Jazz Blues Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary 30

Jazz Blues Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 13th November 2018

This week I’ve done a detailed breakdown of a jazz lick that I played on a Bb blues progression in last week’s Bass Practice Diary. The lick combines the diminished scale with the blues scale which creates a jazz blues sound.

I’ve played the lick on my Warwick Thumb SC six string fretless bass. But I’ve transposed the lick down an octave so it can be comfortably played on a four string bass and I’ve written the TAB for four string bass in standard tuning.

Jazz Blues Lick

The concept of the blues solo that I played last week was combining the diminished scale and the blues scale. The reason why I’ve highlighted this very short lick is because it combines both the blues scale sound and the diminished sound in one very short lick. The Diminished scale provides a jazz sound while the blues scale keeps the lick rooted in the blues.

If you want to know more of the theory then check out last week’s video, but for now I’ll just take you through the lick.

The Lick

Jazz Blues Lick
Bb7 Jazz Blues Lick

The lick is played on a Bb7 chord but it starts on a G. The lick actually starts before beat one. The way I played it last week, you can think of the G as functioning as the major 3rd of the Eb7 chord in the preceding bar. However you could also play the same note on a Bb7 chord and think of it as a 13th.

From that note it goes up using the diminished scale. The second note Ab lands on beat one and it’s a chord tone, the dominant 7th. If you followed the sequence of the scale then the next note would be the root note Bb, but I’ve chosen to skip the root and go to the next note in the scale which is the b9, B natural (Cb).

Then it’s D and F. Two chord tones, major 3rd and 5th. And both feature in the diminished scale.

It’s worth mentioning at this point, that it’s the b9 that’s creating the diminished sound. All of the other notes are chord tones. They exist in the diminished scale, but without the b9, they would just sound like an arpeggio. It’s amazing what the presence of just one outside note can do to change the sound of a harmonic phrase.

For more of the theory about inside and outside notes, check out these two posts.

Everything You Need to Know About Harmony on Bass Guitar

How to Use Outside Notes In Your Basslines

The Blues Scale

The Blues has its own rules when it comes to harmony. The blues scale is essentially a minor pentatonic scale with one extra note. An outside note, the b5.

If you want to define the sound of the blues, then a good place to start is by playing the minor 3rd from the blues scale on a dominant 7th chord containing a major 3rd. You could argue that anytime you mix minor and major 3rds on dominant chords you are playing a blues sound.

Going back to my lick, I’ve just played a major third and then the 5th of the Bb7 chord, F. The note F exists in the Bb blues scale, the Bb diminished scale and the Bb7 chord. So it’s a very safe note. I’m using it here to transition from playing the diminished scale into playing the blues scale.

From the F, the lick simply goes down the blues scale until it gets to the root note Bb. It includes the minor third Db, so the riff includes both major 3rd, D and minor 3rd Db. Which, as I’ve mentioned, creates a blues sound.

In Conclusion

The diminished scale, and especially the b9 from the diminished scale, create a jazz sound. While the presence of both major and minor 3rds creates a blues sound. And both of these sounds are combined in one very short lick, just nine notes altogether. Which I think is quite cool.

I played several licks with a similar idea in last week’s video and I’ve transcribed one full 12-bar chorus. I think that the lick that I’ve chosen is the shortest and most succinct. Which is why I chose this one. I hope you’ve found this helpful!

 

How to Use the Diminished Scale in Jazz – Bass Practice Diary 29

Use the Diminished Scale to Play Jazz – Bass Practice Diary – 6th November 2018

This week I’ve been practising using diminished sounds to play on dominant 7th chords in jazz. If you want to bring a more jazz sound to your playing, using the diminished scale is a great way to do it. Because it creates an interesting series of inside and outside notes when played on dominant chords.

What is the diminished scale?

The diminished scale is what I would call a symmetrical scale. It sounds like it should be something very complicated but it’s actually very simple. In many ways it’s even more simple than a major scale.

Symmetrical scales are scales that use the same intervals repeatedly. In the case of a diminished scale the intervals are a half tone (semi tone) and a whole tone. Symmetrical scales are also called modes of limited transposition or fixed transposition, which sounds even more complicated. But it still isn’t. It simply means that there are a very limited number of different ways you can transpose the scale. For example, because of the repeating intervals a G diminished scale is the same as a Bb diminished scale and Db and E diminished scales. So the idea of playing in 12 keys is a bit redundant. Another example of a mode of limited transposition is the whole tone scale. You can also use the whole tone scale to play on dominant 7th chords, but that’s another video for another day.

