Exhibit A - there does not seem to be a single book about triad pairs that has any bass clef notation in it. Not that I could find, anyway. Those trebley bass clef hating bastards. They are anti-octavists, thats what they are, overt anti-octavists. Next they will be saying bass players need to be in their own section, some kind of section just for "those people" that play rhythm. Geez.
Well, this aggression will not stand, man. Time to rectify said unacceptable situation. So here we go...
Triad pairs! What are they?
Well, they are a pair of triads, as in two different triads without any common tones paired up together. Just two triads you decide to group together and then limit yourself to only playing the notes contained in those two triads in a bunch of different ways. That is really all there is to it, pretty much.
Of course, there are details:
1. Usually the two triads are either a whole step apart or a half step apart, or sometimes a tri-tone apart. For instance, a C Maj and a D Maj triad could be one pair, and then say, D Maj and Ab Maj could be another pair. The reason is that if you put triads that are a 3rd, 5th, or 6th apart they can have many overlapping notes (c maj and e emin have 2 notes in common for example) and you don't get a strong harmonic effect. The unique notes of each triad make the effect. So, for example:
Triad Pair Example - C maj & D maj
And here is the scale you get when you put the notes from those two triads in musical-alphabetical order, a-b-c-d-e-f-g, but only using the notes that make up the two triads.
Triad Pair Scale - C maj & D maj
2. The two triads can be any quality - one can be minor, one can be major, both can be minor, one augmented, one major, whatever. You can pretty much go wild. The combination of the qualities of the triads (and their respective notes) determine what chords it makes sense to play that particular pair over. You can create your pairs either by just making up a pair randomly and then figuring out what chords it could fit, or find a chord or scale and then take a pair that occurs naturally within that scale/chord.
This is not a new concept, horn players have been using it for quite a while, as in, for decades. At the end of this article there are links to some books and videos and a bit of history on where this concept came from so you can get into it even more if you want.
This is probably a newer idea to a lot of bass players, however. Part of the reason is that this really is almost exclusively a solo technique, it's not really for altering bass lines on the fly. Sometimes the pairs of triads intentionally include notes that will create altered notes on a chord, or include notes that may not even be in the chord, so if you suddenly throw a triad pair line into your bass line, and no one else is playing those alterations...well, you might get The Look from your guitar player/keyboard/drummer and we don't want that. The Look is bad. It's the "what the hell was that" look. No good. So, keep that in mind and realize this is primarily a solo-istic device.
Guitar players also use this technique abundantly as well, see, here is an article where Mike Stern shows how he uses a triad pair to play over an F7 chord - scroll down to the section in that article called "Twisted Triads".
Let us take Mr. Stern's example as a jumping off point, but move his example into bass clef where it rightly belongs and then apply a generous slab of freshly ground ridiculoso to liven it up even more.
First, here is the raw triad pair Stern uses, just converted to bass clef. The first measure is the Eb triad, the second the F, and then the scale the two triads make when you put them together, like the example above. Note that he plays his examples in 4/4, but his pairs and his lines are exactly the same as the ones below. Those below are just in 3 so you can see each triad pair more clearly. You can play any of these lines in 4 at anytime. But that is an entirely different subject...
Stern Pairs in 3
Next, Stern shows how to play the triads in different inversions to make a line. He plays each triad in each inversion, in order. So he does root position for each one, then first inversion (the third of the triad played first) for each one, then second inversion, (the fifth of the triad played first) for each one. Here is his line in bass clef:
Stern Lick in 3
Okay, cool. A simple melodic line. See how it works? But there are a lot more ways to play these triad pair things than Mike had time to show. A lot more. How many more? Lets assess our options, shall we?
Well, since you diligently study and re-read every post spewn forth up here, you of course know that there are exactly six different ways to order the notes of any one triad.
So you have six different ways to group each triad, times two triads, and then you also have six individual notes between the two triads, so to figure out how many ways there are you do 1*2*3*4*5*6 and you get...
A big freaking number.
720 in fact. So there are 720 different ways to arrange the notes in any triad pair and play through them. Yikes.
Okay, but are all going to sound good? No. Some sound disjunct and angular and terrible and very contrived. But...some sound really cool. So lets try and reduce this number of possibilities and get to just some of the good ones.
