Fretless Bass Line with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 30th June 2020
This is a fretless bass line that I wrote recently as part of a piece I’m working on. During the lockdown I’ve been trying to keep my creativity going by writing some music. The drums are provided by my good friend Lewis Davies who has appeared on my channel before.
The Bass Line
The bass line has a triplet feel. I’ve written it in 4/4 but I could have written it in 12/8. If you’ve read my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove then you’ll know that I like to count triplets with the syllables ta-ki-ta. Using those syllables, the two ta’s become the beat and off beat in a shuffle or swing feel. But I think it’s how and when you use the other syllable, ki, that can make a triplet feel really pop. Notice that I’ve placed a note on this subdivision after the second beat in every bar of this bass line. To my ears, that is what defines the character of this line.
If you’d like to check out another of my fretless bass lines with bass tab, then you can find one here.
Warwick Thumb Bass – 6-String Bolt-on Broad Neck – Bass Practice Diary – 19th May 2020
This week I was servicing my 6-string Warwick Thumb bass when I realised that I’ve never featured it in a Bass Practice Diary video. Recently I did a video in which I renovated my first childhood bass. But this Warwick Thumb bass has even more significance to me. It was my first 6-string bass, and I’ve played this bass more than any other instrument in my life. This is probably a slightly self indulgent Bass Practice Diary video, but I thought this might be interesting for my fellow Warwick bass enthusiasts.
A couple of times each year I take this bass out and service it. I change the strings, polish the frets, oil the fretboard with lemon oil and treat the natural oil finish with surface finishing wax. That’s what I was doing this week when I realised that I’ve never featured this bass before in one of my Bass Practice Diary videos. You’ll only recognise this bass if you’ve followed some of my old, old videos from before I started my practice diary.
How I Came to Own It
I’ve owned this bass since I was 19 years old and it was my first 6-string bass. I was at music college at the time and I had a teacher that played 6-string bass. At that time I was still playing mostly 4-string. I owned a cheap 5-string bass, but it wasn’t good and I rarely played it. My main basses were a fretless Mexican Fender Jazz Bass and a Gibson USA Les Paul Bass, both of which I’d picked up second hand.
It was a good time for buying second hand. I couldn’t afford a good new bass and at that time. And you could pick up second hand instruments for a fraction of their value new. These days, I look at the high prices of second hand instruments and I wonder why anybody buys them.
My dream bass in my late teens was a Warwick. I’d never played one up to that point. But they were very popular at that time among pro and semi-pro bassists. So I heard them a lot in the live music venues that I regularly visited. They had a very distinctive tone, and that tone, to me represented what a modern electric bass should sound like.
So I dreamed of buying a Warwick bass and, inspired by my teacher, dreamed of playing a 6-string bass. So, for months I scoured the internet for a second hand 6-string Warwick bass that I could potentially afford, assuming I sold all my other basses.
My Warwick Thumb Bass
It’s a difficult instrument to play. The neck is massive, both deep and wide. It has a 34 inch scale, which is standard on Warwick basses and it has 20mm spacing between the strings, which makes it a broad neck model. Over the years, I’ve seen many bass players try and play this bass and fail. This bass was built for tone not playability. It’s heavy and it doesn’t balance very well on the strap. It balances well on your lap when you sit down and play it which makes it a good bass for recording, but gigging is hard work.
The best way to get it to balance is to put weights on the strap, which adds to the weight of an already very heavy bass. I would always have a very stiff and aching shoulder the morning after any gig. It’s remarkable really that I used this as my number one bass for 10 years. I thought for a long time that this would be my number one bass for my entire career. It was so much a part of my sound and my playing style. But eventually, practical considerations took over, and using a bass that is as heavy and as distinctive sounding as this one is just not practical in many situations.
The bass is made from solid Ovankol, which is a heavy tone wood, similar in it’s tonal characteristics to Rosewood. The fretboard is made from Wenge. The pickups are MEC Soap-bar and the active circuitry features Bass and Treble controls and an active/passive push/pull control on the volume knob.
It’s a bass that really needs to be your number one. It’s hard to play, so if you’re going to master it, you need to spend lots of time with it. If you stop playing it regularly, it’s very hard to pick it up again which is why you don’t see me playing it very much any more. It’s a shame because it’s a bass that means a lot to me, and I learned so much with it.
