Archive for the ‘Anchor and Pivot’ Category

Review of “The Untold Secret to Melodic Bass” in Bass World Magazine

September 4, 2011

[Bass World Magazine is the publication of The International Society of Bassists. This review appeared in the August issue, Vol 35, #1, pp 54-55]

The Untold Secret to Melodic Bass

– Jon Burr

jbQ Media


32 pages

Jon Burr is a noted first call bassist in the New York area, having performed with such jazz greats as Horace Silver, Stan Getz, Tony Bennett, and Chet Baker. This brief but highly informative book is one of a written series concerning melodic bass lines and improvisation. This is not a book for beginners. Knowledge of jazz harmony and chord changes is necessary. Knowing that, through this book Jon will give you many great ideas on how to “learn how to think like a composer of bass lines, how to plan ahead, and make choices that are appropriate to the style of the song.”

As with many authors of education books, Jon uses his own terms to describe his musical ideas. These terms work very well in defining his methods of developing bass lines. There are two sections of the book. In section one, Jon lays out his ideas on what notes to use for bass lines, starting with “Anchor Notes (the root),” “Pivot Notes,” and “Lead-ins.” A fascinating insight used in this book is the introduction of the use of rhythmic accents in even the most basic of bass lines. In his first example, which is the repeated root note of the chords that make up the first four bars of a twelve-bar -blues, the second and fourth beats are written as accented. As stated, “The use of accents is an essential parameter in establishing ‘feel,’ or style.” Though only hinted on in the beginning, the idea of accents is developed very convincingly throughout the book. Most books teaching bass lines stay within the harmonic aspects of the development of the line, and discuss the use of rhythm in the context of style (latin, funk, etc.). Jon brings both concepts together, showing us how rhythm and accents can make a more supportive, musical line.

Jon uses the concept of “tension and release” in discussing his ideas of melody. Through the use of the aforementioned “Pivot notes” and “Lead-ins,” these notes are used to develop your melodic bass line, and there are many good examples in this section. Section two begins with a very convincing argument about “swing.” In brief, instead of pulling against the pulse of the music, Jon shows how to create tension and release through the use of accents and regrouping of rhythms for a more effective line. By analyzing where accents are and what goes before and after, and the placement of offbeat notes as compared to the downbeat notes, the book makes a very compelling thesis in the art of swing! Also discussed in this section is what Jon calls “Rhythmic Overlays;” rhythms that come from lyrics, “second line” rhythms, or the “clave” form found in Afro-Cuban music. From these rhythms, the bassist can come up with lines that complement and support the music. The last concept, called “Harmonic Dynamics,” deals with dynamics, techniques of how to achieve them, and the use of note placement to bring out dynamics.

This book would be a great addition to anyone’s library as another way of looking at how to develop bass lines that are interesting, imaginative, and above all musical and melodic. The section on swing is highly recommended for study, not only for bassists, but all jazz musicians. Jon’s comments on the “Basie” style of swing are very eye-opening and informative. You can also read about the book on Facebook, and catch up with Jon ‘s blog at

– Review by Lou Pappas, Bass World Magazine

(Available for purchase here)

Giant Cicada EP Release Date June 1; Metro dates

May 19, 2011

Here’s our press blast for our upcoming musical dates in June in NYC!

The Giant Cicada, led by bassist Jon Burr, has an EP release on June 1.

Metro NY dates in support of the release are:

June 3rd – Jules Jazz Bistro 8PM  212 477 4560 8PM No cover 65  St Marks Pl

June 9th – Thalia Café at Symphony Space 10PM 212 864 5400 No cover 2537 Broadway at 95th Street

June 10th – Starving Artist Café (City Island) 8PM 718 885 3779 No cover 249 City Island Ave

June 15th – Feinstein’s Late Night Jazz (Feinstein’s at the Regency) 10:30 PM (212) 339-4095 540 Park Ave

June 29th – Miles Cafe 8:30 PM (212) 371-7657 212 E. 52nd St. #3Fl.

