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! 🤙🏻

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: permutations and more Gershwin studies

Scale studies

  • All Lydian scales
  • All Ionian scales
  • Scale dissection: Ab Lydian over Ab∆7 moving arpeggios in groups of two
  • Scale dissection: F# Dorian over F#m7 moving arpeggios in groups of three
  • Scale dissection #2: F# Dorian in groups of three over F#m7 regrouped arpeggios
  • Scale dissection #3: F# Dorian in groups of three over all F#m7 inversions in 1-3-5-7 permutations (several slow passes, but couldn’t really play it fluently)

Left hand

  • Gershwin reversed stride bass (#14 from Jazz Piano: The Left Hand)
    • Original chord progression (dominant descent over the cycle of 4ths from F#, in fact 🤓)
    • Minor variation
      • Only reversed stride in 3-7 → R | 7-10 → R pattern
      • Reversed stride + broken 10ths + block triads up the octave (sounds super dope 🔥)
  • Descending 10ths in a free jam: focus on 10-5 movement

Improvisation

  • Major blues scale around the cycle (quick recap)

Session timing: 2h 30m

Observations

Variations are great! It definitely is much more inspiring an empowering than simply learning the piece from sheet music and finally reading it without any errors. Understanding the logic behind the particular composition and the techniques that are used in it — and then being able to freely play your variation of it in which one can still recognise the original — this is extremely satisfying.

Gershwin’s reversed stride bass and best practice moments

Scale studies

  • All Lydian scales
  • All Ionian scales in contrary motion
  • Lydian scales dissection over moving arpeggiated inversions (C, F, Bb)

Left hand

  • Gershwin’s reversed stride bass — study + applying (from Jazz Piano: The Left Hand by Riccardo Scivales
IMG_0536 2

Yes, the notes I make in my textbooks look exactly as they look here 😆

Observations

I was studying a fragment from the Gershwin piece today where he uses a particular bass pattern, and it felt so satisfying to finally get it: ah, that’s what he’s doing here! After half an hour of meandering it just clicked. Probably the best moment in piano practice: when you’re slowly digging your way through the piece, dreaded by all the sheet music, and it feels so weird and complicated, and then — bam! — the logic kicks in and you realise what exactly is happening here. And then you can just play it without even looking at the sheet music.

Session timing: 1h 45m

Piano day (1h 50m)

  • Modal studies
    • Harmonising Harmonic minor (as if it was not already harmonic enough — IT’S NOT FUNNY DAD — I know — okay let’s change the topic)
      • Hm1 (key of C), shells 7-5-3, 3-7-9, 7-3-6
      • Hm3 (key of C), shells 7-5-3, 3-7-9, 7-3-6
      • Improv with “blanket scale” over Hm3 (A Harm. minor over 3rd mode of C)
  • Left hand
    • Stride patterns: recap 2-octave jumps with 7-1-3 and 1-3-7 kind of stuff
    • Rolling tenths
  • Jazz voicings
    • Voice leading patterns (A — B, A — A, etc.) while switching between different scale degrees (Dan Haerle, “The Jazz Language”, Chapter 7)

Observations

I must say I’m finally starting to like Harmonic minor. It was really weird at the very beginning, because of the rather unique chord qualities: minor / major 7th, augmented major 7th and fully diminished, not to mention two m7b5’s. It’s a really harsh sound, and while the scale itself is beautiful, the modes that it produces sound at first kinda ugly. But that’s where the power of modal approach comes in. Just because you don’t like minor / major 7th chord as your I (the Roman numeral, lol), doesn’t mean it sucks. It simply means you should try and start on another degree and see if you will like the new progression. I decided to start on III, which makes the 3rd mode of Harmonic minor. I like the sound of augmented major 7 chord, and I like how it falls into the pure minor IV (i. e. II in the 3rd mode). Now we’re talking! Instead of unsure and a bit intoxicated Cm/M7 to Dm7b5, I have beautiful, complex and fragile, unexpected and really otherworldly Cmaj7#5 to Dm7. Wow! So yeah. That’s how you get to love the stuff that makes you feel uncomfortable at first.

Piano day (2h)

  • Improvisation + modes
    • I — II, I — III, I — IV, etc. transitions with shell voicings / voice leading
      • Ion, Aeol, Dor, Phryg in F
      • Lyd, Mixo in A
  • Jazz voicings
    • Fourthy modal voicings (D Dorian to Bb Dorian) — another killer exercise from Dan Haerle!
  • Left hand focus
    • Stride bass patterns: basic stride, tenths
  • Comping
    • Stride bass + Mixo scale over dominant progression (+ “Just One of Those Things” opening)

Observation

I literally can’t help but skip a couple of bass sessions in favour of piano as I’m onto some extremely interesting topics (left hand + modal studies) and I just don’t want to lose focus!