Archive for the ‘bass playing’ 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:

Open Letter to Rick Jones of Acoustic Image

April 25, 2010

Hey Rick

I’ve played the Ten2 on a few gigs now – once in a restaurant-beer hall, and once in a hotel restaurant cabaret, and another in a small theater. The latter 2 had house sound.

You already know I like the amp, the technology and the features, so this isn’t about that, but something more important than that, to me.

It’s about how I feel, on the gig, and how it’s different because of your amp.

It’s really striking, how good it feels to be absolutely confident about the quality and audibility of the sound… that’s one feeling advantage… but another advantage is that because of the room coupler speaker array, I feel the “hump,” as does the rest of the band. As compared to before, all I need to do is touch the bass to get the sound over – so my whole touch thing has shifted into a “gentle also works” dynamic frame, which allows for subtlety, dynamics and a sense of control in these situations that I’d never had before. All the detail is there, and I’m never over-pulling or choking the bass now.

I really feel like playing. I’m not worn out after a gig. I can’t wait to get to the next gig now.

Prior to this, I had told people that the DPA 4023 I use was the best money I ever spent, until now… now it’s a toss-up; but now, I know I’ll always be able to take advantage of the amazing characteristics of the DPA. The picture is complete. I don’t care where I play now.. there’s no step down just to play. I’ve always got my sound.

Another thing I noticed is that even with a mic, I can get plenty of level – and plenty of hump – with no feedback.

Genius design.

Thanks again, Rick.


Our new music video is up

September 22, 2009

Here’s a video of me (Jon) and Lynn Stein doing “Never My Love.”

The bird is a cockatoo…

I did the editing myself in Final Cut Express… here’s my little production company – we’re very reasonable!

We’ve got a MySpace page, and other music up on

We’re on twitter – jonandlynn

We had a lot of fun making this video, and we’ll be doing some more!

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!

Nice review by George Harris in Jazz Weekly

May 16, 2009

Jon Burr Band
Just Can’t Wait
jbQ cd and dvd
By George W. Harris

This cd/dvd combo features the steady bass of Jon Burr, who has played with such luminaries as Silver, Getz, Bennett, Baker and O’Day. This release emphasizes his work with singers, which on this disc include the black velvety Ty Stephens, original Transfer Laurel Massee and the smooth pop of Yaala Ballin and Hilary Kole. The tunes range from the good time shuffle of “Just Can’t Wait” (which features the bluesy Houston Person on tenor) to the late night film nourish “Rainbow Over Harlem” Kole is folksy with Bob Mintzer’s soprano on “Snowfall” and mixes with Masee’s rich voice on “Song Of the Broken Word. Stephens is a find, and is justifiably featur ed on the lion’s share of the tunes. All throughout, Burr provides leadership, guidance and a wide array of moods and grooves. The perfect example of servant/leadership. A find for vocal fans. 

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

New Video Playlist – 3 for All Trio

February 6, 2009

We did a house concert last Sunday in Yonkers.

We were invited by Marilee Scheuneman on behalf of the Yonkers Land Conservancy, and we had a wonderful time at the Potgeiter residence.

We shot some videos – we got the second set of the concert – and here it is.

I’ll Remember April
Jon Burr – Bass, Ehud Asherie – Piano, Matt Munisteri, Guitar

Jon Burr – Bass, Ehud Asherie – Piano, Matt Munisteri, Guitar

Trolley Song
Ehud Asherie – Solo Stride Piano

‘Deed I Do
Jon Burr – Bass, Ehud Asherie – Piano, Matt Munisteri, Guitar

Lazy Bones
Matt Munisteri – Vocal and Solo Guitar

All the Things You Are
Jon Burr – Bass, Ehud Asherie – Piano, Matt Munisteri, Guitar

I’ve Never Been In Love Before
with special guest Laura Hull on Vocal
Jon Burr – Bass, Ehud Asherie – Piano, Matt Munisteri, Guitar

I’m In The Mood For Love
with special guest Laura Hull on Vocal
Jon Burr – Bass, Ehud Asherie – Piano, Matt Munisteri, Guitar

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. 

Rhythmic and Melodic Development in the Construction of Bass Lines

January 14, 2009

Note: This is a previously released monograph; this is not the new title I’m working on in Jan ’09… however, a printable version of this title is for sale on my website in the “teaching” section.

The role of the bass in most ensembles in most musical styles most of the time is foundational. Most bass players play the roots and fifths on the underlying harmony most of the time, with the primary focus on groove, “feel” and rhythmic concept.

The more accomplished bass players manage to find ways to enhance their role through the incorporation of melodic elements and rhythmic development in between foundational anchor points. As overall musical development in the composition, song or piece progresses, development can offer more opportunity to the bassist to introduce melodic and rhythmic elements other than roots and fifths on the first and third beats, or whatever the pattern of the syle environment may be.

It can actually be musically destructive for the bassist to hang onto strict foundation as development occurs in the rest of the ensemble. It is essential that the bassist learn ways to introduce non-foundational elements into their bass lines.