There are only two different ways you can play a diminished scale, you can either start with a half tone or you can start with a whole tone. After that it just repeats the same patterns over and over. Which makes it quite easy to play, as I said before, in many ways easier to play than a major scale.

Here is an example of an arpeggiated diminished scale pattern that I featured in the video.

"Arpeggiated

How to practise a diminished scale

In the video I’ve used the example of a Bb7 chord. Here is a diminished scale starting on a Bb and beginning with a half tone.

HalfWhole Diminished Scale Starting on Bb
Half/Whole Diminished Scale Starting on Bb

I don’t always think about the scale starting on the root note. Often I will use the major third (D natural in this case) as a jumping off point. And in that case I will think of the scale as starting with a whole tone.

Another approach that I use is to start on the #9 or minor third. In this case Db. In this case the first two notes of the scale will be the minor 3rd (an outside note) resolving to the major third (a chord tone). This is a real signifier of the blues and it will help give your diminished licks a bluesy flavour.

How to apply the diminished scale in jazz

As I’ve previously mentioned, the diminished scale most commonly gets applied to dominant 7th chords in jazz. Here is the same Bb half/whole scale written out with the intervalic relationships to a Bb7 chord written over each note.

"Bb7

As you can see, the scale gives you all of the standard chord tones in a Bb7 chord. Root, major third, 5th and dominant 7th. However, it also includes one unaltered chord extension, the 13th, and three altered chord voicing, b9, #9 and #11. It’s these altered extensions that give the diminished scale a jazz flavour when you play them on a dominant 7th chord.

The best way to demonstrate this is by playing a jazz blues, because the blues uses dominant 7th chords a lot. I’ve transcribed a chorus of blues solo that I improvised in which I was using both the diminished sounds and the more traditional blues sound of the blues scale.

Check out next weeks Bass Practice Diary 30 if you want to look more at some of the diminished blues licks I’m playing here.

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Playing Jazz With Three Different Basses – Bass Practice Diary 27

Jazz on Three Basses – Fretless Bass, Double Bass & Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 23rd October 2018

This week I’ve made a very quick video to demonstrate the bass as an instrument. Specifically, it’s potential to play more than just bass lines. So, I’ve played a jazz standard on three different basses. Two of them are fretless, two of them are acoustic, two of them have six strings and only two of them are bass guitars! Read on to find out more!

If you’ve followed my previous posts, you’ve probably realised by now that I don’t feel that bass guitars should be restricted to playing only bass lines. My instrument is the bass guitar. And the irony is not lost on me that in this video, all of the harmony is played on bass guitars except the bass line. Which I’ve played on an upright acoustic bass.

The Bass Line played on Double Bass (Upright Bass)

The reason that I’ve done this is not because I think I’m a good upright bass player. I don’t think that. I don’t have time to practice the upright nearly enough. My upright bass skills will never be better than average at best. The reason is because it’s the traditional role in jazz for the acoustic upright bass to take the bass line. And I know from years of experience, that if you try and play jazz gigs on bass guitar, acoustic bass guitar or even electric upright bass, you will very often be treated as the guy who is standing in because the band couldn’t book an acoustic double bass player.

I started to study upright bass when I was already at music college, and I did it with the aim of getting more jazz gigs. And it worked! For a while I was playing a lot of jazz gigs in London with my upright bass. But I very quickly stopped enjoying it. It’s a very difficult instrument to transport, especially when it’s impossible to park in Central London. The gigs didn’t tend to pay very much and the practice that I was having to put into the upright bass was taking away from time spent with my first instrument, the bass guitar.

So I gave up doing gigs on upright bass and I started telling people who were calling me for jazz gigs that I could do gigs on Electric Upright Bass (much smaller and more portable), but not acoustic. Needless to say, the jazz gigs dried up almost instantly.

I really enjoy playing acoustic upright bass at home, for fun. Although, I get precious little time to do it and I’m very rusty and out of practice. I’ve kept my upright bass all these years to play at home, even thought I almost never do gigs with it anymore. (I sold my electric upright).

