Sire Marcus Miller V7 4-String or 5-String? – Bass Practice Diary 85

Sire Marcus Miller V7 4-String or 5-String? – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd December 2019

I’d like to do a review of the Sire Marcus Miller V7, because it’s a really good bass. I’ve already reviewed the Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5-string. The only problem is that so many people have already reviewed the V7. I don’t want to just repeat what other people have already said, I try to make a point with my videos of always coming up with something a bit different from what’s already out there. Otherwise what’s the point in doing them.

So the question that I’m going to try to answer is, 4-string or 5-string? If you buy just one Sire Marcus Miller bass, I would recommend that you buy a V7. But, should you get the 4-string version or the 5-string version? Logically they should be identical apart from the number of strings, so does it make much difference if you go for the 4 or the 5? I think it does and I’m going to explain why.

What has everyone been saying about the V7?

The reviews that I’ve seen of the V7 seem to all pretty much say the same things. Sire have used high quality materials, meaning woods, hardware and even a bone nut. They have an excellent onboard preamp, they sound great, they have a low action which makes them extremely easy to play. And all for a price that is amazingly low given the quality of the instrument.

I’m not going to disagree with any of that. I would even add to it the fact that the bass sounds great without the preamp. When I first played one of these out the box, and it wasn’t yet hooked up to an amplifier, I could hear that it was a great sounding bass even without plugging it in.

It has an active/passive switch that turns the preamp on and off. It sounds great in passive mode with the preamp switched off. So I’m not sure how much it even needs the preamp. But having the preamp on the bass is definitely an added bonus.

The few minor negative comments that I’ve heard about the V7 include the fact that it’s a bit heavy. That hasn’t been a problem for me at all. I play Warwick basses which tend to be very heavy and the V7 feels relatively light in comparison. Maybe for someone who is used to playing Fender basses, the V7 might feel heavy.

Sire Basses Setup and Quality Control

I feel I should address the issue of quality control, because not all of the Sire basses are set up perfectly when you get them out the box. I’ve played four Sire basses brand new straight out of the box. Only one of them was set up exactly as it should be. Two of them, the two V7s featured in this video had very minor setup issues that were very quickly fixed. And I experienced big setup problems with the M7 bass.

I honestly don’t see that as a problem. Basses at this price are not meant to be perfect. For every bass to come out of the factory set up perfectly, Sire would need to pay luthiers to meticulously check every detail on every instrument. If they did that, the basses would be much more expensive. Personally, I would much rather they kept the price as low as possible, and I’ll sort out any issues with the setup myself.

Setting up a bass is easy. If you’re not sure how to do it, make sure you check out my video about setting up the M7 bass.

Should you buy the 4-string or the 5-string?

I should start by saying that both basses in the video are identical models. They both have alder bodies. So the only difference between them, apart from the colour, is the addition of a low B-string on the five string version. So, my first question is, is the B-string on the 5-string as good as the other four strings?

It’s an important question, because it’s really hard to get a low B-string to sound good. On almost any 5 or 6-string bass, the tension on the B-string is less than the tension on the other four strings. That can often cause the B-string to sound weak in comparison to the other strings. I’ve played plenty of 5-string basses where the low B-string sounded so bad that I just didn’t want to use it.

So, how is the low B-string on the 5-string V7? It’s pretty good, which is actually a problem because the other 4-strings sound great, and the B-string only sounds good.

It’s definitely a better low B-string than many of the 5-string basses I’ve played. When you play it on it’s own, it sounds fine, but it just doesn’t sound as good as the rest of the instrument.

It’s probably the one area where the M7 beats the V7. The 5-string M7 has an extra inch in the scale length of the 5-string version, and that helps to even out the tone with the other strings.

One other issue I have with the 5-string V7 is the string spacing. The strings have a narrower spacing than on the 4-string. I know that this is something that a lot of bass manufacturers do, including Fender. But I wish they wouldn’t. 20mm is a standard string spacing for a 4-string bass. The V7 is a Fender Jazz style bass, and the only J style 5-string basses that I’ve ever played and loved, had a 20mm string spacing. When I try to play Marcus Miller thumb and pluck style bass lines with the slightly narrower string spacing, I find it harder to do.

