I was reading how the Baroque period made bass lines as the basis for their improvisation.

This is in contrast with today's chord progressions that are the basis of jazz improvisation.

I'm wondering if I'm trying to achieve more of a classical sound should I work on bass line improvisations? The sound that I'm looking to achieve is something like this.

In what situations would chord progressions as a basis for improvisation be better than a bass line and vice versa?

  • Listen to a lot of Bach (JS). He would have been the best electric bass player in his day! – Tim Oct 31 '18 at 17:32

If you aren't aware, the link you gave is a re-imagining of a prelude by Bach. If that's the style you're going after, then go right to the source: to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach himself!

Thinking historically, composers like Bach thought much more in terms of counterpoint than in "chord progressions." Especially regarding Bach's music, this can often lead to some pretty gnarly dissonances—dissonances that young musicians often can't understand until they begin playing the music at tempo.

One exercise you might consider is to play with different chords above a given pedal. For instance, with C in the bass, try to create 3 or 4 chords that fit with that C in the bass. You'll want to vary how often you change the bass pitch (sometimes after just one measure, other times after three or four), but this would be a good exercise in mimicking part of this style.

Returning to the Bach piece I linked, we call this a "figuration prelude," because it uses a particular figuration—a motive, if you will—and plays it throughout the piece, but always slightly adapted to fit into the current harmony. Try creating your own figuration and playing it within the harmonic framework you devise.

  • I was reading how figuration preludes are often chord progressions. I thought Bach started with a bass line. So you'd have a single bass line, then you'd add soprano, tenor, on top etc. – foreyez Oct 31 '18 at 20:31
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    I think Canon in D is a good example that uses a repeating bass line (basso continuo) – foreyez Nov 1 '18 at 1:46
  • @foreyez I hate Canon in D. I love that you used it as an example. +1! – user45266 Nov 1 '18 at 5:45
  • @foreyez But "basso continuo" actually means something different, more like a figured bass, than a "continuous bassline." The term you're looking for to mean "repeating bassline" would be "ground bass." – Richard Nov 1 '18 at 9:51
  • basso continuo literally means 'continuous bass' – foreyez Nov 1 '18 at 10:10

A bass line plus figured bass was indeed the Baroque equivalent of chord symbols. But there would also have been notated melody lines. The figured bass instructed a keyboard (or maybe lute) player how to 'comp' an accompaniment. There was a degree of improvisation by the melody players/singers, but mostly confined to embellishing and decorating the written material. Not free improvisation 'over the chords'.

  • but what are the benefits to improvising over a bass line? (versus over chords). does the song come out more melodic if you improvise over a bass line? – foreyez Nov 1 '18 at 1:47
  • Not necessarily a song. Figured bass was used in instrumental music. The point is you DIDN'T improvise the melody (other than maybe decorating it 'on the repeat'), it was written. The bass line was also written, and played by a cello or other bass instrument. The figures told the keyboardist what the chords were so he could busk an accompaniment. – Laurence Payne Nov 1 '18 at 11:17
  • from my understanding Bach would improvise all his songs including the melody and the way he did it was by starting out with a bass line. See my question about the Partimento technique. – foreyez Nov 2 '18 at 18:41
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    Bach didn't generally write 'songs'. – Laurence Payne Nov 2 '18 at 21:15
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    Also lots of vocal music. But not often 'songs'. Schubert wrote songs. The word means something. Maybe not to to a musically illiterate strummer. But certainly to someone interested in Bach's compositional processes. – Laurence Payne Nov 3 '18 at 2:16

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