Passion Dance by McCoy Tyner on fretless 6-string bass – Bass Practice Diary 99

Passion Dance by McCoy Tyner on fretless 6-string bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th March 2020

One of the most memorable musical moments in my life was seeing McCoy Tyner play live at the Jazz Cafe in London in 2003. I was 19 years old and I had recently got very into the John Coltrane Quartet. My parents had given me A Love Supreme on CD as a 19th birthday present. The thought that I was going to watch the pianist from that album play live, was almost too exciting!

I arrived when the doors opened (about 3 hours before the gig started) to get myself a position with the best view. I literally sat about a metre from McCoy Tyner’s right hand as he played an absolutely burning set with his trio, which at that time included the unbelievably talented Charnett Moffett on bass and Eric Harland on drums. It’s a memory I will never forget. At that point in my life I had never heard music played with that level of intensity by a small acoustic jazz band.

I’ve heard many musicians imitate McCoy Tyner’s style over the years. But I’ve never heard anyone who could do it like him. I saw him live many more times after that, always in concert halls rather than jazz clubs. I even met him on one occasion. But it’s that first gig in a jazz club in London that will always stick in my memory as one of my happiest musical memories. It was one of the first times that I’d seen “the real thing” up close and it had a huge impact on me.

It was with great sadness that I heard about McCoy Tyner’s passing this week at the age of 81. He was a truly unique musician, and his influence on modern jazz is enourmous.

Quartal Harmony

McCoy Tyner is best known for the sound of quartal harmony. That’s when you arrange chord voicings in fourth intervals. It’s a very distinctive sound, and instantly recognisable in modern jazz. Passion Dance uses that quartal sound, and is a great example of McCoy Tyner’s signature sound. My rendition certainly doesn’t capture the intensity with which McCoy Tyner used to play it. But I wanted to put my own tribute out for a great musician who influenced me massively.

Warwick Red Label vs Black Label Bass Strings – Bass Practice Diary 97

Warwick Red Label vs Black Label Bass Strings – Bass Practice Diary – 25th February 2020

I’ve wanted to test the Warwick Red Label bass strings for a while, because I’ve always felt they represent incredible value for money. The five string set in the video cost me €12.40 on Thomann, while a four string set at the time was less than €10. That’s incredibly cheap for stainless steel round wound bass strings from a reputable brand like Warwick. But value for money is one thing and performance is another, so I wanted to properly test these budget strings against the more expensive Warwick Black Label stainless steel bass strings.

Warwick Bass Strings

Warwick make a lot of different types of bass strings now. They have their high end coated strings called EMP, which are more expensive, but the coating will make the strings last much longer. There wouldn’t be any point in comparing a coated and uncoated bass string. The coated strings would obviously age better, so I didn’t include those in this comparison.

Warwick also manufacture bronze acoustic bass guitar strings in both Red and Black Label sets. I usually put the Warwick Red Label bronze strings on my Warwick Alien Deluxe Acoustic 6-string Bass Guitar. No other 6-string bronze set comes close to being as affordable for that quality of string. They also make tapewound strings which also sound good on acoustic bass guitar.

But if you’re looking for conventional stainless steel or nickel wound guitar strings, then Warwick has three products. Red Label, Yellow Label and Black Label, with red being the cheapest and black the most expensive. The Yellow label strings are nickel plated and made in the USA. They tend to be similar in price to the black label strings, but slightly cheaper. I didn’t include them in this test because I wanted to test the Stainless Steel Red Label strings against a similar Stainless Steel set, which is the Black Label strings.

Spain on Fretless Bass & Nylon String Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 94

Spain on 6-string Fretless Bass and Nylon String Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 4th February 2020

Chick Corea’s composition Spain is one of the most iconic jazz tunes written in the 20th Century. Last week I was using some of the chord changes for the solo section of Spain to demonstrate how to use major triad pairs to solo on jazz chord changes. After shooting that video I was practicing playing the tune as a duet with myself. I was using my Godin ACS nylon string guitar and my fretless Warwick Thumb SC.

Bass and Nylon String Guitar

Some combinations of instruments just work really well, even though you rarely hear them used. I think that the combination of bass guitar and nylon string or classical guitar is a great combination. I keep meaning to write more musical arrangements using this combination and I hope I will in the future. Another great combination is bass and flute, think about Jaco Pastorius’ tune (Used to be a) Cha Cha.

This is my first video of an arrangement using just bass and nylon string guitar. To be honest, I haven’t done much arranging, I pretty much just played the tune and improvised a solo on bass.

