Fretless Bass Jam/Improv on My Sire M7 5-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 130

Fretless Bass Jam/Improv on My Sire M7 5-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 20th October 2020

I haven’t featured this Sire Marcus Miller M7 5-String fretless bass in a video since I first got it and reviewed it last year. In that review I mentioned that I liked the sound and playability of the bass, but I’d had some issues with it. So, I’ll use this post to update you on how I’ve got along with the bass, one year later.

The Music

Before I talk about the bass, I’ll just quickly tell you about the music in the video. I like to jam with myself at home. Meaning record an improvised bassline and then play over it. Let’s face it, it’ll be a while before I get to jam with any other musicians. Lockdown restrictions have been tightened once again in London and I don’t think it will let up over the winter. So I might as well jam alone.

The bassline was a one take improvised line. I was just improvising bass grooves in 7/8 time signature. I was playing along with the little clave ostinato that you hear at the beginning. The rest of the drums were added after the bass parts.

For the improvised solo parts, I did five complete takes. With each take I got gradually more used to playing along with the bassline I’d improvised. The take in the video is number five. The only composed element is the little harmonised melody section. I added that afterwards as I felt it needed some kind of recognisable melody.

The bass sounds good and it plays well. And you could certainly argue that, that’s all a musical instrument needs to do. I’m inclined to think that way myself, and I do like this bass.

Having said that, as much as I enjoy playing this bass, it has turned out to be the most unreliable instrument that I’ve ever owned in terms of holding it’s setup. I made a video, alongside my review, demonstrating how I initially set the bass up. I needed to do it because the setup was a mess when I first got the bass, which in hindsight was a red flag.

Sire Marcus Miller M7 5-String Fretless, One Year Later!

In the year that’s passed, I’ve needed to set the bass up three times. Setups are susceptible to changes in atmospheric conditions, and changes in seasons often necessitate minor changes to setup and intonation.

The bass arrived in the autumn in the UK having come via Germany. It was built in Indonesia. So it’s fair to say it had experienced a few changes in atmosphere before I ever took it out the box. This partly explains the poor condition of the setup when the bass was new. By the time we arrived at spring this year and the weather started warming up, the action completely changed, and then again recently as we move into autumn again.

Moving from dry and hot to wet and cold seems to really mess this bass up. If you think this is normal, then I’m not explaining the scale of the problem very well. I own a lot of instruments and while some of them experience small changes as the seasons go by, this bass is ten times worse than anything I’ve experienced before.

I’ve been unlucky with this bass, I don’t for a moment think that this is true of all Sire M7 basses. I don’t know what it is about this particular one, maybe there’s a problem or a fault with the truss rod. I own enough Sire instruments to know that the setups are fairly stable on most of their instruments.

I’m used to doing the setups now. I can get the bass back to where I want it in under 20 minutes. However, I feel like I can’t ever sell the bass. Or if I do, I must sell it to someone who really understands what they’re taking on. On the other hand, as much as the setup issue is annoying, I always forgive the bass when I start playing it. Because it plays and sounds really good.

Cycle of Fifths Exercise on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 129

Cycle of Fifths Exercise on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 13th October 2020

This week I’m featuring another 6-string bass exercise. Just like last week’s exercise, this one features the cycle of fifths (or circle of fifths). However this week’s exercise has a much more simple concept and it’s also going the opposite way around the cycle. So the pattern here goes C-F-Bb-Eb etc. rather than C-G-D-A etc. as I played with my triads exercise last week.

The Exercise

As I’ve already alluded to, there are two different ways of going around the cycle of fifths. You can go up a 5th (which is like going down a 4th) or down a 5th (like going up a 4th). This exercise uses the latter. All you have to do, is go around the cycle one note at a time. Once you’ve played 12 notes, you’ve played every note in the octave.

