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Modal Jazz Improvisation on Three Basses – Bass Practice Diary 31

Modal Jazz Improvisation on 3 Basses – Based on Flamenco Sketches – Bass Practice Diary – 20th November 2018

This week I was inspired by the chord changes of Miles Davis’ modal jazz masterpiece Flamenco Sketches. I used the chords as the basis to improvise using three basses, fretless electric, acoustic upright (double bass) and acoustic bass guitar.

This is the second video I’ve made playing jazz with these three basses. If you’d like to find out more about why I’m using them, then check out my previous video called Playing Jazz with Three Different Basses.

Miles Davis and his Compositions

Once again, I’ve featured a composition by the great jazz trumpeter and band leader Miles Davis. My previous video featured a composition called Solar. It wasn’t a conscious decision to feature the same composer twice. However, it does reflect the influence that Miles Davis’ music has had on me and my own jazz education.

The two compositions, Solar and Flamenco Sketches, actually have very little in common. Other than that they’re written by the same composer. Solar is what jazz musicians would refer to as a Bop tune. And Flamenco Sketches is an example of Modal Jazz. They represent very different stages of Miles Davis’ career even though they were only written about five years apart.

Also, in this video, I’m only using the chord progression for Flamenco Sketches as a basis for improvisation. Whereas, I played the melody of Solar as well as an improvised solo, which is more or less consistent with the Bop style.

The album Kind of Blue, is one of the most famous jazz albums of all time. It was released in 1959 and it marked a complete change of direction in modern jazz. It’s debatable whether or not Miles Davis actually came up with the idea of Modal Jazz. Because there are earlier compositions by other composers, that could be described as modal jazz even though the term wasn’t used to describe them at the time. But Kind of Blue undoubtedly established modal jazz as a major movement in modern music, and it marked a sea-change in jazz.

What is Bop?

The concept of modal jazz is actually very simple. In order to understand it, you must first understand Bop, which had been the prevailing style in modern jazz up until the late 1950’s. Modern jazz really started with a style of music called Bebop, and particularly two gentlemen, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Check out my video about playing Charlie Parker Bebop melodies on fretless bass here.

Miles Davis began his career as a teenager, playing with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. So his background was in Bebop and he continued playing a style of Bop called Hard Bop throughout the 1950’s when he lead his own band. The composition Solar first featured on a Miles Davis album in 1954, and it is typical of a Bop style jazz melody.

The style of Bebop was all about complex melodies and fast moving chord progressions. In order to play it you needed both technical skill, to keep up with the pace, and also exceptional understanding of harmony and ability to navigate fast moving chord and key changes. The Hard Bop movement was a bit less high paced and a bit more soulful, but it still relied upon the melodic and harmonic style of it’s predecessor Bebop.

What is Modal Jazz?

Modal jazz, by contrast, doesn’t rely on chord progressions. Where Bop compositions tend to change chords in virtually every bar. Modal compositions tend to stay on just one chord for extended periods. The improvisers role in modal jazz is not to navigate continually shifting harmony as in Bebop. It’s to create melody from modes.

Modes are essentially scales. Each chord implies an accompanying scale which the improviser can use to create a tune. Flamenco Sketches is a classic example of a modal jazz composition, it is essentially just five chords, or five modes. Very simple in theory, but it’s also one of my favourite jazz compositions.

Flamenco Sketches Chords

Flamenco Sketches starts in C major, I would use a C lydian mode to improvise on this first section. Find my video about Lydian Sounds here. The second chord is Ab7sus4. The sus4 chord voicing is intentionally ambiguous, because it doesn’t define the chord as being either major or minor. Therefore there are a number of different ways you can approach it. Miles Davis uses a major triad starting on the fourth Db, which I’ve tried to emulate in my improvisation.

The third chord is a Bb major chord, and again you can use a lydian mode here. This precedes one of my favourite moments in any jazz composition. Which is a change from the Bb major to a D phrygian dominant mode. This has to be one of my favourite chord changes. I remember seeing Ron Carter’s band play this piece in London in about 2003. It was such a beautiful concert. One moment from the concert that I can still remember all these years later was when the band changed to the D chord in Flamenco Sketches. Ron Carter had an extended range on his fourth string so he could reach a low D on his bass. I’ve tuned the fourth string on my upright bass down to a D in the video to emulate this.

It’s the phrygian dominant mode that gives the piece it’s Spanish flavour. You can find my video about the phrygian dominant mode here. The Spanish sound is integral to the composition. For this reason, this section of the song lasts twice as long as the other four modes. The final chord is a Gm7 chord, you can play a dorian mode here.

Artificial Harmonics

The original idea for this video came because I was practicing a technique for artificial harmonics which I’ve adapted from the guitar. I’ve never done artificial harmonics like this on bass before. I use a different technique usually. I haven’t done a video about artificial harmonics yet, but I will do one soon. So stay tuned to my Bass Practice Diary if you want to learn this technique.

