Your big band is warming up. the lead trumpet player picks up her horn, puts the mouthpiece to her lips, and blows through a serpentine, diatonic major-scale pattern. The trumpet player next to her chuckles for a moment, then answers with the same line. It’s obviously an insider trumpet joke. You’ve heard the melody often—every time a trumpet player warms up, or so it seems. The line comes from Clarke’s Technical Studies, a trumpet-étude book written in 1912 by Herbert L. Clarke.
Clarke’s études have challenged trumpet players as finger-busting, lip-torturing rites of passage for over 100 years. Although rather demanding on the trumpet, Clarke’s études are relatively easy on the bass. This month, let’s look at several études and technical studies composed for other instruments, and see how we can glean bass-worthy licks and patterns from the material.
Example 1 shows Clarke’s Étude No. 2 in the key of G. The challenge for trumpet players is to play the phrase legato (evenly) and in one breath. The challenge for you, the bass player, is to play the whole phrase legato, so you don’t hear the string crossings. Be sure to accurately cross between the notes on the G string and the notes on the A string. Accent the first note of each of the fournote groupings, but don’t accent a note only because you are changing strings.
Clarke suggests that once the trumpet minions have mastered the legato phrasing of the line, they can try other articulations. We can add our own articulations and rhythmic challenges by changing our bass version of the étude (Ex. 2). Experiment using different articulations: plucking with only one plucking-hand finger, using a two-finger plucking-hand technique, playing the étude in different keys, playing the étude only on one string, and playing the étude using various tempos and dynamics. Write your own variations for Clarke’s Étude No. 2, and see if you can stump your trumpet-playing friends at your next big band rehearsal with a bass version of name that tune.
Bebop pianist Walter Bishop often uses intervals of 4ths in his compositions and improvised solos (check out Bishop’s video in the weblinks). Example 3 outlines a typical Bishop line: all 12 notes found within an octave range, moving in the cycle of 4ths and 5ths. Remember that an interval of a perfect 4th, when inverted, becomes an interval of a perfect 5th. For example, in order to keep this line within an octave, the Bb moves down to Eb (descending the interval of a perfect 5th), rather than jumping out of the octave range from Bb up to high Eb (which would be ascending an interval of a perfect 4th). Note the indications of perfect 4ths (P4) and perfect 5ths (P5).
Example 4 shows a 12/8 version of Bishop’s 12-tone line. Intervals of 4ths and 5ths sit nicely on the bass fingerboard, but playing through all 12 notes of the cycle demands concentration and precise shifting. Example 5 shows a possible use of the entire cycle when playing over a C7 altered chord. Not all of the notes in the 12-tone line will sound harmonious over the C7, but the strength of the relentless march through the cycle of 4ths and 5ths will trump any dissonance.
Example 6 delves into the deep world of guitar literature. No, we’re not talking about Page, Clapton, Hendrix, or Wes Montgomery, rather someone much, much older. Matteo Carcassi was a reigning guitar god in 19th century Europe who cranked out brilliant, romantic classical guitar pieces, in addition to The Carcassi Method for Guitar (Opus 59). Carcassi’s method book became a standard work, and it’s still widely used by aspiring classical guitar players. Why are guitar parts sometimes hard to play on the bass? The standard 4-string bass doesn’t have as wide a range as a 6-string guitar. Guitar exercises are possible on the 4-string bass with a bit of shifting and a dose of courage.
Example 6 is in Carcassi’s original key of C. The line is harmonically simple but requires a large leap in bar 2 when moving from the low G up to the notes B and F. Although it’s possible to play the B on the G string, and then jump up to the high F on the G string, my recommendation is to play the low G, and then shift to the B on the D string, followed by the F on the G string (see tablature). Example 7 shows Carcassi’s exercise transposed to the bass-friendly key of D. You gotta love them open strings!
Search for material written for all instruments and see if you can use some of your discoveries in your practice routines on the bass. You’ll be surprised at the musical gems you’ll find in the wealth of music literature written for other instruments.
Visit John on the web at johngoldsby.comfor sound samples, videos and answers to all of your bass-related questions.