Cycle of Fifths Exercise - 6-String Bass
Cycle of Fifths Exercise – 6-String Bass

The idea is that you keep going, to find where all the notes are all over the fretboard. It’s a great way of learning your fretboard, and it’s also a great technical exercise. Also, playing lines using 4th and 5th intervals is very popular in modern jazz vocabulary, so this exercise will also help you to play those kind of lines.

I’ve written the exercise out over three octaves to get you started. However, I would recommend taking the idea and trying to play continuously all over the fretboard. Start slow and speed up. You don’t have to follow the notes that I’ve written out. No matter what note you’ve just played, you always have the option to either go a 4th up or a 5th down. Good luck!

6-String Bass Exercise – Major Triads in 12 Keys – Bass Practice Diary 128

6-String Bass Exercise – Major Triads in 12 Keys – Bass Practice Diary – 6th October 2020

Last week I featured three exercises for 5-string bass, this week I’ve got an exercise for 6-string bass. In this exercise, I’m playing major arpeggios. It’s fairly typical, when practicing exercises like this, to go through 12 keys. However, I wanted to make this exercise a bit more interesting than just playing twelve major triads one after the other.

The Exercise

6-String Bass Exercise - Major Triads in 12 Keys
6-String Bass Exercise – Major Triads in 12 Keys

I’ve added an extra element by playing the triads as a five note grouping. Rather than playing root, 3rd, 5th, root, I’m playing 3rd, root, 3rd, 5th, root. The five note grouping adds a timing element, causing the chord changes to alternate between happening on and off the beat.

The triads move in fifths, but in the opposite direction to the conventional cycle of fifths. Rather than going from C to F, I’m going from C to G, up a fifth rather than down a fifth. The reason for this is that I’m playing the major 7th note at the end of each arpeggio, but that major 7th note is then being treated as the major 3rd of the next arpeggio. This leads to the sequence of fifths that you see in the exercise.

Black Nylon Tape Wound Strings on Three Basses – Bass Practice Diary 126

Black Nylon Tape Wound Strings on 3 Basses – La Bella 7710N & Warwick Black Nylon – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd September 2020

This week I’ve been experimenting with putting black nylon tape wound bass strings on my basses. I’ve tried playing black nylon strings on bass guitars before, but I’ve never tried putting them on my own bass guitars. And this is my first time trying tapes on an upright bass. In the video, the double bass is strung up with La Bella Jazz Strings and both the fretless and acoustic bass guitar are using Warwick Black Nylon Tapewounds.

The advantages and disadvantages of tape wounds?

The advantages of using nylon tapewound strings over roundwound strings include, lower tension and less friction. The lower tension can be advantageous for your left hand, because it doesn’t need to press the strings down as hard. And the lower friction (the strings are very smooth to the touch) means that you potentially get less unwanted noise than you would get from round wound strings.

I have to say that my opinion was divided when it came to bass guitar vs double bass. The strings really give you surprisingly good sustain considering the lower tension. On the upright, I loved the lower tension and the greater sustain. However, I felt that on bass guitar, with the shorter scale length, the tension was too low. I’ve never liked the sound of loose strings on bass guitar, which is why I don’t own a short scale bass.

A significant disadvantage of changing your bass strings from steel strings to nylon, is that it will significantly change the setup on your bass. The neck will be under much less tension with nylon strings. So, if your bass guitar is set up for roundwound strings, then the action will completely change under the lower tension. The strings will almost certainly rattle an buzz and you’ll need to setup your bass properly for tape wounds before you can use them. This wasn’t a huge issue for me with the electric bass, because it’s easy to setup. But acoustic instruments don’t usually have adjustable bridges, which makes it more of a problem.

My Conclusions

I really liked the tapes on my upright and I’ll be keeping them on for the foreseeable future. I’ve made another video demoing these strings on this bass. You can find it here.

I quite liked them on the fretless electric bass. The lack of friction is really nice when sliding between notes. However, I miss the brightness and the added string tension of roundwound strings.

