Its a big subject, no doubt, and covers a broad range of things from just having good time, meaning things like not speeding up or slowing down, and making sure your notes are as long as they are supposed to be and your rests are a long as they are supposed to be, to being able to mesh/lock/meld/join in musical union with your drummer, to concepts like playing ahead of the beat or behind it, and to using rhythm as an element in your solos in an interesting and unifying way.
So lets just bite off a little corner for now and talk about that last one, rhythmic cohesion during a solo, or using rhythm as an element of your solo. We will also invite our friend, Mr. Chord Tone to join us as well.
When people talk solos, and especially bass solos, its always about the notes. Oh the notes, the notes, the notes, the notes! What notes can you play over this chord, and what scale substitution can you play, you know that super hip scale you heard that super hip bass player use on that super hip tune, you know instead of those boring old cord tones of the actual chord you are on. What? Play the notes from a C7 arpeggio over a C7 chord? Whatever, square. Why don't you get in your square car and drive back to squaretown and sit on your square chair at your square table and eat a sandwich, square man. Sheesh.
It's always about the notes.
But guess what, that is missing half the equation. More than half. More like, I would say almost 80% of what is going on is rhythm. You can play all kinds of notes against a chord, at this point in the game, in 2011, pretty much anything goes. The short, and admittedly glib and smart arse answer to "what can I play over a blah blah blah" is "you can play anything over anything".
But the real question is "what can I play that sounds good and convincing over a blah blah blah chord" and the answer to that is "play with solid rhythm and play the *gasp* actual chord tones of the chord itself"
Don't believe me?
Point your earholes at those notes right there for a second and then join me down there below:
bass lick tempo 90 4/4 | C7 r4 c8 g8 bb4 e8 r8 | C7 r8 c8 g4 bb8 e8 r4 | C7 r8 c4 g8 bb8 e4 r8 |
What do you notice? Anything?
Play them, with the different rhythm each one has. They all sound different, huh.
Well guess what, each measure has exactly the same notes, in exactly the same order, only the rhythm is different.
I just blew your mind, didn't I. Well, check it out. Look at the order of the notes, C, G, Bb, E. Every bar in that order.
So before you start looking for that #5Locrain2DiminishedBbOverF#MinorTritonesub scale, how about you just play with the rhythm on the chord that is already there, with the notes that, you know, make up the chord you are on?
To that end, I have been playing around with a very, very cool program I just discovered called Lilypond for a few days and well...things got out of hand. It is a notation program/programming language smooshed together and I started fooling around with it, and well, I figured some things out, then some more things, and then..well, then it got molto ridiculoso and presto.
To wit, below is a file with over 1000 measures of different one bar rhythms using only the notes from C7, thats C-E-G-Bb, and using only quarter notes and eighth notes (and rests). Thats it. This entire thing is an example of how much variance is possible with something very simple, and how easy it is to get a cool phrase going with a just the basics - chord tones and a basic rhythm.
The bass masters of this are Charlie Haden and Larry Grenadier. Yea, I know they are upright players, but they both play solos that are amazing, and yet they are not always burning up with some superhip downtown chord subs or doing scale running. They both certainly can do that, but all of their solos have such strong rhythmic phrases, even when using "just" chord tones you get reeled in by what they are doing and can't help but listen. And Sonny Rollins is the fount of all that is Ridiculoso in this regard, check out his solos on the classics like St. Thomas, Blue 7, heck, really anything he plays and see how he uses rhythm as an element even more than the notes.
So check out the pdf. There are three staves and each measure in each staff (going down) has exactly the same pitches, in exactly the same order, every time, and the only thing that is different is where the rests fall and what the rhythmic values of the pitches are.
So put on a play along track, and start reading. Some are going to sound a little mechanical, but I guarantee you will find at least one that you like and a way to play those regular old, boring, milquetoast, tap water chord tones from a C7 chord that you haven't played before.
Circle the ones you like as phrase rhythms and try playing the same rhythm across a set of chord changes using just chord tones and that rhythm. Bet it sounds like a unified phrase. Or find three that compliment each other and string them together to make a longer phrase. There is hours of stuff here.
And back to the music is a language analogy for a second, treat this file as a kind of dictionary or a reference source. You wouldn't try and write a book by just flipping to any page in a dictionary and randomly picking a word, you could, but tomato involute kunzite parabola.
This file is the same way, its for exploring and playing with, not for reciting measure by measure for your next solo. Dig in and mine it for two or three bar phrases or ways of playing the chord tones in a cool rhythm you haven't done before. Then play with that over other chords. It never ends.
Just a reminder to think rhythm and get more mileage out of those good ol' 3rds and 7ths.