Minor Scales on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 92

Minor Scales – Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor, Natural Minor & Dorian – Bass Practice Diary – 21st January 2020

If I ask you to play a C minor scale, what do you play? Minor scales are not as simple as major scales. Most of us know what to play if someone asks us to play a C major scale, but minor scales are confusing. There are several different minor scales, and how do you know which one to play and when.

How many different minor scales are there?

If you’re going to understand minor scales, then it’s important to understand the difference between three different scales, melodic minor, harmonic minor and natural minor. Every scale is a sequence of intervals, and for each of these three scales the intervals are the same for the first five notes. It’s the 6th and 7th notes of the scales that contain the variations.

The terminology of minor scales confuses people for the simple reason that classical musicians treat minor scales differently from jazz musicians. To help explain this I’m going to start by looking at the natural minor and the melodic minor scales. I’ll use the key of A minor because it’s the simplest, it has no sharps or flats, so the natural minor scale contains the notes A, B, C, D, E, F & G.

Minor Scales - A Natural Minor
A natural minor scale

The A natural minor scale contains all of the same notes as a C major scale. That means that the natural minor scale is actually a mode of the major scale. It’s mode six, called Aeolian. Now, compare that to the melodic minor scale.

The melodic minor scale

Minor Scales - Melodic Minor
A melodic minor scale

The melodic minor scale has a raised 6th and 7th, meaning F# instead of F natural and G# instead of G natural. It’s important to understand that the melodic minor scale is not a mode of the major scale like the natural minor. It’s a parent scale and has seven modes of it’s own. You can check out my video about the modes of the melodic minor scale.

So, the natural minor scale is mode six of the major scale and the melodic minor is a scale with it’s own set of modes. So, not only do these scales sound different, they are also very different in their application. The natural minor scale implies a minor 7th chord functioning as chord VI in a major key, while the melodic minor implies a minor chord with a major 7th functioning as chord I in a minor key.

This becomes more confusing when you learn that classical music treats both these scales as one scale. The melodic minor is the ascending version of the scale, and the natural minor is the descending version of the scale. And together these are called the melodic minor. You can play it on the bass like this.

Minor Scales - Classical Melodic Minor
Classical Melodic Minor Scale

The harmonic minor scale

There is another minor scale, which, like the melodic minor, is a parent scale to seven of it’s own modes. It’s called the harmonic minor and it has a minor 6th and a major 7th. That means that in the key of A minor, the 6th will be an F natural and the 7th will be a G#.

Minor Scales - Harmonic minor
A harmonic minor scale

The harmonic minor scale can also imply chord I in a minor key.

The Dorian Mode

I’ve included a fourth scale in my video. The dorian scale is another mode of the major scale, mode number two. The reason I’ve included it is because it’s a much more common choice of scale for improvisers playing on minor 7th chords than the natural minor scale. However, you wouldn’t use an A dorian scale to play on chord I in the key of A minor. You would use it to play on an A minor 7th chord functioning as chord II in G major. It goes like this.

dorian
A dorian scale

The A dorian scale contains a major 6th F# and the minor 7th G natural.

Bright Size Life on Fretless Bass and Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 91

Bright Size Life on Fretless Bass and Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 14th January 2020

One of my favourite albums is Bright Size Life by Pat Metheny. It was not only Metheny’s debut album as a band leader but it was also one of the earliest recordings of Jaco Pastorius. Pastorius went on to become arguably the most influential electric bass player of the 20th century, and Bright Size Life features some of his best jazz work. Metheny and Pastorius together on this album are two young jazz genius’ working together in the very stripped down context of a trio with drummer Bob Moses.

The album features some of the best guitar and bass arrangements ever heard in the history of jazz and the title track is one of my personal favourites. This week I was reading through transcriptions of both Metheny’s and Jaco’s parts and I’ve tried to put them together. Admittedly, my playing in this video doesn’t live up to the genius of these two legends, but I was having fun so I put the camera on anyway. I hope you enjoy it.

Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage Fretless

The bass I’m using is a fretless Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage. I’ve done a video about the Sire V7’s before, and I think they’re brilliant. But I haven’t yet done a video about this fretless Vintage version. The thing with this Vintage version is that it’s clearly based on a 70’s fretless Fender Jazz Bass. So, even though it has Marcus Miller’s name on it, it makes me think of Jaco Pastorius.

Introduction to Triad Pairs on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 90

Introduction to Triad Pairs on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 7th January 2020

This week I want to introduce some basic triad pairs exercises. The basic concept of playing triad pairs on bass is that you take two triads (three note chords) that don’t have any notes in common. Meaning that you have six different notes. And then you use those triads to makes lines and exercises.

Why use triad pairs?

