Cello Lesson III

HARMONY (cont.)

Assignment 1:

Bass Line: Still using Blues for Alice play a pizz bass line in time. For now, always play the root on beat 1 of each bar and in the case of bars where there are two chord changes per bar, play the root on beats 1 and 3. Mix scale and arpeggio motion (bow down, don't peck at the string, pull a full sound, use the meat of your index and middle fingers. Watch a jazz bass player to get a sense of what this is about.) This is an example but you should create your own. Play along with a recording  and alternate playing your bass line and then listening to what the bass player does.

Assignment 2:

Play and Sing: Play the roots of the chords and sing the third. Start out of time. Go slowly and stay calm (don't learn tension), move smoothly from one change to the next. As you get better, use a slow tempo and finally, play and sing up to tempo. For the future you can try and sing the 5 (or the b5 depending on the chord) and the 7th as well. Only move on after you have a very comfortable feeling with the third. 

Practice Technique

If you find yourself getting frustrated and anxious, not happy with your progress or making the same mistakes SLOW DOWN. You will learn well what you practice. If you practice anxious tension you'll bring that to performing. Practice slow enough to keep the frustration level down--at a manageable level (Challenge yourself but monitor how anxious or frustrated you become.) I use the metronome to restore some order to a frustrating practice session. A slow tempo and deep breathing are a good combination.

Answer to Question #1 from Lesson II:
Like a singer, horn players use their breath and their mouth to shape the sound of their playing. Our tools for this lie mainly in the bow arm--a far inferior tool, but all we have. The ability to vary the sound with the demands of the music is necessary. Experiment with theBlues for Alice head. Use different contact points, volumes, bow speeds to generate different emotions.

Developing material from the melody:

When you approach a tune or piece it's helpful to really know the tune. One way to do this is to learn parts of the melody (or the whole thing!) you like in different keys. The process of doing this will develope your ears and your ability to translate what you hear in your head to the cello.

Check Music Below -- the numbers correspond

  1. Look at the first bar of Blues for Alice. Label the scale degrees of each note as it relates to F major. Check you answer here. Now you know how each of the notes of this first bar relates to the key of 'F' An improviser needs to be flexible and have the ability to move from different key areas with ease. One way to develope this is to practice phrases or 'licks' in all the keys. This is a simple little phrase, let's start with this.

  2. Learn this opening bar in all twelve keys. e.g.

  3. Using a metronome test your knowledge of the phrase. Try following the cycle of fifthes from 'F'. The first few moves through the cycle are listed here and each note is labelled (these are not fingerings.)

  4. Try a chromatic progression from F (F-Gb-G-Ab-A-etc.)

  5. Try major thirds from F (F-A-Db-E-Ab-C-Eb-G-B-etc..) Notice how you have to jump a minor third every three chords to allow for a complete journey through the keys.

  6. Now vary the rhythm of this little opening phrase and continue to move through the different keys.

Assignment #3:

Find one phrase from Blues for Alice you particularly like and put it through 12 keys as above. The phrase could be one bar or could be longer...


Real Book, get some kind of Fake Book. Jamey Aebersold: some people find these to be very helpful. The ii V7 volume is dry but helpful. The "Bird" volume is performed by a great rhythm section. David Baker: I think volume 3 of the "Learning to Play Bebop" series is good. Some great ideas on how to memorize tunes, changes and ways of practicing tunes (ideas I've used here).


Translating music you love to listen to, to the cello is a great exercise, whatever the music. Take phrases, "licks" or entire solos from artists you love listening to and learn them on the cello. Then try to learn the phrase in other keys--even all 12 keys. This will develope your ears and your facility.