Bass Guitars in Jazz

Do I regret my decision to stop taking gigs on acoustic upright bass? Not for a single solitary second. The upright bass is undoubtedly a beautiful instrument, but it isn’t my instrument. I’m a bass guitar player and I got to the point where I really didn’t look forward to doing gigs on upright bass. I found them to be a lot more hassle than they were worth financially.

But all this underlines the point, that as bass guitar players, we shouldn’t be aiming to take on the role of the upright bass in jazz. It’s not what jazz bands are looking for. Jazz bands that are progressive enough to want a bass guitar in the band are clearly looking for something different. Hence, the reason why I’ve played all of the harmony on bass guitars in the video apart from the bass line.

I’ve always believed that what we should strive to play is music, not just bass lines. Bass lines are an important part of music, they’re the foundation of most music. But there’s so much more music that we can also explore. And I don’t see any good reason why I shouldn’t explore all music, just because I choose to play an instrument that has the word bass in it’s name.

With that in mind, I decided to make a very short and quick demo of three basses playing a jazz tune (Solar by Miles Davis). Each bass showing a different facet of what a basses is capable of. As I’ve already described, the double bass (upright bass) is playing the bass line, the roll traditionally reserved for double bass players in jazz music.

The Acoustic Bass Guitar

The acoustic bass guitar is doing what jazz musicians term comping. Comping is basically when you use chord voicings to fill out the harmony. It’s a roll traditionally taken by piano or guitar. I’ve featured my acoustic bass guitar in a couple of recent posts. I’ve talked about how I use it as a harmonic accompanying instrument. So, rather than repeating myself, I’ll just leave these links for you to explore.

Why I Play and Acoustic Bass Guitar

Playing Jazz on Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar

The Fretless Electric Bass

In the video the fretless electric bass is taking the rolls of melody and soloist. I suppose you could see this roll as being traditionally taken by vocalists and horn players. But, there’s actually quite a rich history of melodic bass playing in jazz. So it’s actually not that unusual to hear a bass take this role. In jazz usually everyone in the group gets a solo eventually!

Read this post to learn my thoughts about using fretless bass as a melody instrument.

Use Fretless Bass to Play Jazz Solos and Melodies

 

Learn a Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary 25

Learn a Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 9th October 2018

The best way to use “licks” in jazz is a subject that divides opinion amongst musicians. I’ve written a melodic jazz lick in the key of F major over a II-V-I chord progression. In this post I’ll explain the lick and also share some of my thoughts on the use of licks in jazz.

What is a Jazz Lick?

In this context, a jazz lick is a melodic phrase, like a musical sentence.  It’s a small fragment of melody that can comprise part of a longer jazz solo.

The debate amongst musicians tends to centre around whether or not it’s appropriate to use pre-learned licks as part of improvised jazz solos.  It’s something that a lot of musicians do, including really good musicians, and the argument in favour of using licks is as follows. By learning licks, you are effectively learning jazz vocabulary. And the more jazz vocabulary you learn, the greater your range will be as an improviser.

This is why I practice jazz licks or phrases. Sometimes I work out my own ones, as I’ve done in this video and at other times I play licks written by other musicians, as I have in this video.

Personally, I don’t like to use pre-prepared licks when I’m performing or playing with a band. Improvising is the thing I love to do most in music. And I like to not know for sure where the music will go. Sometimes the music can suffer as a result of this approach, and if you’re looking for more consistency in your soloing, then learning licks is a good place to start. But, I wouldn’t choose to sacrifice the process of improving by using pre-learned licks. I’ve tried it and I just don’t enjoy it. To me it feels like trying to introduce a pre prepared sentence into a conversation. It might be a great sentence, but there’s every chance it won’t make sense depending on where the conversation goes.

However, using licks is something that probably all improvisers do either consciously or unconsciously. We all fall into patterns of playing, often without realising it. I’m fairly certain that even musicians who are very against the idea of using licks, often unknowingly fall back on melodic phrases that they’ve played many times before.

Fretless Bass Jazz Lick

If you follow my Bass Practice Diary you’ll know that I like to play jazz melodies on fretless bass. So, when I do this kind of practice, I’ll always use my fretless. Having said that, the lick will also work on a fretted bass.