Inside/Outside Pentatonic Jazz Exercise for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 5th May 2020
This week I’m featuring a pentatonic jazz exercise that I came up with. Since I released my pentatonic jazz lick video a few weeks ago, I’ve been coming up with exercises to help me play these inside/outside pentatonic ideas all over my bass and in different keys. I’m featuring the exercise for two reasons. One is because it’s a useful exercise to practice, but the other, more important reason, is to help you come up with exercises of your own by sharing my process with you. This is how I came up with the exercise.
A minor pentatonic exercise
An idea for an exercise usually starts with something very simple, and then I find ways to make it progressively more challenging. In this case, I started with the notes of an A minor triad. Then I took those three notes through the notes of an A minor pentatonic scale by moving each note one scale step downwards on each repetition. Like this.
Then I changed the feel from triplets to 16th notes. That created a three against four polyrhythmic feel. The pattern is three notes but each beat had four subdivisions.
Then I added the II-V-I inside/outside idea from my last pentatonic video. If you think of the Am triad as being chord II in a II-V-I in G major, then you would play two beats on A minor. Then two beats on D7 before resolving onto the one chord, G major, in the second bar.
The three scales used are A minor pentatonic on the A minor chord. The outside scale is Bb minor pentatonic on the D7 chord. And the exercise resolves onto B minor pentatonic on the G major chord. Three pentatonic scales separated by a semi-tone. Two of the scales contain entirely inside notes in the key of G and the other contains entirely outside notes.
Fender Custom 62 Precision Bass Pickup on Vester P Bass Demo – Bass Practice Diary – 28th April 2020
This is a quick demo I recorded this week for my Vester P Bass (Vester Stage Series). The bass sound is completely unedited. I wanted to try and give you the clearest idea of what the bass sounds like now that I’ve installed a Fender Custom 62 Precision bass pickup. The bass was recorded directly from the line out of my Markbass Little Mark III. All the EQ on the amp was set flat. I did no editing after recording and I didn’t add any EQ, effects, compression or anything else.
It’s funny, this was the first bass I ever owned, but it’s entirely different to any of the other basses that I’ve owned since. I’ve never owned a Fender Precision (or Squier) and I currently don’t own another bass that has a P style pickup on it. It’s also the only bass that I’ve ever owned that has a maple fretboard.
It’s easy to look back at your first instrument with a kind of misty eyed nostalgia, but the truth is, for me, this bass unconsciously became a kind of blueprint for how I didn’t want my future basses to be. Thinking back to my first ever bass teacher, he played a proper Fender USA made Jazz Bass. My Vester suffered in comparison, and I’m sure that unconsciously coloured my opinions of J and P style basses ever after. Later in my teens, as I started to hear modern style active basses like Warwicks. They became my blueprint for what I thought a great bass tone should be, and I moved further away from P style basses.
I remember that the electronics stopped working when I was in my late teens. I did try to get them working again, with some initial success. By that point, I already owned a newer 5-string bass. And when the electronics stopped working a second time, I didn’t have the money or the expertise to fix it. So, for about 20 years, the Vester Stage Series P Bass sat unused in a flight case in the loft. Only coming out when I moved house, or I needed the flight case to take a different bass on tour.
Vester Stage Series P Bass
What I didn’t appreciate as a child, is that there’s actually some really good things about this bass. The best thing about this bass, by far, is the neck. It’s a really good playable maple neck. I entirely failed to appreciate this as a child because I didn’t have enough experience of playing bass necks. The original bridge on the Vester is also an excellent copy of vintage style Fender P Bass Bridge. It’s still on the bass and in perfect working order, as are the Fender style tuners. It was such a good copy of a Fender P bass that Fender successfully sued them. The basses were no longer manufactured after that.
The biggest problem with the bass originally was that it wasn’t very inspiring to listen to. If only I’d known in the 90’s how easy it is to change the pickup on a P style bass.
Installing a Fender Custom 62 Precision Bass Pickup
Installing the Fender Custom 62 pickup couldn’t have been easier. It was actually much harder to get the old pickup out than it was to put the new pickup in. The screws holding the old pickup in place were so rusty that the screw heads had virtually disintegrated. Meaning that unscrewing them was impossible. I had to break the old pickups to remove them, and then remove the old screws with pliers.
