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How I Create Ideas by Franz Vitulli

Franz Vitulli-February2013Wow, ‘create’ ideas, sounds presumptuous, doesn’t it?

It’s been a long time since my last article here on BMM, and I was thinking about sharing something that I have been developing for the last months… how to create ideas? I mean, practicing ideas, composing ideas, any kind of idea that I can use when I hold the bass and want to play it. And it’s not by chance that I called the article “how I” instead of “how to”, which would have been more web-friendly (we all stumble upon some “how to” article on a daily basis), but the topic seems to me too wide to give a unique recipe. This is just one of my methods… by far not the only one!

Anyway, most of the time, when it’s time to practice, I start from a tune that I don’t know – or don’t remember – and begin studying it. I play the melody, memorize changes, play chords, some walking bass, some soloing, etc., until I can say that I’ve ‘mastered’ it, no matter what.

But sometimes, especially when I am studying a tune for my personal repertoire and don’t have to play it in a gig after 3 hours, I may find something that can be reduced, adapted or changed in some way. And then I realize that I can work on that on a multiple level.

For example, some days ago I was studying the Tom Jobim’s bossa nova standard ‘How Insensitive’, and the forth line of the lead sheet captured my attention. There was nothing particularly special, it was ‘just’ a minor II-V-I, Em7b5|A7b9|Dm7 followed by a Db13, and I tried to approach this part by reducing those chords to triads. I didn’t mean to play just an E diminished triad, A major triad and D minor, it would have depleted the entire progression. I simply tried to apply some basic harmonic substitutions. What I’m going to do now has nothing to do with ‘How Insensitive’ per se, I’m ‘moving forward’:

Em7b5 > G minor triad (it’s the same chord, but without the root).

A7b9 > Bb minor triad (I am interpreting this chord just like it was an A7alt built on the 7th mode of the Bb melodic minor scale).

Dm7 > D minor triad (just removed the 7).

Db13 > DbMaj7 > F minor triad (chords with 13 are often used in lieu of Maj7 chords, and F minor triad is just the DbMaj7 without the root).

What I have now is this progression: Gm|Bbm|Dm|Fm

What I just found is, actually, an harmonic sequence: we have two couples of triads, Gm|Bbm and Dm|Fm, with the same interval distance (a minor third), and the second couple is a fifth above the first.

We have a lot of options here.

For example, we can go further with the sequence, doing something like this:

||:Gm|Bbm|Dm|Fm|Am|Cm|C#m7b5|D7:|| (I created another couple, again a fifth above its preceding one, and closed with a D7 to create a refrain)

Or we can keep practicing just those four bars.

Or we can change the distance between each couple of bars and create new sequences.

We can practice different scales over each triad, ascending and discending, and find new melodies.

We can use what we find for composing a new tune, or for personal technical development (for example alternating ascending and discending triads on two octaves). When you want to practice embracing the ‘fitness’ approach, doing it with an harmonic background is so much better than playing nonsense random scales up and down the neck.

Or we can go back to ‘How Insensitive’ and use this approach to solo over those chords.

Remember that this is just ONE idea. I am not telling you to practice with Gm|Bbm|… and all those chords. The entire point of this article is about how to create ideas for many purposes and this is just a single way to do it. I am sure that if I do this, you can do something like this as well. Just remember:

  • when I feel that I don’t know what to do when I’m practicing (it’s a rare circumstance, but, you know, it happens), music is the answer. There’s so much to explore in every single existing tune that it’s always possible to find new things. You can even start from an harmonic progression (I was talking about ‘How Insensitive’ but I could just have said “lets start from a minor II-V-I… but that idea came from ‘How Insensitive’ so I thought it was better to stick with what actually happened!), either found on a book, or made up by yourself.
  • in every step forward you make, from somewhere to I-don’t-know-where, you have the power to make effective choices: you can go further and further or stick with a ‘level’. You are in charge. As soon as you find something interesting, write it down and choose what to do. Technical development? Composing? Both? Something else? It’s just your choice.

Hope it helps. As always, I would be more than happy if you comment on this article and share it on your social walls. I look forward to reading your thoughts!

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