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On Soloing: Think Pocket, Melody, Theme, Interplay and Form

Q: During a recent performance with my bad, I was given a spot to solo in a fast, up-tempo (120 bpm) funk tune. I basically have as much time as I need to “do my thing” with only the drummer accompanying me. My question: during my solo spot, should I stay in the pocket (the song’s in E) and just keep a grooving pocket solo or should I play with a moving progression? Which way would have the most impact? The song’s fast tempo keeps me from playing a 16th note groove (which is what the band and I want), so I play a slap/funk-type solo, because I can keep up with the tempo that way. Any thoughts or suggestions?

A: There are a hundred ways you could go, and I would encourage you to play to your strengths in every way possible.

The answer is simple: if you’re going for what would be most effective, the answer to that is almost exclusively that a fat groove will always go over better with the crowd than an upper register noodle-fest.

There’s no reason why you can’t straddle the line a bit, though. I would keep two things in your mind:

When grooving, groove hard and keep that pocket locked up!

When playing up high, keep it melodic and have a conversation with yourself (and the drummer). Don’t just give up every lick you know. Really try and play as if you were a vocalist or horn player (a little reverb or an effect of some kind can go a long way here, too).

Try and think of the overall arc of the solo spotlight. Start off grooving, build, lead up into some melodic content with few impressive fills tossed in (or not).

If the tempo is too fast and you don’t think you can pull stuff certain things, there’s no harm in playing it safe and end with some kind of crescendo.

There’s also nothing wrong with outlining some ideas for yourself beforehand. A lot of great soloists (Jaco included) had a somewhat predetermined orchestration in mind for solo spotlights they knew were coming. Don’t overthink it or try to come up with an exact solo. A framework for the solo spot will serve you better. Leave some of it for “the moment” and continue to be spontaneous, but pre-considering what groove you might start out with, or how you will end the solo, for example, can really help to tie it all together for yourself when you’re in the moment.

Generally said, if you’re going for effective and general crowd reaction (not just musician reactions) than think pocket, melody, theme, interplay and form.

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