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This issue’s transcription is the bass solo by Byron Miller on George Duke’s Album: Reach For It. This piece is a great source of ideas for crafting a funky solo, keeping a long solo interesting, and gaining some great pentatonic licks, but most importantly of all, it’s a lesson in phrasing. Any of us who have studied blues greats like B.B. King and Albert King, just to name a few, know how a “simple” four or five note solo can become amazing and complex with the application of masterful phrasing. You have to admit that these guys have proven that phrasing is more important than notes in terms of Blues, R&B, and Funk soloing. Even in the setting where as many notes as possible are crammed into a solo, we must admit that good phrasing is what makes a lot of these notes possible. That being said, the main focus of your study on this transcript should be phrasing. In this article we’ll talk about different licks that appear in the piece, different patterns to use over a scale in your practice and solos, and some techniques that Byron has used.
Before diving too deep though, let’s take some time and talk about some of the notation in this transcript that may be a little confusing. Byron employs a fair amount of bends and playing “outside” the time, and this can make a transcription really challenging. If you look at the pickup bar at the very beginning of the solo you will see what looks like an upside down “V” over two notes. This means that these notes should be played short, but not as short as a staccato. You can just think somewhere in the middle of the road between as short and possible and long. Next in measure one you will see a line trailing off the note. Any line falling from, or rising to a note means that a slide is needed. If it’s falling off a note, then slide down (in sound) with no particular ending note of the slide; just a quick slide. The same applies to the “approaching” slide. There should be no clearly defined starting note of the slide, just a simple slide into the note.
Ok, now onto grace notes and bends. Check out the down beat of four in measure two. This upside down “V” that ties one note to another is a bend. When a single bend occurs, there are two notes involved. One is the note you start from and the other is where you end up. Usually one of these notes is more important than the other. The grace note (tiny note) will tell you this. A grace note is played quickly and doesn’t last long. If both notes get equal weight, then there will be no grace note at all but rather two normal notes. Pre-bends are where you bend the string first, play the note, then release the bend while the note is ringing. This technique can be seen in measure seven. The grace note that doesn’t have a stem and is inside parenthesis is the fret that your left hand should be on. In this case you would be playing a “D” and I would recommend playing this on the 12th fret of the D string. You would then bend this “D” up to an “Eb” before playing the string, then play it and release the bend back down to a “D”. The last symbol that needs explaining is the trill. It looks like a squiggly line as in measure six on beat one. This can be played either as an intense vibrato (moving your finger back and forth but staying in the fret) or as a quick repetitive slide between the starting note and one fret up. This should be performed as quickly as possible.
Now, let’s move on to the licks that you can take from this transcription. Look at measure six. This lick starts at the “a” of three (three, e, and, a) through the end of beat four: C, D, A, C, D. With this lick you start somewhere on the scale (A minor pentatonic in this case), go up one note, then start one note below your starting point and ascend three notes. This lick reoccurs on the “a” of beat one in measure 14, on the down beat of one in measure 27, and the lick occurs “upside down” on the down beat of measure 16. Play these four parts to find the pattern. Lick two is a 16th triplet descending on the minor pentatonic scale and ending on flat three. You can see this lick on the “and” of two in measure three, and on the “and” of one in measure nine, and on the “and” of two in measure 16. The next lick we’ll cover here is the use of six 16th triplets ascending up the minor pentatonic scale. You can see this on the down beat of two in measure five, the “and” of two in measure 6, the “and” of three in measure 17 and a partial in the beginning of measure 20. The last lick is a sweet “jazzy” lick in measure 25. Because of its speed, in the right environment this lick will work on either dominants or minor chords. It contains major and minor thirds but each pass so fast that it really would still work on both. Also try this lick from the one and five of the key.
Now let’s talk about some scale patterns that we can take from this solo. What I mean by pattern is a short motif or concept that can be used over any scale. The first one we’ll talk about occurs on the “and” of three in measure nine. For our discussion I will refer to the major scale by the numbers 1-8. The pattern ascending would be: 1, 2, 1, 3; 2, 3, 2, 4; 3, 4, 3, 5; 4, 5, 4, 6, etc. Also practice this idea descending: 8, 7, 8, 6; 7, 6, 7, 5, etc. Next take a look at the “a” of four in measure 27 and stop on the note “A”. By the numbers, this pattern would look like this: 1, 2, 4, 3; 2, 3, 5, 4; 3, 4, 6, 5, etc. Then of course we should take this descending: 8, 7, 5, 6; 7, 6, 4, 5, etc.
Lastly, let’s discuss a few soloing concepts from this piece. First look at how many phrases are started on the down beat of one. Out of all the phrases only three start on the down beat of one. If you are finding that you begin a lot of your phrases on one, you can just wait an eighth or sixteenth and your phrases are twice as hip. Another great technique here is to play “outside” of the time. To do this you must have a firm grasp on time and a solid internal groove. You can tell when someone doesn’t have good time because when they step out it sounds lame; they aren’t fooling anyone. You can practice this with the scale patterns I gave you above. Practice them with a metronome and when you feel confident, take it out of time a little but bring it back in.
You can see that through the piece, Byron was thinking mostly “A” minor pentatonic instead of chord to chord (chord scales). This technique is very appropriate to the style and it should be noted that this was a conscious choice on the part of Byron and not because he is incapable of playing from chord to chord. Look at his lick in measure 25, his Dorian hints in measures 21 and 22 and how he superimposes a minor triad from the major sixth (F#) ending that lick on the 9. This should state clearly that staying in “A” minor pentatonic is more desirable in this setting as opposed to cramming in endless chord scales and chromatic passing tones. Funk and R&B are more about feel and groove than heady cerebral jazz, which is great too, but the lesson here is to ask yourself what the intention of the song might be? If the song’s intention is soul, then the main focus of your solo should be soul, if it’s cerebral sophistication, then that should be your focus. If the point of the song is to get people to shake their booty, then your solo should make every booty in the room start to shake. In this way you will add the most to the song and not get fired for being inappropriate.
I hope you enjoyed this edition’s selection. I’ll bring you the rest next time, but as you can see there is lot of work to be done here and a lot to be gained. Remember that your focus on this transcription should be phrasing and feel. Enjoy, and see you next time.