Jazz Lick Ex 1
II – V – I Jazz Lick for Bass Guitar

I’ve TAB’d it for 4 string bass so everyone can play it. I sold my 4 string fretless bass after I got the 6 string Warwick Thumb SC in the video. That’s the only reason that I’m playing a 6 string bass in the video.

The lick is meant to be played over a II – V – I chord progression in the key of F major. Gm7 – C7 – Fmaj7. The II – V – I chord progression is the most common chord sequence in jazz. I won’t go into the theory of it because there are so many articles in existence about II – V – I’s, like this one. I’ll just explain what I’m playing on each chord.

Inside and Outside Notes

I think the reason that jazz musicians love to play over II – V – I chord progressions is because the V chord affords a great opportunity to use outside notes. Whereas the II and the I chord tend to favour the use of inside notes. So, you can create a feeling of starting inside the harmony and then moving outside on the V before coming back in on the I. This is a very jazz approach. The feeling of taking the harmony out and then bringing it back in, immediately sounds like jazz. And it’s that sound that I’ve tried to demonstrate with my jazz lick.

If you want to learn more about inside and outside notes and how to use them then check out this video.

Here’s what I’ve played on the II chord Gm7.

Jazz Lick Ex 2
II chord Gm7

As you can see, all of the notes are in the key of F major, creating an inside sound. Which is fine because we’re about to step outside of the harmony on the V chord.

There are several chromatic alterations in this bar. Playing a b9 on beat one is a very strong statement that I’m taking the melody outside of the key signature. I love this kind of bold harmonic statement. The other chromatic alterations (outside notes) are the #9 and the b13. The final note of the bar is also an outside note, but in this case it’s functioning as a passing note rather than an altered chord extension. It’s simply a semi tone above G natural to take us to an A natural on beat one of the next bar.

How much outside harmony you choose to use is a matter of personal taste. I mentioned in the video that you could play a similar phrase on the V chord but with a natural 9th instead of the #9 and a natural 13th instead of the b13. It would go like this.

Jazz Lick Inside
Alternative Line on the V Chord

Finally, on the I chord, F major 7, the lick resolves itself onto the major 3rd A. Which is about the most inside sounding note you can use at this point.

As I’ve said, I’m not planning to use this lick again any time soon. For me, this is simply an exercise in expanding my jazz vocabulary so I can improvise lines in a similar way in future. But if you’d like to learn  it, and use it in future, I would consider it an honour that anyone chooses to play one of my lines. I hope this has been helpful!

Recording Bass Parts for Siemy Di – Bass Practice Diary 24

Making Bass Guitar Tracks for Master Drummer Siemy Di – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd October 2018

This week I’ve been hanging out with my good friend Siemy Di and working on recording some of his compositions. Siemy and I have worked together a lot, over a number of years. So, when he needed someone to record tracks for his upcoming appearance on the Drum Channel, he asked me to help out.

I met Siemy in 2005 at a concert at the Barbican in London by the African Jazz All Stars. We were introduced by the leader of the All Stars, a great musician called Lucky Ranku, who had been a teacher of mine when I was at Music College.

In the years since we’ve worked together a lot, and we’ve played on each others projects. Our careers have overlapped in a number of bands and we’ve even gigged together as a duo on a number of occasions.

Siemy Di

Siemy is a superb and original musician. The reason that he stands out is because he has a genuine commitment to creating original music. But he understands that in order to create something new you must understand the history of your instrument. Siemy is a student of both the drum kit and the South Indian percussion instrument called the mridangam. He is steeped in the history of both jazz drumming and carnatic classical music, and the influence of both traditions comes through strongly in his music.

There are not too many musicians these days that manage to be unique in the way they approach their instrument. But, Siemy has achieved this and he deserves to be considered a master drummer.

Odd Meters

Many of Siemy’s compositions are in odd meters, which is in part due to the influence of Indian classical music. I share his love for both Indian Classical Music and Odd Meters. You can find my video lesson about playing bass in odd meters here. And you can find a video that I made with the wonderful mridangam player Arun Maheswaran here.

