Learn a Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary 25

Learn a Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 9th October 2018

The best way to use “licks” in jazz is a subject that divides opinion amongst musicians. I’ve written a melodic jazz lick in the key of F major over a II-V-I chord progression. In this post I’ll explain the lick and also share some of my thoughts on the use of licks in jazz.

What is a Jazz Lick?

In this context, a jazz lick is a melodic phrase, like a musical sentence.  It’s a small fragment of melody that can comprise part of a longer jazz solo.

The debate amongst musicians tends to centre around whether or not it’s appropriate to use pre-learned licks as part of improvised jazz solos.  It’s something that a lot of musicians do, including really good musicians, and the argument in favour of using licks is as follows. By learning licks, you are effectively learning jazz vocabulary. And the more jazz vocabulary you learn, the greater your range will be as an improviser.

This is why I practice jazz licks or phrases. Sometimes I work out my own ones, as I’ve done in this video and at other times I play licks written by other musicians, as I have in this video.

Personally, I don’t like to use pre-prepared licks when I’m performing or playing with a band. Improvising is the thing I love to do most in music. And I like to not know for sure where the music will go. Sometimes the music can suffer as a result of this approach, and if you’re looking for more consistency in your soloing, then learning licks is a good place to start. But, I wouldn’t choose to sacrifice the process of improving by using pre-learned licks. I’ve tried it and I just don’t enjoy it. To me it feels like trying to introduce a pre prepared sentence into a conversation. It might be a great sentence, but there’s every chance it won’t make sense depending on where the conversation goes.

However, using licks is something that probably all improvisers do either consciously or unconsciously. We all fall into patterns of playing, often without realising it. I’m fairly certain that even musicians who are very against the idea of using licks, often unknowingly fall back on melodic phrases that they’ve played many times before.

Fretless Bass Jazz Lick

If you follow my Bass Practice Diary you’ll know that I like to play jazz melodies on fretless bass. So, when I do this kind of practice, I’ll always use my fretless. Having said that, the lick will also work on a fretted bass.

Jazz Lick Ex 1
II – V – I Jazz Lick for Bass Guitar

I’ve TAB’d it for 4 string bass so everyone can play it. I sold my 4 string fretless bass after I got the 6 string Warwick Thumb SC in the video. That’s the only reason that I’m playing a 6 string bass in the video.

The lick is meant to be played over a II – V – I chord progression in the key of F major. Gm7 – C7 – Fmaj7. The II – V – I chord progression is the most common chord sequence in jazz. I won’t go into the theory of it because there are so many articles in existence about II – V – I’s, like this one. I’ll just explain what I’m playing on each chord.

Inside and Outside Notes

I think the reason that jazz musicians love to play over II – V – I chord progressions is because the V chord affords a great opportunity to use outside notes. Whereas the II and the I chord tend to favour the use of inside notes. So, you can create a feeling of starting inside the harmony and then moving outside on the V before coming back in on the I. This is a very jazz approach. The feeling of taking the harmony out and then bringing it back in, immediately sounds like jazz. And it’s that sound that I’ve tried to demonstrate with my jazz lick.

If you want to learn more about inside and outside notes and how to use them then check out this video.

Here’s what I’ve played on the II chord Gm7.

Jazz Lick Ex 2
II chord Gm7

As you can see, all of the notes are in the key of F major, creating an inside sound. Which is fine because we’re about to step outside of the harmony on the V chord.

There are several chromatic alterations in this bar. Playing a b9 on beat one is a very strong statement that I’m taking the melody outside of the key signature. I love this kind of bold harmonic statement. The other chromatic alterations (outside notes) are the #9 and the b13. The final note of the bar is also an outside note, but in this case it’s functioning as a passing note rather than an altered chord extension. It’s simply a semi tone above G natural to take us to an A natural on beat one of the next bar.

How much outside harmony you choose to use is a matter of personal taste. I mentioned in the video that you could play a similar phrase on the V chord but with a natural 9th instead of the #9 and a natural 13th instead of the b13. It would go like this.

