Kurt Rosenwinkel is a guitar player that is pretty out there. I just started listening to him (yea, I am late to the party) and am still getting used to him, but he can play some pretty wild stuff really dark and pretty which I love. He is certainly a heavy weight. I wish I could hear what he hears for 10 minutes.
He wrote a bunch of solo guitar compositions, each one on a different Spanish wine, and you can hear him play them all here.
Rosenwinkel Playing Wine
First off, there are the positions, or modes or whatever you want to call them. I have seen them called both things, but all I am referring to is just playing the notes of the pentatonic scale, but starting on notes other than the root.
Simple. It's the same exact scale, no notes change from the original formula. Just start on a note other than the root and go up (or down) the rest of the notes in the scale in order. Simple.
For example, in G min Pentatonic the notes are:
G - Root
Bb - Third - even though this is the second note in the scale, it is usually referred to as the third, as it is a third away from the root.
C - Fourth away from the root.
D - Fifth away from the root
F - Seventh (minor, or a whole step down) from the root
Those are the notes you get starting from the root, and it is a very familiar finger shape that you were probably shown right away by someone when you started playing.
It looks like this on the neck:
Wonderful. But there are other shapes that fit that same scale that are not as common and are not always shown or explained right away, one for each of the remaining notes of the pentatonic. I won't explain all of them here, because they are contained in that nifty little pdf right under this paragraph, and you can see for yourself what the shapes are when you start a minor pentatonic from each note, or degree if you will (if we are going to be all music school about it) of the a minor pentatonic scale. This doc has Gmin, Amin and Emin in it.
The shapes are the same for every pentatonic (if you have a normally tuned bass), so once you memorize them, you have all of them for the pentatonics. Well, for the minor ones anyways. There are other pentatonic scales (lots and lots) that will have a slightly different fingering, but the same concept applies. All you do is start the scale on each note to get the different shapes for that type of scale - major, minor, half-demolished fallopian minor, whatever it is. The third shape will always be the third shape for that type of scale.
Okay. So what. Why do you care about this? Because you are sick of playing your solo by starting on the root of the chord you are on and going up the pentatonic scale, thats why! So now you don't have to, you can start on the THIRD of the scale or the FIFTH and get into some new places on the neck. Far out.
But there is even more to this.
First, a small diversion into the idea of strong beats and weak beats. The best place to get up to speed on this is to read a book by Hal Galper called "Forward Motion". There is the link, and here is a link to the first page that describes the basic concept.
Super quick, the idea of Forward Motion and implying the chord you are on in the strongest possible way is this:
- Beats 1 and 3 of a measure are strong, (Galper calls them "Release" beats) 2 and 4 are weak(er) (He calls these "Tension" beats). This is all in good ol' 4/4 of course.
- If you play chord tones of the chord you are on (the root, the third, the fifth or the seventh) on downbeats it implies the harmony and outlines what chord you are on in a stronger way. Much stronger. Downbeats meaning, if you are counting eighth notes, the numbers "1", "2", "3" and "4" are the stronger downbeats, not the "ands" (or upbeats) that go in between. Just wait, you will see.
Great. SO WHAT.
Well, this is so what - now we can look at the different modes/positions/patterns of the minor pentatonic scale and figure out which one is the "strongest". In other words, all things being equal, which one of those patterns is the musical equivalent of the loudest way to shout, in one measure "Hey fools! I am playing G min Pentatonic, Yo!"
To figure this out, lets count the following items in each mode/position/pattern of the scale that occur during one measure:
- Count occurrences of the root note. It is still the boss and tells the chord the loudest.
- Count occurrences of chord tones. Tells everyone if it is minor or major or what is up.
- and extra special - the count occurrences of chord tones on those strong downbeats of the measure. This just hammers it home.
So what do we get...? Which mode/pattern/position of the minor pentatonic scale is the absolutely strongest one, outlining the current chord you are on by using the most chord tones and putting them in the most powerfully rhythmic position possible?
Is it when you start from the 5th? From the third?
I won't spoil it by giving away the answer, but the answer is contained in the PDF below, which has pictures and everything shows you the the answer. It may surprise you which one it is. Props to whoever comments first with the answer.
No idea who the bass player was who recorded this, but it was way before Gail Anne Dorsey's days with Bowie so probably some studio player. Print and play along.
Update: It was Carmine Rojas who played on this track. Thanks, anonymous commenter.
This guy played on "So What" and "Giant Steps". Right there, he is legendary, but that only represents about .01% of the recordings he was on, it must seriously be in the thousands. And as far as who he played with, it is basically anyone you have heard of between the years of oh..say 1956 and 1965, it is ridiculoso! If you are into playing jazz, you gotta know this guy. It's like entire books could be written about him or something!
Here is the head in both bass clef and that other clef. You can give the other copy to a piano/guitar player and do a unison line like they did it on the recording. Horn players are gonna have to transpose it themselves if you have one those playing along. Take a listen to what it sounds like on the video at the end of the post also. Make it swing! Use your favorite blues changes for the soloing.
Oh yea, that's why, because he is a monstrous bad ass that sounds great and grooves.
Anyway, Janek has been doing video podcasts at his site and in one of them he goes over his practice routine. It's video 2 in the link the sentence above this, and in it he shows an exercise using a diminished to minor pattern he uses during his warm up. It is written out below for your harmonic enlightenment and pedagogical perusing.
It is a v-i resolution, but he plays a diminished chord (all minor thirds) on the way up, a half-step away from the i chord, and then comes back down an arpeggiated minor chord as the tonic, then turns that minor chord into the next diminished chord and goes all the way up the neck with that pattern. It sounds more complicated than it really is, and it sounds really cool. Go watch the video and then download the pdf below and sound all hip and jazzy and new york and shit.
