How about some harmony? I have a really simple concept for you this month, which is going to expand your harmonic knowledge and linear idea building no end. Using a few simple devices, the only limit will be your imagination in terms of how far you take this information to build your own voice.
This harmonic and melodic concept involves stacking triads on top of each other, taking a chord symbol that may look simple and almost nursery- rhyme-like, and giving it extra life and colour. Now don’t get me wrong: sometimes, depending on the style of music you’re playing, a basic triad with no additional colouring is absolutely the right sound for the music. There’s nothing worse to me than a jazz guy playing a pop gig and using extra tensions because they think it sounds hip. Make sure you’re aware of your surroundings, and are playing content that is stylistically appropriate if you’re working as a sideman. But in terms of opening up your harmonic knowledge, and giving yourself a wealth of options for creating linear ideas and shapes, this concept will be a great addition to your practice routine.
Now like I said, the concept is very simple. Example 1 shows the three different inversions of this idea. We’re taking a C major triad and stacking a G major triad on top of it. In this example we start out with the C major in the root position, and its partner G triad is in the first inversion. Each chord moves up one inversion to give first-inversion C with second-inversion G, and second-inversion C with root-position G.
Now before you ask me how on earth you’re meant to play these chords on a four-string bass, don’t. These chords, which sound great when you sit down and play them on a piano by the way, are the basis for some linear ideas that we arrive at in example 2. Just take a quick look at all the tensions, or colours if you prefer, that adding the G triad to a C triad gives you. The 3rd and 5th chord tones of the G triad become the major 7th (B) and 9th (D) in the key of C.
The first linear idea is the most obvious one, I think. You simply break up all three triad pairs from example 1, and play the notes in order one after the other. Now these kinds of shapes aren’t the easiest thing to play on the bass, so I highly recommend setting some time aside to give this material chance to get these sounds and shapes under your fingers slowly. It’s the time you put in at the beginning, the slow-paced practice, and the initial dedication to concentration that helps make sure your subconscious grabs hold of the information and never lets it go. That’s where fluidity comes from, and that’s where that natural-looking performance you’ve seen in so many great players comes from.
Now, after example 2, the task is very simple. You obviously don’t just have to play this idea in the key of C, so you’ve immediately just created 11 other things you need to work on without even changing the shape of the idea. And then it’s up to you to get creative with this concept. If you have some sort of looping device or the ability to pedal a note, I highly recommend taking these shapes and changing the key centres.
Play the lines in example 2 over a different root note. A couple of minor sounds that work really well would be A minor and D minor in the key of C, and also try these same shapes over the V chord (G in the key of C) for a suspended sound.
The bottom line is, your imagination is your only limitation. You now have the simple tools needed to create some really amazing sounds. It’s just a matter of putting in some time, letting your ear get used to this new vocabulary, and not worrying about experimenting with all kinds of triads stacked on top of each other. Find stuff you like the sound of, and make it your own.