Nylon tapes are very popular on acoustic bass guitars, but I have to be honest, that I didn’t like them on mine. I’m sure it would help if I got the bass professionally setup with them. But I don’t like them enough to justify doing that. I’m going to go back to using either bronze round wound strings or half rounds on my acoustic bass guitar.

Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage Fretless – Bass Practice Diary 125

Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage Fretless – Bass Practice Diary – 15th September 2020

I’ve been wanting to feature my Sire V7 Vintage fretless bass in a video for a while. I’ve featured Sire basses in my videos before, but never this one. And this is probably my favourite of all of the Sire Marcus Miller basses I’ve played. This is the only Sire bass that I’ve played that I didn’t need to do any setting up when it came out of the box. It played perfectly from the outset and the setup has remained very stable ever since.

Sire V7 vs V7 Vintage

So, what’s the difference between this Sire V7 Vintage and the regular V7’s that I featured in this video. This bass has a body made from Ash and the fretted V7’s both had Alder bodies. However, all of the V7 models come in both ash and alder versions. This bass has a maple fingerboard, my fretted V7’s have ebony fretboards, but once again, both models come with both options.

To find the differences between the models you have to look a bit more closely, and the differences are small. The position of the bridge pickup is different. It’s closer to the bridge on the Vintage model and further away on the standard V7’s. This does give the Vintage model a slightly tighter sound on the back pickup. The Vintage models have a gloss finish on the neck, the standard V7 neck has a really nice matt feel. I slightly prefer the matt feel of the standard V7 neck, but it doesn’t make much difference to me.

I think those are the important differences. There are cosmetic differences, like the scratch plate looks different and the bridge on the Vintage model has vintage style saddles. But I’m not interested in that stuff. I’m only interested in how it plays and how it sounds.

Why I like the Sire V7 Vintage Fretless

I said that this is probably my favourite Sire bass that I’ve played. The setup is really good, but honestly that’s probably just luck with this particular bass. Sire basses are set up with a low action, which can be great but it can also go wrong, and this particular one came out well.

So, that’s not the reason I like it. The reason I like it is because it gives me something that I never thought I’d have, for a very low price. I grew up listening to legendary bass players like Jaco Pastorius and Marcus Miller playing vintage Fender Jazz basses. But it’s never been my thing to try and recreate a vintage sound. I’ve always looked forward and tried to create a modern bass sound. Investing in a proper vintage Fender Jazz bass, even a reissue, would be very expensive. And it’s not an investment that I’m willing to make when it’s not the sound I’m aspiring to make.

This Sire bass gives me a vintage style passive J style fretless bass for a price that I can justify buying it and keeping it just to have fun with. Honestly, I hardly ever play the bass with the preamp switched on. Not because the preamp isn’t good (it’s really good). But because I just want it to be a vintage Fender Jazz Bass. The fact that it has this preamp on it, which makes it capable of functioning as a modern active fretless bass, is just a bonus. It really adds to the versatility of the instrument.

I’ve even kept the flat wound strings on it, and I never play flats on my fretless basses. To be honest, the bass has the wrong name on the headstock. I know that Marcus Miller is an under rated fretless player. But every time I pick up this bass I just end up playing Jaco lines for hours. I spent years learning Jaco’s catalogue and playing it on basses that sounded nothing like his bass. Now I have the right tool for the job and I love it.

Slap Bass Timing Exercises – Bass Practice Diary 124

Slap Bass Timing Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 8th September 2020

If you’ve been following my recent series of videos about timing exercises, then you’ll know how these work by now. You take an odd number note grouping and play those groupings as continuous 16th notes. What I didn’t mention on any of my previous videos, was that these exercises are a great way to practice slap bass. This video feature three slap bass timing exercises. And you can take this concept and develop your own exercises.

The exercises

The first exercise is 16th notes played in three note groupings. The three note grouping consists of a note, G, thumped with the right hand thumb (T). A tap on the strings with the left hand, marked L.H on the notation. And finally a pull with the index finger of the right hand, which I’ve played as a dead note by muting the strings with my left hand.

