Music functions chordally for modern music – it’s OK to know 1-2 cursory
note-scales to know some of your notes, and for a few passing or traveling
notes, but to study note-scales as a way of creating music is NOT advised.
Just doing note-scales can and will wreck your ear and get your fingers
used to only one thing: playing scales (exercises).
And this in-total system, currently taught by many, is an ignorant way of
learning how to play modern music. Good for classical music playing, but
wrong for modern music which functions chordally. You need to know chordal
notes to use in patterns for any kind of creative playing. You go by the
chords, and learn/know how they move and how you can move them around too,
you never play “over” a chord – you play the chord.
Music is not formed by playing “note scales over chords”…you play the
chords – and learn your chordal notes the way all fine musicians did
before licks of rock and roll took over. It’s critical to learn the
notes of the chords in order to know how to create good bass lines. You
learn how to alter chords and move chords around as preferred learning
for Standards and Jazz, time-honored methods that work easily and well.
In the rock-funk-pop-blues-gospel world, usually the Root 5th and 6th
notes are used to form the familiar necessary statement-answer lines and
in the 8th bar of any tune, you use the pentatonic notes for fills (R 6
5 3 2 R). For Minor fill notes it’s R 5th and b7th same as for 7th
chords, with using blues notes for fills: R b7 5 b5 5 b3 as well as in
major chords, the common fill of R 3 4 #4 and 5th. See Bass DVD course,
and books with CDs to them (for easier grasping of notes if you can’t
read yet) to find out how this functions.
Theory is slightly different for Jazz. While it’s not necessary to learn
Jazz theory no, to play well in simpler styles of rock, blues, and
simple pop and soul music, for the prevailing creative pop and for all
Standards, it is necessary to learn your complete Theory.
This is what Jazz Theory is, it’s complete Theory, and don’t let the
word “Jazz” fool you, it’s not hard to be adept at being a musician who
can play all styles, this is what you have to learn….to be a
well-rounded good musician, capable of working all kinds of good gigs in
all styles of music.
And this works for ALL INSTRUMENTS:
Be sure to work on your chordal tones, your substitute chordal notes in
order to learn to solo in real jazz. No-one in the 1950s improvised from
“note-scales” like the proliferation of them commonly taught today.
Everyone started with basic notes of the chords, chordal progressions
etal., how chords can be moved around, and the cycle etc. to know how to
play the Standards, what real jazz improv is from. Most of your chordal
movements in Standards are with the Cycle.
Only the major and minor scales were sometimes used a tiny bit in
forming patterns but you only use them to get from chordal pattern to
another — if that, but mostly only the chromatic scale is used for
“traveling notes” and really, the only “scale” commonly used in jazz
(for traveling) is the 1/2 tone chromatic scale, to get from one chordal
point to another. As mentioned above, you never play “over the chord”,
you play the chord, but you also need to learn how chord progressions
work and how to move chords around for your soloing in Jazz. This can’t
be stated enough as so many are indoctrinated in today’s common but
ignorant mantra of “playing this and that exercise over the chord”, a
totally wrong and later-invented concept by ineptness.
The bulk of real jazz improv came from chordal note patterns, moving the
chords around, using the minor chord arpeggios for the 7ths, the dims
for the dominants (C7 C9 C11 C13 all doms…Dbo has the same notes as
C7b9 – you can always put a b9th in any dom chord – C7, C9, C11, C13 -
see how the chords are stacked by every other note of the scale, why
knowing note scales doesn’t work), the back cycles for the minors (E+
for Am etc.), repeating a chordal pattern every 3 frets, major to minor
= play the same pattern up 3 frets, using the chordal scale ii iii IV V7
for the 7th chord or minors, etc….
This is how you play real jazz improv, not the nonsense non-musical
note-scales& so-called “modes” today’s teachers try to teach which is
totally wrong but will often turn someone off of ever really learning to
play, thinking it’s “them” who can’t learn. You can’t learn to play if
the material is bad. It’s the material, not the student.
