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How Vibraphone Player Gary Burton Can Up Your Bass Solo Technique

gary burtonBefore you bounce off this post – here me out!

Yes – Gary Burton is a jazz vibraphone player and not a bass player in any way. And true there are lots of jazz bassists out there who are seasoned in the industry like any jazz musician. But I can think of none who can teach more about jazz improvisation than someone like Gary Burton. Moreover, I can’t name any jazz bassist right now that has their own Coursera course on the fundamentals of jazz improvising.

Still skeptical that a vibeist can’t teach you something about jazz improvisation?

A few fast facts about Mr. Burton that might help add some perspective and change your mind:

  • He’s been a bandleader on more than 50 albums and a sideman on over 15 additional albums, working with names.
  • Nominated for 15 Grammy Awards and received 7 of those awards.
  • Collaborated with a whose-who of jazz musicians including bassist Steve Swallow, guitarists Chet Atkins and Pat Metheney and singer K.D. Lang.
  • Been lauded as a pioneer of jazz vibraphone technique and expanding the musical options of the instrument outside of concert band arrangements.
  • Teacher at his Alma-mater, the Berklee College of Music, for almost 30 years before stepping down in 2004.

Burton and jazz are synonymous with one another and it’s only though the power of Internet education and MOOC classrooms that we now have the ability to take a class with Mr. Burton himself.

The Best Course on Jazz Improvisation You’ll Ever Take – I Promise

Coursera is offering a course taught by Gary Burton titled, Jazz Improvisation. The course is free to take 4 weeks long and covers topics including:

  • How to approach improvisation as a field of study. Rather than just simply throwing notes around over a 16 bar pattern, Burton explains how to speak the language of improvisation likening building a solo to communicating with someone using words, sentences and grammar.
  • Chord outlines, how to play through chords and the scales to consider when certain chords arise. This is a great breakdown of the musical modes and largely was the inspiration behind my own post about playing the musical modes on bass guitar.
  • An in-depth look at scales and how to use them.
  • The theory behind harmonic movement and the principles behind using harmony to create direction in your solos. After I took this class, this was the part that really made me think differently about my solos and how I craft them.
  • The importance of theme and variation in your solos. In this section, Burton discusses the importance of considering basing your theme off of a theme. Themes, he explains, don’t need to be terribly intricate or elaborate. They could be as simple as a particular interval used over and over again or a 3-note passage. The bigger idea, he explains, is to tie back to it whenever possible as a means of keeping the user connected to your solo.

Though Mr. Burton uses a vibraphone as his primary instrument to explain soloing and improvisation in jazz, seldom does he outright acknowledge that what he’s doing and what he’s explaining is exclusively for vibraphone. Mr. Burton explains that these concepts are universal to jazz and are not exclusive to one instrument or another.

Like jazz itself, it’s all about adapting your instrument to the concepts being introduced in your own way.

Check out the course here: Gary Burton’s Coursera Course: Jazz Improvisation

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