Applying Jazz Vocabulary to Jazz Standards – Bass Practice Diary 70

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applying jazz vocabulary to standards

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

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

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

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

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

Solar - Jazz Vocabulary Exercise
Solar – Jazz Vocabulary Exercise

Why practice jazz vocabulary?

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

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

Jazz Licks Bass Clef Version – Bass Practice Diary 67

Jazz Licks Bass Clef Version – Bass Practice Diary – 30th July 2019

This week I’m practising jazz licks from a book called Jazz Licks Bass Clef Version. I wanted to feature it this week because it ties in nicely with last week’s Bass Practice Diary Video. Which featured some of my own jazz licks written over the harmony of a short section of Herbie Hancock’s composition Dolphin Dance.

The book features thousands of licks mostly about 4 bars long. And most of the licks are written over the opening bars of jazz standards. There are 16 standards featured in the book including Invitation, All the Things You Are, Autumn Leaves and the standard I featured in the video The Days of Wine and Roses.

What makes the book so good is that it takes a very comprehensive approach to learning these short sections of harmony. Each standard has 91 different licks in 13 different key signatures. 7 licks are written for each key, from one flat to six flats and six sharps to one sharp, as well as C major/A minor which has no sharps or flats.

The book also features licks written over II-V-I’s and jazz turnarounds. So, there are a lot of licks. All written in bass clef without any bass TAB. So, it’s good for learning the language of jazz improvisation, and it’s also really useful sight reading practice.

Last week I described how I practice playing on jazz standards by breaking the harmony down into sections. And writing out and improvising lines that work over the short sections. That’s the same concept that this book works on. My advice for using this book would be to play the licks in the book and then write out some of your own lines on the same standards. And try to come up with lines that go over all parts of the chord progressions, not just the beginnings.

Dolphin Dance on Three Basses – Bass Practice Diary 65

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.

Dolphin Dance

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.

Dolphin Dance Bass Solo - Page 1
Dolphin Dance Bass Solo – Page 1
Dolphin Dance Bass Solo - Page 2
Dolphin Dance Bass Solo – Page 2

If you’re interested in more jazz bass videos like this, then check out my video of Miles Davis’ Flamenco Sketches on three basses. Or here’s another Miles Davis tune, Solar.

Jaco Fingerstyle Funk Lines – Bass Practice Diary 63

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.

The Bass Clef Real Book – Bass Practice Diary 62

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.

Bass Clef Real Book
All of You – Melody and Bass page 1
All of You - Melody and Bass page 2
All of You – Melody and Bass page 2

Searching, Finding on fretted and fretless 6 string bass – Bass Practice Diary 61

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.

Six String Bass Solo on the changes of John Patitucci's Searching, Finding
Six String Bass Solo on the changes of John Patitucci’s Searching, Finding

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.

Using Open Strings for Position Shifts – Bass Practice Diary 58

Fretless Jazz Lines – Using Open Strings for Position Shifts – Bass Practice Diary – 28th May 2019

This week I’ve been coming up with jazz lines on my fretless bass. But specifically I’ve been trying to use open strings to help me make fast accurate position shifts in these jazz lines. I’ve been inspired to try this after I transcribed a blues solo played by the phenomenal bassist Tom Kennedy in last week’s practice diary video.

I think that one of the best ways to improve as a musician is to work out passages played by great musicians. I often use transcriptions and books written by other people, which are useful tools to use. But I feel that I learn the most when I work it out for myself.

Use open strings to make position shifts

The next challenge, after you’ve worked out a piece of music, is to see what you can take from it and incorporate into your own playing. And the thing that struck me most about Tom Kennedy’s blues solo was the way he was organising his left hand and his use of the open strings.

Can I take some of that and apply it to my own playing? In order to find out, I started writing out jazz lines for my fretless bass that use open strings and position shifts in the way that I’ve seen Tom Kennedy do it.

The theory behind it, is that if you play an open string before you shift position, then that gives you a little bit of extra time to make the shift. And it also gives you a reference note to help you hear if your position shift is accurately in tune. Which is extremely important on fretless bass. It’s a technique that I believe Tom Kennedy has adapted from playing upright bass. But he applies it onto fretted electric bass and he plays jazz lines at ferocious speed.