None of today’s teachers are from the 1950s jazz world. Sometimes you do
get lucky to find someone who knows about chordal notes, and real
sub-chords and how to teach that system which was so common in the
1950s…you have to look for them. Most of today’s teachers are
originally from the rock world which doesn’t use chords like in jazz&
standards at all. See more at end of this about treble clef (guitar) at
As for reading music, I’ve always found as a long-time teacher and
author of many tutorials, that once a person is shown the studio
musician’s way of sightreading which is easy, fun, interesting and
logical so easy a child can learn how to read music.
You don’t need to know how to read to play music, true, much like you
don’t need to know how to read and write to speak words in language
either. The early jazz icons usually were not music readers. For guitar
(and it’s the same on bass), if you see notes in a row going up on lines
of the music, those are usually always triads, major or minor, same
thing with notes on the “spaces”…Root 3rd 5th, or minor chord it’s
Root b3rd and 5th.
About the rhythm reading, once you get past the old unworkable 1-e-an-a
and trick passe ways of learning how to read music, you’ll find it’s fun
if you draw in the lines on the downbeats to direct your eye to
downbeats. Studio musicians all did this quite a bit on parts they had
to sightread perfectly and still do in some of the extremely difficult
cues (cues are parts of music scores for films, either movies or TV-show
film). You never take chances on anything for your career is always on
the line in studio work if you make a mistake – they don’t roll that
expensive film back for anyone.
Usually there was one rehearsal before recording the cues, and many times
you just recorded it with no rehearsal. If you messed up, they wouldn’t
call you anymore, that’s how critical instant reading was on the scoring
Downbeat markings made it easy to sightread and that’s how smart
educators teach, but this is not widely known. You can learn easily that
way also then you don’t have to mark in the downbeats – much like
“training wheels”, used for awhile only tho’ it’s always good to carry a
pencil on gigs, you never know where a few downbeat markings may come in
With a good system of sightreading, you have another skill you can use
for a lifetime in bettering yourself (able to pick up anything and read
it for pleasure, for learning, or for gigs), to say nothing of the
benefit if you ever have to read a chart in a band, on better gigs, etc.
I have been noting also the lack of better rhythmic patterns for elec.
bass in colleges, universities (am very amazed it’s not better there in
teaching rhythms!) – it’s not rocket science to teach rhythmic reading.
When I taught at the Mancini-UCLA School of Music, a specialized great
summer school each year for many years, you would get the finest of the
finest from all the universities but it was amazing that they couldn’t
read rhythms well unfortunately. One lesson with me and they got it
instantly tho’ which greatly improved their chances for work.
Another subject, there is a huge unfair bias against elec. bass players
out there in the Jazz world. It’s unfortunately about the evident
prejudice of many jazz musicians today towards the elec. bass in real
Jazz playing, but there’s a reason for that.
The prejudiced musicians seem to equate elec. bassists as being “all
rockers” in their sounds and approaches. The elec. bass started out
being played by fine jazz musicians such as Monk Montgomery (early
1950s) and later jazzmen with Dizzy Gillespie, Steve Swallow, Jon Lee,
Bob Cranshaw etc….but I think with the advent of slapping styles
stopped the use of dedicated musicians who played fine notes.
Also, the real sounds of jazz started to spiral downhill in the late
1970s as well as the copy-cat 5-string and 6-string bassists who prided
themselves in learned transcriptions of the Jaco solos, mistakenly
thinking that made them “jazz musicians” – they had no clue about all
the prep work they needed for real jazz musicianship, nor knew that Jaco
fusion sounds were not the sounds for real jazz groups – great for fusion
but fusion is not real jazz, nor did they know that the lower B string
on a 5-string interfered with the sounds of the bass drum sounds (same
register) in jazz and usually over-powered the important group sounds.
