bass is served by playing another chord tone on the one. If we always played the root on the one, our lines would be much more jumpy and less smooth.

I doubt you will find many bassplayers who would say that they only play the root on beat one. We can outline the harmony (our main job) with the way we use the other chord tones. I'm not talking about free jazz. As I wrote, bassplayers have been doing this since at least the 30s in jazz.

Jimmy Blanton did it and all the bebop players did it.

If you listen to Paul Chambers on Giant Steps, he frequently plays a line that is easier to play over the then novel changes. To do this he makes great use of fifths.

E.g. the chords go

Bmaj7 .D7 .Gmaj7. Bb7. Ebmaj7...

The bass goes

B. A. G. F. Eb...

 

I can't recall exactly what Tommy Flanagan does though but I doubt he plays a chord containing a root on beat on eon every bar - though he might - I'm not listening to it right now.

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Kanker, no I don't play the root all the time when I solo, but I'm imagining the root (and I hoping the bass player helps me imagine it).

 

If the root is not there at the top beat, then I may or may not get lost (depending on which chord it is). I sincerely hope that the root will be at the top of the resolution chord.

 

If I'm playing stride like style, I will hit the root every once in awhile to pin my ears to the changes.

 

But not playing the root is akin to building tension. Tension needs to be released. If the bass players withholds a root for long then there's extra tension. Not typical in my mind, of the regular bebop idiom, but that doesn't mean it's bad.

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1

 

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Phil W, what I'm suggesting is that if the Bass player does not play the root, then in my mind he is reharmonizing the tune, which as you state for Giant Steps could be a good thing. Notice how in that reharm, he leaves the root but then comes back to it. I think of it as just a delayed resolution. That example still returns regularly to the root to release tension. Giant steps being played fast with lots of changes, I don't think suffers from the missing root because I can still outline the changes. Would you do the same when it is slowed down?

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1

 

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Originally posted by Jazzwee:

Kanker, no I don't play the root all the time when I solo, but I'm imagining the root (and I hoping the bass player helps me imagine it).

I meant when you're playing alone - solo. ;)
A ROMpler is just a polyphonic turntable.
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Originally posted by kanker, apparently:

Originally posted by Jazzwee:

Kanker, no I don't play the root all the time when I solo, but I'm imagining the root (and I hoping the bass player helps me imagine it).

I meant when you're playing alone - solo. ;)
I'll put the root down occasionally, maybe every couple of chords. Yes I get your point there. Like I said, and it is applicable here, it is a tension to not play the root, so it also has to be released.

 

BTW - when I'm practicing, I'm playing rootless, and I'm playing light stabbing chords on the left. My mind is constantly on the root though and we're normally attuned to this being trained to think like this. But since doing this is tension, I wonder if the audience thinks we're in free jazz because they can't hear the root?

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1

 

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Originally posted by delirium:

how about forgetting the scales and sh*t and using your ears? :D

Hahahaha, I have to agree with you on this one. I don't think one needs to "calculate" an improvisation according to 1500 pages of theory.

 

I prefer build an interesting improvisation according to a real time feeling, a theme, a given subject or as a response to someone else's improvisation that just finished a moment before. :)

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Damn, I'm always a bit shy to partecipate in this kind of thread, because everybody seems to be fighting to demonstrate that his point of view is 'right'. But if jazz is (hopefully) still a living art, there cannot be strict rules. Rules change as eras, styles, places and individual artists change. Ron Carter won't play the same kind of bass line than Ray Brown. Plus, rules are 'derived' from real music, not viceversa.

 

I've noticed that jazzers of the last generations tend to need 'rules' to follow more than my own generation.... the seventies were a time of experimentations, when many musical and creative juices were flowing; we wanted 'suggestions' more than rules - starting points on which to start personal, creative approaches. 'Style' was something which was better left for a later, more mature age. :D

 

But this is best suited for a different thread, I'm afraid... for now, I think I'd better serve this discussion, by relating my own personal experience about the 'bebop scales'.