EP for review:

The Jon Burr Trio (jazz) will also be appearing every Monday 7-9 PM at The Pizza Place, 92 Main St,Yonkers, including June 6, 13, 20 and 27

This year’s core trio includes trumpeter Tim Ouimette and pianist Mike Eckroth.

YouTube video from the Opening May 12th:

The Untold Secret to Melodic Bass – pdf online here!

June 2, 2009
The Untold Secret to Melodic Bass

The Untold Secret to Melodic Bass

“Jon has come up with a great book for bassists, and anyone else for that matter, which delves into the construction of compelling bass lines. He is very thorough in his approach talking about what the bassist does and all the why’s and how’s. Jon is a great musician, and his take on this subject matter is a welcome addition to the topic.”

 – Bob Mintzer, Grammy-winning saxophonist/composer/educator


“Jon Burr shares valuable secrets of jazz bass playing, and he writes in a clear and direct manner. This book will help students and pros alike in developing swinging, melodic and groove bass lines. “

– Ted Rosenthal, pianist, composer and instructor at Juilliard School of Music

“After decades as a first-call bassist on the New York jazz scene, Jon Burr reveals his concepts and musical wisdom in this concise and easy to understand tutorial. A must-have for the aspiring jazz bassist. “

– John Goldsby, author: The Jazz Bass Book

“If you want to be a creative BASS player, this is the book for you.”

– Houston Person, saxophonist/producer/jazz master

“I finally had the time to actually play thru the book thorougly… it’s fantastic. It’s great to see someone addressing in print the stuff that makes melody sound so great. I love that last paragraph…It’s great to have stuff that veteran bassists learn to do intuitively explained in clear, logical language. It’s a wonderful, and as far as I know, unique, book.”

– John Loehrke, bassist and educator

“Jon has made a science of of building bass lines with his extensive professional experience. With this Gem-of-a-book, he turns it into an understandable language, then into a practical application. It’s broken down to the responsibilities of the Bass Player and, where he has freedom within the bass line.” It’s a must-have publication for any bassist.”

– Morrie Louden, bassist, composer and recording artist

“Jon has taken his years of experience and turned them into a clear and concise method for studying the bass.”

– Ben Wolfe

“The Untold Secret to Melodic Bass is an outstanding rethinking of how expert jazz bassists actually conceptualize and navigate chord changes. Written from the perspective of a seasoned jazz veteran but set forth in a straightforward and engaging fashion, this book is an excellent addition to the library of any jazz bass student or teacher.”

– Jason Heath, bassist, instructor, host/author of

Available on the Amazon Kindle Store, and coming soon in print on Amazon!

Mental Background Information and Techniques for practicing

March 31, 2009

In order to gain an understanding of how to practice effectively and efficiently, it is useful to have some understanding of the structure of the brain, mind and nervous system. It is possible to “practice” and not get better – or, even, to get worse, and to inculcate bad habits that will impact future ability to perform and progress. With an understanding of the nature and purpose of good habits, and how the process of learning to play occurs, we can get much more benefit from our use of time. 


Structure of the brain and mind

The three layers

All animals have a brain. The human brain has three fundamental layers, and each layer has characteristics in common with other animal species. The most basic layer – the sort of brain that’s common to all animals – is present in humans in the Thalamus; it’s been referred to as the “lizard brain.” All animals have at least this part; it’s the instinctive brain; its function is to provide the drives and capabilities esssential to survival. Its main functions are eating, sleeping, elimination, fighting or killing, flight, and sex. It keeps the heart beating and regulates basic bodily functions.

The second layer is the Limbic (or mammal) brain. It has its own separate memory system; brain cells attached to this part of the brain have been located throughout the body… researchers have found some sixty thousand brain cells in the heart! Brain cells have been located in the intestines, organs, and muscles. Receptors for neurotransmitters have been located in the blood cells and the lymphatic system, along with the network of nerves that had been thought to transmit only sensation. It has been found that there are memory cells throughout the body.