The fretless jazz lines

My fretless bass is a 6 string. I don’t have another fretless bass because I sold my four string fretless when I bought my 6 string. However, I usually write my TAB’s out for 4 string so that all bass players can use them. So, these three examples are all written for 4 string bass. Even though they’re played on 6 string in the video.

The first one that I played, at the start of the video, is written on the middle eight section of Rhythm Changes. It’s the second most popular chord progression in jazz after Blues changes.

Rhythm Changes Jazz Line with Open Strings
Rhythm Changes Jazz Line with Open Strings

The next line that I shared in the video is meant to be played over the first four bars of Stella By Starlight.

Stella By Starlight Jazz Line with Open Strings
Stella By Starlight Jazz Line with Open Strings

And the final example is over the changes for the first four bars of John Coltrane’s classic composition Moment’s Notice.

Moments Notice Jazz Line with Open Strings
Moment’s Notice Jazz Line with Open Strings

Tom Kennedy Jazz Blues Lines and Techniques – Bass Practice Diary 57

Jazz Blues Lines and Techniques on Bass Guitar from Tom Kennedy Solo – Bass Practice Diary – 21st May 2019

This week I’ve been trying to transcribe some of Tom Kennedy’s lines on a Bb blues I saw him playing on Youtube. In this video I’m looking at one particular Tom Kennedy lick. And I focus on his left hand technique which he seems to have adapted to electric bass from his years of playing the upright bass.

Tom Kennedy Left Hand Technique

The first time I heard Tom Kennedy play was at Ronnie Scott’s in London. It was more than 10 years ago and I’d gone to see the Dave Weckl band. Tom Kennedy was playing electric bass in the band and straight away I pegged him as an upright bass player because of his left hand technique. I don’t play a lot of double bass but I’ve played enough to recognise the technique. And I’ve seen a lot of double bass players playing electric bass over the years so I’ve learned to recognise what they tend to do.

But that’s not the end of the story. The story is that after about 10 or 15 minutes of the first set the band arrived at the first bass solo. And Tom Kennedy played jazz lines with such incredible speed and intensity that it left me questioning everything that I though I knew about electric bass technique. Who would have thought that you could approach the electric bass in that way and yet play so fast. The only other bass player that I can think of who can do that is Christian McBride. (I know that you’re probably thinking John Patitucci but his left hand technique on electric bass is distinctly different to his technique on upright).

So, why does Tom Kennedy’s left hand technique remind me of an upright bassist? He tends to cover just three frets in each position instead of four, playing notes with his first, second and fourth fingers. He likes to play electric bass in the positions around the first four or five frets, even when playing jazz solos. And when he does shift up the neck he tends to shift up and down on the first string.

Jazz Blues Lick

The lick that I featured in the video is played on the II chord Cm7. It goes like this.

Tom Kennedy Lick
Tom Kennedy Lick

I’ve included the bass TAB so you can see exactly how he played the line. If I saw a line like this written down without TAB I would probably play it something like this.

You could argue that my fingering is more consistent with the way that most jazz electric bass players would approach playing a jazz solo line like this. Notice that my fingering doesn’t take me anywhere near the first position. I’ve arranged the whole thing from the 7th fret and above.

But you could also argue that Tom Kennedy’s approach enables him to come up with lines that other electric bass players wouldn’t think of. And at the same time execute them at high speed. His technique also impacts the way he phrases his lines. So they don’t sound like they would if they were played by another bass player (me, for example).

A chorus of Bb Blues played by Tom Kennedy

Here is one full chorus of the solo that I’ve transcribed. I’ve picked a chorus that doesn’t include any of his super fast 1/16th note lines. Because they provide a serious technical challenge for any electric bass player to execute. But playing this chorus from his solo does give you a really interesting insight into how he arranges lines with his left hand.

Tom Kennedy Blues Solo
Tom Kennedy Blues Solo

Find my analysis of a jazz blues lick by another great jazz electric bass player, Jeff Andrews, here!

Rock Bass Groove in 7/4 – Bass Practice Diary 56

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.

7/4 Rock Bass Groove
7/4 Rock Bass Groove

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 – Bass Practice Diary 55

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.

G Minor Pentatonic Bass Exercise
G Minor Pentatonic Bass 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.

If you’re not sure what a 1/16th note feel means, then check out my guide to 1/8th and 1/16th note feels here.

Finally, here is the same exercise adapted to the G major pentatonic scale.

G Major Pentatonic Bass Exercise
G Major Pentatonic Bass Exercise