Ordinarily I would skip a book on scales because that’s not the way that I think about or teach music. But Chad Johnson is one of my favourite authors of instructional books so I figured Bassist’s Guide to Scales Over Chords was worth a look, and it really is.
In all fairness, I realize that a lot of teachers teach scales and modes, including some top schools, so this will help students who learned that way or are struggling with it right now. The topics are clearly laid out with great examples that both explain the concept and get the notes under your fingers. Also, whether you consider them scales, modes, or just “the notes in the key” the information is what you need to absorb well enough to just play the right notes at the right time.
What is outstanding about this book is the treatment of modes. Unlike most books that teach “modes” as just major scales starting on notes other than the tonic, Chad Johnson shows how the harmonies as well as the notes differ in the modes, and how these have been used to give a fresh sound to familiar chords and progressions. Many bassists (and guitarists in the sister book for guitarists) may be surprised to find that they have played in modes often without realizing it.
Let’s take a concrete example, the progression C-Bb-F-C. A purely scale-oriented player might think of it as V-IV-I-V in the key of F. It could be, but then you have a problem with ending on the V chord and having it sound so final. Much more often this is a modal progression (in the Mixolydian mode on C) and so C is the tonic, which makes it a strong ending chord. It sounds modal because the Mixolydian mode has a lowered 7th note — in C Mixolydian that’s Bb — and thus there is no leading tone. That one note changes the tensions inherent in the whole mode since the tritone no longer leads to the tonic (and instead of being stressed usually needs to avoided).
I particularly recommend this book for anyone interested in exploring true modal playing and composing. It presents many progressions that give a true feel for different modes. This is a different way of thinking from, say, playing a “Mixolydian mode” over C7 in the key of F, and then reverting to “normal” F. By working with the mode, you create the entire song, melody and harmony, in a modal framework.