The discovery of these cells and the sort of memory structure their presence implies, which is separate from the memory in the outer layer of brain itself, has led researchers to observe that the “body is the unconscious mind.”

This leads to the question – if it’s not conscious, what is it doing with its memory? The answer is feeling. The body is the “feeling” mind…the memory cells of the limbic system remember feeling – which includes emotions, like love and fear, joy and hate, anxiety and serenity – and motion. The body remembers the feeling of motion. It also can remember body positioning in three dimensions – the so-called “psychokinetic matrix.”

Some of the following phrases may be familiar: “gut feel,” “instinct,” “learn by heart,” “in your bones,” “muscle memory.” These all refer to the activity of the Limbic brain.

This seems like a fantastic tool to have; but it’s “unconsicous,” as it’s been defined. What good is it if it’s hidden from us?

It’s not hidden. It is running constantly and in parallel to our “conscious” mind, and we can become aware of its activity by focusing our awareness on it. We are accustomed to focusing on the contents of our higher brain – the Cortex, which is an amazing tool that sets humans apart. We, as Westerners, tend to equate the contents of the Cortex, with its ability to read, identify, hear, look, analyze, plan, make abstractions, understand concepts, and many other wonderful things, with not only consciousness and awareness but also with our very being. The Cortex also has its downside; it can introduce negative thinking, judgments, false conclusions, assumptions, and other toxic information into the body/mind; the Limbic body/mind will react to the contents of the Cortex, storing not the information itself, but the “feeling memory” of its reaction to the information coming from the Cortex.

But – we are not just our thoughts! We are the thinker of the thoughts. The Cortex is only like the movie screen of our brain, the stage on which our thoughts play out. It has its own memory, and it can be defined as the “conscious” mind; butthere is a higher level of being, the real “us,” who is capable of focusing our most powerful tool of all: awareness. This “real us” is analagous to a spotlight operator within who can shine his focused light of awareness on the different parts of the mind, and this awareness can be focused at any time on the “unconscious” activity of the limbic brain. The body/mind is hidden – right under our nose. If we have lost access to it, which most of us have to some degree, it’s because our Cortex is much more fun, a better plaything, much more interesting most of the time; and we may have been taught to ignore, suppress or disregard it. Consequently we have lost the habit of “checking in” with the Limbic side. Unfortunately, this has negative consequences in our lives… so many of us lose touch with our feelings, which tell us how we’re doing on a daily basis; our feelings are our general state of well-being, our “spiritual condition,’ our mood. Failure to be aware of this side of our lives inevitably leads to illness, addiction, depression and other psychological conditions, undiagnosed medical illness and other problems. The Limbic brain is especially important to the musician because it’s the repository of all the motions we’re going to teach our bodies as we learn to play – and of the emotions which will eventually flow through these motions as we play.

How do we access the limbic brain? By focusing on sensation, sound, and feeling. As we practice, the Cortex must be engaged at the first steps. The fingers must be consciously instructed as to their placement. In the early going, visual aids might be appropriate, such as marks on the fingerboard. Pictures of the hands in good technical postitions are very helpful. A sequence of motions must be planned an visualized. The plan is then executed – we play the passage or fragment, meanwhile still consciously monitoring the execution for quality. Once we are able to execute the planned task successfully, then we undertake to repeat it… and as we do so, shift the focus to the feeling of it. As we do this, we have begun putting the action into the Limbic memory; as we repeat it, focusing more only on the feeling of it, it gets truly “baked in,” and we have successfully accessed and programmed our body/mind!

