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Piano, Guitar & Bass

Piano/Guitar

Piano and guitar parts are often very basic in big band writing and are just to supply a rhythmic backing (comping). As you would expect much of the interpretation is left up to the performer. In this case the parts may just consist of chord symbols which the player will interpret to fit the style.

Ex1: Basic chord symbol part for guitar or piano

Ex1: Basic chord symbol part for guitar or piano

Symbols can be written above or below the staff, as long it is obvious which staff they belong to.

If specific melody lines are required on a piano or guitar part, they can be combined with the chord symbol part. Any parts that are unison with other instruments should have the same accent markings.

Ex 2: Combination of chord symbol and melody part.

Ex 2: Combination of chord symbol and melody part.

With big band arranging it would be more common to give piano or guitar a melody part if they were featured in a small combo section of the arrangement, rather than playing a unison with a brass section.

It is not usually required to write out exact chord voicings for piano or guitar, but in some cases it may be worth writing the top note of a chord, especially if specific guide tones are useful to the part. In this case it is a good idea to use a different note head style:

Ex 3: Diamond note heads show the top note of the chord.

Ex 3: Diamond note heads show the top note of the chord.

If a specific rhythm is required, slash type note heads can be used

Ex 4: Slash type note heads show rhythm of chords.

Ex 4: Slash type note heads show rhythm of chords.

If an arrangement includes a written bass line, the piano part should include this, not so that the pianist can play the line in unison but so that they can see what the bass player will be playing so that they can voice their chords accordingly. Likewise any other instrument or section part can be given as a cue, so that the pianist can construct an accompanying part.

Ex 5: Bass part and sax cues.

Ex 5: Bass part and sax cues.

 

Walking Bass Lines

The walking bass line is usually made up of arpeggios and scale passages. The main object is to state every beat, so the line is predominantly crotchets, but can include quavers and triplets.

This table shows some basic rules of the walking bass. (Chord tones = Root, 3rd, 5th, 6th or 7th)

Beat

One chord per bar

Two chords per bar

1 Usually a root (but can be another chord tone if chord is a repetition of the previous bar) Root
2 Chord tone or passing note Chord tone or passing note
3 Chord tone or passing note Root
4 1. Chord tone (especially a leading note)
2. Passing note
3. Semitone up or down into chord tone of next chord
Chord tone or passing note

Passing notes can be used between chord tones either on the same chord or between chord changes, often as leading notes or approach tones (these are notes that approach a chord tone chromatically from above)

Walking Bass

Walking Bass

 

Repeated notes are sometimes used (see below), but are not recommended across a chord change or from a strong to a weak beat.

Repeated Notes

Repeated Notes

 

Chords are nearly always in root position, although inversions are required in certain sequences, eg I Got Rhythm. Where chords are changing every beat use roots.

Inversions

Inversions

  • Quaver and triplet notes can be used at times for variety.
  • Large interval leaps are useful occasionally and are usually followed by a scale passage moving in the opposite direction.

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