THERE ARE A FEW REASONS LYRICAL SOLOING SEEMS to come easier to horn players than bassists. First, by default, horn players spend a lot of their musical time playing melodies, thus burning melodicism deep into their musical DNA. Second, and perhaps more important, the saxophone is nowhere near as pattern-based as the bass. There’s something about the bass’s frets, dots, and strings that makes the fingerboard look like a big checkerboard to our pattern-craving cerebral cortex: Instead of allowing the deeper concerns of harmony and melody dictate our lines, the fingerboard’s visual and digital patterns easily seduce us, corrupting our note choices.
One way around this is to seek opportunities to break out of our habitual, pattern-oriented playing by forcing our left hand to confront familiar sounds in unfamiliar ways. The most common major scale shape starts on the 2nd finger (Fig. 1). Try starting the scale on your 1st, 3rd, and 4th fingers, too. Since these shapes may be uncomfortable, you’re immediately forced to consider the individual notes more carefully, instead of allowing your muscle memory to do all the work. Applying this concept engages a different, more thoughtful, part of your brain.