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! 🤙🏻

 

Becoming a scale monster

Last week I’ve shared a non-boring scale hack that is supposed to turn the scale studies that are often viewed as boring and mechanical into an — quoting Dan Haerle — extremely entertaining pastime. I am using it all the time, and just recently I’ve come up with a new workout that could be viewed as a sequel to the original one. Word of warning: its efficiency in terms of fucking up your brain and your finger muscles has improved exponentially. This is why I called it The Scale Monster.

At some point in my bass training I have been introduced to the concept of chord permutations. Basically, it’s just pure math: you have a 7th chord arpeggio, and there are 24 ways to play these notes in a sequence. Not a big deal, right? Later, you realise that you can then take all inversions of this chord and permutate them. Which will give you 96 sequences. Which you will then transpose to all keys and circle around all the modes and create all the Western music.

Of course, it would be crazy for a human to just mechanically practice this hell (although it does improve your fluency tremendously). Instead, you can just use it as a pool of pre-generated patterns to sex up your routine!

Check it out — this is just a regular F#m7 chord played consequently in all inversions:

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Easy, right?

Going on — F#m7 in all permutations starting on 1:

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Personally, I just like how it sounds. There is no trace of that worn-out minor arpeggio sound that so many other people are practicing at this very moment all around the world. Yes, it’s a bit robotic — but — we’ll fix that in a sec.

Next — my “aha!” moment: 1st inversion in different permutations:

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Note that permutating the inversion does not give you the same results as permutating the original chord, as the root (aka 1) is transposed one octave above. So it’s a completely different set of combinations.

As a next step, I’m going to take one permutation of choice (1-3-5-7 in this case) and play all inversions of my F#m7 using it — ascending, then descending:

Screenshot 2019-04-03 at 20.32.29.png

And finally, add the right hand that is going to play the F# Dorian scale dissected into groups of 2 notes:

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If up until this point you were only mildly challenging the part of your brain responsible for scale fluency, now’s the moment when you finger independence gets fucked up big time! 🤓

Not all of it might sound great — as particular permutations might create dissonant intervals with scale degrees, but that only means that you can spend another two hours trying out other ones figuring out the best combination. And — remember — it was only F# Dorian over F#m7. Sooo… You get the idea 🤙🏻 Harmonise ’till it hurts! Till next time—

Bass day (1h 40m)

  • Technical / Experimental
    • Playing Hanon piano exercises on bass! This is awesome!!! (Just #6 from the 1st book)
  • Walking bass
    • Worth the Wait in C, Eb and F (all inversions, 7-1-3-5 permutation)
  • Pick / Rhythm
    • Famous Bass Lines, Line #8: 70 to 90bpm

Observations

WOW!!! I just tried it out of pure curiosity and it turned out to be a completely mind-blowing exercises. The cool things about Hanon exercises are that they all start deep in bass clef (which means you won’t need to bother adapting them for your instrument) and they’re pretty much all in C — which means you can TRANSPOSE THE SH*T OUT OF THEM. And yes, they are absolutely mathematical, and you don’t have to read through the whole sheet once you’ve got the logic. Of course, the coolest thing is that they feel very uncommon (because they’re meant to be played on piano!), and even the simplest could be pretty tricky on bass — both in terms of fingering and harmonically. On the other hand, transposing them on piano is a huge P. I. T. A., whereas on the bass you can do it pretty much on the fly once the pattern is clear! Yuppie! Okay, so I’m going to do it every time now, just like I do on piano — and we’ll see how it goes!

Bass day (1h 30m)

  • Chord tones / Walking bass
    • Major & minor 7th chords around the cycle of 4ths in all inversions, permutations used: 1-3-7-5, 3-1-7-5
    • Inverted arpeggios in permutations + “splits”: play first three tones in higher register, slide down to play the last one, start second arpeggio in lower register and slide back on the last tone, e. g.:
      • 1-3-7-5 permutation, 2nd inversion: C2 — E2 — B1 — G1 (D string) → F1 (D string) — A1 — E1 — C0 (E string) → Bb1 (D string) — D1… and so on around the  cycle of 4ths
    • Walking with inversions & permutations
      • A Beautiful Friendship in Eb (trying to stick to this standard for a while)

Bass day (1h 45m)

  • Chord tones + Walking bass lines
    • Harmonising Eb major scale with:
      • all inversions
      • 1st inversion in all permutations starting on 1
    • Applying inversions to All of Me (not literally though)
      • Whole song in 1st and 2nd
      • Whole song in 1st and 2nd in 1-3 and 1-5 permutations
      • Mixing different permutations
  • Chords
    • Recap all closed and open voicings of 7th chords
    • Recap triads in all inversions
    • Apply to All of Me chord chart

Next time focus: pick (choose a part to practice), permutations on 5 & 7, continue with chords