Putting in the new pickup was as simple as, finding the position of the pickups using the old scratchplate, making new holes for the four screws and then soldering two wires. The Fender Custom 62 Pickup comes with a white wire and a black wire. And a diagram showing you where to solder them.
Apart from installing the pickup, the other work I did included changing all of the wiring, pots and input, cleaning and polishing the frets and the fretboard and installing a new scratchplate with access to the truss-rod. The video was shot just before the new scratchplate arrived, so here’s a picture of the finished bass.
The Guitar Solo
The guitar solo in the video is part of a transcription I’ve been working on this week from Frank Gambale. Here is a PDF of the transcription with guitar TAB.
Can a Cheap Bass Sound Great by Adding a Good Pickup (Fender Custom ’62 P Bass Pickup)? – Bass Practice Diary – 21st April 2020
Can you get a good P Bass tone out of a cheap bass with the addition of a good pickup? This week I’m doing something a bit different. I’m bringing a bass back to life that hasn’t worked for somewhere in the region of 15-20 years. I’m literally changing all of the electronics, including the pickup, jack input and volume and tone pots as well as all the wiring. But the star of this is the Fender Custom Shop Custom ’62 Precision Bass pickup.
Vester Stage Series P Bass Copy
The bass in question is the first bass I ever owned. It’s a Korean made P Bass copy called a Vester Stage Series. My parents bought it for me in 1994 and it cost £150 when it was brand new. It’s actually quite a good copy of a Fender Precision. So good in fact that they were successfully sued by Fender in the 90’s and as a result, these basses didn’t last long.
There’s a lot on this bass that feels cheap. The original pickups are uninspiring sounding. The body is plywood, the scratchplate is cheap and flimsy and all the screws have gone rusty. But the main reason I say that it’s a good copy, is because the neck is really good. It’s very playable and it’s really in good shape for a cheap 26 year old bass. Other elements on the bass which are good are the tuners and the bridge. So there is the shell of a good bass, especially when you consider that the pickups, scratchplate and screws are all easy to replace. Would a solid wood body lead to a better tone than the plywood body? Probably a bit, but I personally don’t think that it would make a massive difference.
As I’ve already mentioned, the neck, bridge and tuners are in remarkably good shape for a cheap bass of this age, but the frets needed attention. So the first job, having removed the old strings was to clean the frets. A great trick for doing this is using 0000 grade wire wool. I would strongly recommend using electrical tape to protect the fretboard. You can get tools that go over the frets to protect the board, I have the tools but I don’t find that they work better than tape. In fact, I’ve found I can be more accurate with tape.
After cleaning the frets with wire wool, I polished them with Frine Fret Polishing Kit and I cleaned the fretboard with a normal guitar polish. I would normally use lemon oil but I wouldn’t recommend using lemon oil on a maple fingerboard.
Next I had to remove the scratchplate and the bridge. The bridge had to come off so I could remove the earth wire that runs through the body of the bass and attaches to the tone control pot. Having done that, the old input and volume and tone control pots were easy to remove. The old pickups were not easy to remove. The heads of the screws holding the old pickups in place were so rusted that no screw driver could turn them. It was very difficult getting the pickups out, I eventually had to break the old pickups to get the out of the bass and then get the screws out with pliers.
Installing the Fender Custom ’62 P Bass Pickup
By contrast, installing the new Fender Custom ’62 P Bass pickup couldn’t have been easier. I lined up the position by placing the old scratchplate in place. I made four new holes for the screws and then I fixed the pickup in place and soldered the two wires according to the instructions that came with the Fender Custom ’62 pickup. You really don’t need to be an electrician or even a DIY expert to do this. P style basses are really very simple to wire up.
If you want to do a similar transformation to your own P bass, you don’t need to change the pots or the input as I did. I changed mine because lots of the wires were rusty, which was why the bass didn’t work. And it’s cheap and easy to buy ready wired input, volume and tone setups from guitar shops. The only fiddley job is connecting the earth wire from the bridge to the tone control pot.
