The term artificial harmonics relates to various techniques where you use your right hand alone to play the harmonics. Artificial harmonics are more difficult to achieve than natural harmonics because you need to do two things at the same time with your right hand. In this post I’m going to look at three different techniques.
The Jaco Pastorius Technique
Many bass players, myself included, discovered artificial harmonics through listening to Jaco Pastorius. I remember as a teenager listening to Weather Report’s tune Birdland and wondering how the introduction could possibly be played on a bass. I was already familiar with natural harmonics. But Jaco seemed to be playing melodies and bending notes with the fluency of a guitar player.
The secret was, that he was using his right-hand thumb to touch the strings lightly, while his right-hand fingers were plucking the notes. And, at the same time, he was fretting notes with his left hand and imitating the phrasing of a guitarist bending strings by sliding the notes on his fretless bass. A lot of things going on at the same time!
It was Jaco’s technique that I was trying to copy when I first started playing artificial harmonics. But that was only until I found a technique which I found worked much better for me and the way I wanted to play. I haven’t used the Jaco technique in well over 10 years now.
The Steve Bailey Technique
After hearing Jaco, the first time that I saw a bass player doing something significantly different with artificial harmonics was on a DVD called Bass Extremes Live.
I’m sure many of you are already familiar with Victor Wooten and Steve Bailey’s incredible bass duets. But at the time I first saw that film, I knew all about Victor Wooten, but I didn’t know Steve Bailey.
Steve Bailey was making incredible arrangements using artificial harmonics on a six string fretless bass. He was playing chords using bass notes and harmonics played simultaneously, which seemed impossible, even to someone who was already well familiar with Jaco Pastorius’ repertoire.
The Steve Bailey technique involves straightening your index finger on your right hand. And using it to lightly touch the string. Then you can use your third finger to pluck the string at the same time. Meanwhile, your right-hand thumb can be used to play bass notes.
Once I’d learned this technique I never went back to the Jaco technique. Because I found that I could play everything that I was doing before with the Steve Bailey technique but I could also play chords using artificial harmonics. I don’t want to get into a debate about which technique is better or worse. We’re all individuals and Jaco’s technique worked for Jaco and Steve Bailey’s technique works for him. And personally I’ve found that Steve Bailey’s technique works for me as well.
My Own Experiments with Artificial Harmonics
Recently I made a video which I called Improvisation on Three Basses. The idea for that video came because I was playing the chords of Miles Davis’ tune Flamenco Sketches using an artificial harmonics technique that I’ve seen used by guitarists like Ted Greene and Tommy Emmanuel. But I’ve never seen it used by a bass player.
I was wondering if I could adapt it to playing chords on a bass guitar. So I tried out playing one of my favourite chord progressions. I was amazed by how well it worked. And it led me to wonder why I haven’t seen it done before.
The technique involves using your index finger to touch the string. Then plucking the same string with your thumb and then using your third finger to play notes on other strings.
Here is the exercise that I wrote and played in the video using this technique.
This is an extended version of the same idea. It uses a chord progression that starts with an Emaj7#11 then F#m11 and G#m11.
Play Harmonics on Bass Guitar – Part 1: Natural Harmonics – Bass Practice Diary – 11th December 2018
I use harmonics a lot in my bass arrangements, so I thought I’d do a complete guide to playing harmonics on bass. It’s too much information for just one video, so I’ve split it into two parts, natural harmonics and artificial harmonics. This video contains everything you need to know about natural harmonics on bass. Including the harmonic series and advice for making chord voicing using harmonics.
I should start by saying that I’m not a big fan of the terms natural and artificial harmonics. To me, they are all just harmonics, they follow the same rules and principles. The distinction is that natural harmonics are created from open strings, whereas artificial harmonics are created from notes that are fretted with the left hand. Calling them natural or artificial makes as much sense as calling notes played on open strings ‘natural notes’ and notes fretted with the left hand ‘artificial notes’.
There is nothing artificial about artificial harmonics, all harmonics exist naturally. However, there is a difference in the techniques that you use to play natural verses artificial harmonics, which I will look at across these two videos. So, I’ll continue to use the terms, natural and artificial, even though I’m not sure they’re ideal.
