Falling in love with Locrian

Locrian mode is the one most people tend to avoid. The mad one. The psycho. Everyone knows it under different pejorative names but the thing is — almost all theory teachers bash it and label it as “dissonant” or “not too widely used”. Well, maybe the fact that it’s not that widely used is the direct consequence of its ostracism in pop culture (I ain’t talking about jazz here!).

I used to avoid it as well and kept postponing its studies using all kinds of excuses. And then one day— Want to hear a secret? Locrian is, in fact, the most beautiful and sexy and extra tight / please don’t go there / just say the best / of all major modes — and in order to realise this, you only need to get over its diminished first degree! Once you fall from  right into the arms of bII∆7, you’re in love with it forever.

To make this realisation as simple as possible — and also to discover the hidden beauty of this freaky scale, I applied my dissection approach to it and here’s — I’m getting to the point — here’s the exercise I’d ended up with!

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Yes, I used C# key intentionally — mostly because it’s just fun to get out of C basecamp sometimes, no? 🤔

So, left hand here plays the simple 7th arpeggios of the harmonised C# Locrian scale: C#ø7 — D∆7 — Em7 — etc., and is then joined by the right hand that goes up the same scale in groups of 3 notes, with each group starting on the last note of the previous group. Like so: C# — D — E, E — F# — G, G — A — B, etc.

The scale runs blend with moving arpeggios, creating an intricate, very rich and surprisingly harmonious and — yes — pleasant landscape. I was really blown away by it!

Another thing to do here — and that may also add some challenge for the right hand — is to add diatonic jumps (while going up) and broken major 6ths (when going down).

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I highly recommend playing the whole thing one octave higher, so you could truly appreciate the sound of it. Of course, you can take it to all the other keys or use it over chord progressions or ye olde II — V — Is and so on.

I’ll share some practice ideas for Mixolydian mode and touch upon melodic minor topic in the next posts. Harmonise till it hurts—

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Bass player’s introduction to noise music

Just recently I have released a new piece that was initially written for the electric bass, but then somehow segued into the whole new world of noise music that I’ve been circling around for a long time.

First of all, here’s the score:

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You can also take a listen to it here:

And / or watch a music video for it:

Finding passing sounds for your music is almost like scoring a moving image — only on a different level. Just like certain harmonies and modalities fit certain characters and scenes in a movie, there are very specific types of sounds that are appropriate for specific melodic figures and progressions. And if you find them, and process them, and strip them of the unnecessary parts, and put them exactly where they belong in your theme — you may end up with a whole new understory that complements the piece and adds a new dimension to it.

And after you’re done with this part, you can go ahead and add a visual, effectively leaving the three-dimensional world.

I’m definitely going to explore this realm further and keep you posted about it! 🤙🏻

Finger independence routine as a composition tool

Hand independence is one of those technical things that I unconsciously put off for as long as I can, trying to justify it by telling myself that it’s not as important and that I’d be better off focusing on theory or learning pieces, plus it’s just plain boring and frustrating, so why start it anyway. And it’s all right until I sit down to record another piece and realise that I need 20 exhausting takes to lay down a fairly simple part because I just can’t reconcile left hand bass pattern with the melody that my right hand plays. Furthermore, because of the lack of focused work on independence, my fingers tend to avoid complex patterns and I often end up with similarly sounding, repeating melodic landscapes. So yeah, dedicated hand independence workout is important because it improves composition.

But instead of reaching for a Czerny book and embarking on a 10-year nightmare of finger exercises, I decided to make use of some jazz voicings and — as always — come up with a routine that would be fun and musical. So I could actually compose stuff in the process.

Here’s what I started with:

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As you can see, the right hand simply plays notes from the shell voicing of a major 7th chord (7-3-5 in this case), while the left hand walks up and down the major 7th arpeggio (in full 1-3-5-7 form). Just breaking a shell chord voicing into individual tones already creates a pleasant sounding line! What is the obvious next step to sex it up?