My Conclusion

I think the Sire Marcus Miller V7 is a brilliant bass. I really love playing the 4-string version. The 5-string version is good too, but every time I pick it up, I find myself wanting to put it down and pick up the 4-string version instead. So, if you’re planning to buy just one Sire Marcus Miller bass, and you want my advice about which one to get, then I’m going for the 4-string V7.

The 4-string version makes perfect sense. Because it’s clearly based upon Marcus Miller’s own modified Fender Jazz Bass. Marcus Miller doesn’t play 5-string basses, and I can see why, because his style doesn’t suit a 5-string bass. He does sometimes play his bass with the E-string tuned down to a D, as I demonstrated in the video. And that also works well with the V7 4-string bass.

However, I feel like I should conclude by acknowledging that I’m in the fortunate position of having basses with really good low B strings. So I don’t actually need a 5-string V7. If you’re in the position where you need a 5-string bass, and you’re thinking of the V7 as an option. You probably won’t find many better 5-string basses at this price.

Six String Fretless Bass Arrangement – I Know You – Bass Practice Diary 83

Six String Fretless Bass Arrangement – I Know You – Bass Practice Diary – 19th November 2019

Multi-tracking fretless bass is a big challenge. It’s hard enough to get any fretless instrument to sound in tune on even a single bass line. But to try and get multiple tracks of the same instrument to sound in tune with itself is really hard. Because if any one note is slightly out of tune, then the whole thing sounds bad. So, I set myself a challenge this week to see if I could arrange a tune using only my Warwick Thumb SC 6-string fretless bass.

I Know You by Mike Stern

The tune that I chose was I Know You which comes from a collaboration between Richard Bona and Mike Stern on the album These Times. It’s a beautiful tune and I highly recommend checking out the original version. Richard Bona’s vocals and bass playing are just sublime.

My version probably doesn’t do justice to the original, but it kind of works in it’s own way. The intonation certainly isn’t perfect, but I include it in my Bass Practice Diary as a demonstration of the kind of ideas that I like to use to help me improve my intonation on fretless bass. If you have a loop pedal and a fretless bass, try multi-tracking some of your own fretless lines. It’s hard to get it to sound good!

Truss Rod Adjustment & Setup on fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary 82

Truss Rod Adjustment & Setup on fretless Sire Marcus Miller M7 – Bass Practice Diary – 12th November 2019

One of the most useful skills that you can learn as a bass player is to set up your own bass. It’s easy. Two weeks ago I released my review of the Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5-string bass. It’s a good bass, but the setup was a mess when it arrived. So, on the same day that I shot the review, I also made a video about how I set the bass up, and here it is.

Why you should set up your own bass

When I was younger, I always paid a professional luthier to set my instruments up. I thought that a really good instrument needs a professional set up, and if I tried to do it myself I might ruin it. But there was one incident that completely changed my perspective, and I’m very glad that it did.

I was in my mid twenties and I’d been playing professional gigs for a few years. And I always took my basses to the same bass shop to have them set up. A very good shop where they make their own high end custom basses. So they know what they’re doing. I had just spent a lot of money on buying what was, at that time, the most expensive bass I’d ever owned.

The setup was almost perfect on my new bass, but there was a small issue on the first string, with the action being a bit too low. And so, on a few frets, the first string wasn’t ringing clearly. Naturally I took it straight to my usual bass shop where I knew and trusted them. And I paid them to give it a full setup. I didn’t mention the issue on the first string, I thought I didn’t need to. I assumed that as professional luthiers, they would make the setup perfect.

You’ve probably guessed by now, that when I came to pick up the bass two or three days later. The bass was in exactly the same condition that I had left it. Same issue on the first string. And while I was trying the bass out, I over heard the luthier say to his colleague in another room, that he hadn’t known what to do with my bass because the setup had been perfect from the start.

Only you know how you want your bass to be set up

Naturally I was dismayed to have wasted my time and money on a setup that had made no difference to my bass. I asked the luthier to make some extra adjustments, which he did, and they also made no difference. Then I left with my bass, not knowing what I should do. I didn’t complain, because I didn’t want to humiliate the guy, he had done his best.

When I got home, all I could do was try and sort out the issue myself, which I did in less than 10 minutes and I got the bass playing perfectly. And this was a revelation to me. I had always assumed that I couldn’t possibly set an instrument up as well as a professional. But I had fixed a problem in a few minutes that a professional had failed to even identify in three days.

