Traidpaloozza Number 2: Approach Tones

Okay. So you think "triads are easy". They are too simple. They are boring. They are old school they are not where it's at. Man.

Well, first of all, yes they are too cool. And secondly, if you really want to add something new to your triads, one of the most common ways to spice them up is to start adding approach tones to them.

These approach tones are tones that approach each note in the triad, ergo, the name.

Exactly where this approach note comes approaching from is where all the fun begins. You can approach the chord tones from a note above each chord tone, or a note below each chord tone, or a note above and a note below, or two notes below and then one note above or...you get the idea.

Here is how it goes: first we need a regular major triad so lets use G major, so G (root), B (third) and D (fifth).

bass lick tempo 120 4/4 | G g4 b4 d4 r4 |

Now lets add an approach note from below each chord tone so, a Gb/F# in front of the G, a Bb in front of the B, and a C# in front of the D

bass lick tempo 120 4/4 | G f#-8 g bb b c# d f# g |

Sounds more zesty huh? Thats a spicy meat-a-ball huh? But it gets better. As diligent readers know, there a musical concept of strong and weak beats that has been discussed here before. Having the notes of a chord occur on these strong beats just sounds better. It just does. This last example does NOT do this however, so while it sounds kinda cool, you can make it sound even better by just shifting things a little.

The strong beats are the down beats, so if you are counting "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and", the strong beats would be the beats on the numbers, 1 2 3 4 and the "ands" are the weak beats. So if we do a little rhythmic shenanigans with these approach notes and push them back just one eighth note, look at what we get.

Approach From Below Rhythmically Arranged
bass lick tempo 120 4/4 f#-8 | G g8 bb8 b8 c#8 d8 f#8 g bb8 | G b8 c#8 d8 f#8 g2 |

Now the stronger notes, the chord tones themselves, are on the strong beats, the downbeats.

This is by far the better way to phrase with approach notes. Approach notes are not usually chord tones, they set up the chord tones, so you want to shift the approaches back so that the chord tone itself gets the down beat and comes down on one of those strong 1 2 3 4 beats.

Here is another set of approaches, the opposite of the first one, this time we will come from a note above each chord tone. So for the same G major triad, an Ab in front of the G (root), a C natural in front of the B (third), and an Eb in front of the D (fifth).

Approach From Above Rhythmically Arranged
bass lick tempo 120 4/4 ab8 | G g8 c8 b8 eb8 d8 ab+8 g8 c8 | b8 eb8 d8 ab+8 g2

But hold on, you say. There is no freaking Ab note in G Major! Those approach notes are not even in the key or the scale or the chord or anything, you can't just go adding notes like that willy nilly helter skelter hodge podge willy skelter!

Uhhhhh, why not?

Actually, you totally can. When you are embellishing a chord like this, it's okay that these approach notes are not in the key or the scale or don't seem related to the chord you are playing except that they are right next to them.

Its like this....say you have a big 4 pound steak, and you put some parsley on it, it doesn't make the steak taste like parsley. It still tastes like steak. You might get a molecule of parsley taste in there somewhere but your brain doesn't think you ate a fork full of salad all of a sudden. It still thinks "yum, dead cow parts". Well, triads are like a big fat fillet mignon cooked in garlic butter. You are gonna taste that meaty buttery garlicy cow no matter what, even if you put some fru-fru little green thing on top of a little part of it. That steak flavor still cuts through and is what you taste the most of, no problem.

That's what triads are like, they are grass fed medium well beef covered in garlic butter. Musically speaking. Even with an extra note in there, you still get the full meaty triad taste. Especially if you shift the approach notes so that the chord tones come in on the downbeats you can add all kinds of approach notes and still get the triad-y-ness of the chord you are playing.

Let's try it with two approach notes, and also get even more rhythmically crafty and make the approach notes 16th notes but keep the triads tones themselves as 8th notes.

Approach From Above & Below Rhythmically Arranged

bass lick tempo 120 4/4 ab16 f#16 | G g8 c16 bb16 b8 eb16 c#16 d8 ab+16 f#16 g8 c16 bb16 | b8 eb16 c#16 d8 ab+16 f#16 g2

Now reverse this pattern so that instead of above below, it is below above

Approach From Below & Above Rhythmically Arranged
bass lick tempo 120 4/4 f#-16 ab16 | G g8 bb16 c16 b8 c#16 eb16 d8 ab+16 f#16 g8 bb16 c16 | b8 c#16 eb16 d8 f#16 ab16 g2

There are other ways to vary the rhythms and the combinations of approach tones is endless as well. And you don't have to play the triads in R - 3 - 5 order either, try them in all the other combinations as well, but with the approach tones in front of each chord tone.

