Lesson With Chris Bates

A fellow Minneapolitan, I’ve been able to follow Chris Bates’ career ever since he was in Middle School. His track record as a Swiss Army knife of jazz bass and effective teacher doesn’t negate his intense work on some amazing original projects. Check him out here: http://www.chrisbatesmusic.net/

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I wanted to start with the basics, so Chris began by talking about how much classical pedagogy he works into his jazz teaching. He specifically mentioned the “Vitamins” section of Orin O’Brien’s book (O’Brien, 16-19) for warmup and technique.

His approach to teaching jazz starts with The Blues or Rhythm Changes (“Those are the two staples”) and he does this in conjunction with Rufus Reid’s chapter on building bass lines –  “the one that starts in two… roots only, roots and fifths, roots and thirds.” “That’s my gut-level start.” (Reid, 67-71). Chord theory starts right away, with an emphasis on “recognizing 1, 3, 5, 7 in whatever chord they’re using.” Chris is cognizant of learning styles: “Kids who play by ear get the number thing way faster than the kid who’s a reader.” He will have his students play the chords for him on the piano, too.

Right Hand Development

One of his teachers, Anthony Cox (stay tuned for more from him), had studied with Dave Holland, who uses etudes from the Fred Zimmerman bowing book for pizzicato study. Chris gave me a handout he had made (Ex. 1) that beautifully distills this idea. Out came

batesstringcrossings

You can download this here: batesstringcrossings

the metronome. He starts very slow – about eighth-note = 60 (“or 50, or 40, depending on how zen you want to be about it”)” because here you are really going for sustain and the similarity of attack between the two digits, because you’re naturally going to favor one or the other, right?” Going below 60 is very useful because it calms the mind and gives you a chance to listen. “That is a concept: getting them to quiet their mind… The whole idea is to sustain until the next click. So, sometimes I use metaphors like, ‘that prep thing is like your hand on a basketball, and when the basketball hits the floor, that’s the note.”

Then he doubles the speed; quarter = 60. Then half-note = 60. Then back to quarter = 60, then he repeats the whole sequence. He told me this exercise is all about sound, connection between the notes, and synching with the metronome. There is preparation that has to happen in the right hand “because you want the attack, the sounding of the note, to be on the click.” “This is my warm-up, almost daily, like 10 minutes. And a lot of times it’s just open strings.” He stresses playing on all strings “because you’ve got different diameters; this feels different on the E string.”  When Chris demonstrates this, he used a lot of anticipation getting to the next string. He practices starting on both the first and second fingers.

When asked about sound, Chris says he tries to use as much of the flesh past the last knuckle as possible. “Not Ray Brown-style, which is the whole side of the finger.” When using two fingers, he teaches angling the hand away from perpendicular “so it’s not so finger-tippy.” He involves a lot of his right arm when he plays, even if the motion isn’t big. He’s adamant about not playing too far from the bridge.

“Target Practice”

A lot of teachers use variations of the concept of approach tones for building lines. Chris Bates’ “Target Practice” method is one of the most cogent I’ve seen (See Ex. 2):

chrisbatestargetpracticeexample

You can download this here: chrisbatestargetpracticeexample

  • On a sheet of blank staff paper, map out the bar lines and chord changes.
  • Write chord tones at each change (the “targets”).
  • Write approach notes before each target note. Start by teaching chord tones and diatonic steps, introduce chromatic half-step approaches later.
  • Fill in the remaining quarter notes, using chord tones. Later, start adding scalar passages, being aware of the “avoid” note (i.e. scale degree 4 in major seventh and dominant chords). If you do a lot of scales, counter that with strings of chord tones. This leads to talk about the contour of the line: up, down, smooth, angular.

Basically he gives the students downbeats and has the students fill in the rest as homework. “Line building is more important than soloing.” He ties this in with the corresponding pages in Reid (66-99). If a student seems to be happy a line they’ve constructed Chris will say, “you like that one, so that’s yours now.” (ex. 1, 5. b7, 1) “Inspire them to own it.” He teaches soloing as an extension of the same “target practice” approach, only now with eighth notes.

Other Ideas

Singing: he will have students sing, especially for intonation.

Chris likes to relate everything to string crossings – keeping articulation even and clean.

We talked about how arpeggios are more important than scales.

He has them play scales up the D string to introduce alternative fingering possibilities.

Chris also likes to challenge students to explore note-shapes, e.g. Ron Carter’s idea of being able to play changes in one position, no shifts. E.g. play a chorus of the blues in half-position only.

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Works Cited:

Orin O’Brien, Double Bass Notebook, Carl Fischer, 2016. Print.

Rufus Reid, The Evolving Bassist, Alfred, 2000. Print.

Fred Zimmerman, A Contemporary Concept of Bowing Technique for the Double BassHal Leonard, 1999. Print.

 

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