Half Rounds on Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 78

Half Rounds Bass Strings on 6 String Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 15th October 2019

I get a lot of questions on social media about bass strings. What strings do you use? What do you think of these strings? etc. One question that I’ve never been able to answer is, what do you think of half rounds? Because I’ve never tried them, until now. So, I’ve just put a set of D’addario ENF71 Half Rounds on my Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 string acoustic bass guitar. The string gauges are 30-45-65-80-100-130.

Why Half Rounds?

There was a reason why I wanted to try half rounds on my acoustic bass guitar beyond just curiosity. I normally use bronze round wound strings on my Warwick Alien Deluxe. In fact, I use round wounds on all my basses. The Warwick Red Label Bronze Strings that I normally use sound great. And they are amazing value for money. But there is one issue with using round wound strings on acoustic instruments (it’s the same with steel string acoustic guitars) which is, that the strings can make annoying squeaking noises when you shift position.

An obvious solution to this issue is to use flat wound strings. I’ve tried this, and the problem is, that I don’t like the sound of flats on bass guitar. To me they sound very dull and dead, and I need the brightness of a round wound string to create the sound I’m trying to achieve.

So, the question in my head was, can half rounds provide me some of the brightness of a round wound string but with less friction (squeak), like a flat wound string? And I have to say that my early response is very good. They seem to do exactly that. The next test will be, how long will they stay bright for? That may have to be the subject of a future video.

Jazz Waltz by Tim Pettingale – Bass Practice Diary 74

Johnny Cox and Tim Pettingale playing Tim’s Jazz Waltz – Bass Practice Diary – 17th September 2019

A couple of weeks ago Tim Pettingale came over to visit me in my new studio. And we had a bit of a play over this idea that Tim had for a jazz waltz. I previously released another video from this session of us playing over Rhythm Changes. Tim is the author of two brilliant jazz guitar books Jazz Bebop Blues Guitar and Rhythm Changes for Jazz Guitar.

Jazz Waltz and Variations

A jazz waltz is something that I don’t practice that often. So it was really interesting when Tim came to me with this idea for an original composition. He wrote it in three sections, A, B and C, which gave us some scope to come up with some interesting rhythmic variations. On the B and C sections.

The A section is the main melody, which we played with a standard jazz waltz feel. I initially played it on my fretless bass and then Tim played it on guitar after that.

A jazz waltz is written in 3/4 but it’s probably more accurate to call it 9/8. Because you have three beats in each bar and each beat is subdivided into triplets. Which is what gives you a swing feel. So there are effectively nine 1/8th notes in each bar, hence 9/8. It’s useful to understand this because it means that you can superimpose grooves in 9/8 onto a jazz waltz without needing to change the beat or sub-division. That’s exactly what we did in the bass solo which is the C section of the composition and starts at 1:41 in the video.

A simpler approach to playing 3/4 is to play using straight 1/8th notes. Which creates six 1/8th notes in each bar instead of nine. So, a straight 3/4 can also be thought of as being interchangeable with 6/8. This is the feel that we explored in the B section which starts at 0:58 in the video. I’ve explored many of these same rhythmic ideas in my upcoming book for Fundamental Changes which I hope will be released before the end of this year.

Michael Brecker Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary 72

Michael Brecker Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd September 2019

This week I’ve been working out some jazz lines that Michael Brecker played on Charlie Parker’s tune Confirmation. And this week I’m featuring one particular lick that comes from that tune.

The recording that I was working from comes from a Chick Corea album called Three Quartets. And it features Michael Brecker performing a duet with Chick Corea who is playing the drums rather than his more familiar role as a pianist. The performance is notable for Michael Brecker’s brilliant solo. Which features a number of brilliant jazz lines. And I’ve picked out this particular lick, because I think it fit’s nicely onto a four string bass guitar. Although I should point out that I’m playing the lick one octave below where Michael Brecker plays it. Here’s the lick.

Michael Brecker Jazz Lick - Db
Michael Brecker Jazz Lick – Db

The lick happens in the middle 8, and it’s played on a II-V-I in Db major. I recently wrote about the importance of practicing II-V-I’s in my post about applying jazz vocabulary to jazz standards. This lick is a really useful piece of jazz vocabulary. And when you practice these kind of lines, I would strongly recommend practising transposing them into different keys. Here’s the same lick played in Ab major to get you started.

Michael Brecker Jazz Lick - Ab
Michael Brecker Jazz Lick – Ab

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.

Diminished Scale Exercise – Bass Practice Diary 68

Diminished Scale Exercise for Jazz Lines – Bass Practice Diary – 6th August 2019

Recently I’ve been practicing lots of symmetrical exercises. And this week I’ve featured a diminished scale exercise that I came up with this week. A few weeks ago I featured an exercise that involved harmonising the whole tone scale into augmented triads. A symmetrical exercise can be anything with a limited number of transpositions. In practice that usually means using patterns of repeating intervals. They have a vey unique sound that you won’t achieve just by using major and minor scales and their modes.

The Diminished Scale in Jazz

I’ve spoken a bit in the past about the diminished scale in jazz. The diminished scale is probably the most versatile symmetrical scale. The most obvious time to use it would be over a diminished chord, but that isn’t the most common place it gets used in jazz. The most common use of diminished scales in jazz is on dominant 7th chords. And I’ve used dominant 7th chords as the backing for the exercise in the video. The chords go around in a cycle of 5ths like the middle 8 section of the Rhythm Changes chord progression (D7, G7, C7, F7).