To complete the installation of the pickup, I would strongly recommend setting the pickup height individually for each string. This is to ensure that you get an even sound across each string. I set my pickup heights by measuring with a metal ruler and then adjusting the heights by either tightening or loosening the four screws. The measurements I was aiming for were E – 3.9mm, A – 3.8mm, D – 3.7mm and G – 3.6mm. Although I wasn’t trying to be too specific, I don’t think my measurements were perfectly accurate. Those measurements were just a guide to get the heights roughly right, and the rest is done by playing and listening.
6-String Bass Solo & Chords with Bass TAB & Chord Diagrams – Bass Practice Diary – 14th April 2020
This week I’ve transcribed a 6-string bass solo that I played in practice. It follows on from what I was doing last week, finding creative ways to use pentatonic scales in jazz solos. These days I often practice the same ideas on both guitar and bass. In this case I started by playing some pretty chords on the guitar. Then I came up with two pentatonic scales, a tone apart, that worked on each chord. So, each chord had a different pair of scales. I then tried to improvise lines on my 6-string bass using the two pentatonic scales plus a third outside scale that sits exactly between the two scales. Using this idea I was trying to create inside/outside jazz lines in the same way I did for my pentatonic jazz lick last week.
Having done this I then switched it around. So, I worked out how to play the chords on my 6-string bass and I improvised solo lines using the same system on the guitar. Here are the chords and scales that I used in the video.
The first chord is Emaj9, and the two inside scales are C# minor pentatonic and D# minor pentatonic. The reason I chose those two chords is that I was thinking of the Emaj9 chord as lydian, and those two scales spell out the E lydian sound very well. The outside scale would have been D minor pentatonic, but I didn’t use it on the solo I included in the video.
I then played a sequence of major chords over a peddled E bass note. D/E creates an Esus chord and I used the B & C# minor pentatonic scales and C minor pentatonic for the outside notes. Then on C/E I used A & B minor pentatonic and Bb for the outside notes and then A/E I used F# & G# minor pentatonic and G for the outside notes. In each one of these slash chords I was thinking of the major chord as being lydian.
Finally I played an Em9 chord which I treated like a II-V-I in D major, exactly as I did last week. In fact, I tried to used the lick from last weeks video on this chord. I didn’t execute it perfectly but the idea still came across.
These solos are a long way from being perfect, they represent what I’ve been working on this week, which is the point of my bass practice diary. I’m including the transcriptions here to help you see my thought processes as I tried to create these lines. But I’m sure that you can take these ideas and improve on what I’ve done, which is what I’m going to do as well. It’s actually a great exercise to transcribe your own solos, because you can immediately think about how you would do it better next time. Here is the bass solo I played in the video.
Pentatonic Modern Jazz Lick – Bass Practice Diary – 7th April 2020
This week I’ve written a pentatonic jazz lick to try and demonstrate how pentatonic scales can be applied to modern jazz. If you think that pentatonic scales are just easy scales for beginners then you need to read this. I think Google and YouTube probably need to read this as well, because when you search for pentatonic scales, you get a lot of content that is targeted at beginners.
The Pentatonic Scale
Pentatonic means five notes. So, you could technically have any number of different five note scales that could be labeled pentatonic. But there is one pentatonic scale which is “the” pentatonic scale. The same scale can be used for both major and minor and it goes like this.
It’s an incredibly useful scale because pentatonic melodies are universal. I can’t think of many styles of music that don’t use pentatonic melodies. They have a very distinctive character.
Many people associate pentatonic melodies with blues guitar playing. But the applications of pentatonic melodies go way beyond blues licks. Not that there’s anything wrong with playing blues lines. Blues melodies and phrasing are hugely important in jazz, and blues phrases played well can be both beautiful and sophisticated.
However, it’s possible to approach pentatonic melodies in a completely different way. And that’s what I’m looking at this week.
One of the great strengths of the pentatonic scale is it’s versatility. If you’re only using the scale one way, then you’ve missed part of the point of them. If you take any major key, then you always have three different pentatonic scales within that key. Using the key of D major as an example, you have B minor/D major, E minor/G major and F# minor/A major pentatonic scales all within the key. Each creates a different sound played against a D major chord.
Pentatonic Jazz Lick
My pentatonic jazz lick uses three pentatonic scales in the key of D, but none of them are D major pentatonic. I’ve used E minor pentatonic scale on the Em7 chord, which is chord II, and I’ve used the F# minor pentatonic scale on Dmaj7, chord I.