Why I Play an Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 22

Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 18th September 2018

I wanted to put out a video where I talk about acoustic bass guitars. What are they for and how to use them? I’ve been playing acoustic bass guitars for more than half of my life and for a long time I struggled to figure out exactly how to get the best out of them. Finally after close to twenty years, I feel like I have a clear idea of how I like to play acoustic bass guitar. And more importantly, why I like use them.

Every Instrument Has it’s Own Identity… Right?

I feel that the acoustic bass guitar hasn’t yet fully found its own identity. Some people like to use it as a way of sounding more like an upright bass, I would never use it for that reason. Partly because I don’t think it sounds very much like an upright bass. But also because I have an upright bass. Conversely, some people play it like it’s an electric bass. But it isn’t either of those things. So, where’s it’s identity as an instrument?

We don’t even seem to have decided what are the best strings to use. Many acoustic basses are sold with bronze coloured strings like an acoustic guitar. But I’ve heard bass players and technicians tell me that they use electric bass strings on their acoustics because they think they work better.

It’s still a fairly young instrument. Its not like the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar. The acoustic guitar has existed much longer than the electric guitar and clearly has a very strong identity of it’s own. But the acoustic bass guitar doesn’t have the same extensive history.

I see people on the internet trying to do original things with acoustic bass guitars. Maybe we’ll look back in twenty or thirty years and we’ll clearly be able to see where the acoustic bass guitar was heading. But for now I see a lot of people trying things. Like the Andy McKee/Newton Faulkner acoustic guitar thing. Where you strike the body of the instrument with your hands to imitate drum and percussion sounds. Which sounds cool but I think it works better on acoustic guitars. Or I see people playing slap bass techniques, which I think work better on electric bass. It all sounds good but I’m not sure it’s where the identity of the instrument lies.

Why I Play Acoustic Bass Guitars?

Because I love having an acoustic instrument that I can express myself on. There’s so much I can do on my acoustic bass guitar that I can’t do on an upright bass. Especially relating to playing chords and arranging solos. You can arrange entire pieces on solo acoustic bass guitar. You can also sing with an acoustic bass guitar.

I would always choose to play mine either on my own or as part of a small group. A duo or probably maximum a trio. I wouldn’t choose to play it as part of a larger group. I just think that the subtleties  get lost. I think that if you’re playing in a larger group you’re probably better off playing electric basses or upright basses.

A big development for me was when I switched to playing a six string acoustic bass. I’ve been playing six string electric basses since I was a teenager. But, I only got this Warwick Alien Deluxe six string acoustic bass guitar about five years ago. I think it’s only in relatively recent years that six string acoustic bass guitars are being manufactured at an affordable price and are good enough quality to perform with.

The Warwick Alien acoustics really are magnificent instruments. They’re well balanced and playable and they don’t cost a fortune.

You can find out more about my Warwick Alien Deluxe here.

Who Else Plays Acoustic Bass Guitars?

One person who I’ve seem playing in a very original style on acoustic bass guitar is the jazz bassist and composer Steve Swallow.

You can check out a performance by his band here.

He started his career as an upright bassist and he switched to electric bass and then acoustic bass guitar. He has a very unique style and he seems to have found a unique use for an acoustic bass guitar. But whether his style will be taken on by others and turned into an identity for the instrument remains to be seen.

Bass and Drums – Playing a Bass Ostinato for a Drum Solo – Bass Practice Diary 21

Playing a Bass Ostinato for a Drum Solo – Bass Practice Diary – 11th September 2018

This week I visited my good friend Lewis Davies at his studio in South London. We spent the afternoon practising, just bass and drums. At the end I shot some videos to show what we were working on. One of the things we practised was playing a bass ostinato through a drum solo.

What’s an Ostinato

An ostinato is simply a repeating musical phrase, a bit like a riff. The purpose of playing an ostinato on the bass in this situation, is to hold down a groove while the drummer plays a solo.

The biggest problem with playing solos on either bass or drums, is that it breaks up the groove between the bass and drums. The purpose of the bass ostinato in this situation is for the bass player to take full responsibility for the groove so that the drummer can play a solo without it feeling as if the groove has been lost.

It’s a very high pressure situation for a bass player. The performance entirely depends on your timing and ability to keep the groove going against the potential distractions of a pyrotechnic drum solo. I remember as a young bass player being put in that situation on stage without having practised it. And I found it very uncomfortable. It’s very easy to rely too much on the drummer for the groove when you’re on stage.

