The sexiest bass pattern on Earth (so far, in this blog, in my opinion)

What’s up people? Long time no see, huh? I’m sorry — I’ve been quite busy during the last two weeks working on a couple of scores (this one and this one) and preparing my new EP release. That includes some annoying promo job, but also cutting cool videos and animating photos shot by this extremely talented person. Anyway, let’s go back to the topic of this blog!

If you’re reading it for a while, you probably know my obsession with 10ths — the bigger thrids, the thirds that got out of puberty, or — as I used to call them when I was more involved in skateboarding — the ollie of left-hand patterns— I mean, you get it. The broken 10th chords sound freaking awesome, and when you master them, they take your playing to the next level and literally open new universes. In this sense, they are the ollie of piano 🛹 But like every cool trick, they get boring and dry if you don’t incorporate them into new, increasingly complex contexts. Luckily, there are endless possibilities for us to explore 🤓

Let’s talk about Erroll Garner’s ballad bass. Erroll Garner was an American jazz pianist who specialised in mid-tempo swing ballads with lush left-hand arrangements and insanely beautiful ornamental passages (that he played without even taking a single look at the keyboard, obviously). I was reading one of my favourite jazz books the other day, Jazz Piano: The Left Hand by Riccardo Scivales, and found a little extract from Garner’s composition that demonstrated his peculiar left-hand device. It was, of course, an immense waterfall of 32nd notes that I couldn’t play, so, as always, I did my little research and adapted the virtuoso line a bit to fit my needs.

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What’s going on here? As you can see, it’s pretty much the broken 10th chord of Cm, but instead of 10th (that would be Eb) I’m first playing the minor 9th (which is D) and then proceed to the 10th. And then, to make it sound complete, I go ahead and play the major triad based on that 10th, which is the Eb major triad. And because it’s just not cool enough, I continue to play the 9th of Cm one octave above — which happens to be the major 7th of the Eb in the octave I’m currently in — which is, of course, the same D I played at the very beginning before the 10th. I’m pretty sure it sounds a bit entangled, but the idea is actually very simple: you take the minor chord, and you add a major III∆ chord on top of it, tying them together with a minor 9th. Man, that sounds beautiful!

And this is just the beginning! I’m going to keep developing this line and add some descending motion to it. Here is the pimped up version in Cm & Fm:

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Same idea — starting on 1-5-9, then a III∆ chord built on the minor 10th, colour tone (pick your favourite — I used both octave or 9th here), and then a gradual descent back to where you started. I’m using the old trick here by revoicing my Eb chord as a 7-1-3 shell (playing 7th below the root), and my Cm chord as a 7-3-5 shell. One can, of course, think about these combinations of notes as completely different chords or even as individual scale degrees, but really, what I’ve noticed is that thinking in shell voicings could be an extremely powerful tool that helps you not to lose your position on the keyboard. Try it out!

Here’s the same approach used for two major chords (C & F):

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Identical to minor, only this time I’m using major 9th, major 10th and my triad that I’m putting on top of the root chord is minor (e. g. C — Em, F — Am). Because you’re harmonising the major scale now mate! 😄 Plus, I chose to play just the root note of the V chord (as opposed to the whole triad in the previous example).

Talking about mixing major and minor — personally, I find these little injections of the opposite color (Eb∆ in Cm and Em in C) immensely beautiful and very satisfying. Playing such a line en lieu of a typical double octave or 1-5 bass creates ambiguity that might embellish otherwise dry and straightforward progression.

Here’s the excerpt that involves the right hand (playing sus4 arpeggio-based figures) in the keys of Cm and Fm:

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I can play this one for hours (also working on my finger independence, actually! 😄) and still not get enough of this. So, definitely, thank you for inspiration, dear Mr. Garner 🙏🏻

As a closing part, I would like to share a little piece that is composed mostly using the above technique. Sheet music is available for download below.

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Download sheet music as PDF

That’s it for today, I hope I’ll be able to keep pauses between posts a bit shorter and get back to you very soon with some new practice ideas and studies! Let’s talk independence and modal mixture next time shall we? 🤓 Harmonise till it hurts—

Left hand study: bass lines as wide as Atlantic

Okay, I promised a new bass pattern — 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 — so let’s cut keep the intro short today! 🤓

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 🙈). 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 — V — 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 — F — Cm7 — 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:

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Cool! Playing things one octave lower always works 🤓 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:

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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 — feel free to take this progression to other keys or adapting it to different rhythmic contexts, or just try this approach on anything else — like, a piece from the Real Book maybe? Talk to you soon and— harmonise ’till it hurts! 🤙🏻

Non-jazz improvisation in 5 moderately easy steps

I’ve been wanting to talk about improvisation for a while — not that vague and obscure term most textbooks teach you, but the one you could start practicing right now, without waiting till your scale fluency is perfect.

