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  1. #1

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    A question for bass players: In a trio with drums and sax, when the sax solo's and you are laying down the harmony, do you go out of your way to play the root note on the downbeat of one? The reason for the question is, as a guitar player I know how the 3&7 guide tones really define the chords, make you "hear" the changes. I've been fiddling with a bass lately and catch myself often instinctually playing one of those "important" notes before I walk my way to the root. Obviously with a piano or guitar comping things could be different. Your thoughts please.
    Ignorance is agony.



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  3. #2

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    I think only the dominant chord is strongly implied by a 3rd and 7th (because it is a b5). A major chords 3rd and 7th is a 5th (and doesn't imply much). A minor chord 3rd and 7th is a 4th (and also doesn't imply much).

    Generally I think it's ok to play a 3rd or 7th on bass (on one) if you immediately follow it with the root. That sounds like what you are doing, so I agree with your approach. I think that approach keeps the harmony clear.

  4. #3

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    Depend on who your backing up, but remember the context implies a lot so roots on one aren't necessary. That why guys doing solo guitar can do so many rootless chords and small voicings because the ear of the listener understands the context and fills in the rest. As I've said before studying bass we talked a lot about how the ear recognizes things and what the ear expects. I don't hear guitar players talk about that ear in the context much, but it's important to understand.
    No, I'm not going to give you the answer to your question. I don't want to deny you the pleasure you'll receive when you figure it out yourself. -- Bill Evans talking to his brother.

  5. #4

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    I'm no expert on the topic, but pretty sure you want to be hitting mostly root or fifth on beats 1 and 3, and some chromatic patterns now and then plus I'm sure 3rd and 7th at other times but likely not so much on 1 and 3. That is what I would want to hear if It was guitar, drums, bass.

    I just googled some magic words and hit upon this: The International Institute Of Bassists | Bass Lessons Online - Jim Stinnett

    Suggests, by way of example, mostly roots on beat 1.

  6. #5

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    It's instructive to see how the bassists responded to this question over here at TalkBass.

    As you'd expect it's not, "Yeah, we need more rules and limits for playing the bass."

    My take (as a bassist) both there and here: Play with the band around you. Play what the moment inspires. Sometimes the music inspires "one." Sometimes everybody in the room knows where "one" is -- rhythmically and harmonically -- so you can play beautiful music built on that communal knowledge. People have been doing that for decades, and some breathtakingly beautiful music has been the result.
    "Don't worry about that. Everybody talks about finding your voice. Do your homework and your voice will find you." - Branford Marsalis

  7. #6

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    The basic rule taught at BIT was chord tones on downbeats, anything works on upbeats. Saw it demo'd by teachers and there used be be a Gary Willis Youtube of him demo'ing this. This is part of the reason for the Bebop scale to shift chord tones to downbeats. It's all part of the ear understanding things and quickly that the thinking mind doesn't. That's why octave displacement works, harmonizing a melody in clusters of notes, understand context via an partial chord.

    The ear is much hipper than the listener is that's why listening and learning Jazz is all about the ear.
    No, I'm not going to give you the answer to your question. I don't want to deny you the pleasure you'll receive when you figure it out yourself. -- Bill Evans talking to his brother.

  8. #7

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    One of the problems with a guitar trio is playing up tempo tunes with a walking bass.

    Someone posted a version of '4 on 6' with an excellent Italian guitarist, but I couldn't make heads or tails of it until I comped along with the video. The bass player might be a fine player with a harmony instrument comping, but he ruined this trio performance.

    Gunther Schuller said that of all the non-fretted instruments, the string bass is the most difficult instrument to play in tune, because of the size of the space from one chromatic note to the next.

    One bass player i used to play with said that George Mraz had the best intonation of all the jazz bass players.

  9. #8

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    Hi Whiskey02 and everyone else. The bass job is to outline the harmonic progression. There are different ways of doing this and it depends on the players' technical level, the most basic approach for a walking bass would be to play the root on 1 and chord tones on the following beats, but things get more interesting...