 

In the seventies, jazz education in Italy was in its infancy. I tried to compensate for this situation by going abroad every time I could, and by studying a lot of books by myself. I studied the Mehegan books, the Dan Hearle method, several Ramon Ricker things, and basically every book I could put my hands on. I also tried to build a repertoire of standard tunes, started composing in the jazz idiom, and tried to study with as many good teachers as possible. In a later period, Mark Levine's and John Novello's books have been of help too, and of course all the transcriptions I could get hold of, including those made by myself. (I can's start talking about the money I've spent in those big Japanese transcription books! These were the only ones available at the time)

 

In this formation period, none of the books I studied, nor any of the master musicians I studied with (Mike Melillo, Dave Burrell, Curtis Fuller, Martin Joseph) ever mentioned the treatment of the 'bebop' scales with respect to their rhythmic placement. Some of them mentioned the existence of those scales, and that was all.

I only heard of that 'system', which apparently was followed by several American teachers, when I was a pro musician already, and decently expert in the jazz idiom.

 

The concept of studying bebop improvisation by placing chord tones on strong beats made me raise my eyebrows right away. I did some research, reading through many transcriptions from Bird, Powell, Gillespie... and while the concept was certainly present in their phrasing, it was not nearly enough to make a rule, and a teching method, out of it - in my opinion at least.

They certainly privilege chord notes, but the rhythmic and melodic variables are just too many!

About ending a phrase on the offbeat, for example, the concept of simply begin the whole phrase an eight-note earlier is a bit rough to me. What if this phrase is three bars long? You would displace all previous chord tones from the downbeat to the offbeat. And what if you want to play a phrase full of syncopations and pauses? Boppers often did just that. As I said in my previous post, if you analyze bebop solos, you'll find that the percentage of strong beats which have a chord tone on them is not so big after all.

Plus, starting on hard bop in the '50s, musicians started using extensions as target notes (as opposed to passing notes) in their phrases, and this factor alone would negate the whole 'system'.

 

Nonetheless, when one is studying bebop phrasing, he is supposed to learn how to emphasize chord tones, and use scale notes and chromaticisms as 'ornaments' to those chord tones.

So how I teach that? Here's my approach, supported but much spoken advice, practical examples and listening to the masters:

 

 

- Improvise on chord tones only.

- Add scale/mode tones as *passing* notes (always resolve on chord notes)

- Add chromatic passing notes in the same fashion.

 

My students are supposed to do so for every single chord in a tune, then every key center, then pairs of key centers as they are placed in the course of the tune.

 

The next step:

 

- For every chord in the tune, play four possible chromatic (semitone) approaches to every chord note:

a) from below

b) from above

c) double from below, then above

d) double from above, then below

 

Now, try an improvisation on the entire tune, or some portion of it, made entirely, or at least mainly, of chromatic approaches.

 

The student is now ready to attempt some bebop phrasing. :)

Notice that all those chromatic approaches and passing notes will automatically form the 'bebop scales'... plus many others. ;)

 

I devised this method after quite a bit of reflection and consulting a lot of books and teachers. It allows students to learn placing chord tones at the strong *spots* in a phrase, without forcing them to play those tones on the strong *beats*.

Of course, the entire matter of bebop rhythm is to be studied in parallel, with played and written examples, lots of listening, and learning bebop themes.

After having practiced several tunes that way, the student is usually ready to dig into Evans, Coltrane, and the whole '60s thing.

Still later, he will learn *all* eight-note scales, as I explained in my previous post.

 

Of course, others can reach the same goal by different means. I can testify, thru years of experience, that this particular method seems to work. :)

 

Sorry for the long post...

 

Carlo

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Hi Marino, I think it is safe to say that you are right. Most of the books that deal with these are more recent. Hal Galper relates many stories of his attempt at dencrypting this bebop sound and he came up with this concept called Forward Motion. When my teacher explains this, he has not read Forward Motion, so he's applying the same principles but not based on a book. I'm sure he has learned this from his own teachers which he happens to share with Galper. These same teachers include Jaki Byard, George Russell, Madame Chaloff. So what I'm thinking is that this is a codification of what has been passed down.