My problem with the way the jazz texts teach improv — is that they either overwhelm you with pre-written lines that you first have to plow through in order to become capable of creating your own — or, they just give you the chord chart and a passing modal scale name. Which is fine, but, if you don’t have a good grasp on scales, the exercise risk to remain very shallow, meandering around blurry and watery 7th chords, which in turn might make you feel bored and eventually abandon it. Which is, of course, not cool at all!

I’ve been there, and, after having hit the wall several times, I decided to use a slightly different approach: start by choosing a progression, gradually develop left hand patterns and use chord shells as a basis for the right hand melody. Let’s go over it step by step.

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My progression of choice is I — iii — V — iii in G major. Here I’m just starting to shape the bass line using my favourite (and probably a bit overused) starting point — broken 10th chords. Nothing fancy yet. Let’s go to step 2.

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Same bass line, plus — I’ve added something to keep the right hand busy. It’s normally much more satisfying to make it do any kind of work from the very start (as opposed to learning both hands’ lines separately and then trying to marry them somehow). Shell voicings are my go-to, since they have a very nice jazzy sound while being dead simple to execute, so you can focus on left hand almost entirely.

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This already starts to sound interesting.

 

Let’s add a bit more complexity to the left hand.

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Here, I went from simple 10ths to a combination of different elements: broken 10th, regular triad arpeggio, 7-3-5 voicing and, finally, the triad played harmonically, i. e. as a block chord. All this makes the line somewhat more interesting by creating more movement in the left hand (you may notice that broken 10ths transition very naturally to the triad arpeggios in terms of fingering — although it might seem scary on the staff). Right hand remains unchanged, doing its simple shell business.

Here’s how it sounds:

 

Now, it’s time to make the left hand pattern beautiful 😃

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What’s new here? A couple of things: first of all, I’ve switched to 8th triplets for the more animato sound, second of all, I’ve arpeggiated everything 🤓 The structure is now the following: normal broken 10th, broken 10th in 1st inversion (yes, you can invert 10th chords just like the normal ones), regular triad arpeggio, root played one octave up, 7-3-5 voicing one octave up, played harmonically. As I said earlier, it might look like a lot of stuff, but you will be surprised by how naturally these structures blend into each other. All of this creates a sonic texture that is not anymore a repeating pattern, but rather a smooth flow.

 

It does restart the same way when the chord changes, but there is a way to tame that as well — I’ve recently written a whole post dedicated to that topic; so, let’s not veer too far for now.

As the last step, I would, of course, bring back the right hand and play— what should I play? Well, I was playing shell chords up until now, what shall I do? (Voice from the back of the room: “Play them melodically!”) Yes! Arpeggiated shells or, if you want to get more science-y, shell permutations are the perfect starting point for the improvisation. From there, you’re free to build up on top of that and create a more sophisticated melody.

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As you can see, I used different kinds of shells for different parts of progression: 7-3-5 for Em and D and 3-7-9 for G. Check it out:

 

I’m not sure if this is more fun that cycling Dorian scales over minor 7th chords and then all Mixolydian over dominant 7ths, but something tells me that it might— Anyway, I hope you found this post insightful and this practice routine will be helpful for you in some way! Thanks for reading and listening, that’s it for today.

Next time, I’m going to be looking into some new bass patterns (take a break from 10ths shall we? 😄) Have fun and — harmonise ’till it hurts!

Sophisticated left hand patterns: how to avoid the “arpeggiator” sound

I’ve got some new exciting left hand patterns for y’all! Let’s dive right into it. You know I’m a great fan of arpeggiated broken 10ths, right? This is the pattern that stride pianists of the 30s-40s have been using in their ultra-fast left-hand rolls when they got bored by stride bass and triads. 10ts are nothing less but 3rds transposed up an octave — but they sound much sexier, airier and just cooler. Think of them as 3rds with the make-up on. Or 3rds in lingerie. Okay, I guess I made it clear enough, let’s not explore this analogy further—

So, the 30s guys used to play them fast and mostly harmonically, meaning — as chords (that require a hell of a finger span), but the real magic happens when you play them melodically, i. e. when you arpeggiate them. You can then add other diatonic intervals and discover whole new universes of left hand patterns. By the way, if you’re lazy, I have a ton of exercises on this very topic for you.

Just like any other chords, 10th “chords” have “inversions”. And just like any inversions, 10th inversions have — ahem — permutations. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of chord permutation, read this post. Inverted 10ths come very handy when you want to diversify your left hand playing style. For example, if you have a pattern that goes: Cm7 — Bbm7 — Ab∆7 — Eb∆7, it would be a bit repetitive and stale to use the same broken 10th pattern for all four bars. By alternating inversions and combining them with normal 7th chord arpeggios (and arpeggiated chord shells) you can create the fabric that flows very smoothly, blending between chords in intricate and subtle ways, as opposed to robotic switches when you just repeat the same pattern in a different harmonic context.