Now, I assure you that I’m not trying to say that luthiers are incompetent or a sham. There is a reason why the luthier couldn’t get my bass setup right and I could. And that reason is because I’m a musician and he isn’t. I’ve heard all of the luthiers in that shop playing basses before, and their bass playing is very rudimentary and basic. Their skills are in making instruments, not playing them. So, when they set up an instrument, their approach is to make very detailed accurate measurements.

The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t take in to account the idiosyncrasies of each individual instrument. The luthier had performed all of the measurements on my bass, and found that everything was as it should be. That’s not really surprising, because it was an expensive bass, and I’m sure that the manufacturer had also made all the same measurements when it left the factory and decided it was perfect.

However, neither the factory nor the luthier in the shop had picked up on the issue that I was having, because they don’t play the bass like I do. And that is the key point. Only I know how I want my bass to be set up. Paying somebody else to do it doesn’t make any sense at all. They can only give me a generic set up based on what they think I want. But if I do it myself, I can make the bass play exactly how I want it to play.

How to set up a bass

There are only really five things that you need to learn how to do. And most of them are extremely easy. The most important, and possibly most difficult, is to set the relief in the neck by adjusting the truss rod. I’ve demonstrated in the video how a luthier adjusts the relief in the neck. But I tend to do everything by feel. I make small adjustments and then I try it out to see how it feels.

I think that is another really key point. Everything you do, just make tiny adjustments and keep trying it out. It might take ages to get it right, the first time that you do it. But it’s the best way, and it minimises the chances of you doing any damage to your bass.

Apart from the truss rod, the other four things that you can adjust are the saddles on the bridge for string height, the intonation on each string, the pickup height and the nut height.

As I mentioned in the video, most basses don’t come with adjustable nuts. I wish they did, check out Warwick’s Just-a-Nut III here. I don’t know why other companies can’t come up with a similar idea. If you don’t have an adjustable nut, you can lower a nut by filing it down. If you want to raise it, you need to replace it with a new nut. This is something that you probably should get a luthier to do, but most bass setup’s can be done without needing a new nut. I’ve only ever had to have a nut replaced twice in over 25 years of playing bass.

Amandla – A Marcus Miller tune Played on Sire Marcus Miller Basses – Bass Practice Diary 81

A Marcus Miller tune with Sire Marcus Miller Basses – V7 & M7 – Bass Practice Diary – 5th November 2019

Recently I’ve been trying out some Sire basses. You may have already seen my review of the M7 fretless 5-string bass that I released last week. And I’ll be following up with a review of the V7 4-string and 5-string versions in the coming weeks. But, it struck me this week, that what a lot of people will want to know is, can you make them sound like Marcus Miller? In an attempt to answer, I’ve recorded one of his tunes, Amandla from the album of the same name.

Do the M7 and V7 sound like Marcus Miller basses?

Yes and no… Yes for the V7 and no for the M7. Not that the M7 is a bad bass. It’s a nice sounding fretless bass, as I covered in my review last week, but it’s a very different style of bass to anything I’ve ever seen Marcus Miller play. The V7, on the other hand, is very much a Marcus Miller style of bass. It’s essentially a Fender Jazz style bass with an active preamp.

I should point out that my style of playing the bass is very different to his, and the basses that I usually play are very different to those that he plays. I love Marcus Miller as both a composer and a musician, but I’ve never tried to imitate his sound before.

So, when you listen to the V7 bass in the video, you should bare in mind that it’s being played by someone who is trying to imitate a playing style that he almost never plays on a style of bass that he very rarely uses. And with that in mind, I’m quite surprised how much the bass tone does remind me of Marcus Miller. I don’t think I’ve ever played a bass before that was so easy to get that kind of tone out of.

Tutu and Amandla

So, the tune in the video is called Amandla, and it’s one of my favourite Marcus Miller compositions. It’s also a great tune for demonstrating these basses, because the original version includes both fretted and fretless basses and both finger style and slap techniques. So it covers a wide range of Marcus’ tones and techniques.