    This article talks about it: www.nyensembleclasses.com/building-better-bass-lines/

    The idea is that as you get more advanced you can employ techniques that create variation, tension and motion while providing harmonic support.

  10. #9

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    My complaint is that most bass players don't know how to play bass with a trio (G,B,D) on up tempo tunes, where you can hear the changes.
    How do you expect a listener to make sense of your improvisations if YOU can't even hear the changes?

    When I'm blowing on an up tempo tune, I don't want to have to break up my lines by having to comp for myself.

    I use one guy who actually prefers playing gigs with just bass, horn and drums, because he's so good at it that he doesn't need a chord player. Huge ears.

    We were rehearsing one of my original up tempo tunes for the CD that we made ten years ago, and in the middle of my solo, I yelled at him, "I can't hear the changes!"
    He let out a little whimper, and then he was right on the money again.
    Ya gotta keep these guys in line...

  11. #10

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    So what you are saying is; you need to play with people who play well and play a tune you all know well and can outline the harmony and time feel clearly and intuitively. It's funny how situations like these can throw up the importance of mastering the basics.... That counts for the guitar players too of course.

    Comping is quite silly when you think about it. Why? Is it just some Wittgensteinian language game? A mere exchange of jazz tokens?

    It's like - here's a voicing. Look I did a clever. A maj7#47b12

    And I'm thinking as I do this, the sax player sounds good, the bass players sounds good. Am I just playing because I want to be useful?

    I think that's a good philosophy to start with. What can I add? Can I add anything? I'm sure that's how Jim Hall looked at it.

    If the bass isn't playing the changes and the time, adding instruments won't help. You can't polish a turd. Same with horn players. I guess I'm lucky to know lots of fine players....

    Have to bear the same thing in mind when soloing.... It's an eternal balancing act - between harmony and pure melody.

    Utlimately for me Jazz is not in fact a harmonic music, but a polyphonic music. I sometimes wonder if I could do a gig without playing any chords at all without anyone noticing - just single notes perhaps, in counterpoint :-)

    Anyway in summary I don't think we can put all of the responsibility on the bassist, we are all partners in the creation of music....
    Last edited by christianm77; 11-28-2015 at 08:57 PM.

  12. #11
    I've recently been Playing with a bass player and drummer only. Soloing is different from playing with a pianist because you have to reference the chords and melody frequently or you will lose the audience. It was a challenge for me and I've had to adjust my playing. It's more work. At least in the venues I play. Free jazz does not go over well in most clubs in St Louis. The audience (and the owner) like to hear the song.

  13. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by docbop View Post
    The basic rule taught at BIT was chord tones on downbeats, anything works on upbeats. Saw it demo'd by teachers and there used be be a Gary Willis Youtube of him demo'ing this. This is part of the reason for the Bebop scale to shift chord tones to downbeats. It's all part of the ear understanding things and quickly that the thinking mind doesn't. That's why octave displacement works, harmonizing a melody in clusters of notes, understand context via an partial chord.

    The ear is much hipper than the listener is that's why listening and learning Jazz is all about the ear.
    Very interesting stuff. Sorry, docbop, what's BIT? (Bass Institute of Technology?)

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    So what you are saying is; you need to play with people who play well and play a tune you all know well and can outline the harmony and time feel clearly and intuitively. It's funny how situations like these can throw up the importance of mastering the basics.... That counts for the guitar players too of course.

    Comping is quite silly when you think about it. Why? Is it just some Wittgensteinian language game? A mere exchange of jazz tokens?

    It's like - here's a voicing. Look I did a clever. A maj7#47b12

    And I'm thinking as I do this, the sax player sounds good, the bass players sounds good. Am I just playing because I want to be useful?

    I think that's a good philosophy to start with. What can I add? Can I add anything? I'm sure that's how Jim Hall looked at it.

