From: (Nathan Tenny)
Subject: Re: Bass Soloing
Date: 7 Nov 1995 14:03:20 -0800
In article <47oeqm$>,
Mark Brewster  wrote:

>Gotta question or two for ya.  First off, what are the "rules"  to bass
>soloing or soloing in general.  I'm not much of a muso and only recently
>started to do very limited bass solos.  That is one song.  I'm not into
>soloing but I am curious to know what are some of the basic fundamentals
>of soloing.  Can someone shed some light on this please? 
Hm. Any set of "rules" for soloing necessarily boils down to a finite bag of tricks, and almost any finite bag of tricks wears thin if you use it too much.

What follows is opinionated, and, as always, YMMV. The point of soloing is to set forth some musical ideas that (1) form a coherent whole, and (2) are naturally suited to a single instrument. You can't do that with a set of rules; you have to develop some musical ideas, and the ability to chain them together, and the only way to do that is through lots of playing (though formal training can help a lot).

There's no shortage of rules of thumb, though. Many of them are tied to particular styles---the large set of useful blues cliches, for instance---and it's hard to say much without knowing what sort of music you're trying to solo over. Thinking in terms of scales---as the paragraph below suggests that you're doing---is a useful approach, though there are things that it misses.

For instance, there are circumstances in which a single scale works well over a whole chord progression---you can play a single pentatonic scale all over a 12-bar blues, and sound just like a low-frequency Eric Clapton---and others where it makes sense to pull out multiple scales over the same chord---bebop, for instance, demands a firm grasp of several scales to play over dominant 7th chords.

At the other extreme, you can eschew scalar lines and think strictly in terms of arpeggiating chords---not just the chords you're playing over, but suitable substitutes as well. For instance, over a dominant 7th chord, the results are interesting if you play a line derived from the 7th chord a tritone away from the root---e.g., play a Bb7 line over an E7. There's a whole lexicon of chord substitutions like this; my grasp of it is totally inadequate, and I won't try to hold forth on it in any real way. But it's there; ask jazz players about chord substitutions.

Build your own scales: Take a couple of chords that show up close together, and put together a synthetic scale around the notes. For instance, if you're soloing over a chord progression that goes from G to B7, you might want to seek or create a scale containing G, A, B, D, D#, and F#. (You'll find, if you mess around with this idea, that E and C are natural passing tones, and you've rediscovered something called the Hungarian minor scale.)

Sideslip: take a regular, conventional, predictable line, and play it a half-step above or below where you normally would. This either works or it doesn't; it's a fairly common jazz technique, and those who use it a lot have figured out how to make it work.

I emphasize that these are *tools* for use in building musical ideas; they aren't very fertile ideas all by themselves. There's a common trap: players work like the devil on understanding specific techniques, and end up playing lines that are *just* showcases for those techniques. (And, incidentally, I plead guilty of this as much as the next fellow.) It's important to explore for different ways to use the tools, and occasionally to throw cogitation to the winds and just play.

>The second question is more practical.   If you had to solo in a piece of
>music that only had 2 chords. (Terrence Trent D'Arby's  Wishing Well, which
>goes from Bb to Ab throughout the verse).    Where would you, could you,
>should you start?
I don't know the song, so I'm guessing here. If I wrote a piece that went back and forth between Bb and Ab, the Bb would probably be minor, and Bb minor (equiv. Db major) would be a passable scale for the whole song. If both chords really are major chords, I'd be inclined to play in Bb major or Bb Mixolydian (major scale with a flat 7th) during the Bb, then move to Ab major for the Ab. The challenge is to think of good transitions between the two scales, so you can play phrases that aren't locked into such a tight structure.

>I make sure that I hit the root each chord change and then between
>changes work in the major scale.  Its a bit of hack, I'm not overly proud of
>it but the kicker is that it seems to work.
The fifth works as well as the root, especially in a solo, when you aren't as responsible for holding down the harmonic bottom; the third works, too, though it's a little less harmonically obvious, and therefore less comfortable for some listeners.


  1. Try Bb Mixolydian (Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb) instead of Bb major; then you have both your chords (Bb-D-F and Ab-C-Eb) within the scale, and you can probably even get away without changing scales at the chord change. (Be careful of that D over the Ab; it's a tritone away from Ab, so it'll introduce a very distinctive sound into your solo. Don't avoid it completely---it's a great source of tension---but use it with caution.)
  2. Scales that share many of their notes with Bb Mixolydian, like F harmonic minor (F-G-Ab-Bb-C-Db-E-F---two notes' difference), might produce interesting effects; you probably don't want to use them for your whole solo, but there might be some brief phrases in there for the taking.
  3. Try playing as if the chords were G minor and Ab, or G minor and F minor (G minor is very closely related to Bb major---spell out the chords and scales---and F minor to Ab major). You'll end up playing mostly the same scales, but thinking about different chords can make you phrase things differently.
  4. Learn to play the vocal melody, then mine it for ideas. Quote it in your solo; quote it at half-speed, double-speed, at the wrong place in the measure. See if it's based on some scale you hadn't thought of using, or if it suggests extensions to the chords (for instance, a G sung over the Bb chord might suggest Bb13, which is spelled Bb-Db-F-Ab-G). Write the vocal melody backwards or upside down and see what it sounds like.
  5. Play with space. Limit yourself to three notes per measure, all of which have to be staccato eighth notes; you get to choose what notes to play and, above all, *when* to play them, so you'll have to think about ways to zip in and out of the rhythm if you want to sound interesting. (This is probably something to do while practicing, not in performance---but you might find a solo you want to replicate live.)
  6. Related to 5.: Force yourself to play solos with two notes. All through the Bb bars, you'll play Bb; then, when the chord changes, you'll go to Ab. But no other notes; all you get to do is experiment with different rhythms. If you can get an interesting solo like this, you're really onto something.
  7. Conversely, force yourself to play all eighth notes (or quarter notes, or whatever). You don't get to play with the rhythm, so you have to find tonal ideas to work with. This is *hard*, BTW, especially on bass.
Looking back on this post, I feel like it's a little theory-heavy in places, and probably a bear to read. That's not the intent; I'm just trying to bounce out a few ideas, but explaining where they come from is a necessarily theoretical process. Try to work around the opacity, OK?


     Nathan Tenny                    
     Qualcomm, Inc., San Diego, CA   Resistance is not futile?                    -Hugh 

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