So, natural harmonics are created by touching the open strings very lightly with your left hand and then plucking the string as normal with your right hand. For the harmonic to be clear, you must avoid the string making contact with any fret, and you should remove both hands from the string immediately after plucking with your right hand. The string should be left to ring as if it were an open string. The difference is that the note you will hear will be much higher than the open string.
The Harmonic Series (Overtone Series)
In order to properly understand and use harmonics, you must first become familiar with the harmonic series. The harmonic series is a sequence of tones that make up a musical note. Musical notes are not simple sound waves. In fact they’re very complex and they comprise a whole sequence of overtones that we call the harmonic series. We can explore this sequence on our basses by playing harmonics.
The harmonic series is, in theory at least, infinite. So it’s impossible to learn or play the entire harmonic series. As you go further up the series, the harmonics become harder and harder to hear and to find on your bass string. So, I’m only really interested in the first few notes of the series.
The series always starts at the exact half way point of the string. This means the halfway point between the nut and the bridge. On your bass, the halfway point is marked by the twelfth fret. You will always find a harmonic at the halfway point of any string that is pulled tight between two points. It doesn’t matter what note you tune the string to and it doesn’t matter what instrument you are playing. The harmonic at the twelfth fret will produce a note that is exactly one octave above the open string.
So, the harmonic series starts with an octave and then is goes up a fifth and then to another octave. This will be a note two octaves above the open string. These harmonics will both occur in two different places on each string. One on the left side of the centre of the string, and one in the same position on the right side of the centre.
The next note in the sequence is a major 3rd above the previous note. So the harmonic series up to this point gives us a kind of major arpeggio.
Here is the sequence written out on the first string of a four string bass. So, the sequence is written in G. The sequence goes, G, D, G, B.
Creating Chord Voicings with Harmonics
The same major arpeggio pattern will repeat itself on any open string, Root, 5th, Root, 3rd. Which makes it fairly simple to work out what notes you’re playing when you play these harmonics.
Once you know what the notes are, you can start to combine natural harmonics and normal fretted bass notes to create chord voicings. I gave two examples in the video, both using the harmonics D and G played on the fifth fret of the first and second strings.
When you add the root note Eb to the harmonics D and G it creates an Eb major 7th chord. G is the major third and D is the major seventh. I’ve done that by fretting the Eb on the 6th fret of the third string, but there are other ways you could play this chord. If you change the root note to E, you get an E minor 7th chord. The G and D become the minor 3rd and 7th.
Learn to Play Triplet Rhythms on Straight 16th Note Bass Grooves – Bass Practice Diary 4th December 2018
I’m currently putting the finishing touches to my second book, which is a follow up to Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove. In the new book, I have a section which is about feeling multiple subdivisions. Meaning, can you play bass grooves that use both straight 8th notes and 16th notes, as well as triplet rhythms?
It’s hard to switch between straight rhythms and triplet rhythms without dropping the groove. This video features a bass groove that I wrote for the book. It has a straight 16th note feel, but it also contains triplets.
Quarter Note Triplets (Crochet Triplets)
The video features two variations of the same groove. Here is the first, simpler variation.
This version of the groove features straight 8th and 16th notes, Ta-Ka and Ta-Ka-Di-Mi. But it also features quarter note or crochet triplets.
Quarter note triplets are a rhythm that many people struggle with. But they don’t need to be any more difficult that 8th note triplets. An 8th note triplet is simply a beat subdivided into three, Ta-Ki-Ta. A quarter note triplet is the length of two 8th note triplets. So, if you can feel 8th note triplets, you should be able to play quarter note triplets.
Think about it like this. Two beats contain six 8th note triplets. Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ki-Ta. If you play on every other syllable, like this Ta-ki-Ta, ta-Ki-ta, then you are playing quarter note triplets.
16th Note Triplets
The second variation of the groove features all of the same subdivisions as the first, but it also contains 16th note triplets.
16th note triplets are easy to understand. They are sometimes difficult to play because they can be very fast, even at moderate tempos.
The first thing to understand about 16th note triplets is that they are essentially the same subdivision as 8th note triplets, Ta-Ki-Ta.
In order to create 16th note triplets you must first feel the straight 8th notes Ta-Ka. Once you have the straight 8th note feel, you must divide each 8th note into triplets, Ta-Ki-Ta.