Slap Bass Timing Exercises – 16th notes in Groupings of Three

The second of the three note sequence, the left hand tap, can be very soft. You don’t need to hit the strings hard, you just need to do it in time. Hitting the strings with the left hand has the effect of silencing the first note. So, even if you don’t here the tap, you will still feel the rhythm by hearing the note G go silent.

The second exercise is an extension of that idea. This time the three note grouping is made by thumb (right hand), hammer (left hand) and pluck (right hand index). And the notes are taken from a C minor pentatonic scale.

Slap Bass Timing Exercises – 16th notes in Groupings of Three – C minor Pentatonic

The final exercise features a five note grouping. The five notes are as follows. Thump the G and then tap with the left hand, exactly as in exercise 1. Then thump with the right hand thumb again, but this time as a dead note muted by the left hand. That’s three, the final two notes are F and G. Pluck the F on the D string and hammer onto the G on the fifth fret with your left hand.

Slap Bass Timing Exercises – 16th notes in Groupings of Five

Triplet Timing Exercises for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 123

Triplet Timing Exercises for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 1st September 2020

This is my third video of timing exercises for bass guitar. The previous two videos both involved playing odd number note groupings as 16th notes in 4/4. In this video, I’m changing the subdivision and I’m playing four and five note groupings as triplets in 4/4. All of these triplet timing exercises are written with 8th note triplets. However, if you want to take the exercises a step further, you can make them harder by using quarter note triplets or 16th note triplets.

The Exercises

The first exercise involves playing four note groupings. I’m using two arpeggios in the key of C major, a Dm7 arpeggio and a Cmaj7 arpeggio. You can use any four note grouping to do this. Four note groupings played as continuous triplets in 4/4 will arrive back on beat one after two bars. So, I’ve put the note C on beat one of bar three to complete the exercise. You can loop the exercise as many times as you want to.

Timing Exercise - Triplets in Groups of Four
Timing Exercise – Triplets in Groups of Four

Another way to play four note groupings would be to play a scale, four notes at a time. This is a C major scale played descending from G, the fifth.

Playing five note groupings as triplets is harder. The next exercise lands back on beat one at the beginning of bar 6.

Timing Exercise - Triplets in Groups of Five
Timing Exercise – Triplets in Groups of Five

Finally, this last exercise combines the four and five note groupings. It’s actually a bit more straight forward than playing just the five note groupings, because four and five makes nine. So, this is effectively a grouping of nine. And because nine is divisible by three, it fits into triplet rhythms quite nicely.

Timing Exercise - Triplets in Groups of Four and Five
Timing Exercise – Triplets in Groups of Four and Five

Matching Bass Amp Heads and Speaker Cabinets – Bass Practice Diary 122

A Bass Players Guide to Matching Bass Amp Heads and Cabinets – Bass Practice Diary – 25th August 2020

This week is something a bit different. I should start by saying that I’m not an electrician or audio engineer. I’m just a bass player, and this is the first time I’ve done a Bass Practice Diary video that doesn’t feature any bass playing. It’s also the first time that I’ve ever had all of my bass amp heads and speaker cabinets together in the same room. I’ve done it so I can share with you what I’ve learned about matching bass amp heads and speaker cabinets.

Combo Amplifier or Amp Head and Cabinet?

I believe that having a separate head and cab has numerous benefits over using a combo amplifier. Combo amps are only practical when they’re small. I own a couple of bass combo amplifiers, but I didn’t feature them in this video. I use them for rehearsals and small gigs because they’re small and they save space. However their use is limited. Once you get up to a medium sized bass rig, combo amplifiers become heavy and impractical.

