Left hand study: bass lines as wide as Atlantic

Okay, I promised a new bass pattern β€” here it is! Today is going to be less talking, more playing things. I’ve noticed that I’ve started to get in a habit of going on at length about theory stuff, so it sometimes takes multiple paragraphs until we get to the actual technique β€” so let’s cut keep the intro short today! πŸ€“

Today’s pattern is called “8-to-the-bar bass”. I’ve found it (just like a lot of other wonderful stuff) in Riccardo Scivales’ book Jazz Piano: The Left Hand that I highly recommend to everyone as an endless source of revelations. The pattern originates from the stride piano era and is meant to be used as a part of blazing-fast virtuoso passages to make them sound jumpy and dancy. Its name “8-to-the-bar” is due to the fact that it starts a 1/8 note before the bar.

As I often do, I took the original line and adapted it to the slow jazz context (mainly because this is the style I mostly work in, but also simply because I just can’t play fast passages πŸ™ˆ). So, here’s an original line from the Scivales’ book, played as a medium swing with some triad arpeggios on top to keep right hand busy:

 

Let’s take a look at the sheet music (here’s the right hand only).

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It sounds pretty busy, right? But in fact, the components of the line are super simple. What makes it sound so rich is the fact that it actually spans across three octaves. Check out: we have doubled roots, octave above and octave below, chord tones played harmonically two octaves above and one more chord tone played in the same high register. Although it’s a lot of notes and a lot of movement, you’re still playing pretty much the same notes!

Here’s the full score in case you wondered what the right hand was doing:

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It’s already plenty of material for practice (talk about all possible II β€” V β€” I’s, modal progressions and cycling chords), but since we’ve started exploring bass patterns, let’s dig a little bit deeper.

I have a nice progression for you, it goes like this: Gm7 β€” F β€” Cm7 β€” D+. Now, I’d like to play it using different left hand devices that we’ve been already discussing earlier and that you are probably more familiar with (like broken 10ths, for example), and I want to incorporate my newly learned 8-to-the-bar thingy.

Starting out simple:

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I just want to familiarise myself with the progression, playing simple triads with the left hand and chord shells with the right. Next, I create the left hand line using two patterns: descending broken 10th and 8-to-the-bar bass:

Screenshot 2019-08-06 at 10.48.37 PM.png

 

Cool! Playing things one octave lower always works πŸ€“Β I’m using the same 3-octave technique as in the beginning: doubled roots for mids and lows, chord tones on top. Gm and Cm in my progression get 8-to-the-bar bass, F and D+ are being interpreted with broken 10ths. Add the right hand:

Screenshot 2019-08-25 at 10.20.09 PM.png

 

I chose to use arpeggiated shell chord voicings as a right hand line, alternating between 7-3-5 and 3-7-9 variations. In my opinion, these two patterns (8-to-the-bar and broken 10ths) fit very well together, as they fill a really huge frequency range, thus creating a very spacious and wide sounding bass line.

Okay, that’s all I have to share for this time β€” feel free to take this progression to other keys or adapting it to different rhythmic contexts, or just try this approach on anything else β€” like, a piece from the Real Book maybe? Talk to you soon andβ€” harmonise ’till it hurts! πŸ€™πŸ»

Piano day (1h 40m)

Voicings + left hand

Scale studies

  • All Locrian scales

Comping

  • Comping over Worth the Wait in D to the walking bass & drums backing track in iReal
    • Avoiding roots and block in LH
    • Voice leading / smooth shells transition in RH
    • A little bit of soloing
    • Trying to avoid clashes w/ bass

Making chord voicing practice more musical

I use jazz voicings a lot in my routine. Dan Haerle’ s book Jazz Piano Voicings was the huge one for me β€” discovering chord shells opened the whole new world for me, and I’m still digging through it almost every session. But at some point you may find that simply taking a pair of voicings around the cycle of 4ths (or circle of 5ths) could be a bit boring and, well, its musicality wears out as you get used to the sound of these chords.

I try to keep my exercises musical (following Rick Beato’s advice), so I always combine Mr. Haerle’s skills with different left hand patterns. Currently I’m practicing broken 10ths and other extensions, so I use them as an accompaniment as I go around the circle, and sometimes throw in some block chords (in order to not to get lost in intervals). It embellishes the overall sound and allows me to work on both hands’ technique at the same time. Smarty pants, huh? Here’s what I mean.