Another method of access to the Limbic brain is through empathy and imitation. We’ve heard the expression “monkey see, monkey do.” Modeling can be an effective Limbic programming method; it takes a certain quality of attention. If the watcher can relax and try to take in the totality of the person standing before them as they execute the action, there is learning that can take place below the level of consciousness. If the student is aware of this as a learning tool, so much the better; any teacher will tell you that at times, it can be very difficult to get the student’s full attention at all. Hopefully the student will read this chapter and realize that they are equipped with a sub-conscious information sponge that is very powerful, if only they are aware enough to use it.

Another well-known technique for accessing the “unconscious” is hypnosis. Many teachers probably have wished they could do this to their students; although, sometimes in attendance of a performance of music they admire or trust, the student might enter into this state.

Steps in programming

1. Use the “spotlight operator” to select mode: Look, understand, visualize, plan; choose a manageable chunk

2. Execute

3. Make conscious corrections and repeat

4. Begin to focus on the feeling of it while repeating – access the “body/mind”

5. Add metronome – learn to stay with it and maintain awareness of it while feeling it in the music

6. Look away. Keep repeating, while focusing on feeling.

7. Repeat by feel until it’s possible to talk while doing it

Internal Dynamics in Rhythm

January 30, 2009

This is an area that seems to be largely ignored in the teaching of Jazz, while at the same time one of the most essential components of “swing.”

 There is a pedagogy called Eurythmics pioneered by Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, which was taken up by the composer Carl Orff, and is now sporadically present in the American music education system largely through the efforts of the American Orff-Schulwerk Association (AOSA). Their method offers positive, integrative musical experiences to children through the use of rhythm and song in ensembles. These methods expose the student to the fun of music-making, largely through the use of rhythm and dynamics, enabling to get the students feeling the music through the motion it takes to make it.

There is a lot of misinformation, confusion, and toxic pedagogy with regard to swing, accents, phrasing, and how they work together. Two of the most abused and misunderstood concepts are “laying back” and “back-phrasing,” and we will touch on these as we go along. Swing depends on a constant underlying pulse, and tension and release against the underlying pulse (pulling against the tempo) is a parameter available to the performer; however, there is vast opportunity to create tension and release within the pulse – without “violating the tempo stream” – that is much more powerful and effective. The problem comes when performers do the former without an understanding of the latter. The underlying substrate of swing is triplets, and there are many things that can be done, many traditions of development with triplets; different groupings, accent patterns, overlays, and offsets of the triplet stream.

The greatest horn players I’ve heard can “lock in” a rhythm section with a few notes; Clark Terry and Houston Person come immediately to mind, although there are many greats – Miles, Wayne, Trane, Freddie, Frank Sinatra, etc. etc.; where they put the rhythm is where it is supposed to be; right with the rhythm section (or, sometimes, where they intend the rhythm section to be playing it!). Their playing sounds free and “laid back” because of their ability to recompose the rhythm with the use of devices such as eighth note triplets offset by a triplet eighth note, or a series of quarter notes with a similar offset, or many other possible rhythmic devices.

[graphic ex 33: melody with offsets

There are rich traditions in rhythm that have been passed down orally; musicians with “ears” or “talent” seem to soak some of these principles up by osmosis. Playing rhythmically and using dynamic contrast can be great fun for the player, and rhythmic expressiveness is a hallmark of dynamic performance that should be a point of strong focus.

The Substrate of Swing

There is an underlying structure to swing:

[graphic ex 34: swing substrate

There are traditional accent locations in the substrate, as you can see above.

Whenever there is an accent, there is an increased investment of energy in the playing of it. For natural contrast, accents are usually followed by un-accented material, requiring a different touch and investment of energy.  There is some “recovery time” required; the player needs to restrain himself and “let go” following the creation of the accent; this contrast between the investment of energy and the subsequent “letting go” creates “feel,” and transmits very directly into the listener.