I was using this technique on a guitar and I started wondering if I could use it to play chords on my acoustic bass guitar. Once I found it worked I immediately had the idea of playing the chord changes for Flamenco Sketches using the technique. I recorded it and added the improvisation on double bass and fretless bass, and that’s the video!

 

 

Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove, Out Now!

My New Book Improve Your Groove is Here

3D Cover Image Improve Your Groove
Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove

Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove: The Essential Guide To Mastering Time and Feel on Bass Guitar

  • Crack the code of rhythm and groove
  • Develop incredible note placement and feel
  • Discover the secrets of syncopation
Order Improve Your Groove now via this link https://geni.us/bassgroove

When I started writing Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove in the summer of 2016, I set out to write a book to help bass players improve the most fundamental aspects of playing bass lines. Groove is exactly that. It’s the heart of what it is to be a bass player.

So I started by asking myself, what is groove? Can it be defined and more importantly, can you learn it?

Groove is a combination of many things, first and foremost time feel. To control the feel of your bass lines you must first have excellent timing. This involves firstly understanding rhythms and then having a system for playing them very accurately. So if you want to increase your rhythmic accuracy you must experience rhythmic sub-divisions when you play.

Therefore I decided to explain sub-divisions in the opening chapters of Improve Your Groove starting with the basics. Then I set out my system for improving rhythmic accuracy by using the sub-divisions.

Using Konnakol to Improve Your Groove

My system for experiencing sub-divisions involves first of all borrowing syllables from the ancient Indian system of vocalising rhythms called Konnakol. Which is sometimes called the ‘language of rhythm’. Using three simple sets of syllables from Konnakol you can very quickly learn to differentiate between eighth and sixteenth note grooves as well as triplets, shuffles and swing feels. As a result you will not only learn to differentiate each sub-division and time feel. You’ll also play them much more accurately by placing your notes on the sub-divisions

Finally, each time feel and sub-division is demonstrated using lots of Mp3 audio examples in a variety of styles. All the audio is downloadable for free from www.fundamental-changes.com.

Is there more to groove than great timing?

There certainly is. While timing is essential, there is more to being able to groove than just placing a note accurately onto a sub-division. Another huge aspect of groove is sharing your time feel with the musicians you play with. First of all you must know how to play with a drummer. There is no relationship in a band closer than the bass and drums, hence I’ve dedicated an entire section of the book to playing with drums. You must make the drummers sub-divisions your sub-divisions if you want the music to groove.

The Pieces

The final section of the book involves sharing a collective time feel in a group. For a performance to groove the whole group must groove and not just an individual. Therefore I’ve included five pieces with backing tracks to help you practise locking in with the collective feel.

In Conclusion

Groove is such a huge topic for bass players, so there will be more from me on the subject in the future. In my first book Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove I’ve laid out some approaches to rhythm and playing in a group that I believe will help any bass player to improve their groove.

“I hope that after reading this book you’ll start to think about time and rhythm in a different way and it will give you a deeper understanding of feel and groove and open up your playing to explore new musical cultures.”

I want to thank Joseph Alexander and Tim Pettingale at Fundamental Changes for publishing the book and making it look amazing.

Below is the product description from www.fundamental-changes.com

Improve Your Groove Cracks the Code of Rhythm, Groove and Feel on Electric Bass Guitar

Build your groove and play bass like a master

  • Discover how to groove flawlessly on electric bass in any style of music
  • Understand bass guitar rhythm and placement
  • Play in the pocket, every time.

Every bassist wants to play with great feel. It’s what ties a performance together, moves the music forward, and keeps it “in the pocket”. Therefore groove is what your audience wants to hear.

Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove is a complete course in rhythm  on bass. Groove is built by understanding rhythm, playing accurately and sharing that feel with other musicians.

What you’ll learn:

  • How to play in time on bass guitar
  • Learn to play “in the pocket” and create a tight, grooving performance
  • How to crack the code of rhythm
  • The secrets of syncopation and building your internal clock
  • The Konnakol vocal counting system to help you groove without thinking
  • 5 complete pieces with backing tracks that put theory into practice
  • Over 140 exercises and examples with FREE supporting audio to download

In Electric Bass – Improve your Groove, building perfect time and feel on bass is explained from absolute basics and teaches you how to play bass lines with great rhythm; from the simplest, to the most complex grooves.

You’ll discover grooving bass guitar rhythms and develop devastating accuracy and feel. Rock, Funk, Jazz, Blues and Latin feels on bass are all intimately addressed with over 140 examples and backing tracks.

Hear it!

Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove contains over 140 exercises and supporting audio examples so you can hear exactly how each exciting example should sound. Learn to lock in with the live backing tracks and dramatically boost your progress.

Buy it now and instantly become the bass guitar powerhouse of the band. https://geni.us/bassgroove