The other scale that I’ve used is F minor pentatonic. This is a scale which gives you all of the notes that are not in the key of D major. I’m using this scale on an A7 chord, chord V. Why play a scale that uses all theoutside notes? To create tension that can be resolved on the one chord (Dmaj7).
Of the five notes in an F minor pentatonic scale, F, Ab, Bb, C & Eb. Four of those notes are altered extensions on an A altered dominant chord, b9, #9, b5 & b13. The other note is Ab. That’s not a note you want to feature too prominently on an A7 chord, because it’s a major 7th on a dominant chord. You can use it, but you have to be careful how you use it. I’ve used the Ab once in my lick and it’s the last note before resolving to chord I. The Ab functions as a chromatic approach note leading to A natural, which is a chord tone in the Dmaj7 chord. Here’s the lick.
Superimposing II V I Licks
I’ve written the line above onto a II V I in D major. But I wouldn’t necessarily choose to play the lick in that context. When I came up with the lick, I was thinking about it more as a straight 1/16th note feel on a funky modal idea.
Jazz musicians love to superimpose II V I lines onto individual chords. You could play that entire lick on a single Em7 chord or Dmaj7 chord or A7 chord.
You could even play it on a G major chord and it would create an inside/outside lick with a lydian sound.
Chord Tones in Jazz Solos – Bass Practice Diary – 31st March 2020
When you’re playing a jazz solo, is it better to think about scales or chord tones (arpeggios)? I’ve heard musicians having that kind of debate before, but I’m presenting it here as a bit of a trick question. Because the chord tones exist within the scales so why would you think of them as being two separate things. I think it really helps if you focus on chord tones in jazz solos. You could think of your improvised lines as being lines that connect the chord tones.
Connecting Chord Tones
Chord tones are probably the strongest notes that you can use in a melody. But if you play melodic lines that only use chord tones, they can sound boring and formulaic. So I try to find ways of showcasing the chord tones in my solos by placing them in key places, like at the start and end of phrases. Scales are a great way of connecting up chord tones, so my advice is to always know where the chord tones are, even when you’re using scales.
I’ve featured the altered scale before in my Bass Practice Diary. It’s a great way of creating an outside sound on dominant 7th chords. It works because it features the three strongest chord tones in a dominant 7th chord, the root, 3rd and 7th. But the other four notes in the scale are outside notes or altered notes, b9, #9, b5 and b13. If you feature those altered notes too heavily it can sound very uncomfortable. But if you use them as notes to connect up the three chord tones it can create some really cool tension and release.
So, to take advantage of that, you need to know where the chord tones are. Here’s a C altered scale with the root, 3rd and 7th marked.
Here are some simple lines I came up with that connect chord tones on a C7 chord. This one starts and finishes on the root.
This is the same lick finishing on the 7th.
C7 altered lick – Root to 7th
Here’s one that starts on the root and finishes on the 3rd.
I’m offering a free 30 minute bass lesson via Skype for anyone who would like to have a one to one lesson with me. If you’ve ever considered having online music lessons, this is a great way to try it out without having to commit to anything. I can tailor a lesson to your specific needs regardless of your level or previous experience of playing the bass. Send me a message here and we can arrange the lesson.
During these difficult times, in the midst of COVID-19, I like many others have had most of my income sources taken away from me. As a self employed musician, I can’t do any gigs or teach any lessons face to face. Therefore I’m moving my entire teaching business online and I’d love to hear from anyone who is looking to embrace music during the isolation that most of us will experience this year.
Music is such a massive part of my life that I can’t imagine being stuck at home without the ability to play my basses. I can’t think of a better way to spend these difficult weeks and months than by working on music and improving your bass skills! So contact me for your free bass lesson.
Bass Practice Diary
As most of you already know, I’ve been releasing weekly Bass Practice Diary videos for the last 2 years. The idea is that each video highlights a different idea that I’ve been practicing. Last week was my 100th Bass Practice Diary video. It featured some of my best tips for how to improve your bass practice time. You can watch it by clicking the link below. Bass Practice Diary will be back as normal next week!
