© 2001 James Walker
When performing unaccompanied, or in a duo setting, one does not have a rhythm section available to "keep the time" during the performance. There is no reason, however, that a vibraphonist cannot convey the sense of style and time when playing in a swing feel, using bass lines, interesting comping rhythms, and proper phrasing. What follows in this month's lesson are a series of audio examples demonstrating how a solo vibraphonist can convey a time feel without the benefit of a rhythm section.
Walking Bass lines
While a standard three-octave vibraphone has a limited "bass" range, it is possible to successfully walk a bass line. Note how beats two and four are slightly accented; this adds "backbeat momentum" to the bass line, increasing the sense of forward momentum:
(A future lesson at malletjazz.com will deal with the basics of constructing a walking bass line.)
Adding Right-hand Comping
The harmony and texture can then be filled out by adding the right hand to the equation. Here, guide tones are played with the right-hand mallets, in a very basic rhythm:
Using Mallet Dampening on the Walking Bass Line
In the previous example, determining the pedalling according to the sustain of the right-hand comping means that many of the bass line notes will ring together. This can be remedied by incorporating mallet dampening into the execution of the bass lines:
Varying the Right-hand Comping
While the walking bass line can communicate the swing feel on its own, a player can further enhance the feel of his playing by making the comping in his right hand more melodic. Note how, even with only the two mallets of the right hand, the melodic content of the comping is more interesting here:
Simplifying the Bass Line
As an option for creating variety, one needn't have the bass line change pitches on each beat. Here, common tones between the iimin7 and the V-7 chords of the progression allow for a pedal tone, greatly simplifying the bass line:
(NOTE: these examples stay within the predetermined harmony; it is recommended that one experiment with the idea of using more active harmonic movement over pedal tones, straying from the original harmony.)
Varying the Texture: Comping Without the Bass Line
One needn't play every single quarter note pulse to present the time feel. Here, the time feel is communicated solely via the comping rhythms, implying the time rather than stating it explicitly:
Varying the Texture "a la Freddie Green"
Freddie Green was for years the guitarist in the great Count Basie Orchestra, and he was renowned for his time and feel in comping simply with the quarter note pulse. This texture works very well on the vibraphone as well, and can be a welcome change of pace during the course of a solo or duo gig:
Exploring the techniques and textures presented here will not only benefit a player when working unaccompanied or without a rhythm section, but will also be valuable when performing with a full ensemble. For solo and duo contexts, however, it is vital that a player explores these sorts of musical concepts.
(This page and all the materials within copyright ©2001 James Walker, All Rights Reserved. No portion of this page may be duplicated or distributed without the author's written consent.)
(click the "lessons" icon to return to the index of lessons at malletjazz.com)