Jazz Lick Inside
Alternative Line on the V Chord

Finally, on the I chord, F major 7, the lick resolves itself onto the major 3rd A. Which is about the most inside sounding note you can use at this point.

As I’ve said, I’m not planning to use this lick again any time soon. For me, this is simply an exercise in expanding my jazz vocabulary so I can improvise lines in a similar way in future. But if you’d like to learn  it, and use it in future, I would consider it an honour that anyone chooses to play one of my lines. I hope this has been helpful!

Recording Bass Parts for Siemy Di – Bass Practice Diary 24

Making Bass Guitar Tracks for Master Drummer Siemy Di – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd October 2018

This week I’ve been hanging out with my good friend Siemy Di and working on recording some of his compositions. Siemy and I have worked together a lot, over a number of years. So, when he needed someone to record tracks for his upcoming appearance on the Drum Channel, he asked me to help out.

I met Siemy in 2005 at a concert at the Barbican in London by the African Jazz All Stars. We were introduced by the leader of the All Stars, a great musician called Lucky Ranku, who had been a teacher of mine when I was at Music College.

In the years since we’ve worked together a lot, and we’ve played on each others projects. Our careers have overlapped in a number of bands and we’ve even gigged together as a duo on a number of occasions.

Siemy Di

Siemy is a superb and original musician. The reason that he stands out is because he has a genuine commitment to creating original music. But he understands that in order to create something new you must understand the history of your instrument. Siemy is a student of both the drum kit and the South Indian percussion instrument called the mridangam. He is steeped in the history of both jazz drumming and carnatic classical music, and the influence of both traditions comes through strongly in his music.

There are not too many musicians these days that manage to be unique in the way they approach their instrument. But, Siemy has achieved this and he deserves to be considered a master drummer.

Odd Meters

Many of Siemy’s compositions are in odd meters, which is in part due to the influence of Indian classical music. I share his love for both Indian Classical Music and Odd Meters. You can find my video lesson about playing bass in odd meters here. And you can find a video that I made with the wonderful mridangam player Arun Maheswaran here.

Why I Play an Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 22

Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 18th September 2018

I wanted to put out a video where I talk about acoustic bass guitars. What are they for and how to use them? I’ve been playing acoustic bass guitars for more than half of my life and for a long time I struggled to figure out exactly how to get the best out of them. Finally after close to twenty years, I feel like I have a clear idea of how I like to play acoustic bass guitar. And more importantly, why I like use them.

Every Instrument Has it’s Own Identity… Right?

I feel that the acoustic bass guitar hasn’t yet fully found its own identity. Some people like to use it as a way of sounding more like an upright bass, I would never use it for that reason. Partly because I don’t think it sounds very much like an upright bass. But also because I have an upright bass. Conversely, some people play it like it’s an electric bass. But it isn’t either of those things. So, where’s it’s identity as an instrument?

We don’t even seem to have decided what are the best strings to use. Many acoustic basses are sold with bronze coloured strings like an acoustic guitar. But I’ve heard bass players and technicians tell me that they use electric bass strings on their acoustics because they think they work better.

It’s still a fairly young instrument. Its not like the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar. The acoustic guitar has existed much longer than the electric guitar and clearly has a very strong identity of it’s own. But the acoustic bass guitar doesn’t have the same extensive history.

I see people on the internet trying to do original things with acoustic bass guitars. Maybe we’ll look back in twenty or thirty years and we’ll clearly be able to see where the acoustic bass guitar was heading. But for now I see a lot of people trying things. Like the Andy McKee/Newton Faulkner acoustic guitar thing. Where you strike the body of the instrument with your hands to imitate drum and percussion sounds. Which sounds cool but I think it works better on acoustic guitars. Or I see people playing slap bass techniques, which I think work better on electric bass. It all sounds good but I’m not sure it’s where the identity of the instrument lies.

Why I Play Acoustic Bass Guitars?

Because I love having an acoustic instrument that I can express myself on. There’s so much I can do on my acoustic bass guitar that I can’t do on an upright bass. Especially relating to playing chords and arranging solos. You can arrange entire pieces on solo acoustic bass guitar. You can also sing with an acoustic bass guitar.