Being in total demand as a jazz walking and jazz improv teacher on elec.
bass, I can attest to this huge bias, mostly from the past but some
current bias going on because they quote about the rockers who try to
sit in with their unusable rock sounds, and the rockers have no idea of
the fine walking notes, the style – need for long notes and often with
bad time sense too. IMO, there were a lot of would-be “musicians” around
who killed the use of the elec. bass for real jazz back then, tho’ it’s
coming alive more and more with the right sounds, and the good jazz
theory of some of the players today.
Some Jazz musicians are disdainful about elec. bassists also as they say
they don’t know the standards either as a rule – I’ve seen many a 5-tune
hotshot would-be jazz musician, completely fail on an easy Standard they
never played but should have been able to play. Many learning-musicians
mistakenly think they have to learn them “one by one” which isn’t true.
You just need the chordal progression theory in back of all that, how to
think in chordal movements, get the ears to learning to hear those kinds
of chords, the movements, and cycle chordal movements, etc. You can’t
learn this from copying solo transcriptions – they teach you how to
copy, not how to play and create.
I find that many (if not most) of the baby-boomers who were rockers
early on, are now enjoying getting their chordal-sense together for
being able to play standards. Out here in LA, there are multitudes of
these groups enjoying playing live jazz, even on elec. bass and enjoying
doing some good gigs, being accepted with the elec. bass tho’ some do
have to play string bass too sometimes. But big bands of aware leaders
do feature elec. bass on both coasts, just some regional areas haven’t
caught on yet.
That seems to be the future now am happy to report and possibly (as they
gain knowledge and good sounds together, you need a deeper bottom on the
bass, good approaches, right instrument (5-string basses are fine for
church and fusion but not for real jazz, they get in the way of the
bass-drum) maybe in the future, this bias will be diminished a lot.
I’ve always felt that elec. bass does have an important place in fine
jazz (both walking and soloing). I am now playing a lot more guitar jazz
for the reason that was my first instrument, not for lack of jazz gigs
on bass, been there done that (with Hampton Hawes and Joe Pass) got the
The sound of the elec. bass can be a great sound for fine jazz like it
once was in the 1950s, 60s and early 1970s and in the music cities is
more accepted in jazz groups now too.
Elec. bass playing has its advantages but also its disadvantages for the
player… you’ll hear “all” the notes, even your mistakes, on the elec.
bass. With string bass you can sometimes get by with mistakes because
some of the notes are muffled anyway and not heard well. But not so on
elec. bass with its well-defined notes.
String bassists can then fake it on their instrument occasionally but
elec. bassists have to learn how to really play…and the elec. bass can
sound the best with a good musician playing it…. plus it’s easier to
Recap: Remember, to practice your chordal note arpeggios, as shown in
Bass DVD Course, and in “Jazz Bass CD& Guide” (and for lead
instruments, like guitar in “Jazz Guitar CD& Guide”) as well as the Jazz
Improv Soloing DVD Course (see Catalog)…you need this basic chordal
note approach before getting on to the real jazz training.
Jazz was created on chordal notes of the chords of the Standards, and
sub-chords written in the big-band arrangements of the very bands the
boppers got the ideas from in the 1940s….and patterns are really from
classical music too, and the chordal approach is how they did it. No-one
did much creating from the traveling note-scales (too corny, exercise
playing never did work), but yes did use the chromatic note-scale for
traveling notes a lot, from one chordal pattern to another…….you
never play “over the chord”, you play the chord!
For Jazz notes and sounds, be sure to get the Pro’s Jazz Phrases Bass,
book and CD, full of the right chordal patterns that all the finest jazz
musicians use for creating solos.
Also, the Jazz Improv For Bass book and CD (and Elec. Bass Lines #3 for
interval training, ear training for chordal tones, jazz patterns) and
the Jazz Improv Soloing DVD Course as well as the Standards I and II for
overall fine jazz training on the Elec. Bass once you’ve worked through
the Jazz Bass CD& Guide and Elec. Bass Lines No. 3 book).
