In this article, we'll talk about the accompaniment style called bass in 2. After I explain what it is, I'll show you where you can use it, and finally how it will bring vitality to your piano playing.
Before we get started, I wanted to share a surprising fact with you: Of all the students I have taught over many years, only TWO of them were able to truly understand bass in 2 from another musical experience. That musical experience was ballroom dancing. If this genre is unfamiliar to you, check out the movie Shall We Dance with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez or the TV show Dancing with the Stars.
Playing for Dancers at the Embassy Club in Dobbs Ferry, NY
As I've mentioned on a few occasions, my professional performing career began when I was in high school. I was a member of a quartet that played standards from the Great American Songbook for adults (we thought they were old, but they were only in their 40s & 50s). These folks LOVED to dance. One of the most important things I had to learn was how to segue between songs including modulating to other keys. I talked about these musical techniques in my blog article How to Make a Medley of Songs on the Piano. Although we called these groups of songs "sets" and modern folks call them "mash-ups", they are really "medleys" (NOT melodies).
What is the Connection between the Bass in 2 and the Fox Trot?
Now that you have a basic understanding of what ballroom dancing is, and what medleys are, it's time to identify the ONE type of dance step that relates to the bass in 2. This type of step is one of the important of all the ballroom dances, since it's so commonly used by couples This dance is called the Fox Trot.
Growing up, I listened to a lot of recordings by jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. More than a few of his selections started with a rubato introduction followed by a statement of the melody in which his bassist extraordinaire, Ray Brown masterfully played his bass in 2 accompaniment to the piano. So between my performing and my listening, young as I was, I immediately was able to make the connection between the Fox Trot and the Bass in 2. Little did I know back then, that I would still be teaching my piano students all about this more than 50 years later.
How Two of My Adult Students Surprised Me When I Mentioned the Fox Trot
As you might have expected, year in and year out, I have continued to teach me students about the bass in 2 using the combination of Ray Brown's bass playing and the Fox Trot. This often takes a bit of time, but my students eventually "get it". However, it is often a bit foreign to them, because BOTH of my examples come from older musical genres. So you can imagine my surprise when one of my long-time adult students (now in his 70s) told me about his ballroom dancing experience. When I mentioned the Fox Trot, it instantly gave him an understanding of what I meant by the bass in 2 accompaniment. This student is not only well versed in Ballroom dancing, but knows many many standards that I remember my mother sang, so his connection with the fox trot made perfect sense.
A few years later, I brought up bass in 2 to another student and casually mentioned the fox trot. This time, I was caught completely by surprise. He, being younger that my other student (and me too), told me that he met his wife when he started taking ballroom dancing lessons. So his instant understanding of how to play bass in 2 was a true joy to behold.
What Is the Bass in 2 Accompaniment and How Does It Work?
The simplest way to explain it starts with 2 half notes in a measure. Whereas walking bass uses 4 quarter notes in a measure. If the bass was composed of 2 half notes alone, it would be rather dull. So the key to creating a successful bass in 2 accompaniment, is playing a dotted quarter note (root of the chord) followed by an 8th note followed by a dotted quarter note (root or 5th of the chord) followed by another 8th note. If you look at my arrangement of Let's Fall in Love you'll see the how straight forward the rhythm is. Over time, you can add more passing notes and play with syncopation a bit and really make your bass in 2 energize your left hand accompaniment playing.
Taking a Different Approach-Using Bass in 2 & Walking Bass with
the Duke Ellington Classic Satin Doll
One of the best examples of playing the "bass in two" accompaniment is with the standard Satin Doll. This video comes from my recent performance at Heritage Village's monthly Musicale directed, organized and narrated by a wonderful and extremely versatile vocalist named Helen Falcone. This video was filmed by Ed Edelson who runs Focus Video Productions. Thank you to Helen and Ed for help in making this video possible.
Diana Mascari Plays Her Arrangement of Satin Doll
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Diana Mascari has taught piano to hundreds of adults and children for more than 40 years. She holds two Masters of Music degrees from New England Conservatory and taught keyboard harmony to music majors while pursuing doctoral studies at Boston University. Her work as music director for a multi-cultural Presbyterian Church has continued for four decades, and her jazz and classical compositions have been performed worldwide. Diana has been performing for more than 50 years. From solo jazz piano (her first love) to commercial groups touring the East Coast to leading her own jazz ensembles at many colleges and jazz clubs throughout New England. For questions or comments, please get in touch with me