Every jazz drummer has a characteristic and individual “ride beat”  (although there are some who have the capacity to vary their beat according to the style). The characteristic “feel” comes from:

            1. Which notes are accented? Some accent all the downbeats; some accent two and four; some accent the triplet upbeats; this parameter is also a factor in the style of a particular period.

            2. Whether the accent pattern is regular or varied; some play the exact same feel all the time; some styles depend on a certain array of accents, but the better drummers know how to “break it up” and create phrasing with the construction of their ride beat, in any style.

            3. How hard the accent is hit

            4. How quick is the recovery time? How close is the triplet upbeat to the following downbeat?

These are all factors that come together in an individual and create an individual style. The greatest musicians are aware of all these parameters and are able to come up with an appropriate “feel” for a particular band. Everybody in the band needs to have some awareness of these parameters; when a band is not playing together, it is usually from inflexibility, lack of awareness, or disagreements on this issue. Some drummers believe – or have been taught – that they are “the time-keeper,” and will not accommodate any other feel. Some people learn a particular style, and are not aware how that style may be related to others, or what the elements of the style of those around them might be. The ability to accommodate differences in style (and inflexible and didactic drummers!) is vital indeed for a bass player.

There are also horn players and singers who have not learned the fundamentals of rhythm, and are not aware of their responsibility to become one with the rhythm section. Although they might believe they are making a powerful statement, or getting a lot of “feeling,” if they are abusing the tempo stream, they are making the audience – and the rhythm section’s  – skin crawl. Back-phrasing must NOT be another word for “dragging the tempo!” Back-phrasing should  be: The active re-composition of the melody by affirmatively performing alternative rhythms within the rhythmic stream. 

Opposition and the Beginnings of Melody

January 13, 2009

Oppostion and the beginnings of melody

One of the hallmarks of swing, or rhythmic music in general, is an attribute (to paraphrase Steven Colbert) that we can call “back-and-forth-iness.” “This, then that,” “Yin, then yang,” “See, then saw…” you get the idea. Swing. Rocking back and forth. The sense of “motion” in music. This brings us to the idea of the pivot.


Where do we get our pivots?

The overtone series is a good place to start our search.

The structure of music roughly emulates the overtone series. The overtone series is derived by subdividing a string, or vibrating air column, by its series of rationic fractions. As it vibrates in whole, a string simultaneously vibrates also in half, thirds, fourths, fifths, et cetera, all the way up to infinity in theory, although in actuality the series is constrained by the limitations of the materials. It is interesting to note that these notes, when played, are referred to as “harmonics.” Another interesting thing about this is the resulting intervallic array, and the notes produced. The notes are: one octave up, an octave and a fifth, the root two octaves up, a third, the fifth again, then a note somewhere between the sixth and seventh, then the root again, then on into the scale:

The Overtone Series

The Overtone Series

I have found that this series is an excellent guide for judging the appropriateness (or the “safety” of other note choices for a bass player – particularly for the “pivot,” which we can define as the “primary oppositional note to the root.” The first stop out on the overtone series  – after the octave, which can also act as a pivot – is the fifth.

Roots and fifths. Bass players have put their kids through college playing roots and fifths. The fifth is the most common pivot (although there can be others). It’s a harmonic tone, but in the realm of the bass, it’s less harmonic than the root, and can be used to “oppose” the root in the creation of bass parts; to go back and forth to, creating a pivot.

Roots and Fifths

Roots and Fifths

What can we observe about these examples? What is going on rhythmically? We’re looking at the most common, default bass part known to man… yet there’s more to it than meets the eye. Which beat is the pivot on? The third beat…and, this is the most common location for a pivot, whether it’s the fifth of the chord or not. It’s halfway to the next anchor. We could describe the third beat as a rhythmic pivot, as well.

Anchors, Pivots and Lead-Ins

January 11, 2009


The bass is primarily responsible to provide anchor notes at certain points in the music. To put that in a nutshell, we are generally responsible to play a root in a low register when a harmony first occurs; doing that underscores to the band “this is the chord!” If we cover the basic areas of our responsibility as bass players – which involve “showing up” at definable points in the music with the right information – then we have considerable freedom in how we get to the next “signpost” or anchor point.