It’s actually easier to play 16th note triplets on straight grooves like this than it is to play them on triplet feels such as shuffles and swing. The reason is that they are derived from subdividing the straight 8th notes into triplets.
Hammer Ons and Pull Offs – Left Hand Technique Lesson – Bass Practice Diary – 27 November 2018
Someone asked me recently to do a video with some Hammer Ons and Pull Offs exercises. I don’t usually do videos based on suggestions, but this time I thought it was a good idea. Because practising Hammer Ons and Pull Offs is a great way to improve your Left Hand Technique.
Having said that, I believe that there are a few basic things that you need to get right if you are going to improve your technique by practicing hammer ons and pull offs.
Left Hand Techniques
The first thing is to come up with exercises that use four fingers on your left hand. If you want to play with good technique in your left hand then you need to be able to play evenly between all of your fingers.
I see so many beginner and intermediate bass players favouring certain fingers and trying to avoid other fingers on their left hand. It’s very natural to play like that because when you start, everyone has stronger index and middle fingers than ring finger and little finger. But that’s the reason you practice left hand techniques, in order to overcome that.
If you play hammer ons and pull offs using the same two fingers every time, then you are actually making your left hand technique more uneven when you practice.
So, Rule One of left hand technique is practice with four fingers. The only exception to this is when you are specifically working on strengthening a weak finger. As I demonstrated in the video with my third finger.
The second thing that you need to get right is, when you hammer on, you need to hammer on to the fret and not in between two frets. For example, if you want to play the fifth fret on the first string, you need to hammer onto the fifth fret, not in between the fourth and fifth fret.
You need to be very accurate because if you go even a little bit in front of the fret, you will lose the note. The sound is created by striking the string against the fret. So, if you don’t hammer on accurately then the sound will be weak and quiet.
Many bass players struggle with this because they don’t spread out their fingers on the left hand. If you play with your fingers too close together, you won’t be able to reach the frets with your third and fourth fingers and your hammer ons will be weak.
So, Rule Two is spread you fingers wide and hammer on accurately onto the frets.
The pull off technique is a bit easier. But make sure you don’t just lift your fingers off the strings. You need to excerpt a gentle pull on the string as you pull off. If you don’t, the notes will die out as you repeat the exercises. If you pull too hard, the notes will sound uneven as your pull offs will be much louder than your hammer ons.
When you get the pull off technique right, you should be able to keep all of these exercises going continuously without needing to play any notes with your right hand. The pull off technique is easiest to execute on the first string.
So, Rule Three is practice these exercises on all strings, not just on the first string.
The Hammer On and Pull Off Exercises with Bass TAB
This is the first exercise that I played in the video.
I would recommend that you don’t spend too much time playing the same exercise the same way. You should keep coming up with your own little variations. And try to focus on the things that you find difficult.
If you practice the same exercise too much, you will become very good at playing that one exercise. But if you keep varying the exercise you will eventually become very good at the technique, which is what you want.
Here is the second exercise from the video.
In this example you keep your first finger held down continuously. Now here is a variation in which you hold your second finger down continuously.
Make sure you hold your second finger down on a string that you’re not using. Because you won’t be able to pull off with your first finger if your second finger is held down on the string you’re playing. You can vary this exercise again by holding down your third and then fourth fingers. It gets harder each time.
Rule four is the most important rule, and it should apply to everything you practice. The rule is, focus on timing and not speed. Use a drum beat or a metronome and practice everything you do by playing in time.
Hammer ons and pull offs are relatively easy to play fast, but they’re much harder to play in time, and it’s hard to get all the notes to sound even. So my best recommendation is start slow, play in time, make it even and then gradually increase the tempo.
Six String Bass – A guide to the 6 String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 30th October 2018
I just want to share some of the reasons why I play a six string bass. I get asked about six string basses a lot. So, I thought I should make a video about why I play them. And also give out some advice for anyone learning or thinking of learning to play a six string bass. I’ll also write a little bit about the history of the bass guitar and how basses came to have six strings.
The first thing I need to say is that how many strings you choose to play, 4, 5, 6 or any other number, is not that important. What is important is the music you play and how you choose to play your instrument.
You need to decide what is the best instrument for you and the way you want to play. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to how many strings. And I think that bass players sometimes care too much about it. They need to remember that what matters is music, not strings.
