Thursday, April 23, 2015

Walking Bass Lines on the Piano - Rhythmic Concepts

A huge benefit a piano player enjoys is the ability to play several musical lines simultaneously. Therefore, in the jazz idiom, it's possible for one piano player to fulfill the roles of not only the melodic/harmonic instruments (typically with the right hand), but also the bassist (in the left hand).

In the following video, I focus in on these left hand bass lines. These lines serve as a strong harmonic and rhythmic foundation. In and of itself, too, a bass line constitutes its own independent melody. (The harmonic progression used in the video is a simple C bluesprimary chords: C7, F7, and G7.)

Being an overall foundational component, bass lines are most often constructed with not much more than four well-placed notes per measure. That is to say, quarter notes are the rhythmic bread-and-butter of a sturdy bass line.

Once a strong quarter-note groove has been achieved, though, certain variations can be thrown into the mix in order to spice up the music and add a heightened sense of excitement/momentum to the groove. Here are some of the main rhythmic ideas that I demonstrate in the video:
  1. Instead of 4 quarter notes per bar, try using 6 quarter-note triplets to fill up a 4/4 measure.
  2. Experiment with different groupings of these 6 notes. (e.g. Two groups of 3 or Three groups of 2)
  3. Eighth note or eighth-note triplets can be played to propel the line toward a target note that you'd like to emphasize. (e.g. Eighth-note triplets preceding beat 4: "1, 2, 3-na-ne, 4")
  4. Once the RH joins in with your LH's bass line, experiment with placing faster right hand rhythms (triplets and sixteenth notes) atop the LH's quarter notes.
These are only a few ideas to get the ball rolling. Check out the Application Examples and "Putting it All Together" clips within the video for some ideas on how these concepts look and sound on the piano. Of course, the joy of music improvisation is that the sky is the limit—see what other ideas you can come up with, and have fun making your own walking bass lines!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

"West Side Score-y" Pt. 3: Tri-tones...They're Everywhere!!

Part 3

It seemed appropriate that Part 3 of this series was about the tri-tone. Even if it weren't for this numerical match-up, a post about the tri-tone seems inevitable when writing about West Side Story. Bernstein throws them into the score like I throw chocolate chips into cookie dough (excessively, perhaps, but to great effect).

Part 1 addressed something I called the "Smush Chord," and
Part 2 explored Bernstein's rhythmic stuff.
Part 3 continues, below... (read on!)

The Tri-Tone

Literally meaning "three-tones," the tri-tone is the musical interval spanning the range of three whole steps (6 half steps). Since our octave is most typically divided into 12 half steps, the tri-tone represents the octave divided exactly in half. The sonic result is a jarring, highly dissonant sound—so dissonant that history has given it the sinister nickname "diabolus in musica" (the Devil in music).

(More about the tri-tone and other intervals here.)

Melodic Appearances

  1. "Do" up to "fi." Of course, the best-known example of the tri-tone (at least, within the realm of West Side Story), is in "Maria." The interval, here appearing as an augmented 4th, is heard in the first two syllables: "Ma-ri..." 
  2. "Cha-Cha"
  3. "Cool" (pictured below)
  4. Basically everywhere.
from "Cool" (C up to F#, an augumented 4th)
Harmonic Appearances

from "Prologue" [C major over F#] and [Eb major over A]
  1. Polytonal-type chords (a la Petrushka), in which a major triad is coupled with a tone 6 half steps away from the root, appear in selections such as "Prologue" (pictured above), "The Rumble," "I Have a Love," and several scene changes. In fact, the very last musical sound heard in the show is one of these puppies, with C major up high, F# down below.
  2. Major chords, with #4 (a.k.a. #11). These bright chords, which suggest the Lydian mode, can be found, among others, in "Prologue," "Jet Song," and "Gee, Officer Krupke" ("Dear...")
  3. #ii°7 diminished chords (in 3rd inversion). Closely related to the previous chord, this one is just slightly crunchier in sound. It's featured most prominently in "Something's Coming."
  4. Whole-tone spots: "Tonight" m. 37 (pictured below)
  5. Again, basically everywhere.
Pitch inventory (F, G, A, B, C#) comprised of whole tones.
(Tri-tone appears on beat 2, between F and B.)

To sum up (clumsily, quickly), that there are tri-tones just about everywhere in West Side Story is perhaps "needless to say," but there, I said it.

Being such a grating interval, it certainly catches the ear, and the sound sticks with you. It's what helps make the lyrical "Maria" so beautiful ("Say it loud and there's music playing / Say it soft and it's almost like praying..."), and it's what makes the show's final chord so hauntingly dissonant.
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