    If the bass isn't playing the changes and the time, adding instruments won't help. You can't polish a turd. Same with horn players. I guess I'm lucky to know lots of fine players....

    Have to bear the same thing in mind when soloing.... It's an eternal balancing act - between harmony and pure melody.

    Utlimately for me Jazz is not in fact a harmonic music, but a polyphonic music. I sometimes wonder if I could do a gig without playing any chords at all without anyone noticing - just single notes perhaps, in counterpoint :-)

    Anyway in summary I don't think we can put all of the responsibility on the bassist, we are all partners in the creation of music....
    Thomas Pynchon wrote a short story that involved this theme. A jazz group decided to eliminate any chordal instruments, because they could hear the changes in their heads.
    Then they decided to eliminate the bass, because they could hear the bass line in their heads.
    Then they decided to eliminate the drums, because they could hear the time in their heads.
    Then they stopped playing altogether, and just sat in a room in silence, because they could hear what they were improvising in their heads...

    I played a four hour pickup, duo jazz gig with a bass player who didn't believe in playing any roots or even chord tones in his bass lines. He believed the bass should play only melodies, all the time.
    That was one tough gig. I gave him a ride home, and he told me was so broke from playing the way he did, that he couldn't afford toilet paper sometimes.
    People can do whatever they want to do.

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgcim View Post
    Thomas Pynchon wrote a short story that involved this theme. A jazz group decided to eliminate any chordal instruments, because they could hear the changes in their heads.
    Then they decided to eliminate the bass, because they could hear the bass line in their heads.
    Then they decided to eliminate the drums, because they could hear the time in their heads.
    Then they stopped playing altogether, and just sat in a room in silence, because they could hear what they were improvising in their heads...

    I played a four hour pickup, duo jazz gig with a bass player who didn't believe in playing any roots or even chord tones in his bass lines. He believed the bass should play only melodies, all the time.
    That was one tough gig. I gave him a ride home, and he told me was so broke from playing the way he did, that he couldn't afford toilet paper sometimes.
    People can do whatever they want to do.
    Wouldn't melodies involve roots and chord tones at some point?

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgcim View Post
    Thomas Pynchon wrote a short story that involved this theme. A jazz group decided to eliminate any chordal instruments, because they could hear the changes in their heads.
    Then they decided to eliminate the bass, because they could hear the bass line in their heads.
    Then they decided to eliminate the drums, because they could hear the time in their heads.
    Then they stopped playing altogether, and just sat in a room in silence, because they could hear what they were improvising in their heads...

    I played a four hour pickup, duo jazz gig with a bass player who didn't believe in playing any roots or even chord tones in his bass lines. He believed the bass should play only melodies, all the time.
    That was one tough gig. I gave him a ride home, and he told me was so broke from playing the way he did, that he couldn't afford toilet paper sometimes.
    People can do whatever they want to do.
    This sounds a bit like the Scott LaFaro approach. It would be much harder to play with a bass player like this than someone who is banging out four to the bar.

    I think we should be able to construct solos without any accompaniment at all, and the audience should be able to hear the changes. When a bass player is added, the lines can and should get a bit more outside. When a piano player is added the lines should get further outside, since the harmony is then well established.

    Miles said "play what isn't there." I believe have to listen and supply what the song needs with your solo. This is what I'm working on anyway.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Wouldn't melodies involve roots and chord tones at some point?
    Not on beat one, unless he's playing "Yankee Doodle" or something.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by danwaineo View Post
    This sounds a bit like the Scott LaFaro approach. It would be much harder to play with a bass player like this than someone who is banging out four to the bar.

    I think we should be able to construct solos without any accompaniment at all, and the audience should be able to hear the changes. When a bass player is added, the lines can and should get a bit more outside. When a piano player is added the lines should get further outside, since the harmony is then well established.