So remember, we have 6 different arrangements of each triad:
and then three others that don't have formal names and are just different orders of the notes:
- Root - 3rd - 5th (aka Root Position)
- 3rd - 5th - Root (aka First Inversion)
- 5th - Root - 3rd (aka Second Inversion)
So in our effort to reduce complexity, lets limit the ways we can play the triads to just the classic inversions, Root Position, First Inversion and Second Inversion. We will put those those other 3 non-inversion types aside for right now. That will help make our choices a little cleaner and easier, we will just keep it to 3 ways to play each triad, instead of 6.
- Root - 5th - Third
- Third - Root - Fifth
- 5th - 3rd - Root.
But check it out, now we have 6 "units" of triads! (There are some made up abbreviations after each triad group. . .you will see why in a second.)
Uh oh. Thats six "units" of things again. We are back to having 720 different ways to organize just those! Fine. But now we at least have some organized labels and a way to approach this material, which is good because there is a LOT of material here. This concept is not a little lick or a line you just play once and then you got it, there is months or years of exploration in these things. There are rhythmic options, and all the crazy combinations of augmented, and minor then the tri-tones...all those are things for some future post. So, any way you slice it, this is a big ol' chunk of music to chew on.
- First Triad Root Position (or 1st Root)
- First Triad First Inversion (or 1st 1st)
- First Triad Second Inversion(or 1st 2nd)
- Second Triad Root Position (or 2nd Root)
- Second Triad First Inversion (or 2nd 1st)
- Second Triad Second Inversion(or 2nd 2nd)
To prove how much here there is here, I will use the triad pair of Cmaj and Dmaj and drop some examples on y'all. So using this pair and all its inversions:
Triad Pair - C Maj & D Maj in Root, 1st and 2nd Inversion
And I will take those made up labels from above (1st Root, 1st 1st etc.) and use them to describe recipes for making melody lines with just those three arrangements of each of the triads. The examples will be in 6/8 just so you can see the recipe clearly, that means each measure will have two triads, each arranged in one of the three orders - root position, first inversion, or second inversion.
For instance, the recipe for Mr. Sterns example line, (originally with Eb and F) went:
1st Root (c, e, g) 2nd Root (d, f#, a) 1st 1st (e, g, c) 2nd 1st (f#, a, d) 1st 2nd (g, c, e) 2nd 2nd (a, d, f#)Stern Lick Again Transposed
But we can re-arrange those chunks INTO ANY ORDER WE WANT. What about...
1 Root, 2nd Root, 1st 2nd, 2nd 2nd, 1st 1st, 2nd 1st
Or maybe, mess with the octaves a little and change the direction of the line and do:
1st Root, 2nd 2nd, 1st 2nd, 2nd 1st, 1st 1st, 2nd Root
Listed below is just a taste of what you can do. These are from a PDF I created that is at the end of the article, which only has about 120 of the possible lines. "Only". Each melody line in the PDF is numbered and has the recipe that made it listed below it, so 1st Root, 2nd 2nd etc. And if 100 different lines are not enough for ya, just start in the middle of any lick and play to the end and wrap around to where you started, like it is a mode or something. Brain overload, I know.
The PDF only contains licks that start with the 1st Triad in First Inversion , thats all, so every lick starts with E G C, in that order. I chose that because it starts on a low E and lets you get as much range as possible going up from there. There is still over 100 ways to play the other 5 "units" (2nd 2nd, 1st Root etc) in various different orders after that first inversion triad as the starting unit.
Again, some suck and are useless. The first 10 or so, meh, its good to see them to get how the inversions can be moved around, but they sound contrived. Some however, are really cool. Some just need a little octave adjustment or direction adjustment (alternating the lick up and down instead of just ascending).
A small sampling...
Number 30 - Emphasizing F#
Number 48 - Starts on Open Strings
Number 51 - Beginning of alternating groups
Number 70 - Opposite of 62
Number 86 - Staying Low
Number 112 - Starting on Each String
And here is what a few of these licks sound like against some chords. This is not the richest accompaniment, but it lets you hear the general idea.
Against C7#11 (rootless voicing)
Against G Maj 9 (root on some)
1) The lines that alternate triads tend to sound more interesting (to me anyway). Yet, having lines that stay on one triad and then move to the other can be useful also. 2) Changing direction in the line helps, but having a line going in just one direction can sound great too. There is just so much stuff here to play with.
Okay great, so what can you play this C Maj/D maj pair over?
But ...there are not really any hard rules, you could try anything, for instance, say you wanted to try it over a BbMaj9 chord? What would happen?
- Any chords in the key of G Major or E Minor so your Gmaj, Cmaj7#11, Bmin, Emin, A dorian, D7
- Dsus, C7#11 also.
- F# minor flat 5 - Autumn Leaves anyone?