I would always choose to play mine either on my own or as part of a small group. A duo or probably maximum a trio. I wouldn’t choose to play it as part of a larger group. I just think that the subtleties  get lost. I think that if you’re playing in a larger group you’re probably better off playing electric basses or upright basses.

A big development for me was when I switched to playing a six string acoustic bass. I’ve been playing six string electric basses since I was a teenager. But, I only got this Warwick Alien Deluxe six string acoustic bass guitar about five years ago. I think it’s only in relatively recent years that six string acoustic bass guitars are being manufactured at an affordable price and are good enough quality to perform with.

The Warwick Alien acoustics really are magnificent instruments. They’re well balanced and playable and they don’t cost a fortune.

You can find out more about my Warwick Alien Deluxe here.

Who Else Plays Acoustic Bass Guitars?

One person who I’ve seem playing in a very original style on acoustic bass guitar is the jazz bassist and composer Steve Swallow.

You can check out a performance by his band here.

He started his career as an upright bassist and he switched to electric bass and then acoustic bass guitar. He has a very unique style and he seems to have found a unique use for an acoustic bass guitar. But whether his style will be taken on by others and turned into an identity for the instrument remains to be seen.

Bass and Drums – Playing a Bass Ostinato for a Drum Solo – Bass Practice Diary 21

Playing a Bass Ostinato for a Drum Solo – Bass Practice Diary – 11th September 2018

This week I visited my good friend Lewis Davies at his studio in South London. We spent the afternoon practising, just bass and drums. At the end I shot some videos to show what we were working on. One of the things we practised was playing a bass ostinato through a drum solo.

What’s an Ostinato

An ostinato is simply a repeating musical phrase, a bit like a riff. The purpose of playing an ostinato on the bass in this situation, is to hold down a groove while the drummer plays a solo.

The biggest problem with playing solos on either bass or drums, is that it breaks up the groove between the bass and drums. The purpose of the bass ostinato in this situation is for the bass player to take full responsibility for the groove so that the drummer can play a solo without it feeling as if the groove has been lost.

It’s a very high pressure situation for a bass player. The performance entirely depends on your timing and ability to keep the groove going against the potential distractions of a pyrotechnic drum solo. I remember as a young bass player being put in that situation on stage without having practised it. And I found it very uncomfortable. It’s very easy to rely too much on the drummer for the groove when you’re on stage.

Billy Cobham

A lot of drummers like to solo in this way. The composer and jazz musician Billy Cobham is just such a drummer. He writes and arranges his own compositions. So, he writes the kind of bass ostinatos that he wants to play over. I’ve always enjoyed playing Billy Cobham’s bass lines and in many of his arrangements it’s not only the bass player that plays the ostinatos.

The bass ostinato we play at the end of the video is from Billy Cobham’s classic composition Stratus which originally featured on his seminal jazz fusion album Spectrum.

Lewis Davies

Lewis is a good friend of mine and a multi talented man. He’s a music teacher, musician and he makes extremely high quality custom guitars. We met at music college when we were both in our late teens. And we’ve played, performed and practiced together a lot over the years.

Stay tuned for some more videos from our practice session in the next few weeks. And for now you can also check out this video we made together at a similar practice session a couple of years ago.

 

Playing Jazz on Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 20

In a Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington – Jazz Arranged for Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 4th September 2018

I love to play jazz on my basses at home when I get the chance. I usually make my own backing tracks and practice by playing along with them. In this video I’ve laid down the chords of Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood on my acoustic bass guitar and played over the chords on my fretless Warwick Thumb SC.

In a Sentimental Mood

In a Sentimental Mood is one of those great jazz tunes that’s both simple and beautiful. It has a very lyrical melody and some simple but effective chord changes. It was written by Duke Ellington in 1935 and originally performed by his orchestra. But the version that I’ve been listening to was recorded by Duke Ellington with John Coltrane in 1963. I also like Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal rendition of the song, where she sings the melody with just a guitar backing her. I’ve tried to get some of the flavour of both versions in my video. In a Sentimental Mood is also a staple standard of Sonny Rollins sets. He seems to play it a lot and he’s done some wonderful versions of it.