    Miles said "play what isn't there." I believe have to listen and supply what the song needs with your solo. This is what I'm working on anyway.
    I agree with most of what you said except for the audience being able to hear the changes.
    Today's audiences can hear the beat and sometimes the melody, but forget about them hearing the changes anymore.

    Even Scott LaFaro gave Bill Evans some type of foundation to play off, this guy was out to lunch.

  19. #18

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    My sons do a lot of violin/bass duos. Often the bass outlines the harmony by emphasizing chord tones, while other times it is more like parallel soloing. I think it adds a nice variety.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgcim View Post
    Not on beat one, unless he's playing "Yankee Doodle" or something.
    That's a rather silly thing to say. Take a look at the Real Book... If by melody, we mean, for example, the sort of thing we see in a jazz standard.

    But I suppose, the question is - is beat 1 pushed? If so, this would affect things far more than playing, say a 3rd on beat one. The phrasing here would be an issue because it would tend to break up the time feel. but if your bass player and you have great time, it might be awesome.

    TBH - I know some bassists who do a lot of syncopations and polyrhythms before they are locked down. It's hard to play with them. On the other hand, when someone who has really sweated the details plays pushes, dotted quarters etc, it can be amazing....

    The same is true for guitarists, of course, but we tend to make our weak time the bass players responsibility... As we are the ones often hustling the gigs, so it goes.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgcim View Post
    Not on beat one, unless he's playing "Yankee Doodle" or something.
    Maybe you missed 'roots and chord tones' - true that not many jazz melodies have a root on beat one, if by melody, we mean, for example, the sort of thing we see in a jazz standard. But chord tones on beat one? Take a look at the Real Book...

    But I suppose, the question is - is beat 1 pushed? If so, this would affect things far more than playing, say a 3rd on beat one. The phrasing here would be an issue because it would tend to break up the time feel. but if your bass player and you have great time, it might be awesome.

    TBH - I know some bassists who do a lot of syncopations and polyrhythms before they are locked down. It's hard to play with them. On the other hand, when someone who has really sweated the details plays pushes, dotted quarters etc, it can be amazing.... In this case it's still a challenge, but now you are going to learn something!

    The same is true for guitarists, of course, but we tend to make our weak time the bass players responsibility... As we are the ones often hustling the gigs, so it goes.
    Last edited by christianm77; 12-09-2015 at 08:52 PM.

  22. #21

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    I spent over a year doing a monthly guitar/bass duo gig in a restaurant, playing standards. When I soloed, the bassist went chord tones/chromatics to maintain the harmony for me. The rest of the time I played a chord melody thing for the head, during which he could mix it up a bit more; then I did a rhythmic comping thing behind his solo. We played a recognisable head going into the tune and an embellished head to finish off. During that time, comprising 15 or so gigs of 2 x 1 hour sets, we got lost exactly once using this approach, and even then, we were able to dig it out and rescue things.

    The audience likes to hear the tune and you have to respect that; for that kind of gig, you can't just go crazy and leave people (including your band mates!!) adrift.

  23. #22

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    When I play guitar, I focus on 3 and 7 for comping because I assume that the bass player has the 1 and 5. When I play bass, I focus on the 1 and 5 on the first and third beat (and play anything I want on 2 and 4, mostly passing tones), because I expect the guitar player to comp the 3 and 7. I had not thought much about adding more chord tones when playing bass behind just one soloist, but I am still thinking that a good soloist is playing harmonically, and that soloists mostly want the one on the one. I do the same thing when playing piano; the left hand does more 1 and 5, and the right hand does more 3 and 7. Probably too corny an approach for you guys that went to jazz college ;-)

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by nopedals View Post
    When I play guitar, I focus on 3 and 7 for comping because I assume that the bass player has the 1 and 5. When I play bass, I focus on the 1 and 5 on the first and third beat (and play anything I want on 2 and 4, mostly passing tones), because I expect the guitar player to comp the 3 and 7. I had not thought much about adding more chord tones when playing bass behind just one soloist, but I am still thinking that a good soloist is playing harmonically, and that soloists mostly want the one on the one. I do the same thing when playing piano; the left hand does more 1 and 5, and the right hand does more 3 and 7. Probably too corny an approach for you guys that went to jazz college ;-)
    Yeah it's a safe bet. I don't think anyone will have a problem with that in straight ahead jazz. It can change in earlier styles - for instance in swing, you have to know when to use 6th chords instead, or even triadic harmony.... Anyway...