Why do I play a six string bass?
Having said that, I do have good reasons for playing six strings and I’ll share some of them with you now.
The biggest advantage of playing six strings is the extra range you get. With an extra low string and an extra high string you can extend your range in both directions, which makes six string basses very versatile. I don’t do many gigs where I don’t need to use the extended low range of my six string bass. I can play bass lines that weren’t originally written to be played on bass guitar.
The extended high range of the instrument enables me to play melodies, chord voicings and harmonies that would be very hard to achieve on four and five string basses. I know that not every bass player wants to explore these kind of harmonies, but I do, and if you’re interested in that too then you should think about playing six strings.
Is it Harder to Play Six string Bass?
Yes and no. Hopefully if you’ve seen my other videos you’ve seen me play four and five string basses. Other than the extended range, there’s no difference in the way I play 6 string to 4 or 5 string basses either technically or musically. My technique changes when I switch to fretless bass. But it doesn’t change when I switch between a fretted 4 and a fretted 6 string bass.
So for me, playing 6 isn’t any harder than 4 or 5 strings. In fact it’s easier because I play 6 most of the time and it’s what I’m most comfortable with.
Having said that, you need a strong technique to play 6 string bass well. And you need to make sure that you really learn all six strings.
There are a few technical things to consider when you learn to play six string bass. I see some 4 string players putting their left hand thumb on top of the neck when they play. It’s not great technique to do that and you can’t get away with it on a 6. The extra width in the neck means you won’t be able to access the low strings.
Another technical consideration is string damping, meaning that you don’t want to let open strings make noise when you’re not playing them. This is a technical consideration for all bass players, but the more strings you have, the more difficult it is, so you need to work on that if you’re going to play six strings well.
My final thought on the technical considerations is that it’s a bit harder to learn to play slap bass on a six string, because the high C string can be a bit in the way. But if your technique is good then you can still play in that style.
Learning to play bass
When I started playing bass, I learned on a 4 string bass like most people do. Then I switched to 5 and then 6. I started playing 6 string basses in my late teens. The first thing I did when I got the extra strings, was learn where the notes are on those strings. If you don’t do that, you’ll never play the 6 string bass really well.
I’ve heard it said that bass players should learn how to play 4 strings properly before trying to play 6. That doesn’t make any sense to me at all. If you take that argument to it’s logical conclusion then we should all start with one string on our basses. We should learn it properly and then add another and learn that properly. That’s not how you learn to play a musical instrument.
My advice would be that if you want to play a six string bass, then get one and start to learn it properly. Make sure that your technique is good and that you learn all six strings.
What to Look out for When Buying a Six String Bass?
So if you’re thinking of learning a six string bass, there is some advice that I’d like to give you about the instrument that you buy.
The first thing that I think is really important is string spacing. You want a nice wide string spacing, just like a 4 string bass. I really wouldn’t recommend getting a bass with a very narrow neck and the strings close together. I’ve mentioned already that there’s no difference in the way I approach playing 4, 5 or 6 strings. And for that to be the case, I need the string spacings to be the same. If the strings are much closer together then it suddenly feels like I’m playing a different instrument.
The next thing to consider is that the bass has a very even sound across it’s whole range. It needs to have a strong and clear low B string. And it also needs to sound good and be easy to play in the high register. If your bass is week in any part of it’s range, then you’ll lose the benefit of having the extra range that the 6 strings give you.
The last thing that I would highlight is the balance. That’s very important. If your bass neck is too heavy then it will dive to the floor when you let go with your left hand. Which means that you’ll have to constantly hold it up which will ruin anybody’s technique. So make sure your bass is well balanced. Make sure you can rest it on your lap with no hands and the neck doesn’t dive for the floor.
So, if you have a six string bass with a wide string spacing, a nice even sound across it’s whole range and it’s well balanced, then you have everything you need. And the good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good six string bass.
My Warwick Artist Series “Steve Bailey” Bass
I know that people will ask what is the bass in the video. So, I should say that it’s a Warwick Artist Series bass. Unfortunately they don’t make these any more, which is a shame because they’re really good. But if you’re looking for something similar without breaking the bank, then I would recommend trying the Warwick Rockbass line.