The Basses

The video features two of my favourite basses. The acoustic bass is an Alien Deluxe 6 string acoustic bass guitar. If you’d like to learn more about this bass you can check out my solo arrangement of the jazz standard Autumn Leaves. Or you can check out this demo that I made a few years ago when I first owned the bass.

The Warwick Thumb SC is not only the best fretless bass I’ve ever played, it’s the best bass I’ve ever played. If you’ve seen many of my other videos you’re probably quite familiar with this bass by now. But if you’d like more info, you can find it here.

 

Roland GR-55 and Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 17

Playing Bass through a Roland GR-55 Guitar Synth Pedal – Bass Practice Diary – 14th August 2018

I started using a Roland GR-55 about four years ago. Soon after getting it, I made a video of some of my original compositions arranged entirely on my bass. I used the GR-55 to create different voices. Remarkably, that video passed 20,000 views last week. You can watch it here. To mark the event I’ve decided to feature the GR-55 in my Bass Practice Diary for the first time.

I never imagined that my original video would be so popular. In fact I was slightly concerned about releasing it. Because I thought I might get some negativity from people who don’t like the idea of playing a bass through a guitar synth. In fact the reception that the video has received has been almost entirely positive.

Why I started using a Roland GR-55

I write and arrange music on my bass every week. I can play several instruments, but bass will always be my first instrument, just like English is my first language. So it’s far easier for me to compose with my bass than with a guitar or piano. The Roland GR-55 gives me the capability to use my bass like an electric keyboard. As a way of utilising MIDI. The advantage of this is that I can lay down entire tracks on my bass, either multi-tracking or looping without it sounding like an orchestra of bass guitars. And the GR-55 also gives me the potential to use the regular pickups on my bass at the same time or independently, so I have the best of all worlds. It’s like my bass has become a bass and an electric keyboard all rolled into one.

I get that many bass purists won’t like some of the synth sounds. But for me, as a way of presenting my music, the pro’s of the GR-55 vastly outweigh the cons.

Can You Plug a Bass Straight Into a Roland GR-55?

No, you need to install a Roland GK-3B pickup onto your bass before you can plug into a Roland GR-55. Because the GR-55 does not have a jack input. You need to use a 13-Pin MIDI cable which will connect with the GK-3B pickup. The pickup also has a jack input so you can plug your bass into the GK-3B and control both your normal bass pickups and the GK-3B MIDI pickup through the GR-55.

The GK-3B is relatively easy to install. I installed mine myself by following the instructions. You can install it with double sided sticky strips, so there’s no need to drill into your instrument unless you want to attach it permanently. You may have noticed that I’ve attached the GK-3B to a black bass. The pickup is black, so if you install it on a bass of any other colour, there’s a good chance it will spoil the appearance. You can attach the GK-3B to 4, 5 or 6 string basses. The same pickup works for all of them.

Suspended and Major Chord Voicings – Bass Practice Diary 15

Suspended and Major Chord Voicings – Bass Practice Diary – 31st July 2018

This week I’ve been looking for new and interesting chord voicings on my 6-string bass. Suspended chords tend to create a modern sound and I’ve demonstrated one particular voicing that I like and has proved to be quite versatile.

When I found this particular voicing I started moving it around to different positions and playing it over open strings, which created other chords, mostly major chords. What you see in the video is me improvising using this chord voicing.

It isn’t particularly structured practice, but that’s ok, because sometimes when you’re practising an impulse takes over and you just play for fun. That’s what’s happening in this video. And as soon as I’d shot the video, I pulled out my fretless Warwick Thumb SC to play a bit of melodic improvisation over the top.

If you’re interested in that kind of melodic improvising with fretless bass then check out these two recent posts. Use Fretless Bass to Play Jazz Solos and Melodies and Charlie Parker Tunes on Fretless Bass Guitar.

What Are Suspended Chords?