Marcus Miller wrote and produced two albums in the 1980s for the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, called Tutu and Amandla. He played bass on other Miles Davis albums, but those two were really his albums. Tutu is more well known. It’s probably Miles Davis’ most well known album from the last period of his career. I certainly remember listening to it a lot when I was in my teens. But as the years have gone by, I’ve grown to love the album Amandla more and more. It contains a few of my favourite Marcus Miller compositions including the title track.

If you don’t know them already, I would highly recommend checking out both albums. Many people see Tutu as a Marcus Miller album with Miles Davis on trumpet, even though it’s Miles Davis’ name and face on the cover. But Amandla feels more like a collaboration because there’s more input from Miles’ band. Which at that time included the brilliant improvisers Kenny Garret and Joseph “Foley” McCreary.

Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5-string – Bass Practice Diary 80

Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5 string bass guitar review – Bass Practice Diary – 29th October 2019

Here’s my review of the Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5 string bass. I’m sure most of you have probably heard about the so-called Sire Revolution by now. A relatively unknown Korean company called Sire created seismic waves in the bass community when they secured the endorsement of Marcus Miller. A legendary bass player, who had previously been associated with playing the same Fender Jazz Bass since he bought it in the 1970’s. And nobody had ever really seen him play anything other than a Fender bass.

Are Sire Basses as good as people are saying?

So, I had to see for myself what it was that convinced this bass legend to put his name to this selection of affordable instruments. I’ve been trying out some V7 and M7 basses, fretted, fretless, 4-string and 5-string. And this week I’m starting this week with the Sire Marcus Miller M7.

The basses are made in Indonesia. And the idea is that Sire are trying to produce professional quality instruments for an affordable price. And all the reviews that I’d read prior to trying these instruments out, suggested that they’d succeeded.

What are the best affordable bass guitars?

For me, as a bass teacher, I’m constantly being asked to advise people on what are the best basses to buy on a budget. So, there is a really important reason why I wanted to try out these Sire basses. If you follow my videos regularly, you’ll know that I play Warwick basses. Warwick make outstanding high quality instruments in Germany. But they also make a more affordable line of instruments in China which they call Rockbass. I’ve always been happy to recommend these to students looking for an affordable instrument as they’re excellent basses for the money.

However, the prices have been going up a lot in recent years. And the cheapest Sire basses are now available for less than the cheapest Warwick Rockbass basses. So I need to know if they’re a viable option to recommend to my bass students looking for quality on a budget.

And I have to say that I’ve been impressed with these nice sounding, easy to play basses. Especially with the V7 model, which is closely modelled on Marcus Miller’s style of Fender Jazz Bass. I’ll be doing a separate review of the V7’s soon. But this week I wanted to start by reviewing the M7, which as you can see, caused me a few problems when it first arrived.

The setup on the M7

I will be doing a whole other video on how I set up this bass. Because It would have been too much to include in this video. But I had to do a complete setup before I could play the bass because the setup was an absolute mess when I got it out the box. The worst I’ve seen on a brand new bass.

Sire set up their basses with a very low action. As far as I know, this was a request by Marcus Miller. He wants people to experience the basses set up the way that he likes to play. But, for a bass manufacturer to set their basses with a very low action is a huge gamble, which won’t always pay off. I really wonder how many basses have been sent back because the setup was so bad.

The problem is, that if you set up your bass with a low action, then you must expect to have to re-set it up every now and then. Because, as seasons and atmospheric conditions change, so will your bass setup. And a low action can very quickly become unplayable when the strings start hitting the frets.

Are Sire basses good for beginners?

This is fine for an experienced bass player who has set up basses before. But, as Sire are targeting the budget end of the market as well, then they will be selling basses to people who won’t necessarily know how to set them up. And they don’t provide any kind of instructions with the basses. So, I imagine that a few of these have probably been sent back by people frustrated that their strings keep buzzing.

The setups on the V7’s that I played weren’t as bad as the M7. But there were still little issues that I had to fix. All of which were caused by a low action. And I know that if I ever recommend one of these basses to one of my students, then I’ll have to offer to set it up for them if the setup is a mess when it arrives.

For this reason, they might not be ideal for complete beginners, unless they have a teacher who can sort out any setup issues.

Strings

It’s a good bass. It sounds good and it plays well, and it has a powerful low B string. The setup issues weren’t enough to put me off from liking this bass. I’ve had lots of fun playing it since I set it up.