Don’t don’t waste time to analyze (no-one analyzed in the 1950s!) nor try
to “think” in the ignorant terms you used to use when trying the wrong way.
It’s not hard to learn the right things for jazz study, rather than the
later-invented note-scales taught by former rock players who never
played real jazz in the 1950s with the VIP creators, the
legends………it’s a lot easier than people think.
First of all, it is good that you know your note-names, especially for
note reading in sightreading music…that is important.
But when you’re reading charts, and trying to figure out what a m7b5 or
an augmented chord is and how to get it (it’s important to study your
chordal notes to get this)….you have to know what is your 7th (b7th)
and/or your 5th is etc….these are not note names but the numbers of
the notes in any given chord, doesn’t matter the chord. So it’s critical
not to name the note-names in any chord, but the numbers. When reading
chords, it’s in the numbers.
If you don’t know your numbers, the chordal note numbers, you need to
learn them well. It’s easy to do by saying them out-loud as you practice
– it’s important to say each chord note number out-loud as you go over
your chordal note arpeggios.
For instance, the G Chordal Scale in the Bass DVD Course G = Root, 3rd,
5th, root, 3rd and back down root, 5th, 3rd root. Am = Root, b3rd, 5th
root, b3rd and back down root, 5th b3rd and root….keep saying them
out-loud so your brain “gets it”…it goes faster plus you really do
learn them rather than just practice “where they are.
7th degree of the G Chordal Scale, the m7b5 is F#m7b5 and sometimes
called the 1/2 diminished too…. a circle with a slash through it,
invented by a college kid in the 1980s who I think probably just got
tired of writing m7b5 all the time – say the chord name outloud:
F#m7b5 = root, b3rd, b5th, b7th, b3rd and back down, b7th, b5th, b3rd
You soon know automatically where your chordal notes are, through the
numbers. It makes no difference what chord you’re playing, the numbers
are all the same positions from the Root (Do) of the chord.
This is so basic an idea I forget to write this, but did get a phone
call from a guitar-player who *knew all the Joe Pass chords* but started
naming the names of the notes rather than the numbers….he hasn’t
played out with anyone yet, so didn’t know the correct process.
Hence this post because I get these questions all the time from players
who never had to read extensive chord charts (charts with more than 4-5
chords to them)…and if you’re going to play standards, you need to
know the numbers so you can read all those chords on those charts.
It’s not hard once you know the numbers, you merely forget them then and
just read the chord name…it’s so automatic, but if you’ve never had
this taught to you (and most blues, rockers, just pop players who have
played the same tunes for years who never played standards don’t
ordinarily know them)….you can learn them very fast by saying the
numbers out-loud as you practice the chordal-note arpeggios. Always for
awhile, be sure to say the chord name out-loud while you play the
arpeggios, the notes associated with that chord.
You develop your automatic fingers-ear connections that way so you
eventually never have to think when reading the chord changes, or just
playing and hearing the chord changes.
Remember to do a lot of Cycle exercises (saying the chord name out-loud) so you know your Cycle. Most chords of all Standards go in a Cycle for awhile, it’s the times-table of music to know your Cycle, learn it and then forget it. You’ll automatically find the right chord changes and play good then. C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E A D G C Practice in Triads, or for bass players, using the most common walking line of R 2 3 5th.
Having had many unique Awards, I value these the most, as no other musician has these together like this as a Musician-Educator: Pittsburgh Jazz Society Legends AWARD in PEDAGOGY, awarded to me along with the (2000) Duquesne University’s Lifetime Achievement Award. I was given that Award as well as the great American Society of Music Arrangers and Composition
Award (ASMAC) in Music Arranging, Orchestration, and Composition (for creating bass lines in recordings) in 2004…I feel very fortunate and grateful.