Let me explain how and why diminished scales work on dominant chords. I’ll use C7 as an example and I’m going to start my scale on the root note C. The first intervals in the scale will be a semi-tone and then a tone. So, the first three notes are C(root), Db(b9) and D#(#9). These same intervals will then repeat through the octave creating a scale with eight notes in it, C-Db-D#-E-F#-G-A-Bb.

The interval pattern this creates is an interesting mix of inside and outside notes when played on a C7 chord. The b9 and #9 are both outside notes, and both common alterations on dominant 7th chords. The C, E, G and Bb are the chord tones, root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. And the A is the 13th, which is a chord extension but an inside note. The F# is a #11th, which is another common altered chord extension.

The Diminished Scale Exercise

The exercise I came up with in the video is just an idea to help you improvise lines using the diminished scale. It’s slightly different ascending and descending as I referred to in the video. Here is the exercise as I played it in the video.

Diminished Scale Exercise
Diminished Scale Exercise

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.

Practice Playing on Jazz Chord Progressions – Bass Practice Diary 66

How to Practice Playing on Difficult Jazz Chord Progressions – Bass Practice Diary – 23rd July 2019

Last week I was practicing Herbie Hancock’s classic composition Dolphin Dance. Which features a unique and quite complicated set of chord changes to improvise on. So, this week I wanted to share my approach to practising playing on tricky jazz chord progressions like this one.

A good starting point for practicing anything difficult is always to start slowly and practice in short sections. And that’s particularly true in this case. Dolphin Dance has quite a long form for a jazz standard. Anything over 32 Bars is unusual. But even a 32 bar standard would usually have repeated sections. Dolphin Dance has hardly any repetition within the harmonic structure, so it does feel like a lot to learn.

How I Use Backing Tracks

When I break a standard down into sections, I will usually practice in 4-8 bar sections. Generally I will create my own backing tracks, either using a loop pedal or by recording piano chords in to Protools. These backing tracks can be very basic. They only need to be good enough to keep the form and the structure. The advantage of creating my own backing tracks is that I can set the exact harmony and tempo that I want to practice. There may be apps that now exist that can do this for you, but I will always prefer to do it myself.

The problem with most commercially available backing tracks is that they usually only feature the entire form played at one tempo. Which makes it harder to practice slowly and in short sections. I do use commercial backing tracks and backing tracks from the internet. But with a tricky tune like Dolphin Dance, I’ll only uses them when I feel ready to take on the entire form after practising with my own backing tracks first.

Write Out Examples

When I’m practising in short sections, I will particularly focus on the most tricky sections of the harmony. In the video I’ve picked out one of the more unusual harmonic sections of Dolphin Dance. The section begins with an Eb7 chord before immediately changing key into G major with a II – V. Then it goes to a Bm7 chord, which could be chord III in G major but that’s followed by an E7 chord so that implies a II – V in A major. But the E7 is followed by Dm7 which doesn’t belong in either G or A major and that’s followed by C#m7 which is chord II in B major.

So, the harmony is jumping around which will keep you on your toes when you’re improvising. I think if you’re going to learn how to improvise melodically on a progression like this, then it really helps to write some ideas down. I usually do this by trying to come up with a melody or rhythmic phrase that I can hear in my head, and then trying to see if I can make that melody fit through the harmony. This might involve making chromatic adjustments to help the phrase fit in with the harmony.

In the video I featured three examples, and here they are.

Dolphin Dance - Short Melodic Jazz Improvisation Examples
Dolphin Dance – Short Melodic Jazz Improvisation Examples

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.

Augmented/Whole Tone Symmetrical Jazz Bass Exercise – Bass Practice Diary 64

Augmented & Whole Tone Symmetrical Jazz Bass Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 9th July 2019

This week I’ve been practising symmetrical jazz bass exercises. Symmetrical means anything that uses the same repeating intervals over and over. For example diminished chords are symmetrical because they use only intervals of a minor 3rd. And in this video I’m using augmented triads (major 3rds) and the whole tone scale (major 2nds).

Why practice symmetrical exercises?

I was first turned onto the idea of practicing symmetrical exercises years ago when I first ready Ray Brown’s Bass Method. For those of you who don’t know, Ray Brown was a pioneering jazz upright bass player. And he is famed as an innovator of using the upright bass for playing bop style bass solos. So his book gives a great insight into how he thinks.

But he doesn’t use a lot of words, it’s mostly just exercises and there are many of them. There are pages and pages of symmetrical exercises and all he tells us is that we should practice them alongside scales because they’re extremely useful for playing jazz vocabulary. But he doesn’t explain why, and it took me a while to fully appreciate just how useful these exercises are.

First of all, the fact that these exercises are symmetrical means that they work over a number of different chords, not just one. In the video I’m using dominant 7th chords as an example. If you use an exercise to harmonise a dominant 7th chord. And every interval in the exercise is the same. Then logically you can use the same exercise to harmonise different dominant 7th chords starting with a root note on every single note in the exercise.

The augmented/whole tone exercise

The exercise in the video is built around the whole tone scale starting and finishing on C. It has six notes in it, C, D, E, F#, Ab and Bb. And the six notes are harmonised into two augmented triads, C, E & Ab and D, F# & Bb. These notes can be used to harmonise the following dominant 7th chords. C7, D7, E7, F#7/Gb7, G#7/Ab7 and A#7/Bb7. The scale will create the intervals root, 9th, maj 3rd, #11th, b13th and dominant 7th. Three chord tones (R, 3rd, 7th), one unaltered extension (9th) and two altered extensions (#11, b13).

Augmented Whole Tone Bass Symmetrical Exercise
Augmented Whole Tone Bass Symmetrical Exercise

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.