HOWDY, AND WELCOME BACK TO
Before we get started: Due to an editing
error that was discovered too late to fix, we
neglected to include the first eight bars of
“Autumn Leaves” in 1st inversion. Sorry
about that! There it is in Ex. 1.
Now that we’ve covered root position
and 1st inversions, let’s continue with 2nd
and 3rd inversions. For bass players, of
course, these inversions aren’t quite as functional—
they can make these chords sound
muddy—but getting comfortable with these
shapes and sounds will help you “see” a
chord from any point within the chord, and
you’ll begin to recognize the interconnectedness
of every chord within a progression.
We spend so much time hovering around
roots that when it’s time to outline a chord
from a different note (in a solo, for example),
some of us have a hard time.
The solution? Walking arpeggios through
tunes from every inversion. In Examples 2
and 3, I’ve outlined arpeggios starting from
either the 5th or the 7th of the “Autumn
Leaves” chord progression; in Ex. 4, each
chord has either the 5th or 7th in the bass.
These voicings won’t necessarily sound good
under a soloist, and they’ll likely clash and
insinuate other harmonies if you play them
against a guitarist’s chords. But walking
though these arpeggios is a fantastic exercise
that’ll help you broaden your fingerboard
Example 5 represents my favorite chordal
exercise: Playing the chords in a progression
by starting with a basic chord shape
and only moving each note as needed—by
no more than a half- or whole-step, or
not at all. It’s difficult to do in real time,
so take it chord by chord until you’ve got
it, and then try it at a slow tempo. (Some
chords don’t contain the root.) I’ve yet to
find a better exercise that helps me see the
interconnectedness of chords within the
context of a tune.
Remember to keep changing the tunes you
work through. Each progression will challenge
you in a new way and further enhance
your ability to play through changes.
Portland, Oregon-based bassist and
educator Damian Erskine has toured
and recorded with a long list of greats,
from Gino Vanelli and the Peter Erskine
New Trio to the Jaco Pastorius Big
Band. Visit him at damianerskine.com.