Billy Cobham

A lot of drummers like to solo in this way. The composer and jazz musician Billy Cobham is just such a drummer. He writes and arranges his own compositions. So, he writes the kind of bass ostinatos that he wants to play over. I’ve always enjoyed playing Billy Cobham’s bass lines and in many of his arrangements it’s not only the bass player that plays the ostinatos.

The bass ostinato we play at the end of the video is from Billy Cobham’s classic composition Stratus which originally featured on his seminal jazz fusion album Spectrum.

Lewis Davies

Lewis is a good friend of mine and a multi talented man. He’s a music teacher, musician and he makes extremely high quality custom guitars. We met at music college when we were both in our late teens. And we’ve played, performed and practiced together a lot over the years.

Stay tuned for some more videos from our practice session in the next few weeks. And for now you can also check out this video we made together at a similar practice session a couple of years ago.

 

Playing Jazz on Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 20

In a Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington – Jazz Arranged for Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 4th September 2018

I love to play jazz on my basses at home when I get the chance. I usually make my own backing tracks and practice by playing along with them. In this video I’ve laid down the chords of Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood on my acoustic bass guitar and played over the chords on my fretless Warwick Thumb SC.

In a Sentimental Mood

In a Sentimental Mood is one of those great jazz tunes that’s both simple and beautiful. It has a very lyrical melody and some simple but effective chord changes. It was written by Duke Ellington in 1935 and originally performed by his orchestra. But the version that I’ve been listening to was recorded by Duke Ellington with John Coltrane in 1963. I also like Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal rendition of the song, where she sings the melody with just a guitar backing her. I’ve tried to get some of the flavour of both versions in my video. In a Sentimental Mood is also a staple standard of Sonny Rollins sets. He seems to play it a lot and he’s done some wonderful versions of it.

The Basses

The video features two of my favourite basses. The acoustic bass is an Alien Deluxe 6 string acoustic bass guitar. If you’d like to learn more about this bass you can check out my solo arrangement of the jazz standard Autumn Leaves. Or you can check out this demo that I made a few years ago when I first owned the bass.

The Warwick Thumb SC is not only the best fretless bass I’ve ever played, it’s the best bass I’ve ever played. If you’ve seen many of my other videos you’re probably quite familiar with this bass by now. But if you’d like more info, you can find it here.

 

Roland GR-55 and Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 17

Playing Bass through a Roland GR-55 Guitar Synth Pedal – Bass Practice Diary – 14th August 2018

I started using a Roland GR-55 about four years ago. Soon after getting it, I made a video of some of my original compositions arranged entirely on my bass. I used the GR-55 to create different voices. Remarkably, that video passed 20,000 views last week. You can watch it here. To mark the event I’ve decided to feature the GR-55 in my Bass Practice Diary for the first time.

I never imagined that my original video would be so popular. In fact I was slightly concerned about releasing it. Because I thought I might get some negativity from people who don’t like the idea of playing a bass through a guitar synth. In fact the reception that the video has received has been almost entirely positive.

Why I started using a Roland GR-55

I write and arrange music on my bass every week. I can play several instruments, but bass will always be my first instrument, just like English is my first language. So it’s far easier for me to compose with my bass than with a guitar or piano. The Roland GR-55 gives me the capability to use my bass like an electric keyboard. As a way of utilising MIDI. The advantage of this is that I can lay down entire tracks on my bass, either multi-tracking or looping without it sounding like an orchestra of bass guitars. And the GR-55 also gives me the potential to use the regular pickups on my bass at the same time or independently, so I have the best of all worlds. It’s like my bass has become a bass and an electric keyboard all rolled into one.

I get that many bass purists won’t like some of the synth sounds. But for me, as a way of presenting my music, the pro’s of the GR-55 vastly outweigh the cons.

Can You Plug a Bass Straight Into a Roland GR-55?

No, you need to install a Roland GK-3B pickup onto your bass before you can plug into a Roland GR-55. Because the GR-55 does not have a jack input. You need to use a 13-Pin MIDI cable which will connect with the GK-3B pickup. The pickup also has a jack input so you can plug your bass into the GK-3B and control both your normal bass pickups and the GK-3B MIDI pickup through the GR-55.

