Dolphin Dance on Three Basses – Bass Practice Diary – 16th July 2019
This week I’ve been studying transcriptions of Herbie Hancock’s classic 1965 recording of Dolphin Dance from the Maiden Voyage album. I’ve always loved it as a piece of music and I think it perfectly captures what Herbie Hancock was about at that time and why he’s a genius. I’ve been attempting to transfer what I’ve studied onto three basses. 6 string fretted and fretless electric basses as well as upright bass.
The harmony is highly complex and jazz musicians have argued for decades over what are the correct chords to play. So, my main interest in analysing the transcriptions was to find out how Herbie Hancock himself voiced the chords, not only for the melody but also behind his own solo.
In spite of the complex jazz harmony, Dolphin Dance is first and foremost, a beautiful tune. And therein lies the genius of the composer. I’d compare it to tunes like Monk’s Round Midnight, Mingus’ Goodbye PorkPie Hat and Coltrane’s Naima. All beautiful melodies that are elevated by unusual and challenging harmonic structures.
Bass Solo Transcription
I’ve transcribed one whole chorus of my bass solo. I’ve written the chord symbols in above the stave for reference. But I would advise you not to take them too seriously. I took the chord symbols from a book, but I wasn’t following them when I played my solo or when I recorded the chords. I was trying to follow the notes that Herbie Hancock actually played, and the chord symbols don’t necessarily represent a completely accurate picture of that.
Jaco Pastorius Fingerstyle Funk Lines – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd July 2019
This week I’ve been practicing playing Jaco style fingerstyle funk lines by using a book of his transcriptions called The Essential Jaco Pastorius. I particularly wanted to study the way he improvises funky fingerstyle bass lines. Which is why I read through this passage. It’s played on a Bb7 chord towards the end of his composition Opus Pocus from his self titled debut album. I haven’t included any TAB this time because I don’t want to infringe the copyright of the book. But if you’d like to see some analysis of a Jaco line with bass TAB then check out this video.
Practising with transcriptions
If you’ve followed my Bass Practice Diary regularly you will probably know by now that I love to practice playing transcriptions of great musicians. Sometimes I transcribe the music myself and sometimes, like this week, I work from books of transcriptions. I truly believe that practicing transcriptions is one of the best ways you can practice the bass or any other instrument. Playing a Jaco Pastorius transcription is like getting a lesson from the master himself. What better way is there to get inside his brilliant mind than by playing his own lines.
I’ve often found that great musicians are often not great teachers. Jaco is probably a good example of this phenomena. Most of you are probably familiar with his Modern Electric Bass instructional video from the 1980’s. There is some good stuff in it. But I would say that you will learn much more by transcribing his music than by listening to what he says. Jaco is a very natural musician. And I’ve noticed that most natural musicians don’t make the best teachers. Because they often can’t explain what it is they do in a way that people can understand. There are exceptions to that. Victor Wooten is both a great natural musician and a great teacher. Because he’s taken the time to break down what he does and distill it in an understandable way.
Whatever great musician you want to learn from, you can have a one to one lesson from a master, when you start transcribing their music. Or, for a little bit more money, you can buy a transcription book. Which now exist for many great musicians on a wide variety of instruments and styles.
Using the Bass Clef Real Book – Melody and Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 25th June 2019
Jazz musicians love to practice with Real Books. And most Real Books are now available in bass clef editions. I have several different editions of bass clef Real Books, such as this one. And in this video I’m demonstrating a system of practicing with the Bass Clef Real Book that combines playing melodies with bass notes. I’ve seen guitarists using this system but it’s not often used by bass players.
What are Real Books?
Real Books are big books filled with hundreds of jazz tunes and standards. The arrangements are mostly written very simply as just a single melody line with chord symbols written above. Some of the tunes have little bits of additional arrangement written in, such as a bass line or harmony. But mostly they just distill each tune down to the simplest structure of melody and chords. The concept was created so that jazz musicians could use a standardised melody and chord progression for each tune when playing them at jam sessions.
How can you use Real Books when you practice?
There are a few different ways that you can use Real Books when you practice. The obvious one is for learning the melody and chords of famous jazz tunes. And they’re also good for sight reading practice. There are a wide range of jazz tunes in most Real Books, everything from slow simple ones to fast complicated Bebop lines. So there should be something to practice, no matter what your reading level is. You could also practice improvising on the tunes with the addition of play along backing tracks.