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Piano day (1h 30m)

Left hand + moving shells

  • Combining moving shells with LH patterns
    • Minor to Dominant (skill 37c from Jazz Piano Voicing Skills)Β + LH: [1-5][1-7][1-1’][1-4-5]iΒ β€” 1-5-10-1’-5’-6’IV7
    • Dominant to Major (skill 38a from Jazz Piano Voicing Skills) + LH: 1-5-10-6 to 1β€˜-1I7Β + desc arpeggio + 6IV

Scale studies

  • Concurrent Ion + Lyd 1-octave scales (in 2 forms)

Soloing + comping

  • All Love is Fair Focus on 3-7-9 shells in LH and major / minor scales in RH

Observations

Try constructing 3-7-9 voicing in LH from 9 down!

Piano day (1h 40m)

Jazz voicings + Left hand

  • Combining cycling shells with left hand patterns
    • Minor to Dominant (Dan Haerle, Jazz Piano Voicing Skills, Skill 37c) +Β LH: [1-5][1-7][1-1’][1-4-5]i β€” 1-5-10-1’-5’-6’IV7

Scale studies + Left hand + Shells

  • Combining blues scale improv with moving extension shells
    • RH: minor blues scale, LH: 1 β€” [3’-7’-9’]
  • All Aeolian scales
  • All Locrian scales

Piano day (2h) + Routine update

  • Jazz voicings
    • Dominant to minor #1Β (+7 β†’ m9 and back)
    • Dominant to minor #2Β (7b9 β†’ m7 and back)
    • Recap: dominant to major
    • Recao: minor to dominant
    • Recap: all 7ths around the cycle
  • Improvisation
    • Blues scale in all keys
    • Blues scale in RH, dominant chords in LH (around the cycle)
  • Modes
    • Harmonic minor mode 1
      • Harmonising with 7th chords: A through D#
      • Hm scales with both hands: A through D# around the circle of 5ths
  • Combining skills
    • Improvisation over Hm1 progression in F# (I β€” II β€” V β€” VI) with F# Hm + F# blues scale, using shell voicings in left hand

Observations

Just made a big review of my piano routine and goals, made it on paper and just wanted to put a quick digest of it here. So, I have three main areas of focus at the moment:

  1. Jazz voicings (shells, voice leading and transitions)
  2. Improvisation (blues & modal scales, common chord progressions, left hand patterns)
  3. Composition / modal focus (major modes, harmonic minor modes, melodic minor modes and their typical chord progressions)

I have a lot of exercises in each area that I partly borrow from some jazz books, partly take from my music school notes, partly invent myself. Luckily, they seem to overlap pretty good, and, in fact, there’s an area where all three come together. So improving in one makes me better at the other two. I discovered it recently when I decided to harmonise a random modal scale and instead of playing block 7th chords use shell voicings and watch out for voice leading to preserve minimum movement. It was extremely satisfying to discover that I could do it almost fluently, without really thinking about fingerings: my fingers sort of already knew where to go, as they got used to these movements during my endless cycle of 4ths runs. So that was great. I also realised that I am getting comfortable enough with scales to use them over chord progressions that I play with the left hand and mix them up to β€” basically, play jazz solos! Wow. So I decided to add this new section to my practice where I will intentionally combine all my skills that I develop in different areas of focus and improve my overall comping technique.

One thing I kind of excluded for now is technical exercises β€” for speed and finger independency and stuff β€” I used to do them a lot last year (Hanon exercises, arpeggios etc.), but it just doesn’t feel beneficial for my current goal right now (which is to get good at jazz comping). So I just leave the out for now. Also, I don’t learn songs or scores that much as I did before (it’s extremely time-consuming and could be very frustrating), but it’s also something that simply doesn’t fit well with my routine. I mean, I do understand why conservatory pianists practice 6 hours a day β€” you just can’t cover all the stuff you want to cover within 2 hours, let alone 1 hours. But to make up for that, I’m going to start learning songs from the Real Book β€” shell voicings with left hand, melody with the right. Should be enough for now! Okay that was it for the practice review, gotta go, till later!