Fretless Bass Strings: Flatwound or Roundwound? – Bass Practice Diary 141

Fretless Bass Strings: Flatwound or Roundwound? – Bass Practice Diary – 5th January 2020

Which make the best fretless bass strings? Flatwound or roundwound. It seems like every time I release a fretless bass video, I get asked at least one question about strings. I’ve even been asked questions like, “which flatwound bass strings do you use?” to which I then have to answer, “err… I don’t normally use flatwounds on fretless”. There seems to be this idea in the bass community that you’re going to somehow damage a fretless bass fingerboard by using roundwound bass strings. I’ve been using roundwounds since I first played a fretless bass as a teenager 20 years ago, and I’m yet to see any damage.

What’s the difference?

Flatwound strings are smooth to the touch while you can feel the coils on roundwound strings. So, if we assume that either set of strings is safe for a fretless bass neck, then the question becomes one of sound and feel. Roundwound strings have a brighter tone, especially when they are brand new, but they lose their brightness as they age. Flatwound strings are not as bright when they are new, but they do not lose their brightness so much as they age. I intentionally didn’t compare brand new strings in this video, because, I’m interested in hearing how flats compare with used roundwound strings. Do rounds really start to sound like flats as they get old?

In many ways it makes perfect sense to put flats on a fretless bass, because the lack of friction makes sliding between notes very smooth. Smooth in both sound and feel under the fingers. But the sound of flats is very much associated with a vintage bass tone. It was far more common for bass players to use flats in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s than it is now. There’s nothing wrong with a vintage sound, it’s a great sound. But if you want something more modern, then roundwound strings are the better option.

My verdict

I didn’t give a verdict in the video. Mainly because I hadn’t yet listened back to the recordings to hear the strings side by side. Now that I’ve done it, my verdict might surprise you. On this particular bass, I prefer the flats. I’ve always used flats on this Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage bass. The clue is in the name. It’s a modern bass designed to be like a vintage fretless bass (a fretless Fender Jazz Bass to be specific). And to me, it just sounds right to hear this bass played with flats. However, it’s not a sound that I feel would suit my fretless Warwick Thumb SC, which is an modern fretless electric.

So, it’s not much of a conclusion I’m afraid. Before doing this experiment I was using flats on this bass and rounds on my other fretless basses. And that’s what I’ll continue to do, having heard the results side by side. I guess it’s just nice to know that my initial instincts were right. Or maybe it’s just that I’m used to hearing my basses like that so hearing roundwounds on this bass sounds odd to me.

The recording setup

For those of you who are interested, I was using an Electrovoice RE20 microphone on the speaker cabinet and I was mixing that together with a DI signal from the back of the Warwick Hellborg preamp. They were going into a Focusrite interface and then Logic Pro X. I added some light compression in Logic after recording. Other than that there are no effects used.

Both sets of strings are manufactured by D’addario. I thought it made the most sense to use the same brand for both. I have no particular loyalty or affiliation to D’addario. It was just that they were the only brand that I had both flats and rounds in my possession at the time of recording.

As I mentioned in the video, neither set of strings were new. The flats have been on the bass since I bought it. I generally don’t feel that flats need to be changed until they become visibly damaged or break. The roundwound set came off one of my fretted basses. I did clean them a bit before putting them back on the fretless.

6-String Fretless Bass Modal Improvisation – Bass Practice Diary 140

6-String Fretless Bass Modal Improvisation – Bass Practice Diary – 29th December 2020

This is a modal improvisation on my Warwick Thumb SC 6-string fretless bass. What do I practice in the week between Christmas and New Year? Inevitably I’ve practiced less at Christmas than I usually would. Normally I would have been visiting various family members. But all my plans were cancelled at the last minute due to a COVID lockdown announced by the UK government on December 19th. However, despite that, I still have a wife and son at home, so my usual practice time got devoted to trying to make Christmas special for them despite the restrictions.

So, what should you practice at a time when you haven’t done much practice? For me, the answer is, just play! Play for fun, improvise, play for the love of playing music. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or not. Just get the feeling of the strings back under your fingers. So, with that in mind, here’s a video of me improvising on a short modal chord sequence that I’ve been playing around with this week.