Yes:

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Add broken 10ths in the left hand. Alternating 10-5-1-5-10 pattern and walking ∆7 arpeggios with LH against the same line with RH already sounds super jazzy and very rich. Just in case — I’m going around the cycle of 4ths here (C∆ → F∆ → etc.) and playing corresponding 7-3-5 shells with my right hand.

Next step — try a more sophisticated intervallic pattern. I love 6ths, James Jameson loves 6ths, why not take them?

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First, isolate them and practice over descending and ascending arpeggio to let the right hand get used to the new pattern, and then — combine all left hand and right hand lines in one workout:

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Here C∆ 7-3-5 figure is played over broken 10ths, and then in the next bar, the 6-5-3-7 pattern in F major is played over F∆ arpeggio. Obviously, you can continue on and go around the cycle of 4ths / circle of 5ths or a modal II—V—I.

Finally, here’s an example of a real world application of the all aforementioned techniques. I took the first couple of bars of Always on My Mind by Brenda Lee (D | A | B- | D) and just improvised on them playing mostly 1-5-10, 1-5-1′ pattern with the left hand and different intervallic patterns with the right (mostly focusing on melodically played 7-3-5 shell). Check it out, I’m using colours now! Does it make notes on the staff look less (more?) annoying? 🤓

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And here’s what it sounds like:

Hope you find it helpful! Till later—

Practice session: Locrian dissection and more

Scale studies

  • Locrian dissection (C, B—C#) — sheet music soon 🤖

Improv

  • Always on my mind
    • Shells
    • 10ths
    • Free improv

Observations

When playing from the chord chart, there is always a temptation to look on it even after you already know the progression by heart. It could be helpful to try and memorise the chords in the process of improvising to be able to look away from the chart and concentrate on introducing new left hand patterns and right hand runs.

Reversed stride bass in the context of satisfaction

Okay, first post after a two-week vacation! The best advice I could give to my two-week-younger self? Don’t ever take a goddam break from posting! I should’ve known this trap already, and yet I fell into it just like that. Anyway, on the plus side, I have tons of new sheet music and practice routine ideas waiting in the pipeline now, so expect high activity in the nearest future 👌🏻

Alright, today I wanted to talk about another left hand pattern that is worth exploring after you’ve mastered the broken 10ths and the excitement of mixing them with other diatonic intervallic patterns has started to wane. Reversed stride bass! I found it in the wonderful book Jazz Piano: The Left Hand by Roberto Scivales (which I highly recommend to everyone), got blown away by it and then amended it in order to use it in my own routine.

Reversed stride bass is — well, stride bass played backwards 🤓 Instead of hitting the root in the low register and then following up with a block triad or shell octave or two above, you do the exact opposite. Here’s the exercise that I used to practice this movement:

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The right hand here plays rootless voicings with minimal movement voice-leading pattern (7-3-5 → 3-7-9) around the cycle of 4ths. The left hand plays chord shells one octave lower and roots two octaves lower. You may also add root — 5th — root octave up movement to complement the rhythmic figure, but it’s more of an ornament.

You can absolutely play block chords in place of shells with the left hand, but, to my taste, doubling roots just sound too muddy. As always, after cycling that thing, take it to your favourite modal progressions & songs.

Reverse stride may sound a bit weird on its own, so, in order to add some FAT and intensity, you can actually combine it with broken 10ths (1-5-10) and block triads! It might be a bit tricky to get used to, but super fun to practice. Check this out:

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Same routine (cycling → modal DNAs → songs).

Just for the hell of it, here’s the (slightly oddly voiced) ii—V—I—IV improv that makes extensive use of the above pattern:

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I’m definitely not done practicing it yet, so it most likely is going to be one of my priorities in the next sessions. There aren’t too many things as satisfying as hitting the low A after a rather watery sounding 7th chord shell played over another shell, both of which are trying their best to avoid the root 😄 Till later—