photo by Ethan Hein
(Update 1/7/2012: I just wanted to thank my friend and former teacher Larry Novak for showing me many of these patterns. I owe him a great deal. Thanks Larry!)
Why should you transpose licks or patterns around the cycle of 5ths? If you are practicing II- V licks or other cliches it becomes obvious. By committing to memory the different sequences and licks in all 12 keys you obliterate the fear of a specific chord coming your way. Essentially you have explored all of the harmonic possibilities, and you no longer have reason to fear.
In this article series, I hope to provide exercises for piano or any multipitched instrument for playing multiple melodic lines simultaneously. This is good training for several reasons. First, it helps with your overall sense of harmony. Second, it develops the ear to hear more than one melody line. This could help a soloist better hear and understand the bass line when playing in a group. Also, as a multipitched instrumentalist, it may be possible to develop multiple solo lines simultaneously. And third, practicing these patterns will make us better polyphonic writers and arrangers.
The bad news; there are 12 different keys to practice. The good news; there are only 12 different keys to practice.
The first example to practice is similar to what bassist might play in a given measure of 4/4.
This pattern will actually sound good under/over a Maj 7, dominant 7th, or min 7th chord. It's more about strong voice leading than articulating chord tones. Of course it's easy to run out of range if all you do is ascend. A descending pattern is as follows:
The same range problem happens if you only descend as well. So a combination sequence of UP 2, Down 1 is helpful:
Obviously a firm understing of root motion around the cycle of fifths is critical. If you are a fledgling bassist, this exercise should make you a better constructor of bass lines. It's musical medicine for everyone else, ie there isn't an instant payback, but the return on investment over time will help you better navigate through conventional harmony.
Root motion isn't the end of the story. In fact, many pianist and guitarist practice rootless voicings, allowing the bass to play the roots. This usually takes musicians a while to get the hang of. It's an abstraction to be sure. Melodies, particulary bebop lines, often center around starting on the 3rd of a given chord and resolving on the down beat with the 3rd of the next chord.
Next up, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series will discuss how to develop a sense for two handed or two-voiced counterpart.