Welcome to the first installment of a multi-part practice session where we look at Scales and Modes, their functions in music, and some exercises that will help you get more familiar with them. Many of these I’ve collected from Berklee professors Joe Santarre and Jim Stinnett and have refined recently for my own students.
Every bassist I’ve ever met has devoted at least some time to practicing scales. Whether it’s to learn your fretboard better, come up with a hipper solo, or analyze and memorize someone else’s. I’m going to share with you a few exercises that will help get you from point A to point C flat.
Lets start with Ionian, that’s right our main man, the Major Scale. Click below to open the examples…
In the key of C Ionian has no sharps and no flats [EX1]. On our basses its starts on a C and is comprised of 2 whole steps 1 half step 3 whole steps and a half step. Each Note is given a name from 1-7 and has, what is called, natural occurring notes. So 1 refers to the root, C, and 5 to the 5th, G, and so on. Ionian is: 1, Major 2nd, Major 3rd, Perfect 4th, Perfect 5th, Major 6th, and a Major 7th. Ionian’s distinguishing characteristic is its perfect 4th. Any sort of II- (ii) V or IV V chord progression that isn’t deceptive will resolve back to Ionian, because both accent its characteristic note. The 4th is the root of the IV and the 3rd of the II- (ii). It has resolution function and is intended to be a point of cadence and is much like a musical reset button in that you can also leap to anywhere you want once you’ve landed on it. Its that happy place where doo-wop and hard bop rhythm changes start and end.
What we’re going to look at now is how to get around our neck and make it music. The premise of the this example is to stay on your A string for each of the tonics. So if you have big hands and play a 6 string like me you may get antsy. Where going to take our Ionian scale and move it around what’s called “The Circle of Resolving Dominants” , sounds like a scary carnival ride, but it’s only the Circle of 5ths backwards. So C, F, Bb, Eb, and so on over 2 bars apiece [EX2]. If you throw on the corresponding major chords, as a backing track, you’ll not only be making music, but you’ll hear what the scale sounds like against that chord. Great for ear training and picking parties with your fiends. Start off slow enough so you can name each note as you play it. And gradually work your way up in tempo. Eventually you can try using 8th notes and ascend one bar and descend the next for each one [EX3]. Finally try reversing the progression.
As always make it musical, have fun, and remember, practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.