The Chords

I’ve called this a modal improvisation. But how can it be called modal if I’m improvising over a chord sequence? The reason I’m calling it modal is because the chords are not connected by diatonic harmony. So I’m thinking of each chord as being a different scale or mode to improvise on. There is no key that connects the chords. They are simply connected by a bass note, each chord is played over an E bass note.

The chord progression in the video is very simple. It starts on an Eb major chord over an E natural bass note. That chord resolves upwards onto an Emaj7 chord. Then I raise the 5th and make that chord an Emaj7#5 before dropping back onto the Emaj7. These might sound like really small changes, and they are. But each chord change creates the sound of a new mode.

I think it’s an interesting way to think about chord progressions. Rather than thinking about chord changes. Think about changing just one note in a chord and see how that one note changes the overall sound.

Christmas Bass Practice Diary 2020 – We Three Kings – Bass Practice Diary 139

Christmas Bass Practice Diary 2020 – We Three Kings – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd December 2020

Happy Christmas 2020! This is the fourth time that I’ve given a Christmas song the “Bass Practice Diary” treatment. You can find them all on my YouTube channel and JohnnyCoxMusic.com. This year I’ve decided to take on a Christmas carol for the first time. I’ve arranged We Three Kings for double bass and 6-string bass guitar.

The inspiration for this came because I was arranging Christmas carols for online church carol services. As most church services this year are taking place exclusively online due to the pandemic. I’ve been preparing performances of carols (mostly on guitar) to be streamed as part of online Christmas services. It was in the process of doing that, that I started to have some fun with We Three Kings. This arrangement is much to dark and uncomfortable sounding to use for a church service. But I was having fun with it, so I arranged it on bass, and here it is.

The Arrangement

As I’ve already alluded to, this arrangement started life as a solo guitar arrangement. I originally came up with the chord melody arrangement for the verse part on guitar, while pedalling the open E string underneath. For the bass arrangement, I put the E bass note on my double bass and played the chord melody on my 6-string bass. The bass is actually in an altered tuning for this.

I very rarely play bass in altered tunings. But in this case, I needed to reach a high D to be able to play the entire melody. The highest fret on my first string in standard tuning is C. So, I tuned up a whole tone to reach the D. Having done that, I tuned the G string up to A and the D string up to F. This enabled me to play the chord voicings using similar fingerings to those I’d worked out on the guitar. The solos on the intro and outro are both played in standard tuning.

The middle section of the piece was arranged entirely on bass. If I’m being honest, I’ve never really liked this section of the song. So, I wanted to give it a complete overhaul and change the harmony entirely. I tried a few things, but nothing really grabbed me until I started playing the “James Bond” style chord progression that you hear in this section. I was obviously channeling something that I did last year, because I realised afterwards that I played something very similar at one point in last years Christmas Bass Video.

Let’s Look Forward to 2021 (It has to be better!)

This is, in some ways, a strange treatment of a Christmas Carol. It doesn’t sound like a celebration. But, on the other hand, this is a very strange Christmas. I am stuck at home in lockdown, unable to see my parents or any of my extended family. We’re all sheltering from the virus and trying to protect others. So it feels to me like this arrangement reflects the times we are living in. Hopefully next year will bring a more cheerful Christmas Bass Video.

Sire Marcus Miller V7 vs Warwick Rockbass Infinity – Bass Practice Diary 136

Sire Marcus Miller V7 vs Warwick Rockbass Infinity – Bass Practice Diary – 1st December 2020

Sire created a sensation in the bass world when they released their Marcus Miller basses a few years ago. They are great sounding basses sold at an amazingly competitive price. However, while they are really good basses, I’ve often thought that Sire were not the first company to come out with high quality instruments for a budget. If you follow my videos, you know that I’ve been playing Warwick basses for many years. So, I’ve long thought of doing a comparison between Warwick’s more budget friendly Rockbass instruments and Sire’s Marcus Miller basses.

Sire vs Warwick

If I’m being completely honest, this video is just a bit of fun. It’s not a particularly scientific comparison. The basses had different strings at the time of recording. The Sire was strung up with some nice new Overwater bass strings whereas the Warwick had a very cheap set of Warwick Red Label strings.

The pickup configuration is obviously different as well. With the Sire, I’m using both pickups in the video, but with the Warwick I’m only using the single coil pickup at the front.