Triad pairs are now a really common concept in jazz improvisation. But it’s not only jazz musicians that use them. You can apply triad pairs to almost any genre of music. They work particularly well for improvisation, but you can also use them to write bass lines.

This week, I’m only going to introduce the most basic form of triad pairs. Which is when you take two major triads that are spaced a tone apart. The reason for spacing them a tone apart, is because the triads function like chords IV and V in a major key. So you can use these kind of lines in any major key by transposing the two triads to the notes of chords IV and V in the key.

The exercises

All of these exercises are played using the triads C major and D major. Which are chords IV and V in the key of G major. But that doesn’t mean that you can only use these in the key of G major. There are all kinds of interesting and creative applications of triad pairs which I’ll try and cover in my future videos.

There are three obvious ways to voice a triad (inversions). You can put the root at the bottom, the 3rd at the bottom or the 5th at the bottom. This first exercise demonstrates those three different inversions, which you need to learn really well if you’re going to get good at playing these exercises. Bar 1 uses the root position triads for both C and D and then bar 2 uses the 1st inversion and bar 3 uses the second inversion.

Triad Pairs - Exercise 1
Triad Pairs – Exercise 1

This next exercise uses a similar idea, but with triplets. So, you play three notes on each triad rather than four.

Triad Pairs - Exercise 2
Triad Pairs – Exercise 2

Finally, here is a pattern that plays four notes on C and then three on D.

Triad Pairs - Exercise 3
Triad Pairs – Exercise 3

The purpose of playing patterns like this one in exercise 3, is that it helps to make the exercise sound less like a pattern. If you’re playing triad pairs in an improvised solo, and you play three notes up and three notes down, like exercise 2. It will very quickly sound like you’re playing a repeating pattern. That’s ok if it’s the sound you want. But, if you want to make it sound less like a pattern, then a pattern with an odd number sequence (three then four) will create a less predictable feel when played as part of a solo.

PLAYING CHORDS ON THE BASS – PART 3 – TRIADS

Happy New Year – New Year’s Eve Bass Practice Diary 89

Happy New Year – New Year’s Eve Bass Practice Diary – 31st December 2019

Happy New Year! It’s New Year’s Eve and I want to thank everyone who has followed Johnny Cox Music in 2019. I have big plans moving forward into 2020, including a lot more free original bass content, so stay tuned! My second book is almost ready for publication and I’m planning to launch a dedicated teaching website for bass players in 2020.

Here’s a video that I shot last year to help you usher in the new year with a bit of solo 6-string bass. I would have shot a new video this year, but unfortunately I don’t know any other New Year’s Eve song apart from Auld Lang Syne. So this is one of the very rare occasions where I’m recycling an old video. I hope you enjoy it!

Auld Lang Syne

There are a number of ways you can approach harmonising this tune, and I didn’t spend very long coming up with this arrangement. I didn’t write the arrangement down, I just worked out a few things by ear before I hit record.

The loose structure of the arrangement is as follows. I played the first half of the song solo, using simple I, IV, V harmony. I intentionally set it in a key where I could utilise the open strings as bass notes. Then I added some jazz chords and alterations in the second half and immediately overdubbed the melody for the second half of the tune.

This was actually one of the quickest videos I’ve done. The shooting of it didn’t take more than five minutes. But I’m happy with the results. Sometimes playing something “off the cuff” is the best way rather than overthinking it.

I hope you enjoy this bit of bassy mellowness, whether your New Year’s Eve is mellow like mine or a bit more exciting. And I hope that the coming year gives you many opportunities to play the bass!

Carol of the Bells – Christmas Bass Practice Diary 88

Carol of the Bells – Christmas Bass Practice Diary – 24th December 2019

Happy Christmas and thanks to everyone that’s been following my Bass Practice Diary videos this year. Here is my new Christmas bass video for 2019. I wanted to find something that I could arrange with a loop pedal and my 6-string bass. I immediately thought of Carol of the Bells. The arrangement of the song immediately lends itself to looping.

The way that I’ve arranged it makes it possible to perform live with two loop pedals, one going into the other. However, I shot this video in two parts with one loop pedal. It’s much easier doing it that way rather than as one continuous take.

I hope you enjoy the video, please check out my previous Christmas bass videos if you haven’t already. This one is from last Christmas and it’s Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow. And this on is The Christmas Song aka Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. Stay tuned to Johnny Cox Music in 2020 for loads of new bass videos. I’ve completed 52 brand new and original bass videos in 2019 and I’ve got lots more planned for the future.

