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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 – 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.
Triads Exercise on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 11th June 2019
This is a triads exercise that I’ve adapted onto bass guitar from something that I saw the guitarist Pat Metheny play. The original version of the exercise came from this video.
He doesn’t start playing the triads until about 3 minutes into the video. And it isn’t clear if he’s improvising or playing an exercise that he’s previously practiced. But I thought it sounded great and it looked like a great way to practice triads and their inversions. So I adapted a short section of what he played onto my six string bass and I’ve turned it into an exercise.
Triads and their inversions
A triad is a three note chord. The obvious way to arrange a triad in root position is root, third, fifth. Then you can play two inversions, third, fifth, root and fifth, root, third.
But that’s not necessarily the best way to play them on fretted instruments like guitars and basses. In this exercise, when Metheny plays a root position triad, he skips the third and goes straight to the fifth. Then he plays the third up an octave, a tenth above the root note. So using this arrangement, the three inversions of the triads are root, fifth, third. Then third, root, fifth and finally fifth, third, root.
Below is an Ab major triad and a Bb minor triad arranged in this way on four string bass.
There are two other common types of triad, diminished and augmented. These are actually much simpler to play because they’re symmetrical. Meaning that they use the same interval over and over. Diminished arpeggios divide the octave up into four minor third intervals and augmented arpeggios divide the octave into three major third intervals. Which is why there are four inversions of the diminished triad below but only three of the augmented triad.
This is the exercise. It mostly uses the major triads and the inversions. But there are a few minor and diminished triads. There are no augmented triads in this exercise. I’ve written the chords on top to help you keep track of which chord you’re playing.
Single String Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 4th June 2019
In this week’s video I’m talking about single string exercises. When I practice scales, I don’t really think of them as scales. I think of it as learning harmony. You can relate everything to do with harmony back to scales. And whatever harmonic exercise I’m working on, my goal is always to be able to play it in every position on the fretboard.
Why practice on just one string?
If you’re going to learn to use the entire fretboard then you need to practice by breaking it up into sections. You could do this by taking a modal approach and learning the scale in every position. Or you could take a single string approach by learning all the notes on just one string at a time. The big advantages of the single string approach are that it forces you to think about the notes rather than patterns on the fretboard. And it helps you to practice making the position shifts necessary.
When you’re working out a harmony on a single string you need to think about your left hand fingering. Below is a G major scale played on the first string. I’ve included my fingerings for reference.
Every bass is different, so I would recommend practicing these exercises on the usable range of your instrument. If the upper frets are hard to access then just play up to the point where it stops being comfortable to play.
Then repeat these exercises on every string. Here is the G major scale played on the second string.
A word about sight reading
Learning harmony in this way is extremely important if you want to improve your sight reading. I think that many bass players who struggle to sight read miss the importance of learning scales all over the fretboard.
Key signatures are extremely important in written music. They tell us the parent scale that we use to read it. If the key signature has one # (sharp), then the parent scale is G major. So, to read the written music successfully you need to be able to visualise the scale on the neck of your bass. Learning the scale in just one position will almost certainly not be enough, unless it’s a very simple piece of music.
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.
The next line that I shared in the video is meant to be played over the first four bars of Stella By Starlight.
And the final example is over the changes for the first four bars of John Coltrane’s classic composition Moment’s Notice.