Well you would have:
BbMaj9Hmmm, tasty possibilities. #11, nice and a #5, kinda whole-toney. Try it!
- C - 9th
- D - 3rd
- E - #11
- F# - #5/b13
- G - 13
- A - Major 7
What about say..F7?
- F# - b9
- G - 9
- A - 3rd
- C - 5th
- D - 6th
- E - Major 7
Also has potential. The b9 - always a bold statement. And even with the natural 7 against the flat 7 of the dominant it might work, remember, the Bebop scale has that note in it and people play that all the time over a dominant chord. Just don't sit on the E.
But that is how you figure it out, just map what the notes of your triad pair would be in relation to the chord you want to play over and see how it goes. Some will be way way out there in a good way, some in the bad way, but others will be just spicy enough to keep using and give you a little extra snap on your solo.
And remember those 3 groupings of triad notes that we took off the table back there? Well, those sound pretty good too:
The Left Overs
So this post is the tip of a very big iceberg, there are minor/major pairs, augmented/major pairs, pairs a half-step apart, ad infinitum...this is just an intro to the concept and samples on one measly set of triads.
More Info, Credits, and History
Like I said, this concept has been around for quite a while, but as bass players we are usually the last ones to get solo concepts trickled down to us. But horn players (especially sax players), guitar players and keyboard players have all been using this concept for years and years.
There are a couple of very well known books about how to make different triad pairs and how to determine what chords they fit over:
- The most well known book is rather bluntly entitled Triad Pairs for Jazz , written by Gary Campbell, a music professor at University Of Miami. This one is the most extensive, oh, except for the overt and glaring lack of any bass clef in the entire dang thing whatsoever. Campbell showed stuff like this to Michael Brecker, or so Brecker said once. This is the book that I got it from. He takes a very structured approach to building the pairs and goes through an exhaustive list of possibilities. He also explains how to derive a pair from any particular scale. If you think this stuff is cool, you will like this book. Even though it has zero bass clef in it. None.
- Another good book is called Hextonics by Jerry Bergonzi. "Hex" as in six, as in two different three note triads. Same idea as triad pairs, he just calls them something else, but in true Bergonzi fashion he creates a cubic butt load of lines and melodies with various inversions and melodic permutations and combinations. This book also has a play-along and you can hear Bergonzi demonstrate some examples of different pairs in action as well which is always nice. But again, sadly bass clef-less.
- I think the oldest of the books is called "Intervallic Improvisation" by Walt Weiskopf. It is not as in depth as Campbell's, but it still has a lot of good stuff in it. Walt is playing sax for Steely Dan these days so they must dig it. There is a link to a video of Walt below, demonstrating the goods in person.
But supposedly this concept is the creation of a guy named Charlie Banacos, who was more or less the Yoda of improvisational music. He was a very famous guy who used to give lessons by mail. Yea, not e-mail, like, you wrote down stuff on a piece of paper and put it in that little metal box nailed to the side of your house, and then in a week or two some guy in a blue uniform with a truck that has the steering wheel on the wrong side brought you a cassette tape and a piece of paper that came from Mr. Banacos saying "do this stuff". Then you did that stuff, which was usually ass-kickingly hard and took a really long time and made you cry (or so all his students say) then you dried your tears, sent him a cassette of you playing his lesson exercises and another piece of paper saying "okay, now what" and then he sent you something back that was even harder to do than the first thing he sent you...and on it went like that. But, anyway, a lot of very famous well known monster players did his various lessons over the years - Mike Stern, Jeff Berlin, Alain Caron, Bergonzi, Joe Hubbard, tons of guys all went to Degoba to get hip with this musical Yoda. Mr. Banacos passed away recently but his legacy lives on in all the players he taught.
So there you have it, a very long post on the crash-course in triad pairs.
And at the risk of beating a dead horse - remember this is not the primary stuff we get called on to do as bass players. This represents, at best, 5% of what we are expected to do, so don't let this stuff become 90% of what you are practicing all the time. Spend some time with it if it is new to you and play around with it, explore...but remember the things that we will be doing far more of when we play and make sure you practice all those things even more.
And just in case this all wasn't enough..here are some YouTube clips and blog postings, mostly from sax players, about using triad pairs.
Shawn "Thuder" Wallace
Walt Weiskopf - The Man himself
Dave Valdez's take
Matt Otto - on tenor playing with some very altered triad pairs
Alleged Artist - Triad Pairs over ii-v's on the gee-tar
Well, that oughtta be enough to keep y'all off the streets for a while.