I should point out, that in the process of setting it up, I also changed the strings. The bass comes with flat wound strings. Which again, I assume is at the request of Marcus Miller. But I much prefer the sound of round wounds on fretless. So that is the sound you hear in the video.

Sire Marcus Miller M7 vs V7

The biggest criticism that I would level at this bass, is that it just isn’t as good as the Sire Marcus Miller V7. The V7 is a proper Marcus Miller style of bass and the M7 just isn’t. The M7 is also slightly more expensive than the V7, which I find odd, because it isn’t as good.

Why is the V7 better? Because it sounds better. It sounds like a proper Marcus Miller style Fender Jazz Bass. The M7 sounds good when the preamp is switched on. But the V7 has the same preamp, and the V7 sounds good without the preamp as well. To be honest, the V7 sounds good even when it’s not plugged in. I’m serious! You can usually tell if a bass will sound good by playing it without an amplifier. No matter how good your electronics are, they won’t rescue the sound of a bad sounding bass. Now, I’m not saying the M7 is a bad sounding bass. It just doesn’t sound as good as the V7.

The only advantages that I can see for the M7 over the V7 are, that it has more frets. 24 on the M7, 20 on the V7. And it has a better low B string on the 5 string version. Because the M7 5-string has a 35 inch scale, whereas the V7 5-string has a 34 inch scale. That extra inch tightens up the low B-string a bit. So, if I have a student who wants to use the extra range both high and low, then I might recommend the M7. But, more often than not, I’d be much more likely to recommend the 4-string V7.

Half Rounds on Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 78

Half Rounds Bass Strings on 6 String Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 15th October 2019

I get a lot of questions on social media about bass strings. What strings do you use? What do you think of these strings? etc. One question that I’ve never been able to answer is, what do you think of half rounds? Because I’ve never tried them, until now. So, I’ve just put a set of D’addario ENF71 Half Rounds on my Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 string acoustic bass guitar. The string gauges are 30-45-65-80-100-130.

Why Half Rounds?

There was a reason why I wanted to try half rounds on my acoustic bass guitar beyond just curiosity. I normally use bronze round wound strings on my Warwick Alien Deluxe. In fact, I use round wounds on all my basses. The Warwick Red Label Bronze Strings that I normally use sound great. And they are amazing value for money. But there is one issue with using round wound strings on acoustic instruments (it’s the same with steel string acoustic guitars) which is, that the strings can make annoying squeaking noises when you shift position.

An obvious solution to this issue is to use flat wound strings. I’ve tried this, and the problem is, that I don’t like the sound of flats on bass guitar. To me they sound very dull and dead, and I need the brightness of a round wound string to create the sound I’m trying to achieve.

So, the question in my head was, can half rounds provide me some of the brightness of a round wound string but with less friction (squeak), like a flat wound string? And I have to say that my early response is very good. They seem to do exactly that. The next test will be, how long will they stay bright for? That may have to be the subject of a future video.

Jazz Waltz by Tim Pettingale – Bass Practice Diary 74

Johnny Cox and Tim Pettingale playing Tim’s Jazz Waltz – Bass Practice Diary – 17th September 2019

A couple of weeks ago Tim Pettingale came over to visit me in my new studio. And we had a bit of a play over this idea that Tim had for a jazz waltz. I previously released another video from this session of us playing over Rhythm Changes. Tim is the author of two brilliant jazz guitar books Jazz Bebop Blues Guitar and Rhythm Changes for Jazz Guitar.

Jazz Waltz and Variations

A jazz waltz is something that I don’t practice that often. So it was really interesting when Tim came to me with this idea for an original composition. He wrote it in three sections, A, B and C, which gave us some scope to come up with some interesting rhythmic variations. On the B and C sections.

The A section is the main melody, which we played with a standard jazz waltz feel. I initially played it on my fretless bass and then Tim played it on guitar after that.

A jazz waltz is written in 3/4 but it’s probably more accurate to call it 9/8. Because you have three beats in each bar and each beat is subdivided into triplets. Which is what gives you a swing feel. So there are effectively nine 1/8th notes in each bar, hence 9/8. It’s useful to understand this because it means that you can superimpose grooves in 9/8 onto a jazz waltz without needing to change the beat or sub-division. That’s exactly what we did in the bass solo which is the C section of the composition and starts at 1:41 in the video.