Having a separate head and cab (or cabs) gives you many more options. Lightweight solid state bass amp heads like the Markbass heads and the Warwick LWA 1000 are small and very light, and easy to transport. And you can match your head up with different sized cabinets or combinations of two cabinets to match the requirements of your gig. Bass amp heads also give you the potential to access much more power (Wattage) than combos.

However, “with great power comes great responsibility”, and there are a couple of things that you need to know if you’re going to safely unlock the potential of using a bass amp head with speaker cabinets.

Ohms and Watts

Those things are Ohms (Ω) and Watts (W). It’s simple stuff, but back when I was trying to work all this stuff out, it always amazed me how hard it was to find this information put together for bass players in a simple to follow guide. I’m not an electrician and I have no qualifications in audio engineering, but this is my simple guide to Ohms and Watts for bass players.

All you need to know about Ohms, is that bass speaker cabinets are rated at either 4 Ohms or 8 Ohms. You need to know whether your cabinet is rated at 4 or 8 Ohms before you use it. If you run two speaker cabinets together (in parallel), then the Ohm rating halves, not doubles. So, two 8 Ohm speakers running in parallel makes a total of 4 Ohms. Virtually all bass amp heads are designed to run at a minimum of 4 Ohms. So you shouldn’t run two 4 Ohm speakers together. That would be 2 Ohms, which would be below the minimum level that the amp is designed to run at. You should also never switch your amp head on without a cabinet connected, because that would be zero Ohms.

RMS stands for Root Mean Squared. The RMS power rating (Watts) is two things. It’s the amount of continuous power that your amplifier is capable of putting out. And it’s also the amount of continuous power that a speaker cabinet is capable of handling. Before you use a speaker, you need to know how many Ohms it’s rated at and the RMS power rating. I’ve heard that some amp companies exaggerate the power handling capabilities of their speakers. They give the maximum Wattage that a speaker can handle, rather than the Root Mean Squared. RMS is the amount of continuous power it can handle. You need to make sure you know the RMS value for the Wattage.

How are Ohms and Watts Connected?

The number of Ohms your speaker is rated for will effect the RMS power that your amp head puts out. When amp manufacturers give the power ratings of their amps, they always give the RMS rating at 4 Ohms. However, if you read the technical specs for any amp head, it should give two RMS ratings. One for 4 Ohms and one for 8 Ohms. For example, the Warwick LWA 1000 is so called because it has the potential to run at 1000W RMS at 4 Ohms. At 8 Ohms it’s only 500W RMS.

So, in order to unlock the full power of your amp head, you need to run it either into a 4 Ohm speaker or into two 8 Ohm speakers. However, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to connect your amp head to just one 8 Ohm speaker. In fact, that’s what I do most often when I take my amps out for rehearsals or gigs. The problem with running very high powered amps at 4 Ohms is finding speaker cabinets that have high enough RMS ratings. To safely match a 1000W bass head at 4 Ohms you’ll need a really big rig. Either two 8 Ohm cabinets rated at at least 500W RMS each, or a massive 4 Ohm cabinet, like an 8×10 with a rating of at least 1000W RMS.

Can You Match a Higher Powered Amp with a Lower Powered Speaker?

Surprisingly, yes you can. Some people will tell you, that if you have a bass amp head rated at 800W RMS for 4 Ohms and a 4 Ohm speaker rated at 500W, then the head is too powerful for the cab. It seems logical that an 800W amp is too powerful for a 500W cab. But it’s actually fine, as long as you don’t push the speaker really hard. If you play through the amp well below full volume, it should be fine. The speaker will let you know if you’re pushing it too hard, because it will start to sound bad.

Alternately, you might assume that playing an amp rated at 300W RMS into a cab rated at 600W RMS would be ok. No chance of damaging the speaker with a lower powered amp head. While that is true, you might well drive the amp head too hard by playing it through such a big speaker, so I wouldn’t recommend that as a good match either.

