MOVES to the rescue !

You would have thought that the bass guitar was one of the most logical and intuitive instruments around. It even beats the 6-string guitar because its tuning only uses fourths (=5 halfsteps), while the guitar slips in a stray major third (=4 halfsteps) between the G and B strings.

So you’d think you could almost learn it just by looking at it and thinking up jolly things to do. At the very least, the instrument promises to simplify life for the explorer impatient for musical adventure.

Now a friend has just shared this lesson for bass guitarists entitled Crackin’ the Slonimsky Code by one Joe Hubbard who claims to “demystify” two patterns from Nicolas Slonimsky’s famous Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, which we have already reviewed in a previous post.

He has thoughtfully produced a pdf transcription of the patterns here. You can also find them in Slonimsky, numbered 394 and 496, in the grandly named “Sesquitone Progression” section, under the headings of Ultrapolation and Inter-Ultrapolation respectively.

In his presentation, Joe valiantly spells out the names of each note and explains the chromatic interpolations (to use Slonimsky’s term), and their application to altered dominant seventh chords.

And yet.

And yet I am left thinking, however useful such a breakdown might be for a pianist or a saxophonist, who are known to gobble up notenames like peanuts, why complicate things for the bass guitar? I can think of several great bass players whose brains would begin to disconnect with Joe’s presentation.

Joe admits: “It sounds more confusing than it is.” To which I answer: Why does it have to?

In science, progress is measured by the elegance of new theories. So why is music theory the royal exception? All the bass guitarist needs to know to learn the patterns presented in this lesson is encapsulated in this handy MOVES halfstep notation:

Pattern 1: {-1 +4}

Pattern 2: {-1 +2 +2}

Pattern 1 comes back down by the default method of reversing the signs:{+1 -4}. By the same token Pattern 2’s descending form is {+1 -2 -2} in Slonimsky, though Joe has composed his own version: {+1 +1 -2 -2 +1 -2}.

Now you don’t have to be a maths genius to notice that the linksums (sum of the numbers inside the wiggly brackets) are all ±3; and when you keep stacking 3‘s you get the diminished 7th chord. But even this fancy name is unnecessary knowledge, and might even trap some into thinking you need to chain the pattern four times for it to be somehow complete.

Notice also that both the ascending and descending forms of Pattern 2 use all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, which in MOVES we call the (1) short scale. But because Joe has set his mind on illustrating the octotonic diminished scales (2 1) and (1 2), he is obliged to dub the extra 4 notes “chromatic approaches” and “double chromatics”.

I don’t take issue with his pedagogy. It is conventional, and has doubtless helped a lot of players. But one little detail prompted me to write this post. Why choose that title? Crackin’ the Slonimsky Code? What did he crack? I feel underwhelmed.

And so I just thought I’d show you a small example of how MOVES notation really cracks code.  That’s crackin’!

Follow me on Twitter @jazzpanflute

About jazzpanflute

jazz panpipe pioneer and designer
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