A simpler approach to playing 3/4 is to play using straight 1/8th notes. Which creates six 1/8th notes in each bar instead of nine. So, a straight 3/4 can also be thought of as being interchangeable with 6/8. This is the feel that we explored in the B section which starts at 0:58 in the video. I’ve explored many of these same rhythmic ideas in my upcoming book for Fundamental Changes which I hope will be released before the end of this year.

Michael Brecker Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary 72

Michael Brecker Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd September 2019

This week I’ve been working out some jazz lines that Michael Brecker played on Charlie Parker’s tune Confirmation. And this week I’m featuring one particular lick that comes from that tune.

The recording that I was working from comes from a Chick Corea album called Three Quartets. And it features Michael Brecker performing a duet with Chick Corea who is playing the drums rather than his more familiar role as a pianist. The performance is notable for Michael Brecker’s brilliant solo. Which features a number of brilliant jazz lines. And I’ve picked out this particular lick, because I think it fit’s nicely onto a four string bass guitar. Although I should point out that I’m playing the lick one octave below where Michael Brecker plays it. Here’s the lick.

Michael Brecker Jazz Lick - Db
Michael Brecker Jazz Lick – Db

The lick happens in the middle 8, and it’s played on a II-V-I in Db major. I recently wrote about the importance of practicing II-V-I’s in my post about applying jazz vocabulary to jazz standards. This lick is a really useful piece of jazz vocabulary. And when you practice these kind of lines, I would strongly recommend practising transposing them into different keys. Here’s the same lick played in Ab major to get you started.

Michael Brecker Jazz Lick - Ab
Michael Brecker Jazz Lick – Ab

Rhythm Changes with Tim Pettingale – Bass Practice Diary 71

Rhythm Changes (Oleo) with Tim Pettingale – Bass Practice Diary – 27th August 2019

I’ve written before about the importance of practicing with other musicians. And it was an absolute pleasure this week to welcome jazz guitarist Tim Pettingale to my studio in East London. Tim’s latest book, which I’ve been reading recently, is called Rhythm Changes for Jazz Guitar. So it seemed like a great opportunity to ask Tim to put me through my paces on a Rhythm Changes tune. We choose Sonny Rollins’ tune Oleo, because Tim refers to it in his book.

What is Rhythm Changes?

Rhythm Changes is a 32 bar chord progression which is loosely based on Gershwin’s tune I’ve Got Rhythm. Many famous jazz tunes have been written on the Rhythm Changes. And it’s the second most commonly used progression in jazz after the 12 bar blues. However, just like the blues progression, there are hundreds of variations that you can play for Rhythm Changes. And you rarely hear it played exactly the same way twice. Tim’s book features explanation and solo examples for many of these variations.

In the video, we’ve tried to feature a few cool variations and chord substitutions from the book in our very short rendition of Oleo. I’ll try and explain them very briefly here.

Rhythm Changes chord theory

Rhythm Changes has an AABA structure. Each A and B section is eight bars long. For the first two A sections we played Sonny Rollins’ melody. Then Tim’s solo started on the middle 8, which is the B section. We used the standard Rhythm Changes middle 8, which is four dominant 7th chords each played for two bars, D7 – G7 – C7 – F7.

The A section usually starts with a I-VI-II-V chord progression in Bb major. The VI chord is often played as G7 rather than Gm7. Having played the I-VI-II-V twice, we then played a cycle of II-V’s starting in Eb major. And then going through the keys Db major and C major before resolving back into Bb major. So bars 5-8 of the A section, as we played it, went like this, Fm7 – Bb7 – Ebm7 – Ab7 – Dm7 – G7 – Cm7 – F7 with two beats on each chord.

The next A section took us back to the start of the AABA form. And we started to introduce some chord substitutions. Instead of the usual I-VI-II-V’s, we played Dm7 – Db7b5 – Cm7 – B7b5. It’s a clever substitution for a I-VI-II-V because it creates a root movement descending in semi-tones. The Dm7 is chord III in Bb major. Chord III is a common substitution for Chord I because the notes in a Dm7 chord are the same as the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th of a Bbmaj9 chord. The Db7b5 is a tritone substitution for the G7 (chord VI) and the B7b5 is a tritone substitution for the F7 (chord V). The Cm7 is chord II and it’s the only one of the four chords that isn’t substituted.