Connecting Two Cabs to a Single Speaker Output

Many modern solid state bass heads have just one speaker output. This really confused me when I first came across a head like that. Because historically bass amp heads had always had two outputs, so that you can run two speakers in parallel. I’d always been told not to daisy chain speakers from a single output. Because it would result in a very high resistance (Ohms) and leave your amp running very underpowered.

I new that these amps could run with two speakers but there was virtually no information about how to do it. Not in the amp manuals or in the speaker manuals or online. I’ve learned that it does work to run these type of amps by daisy chaining two speakers, but I still don’t understand why. The cabs appear to be running in series (one cab into another) but they seem to work in parallel (signal gets to both cabs simultaneously). If anyone can explain to me why that works, I’d be really interested to hear. You can send me a message on my contact page.

Timing Exercise #2 – Sixteenth Notes In Five Note Groupings – Bass Practice Diary 121

Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar #2 – 16th Notes in Five Note Groupings – Bass Practice Diary – 18th August 2020

This week’s timing exercise features five note groupings, played as 16th notes. Last week I featured a similar exercise with three note phrases. You can make exercises like this by using any odd number grouping, and then playing those groupings as continuous 16th notes in 4/4.

Odd Number Rhythmic Groupings

The larger the grouping, the more rhythmic possibilities it creates. For example, five note groupings can be counted as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Da-Di-Gi-Na-Dum). Or you could count 3+2 (Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka) or 2+3 (Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta). However, a seven note grouping would give more options, 4+3, 3+4, 2+3+2, 5+2 etc.

The idea of playing odd number rhythmic groups, is that it creates a continuously moving polyrhythmic feel against the four beats in a bar of 4/4 and the four 16th note subdivisions in each beat. The idea of these exercises, is that they systematically go through every possible rhythmic placement of a five note grouping of 16th notes in a bar of 4/4, before arriving back on beat one at the beginning of the sixth bar.

Three Variations of The Exercise

In the first exercise, I’m playing five note arpeggios in the key of C major.

Five Note Groupings - Two Arpeggios in C Major
Five Note Groupings – Two Arpeggios in C Major

As you can see, I play the tonic, C on beat one of bar 6. If you can hit that note on the downbeat, then you know you’ve played the exercise correctly.

The second variation of this exercise is a variation of the first exercise. This time, I’m playing the five notes as three and then two.

Five Note Groupings - Three and Two
Five Note Groupings – Three and Two

The third variation also uses the three and two idea. However, this time I’m using an ascending G major scale.

Five Note Groupings - Three and Two
Five Note Groupings – Three and Two – G Major Scale

Timing Exercise #1 – Sixteenth Notes in Groups of Three – Bass Practice Diary 120

Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar – 16th Notes in Groups of 3 – Bass Practice Diary – 11th August 2020

The concept of this timing exercise is very simple. You take any sequence of three notes, and play the sequence as continuous 16th notes in 4/4. So, you subdivide the beats into four, but you play a pattern of three, which creates a simple polyrhythm. Each time you play the sequence, it will start on a different 16th note. After three bars, you will have played all of the different permutations of where that sequence can start in a bar of 4/4. So, if you play the sequence correctly for three bars, the sequence should begin again on beat one of bar 4.

The Exercise and Variations

This would be a simple version of the exercise. It’s a “one finger per fret” exercise, but each note is played three times.

Timing Exercise - 16ths in three note groupings - One finger per fret
Timing Exercise – 16ths in three note groupings – One finger per fret

I would more commonly play the exercise using triads, as I have here.

Timing Exercise - 16ths in three note groupings - Fmaj and Em triads
Timing Exercise – 16ths in three note groupings – Fmaj and Em triads

You could also apply the same idea to practicing scales. Here is a C major scale played in three note groupings. First ascending and then descending.

Timing Exercise - 16ths in three note groupings - C major scale ascending
Timing Exercise – 16ths in three note groupings – C major/A natural minor scale ascending
Timing Exercise - 16ths in three note groupings - C major/A natural minor scale descending
C major/A natural minor scale descending

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