Suspended chords or sus chords are chords that omit a third in favour of using either the second or fourth or both. The absence of a third makes the chords neither major or minor. It’s the third that defines whether a chord is major or minor. And sus chords have a neutral sound as a result of not having a third. Listen to Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage for an example of the suspended chord sound being used in jazz.

The chord symbol for a C suspended chord can be written as Csus. I sometimes see it written as C11. I don’t like the 11 chord symbol because, although a 4th is the same as an 11th, the 11 chord symbol implies to me the presence of a third, dominant seventh and a ninth. So the sus symbol is more accurate.

Csus2 is C, D and G (root, 2nd, 5th), Csus4 is C, F and G (root, 4th, 5th). You can think of C7sus as Bb/C. The Bb, D and F from the Bb major triad function as the dominant 7th, 2nd and 4th and create a suspended sound when you play them over a C root note. You could also call the same chord C9sus because the 2nd and 9th are interchangeable in the same way that the 4th and 11th are.

The Opening Chord Sequence

Suspended and Major Chord Voicings Opening Sequence
Suspended and Major Chord Voicings Opening Sequence

The opening sequence in the video is played over an open A string until the final chord which is played over an open E. All of the voicings are built by playing an interval of a sixth between the D and G strings, and an interval of a second between the G and C strings. Try making your own chords using the same voicings. You can adapt them onto four and five string basses by playing over the open E string and voicing the chords on the A, D and G strings.

Due to the improvised nature of my performance in the video, many of these chords are no longer sus chords. Many of them are major chords. What started off as an exercise in finding suspended chord voicings became an improvisation using the same chord voicing against open strings.

The Chord Theory

The first chord in the opening sequence is a suspended chord, but the second has a major sound. It contains a C#. Which is the major 3rd of A. If you listen carefully in the video I don’t play the top note on the second chord. It would have been a D. I was improvising and I’ve no idea what I was thinking in the moment. But I may have thought that C# and D would clash, being a semi-tone apart. In hindsight I slightly regret this. Conventional jazz theory says don’t include a major 3rd and natural 11th in the same chord voicing. But I think it works in this context. So I’ve included the note in the TAB even though it’s not in the video.

The third chord creates a lydian sound with the sharp 11th D# and major 3rd C#. You can check out my video on lydian sounds by clicking here. The fourth chord creates a straightforward A major sound with an added 9th. And the final chord creates an E major/Esus sound. Again, I’ve included the major 3rd and natural 11th, which I think sounds cool. Even though the two notes clash if you play them simultaneously. Notice that I’ve finger picked each note individually to cut down on the impact of such clashes. The final note that I’ve included is tapped with my right hand index finger.

The Closing Sequence

The closing sequence simply uses the last two chords of the opening sequence and repeats them. I hope you have some fun with these chord voicings and you’re able to come up with some original chords.

 

 

6/8 Time Signature Bass Grooves – Bass Practice Diary 13

Learn Basslines in 6/8 Time Signature – Bass Practice Diary – 17 July 2018

6/8 is one of my favourite time signatures to play in. And I know several drummers who feel the same way. In this post I’m going to share with you some of the reasons why I love 6/8. As well as some of the key principles you need to know in order to groove in the 6/8 time signature.

This week, most of my practice time has been taken up by writing and recording examples for a book that I’m writing. The book will be a follow up to Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove which was published earlier in 2018. So, instead of showing you what I’ve been practising this week, I’m showing you some of the examples that I’ve been writing. And specifically I’m playing examples in the time signature six eight (6/8).

What is 6/8?

6/8 simply means that every bar contains six eighth notes. But you shouldn’t count the eighth notes 1 2 3 4 5 6. The basic feel of 6/8 is two beats per bar with each beat subdivided into three eighth notes. A better way to count 6/8 is 1 2 3 – 2 2 3. If you’re not sure what subdivisions are, then check out this free lesson.

Rhythmic Subdivisions on Bass Guitar

How can you make 6/8 sound more interesting?

