Sky’s The Limit: Part 1

THE SKY’S THE LIMIT. WHEN YOU combine simple techniques on the bass, you can create unlimited variations of magic hipness.
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THE SKY’S THE LIMIT. WHEN YOU combine simple techniques on the bass, you can create unlimited variations of magic hipness.

THE SKY’S THE LIMIT. WHEN YOU combine simple techniques on the bass, you can create unlimited variations of magic hipness. Simple intervals and triads become a killer gumbo of 21st century sounds.

In recent months, we’ve looked at intervals, what they are, and how to use them from every note of every scale. You’ve also practiced basic triads in all three inversions: root position, 1st inversion, and 2nd inversion.

In June ’10, we explored combining the F and Eb triads to outline the sound of the F7sus11 chord. Now let’s look at the big list—a general reference of possible triadpair combinations and the chord/scale sounds they outline. Next to each chord symbol is the scale that usually corresponds to that chord, followed by a possible triad pair combination to outline the sound. After you learn these in C, transpose the triad pairs to all 12 keys.

Note: The material offered in this Woodshed is advanced, technically and conceptually. If you aren’t yet comfortable playing intervals and triads all over the bass, first review the information in my Intervals Woodsheds beginning with August ’10. Then review the three Triad Woodsheds beginning with the March ’10 issue. To become fluent with these techniques, you must first master intervals and all triads, in every inversion, in all 12 keys, all over the bass.

Example 1 shows a basic practice method for triad pairs. Start the C major triad on the lowest possible note on the bass, in this case the low E. Play the C triad in 1st inversion, and then move to the next triad, the Bb major starting on the note F (2nd inversion). Always use the next possible note in the next triad. You will start each new triad on a new note and in a different inversion, which is what gives triad pairs their symmetrical sound and logical structure. Example 2 is a typical funk bass line alternating between the C and Bb major triads.


A Cm11 chord can be outlined by combining the C minor and the Bb major triads (Ex. 3). You can alternate four notes from the C and D triads to get the sound of a Cmaj7# 11 (Ex. 4). It’s trickier to get a clear harmonic picture using alternating triads on a major chord, but it can be done, as we see in Ex. 5. The A minor triad gives us the 6th, root, and 3rd (A, C, E) of the C major chord. The G triad provides the 5th, 7th, and 9th (G, B, D).


The 3rd and 4th bars of the Duke Ellington standard “Take the A Train” are difficult to outline, but Ex. 6 shows a possible solution to playing the D7# 11 chord: a D major triad followed by the C augmented triad. The notes C, E, and G# in the augmented triad are the b7, 9, and #11 of the D7# 11 chord.


The Phrygian (sus11b9) sound is dark and mysterious. Since we don’t use it as often as major, minor, and dominant sounds, playing over a Phrygian sound sometimes gives us problems. By using the alternating C minor and Bb minor triads, you can outline the b9 and 11 of the chord (Ex. 7), which defines the Phrygian sound. Note that this example only uses two notes of each triad in alternating sequences.


Next time, we’ll get even hipper, using triad pairs to outline altered and diminished tonalities. For now, sit with this stuff. It’s mindbending, but extraordinarily useful.


John Goldsby’s newest release, The Innkeeper’s Gun [Bass Lion], is out now. Also check out John’s other recent releases as bandleader, The Visit and Space for the Bass [all Bass Lion]. He is the author of The Jazz Bass Book [Backbeat Books] and Jazz Bowing Techniques for the Improvising Bassist [Aebersold Jazz]. Visit John’s website at



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