Also, Janek is going to start doing videos every week. You can sign up for month or a quarter at a time and this is really one of the most amazing things about living when we do. For what is a really cheap price, you get to hear from someone actually doing it, how they actually do it. Direct and at the time of your choosing. In the entire history of music before us, if you wanted to learn how guys doing it in New York or Kansas City or Chicago or wherever were doing it, even 20 years ago, you had to GO TO NEW YORK. That was it, that was your only option. To even hear them you had to wait until they came through your town, IF they came through your town, and get a lesson? Yea, right. Now with the internet, the access we have to learning is some serious spaceage-flying-car-silver-jumpsuit-wearing stuff. We live in the future, man. My point being is that you have access to so much musical learning in ways that no other generation before us had, if you sound like crap, it's your own damn fault. Myself included in that indictment too, of course.
Victor Wooten talks about how music is a language, so do Branford and Wynton Marsalis, so does Pat Metheny (if you have ever heard his infamous guitar lesson mp3). They all talk about how there is a grammar-like structure to learning how to play over chord changes. How you develop that vocabulary is just like how you develop speech, you imitate, you hear a word you like and if you don't understand it, you look it up and then you file it away for when you want to use it again. Improv works the same way on some levels. You learn some basic phrases, you build your vocabulary by imitating others and copying words you don't know yet until you know how to use them. The absolute best, hands down, fastest way to get this vocabulary is to transcribe off of records the solos you like. Now we live in an era where we have books and DVD's and other things that the people that came before us did not have, so to that end, here are some phrases and new words in the language of improv for the electrified bass guitar, translated from treble clef from David Baker's How To Play Bebop Vol. 2. If this book exists in bass clef...I haven't found it, I only have a treble clef version so I converted 25 of his 101 ii-v patterns into bass clef and analyzed what notes the licks use and put the scale degree under each note of the lick. Yea, you are welcome.
No way man, you read how the jazz cats can channel consciousness and get so in the zone that pure spontaneous music erupts from the bowels of ones true karmic energy center when it is at oneness with the vibrations of the universal chi and it all just, like, happens, man.
Everybody has licks they play and phrases that they have spent time working up to play over chord changes. It's part of the myth that improv just happens, everyone works on phrases. Everyone. No matter how heavy they were or are.
To go with the language analogy, the licks below are "sentences" for use over a ii-v progression, so in the key of c, from Dmin7 to G7 each chord for one measure.
Now, are these music sentences the kind that sound like "The burnished mahogany chest sat regally on its column like legs, with its dark, hand hewn contours accenting its orthogonal placement to the intersecting walls of the library chamber."
They sound more like "There was a dark wooden box in the corner of the book room." But that is okay, they are still good and solid phrases to learn and explore and use as vehicles to figure out why you like certain ones. Some things you might want to ask yourself when you look at them:
- Wait, what's with all the wrong notes? How come some have an F# on the Dmin? How come some have an Ab on the G7? What the hell!?
- What beats are the chord tones on?
- What is the starting note of the lick? Is it always the root? spoiler: no.
- How many non-chord tones are there in the lick?
- What is the range, or how wide is the distance between the highest note in the lick and the lowest note in the lick?
Larry Grenadier is your basic total bad ass bass player. He has played with some of the heaviest of the heavies in jazz - Pat Metheny (was in his Trio 00) and has been Brad Mehldau's bass player for about ten years. He has some serious swing and is super melodic without having to resort to just chops. He plays what sound like simple solos but they are incredibly melodic at the same time. That is the hardest thing there is to do.
Smalls Jazz Club records their shows, and in the link below, Larry takes a chorus on the standard All The Things You Are. Hear how it's done in NYC.
Small's Jazz Club Live Shows - Larry Grenadier.
First up - Pentatonics. Where would we be without them? Some people say better off, but I say, nay!
Pentatonics get a bad rap because they are so easy to get under your fingers initially and are the ultimate oh-no-I-am-lost-what-can-I-play-scale so they get played a lot. A lot a lot. So they get called tired, worn out, and cliched. Sure, they can be, but any set of notes can have that happen to them, but for some reason the pentatonics get the brunt of it. No one says the mixolydian scale sounds tired or is over played do they? Okay, well maybe the blues scale gets it's share of abuse too, but pentatonics get it the worst probably.
Pentatonics are as hip as you want to make them be. Jaco used them in every solo he ever did just about and some of his most famous licks (like the unison line from Havona or almost his entire distorto solo on Word of Mouth) are almost all pentatonic. Some other guys named Coltrane, Hancock, and Metheny use them all the time and they sure don't sound cornball when those guys play them. You can play super inside using them, or you can get way spacey Sun Ra outside with them.
The bible on pentatonics for improvisational use is a book by a sax player from Boston named Jerry Bergonzi. He has an entire series of books about improvisation and one completely devoted to just pentatonics. They are not just for sax, they work for any instrument. The books are highly highly recommended if you are looking for material to work on for improvised music.
Bergonzi is big into patterns and recipes, ways of creating re-usable phrases and making lick factories so you don't just get a single lick you get a process and a pattern for making a lot of licks on any kind of chord or with any kind of scale.
His pentatonic book outlines a simple process for creating lines and starts you off with a set of 4 ascending lines and 4 descending lines as an example. Those same lines are in the PDF below converted into bass clef since he only does treble clef in his book. These lines work really well on bass!
There is a lot more in his book than just these patterns. He discusses what pentatonics to play when and how to get outside incrementally if you want by using different pentatonics over different chords. Go check 'em out on the web at http://www.jerrybergonzi.com/books.htm .
Here he is blowing over All The Things You Are and using some of his stuff.
The Pentatonics - download or print. Contains Cmin, Amin, Emin, Dmin, Gmin, and Fmin.