In my opinion, the 6/8 time signature gets really interesting when you realise that a bar of 6/8 is mathematically no different from a bar of 3/4. It’s important to understand that this is only true with a straight 3/4 feel. If you play 3/4 with a swing or shuffle feel, then it’s the same as 9/8. But I’ll explain more about 9/8 in next weeks practice diary.

3/4 and 6/8 both contain six eighth notes in every bar. So any rhythm that you can play in a straight 3/4 feel can also be played in 6/8 and vice versa. Once you understand this, you suddenly have a wealth of options for playing on and off the beat in two different feels simultaneously. The 3/4 feel gives you three beats and three off beats in each bar, and the 6/8 feel gives you two beats and a further four places where you can play off the beat in every bar.

For more about beats and off beats check out this free lesson.

All of these beats and off-beats exist in one bar of 6/8, and if you can learn to feel both the 6/8 and 3/4 feels simultaneously within the 6/8 time signature, then you can create some really wonderful grooves.

Play the Examples in the Video

The examples in the video are just a small selection from the book that I’m writing. While researching this section of the book, I’ve been listening to as many examples of 6/8 rhythms as I can. I’ve heard music from all over Africa, South America, Eastern Europe and India to name just a few. I’ve discovered so many different approaches to playing in 6/8. And I’m happy to share just a few of them with you here ahead of my book being published later in 2018.

I wrote this first example to illustrate the difference between the 6/8 and 3/4 feels. Bars 1 and 3 have a typical 6/8 feel. Whereas bars 2 and 4 contain the three quarter notes that could be defined as 3/4.

6/8 Time Signature - Example 1
6/8 Time Signature – Example 1

The idea for Example 2 is that I’m using the 3/4 feel over the 6/8 but I’m focusing more on the off-beats. Look in particular at bar 2. There is a note on beat one and then the remaining three notes land where the off-beats would be in a bar of 3/4.

6/8 Time Signature - Example 2
6/8 Time Signature – Example 2

6/8 is a very under used time signature in rock music. Example 3 is my idea for a rock riff in 6/8.

6/8 Time Signature - Example 3
6/8 Time Signature – Example 3

The final example features a rhythm called Bembe. Which has it’s roots in African music but is best known in Afro Cuban music.

6/8 Time Signature - Example 4
6/8 Time Signature – Example 4

 

 

Use Fretless Bass to Play Jazz Solos and Melodies – Bass Practice Diary 12

Jazz Solos and Melodies on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th July 2018

This week I’m featuring an excerpt from Miles Davis’ solo on the tune So What from the seminal jazz album Kind of Blue. I’m playing it on my Warwick Thumb SC fretless bass.

Why Play Jazz Solos on Bass Guitar

The purpose of this video practice diary is not to copy Miles Davis or any other jazz soloist. Firstly, it’s to try to show how well the fretless bass works as an instrument for playing jazz solos. Especially solos with the type of lyrical phrasing demonstrated by Miles Davis. Secondly, it’s because I believe that anybody that wants to learn how to solo and improvise, should try and work out solos and melodies by as many great musicians and improvisers as they can. Not because you should try to copy other musicians, but simply in order to learn from them.

Jaco Pastorius is the most influential jazz bassist in history and he overwhelmingly favoured playing fretless. He also stated that the first thing he would do when learning any new piece, was learn the melody. He felt that learning melodies was essential to playing bass lines. I strongly agree with him. I’ve stated in a previous post that one of the principle functions of bass lines, is harmony. And in order to really understand a composition and how to harmonise, you must understand the melody.

What is “Lyrical” Soloing

When I use the adjective “lyrical” to describe a solo, it might seem like an odd choice of word. The word seems to imply lyrics which is strange to attach to an instrumental solo.

A dictionary definition of lyrical is “expressing the writer’s emotions in an imaginative and beautiful way”. Which more or less sums up what I mean. But there is a bit more. The word lyrical to me implies being like a human voice. Miles Davis was quite open about this with his soloing, he was trying to use his trumpet to phrase like a singer would. This is what I’m trying to achieve with my fretless bass. And it can work well because you can slide in and out of notes and use vibrato in a way that you can’t on a fretted bass. However, you do have to be careful to not over use any of these things.