However, I should say that both of these basses were a very similar price point when I bought them. Less than £500 at full price in the UK. The new Warwick Rockbass Infinity basses are being sold for considerably more. They’ve given the model a makeover in 2020 with a flamed maple top, but my one is the more simple looking 2018 model. There are Warwick Rockbass models in 2020 that can still rival the Sire V7 for affordability. You probably need to look at something like a Corvette or a Streamer.

If you want to see a proper comparison of Sire and Warwick Rockbass and what they both offer for the price, then let me know by leaving a comment on the YouTube video. If enough people want a detailed comparison, then I’ll do it.

Tapping Chords on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 133

Tapping Chords on Bass Guitar – Two-Hand Tapping Exercises – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 10th November 2020

Last week was part one in my series of two-hand tapping exercises for bass guitar. I was looking at the basic technique of coordinating hammer ons and pull offs between both right and left hand. This week, I’m looking at tapping chords by hammering on notes simultaneously with both right and left hand.

Tapping Seventh Chords

These ideas should work on pretty much any bass guitar. I’ve used a 4-string bass in the video to demonstrate that you can make full sounding chord voicings on just 4-strings. My bass has 24 frets, but I’ve deliberately not gone above the 20th fret, so you can play everything in the video on a Fender style bass with 20 frets.

I’m playing 7th chords (major 7, minor 7 & dominant 7). These are four note chords, root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. The concept of this exercise is that I’m going to tap the root and 5th with my left hand and the 3rd and 7th with my right hand. The left hand notes are played on the 3rd and 4th strings and the right hand notes on the 1st and 2nd.

An Exercise to Develop Your Tapping Technique

Before you start, I would recommend practicing tapping four finger exercises with both hands. Something like this.

Two Hand Tapping - Four Finger Exercise
Two Hand Tapping – Four Finger Exercise

When I’m practicing exercises like this, my goal is not to play the exercise fast. My goal is to make good sounding notes and to get an even sound across four fingers and four strings. As I mentioned in the video, I never use my little finger on the right hand to tap notes when I’m playing music, but I still practice it. Why? Because maybe I’ll develop a technique that uses my little finger one day. Only practice the 3rd and 4th fingers on your right hand if you want to. For the purposes of this exercise, all you need are two fingers on your right hand.

Playing Chord Progressions

I’ve used a II-V-I progression in the video because it’s the most commonly used chord sequence in jazz. You can use any progression you want and any rhythm or style. But whatever you play, I would start by making a bassline out of the root and 5ths. Like this.

Tapping Chords - II-V-I Bassline
Tapping Chords – II-V-I Bassline – Left Hand Exercise

This exercise should be played entirely with the left hand and all of the notes are hammered on. The left hand notes are your bassline, they are the foundation of the groove. So, it’s worth practicing this until you get the feel where you want it.

When you have the feel, you can add the 3rds and 7ths with your right hand. These right hand notes should be played simultaneously. Not one after the other like the left hand notes. The right hand notes can be played simultaneously with the root note played by your left hand. This involves simultaneously hammering three different notes on three strings. You can see I’ve done this with the F7 chord. The F is hammered by the left hand while the A and Eb are hammered on by the right hand. Alternatively, you can hammer the right hand notes in between the left hand notes. You can see I’ve done this with the Cm7 and Bbmaj7 chords. Here is the II-V-I exercise.

Tapping Chords - II-V-I Exercise
Tapping Chords – II-V-I Exercise

Two Hand Tapping Exercise for Bass Guitar – Tapping Triads – Bass Practice Diary 132

Two Hand Tapping Exercise for Bass Guitar – Tapping Triads – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd November 2020

Last week I featured a two-hand tapping bass groove that I wrote on bass guitar. This week I’m starting a series of lessons in which I break down the fundamentals of my tapping techniques. The most basic tapping technique is the ability to perform hammer-ons and pull-offs with both your left and right hand. If you’d like some left hand hammer on and pull off exercises, then check out this video. Today I’m going to focus on tapping with the right-hand index finger.

Tapping Arpeggios

Tapping techniques work particularly well for playing arpeggios. Using both hands to generate notes means that you can play wider intervals very fast. That’s extremely hard to do if you’re fretting with the left-hand and plucking with the right-hand. It’s relatively easy to play the smaller intervals of scales fast, by using conventional plucking techniques. But tapping creates a huge advantage for playing the wider intervals of arpeggios fast.

The most basic arpeggio type is a triad, a three note chord. There are four main types of triad: major, minor, diminished and augmented. This exercise simply goes through each one in a sequence.

