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Byron Miller: Reach For It Part II by Alex Wilkerson

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Reach For It Part 2

Here’s the rest of the solo by Byron Miller on George Duke’s Album: Reach For It. There are some great ideas in this second half that might be brand new to some soloists, and a good reminder to the rest.

First off, the best part about this solo is that it’s thick with soulful phrasing.  Even though bends make notation much harder to read, they are really important to Byron’s phrasing.  The use of bends makes a solo sound much more soulful and expressive, although commonly overlooked by most electric bass players.  As we mentioned last week, a grace note in parenthesis without a stem or flag is part of a pre-bend.  This means that if the grace note in question is a “D”, and the note after it is a “D#”, then you find “D” with your left hand on the fret board and bend it up to a “D#” before you strike the string.  If the grace note has a stem and is not in parenthesis, then you bend the note after striking the string.  The actual notation for the bend itself is represented by what looks like an upside down “V” on top of, and connecting two notes.

Another nice technique used throughout this solo is the effect of “falling off” the time.  For this style of song, you usually want to play behind the beat rather than ahead.  I’ve notated this with the abbreviation (BTB) for behind the beat and a dotted line to tell you how long to play behind the beat.  In a lot of situations this can make transcribing very difficult and notation very complicated to read, but the good news is that this effect by its very nature grants ample amount of forgiveness in terms of accuracy.  If you are soloing behind the beat, no one will care if you are playing 16th note triplets or 32nd notes.  The only thing that matters is confidence.  In these portions of the solo, don’t take the literal notation too strictly.  Take the general rhythmic idea and play with the time until you like what you hear.

In measures 27 and 28, Byron proves to us that sometimes the strength of an idea takes priority over the actual notes.  What I mean by this is that in this passage, Byron plays a lick and repeats it a half step up (in sound).  Then he takes the lick up a half step again.  He does this seven times until he reaches his target note, the root, which is the second note in beat four of bar 28.  When this motif is started, it is clear to the ears that it is an idea that is exactly repeated except that it is a half step higher.  When the root is reached, it signals the end of the idea and proclaims “yes I do know where I am and what I’m doing”.  What I meant earlier when I said that “the idea takes priority over the notes” is that if you were to analyze the actual notes of these two bars against the chords, you would find a lot of “wrong” notes.  However, once you know the idea, you realize that it’s pointless to analyze these two measures in such a way.  What matters is that a solo makes sense somehow.  It can make sense when you compare the notes against the chords, or just by the idea itself.  It’s much more effective to take the idea higher (in sound) rather than lower because going higher increases the intensity of the solo.  I’ve seen Mike Stern use this technique a lot.  He takes an idea and repeats it either a half step up or a whole step up.  Mike didn’t just stop at three repetitions, he repeated it plenty of times!  The effect sounded great and the audience went crazy.  We talked before about giving the audience something to grab a hold of rather than just providing endless choruses of bizarre chord tones and chromaticism.  Of course, I’m not insinuating that you should mold your solos into what will make an audience go crazy, but on the other hand, if your audience is going crazy, this is something not to be taken lightly.  Take Byron’s lick and keep it in your bag of tricks.

A fourth idea is one we covered in Part 1 but continues through the second part of this solo.  Take a look at how many phrases start on the downbeat of one.  I counted two.  Now count how many phrases start on the downbeat of two.  I counted four.  If you find that you have a hard time keeping yourself from starting phrases on the down beat of one.  Make a mental note to start them on two.  It’s an easy downbeat to find with confidence.  Once you spend some time practicing it, you can then perform it seamlessly without tripping over the time.

Here’s a lick that you can assimilate.  Look at beat four of the pickup going into the downbeat of measure one.  Take a target note.  Let’s use the extension nine which occurs on beat one of the solo.  So if we are in the key of A or “A blues”, the ninth is “B”.  If you are targeting “B”, first play the scale tone above it.  In this case it’s C#.  Now, staying in the chord scale (mixolidian for right now), play the C#, then down a third (A), then down another third (F#), and end on your target (back up to B or the ninth).  The lick should look like this: C#, A, F#, B.  This is a nice lick because the beginning of the phrase (C#) and the final target (B) imply a scale-wise descent.  This is really common in jazz and bebop lines.  You just take a descending idea and then put runs of thirds in between.  Byron uses this pattern more than once.

The last idea comes from Byron’s use of bending four (the note D in this case) to sharp four a.k.a. flat five depending on the direction of the line (the note D#/Eb in this case).  Byron uses this idea about 16 times in one variation or another.  What this means to you and me is that you don’t have to feel pressured to come up with a brand new idea for every measure.  In most cases such an approach will make your solos weaker anyway.  If you have an idea you like, you should absolutely repeat it somehow.  You could repeat it exactly the same way, you could move everything up or down a scale tone, or you could move everything up or down chromatically.  The audience in most cases is not nearly as annoyed with your repetition as you think they are.  In fact they are more likely to be annoyed without it.  Give them something to hold onto.

That’s it for the solo from Reach For It.  This solo demonstrates the law that phrasing and attitude are just as important in a solo as note choice.  This piece has a lot of great licks and ideas.  Consider for a moment that the solo section has only two chords, that this is a funk song, and that the solo is unusually long for a bass solo.  All three of these situations make it hard to keep a solo interesting.  Byron uses a lot of great ideas to keep his solo fresh while making it attainable to the audience.  Take his ideas and use them in your own situations.  I hope you enjoyed this issue’s transcription.  I know how annoying it can be to read bends and pre-bends but they are essential to understanding Byron’s phrasing, and soulful phrasing in general.  I’ve got a real treat in store for you next time.  It’s an upright solo that really sings over a jazz standard.  Until then enjoy Byron Miller’s solo on Reach For It!

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