Intonation is also a key consideration when playing fretless. Meaning; are the notes in tune? If you put your fingers in even slightly the wrong place on the fret board, the notes will be out of tune. You don’t need to be nearly so accurate on a fretted bass.

Learning How to Play Jazz Solos on Bass

This Bass Practice Diary entry leads on from what I was doing last week, when I was playing Charlie Parker melodies on fretless bass. I believe that the best way to learn how to play jazz solos, is to learn to play as many jazz solos and melodies as you can.

Technical information about chords and scales is useful theory, but it doesn’t teach you how to improvise a jazz solo. Soloing is about creating melody, and melody is about creating musical phrases. The best way to do this is by listening to as much music as you can and working out how to play the melodic phrases.

Preferably, do it by ear. If you find it difficult to work out music by ear, I would recommend starting very simply, by using folk or pop melodies before moving onto jazz. It can be a slow process at first because it takes a lot of trial and error to begin with. So don’t be put off if you’re only starting out. You will get faster with experience.

Charlie Parker Tunes on Fretless Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 11

Playing Charlie Parker Melodies on Solo Fretless Electric Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd July 2018

This week I’m playing Charlie Parker melodies on my fretless Warwick Thumb SC 6 string bass guitar.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker is a pioneer of modern jazz and one of the greatest saxophonists in history. Alongside trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie he pioneered the genre called Bebop. His compositions provide a musical and technical challenge to perform on bass, especially fretless bass. But doing so will improve your technique as well as help you learn the language and phrasing of modern jazz.

The Influence of Jaco Pastorius

I first started learning Charlie Parker melodies on bass when I was in my teens after I discovered Jaco Pastorius’ debut, self titled album. Track 1 on the album was Donna Lee. The melody was played by Jaco on a fretless electric bass. Like many other bass players, hearing this was a revelation to me. He took the bass out of it’s traditional role and elevated it to the level of a jazz solo instrument. I immediately decided that I needed to try doing the same thing.

So I used a Jazz Real Book to start working out jazz bebop melodies on my bass. I didn’t start with Donna Lee. It was the concept of playing jazz melodies on bass that I wanted to emulate, not necessarily that particular tune. Although I did get around to learning Donna Lee soon enough.

The first bebop tune I learned was called Tricotism, by the legendary double bass player Ray Brown. I figured I should start with a piece that was created for bass. Having done that I then learned the tune Confirmation by Charlie Parker. You hear me play an excerpt at the end of the video.

Why Play Charlie Parker Tunes on Bass?

I suppose the simplest answer is, because I think they sound really cool. Especially on fretless bass. But there are plenty of other great reasons to try this out. First, it is fantastic for improving your left hand technique. To play these tunes on bass you need to organise your left hand extremely well. Each tune forces you to practise spreading out your fingers, playing one finger per fret positions and shifting quickly and smoothly between these positions.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out my free video lesson on Left Hand Techniques. The video begins with me playing another Charlie Parker tune called Anthropology on a 4 string bass.

How do You Start Playing Charlie Parker Tunes on the Bass?

Slowly, is always good advice. Take it one phrase at a time and work out good left hand fingerings for each phrase. It’s so important to have a well organised left hand in order to play these melodies.

If you can read music, you can start with a jazz Real Book. That’s how I started, and as I understand it, that’s how Jaco started as well. I don’t know if they had Real Books back in the 70’s but I understand that he had a book with the melodies in. You can get bass clef versions of most of the Real Books now, which is a big advantage. As a teenager I only had a treble clef Real Book and it took me a while to work out the melodies because at that time my treble clef reading was nowhere near as good as the bass clef.

Other books available include the Charlie Parker Omnibook which also comes in a bass clef version. It goes into each tune in a lot more detail than the Real Books because it includes transcriptions of both the melodies and solos. However, it’s not my favourite book because it doesn’t use key signatures. So each transcription contains hundreds of accidentals (sharps and flats) written throughout the music.

If you’re not a reader then the book to get is called Charlie Parker for Bass. It includes TAB and also features solo transcriptions, arranged for 4 string bass.