The GK-3B is relatively easy to install. I installed mine myself by following the instructions. You can install it with double sided sticky strips, so there’s no need to drill into your instrument unless you want to attach it permanently. You may have noticed that I’ve attached the GK-3B to a black bass. The pickup is black, so if you install it on a bass of any other colour, there’s a good chance it will spoil the appearance. You can attach the GK-3B to 4, 5 or 6 string basses. The same pickup works for all of them.

Suspended and Major Chord Voicings – Bass Practice Diary 15

Suspended and Major Chord Voicings – Bass Practice Diary – 31st July 2018

This week I’ve been looking for new and interesting chord voicings on my 6-string bass. Suspended chords tend to create a modern sound and I’ve demonstrated one particular voicing that I like and has proved to be quite versatile.

When I found this particular voicing I started moving it around to different positions and playing it over open strings, which created other chords, mostly major chords. What you see in the video is me improvising using this chord voicing.

It isn’t particularly structured practice, but that’s ok, because sometimes when you’re practising an impulse takes over and you just play for fun. That’s what’s happening in this video. And as soon as I’d shot the video, I pulled out my fretless Warwick Thumb SC to play a bit of melodic improvisation over the top.

If you’re interested in that kind of melodic improvising with fretless bass then check out these two recent posts. Use Fretless Bass to Play Jazz Solos and Melodies and Charlie Parker Tunes on Fretless Bass Guitar.

What Are Suspended Chords?

Suspended chords or sus chords are chords that omit a third in favour of using either the second or fourth or both. The absence of a third makes the chords neither major or minor. It’s the third that defines whether a chord is major or minor. And sus chords have a neutral sound as a result of not having a third. Listen to Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage for an example of the suspended chord sound being used in jazz.

The chord symbol for a C suspended chord can be written as Csus. I sometimes see it written as C11. I don’t like the 11 chord symbol because, although a 4th is the same as an 11th, the 11 chord symbol implies to me the presence of a third, dominant seventh and a ninth. So the sus symbol is more accurate.

Csus2 is C, D and G (root, 2nd, 5th), Csus4 is C, F and G (root, 4th, 5th). You can think of C7sus as Bb/C. The Bb, D and F from the Bb major triad function as the dominant 7th, 2nd and 4th and create a suspended sound when you play them over a C root note. You could also call the same chord C9sus because the 2nd and 9th are interchangeable in the same way that the 4th and 11th are.

The Opening Chord Sequence

Suspended and Major Chord Voicings Opening Sequence
Suspended and Major Chord Voicings Opening Sequence

The opening sequence in the video is played over an open A string until the final chord which is played over an open E. All of the voicings are built by playing an interval of a sixth between the D and G strings, and an interval of a second between the G and C strings. Try making your own chords using the same voicings. You can adapt them onto four and five string basses by playing over the open E string and voicing the chords on the A, D and G strings.

Due to the improvised nature of my performance in the video, many of these chords are no longer sus chords. Many of them are major chords. What started off as an exercise in finding suspended chord voicings became an improvisation using the same chord voicing against open strings.

The Chord Theory

The first chord in the opening sequence is a suspended chord, but the second has a major sound. It contains a C#. Which is the major 3rd of A. If you listen carefully in the video I don’t play the top note on the second chord. It would have been a D. I was improvising and I’ve no idea what I was thinking in the moment. But I may have thought that C# and D would clash, being a semi-tone apart. In hindsight I slightly regret this. Conventional jazz theory says don’t include a major 3rd and natural 11th in the same chord voicing. But I think it works in this context. So I’ve included the note in the TAB even though it’s not in the video.

The third chord creates a lydian sound with the sharp 11th D# and major 3rd C#. You can check out my video on lydian sounds by clicking here. The fourth chord creates a straightforward A major sound with an added 9th. And the final chord creates an E major/Esus sound. Again, I’ve included the major 3rd and natural 11th, which I think sounds cool. Even though the two notes clash if you play them simultaneously. Notice that I’ve finger picked each note individually to cut down on the impact of such clashes. The final note that I’ve included is tapped with my right hand index finger.

The Closing Sequence

The closing sequence simply uses the last two chords of the opening sequence and repeats them. I hope you have some fun with these chord voicings and you’re able to come up with some original chords.