I VI II V Chord Progressions – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary 87

I VI II V Chord Progressions on 6-string Bass – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 17th December 2019

This week I’m revisiting my introduction to I VI II V chord progressions on 6-string bass video. There are so many ways that you can alter and substitute chords in a I VI II V sequence. Jazz musicians will often alter and add to the progression so much, that it’s almost impossible to tell that it was ever a I-VI-II V progression in the first place.

Chord substitutions

There really aren’t any rules when it comes to substituting chords. There are certain standard substitutions that are very common, such as the tritone substitution, which I looked at in my last video. But, honestly, you can substitute any chord for any other one that you like the sound of. A lot of it depends on the musical context that you’re playing the substitution in, but also it comes down to opinion. What sounds interesting to some people, will sound odd to others.

This week I’m just going to take you through some familiar chord substitutions and additions to I VI II V’s. These examples go quite a bit further than the examples in my previous video. But, believe me, you can take these ideas much further out than this.

The I VI II V examples

I created this first example by taking the III-VI-II-V example from my previous video and turning all the chords into dominant 7th chords. I then applied tritone substitutions to the VI and II chords. Then I added whatever extensions and alterations that I liked the sound of.

III – VI – II – V – I chord progression with dominant 7th substitutions

Once you have four dominant 7th chords like this, you can come up with so many variations just by applying tritone substitutions.

My next example derives from the first example. I’ve simply turned the E7, Eb7 and G7 chords into II-V’s. Meaning that I’ve added minor 7th chords before each dominant 7th chord. Each minor 7th has a root note that is a 4th below (or a fifth above) the root note of the dominant 7th chord. I’ve altered the VI chord to make it a major 7th instead of a dominant 7th chord. This completes a II-V-I in the key of Ab major, which is a strange thing to find in a chord progression in C major, but it works!

I – VI – II – V progression with II – V substitutions

Vibraclone Rotary Pedal with Bass – Bass Practice Diary 86

TC Electronic Vibraclone Rotary with 6-String Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 10th December 2019

This week I discovered the Vibraclone Rotary pedal from TC Electronic. They call it a Rotary Speaker Emulator, which to me means it sounds like playing through a Leslie speaker. I’ve never been particularly interested in effects pedals. I very rarely take any with me on gigs. But I do use them occasionally. And if I come across a pedal that sounds good for an affordable price, then I’ll definitely snap it up. The Vibraclone ticks all the boxes of being cheap, interesting and sounding good.

How I use the Vibraclone

The Vibraclone definitely has a retro sound. The Leslie speaker was invented in the 1940’s as an addition to the hammond organ. But it was used as an effect by guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s. The terms Chorale and Tremolo are used on a switch on the Vibraclone to differentiate the slow and fast speed settings. These terms came from the Leslie speaker, which used the same terms for it’s slow and fast settings.

I prefer playing with the slower mode for most situations. I find it a bit more subtle. Although I feel like maybe the faster setting sounds more authentically like a Leslie.

Using effects pedals with bass

Generally I don’t use effects when I’m playing the bass and I’m certainly not an expert on pedals. But the times when I find them useful are when I’m playing a lot of solos. If I’m doing a duo gig for example, I know I’ll be called on to play lots of solos. Having something that can change and add variety to my tonal palette can really add something. If you’re playing your third or fourth solo of the night then you usually need something to help you change it a bit.

Effects loops

When I’m using effects pedals, I prefer to put them through an effects loop rather than directly into the front of an amplifier. I want my pure bass tone to be as undiluted as possible, so I don’t want anything in my signal chain between my bass and the amp.

How the effects loop works does depend on the individual amplifier. On my Ampeg GVT guitar amp I can activate and deactivate the effects loop with a foot switch. That is by far my favourite method of using an effects loop, because it means that when the effects loop is disabled I’m getting no potential discolouring of my sound from playing through a long chain of inactive pedals and patch cables. It’s a great system and I wish that I had a bass amp that worked like that.

Volume pedals

The effects loop on the back of the Markbass Little Mark III works slightly differently. It mixes the sound of the effects loop with the clean sound of your bass going into the front of the amp. So the impact of the effects is slightly more subtle as it isn’t impacting on all of the sound coming out the amp. I used a volume pedal on the effects loop to gradually bring in and fade out the effect.

You could use the foot switch on the pedal to turn the effect on and off, but that would still leave the sound of your bass going through the pedal chain in the mix. Anything in your chain will colour your bass tone. Even a true bypass pedal must have some effect on your tone and all the extra cables will as well. Which is why I think it’s very important to use an effects loop, so you can only play through the pedals when you want to. One other major advantage of using the volume pedal is if you’re using multiple pedals that you want to turn on simultaneously.