Monday, May 12, 2014

Bass Clef Melodic Exercises - free PDF

Three years in the making, I have a new method book soon to be published! 144 Daily Exercises - Developing Melodic Technique introduces a simplified system of tonal organization to encourage rapid progress in improvising and composing skills through a complete understanding of modes and altered chords.

It comes with an accompanying CD, taking practicing musicians through 12 sustained chords in 12 keys in just 30 minutes of concentrated, effective effort. The book includes treble clef exercises, pages 1-15. The bass clef version is offered here at no charge through out of my respect for those who choose to master acoustic bass, electric bass and other bass clef instruments, and it helps to avoid printing two versions.

In addition to the 144 Exercises, great effort has been applied to creating concise digested information: Writing Melodic Lines, Chord-Scale Theory, Chord Inversions, Patterns and Discoveries, Tri-tones Made Easy - all these are described logically and thoroughly. Quick Concepts offers many ideas for improvisation, and Power to the Etude is a guide that leads to composing and improvising your own etudes.

144 Daily Exercises - Developing Melodic Technique is 28 pages,
8 1/2 x 11, with the CD on the inside back cover. I don't know my costs yet, so it's too soon for pricing and distribution. Please watch my blog or send an email if you'd like to purchase an early copy!

For your PDF of the bass clef exercises, or more information please email or

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Come Sunday - Easter, 2014

Here's a transcription of  Duke Ellington's Come Sunday, as performed by Ben Webster on tenor sax, Oscar Peterson on piano. I had the privilege and pleasure to play this morning at New Vision Methodist Church in Millbrae, California. Choir director Craig Davis did a marvelous job, charting and arranging, assembling a jazz quintet to accompany the choir, leading the congregation through several selections from the hymnal, directing and inspiring us all. Come Sunday was chosen for a prelude to the service, and Craig graciously provided a transposed chart in Gb - and one in Ab for the tenor sax. We stuck with Craig's chart because of time constraints, but I took his chart home, doggedly compared it to the recording and developed a lead sheet for the tenor, and a chord chart for C instruments. In my previous post "Transposing a Step Down - Body and Soul" I mentioned the "Gb - F# conundrum." The Real Book chart is in Bb, we had to go two whole steps down to get this into Gb concert. Not a perfect transcription, but pretty close:

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Transposing a Step Down -- Body And Soul

Don't shudder when the band leader, tenor sax or vocalist says "Let's take it down a step." Take it down a step, and "Kick it up a notch!" To cite some examples: You Are Too Beautiful by Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane in Bb, Here's That Rainy Day by Gene Ammons in F, Wave by Dexter Gordon in C. We are often called on to lift something up a half-step, but to accomodate the range of the lead voice, one should be equally adept at shifting downward. And it's easier to move down by a whole step compared to a half-step because the key change is less radical. e.g. Here's That Rainy Day is in the books in the key of G, one sharp. Down by a half-step and you're immediately facing the Gb - F# conundrum of choosing 6 flats or 6 sharps. But down a whole step to F and F# goes away, Bb enters the picture. The written notes move down from a line to the space below, notes in spaces go to the line below. A couple of accidentals require special consideration, C# becomes B natural, F natural becomes Eb. There's only a couple of transposed notes that don't "follow suit" when you go down a whole step.

So just for fun, let's take one that is seldom moved to a different key because it's quite a study to learn it in the original key in the first place -- good old Body And Soul. Music by Johnny Green -- I hope his heirs have a hold on this copyright -- what a classic, well-crafted offering! Trane did not move the key on this one, but ya never can tell when a vocalist needs a little relief on the high notes, and I've discovered I get a better resonance on the lows and can easily make the high notes if it's a step lower. Heresy, blasphemy, I know -- Body And Soul in B natural -- please. Come on now, if it was Billie Holiday up here you'd move the key -- yeah, I know I'm not... -- but she sang in B sometime, just do me a favor, OK? I haven't tried the tenor sax in the lower key, yet, but landing on C# (either a thin, open fingering or all closed with the octave key) might be uncool. Anyway, let's consider navigating the change from Db to B natural -- which is one of the worst!
Above:  Step 1, found a nice, clear chart in New Real Book 2, borrowing their chord symbols, modified in a couple of places. Step 2, considering the scale degrees and key centers -- thinking "by the numbers."