 

I'm thinking here also of things like the melodic minor scale and modes thereof. As you know these are used to explain Coltrane's sound. But like this codification, we are going backward to explain what is already there. These masters did this by ear and by sharing and by jamming together. I think these educators are doing us a service by at least giving us something to describe.

 

But I also understand its limitations and here I think you will notice that we are not apart at all in thinking. I just happen to have been trained this way, but even in this process, I understand that this is just foundation. It is up to me to take this to whatever level and make my own exceptions.

 

I don't particularly sit down and count beats and say this is beat 1 and I should lay down a chord tone. Not at all. But initially, as a beginner, I found that I could not lay a coherent melody out. Being given a structure trained my ear to simply "follow the changes". This is really no different than saying improvise on the melody. Work from the melody and then create your own. It is the same thing. Well lo and behold the melody is made up of chord tones so given that, it is not such a far out concept. Just as the melody can be pulled back, the time can be pulled back on the solos. So of course it will not be apparent in transcriptions where the strong beats are. This was explained in Hal Galper's book as well. So although I explain this rule as a basic structure, my own personal take to it is just training the ear to anchor the solo to some feature of the melody. Doing this creates, in the bebop tradition, a solo that people relate to because they recognize it.

 

Does this mean you're stuck to this or do I need to force this issue across? Not at all. I'm just sharing what I think is a wonderful concept that is as interesting as discussing melodic minor modes and their application to dominants.

 

Again, I emphasize that I have already internalized this as nothing more than an ear thing and recognizing it is already half the battle. The other battle is recognizing the phrasing elements.

 

Your method BTW is the exact method explained in the Hal Galper book for putting chord tones on the strong beats. How funny! So I think we can agree that this is a nice starting structure.

 

We all understand I think, that music, is the interplay of tension and release. This particular "formula" codifies a style of quick tensions and quick releases. If someone feels that they need to go out further than this "rule", then I think I understand that as being a choice being made to add tension. Obviously some horror movies with extra tension do well as compared to movies with minor ranges of tension. Neither one is good or bad just as with music. Some people in the audience cannot handle too much tension and will not like horror movies. I think, I'm understanding this chord tone approach as the application of a mild amount of tension in jazz, and typical of the original beboppers. I would classify Coltrane as one adding more tension than average and of course he has a tremenduous following.

 

So to conclude, there are no right and wrong answers for me. There's just choices of effects. And this is structure is good for one who has nothing to start with. And this is at least something that can describe what has been passed down by ear.

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1

 

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Originally posted by Jazzwee:

I wonder if the audience thinks we're in free jazz because they can't hear the root?

My first instinct is to say the audience has no clue about free jazz. I would think that if the harmony is *comparatively* inside, i.e. bebop, even Bill Evans type harmony, then the music sounds relatively normal without many roots - inside.

 

Again, I give you Bach and much of Classical music where the root is present, but not necessarily at the bottom of the harmony. As long as the line in the bottom makes melodic sense, or at least structural sense, then the root being in the bottom is not a constant necessity.

A ROMpler is just a polyphonic turntable.
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Carlo, excellent post.

Jazzwee, on a ballad I'd be much more likely to play the root on the one. I agree with what you've said about basslines except that it is mostly the root but often another chord tone o the one. Even in medium tempos you're going to hear a lot of fifths and thirds on the one in walking bass - especially in modal tunes or passages where a chord lasts for more than one bar. In essence the bass player is creating a line based on an inversion of the chord.

Yes, it's all about tension and release. That is what the audience hears and that's what the improvisers do -whether it's free jazz, bebop, swing or fusion. You're right Jazzwee that us bassists would rarely play several bars without a root on the one but this is a technique that we might use on a modal tune to create a sense of structure maybe play the root on the one every two or four bars for example to create a resting point and tension from that point. That's going away from the bebop example though. I'm going to sit down with some of my transcriptions and work out roughly what the proportion of roots is with different players in different contexts.

 

I think the points raised about the importance of rhythm and phrasing are good. It helps the listener to hear tension and dissonance as logical if it's phrased in a suitable way.

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Originally posted by Phil W:

...