We played one more A section, during which we played more or less the standard changes. And then we went into another B section. This time we played tritone substitutions on the D7 and C7 chords. So the progression as we played it was Ab7 – G7 – Gb7 – F7.

Tim Pettingale

All of these substitutions and many others are featured in Tim’s book. I would highly recommend it for anyone who plays guitar and wants to learn about jazz. Tim is the author of Jazz Bebop Blues Guitar as well as the Rhythm Changes book. His books are great, because they don’t assume any prior knowledge of jazz. So they very clearly explain the fundamental principles before going on to deliver simple guides to playing and improvising. All his books have an informal and easy to read style. And they contain multiple short examples written in standard notation and guitar TAB, all with accompanying audio Mp3’s.

During Tim’s visit we also shot another video of one of Tim’s original compositions, which was a jazz waltz. Keep checking both mine and Tim’s social media because we’ll be posting that video in the next few weeks.

Applying Jazz Vocabulary to Jazz Standards – Bass Practice Diary 70

Jazz Vocabulary on Jazz Standards with Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 20th August 2019

Last week I was writing out and practicing 16th note jazz lines on II-V-I’s. When you’re practicing jazz vocabulary like that, the next logical step is to try to apply the vocabulary to the chord changes of a tune or jazz standard. And that’s what I’ve been doing this week.

Why do jazz musicians practice playing II-V-I’s?

When I first came across the idea of practicing II-V-I’s, I couldn’t understand why jazz musicians were so obsessed with this one very simple chord progression. But now I get it. Because once you can play lines on II-V-I’s, you can then use those lines in such a huge number of musical situations. Even when there isn’t a II-V-I written in the music, you can superimpose the II-V-I harmony with your lines over it.

Here are just a few examples of what I’m talking about. If you are playing on a minor 7th chord. You can treat that chord as a chord II and play II-V lines over it. Or, if you’re playing on a dominant 7th chord, you can treat it as a V chord and do the same thing. The most obvious place to superimpose a II-V-I is on a major chord or major 7th chord. Using these kind of ideas, jazz musicians have become masters of turning just about any harmonic progression into a sequence of II-V’s or II-V-I’s.

So if you can get good at improvising on II-V-I’s, then you can improvise on so many different chord progressions and harmonies.

Applying jazz vocabulary to standards

Practicing jazz vocabulary in this case just means playing lines that work over common jazz chord changes. Most commonly II-V-I’s. It’s essentially like learning licks. The vocabulary could be lines that you’ve worked out yourself or they could be lines played by someone else. If you’re going to learn to improvise in a jazz style, I think it’s essential to practice some jazz vocabulary. And that’s basically what I was doing last week.

When you practice jazz vocabulary it’s a good idea to transpose it into different keys. It’s an even better idea to apply it to the changes of a real jazz standard. Because then you have to think about how and where you can use the lines. As well as changing the key to follow the harmonic movement of the standard.

I’ve written out two examples. This first one is on the first eight bars of In Your Own Sweet Way.

In Your Own Sweet Way - Jazz Vocabulary Exercise
In Your Own Sweet Way – Jazz Vocabulary Exercise

As you can see, there are lots of II-V’s in this tune. Both major and minor. So, it works really well for applying this kind of jazz vocabulary. My next example was on Miles Davis’ tune Solar.

Solar - Jazz Vocabulary Exercise
Solar – Jazz Vocabulary Exercise

Why practice jazz vocabulary?

Now I should point out, as I did in the video, that this is just an exercise. I wouldn’t choose to improvise like this. Because I don’t use licks or preprepared vocabulary when I improvise. I know that a lot of jazz musicians do use licks in their solos. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that. But it doesn’t work for me. Because I see improvisation as spontaneously creating something in the moment. And that’s what I love about it. If I were to apply a preprepared idea into an improvisation it would feel incongruous to me, and so I don’t do it.

The reason that I practice licks and vocabulary is so that I can hopefully absorb the sounds and melodic ideas. So that hopefully when I want to improvise a jazz solo, I can come up with similar ideas of my own.