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Soloing over standards and jazz blues with "functional harmony”


1) Play 3rds and 7ths of each chord resolving to 7ths and 3rds of the next chord in the progression.

a. Start by playing 3rds and 7ths for one chord at a time on D and G strings in all positions of fretboard before moving to next chord. b. Play 3rds and 7ths for whole progression in one position with smoothest voice leading possible (i.e. resolving by half steps and whole steps, not jumping around)

2) Arpeggiate each chord with available extensions (or tensions)

a. 3, 5, 7, 9 (also -9 and +9)

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b. More advanced: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 (and altered 9, 11, 13)

3) Play chord scale(s) of each chord in all positions with and without passing (chro- matic) tones.

a. Start with most common passing tones: 5 to 6, -7 to 1, 1 to 2

b.Less common: 2 to 3, 4 to 5, 6 to 7(on maj7 chords)

4) For blues especially, practice blues and major pentatonic scale of the key in each position across the fingerboard, including patterns.

5) Come up with short melodic ideas combining all the above. Write them down and play them in all keys.

6) Isolate 2 to 4 chords or 1 to 4 bars at a time – improvising out of time when necessary, then playing slowly in time, gradually bringing up tempo. Also, loop 1 to 4 bars at a time.

7) Listen, learn and transcribe “the masters.” Jazz is a language, with various melodic vocabularies that can be theoretically taught only so far.

Recommended listening for beginning transcribers: Oscar Pettiford cello solos, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, etc.

More advanced concepts:

8) Other tension-resolution patterns, aside from 3-7 and 7-3. Chordal superimposition and upper structures/polychords (see sheet)

9) Motivic development

a. Adjust melodic line for next chord using common tones without moving fretboard position.

b. Transpose melodic line or one with similar shape to next chord.

c. Rhythmic expansion and contraction

d. Contrary motion – next phrase played with similar shape in opposite direction

e. Rhythmic displacement – same or similar phrase starts on a beat or off-beat different than previous

f. Combine at least two of the above in a single phrase.

Soloing over standards and jazz blues with "functional harmony”

By Larry Steen

Past winner of the International Society of Bassists’ Jazz Competition, bassist/composer/producer Larry Steen attended the Berklee College of Music, the University of Miami (BM) and CALARTS (MFA). He has toured, performed and recorded with numerous renowned artists ranging from Mel Torme to Stevie Wonder and has recorded two ASCAP award winning CDs First Move and View From Afar with his own group, The Larry Steen World Jazz Ensemble.

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