5 Tips for Better Bass Practice – Bass Practice Diary – 17th March 2020
To celebrate my 100th Bass Practice Diary video I’m sharing 5 tips for better bass practice. All of my videos up until now have dealt with ideas that you can practice, or gear advice and suggestions, or performances of things I’ve been practicing. However, I’ve never dealt with the most fundamental aspect of practice, how you should be practicing. I think lots of musicians have misguided ideas of what practice should be, I know that I did for a long time. So, I made this video to try and share with you some of the conclusions that I’ve come to about how to make the most out of your practice time.
Tip 1 – Make Your Practice Easy Not Hard
One of the mistakes I made, and I see a lot of my students doing the same thing, is to think that practice should be about pushing yourself to play difficult things that you can’t already play. It’s not bad to want to play difficult things. But you’ll achieve your targets much quicker if you start by practicing things you can already do. Then you can gradually make them harder in an incremental way.
I can remember repeatedly driving myself to the point of frustration as a teenager by practicing things over and over and still not getting them right. Now that never happens, because when I’m trying to learn something difficult, I start by breaking it down into simple easy exercises which I then gradually build up to the full thing that I’m trying to learn. If at any point I get stuck, I change what I’m practicing by making it easier. Easier could mean slower or breaking it down into smaller chunks.
I would also recommend practicing in time, either with a slow drum beat or metronome. It has the double benefit of helping you keep in time, but it also stops you from practicing something faster than you can manage.
Tip 2 – Try to Get as Much Variety as Possible
Another mistake that I made as a kid was practicing the same things over and over again until I became bored and frustrated. And while this approach can yield results, it’s not the best way to become a rounded musician, or to find enjoyment in playing music. I started my Bass Practice Diary to show that there are so many different things to practice. You shouldn’t ever be in the situation where you sit down with a musical instrument and think, “I don’t know what to practice”.
There are so many different things that you could be practicing that the problem should be, “I don’t know how to decide what to practice because there’s so much”.
The answer to that problem is to set yourself longer term goals, and then come up with exercises that will help you achieve those goals over time. Then don’t practice any one exercise for too long. Practice each exercise for a couple of minutes each and then keep coming back to them and changing them and building on what you’ve already done. Repetition is important, but you don’t need to do all your repetitions in one practice, you can spread them over weeks and months.
Tip 3 – Play for Fun
This one may seem obvious, because it’s something that we all do. But I’ve noticed that sometimes my students are apologetic about doing it. It’s like they think that all practice should be about practicing scales or learning repertoire or absorbing complex harmonic ideas. There’s only so much information a human brain can take in in one go. If you keep trying to learn new stuff for hours and hours you won’t retain most of what you’re practicing.
A lot of the time when I’m playing my bass at home, I’m just playing for the shear love of playing music. I’m not setting myself any targets or exercises, I’m just playing because I enjoy doing it. And if that wasn’t the case, I just don’t think I’d be a musician. And that leads me neatly on to my next tip which is…
Tip 4 – Play Your Instrument Every Day
If you make a habit out of playing your instrument every day you will almost certainly get good at it. I’ve never made a conscious decision to play every day, but I know that on the very rare days when I don’t play a bass, I feel like something is missing. It’s almost impossible to not be good at something that you do every day. My advice is to pick up your instrument every day, even if it’s only for a really short time and even if it feels like it hasn’t achieved anything.
Tip 5 – Love Music and Listen to Music
This may seem obvious, but it always amazes me how many people seem to miss this. I regularly ask my students “what have you been listening to this week?” Honestly, for me that’s a more important question than “what have you been practicing this week?”
It’s amazing how often it turns out that people haven’t consciously listened to any music all week. In this day and age, it’s normal for musicians to practice and to watch Youtube videos about our instruments, but we don’t always make time to listen to the music we love.
Loving music means listening to music and I firmly believe that you learn as much (if not more) from listening to music as you do from playing your instrument. So my fifth, but most important tip, is to make time to listen to music, really listen to it, don’t just have it on while you’re doing something else.
Nothing inspires me to make music more than listening to music. And I know that everyone has busy lives, but if you’re planning to do an hour bass practice tomorrow, I would suggest spending 30 minutes listening and 30 minutes playing. It doesn’t necessarily matter what music you listen to, but I would point you back to Tip 2 and suggest that variety is equally important in the music you listen to as well as in your practice time.