You get the idea, it can go on and on and on. For more info on this concept check out Gary Campbell, Hal Galper, Jeff Berlin, and every saxophone book ever written.

Of course this isn't just for soloing either, not so much for walking lines, but for sure on rock/pop/r & B lines you can use this all the time. Keep the approach notes shorter and on the weak beats for best results.

Try the approach notes here on major chords as well as minor chords and even the diminished and augmented. You will probably hear a few familiar licks in there from just these basic examples.


What People Want In Their Bass Player Ep. 03 - Pianist Randy Halberstat

Time for another episode of one of the most popular features here on Basso Ridiculoso.

This episode brings us a Seattle local hero jazz pianist, Randy Halberstat.

Randy is a professor at Cornish College of the Arts, where he originally was asked by Gary Peacock to fill in for a few classes that Peacock was teaching at the time. That is a pretty heavy endorsement right there. Now, Randy is a full professor and teaches piano and improvisation at Cornish.

Randy has also written a great book called "Metaphors For The Musician" which is one of the most interesting and helpful music books in my Basso Bass Book collection. And I own a LOT of books about music, it is seriously up into the hundreds of books at this point and Randy's book it one of the best. His book is not a book about scales, but it will change how you play them. It is not a book about learning tunes, but it will show you how to learn any tune you want deeper and faster than ever before. It is not a "you can play this scale over this chord" kind of book (although, there is some of that in there) but instead it takes you from scales to music in very interesting and engaging ways. Big Basso stamp of approval on this one.

Lest you think Randy is just some ivory tower academic, let me dissuade you of that incorrect idea. He also is a recording artist on Origin Records and has cut sides (as the cats say) on his own and as a side man for people like Mimi Fox and Greta Matassa. Some of his tunes are also in the Sher Real Books.

So Randy has seen probably his share of young students with chops through his teaching and has also got to play with legends like Gary Peacock, so it should be very interesting to get his take on what makes a "good" bass player.

Here is what Randy said (emphasis mine) :
For me, this question immediately splits into two questions:
  1. "What do I want from a bass player?" and
  2. "What do I want from any musician?"

Just to be ornery, let me go to the second question first. I need my musicians to have their ears wide open. They need to be in such control of their own musical "tasks" that they can listen to the others in the band with as much avid interest as an audience member. If they're too focused on taking care of their own business, they won't be able to contribute to a unified band sound, which is really more important. If a musician has his ears open and really hears everything that's going on around him, I know I can relax and just play. At that point, I don't care what he plays in response to what I play: he can imitate me, complement me, or contrast with what I'm doing. I know it'll be an honest and well-informed decision, and that's all I want.

I want my musicians to have distinct personalities. If one musician plays "behind the beat" and the next plays "on top of the beat," that's OK: I just need to know where they're coming from. I can enjoy playing with almost all types of musicians, but it's difficult to make something happen with a musician who's doing what he thinks he should, as opposed to what he wants to.

Of course, I want my musicians to be well-versed, both in terms of repertoire and vocabulary. Really, I just want to sense that they love and respect this music as much as I do. If they do, the repertoire and vocabulary will be there.

Hmm, frankly, that doesn't leave a lot for my answer to question #2.

I guess I would say that I want a bass player who enjoys both the "traditional" role of the bass as well as the opportunity to make a more personal statement. If a bassist is never willing to lay down a walk or a two-beat feel, and/or if he spends all of his time in the upper register of the instrument, it leaves me wondering why he didn't just become a guitarist. Again, it has to do with the overall band sound. Doesn't he realize what an opportunity he's missing to knit the band sound into a coherent whole? Why try to simulate what the drums and piano are already doing? This is a touchy area. I really don't want to make a bass player my "beast of burden," just laying down the groove all night so I can display all my cool reharmonizations and rhythmic displacements without fear of getting lost. I don't want to tell a bass player what or how to play: I want him to feel free to play what he hears. But if what he hears just doesn't contribute to the overall sound I'm going for, I'll just look around for someone else. And that doesn't mean that he's wrong. Being able to enjoy another musician's music and being able to play with that musician are not the same. Vive la difference!

Good stuff from someone who plays for a living.

Check out Randy's book and albums.
Randy's Book at Sher Music
Randy At Origin Records