But this week I’ve been trying something different with my Real Books. Instead of just reading the melodies alone, I’ve been trying to include the root notes of the chords, to make a simple solo arrangement of each tune. This is a concept that I’ve heard jazz guitarists like Julian Lage and Martin Taylor talk about.
The idea is that it helps you to learn the tunes by boiling them down to the fundamentals of melody and bass. So rather than thinking about chord changes (which jazz musicians do a lot) you are thinking more about how does the melody interact with the simple bass line root movement.
I’ve only recently started doing this, but here is a transcription of one of my early attempts. The tune is All of You by Cole Porter.
Practising John Patitucci’s Searching, Finding – Bass Practice Diary – 18th June 2019
Searching, Finding was written by John Patitucci and it featured on his self titled debut album. This week I was reading through a book of John Patitucci transcriptions. It’s an unusual bass book, from the point of view that most of it is written in the treble clef rather than the bass clef. But if you can cope with the treble clef reading, then there are great tunes in it, like this one.
I should point out that the only part of the transcription that I’m playing in the video is the melody. The solos are all improvised by me and I’ve written out one of the choruses of my solo in bass TAB.
How I practice tunes on bass
One of the reasons why I’m posting this video is because it gives an insight into the way that I practice learning tunes. When I say “learning tunes” I don’t just mean learning the melody, I mean melody, bass line, chord progression, structure etc. Everything that’s involved in learning a composition.
The first thing I’ll do is make myself a simple backing track, usually involving drums and chords. I’ll programme the drums in ProTools and add chords on either piano, guitar or six string bass. In this case I played the chords on piano.
When I have my simple backing track I’ll loop it and practice playing the melody, bass line and improvised solos on it. And that’s what you can see me doing in the video. I’m using my fretless six string bass to play a walking bass line and improvise on the modal section. While my fretted six string bass is used to play the bass figure in the modal section and the melody and solos during the choruses.
My solo chorus on Searching, Finding
When I study an artist’s transcription, like John Patitucci’s solo on Searching Finding. I don’t do it so that I can perform his solo or rip off his licks. I do it so that I can study the notes and the phrasing that he uses over the harmony. So that I can then use the information to assist my own improvisation. Before I start improvising I will often write out some lines that fit over some of the trickier harmonic sections. In the first solo chorus in the video, starting at 0:59, you can see me putting some of my ideas into practice. Here is the transcription of that chorus.
Once I’ve analysed an artists solo and tried to assimilate what I can into my own ideas. I will then try to improvise in the purest sense of the word. Meaning that I will try not to think about any pre planned ideas and just improvise off the cuff. This is what you can see me doing in the second chorus of solo starting at 2:24 in the video.
Hopefully at this point I’ve started to internalise the melody, harmony and structure of the composition. And this information will come out in my improvisation without me having to consciously work it out in advance. The solo I played in the video partly demonstrates this, although it isn’t perfect yet.
Odd Meter Bass Groove – 7/4 Rock Bass Groove with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 14th May 2019
This week I’ve been working on writing play-along pieces for my upcoming book. It will be my second bass book released by Fundamental Changes. The video features a bassline that I wrote for an odd meter rock piece. It’s a rock bass groove in 7/4 time signature. You can find my video guide to playing bass in odd meters here.
What Are Odd Meters?
The term odd meter simply means any time signature that has an odd number of beats or subdivisions in a bar. Odd meters divide opinion amongst musicians. Some musicians (including me) love them and think they can flow and groove just as well as any groove in 4/4. Others hate playing them.
My approach to playing odd meters is not that different to my approach for playing in any meter. But I think that musicians who are not comfortable playing in odd meters often feel that they have to do something different. And that might be the root cause of why they struggle to play them.
7/4 is an unusual time signature in rock and pop music but there are famous examples of its use. All You Need is Love by The Beatles, Money by Pink Floyd and Times Like These by the Foo Fighters all contain sections in 7/4.
Pentatonic Exercise for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 7th May 2019
This week I’m featuring a pentatonic exercise. The reason that I’ve shared this is to show you how I approach practicing scales, or as I like to think of it harmony. I prefer not to use the word scale because it implies going up and down a pattern of notes. Whereas what I’m trying to achieve is learning how those notes fit all over the fretboard. And then coming up with different ways of playing them.