A “pivot” is similar to an anchor in that it communicates fundamental harmony at an expected time; however, it is most often not the root of the chord, and not at the beginning of the harmonic instance; the most common pivot is the fifth of the chord – but it can be any chord tone, depending on taste and circumstances; and its most common location in the rhythm is on the 3rd beat, assuming 4/4 – or, rather, halfway through the bar. There are many popular songs built around a specific bass line; in these songs, the pivot contained in the fixed line is part of the bassist’s responsibility, but development can still occur within these kinds of frameworks. We will explore this as the book progresses.


Lead-Ins are the connecting material… these are the bassist’s creative opportunity. Once the bassist has delivered an anchor, he can employ lead-ins of a wide variety to approach the next benchmark – the pivot – and then transition from the pivot to the next anchor. Lead-ins come in all shapes and sizes, rhythmic and melodic configurations, and they are the bassist’s playgound.

The “Rules”

As is the case in every set of rules, rules are made to be broken. It is not always the case that the bass has to play an anchor on the first beat of every chord change. As development progresses, anchors and pivots can be rhythmically displaced. Sometimes, in walking bass lines, the distances between anchors can increase; lead-ins can occur on strong rhythmic beats, pivots can be used as anchors, and lead-ins can be extended. We will talk about all of these options as the book progresses.

Internal Dynamics

We are also going to cover the subject of internal rhythmic dynamics, which we would define as dynamic variation within a particular musical phrase. Tension and release is as important in rhythm as it is in melody, and the foundation of rhythmic music of all kinds is accents, where they fall, and how much emphasis they get. Bassists need to know something about the traditions that exist here, which seem to have been largely overlooked in written pedagogy, but have been transmitted orally since the first strike of a drum.


The Untold Secret to Melodic Bass Playing

January 11, 2009

Anchors, Pivots and Lead-Ins

 The secret to confidence in playing the bass – or in anything, for that matter – is knowing what you’re doing. When you’re playing the bass, having knowledge of the harmony – the chord changes – is not only vital, it’s inescapable. You have to know the chord changes. This book assumes that you know the changes, or have developed the ability to figure them out quickly. Learning chord changes, and tunes, is a great subject, worthy of a whole other book, but this book is about what to play on them… how to create bass lines, melodies, or patterns – in any style, how to think like a composer of bass lines – how to plan ahead, and make choices that are appropriate to the style of the song.

Most music we’ll play has an underlying structure – a “form,” whether it’s a 12-bar Blues, a 32-bar  standard in AABA form (or 16&16), or whatever else it might be, depending on what the composer wrote. Within that form, the harmony progresses with its “harmonic rhythm,” which is another way of saying that the chords happen at certain times, every time we play through the form of the song. The underlying rhythm is very important to the choices that we make as well; the rhythmic environment determines the “style,” whether it’s swing, 2-beat, cha-cha, bossa, samba, meringue, waltz, shuffle, or any of countless variants that fall under the heading of “contemporary,” whether it’s rock, funk, hip-hop, house, new age, alternative, or what have you.

So, what notes do we play? How do we make interesting, melodic lines, enhance the music, yet at the same time “follow the rules” – which basically means play for the music, make what we play fit the music and serve the music and our fellow players – and still be able to “make a statement,” put our stamp on the music? How can we assert a musical identity, be creative, and yet “take care of business” at the same time?

 By using the hidden power of the structure of harmony and rhythm!

There are signposts, touchstones, benchmarks, and bases to cover in the rhythmic and harmonic structure. We are going to define these as “anchors” and “pivots.”  Once we cover these points of responsibility, we are free to create and embellish, using “lead-ins.”  (more in the next post – and, examples to come!)

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