Also, the soloist will appreciate that you are not stepping on their toes with your bass line, but instead providing a sure and solid foundation for him or her to blow over.

...

Actually, not all horn players mind this--from time to time. Step lightly, and then move elsewhere.

 

I must have partially misread jazzwee's post. I thought he wrote that bass players have to play root on 1 and 4. However, the point I tried to make is that bass players (myself included) don't always play root on 1 (or the 1st beat of a synchopated phrase).

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Originally posted by kanker, apparently:

I should clarify a little - the root is not always necessary.

I agree. I also was taught that if the other chord elements are present, then they imply the root. I was also taught that root-less chords are great vehicles for changing into keys where a note like the bottom one--but not necessarily always that one--is the root for the key that you're changing to.
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"Actually, not all horn players mind this--from time to time. Step lightly, and then move elsewhere."

Understood, dp2. In my own playing I'm coming from a situation where I do too much in terms of chord substitution, pedal points and tension creation and I'm trying to simplify to make a more balanced approach.

e.g. If a pianist/soloist is playing a triad based on upper extensions of the original chord and the bass follows the triad and plays the root of that it creates a very basic sound of a triad rather than the interesting sound of the extensions over the basic original, does that make sense? Of course, sometimes it's the bass that adds the spice and salt to the metphorical stew but we always need to add the right amount of spice and salt based on our taste!

Many bassists practise alone and can get too into making their lines sound harmonically and melodically interesting (not that they're bad things) and not enough into making the other cats sound good.

Another example is when a soloist/accompanist is using tritone subtitutions, sometimes it sounds good to follow - but often it sounds better to play G7 while the pianist plays Db7; you could play either or countless other examples - it's just that they should be chosen with taste.

Read the linked article on walking bass myths, dp2. It's a stimulating and opinionated read.

 

 

Maybe it's from years of playing roots or imagining them, but if I play a chord sequence on guitar, piano or bass and omit the root - I can still hear the chord sequence - just that there are several possibilities what that chord sequence might be.

So I'd agree that, at least for me, the other chord elements imply the root but also as you state they allow for a little 'vagueness' in terms of where the root might be and sometimes that feeling is a powerful one in music.

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OK. I agree. That clarifies it for me. In a modal tune, it would be senseless to stay on the root alone as you need to build the tension.

 

And what I was trying to say earlier was that in standard bebop, if the root is omitted temporarily, either it is used to create tension, or some other part of the rhythm section is implying the root. I would imagine though that this is an advanced technique in standard functional harmony because not playing a root when a root is expected (and no one else is covering it), can induce some unexpected tension right?

 

I was taught the "keyboard" version of doing a bass line for recordings and I was "scolded" for not including a root on beat 1 (standard bebop tune). Thanks to you all I have better sense of exceptions.

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1

 

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Originally posted by kanker, apparently:

The root is not necessary. Listen to Bach. Does the bass hang on the root? Is the harmony clear?

I just got reminded of the drone. Putting a drone V chord root to create tension and carrying it all through several chords. That would be a perfect example of a non-root and is a common technique even in solo piano. I totally forgot about that.

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1

 

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Originally posted by Jazzwee:

Originally posted by kanker, apparently:

The root is not necessary. Listen to Bach. Does the bass hang on the root? Is the harmony clear?

I just got reminded of the drone. Putting a drone V chord root to create tension and carrying it all through several chords. That would be a perfect example of a non-root and is a common technique even in solo piano. I totally forgot about that.
I would guess holding a drone chord results in a bunch of polychords? Or I guess comping different upper structures over one basic chord?

 

It's also common to hold one bass note through several chords ('pedal point.')

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BTW - talking about polychords, holding a drone V chord root on the bass while playing a ii chord would then imply a SUS chord, which then resolves to the V chord and leads perfectly into the I.

Hamburg Steinway O, Crumar Mojo, Nord Electro 4 HP 73, EV ZXA1

 

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What happened to the chromatic tones in improv topic?

 Find 660 of my jazz piano arrangements of standards for educational purposes and tutorials at www.Patreon.com/HarryLikas Harry was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book."

 

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