    BTW - playing resolving sevenths (for instance the 7ths in Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 Fmaj7 etc) - those 7ths is going to become a 3rd (for backcycling motion on the next chord) by stepwise motion in the next chord.

    That said, I don't have a problem with doubling notes played by the bass either. The triadic approach can be really powerful, and you have the option of using triads to access related sounds (US or subs) in a very clear way. Sometimes it's really good to resolve to one. Obviously, if you play voicings or lines built on, for instance:

    C, E, C (all maj triads)
    on Dm7 G7 C

    you will have a move from more interesting US tones into a very clear triadic resolution which is sometimes what the ear demands. OTOH it's no problem to access the 3 5 and 7 without the root by playing off the thirds, so:

    F, Bo, Em on Dm7 G7 C, say.

    Triads are powerful because they are such a clear sound to the ear and outline the harmony in the most basic way imaginable. OTOH for lines you need to be able to make them into convincing melodic contours, so the whole melody/harmony dichotomy runs and runs.

    Jordan Klemon's quadrads are worth looking at for this.

  25. #24

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    Well... I think, a bass, a guitar, a piano are not there to help, if everyone knows the tune there won't be questions about inversions, root...
    If a bass is like a help it means you don't know the tune.
    What I'm saying is a bit crazy but it is the truth.
    Easy to say difficult to do.

    I would add, for the harmony I trust the drummer, it's quite comfortable, the bass can play whatever it wants but it's better being very simple, if it is not simple it will sound like two instruments soloing.

    This is a duet, sax and drums, there is some harmony without chords, without bass.
    Last edited by Lionelsax; 08-20-2018 at 07:34 PM.

  26. #25

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    Jaco once said that the bass player defines the chord.
    "Songs are very interesting things to do to the air." -Tom Waits

  27. #26

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    Quote Originally Posted by zigzag View Post
    Jaco once said that the bass player defines the chord.
    He sure wasn't wrong.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  28. #27

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    I like the bass to move around, playing 1 and 5 as little as possible, playing tri-tones, or suggesting tri-tones with chromatic moves underneath, no fear of the 7, 6, and 4, walking, diminished passing roots, pedals through especially nice chord changes, etc... bass as a melody instrument works for me; as a guitarist I need something to play against vs constant bass 1 and 5 and hearing changes as forced 2-5s.
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln View Post
    I like the bass to move around, playing 1 and 5 as little as possible, playing tri-tones, or suggesting tri-tones with chromatic moves underneath, no fear of the 7, 6, and 4, walking, diminished passing roots, pedals through especially nice chord changes, etc... bass as a melody instrument works for me; as a guitarist I need something to play against vs constant bass 1 and 5 and hearing changes as forced 2-5s.
    Well, you're just describing an academic walking bass.
    Listen to this, it's clear, quite traditional.
    NHOP stays simple but very very efficient !!!


  30. #29

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    Very nice; is there a hip jazz lingo for this?
    Or do I just request "
    academic walking bass"?
    Just ask them to play "like NHOP"?
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  31. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln View Post
    Very nice; is there a hip jazz lingo for this?
    Or do I just request "
    academic walking bass"?
    Just ask them to play "like NHOP"?
    No, just ask them to know the tune, not to analyze every chord, just to know how the tune works.
    Better knowing what it's about, it's unproductive to have philosophic questions about a chord progression, the goal is to keep the structure and to go from a point to another point.