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Play Along Tracks: Lesson 2 – Walking the ii/V: Jazz Studies With Bill Harrison

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Play Along Tracks: Lesson 2 – Walking the ii/V: Jazz Studies With Bill Harrison

Meet Bill Harrison –

Please download the pdf at the end of this page to get the most benefit out of this lesson.

Last time I left you with the tantalizing prospect of creating smooth, swinging bass lines on the most basic of jazz progressions, the ii/V. If you have any doubts about the essential theory behind these chords please take a quick look at last issue’s lesson. Before continuing with this lesson you might want to download both the pdf and the backing track so that you can put this info into practice.

If you’ve had a chance to walk on this progression using just chord tones you probably noticed that some of the transitions to beat 1 (where the chord changes) sound good, while others sound kind of clunky. The notes may be technically “correct” but the shape of the line just doesn’t sound pleasing. So let’s get more specific with the crucial moment of transition between one chord sound and the next, namely, beat 4.

The 4th beat of the measure is the glue that holds your walking bassline together. After playing the proper root on beat 1, you can pretty much get away with murder on beats 2 and 3. But if beat 4 connects to the first beat of the next chord change awkwardly, that spot will call attention to itself – and not in a good way. After listening to the master players and working on this myself for many years, I’ve distilled three more or less foolproof ways to get from beat 4 to beat 1, as shown in the accompanying pdf file.

a) by half step up or down

b) by whole step up or down

c) by descending 5th or ascending 4th

So the transition from D-7 to G7 can be accomplished by using one of these notes to approach the new root (G):

F, F#, A, Ab, D

Remember that you have more than one octave to work with because that will give you a variety of pathways to your goal note. When moving from the G7 to D-7, we have the following options:

C, C#, E, Eb, A

Note that the harmonically “backwards” move from V back to ii is not nearly as musically graceful as the ii going to V.

I suggest that you try out each connecting tone by just playing beat 4 to beat 1. The track moves slowly but until you get comfortable with these smooth connecting tones you may want to write out a few variations for each one and find out what sounds good to you. Keep what works and toss out the stinkers. Until next time, happy walking!
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