If you want to jam with some friends, you are going to have to learn to improvise on bass. Improvising is not only an important skill just for jamming, but it can also be an extremely useful tool if you don’t like planning your every move.
In this article, we will talk about jazz bass improvisation; the how to, the when, and the why.
It teaches you to play within a set key and use the notes in that key to create multiple patterns. This may sound unimportant, but you would be surprised how useful of a skill it is to make different patterns out of a set of given notes.
It helps you to think outside of the box and teaches you to be resourceful with the tool given. In this case, the tools are notes, and being resourceful involves making the most with what you have been given.
Improvising in jazz can be used within the context of a song. If you don’t like writing out every single melody and lick, improvising will be right up your alley. It allows you to explore your skills with the only bounds being the scale in which the rhythm is being played.
One thing you should keep in mind is that no improvisation is spontaneous. Every lick that you will ever play within an improvisation is one that is preexisting. Whether it is a variation of a lick that you have already learned, or it is an imitation of something you have seen, it is already in your brain. This is due to the fact that our fingers, when improvising, rely heavily upon muscle memory. Muscle memory is our muscle’s, and in this case digit’s, ability to remember patterns of motion.
This means that if you are a sloppy player, your improvisations will be sloppy. If you don’t want a sloppy improvisation –and hopefully you don’t—you will need to practice. If you aren’t comfortable with arpeggios, practice them.
If you are comfortable with alternate picking, practice it. You may feel in the zone while playing a particularly fun improvisation, but trust us –you won’t suddenly develop perfect skills, zone or no zone. This means that when you are improvising, you should make it your duty to avoid your weak areas.
When improvising, try not to think too far ahead. This can cause your fingers to become confused. While you should have an idea of what to do next –and in jazz there are plenty of pauses to consider—don’t think about what you will play five bars from now. Just go with the flow, and allow your mind to stay in the present and the immediate future. In music, this is one to two bars ahead at most.
Jazz bass improvisation won’t be easy. Not only will you have to dedicate yourself to practicing, but you will have to learn to play nicely with others. Don’t feel the need to try and outshine your fellow players; they won’t like it, and you’ll soon find yourself improvising alone in your room. Remember to have fun with your improvisations, and good luck.
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With lessons taught by renowned players like Billy Sheehan, you can now see the exact finger placements and mimic techniques used by the legends themselves.