How to practice scales
When I’m practicing a particular scale or harmony, I like to come up with new and different ways to move the harmony around the fretboard. The example in the video is just one example that I came up with. But in a single practice session I might come up with 5 or 6 different exercises using the same scale and practice them all for a few minutes each.
This works for any scale, arpeggio or melodic pattern. It’s the same process that I use when I’m practicing any harmony. I’ve used the pentatonic scale as an example because it’s simple and most people know it.
The pentatonic scale exercise with bass TAB
Here is the pentatonic exercise for bass written out as I played it in the video. I’ve used the root note G for both examples because the open string works well playing the root note. But you could adapt this exercise for any scale that has a G natural in it.
First, here is the G minor pentatonic exercise.
The exercise is simply a three note pattern that starts with an open string. The open string first string is always the first note of the three note pattern. But the other two notes move up and down the neck on the second and third strings.
The final element of the exercise is a rhythmic element. The three note pattern is played with a 1/16th note feel. Meaning that the emphasis keeps shifting onto a different 1/16th note each time you repeat the three note pattern.
Bass Practice Diary is One Year Old – 23rd April 2019
A year ago I decided to start documenting my bass practice by picking one thing that I was working each week and making a short video about it.
As a music teacher, I believe that if you want to keep improving your musicianship, then it’s essential that you keep finding new things to practice. It seems to me that a lot of people get stuck in the same practice routines, practicing the same things. And then they wonder why their playing isn’t progressing in the way that they want it to.
What I’m trying to show, is that there is an almost unlimited number of different things to practice. And many different ways that you can practice them.
I release the videos every Tuesday. And I haven’t missed a week in the whole year. So there are currently over 50 videos. All available for free without subscription.
If you would like to follow my free videos each week then you can always find them here on JohnnyCoxMusic.com. And if you subscribe to my Youtube channel and click on the bell icon, then you should be alerted each week when my videos are uploaded. You can also follow me on my Facebook page Johnny Cox Music. And you can find me on Instagram @johnny.cox.music
The Altered Scale – Bass Practice Diary – 16th April 2019
Jazz musicians love to play on dominant 7th chords. And the altered scale is a really important scale to practice if you want to create a jazz sound when playing on these 7th chords. I think that using the altered scale is often perceived as “advanced” harmony. But, as with most things, it’s easy when you understand it. So, here’s my very quick guide to using the altered scale on bass.
What is the altered scale?
The altered scale is a mode of the melodic minor scale. Meaning that it contains all of the same intervals as a melodic minor scale. The altered scale is essentially what you get when you play a melodic minor scale starting finishing on the 7th note of the scale.
So, what’s a melodic minor scale? It’s basically only one note different from a major scale. If you take a major scale and change the major 3rd to a minor 3rd, you have a melodic minor scale.
Here’s the notes of an F major scale.
And here are the notes of an F melodic minor scale.
Notice that the only difference is the third note. It’s an A natural in the major scale and an Ab in the melodic minor.
If you play the notes of an F melodic minor scale but use E (the 7th note) as the root note. You would be playing an E altered scale.
When you think about the notes of the F melodic minor with an E as the root note, it creates these interval relationships to the root note.
The 3rd of E7 would, of course, be written as G# not Ab. But the altered scale creates some interesting theoretical anomalies like that. Because the major 3rd note (Ab/G#) is actually the 4th note of the scale.
How do you use the altered scale?
As I mentioned at the start, the altered scale works really well on dominant 7th chords. You can think of the altered scale as being a kind of extended dominant 7th arpeggio with lots of chromatic alterations.
The scale includes the root, major 3rd and dominant 7th notes which are the fundamental ingredients of a dominant 7th arpeggio. But the other four notes are all chromatic alterations of some kind. Hence why it’s called the altered scale.
You can alter chord tones and extensions by moving them one semi-tone up or down. The 5th of E7 is B natural, but in the altered scale the 5th has been flattened to Bb. So the altered scale could be used on an E7b5 chord.
The 9th can be altered by sharpening or flattening it. The altered scale uses both alterations. So you could use it on an E7b9 or an E7#9 chord. The final alteration is a b13.
So you can use the altered scale to play on any of these altered dominant chord types. And you will sometimes see the chord symbol E7alt. Which implies a chord that could include any or all of these alterations.
So if you want to start using this altered dominant sound on your dominant 7th chords. Then start to think about using a melodic minor scale that starts one semi-tone above the root of the chord. So, if you’re playing on a D7 chord, think Eb melodic minor. For A7, thing Bb melodic minor, for G7 think Ab melodic minor, for B7 think C melodic minor etc.