Let’s take a closer look at inverted broken 10ths:

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This is the classic 1-5-10 pattern for the Cm chord: starting on root (C), then on the fifth (G) and on the 10th (Eb one octave above).

Here’s how you can construct a unique left hand pattern using three different ingredients: inverted 10ths, 7th arpeggio in two permutations and the shell voicing.

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And that’s just one chord! So, even if you’re going to be staying in Cm for a couple of bars, by having your left hand pattern flow like this, you’re much less likely to sound stale and static.

Here’s the C Phygian piece using some combinations of the aforementioned patterns to create smooth connections between the chords and make the whole thing sound richer and more interesting. The progression is the same: Cm7 — Bbm7 — Ab∆7 — Eb∆7, right hand plays simple arpeggiated triads.

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I hope my new score highlighting approach improves legibility of the ideas that I’m trying to communicate here, and not vice versa 😆 Let me know if the old one was better! So, back to the piece — as you can see, I’m alternating here between the three ingredients we’ve already seen before, trying to create the uninterrupted line by starting each new bar on the closest note possible to the last note of the previous bar. It’s very much like walking bass lines, right, bass geeks? 🤓 Seriously, I guess I have to credit Todd Johnson and Scott Devine and many other bass instructors here for making me internalise this principle of voice leading — make it flow, make it flow.

Check out how it sounds:

 

Okay, that should be it for today, I hope it was helpful! See you later and — harmonise till it hurts! 🤙🏻

 

Reversed stride bass in the context of satisfaction

Okay, first post after a two-week vacation! The best advice I could give to my two-week-younger self? Don’t ever take a goddam break from posting! I should’ve known this trap already, and yet I fell into it just like that. Anyway, on the plus side, I have tons of new sheet music and practice routine ideas waiting in the pipeline now, so expect high activity in the nearest future 👌🏻

Alright, today I wanted to talk about another left hand pattern that is worth exploring after you’ve mastered the broken 10ths and the excitement of mixing them with other diatonic intervallic patterns has started to wane. Reversed stride bass! I found it in the wonderful book Jazz Piano: The Left Hand by Roberto Scivales (which I highly recommend to everyone), got blown away by it and then amended it in order to use it in my own routine.

Reversed stride bass is — well, stride bass played backwards 🤓 Instead of hitting the root in the low register and then following up with a block triad or shell octave or two above, you do the exact opposite. Here’s the exercise that I used to practice this movement:

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The right hand here plays rootless voicings with minimal movement voice-leading pattern (7-3-5 → 3-7-9) around the cycle of 4ths. The left hand plays chord shells one octave lower and roots two octaves lower. You may also add root — 5th — root octave up movement to complement the rhythmic figure, but it’s more of an ornament.

You can absolutely play block chords in place of shells with the left hand, but, to my taste, doubling roots just sound too muddy. As always, after cycling that thing, take it to your favourite modal progressions & songs.

Reverse stride may sound a bit weird on its own, so, in order to add some FAT and intensity, you can actually combine it with broken 10ths (1-5-10) and block triads! It might be a bit tricky to get used to, but super fun to practice. Check this out:

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Same routine (cycling → modal DNAs → songs).

Just for the hell of it, here’s the (slightly oddly voiced) ii—V—I—IV improv that makes extensive use of the above pattern:

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I’m definitely not done practicing it yet, so it most likely is going to be one of my priorities in the next sessions. There aren’t too many things as satisfying as hitting the low A after a rather watery sounding 7th chord shell played over another shell, both of which are trying their best to avoid the root 😄 Till later—

Practice session: lost in dissonances, rescued by Lydian sweetness

Scale studies

  • All Hm1 scales
  • All Hm1 scales, focus on descending motion
  • Accidentals jam (Dorian scales in all keys) — must confess that this exercise does not really apply well to anything other than harmonic minor 😕

  • Scale dissection: C, F, Bb Lydian over moving major 7th arpeggio in groups of 3
  • Scale dissection: C, F, Bb & Eb Lydian over arpeggiated scale degrees in groups of 3

Here’s what I mean:

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Surprisingly, it’s slightly easier to play than over the moving root arpeggio (because you don’t have to think about inversions all the time and simply go up the scale degrees) — and it sounds much better. Especially in sweet Lydian mode 🍭 Might get tricky in keys with a lot of accidentals though.

Jazz voicings + left hand

  • iim9 — V13 — I∆9 — IV∆ | iiø — V7b9 — m9 in C thru A, descending broken 10ths with the left hand

Session timing: 2h