The Exercise

Tapping Triads Exercise for Bass Guitar
Tapping Triads Exercise for Bass Guitar

The reason that the sequence is in this order is because I’m starting with the smallest intervals (two minor 3rds), which is a diminished arpeggio. And I’m moving up to the largest intervals (two major 3rds) which is the augmented triad. In the video I then play the exercise in reverse order going from largest intervals to smallest.

Should You Use Compression When Tapping?

I touched on the subject of compression very briefly in the video. Dynamic Range Compression is an audio effect that effectively squashes the dynamics in your playing. It makes the loud notes quieter and the quiet notes louder to even out the dynamics and make everything the same level. You can play bass through a compression pedal, there are many on the market. Or you can add compression to a recording of your bass in a DAW like Pro Tools or Logic.

There is an obvious advantage and an obvious disadvantage to using compression when tapping. The advantage is, that if your hammer ons are louder than your pull offs, or your right hand notes are quieter than your left hand notes, then the compression will compensate and even out the sound.

The obvious disadvantage of using compression when you’re playing, is that it will amplify any unwanted noise. Any squeak from a string or rumble from an unmuted open string will be made louder. Personally, I never use compression when I’m playing, but I do sometimes add it to a recording when appropriate. It’s entirely up to the individual whether they use compression or not, but it is common to use compression for tapping techniques.

Two-Hand Tapping Groove on Bass Guitar with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary 131

Two- Hand Tapping Groove on Bass Guitar with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 27th October 2020

I haven’t done a video featuring two-hand tapping techniques for a while. I’ve had it in my mind to do a series of short video lessons demonstrating some of the tapping techniques that I use. I’m going to do that, starting next week, but first I thought I’d do a video demonstrating how you can apply two-hand tapping techniques to playing a bass groove. I think there’s a common perception of tapping techniques as being flashy soloing techniques. But the truth is that you can use these same techniques to groove. So this week, I’ve written this two-hand tapping groove by way of demonstration.

The Two-Hand Tapping Bass Groove

Two-Hand Tapping Groove
Two-Hand Tapping Groove

I won’t break down all the techniques that I’m using here, because I’m going to do that over the next few weeks. But essentially this groove is just based around two dominant 7 chords, G7 and C7. I’ve played it and TAB’d it on 5-string bass, but you can play it on 4-string. You can move the F and G notes at the start onto the first and third fret of the E-string. It’s slightly easier to tap those notes on the low B-string, that’s the only reason I’ve played it on a 5-string.

Why Two-Hand Tapping on Bass?

Playing two-hand tapping techniques on bass is not a particularly new idea. Solo bass virtuoso’s like Victor Wooten and Billy Sheehan have been showcasing these techniques for decades. But the popular conception of tapping is still that it’s a guitar technique. The truth is, that tapping works just as well on bass as guitar. But the image of tapping by 1980’s rock guitar heroes like Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai has left an indelible print in popular consciousness.

My own journey with tapping started as a teenager, after hearing one of the above mentioned guitarists and thinking “can I do that on bass?”. It turned out I could and it wasn’t particularly difficult. At that time tapping was just a party trick for me. But my relationship with tapping changed when I started playing with the Chapman Stick player Jim Lampi.

What’s the Best Instrument for Two-Hand Tapping?

The Chapman Stick is designed as a two-hand tapping instrument. It usually has either ten or twelve strings, half the strings are played with the right-hand and the other half the left. Jim plays the Stick with quite a pianistic approach. He doesn’t go in for the flamboyant rock guitar techniques, but instead uses his instruments to play jazz and make soundscapes and back up singing. He most famously played in John Martyn’s band. Tony Levein is a bass player who also played Chapman Stick.

Jim Lampi opened my eyes to two things about two-hand tapping. One is that it can be incredibly versatile and used musically in any number of different contexts. The other is that, if you want to take two-hand tapping seriously, you should think about investing in a proper two-hand tapping instrument like a Chapman Stick. While tapping works just as well on bass as guitar, the truth is that neither guitar or bass is an ideal instrument for tapping.

I did think once upon a time about investing in a Chapman Stick, but the truth is, that I don’t want anything to distract me from playing the bass. So, I’m going to continue to treat two-hand tapping as a fun diversion from my more frequently used bass techniques.

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.

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