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CHAPTER 17: MODAL BASS LINE CONSTRUCTIONI

Within the modern jazz repertoire is a category of compositions known as modal tunes. N,Iodal tunes are characterized by a smple harmonic formula containing few chords which last for several measures, thus creating a single chord/scale sound over an extended period of time. Miies Davis is often given credit for introducing modal composition to jazz with his 1959 composition entitled So Whar. The haimonic fonaula ofthistuneis:|| D_lD_|Eb'ID-|l. This represents a radical departure from th harnonic conceptofthe bebop era, which was characterized by more vertical harmonies and frequent changes of tonality. Let us examine the problems that are presented by modal tunes such as So What. The main issue is how to walk on one chord,/scale sound so as to create the unique sound of (in this case) the dorian mode, but at the same time create a line containing melodic interest. Probably the most common mistakes bassists make when walking on modal tunes is to obscure the feeling of the downbeat, the feelingof the symmetrical p|u.ase, a strong sense ofarrival at the root ofthe chord, and a feeling ofthe formof the cmposition. Withoui going into a lengthy explanadon of the rntricate Ieasons behind this, we shall instead crete some generic ''rulesi to follow when walking on modal tunes. These "rules" are only intended ro be a guide andiot a steadfasr Iaw.
One technique commonly used inmodal tunes is to place the root on the downbeat ofevery other bar. This helps create both the affirmation of the root and the feeling of symmetrica] phrasing. Figre 46 illustrates this technique as applied to So What.

46

FIGURE 46
D-

added sigificance as a point of arrlval.

AsyouplaythroughFgure46youshouldgetafeelingoftwo-barphrases,andtherootshouidtakeon

wods' chords Eo Another interesting technlque is to precede the loot by implying the . and ] :,:.^i: ^o.her the arrival of the i',;iyi.g ; i1-y i."tition.r'ip. rnii-h.e1ps ,einforce bot tne.iea r root movement phiase. Figure 47 exemplires this technique.

D-

(Eo

A7)

FIGURE 47
D-

(Eo

A7)

D-

(E@

A7)

D_

root is usually played on the downbeat Since our music is built in two-, four-, and eight-bar phrases, the mind, u-y placing the fifrh (A.1 on the downbeat of ihe first bar and every other bar thereafter. Wittt ttris in is io neaithe D- rs a D- to G7 sound (see of the altemating bars (see Figure 47A). Another popular approach

Fieure 478).

FIGUHE 474

D-

(ui,

FIGURE
D_

47E.
(G7)

as the- first chord in the next Another problem created by this tune is that the last chord @) is the same If this is a problem, a repetitive figule chorus. This can often result rn people losing their place in the form. bars, you (ostinato) or pedal point is one i"chnique tht can be used.' By,using an ostinato in the.last eight top of the next chorus. Figure 48 is ceate a tension that leads the lsien"i.i u ,oong sense of ''one'' o. " one such possibilitY.

47

D-

FIGURE 48
-j

It is also important to use rhythmic embellishments in a modal bass line to help cre ate the feeling of tbrwiLrd motion and to break anv sense of monoLony that may be inherent in modal tunes. Several ideas for this technique aie contained in Chapters lz and t3 of this book. This would be good a dme to revlew those concepts and appl;' rhem to modal bass lines.

It would be wise for any bassist to transcribe some modal bass lines by an acknor.vledged experr (paul ^. Chambers and Ron Carter come to mind) and use these examples as etudes. Later in this book rs a section titled "Erudes" which inciudes an original modal bass iine etude.

CHAPTER 17: REVIEW EXERCISES


Takejust one major, minor, or dominant chord and walk on it for 32 bars. See if you can create both melodic and rhvthmic interest in this situation. You may tind this task more challenging than you thought 1r wasll 2. Take a chord like C- and walk on it tbr tbur bars. Move up a fourth to Fand do the same' continlle .round rhe key circle untl you have played through all 12 minor ihords. Have vou made tlre line interesnng at

3' Transcribe a recorded bass line on a modal tune from a recording rhat lzou enjoy. Use this rranscnprron as an etude to further your understanding of modal bass line consmrcrion.

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ETUDE #3 - Modal Tune


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