It can also be musically destructive for the bass player to abandon the foundational or to otherwise disregard the obligations of his role in the ensemble. Good taste and a sense of duty are good qualifications for a bass player; the bass is a dominant voice in any band, and some compassion, gentleness, and courage are also needed. Although foundational bass is a supporting role, it is also one of leadership; the bass has more influence over the harmonic and rhythmic development of the musical moment than any other voice in the band. When the bass player is taking care of business, the band can soar. When he’s not, the band as a whole will suck, no matter who else is in it. The bass player is like the catcher on a baseball team, or the mother in a family – not the boss or the star, but quietly setting the direction and pace from behind the limelight.

The bass can also be a solo voice, but we’ll talk about that in some other piece.

In this presentation, we will look at foundational parts, walking bass, and ostinato (repeating phrase) or pattern bass parts.

Part One – Bass-ic Bass

I. Basic Foundation – roots and fifths

A. Basic 2-beat


B. Roots and fifths in other rhythms

1. Bossa/basic rock

2.eps 3.eps

2. Mambo


3. Tango


4. Basic funk


The rhythmic configuration of the foundational bass part is the cornerstone of any rhythmic style; the point of this presentation is not to catalog these styles, so we’ll leave it there for now and go on.

II. The Power of the Pickup Note

The “pickup” note – the note played before the root – has the power to set the feel for the whole band. Its placement hints at the rhythmic substrate.

A. Quarter note

The quarter-note pickup adds emphasis and reaffirms the basic feel


B. Eighth Note

The eighth note pickup adds emphasis, although less than the quarter, and affirms whether the substrate is straight-eighth or swung. The degree to which it is accented is another variable


C. Sixteenth Note

The sixteenth note pickup can indicate an underlying even-sixteenth substrate, as in funk, or underlying double-time, either straight or swung


D. Anticipated pickups

1. Dotted Quarter


2. Dotted Eighth


3. Dotted Sixteenth


3. Triplet quarter


4. Triplet Eighth


5. Triplet Sixteenth


We should add here that pickups can be confusing – especially the last few examples – to the rest of the band. An effort to subtly imply a triple-time swing feel, for example, through the use of a single pickup can be easily misinterpreted as an incorrect entrance by the other players; a sense of appropriateness is useful in playing these. The point is, there is power in the pickup note.

III. Added and Other Pickup Notes

We begin to explore melodic development here in looking at additional pickup notes. There are also other pickup notes available beside the fifth of the chord; any of the rhythmic examples above can utilize a single pickup note other than the fifth. Other notes can be:

A. Chord Tones

1. From the current chord


2. From the next chord


B. Neighbor Tones


C. Passing Tones

1. Scalar


2. Chromatic


D. Escape tones and Appoggiaturas

1.Escape tones are derived by step and resolved by leap to a chord tone


2.Appoggiaturas are derived by leap from a chord tone and resolved by step to a chord tone


E. Changing Tones

Changing tones are notes above and below the target, played in either order before the target


F. Anticipations

The root appears before the bar line, before the chord changes.


IV. Accent Patterns, Dynamics and Phrasing

The bass player has tremendous power to add life to the feel and shape to the phrases – to add lift to the entire performance – through the use and choice of accent patterns and dynamics. There can be several different levels of accents applied, and their proper distribution can add shape to a phrase.

A. Phrasing a 2-beat bass part


B. Hemiolas


C. Delay

The appearance of the root in a low register has the effect of creating an accent. It is possible to vary the accent pattern by delaying the appearance of the root, through the use of rests, by using pickups on strong beats, or by the insertion of other notes.


Part 2 – The Walking Bass Line

Walking bass lines can be derived from a number of sources.

I. Roots and Fifths

Before a recording session once many years ago, the great alto saxophonist Phil Woods looked at me, pointed to himself and said “Thirds and sevenths” and then pointed at me and said “Roots and Fifths!”


II. Chord Tones


III. Melodic Ornamentation

For greater depth on this subject, please see the accompanying presentation “Another Look at Melodic Construction.”

1. Neighbor Tones

Tones a step or half-step away added between a particular chord tone


2. Passing Tones

Tones a step or half-step away added between 2 different chord tones


3. Appoggiaturas

Non-chord tones derived by leap and resolved by step


4. Escape Tones

Non-chord tones derived by step and resolved by leap


5. Changing Tones

Two or more non-chord tones, beginning a step or half-step either above or below a chord tone, which then skips to another tone, usually a major or minor third away, on the other side of the chord tone, then resolving to the originating chord tone by either a step or half step.


6. Approaches

Approaches are a series, pattern or sequence of notes reaching further back in time from the target than the earlier examples.


7. Pedal Points

These are relatively static events that gives the harmony another sound, and can make it appear to “float”


Here is an example of a walking bass line incorporating all of the above elements:


Part 3 – Ostinato and Pattern Bass Parts

Some composers write their compositions around a defined bass part – a particular bass line. In many instances the composer – or the other players – depend on the part, and need to hear it to keep their place, or feel that the composition depends on the part for its integrity.

In other instances, it might be effective for the bass player to create their own pattern or ostinato as a compositional technique.

In the above instances, some variation is possible without compromising the integrity of the structure, but it is essential to have an analytical understanding of the pattern to see what makes it work and what has to be there before attempting to change or vary the part. What needs to be there? What doesn’t?




Another effective thing the bass can do is to make a positive melodic statement, then either repeat it or follow it with a variation, then play the original statement. This creates a formal underpinning which adds another compositional element underneath whatever else is going on.

Written & prepared by Jon Burr ©2003 jbQ

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