Enclosure Tone Exercises for Bassists

One way to give more interest to your improvisations is to add enclosure tones to otherwise simple note choices. Enclosure tones are two tones which “enclose” (i.e. one higher, one lower) another note. Generally, but not always, the note which gets “enclosed” is a chord tone.

For example, if we begin with the root of a C7 chord:

Enclosure Tone Exercises Root (C7 Chord)

…and precede the C with an D and a B:

Enclosure Tone Exercise: precede the C with an D and a B

…we have played an “enclosure” around the C.

In general, it sounds best for the lower note of the enclosure to be ½ step away from the target note, even if that means making it chromatic (i.e. not in the scale).

For example, if our target note is G (with C7 harmony) we would sharp the lower note F to make it an F#:

Enclosure Tone Exercise: Make it chromatic

If we wanted to add a bit of bebop flavor to our ideas, we would play double chromatic enclosure tones, i.e. both notes would be ½ step away from the target note. One, or both notes may actually be chromatic in relation to the scale, but both will be ½ away from the target note:

Enclosure Tone Exercise: add a bit of bebop flavor

To become comfortable with playing enclosures I suggest playing your daily arpeggios with enclosures around the target notes.

Complete Enclosure Tone Exercise

Expand this to include all your arpeggios (e.g. Augmented, etc.) and all possible roots. This will present you with new instrumental and mental challenges, as well as giving you a tool to use when improvising.

(If you’d like to save and print these exercises, download this PDF.)

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at www.donovanstokes.com and check out the Bass Coalition at www.basscoalition.com.

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  1. typo? “…we have played an ‘enclosure’ around the E” — supposed to be “…around the C” I’m guessing?

  2. enclosures are extremely useful in any style. I didn’t know what they were technically called for a long time but when I’m grooving or soloing they are all over the place in my playing. every bass player/any musician should be hip to using chromatic notes this way.

    • Yah I’m currently taking a jazz improv class at UMass Amherst and the first thing he had us do was use “enclosures” on guide tones for the blues, however both notes doing the “enclosing” were a half step above/below the chord tone. It helps so much if you apply this to guide tones; for jazz at least.

    • I use them for connective material over pretty much everything. If I’m grooving on a chord and then I want to move to another chord smoothly enclosures,pentatonic licks, and scale fragments are my go to tools with enclosures probably being the most utilized. If you want to get wacky with em try expanding them out to 2 from the bottom and two from the top or combinations of 3 and 1 or 2. There is so much material out there just in combing enclosures with chord tones and extensions.