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I can't think of anything more difficult to execute properly than playing solo in front of a discerning ears. Here you sit musically naked; stripped of sidemen , ready to rock the world except you face one enormous problem; you've never done this before. Now you're talking about high art. All those rehearsals and gigs where you hid comfortably playing a basic rhythm pattern or specific part can't rescue you this moment. Let me shed some light on a rather tenuous situation.

On occasion students approach me hoping to unravel a number of misconceptions concerning performance. Most have to do with perception rather than reality , especially if you sing to your own erratic beat. Did I say beat?
Let's call it pulse, rhythm or whatever will get you to play with consistent
meter to the music. In the early stages, everyone has a tendency to ride the pulse according to the emotional temperature of the song being performed. That is, as emotion increases , the heart accommodates the soul and paces itself accordingly.
This is a common mistake. Once you establish time, the rhythmic pulse should rise and fall with quiet precision. In order to erect a foundation to your performance piece and keep the beat constant , bass lines must be designed to shape the music. I learned the art of playing bass lines by practising organ or synthesiser with a drummer. I'd walk lines like a jazz bassist, then cop a few James Brown figures, working my left hand until it kept a steady groove.

There exist a number of bass books with terrific walking lines you should review and assimilate structurally. The best place to start is with a basic twelve bar blues.

Take a key like C , begin playing a logical succession of notes extending the length of the scale. If you have a drum machine or a live body, try playing for three to five minutes without dropping a beat. Work our patterns which can help navigate from one chord to the next without disrupting the flow of music. I suggest picking up recordings from groups like Stevie Ray Vaughn,
James Cotton or Roomful Of Blues , memorise a series of bass lines and
try them with a rhythm source. Listen carefully as the bassist moves from chord to chord . Focus on the subtle use of passing tones making each transition a seamless affair. Part two: place your accompanying chords between the bass lines and melody. If you're singing, fill in harmonically in the mid section of the keyboard. Try to stay away from the upper regions of the instrument unless there's a specific colour added for arrangement sake. Keep things simple. Remember you're orchestrating at all times. One moment your a string section, another brass or rhythm section. Use a fake book. Pull a song with great personal appeal. Write the chords and melody separate sheet of piano score manuscript paper. The write a bass line with half notes and quarter notes. Add simple chord voicings correctly tailored to fit beneath the melody. Pick a slow tempo and try to balance the three. Play just melody and bass. Play harmony and bass. Play a bit of melody with harmony added. However you pace yourself, please take it slow. Do an enormous amount of listening.

Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Teddy Wilson, Marian McPartland, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Dick Hyman, and the incredible series of solo pianists heard Live at Maybeck on Concord, should give a wealth of ideas and inspiration.

Written by : Bill King


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