Having said that, I don’t think that soloing on Giant Steps needs to be very difficult. As long as you start slowly and focus on internalising the sound of the chords before you increase the tempo.
One of the reasons that John Coltrane’s Giant Steps has it’s fearsome reputation is because of the chord changes in the first two bars. The first bar starts on a Bmaj7 chord for two beats and immediately changes to a D7 chord on beat three. Which is a key change to G major. The second bar starts with a resolution to a Gmaj7 chord. Then it changes key again. This time to Bb7 on beat three which is the fifth of Eb major.
So the tune starts with three different keys in two bars. Needless to say, if you’re not prepared for it, it will catch you out. And many Giant Steps solos have failed before they’ve begun because musicians can’t negotiate these quick key changes quickly enough.
This chord movement in bars 1 and 2 repeats itself in bars 5 and 6 but transposed so that the progression starts on Gmaj7. And it’s this chord progression that defines Giant Steps. So if you want to improvise on Giant Steps you need to spend some time really working on this two bar chord progression.
Use the Chord Tones
My first piece of advice would be to come up with lines over this two bar progression using chord tones. The progression itself is already complex enough on it’s own that you don’t need to add lots of chromaticism or substitutions to make your lines sound interesting. It’s amazing how many interesting sounding jazz lines you can come up with on Giant Steps using nothing but roots, 3rds, 5ths and 7ths.
Here are three different lines that I came up with which use nothing but chord tones.
You can transpose each of these to work over bars 5 and 6. But here’s another one that I wrote specifically to be played over bars 5-7.
I don’t work out these licks so that I can play them in a solo. I do it to help me get the sound of the chord changes into my ears. And the more lines like this that I work out, the more likely I’ll be to be able to improvise something like this in a solo. So feel free to play through my licks and practice them, but also come up with some of your own.
I honestly feel that this two-bar chord progression is the key to unlocking Giant Steps. Once you can improvise over this tricky chord sequence, the rest of the progression is easy, dare I say it. It’s just a sequence of II – V – I’s in three different keys. Eb major, G major and B major.
Playing on II – V – I’s is a jazz musicians bread and butter. There are hundreds of lessons and videos out there about playing on them.
Giant Steps Improvisation on Fretless & Fretted 6 String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd April 2019
Some jazz tunes are so iconic that every jazz musician and enthusiast should know them. John Coltrane’s Giant Steps definitely falls into that category. The chord changes have made it iconic, because they’re notoriously difficult to improvise on. Over the years it’s become a kind of rite of passage for aspiring jazz musicians to learn to play on those changes.
I’ll do a more complete analysis of how I approach playing on Giant Steps next week. But the purpose of this video is to show how I approach practising any tricky piece like this. The first and most important thing when approaching any difficult repertoire is to start slow. If you want to be able to play fast, then practice slow.
Start Slow and Vary the Feel
When I’m approaching any chord progression, I’m trying to internalise the sound of the changes. It’s much harder to do this if the changes are flying past at 300bpm. Coltrane may have played Giant Steps blisteringly fast, but I’d be willing to bet that he practiced it slowly first.
I love practicing playing over slow changes. You can really enjoy playing over each chord and having loads of time to hear the changes go past. And this will really help you to get the sound of the changes into your ears.
Another piece of advice I would offer, is to practice playing the changes over as many different feels as you can. As you can hear in my video I start by using a slow straight 1/16th note feel, and then move on to a faster swing feel. But that only scratches the surface, there are so many different tempos and feels that you can use.
It always amazes me that some jazz musicians seem to only practice improvising in a swing feel. You can always tell who these people are because they instantly sound very uncomfortable playing in anything that doesn’t have a swing feel.
John Coltrane and Giant Steps
Giant Steps was recorded and released in 1959, which was a watershed year in jazz for many reasons. It came from the album which was also called Giant Steps, and that album is seen by many as a masterpiece of jazz Bop style improvisation and composition. In fact it’s seen by many as the ultimate recording in that style of jazz.
It’s certainly possible to believe that Coltrane himself believed that he couldn’t improve upon Giant Steps. Because from that point on in his career he went on to explore other aspects of jazz improvisation such as modal jazz and free jazz. And he never returned to the Bop style vocabulary of the Giant Steps album.