Below: Step 3, look at the Roman numerals, simplify even further into "home" or "away," highlight the cliches. Then, Step 4, we can easily move to the new key. Remember, too, that the 1st 8 is good for a total of 3 repetitions. And relax, see the simplicity of the bridge -- two different keys -- a cliche in the middle, and a surprise modulation in the very last measure.
Looking at Step 3, the simplified Roman numeral chart -- first 2 bars an easy to remember variation based on the ii chord, measures 3-4 an easy pattern based on I. Then bars 5-6 are a slight variation on a typical minor chord descending bass. The III7 on beats 3-4 of measure 6 can be considered part of the cadence, bars 7-8: | vim7 / iim7 V7 | I6 / x y ||  The bridge is pretty sensible. Up the scale in the new key (a half-step higher - we got there from bVI7) || I / ii / | iii / iv / | then back down with a 3-6-2-5-1 action, that's the first 4 of the bridge. Then the common device of changing the I chord to a Dorian minor changes the key a whole step lower, and bar 5 of the bridge is just a ii-V. Then bar 6 goes to iii (sub. for I) and down a half step on beats 3 and 4. | iim7 / V7 / | iii / biii(dim) / | Measure 7 of the bridge another ii-V (the key we're in now is a half-step below the original key) then the quite recognizable modulation in the last bar of the bridge, parallel dominant chords on beats 1, 2, 3. That set us up to go back to the ii chord of our original key. Smooth!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Rhythmic Architecture, part 2

In the late 40s the beboppers began moving phrases in their solos to smaller divisions of the beat. The implied double-time of sixteenth notes gave new life to ballads, and new challenge to uptempo improvisations. Charlie Parker (for one) became so adept at rapid scalar quotations that his solos would employ 32nd notes against a slow overall tempo e.g. Embracable You, Out Of Nowhere. "Bird" along with his cohorts and competitors would dash off sixteenth note phrases at tempos as fast as 210 beats per minute, even the 300bpm of Anthropology, a contrafact using the chord changes from Gershwin's I Got Rhythm. There are versions of Cherokee as fast as 360bpm where the eight notes are best thought of as 16ths at 180bpm counted in half notes -- "Diz" (Dizzy Gillespie) said "The faster the tempo, the slower you count."

In the latter half of the 50s we began to hear "soul jazz" and "funk" borrowing from the church and contemporary dance styles influenced by slower tempos with a prominent 16th note feel. And conversely, dance styles greatly affected the music -- the Chicken, Stroll, Madison, Boogaloo, Temptation Walk, Watusi, Jerk, Monkey, Dog, Philly Dog replacing swing and bop styles. Much of the 50s music still featured triplets in 12/8, but the advent of 16th note styles brought new life to jazz, r&b and pop and became a hallmark of the Soul movement that flourished from 1955 to 1975. At the height of the dance and funk music symbiosis musicians and audiences celebrated the16th note pulse as the very definition of hipness. The thoughtful use of instruments playing a little more sparsely, accenting subdivisions of the 16th, juxtaposing a 12/8 triplet feel against the duple rhythms, characterized funk and presaged refinements that appeared later in the spaciousness of Jamaican Reggae. But, unlike Reggae, the possibilities of the electric bass are exploited fully in funk and fusion. Getting busy with complex lines juxtaposed against new rhythmic textures, sophisticated syncopation, 8 beat patterns and other devices, the bass assumes a new importance in funk.

Careful listening to seminal recordings from the heyday of funk provide us with great polyrhythmic examples. And the style is not hampered by tight requirements for the role of each instrument. One of the beauties of funk influenced soul is the diversity of arrangement made possible by the often invisible but everpresent 16th note as the basic pulse. Let's look and listen to the construction of a few of the marvelous 45s produced by the progenitors of funk...

Follow Your Heart by the Manhattans came out in 1965, with a carefully arranged rhythmic background at about 97bpm. The bass is augmented with a trombone unison, they provide a pickup on beat 3 using the basic syncopation pattern of eighth - quarter - eighth. They play a two measure pattern, the an beat of 4 (eighth notes counted "1 an 2 an 3 an 4 an") acting as an anticipated down beat, a common practice. The first full measure of the pattern is empty except for a single eighth on the an of 4 followed by 3 eighths "1 an 2" and the original pickup "3 an__ (4) an___". Actually, the last pick up note on the an of 4 is tied to a quarter on beat 1, bar 1 of the pattern. It might be better better to notate these rhythms rather than use the verbal description -- but the goal is to understand the architecture, and since it's funk we're talking about -- where are the sixteenth notes?

Follow Your Heart has a piano playing eighths instead of the old doo-wop triplets. The pianist fades in and out of the overall rhythm to allow accents from other instruments. In the intro there's a vibraphone that accents the backbeat on 2, then provides pickups to measure 2, starting with the an of 3, "an 4 an 1 an" coinciding with bass/bone on the first two eighths of measure 2, tastefully laying out on the backbeat of 2 in bar 2 of the 8 beat pattern. There's a "stutter" effect in the kick drum with some variation but usually emphasizing "1 an" plus the an of 3, and a pickup to the next measure on (4) an. Snare backbeat on 2, tambourine on 4. The chording rhythm guitar gets the backbeat on 2 but is most noticeable with a sixteenth note on the "e" of 3 (count "3 e an a" -- or "shook-a-took-a"), or it might be a triplet figure. There's another guitar playing single note eighths -- maybe it's just the incredible taste of a single guitarist. There is some room for individuality in these background parts, but everyone sticks pretty close to their assignment. The implied 16th note pulse is the unifying factor, and this can be heard in occasional departures from the basic patterns.

Here's a short list of some classic r&b, with a thumbnail sketch calling your attention to the architectural level of different instruments, and the exceptional rhythmic insight of the musicians on these seminal funk recordings:

Shoot Your Shot - Jr. Walker & The All Stars     113bpm -- guitar pattern 1 an 2 an 3 e an a 4 an, organ on 2 & 4, bass at the eighth note level (playing "up to the 1"), 16ths on the hi-hat.

Your Love (Means Everything To Me) - Charles Wright & The 103rd Street Band   94bpm -- snare drum is on 1 2 3 4, the kick drum does the accenting (3) an (4) an with some variation. Rhythm guitar has 16ths "1 e an a 2" rest 4. Saxes hint at triplet rhythms with their liquid pattern, punches are on 1 an with a subtle pickup an the "a" of 4 preceding.

I Got Love - Charles Wright & The 103rd Street Band  102bpm -- drum hi-hat has 16ths, snare is free to accent when not playing 2 and 4 per arrangement. The bass is so percussive that the kick drum seems absent. Rhythm guitar "2 e an a" accenting a 16th before the traditional backbeat of 3, and then next measure "2 e an" leaving out the last note, at least in the groove portion, not the arranged passages.

Southern Part of Texas - War (live on SoulTrain)  114bpm -- bass at the 16th note level, organ basically eighths but spicing things up with 16th punches and pickups. The conga is free to move between quarters, eighths and 16ths, horns play strict eighths alternated with a smoother phrase that hints at a quarter note triplet feel. There's so much going on that the drummer pretty much sticks to the backbeat on 2 and 4. There are arranged sections, too!

Rhythmic opportunities multiply when the basic pulse moves up to the 16th note level! Please visit my Funk Now blog at for more selected r&b funk masterpieces from Charles Wright -- soon to be followed by highlighted short discographies from other geniuses of the genre such as War, Junior Walker, Sly Stone and some of the unsung heroes and one-hit wonders you will enjoy remembering or learning about. And this blog will conclude the 3 part series on Rhythm as Architecture in a week or two with some helpful hints for rhythm sections, engineers and producers.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Rhythmic Architecture, part 1

First, let me explode two common myths about musical structure. For one, the best way to create harmonies is from the top down. The top line has to be making musical sense, and this doesn't result often enough when "stacking" harmonies from the bottom. Another common concept that needs revising: thinking of rhythm from the bass up. To understand rhythmic structure, start at the fastest pulse and let different instruments express substructures and accents at lower levels. Many genres of music are defined by assigning separate levels of rhythm to various instruments. John Meheghan's second book, Jazz Rhythm and the Improvised Line  illustrates this well, and The Rhythmic Structure of Music by Grosvenor Cooper and Leonard Meyer has a broader, more scholarly focus on the "architectonic levels" of music.

In brief, one may employ duple or triplet rhythm as the most basic building blocks. Walking and marching beats are duple. Gliding and twirling motions are associated with the waltz, the original forbidden dance because of the intoxicating abandon that characterized its performance. Things get really interesting when we allow the spirit of African rhythm into our performance. The use of polyrhythms (more than one rhythm at the same time), especially two against three, greatly enriches the listening and dancing experience!

American musical history involves the weaving of many threads. In the days of the sailing ships, pulling up stakes and heading for the "new world" must have been like going to Mars would be for us today. The many cultures that contribute to our 21st century sensibility were originally kept intact for hundreds of years in the enclaves of immigrants and slaves. The homogenizing tendency of recorded music arrived in full impact around the start of the 20th century, blending folk and traditional elements in song form, harmony and rhythm. Early popular music of the two-beat variety gained energy from tempo and associated dance styles, and New Orleans ragtime and jazz began to infuse the culture with syncopation. The most basic syncopated rhythm is the quarternote - halfnote - quarternote pattern in 4/4 time. With the introduction of a strong beat on 2 and 4, the American "backbeat" was born.

Soon enough the boogie woogie pattern was sparking the dancers. Pretty much straight eighth notes, the major chord was spelled out with two eighths on 1, 3 and 5 for the first 3 beats of a measure in 4/4 followed by some variation on the last two eighths, often simply 6-5. Variations on the boogie pattern abound, providing impetus to composers in many genres which transcend the early stylistic requirements of boogie woogie and associated "barrelhouse" piano styles.

The advent of swing in the 1930s smoothed the stiff pairs of eighths into a triplet rhythm. Instead of a rigid 8 to the bar pulse, there was an implied pulse of 12 beats, with 8 notes sounded. Notation posed a problem -- triplets are written with the next smaller note division as a group of three. Now each quarter note (previously subdivided into two eighths) would have to be notated as either two eighths tied together followed by another eighth (with a bracket and the number 3 enclosing the group) or as a series of quarter-eighth groupings (again bracketed with a 3). Eventually the implied 3 eighths against the old 2 were spelled out as a dotted eighth followed by a sixteenth, the connecting bar solved the grouping problem (no unwieldy 3s cluttering the sheet music), and it was understood by convention that the dotted eighth and sixteenth pattern was to be "swung."

Next installment of this 3 part series on rhythmic architecture will be a study of early R&B, early rock, and the apotheosis of funk!