I just want to say one more thing about the history of the bass guitar and why basses have four strings to begin with.
Many people think that Leo Fender invented the electric bass in the 1950’s, he didn’t. It was invented in the 1930’s by a gentleman named Paul Tutmarc. And it was originally sold as a bass fiddle.
Musical instruments usually evolve from other instruments rather than being invented out of the blue. The electric bass was no different. It was modelled on the orchestral strings violins, double basses etc. Hence it had four strings, was tuned like a double bass and it was called a bass fiddle.
What Leo Fender did, which was revolutionary for the electric bass, was to realise that it would be much easier to play if it was shaped like a guitar rather than a fiddle. And he created all of those iconic Fender basses like the Precision and the Jazz Bass which became the archetypes for all future bass guitars. But the Fender basses retained the four string tuning of Tutmarc’s original electric bass fiddles.
Who Invented the Six String Bass?
It was Anthony Jackson in the 1970’s who started to ask the question, if the bass guitar is now a member of the guitar family, not the orchestral strings family, then why retain the four string double bass tuning? Surely it makes more sense to have six strings like a guitar? It was Jackson who came up with what we now consider standard tuning for a six string bass. He called his bass guitars contrabass guitars. The name never caught on, but the concept of the six string bass has become more and more popular.
That’s my thoughts, and please don’t take this as any kind of criticism of four or five string basses. Most of my favourite bass players play four string basses and many play five. I play four string basses. And I can’t stress how much it doesn’t matter how many strings you like to use. You should find the bass that feels right for the way you play, and that’s all that matters.
Improve Your Time Feel by Practicing with a Drummer or Drum Beat- Bass Practice Diary – 16th October 2018
In my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove there’s an entire chapter about playing with drummers. If you want to improve your timing and your time feel on bass, then practising subdivisions with a drummer is a great way to go about it. Here’s a video featuring my good friend Lewis Davies on drums to show you how I do it.
Understanding time feel and groove
It’s important to understand that a band grooves and not just an individual. So, if you want to improve your groove, it’s essential to practice with other musicians and not just on your own. The best place to start is by practicing with a drummer. Practice placing your notes accurately on the subdivisions that the drummer plays, and you will begin to develop the collective time feel that you need for a band to groove.
It’s important to understand that virtually all music uses just a small number of subdivisions. Eighth note, sixteenth note, and triplet feels occur in virtually all styles and genres of music. If you want to have a great time feel on bass, it’s essential to not only understand them, but also to be able to execute playing them accurately. That is the premise of my book Improve Your Groove.
When I talk about an eighth note feel, what I mean is that eighth notes are the smallest subdivision in the bassline. Therefore, in order to make the bassline groove you must feel the eighth notes running through the music. All of the eighth notes, not just the ones that you play on.
Here are the two eighth note bass lines that are featured in the video.
Triplets and shuffle feel
When you play a shuffle feel, the smallest subdivision is a triplet. Typically in a shuffle, you create a different kind of off-beat to the straight eighth note feel, by playing just the first and third triplet subdivisions in each beat. As I explained in the video, if you recite Ta-Ki-Ta for your triplets, and only play on the two Ta syllables, you get a shuffle feel.
This shuffle bass line is fairly advanced and it adds a few passing notes on the second subdivisions. But, it still retains the feel of a shuffle and Lewis is playing a shuffle on the drums.
The following example shows how you can change the feel whilst still using a triplet subdivision by accenting the second subdivision.
Sixteenth note feel
It’s important to understand that a sixteenth note feel does not necessarily mean that you have to play more or faster just because there are more subdivisions. It just means that in order to get the feel right, you need to feel the sixteenth notes in the music, Ta-Ka-Di-Mi.
Here is an example of a bassline with a sixteenth note feel that doesn’t contain lots of notes or any fast passages.
For me, the most interesting aspect of a sixteenth note feel is the expanded rhythmic potential that sixteen subdivisions in each bar offers. Which is why we bass players love to improvise bass lines with a sixteenth note feel. There are so many potential rhythmic variations out there. And as long as you accurately place the notes onto the subdivisions, then you can’t really go wrong.
Here is an example of a more advanced, syncopated sixteenth note bass groove.
Grooving with the drums
All you need to do is make sure that your notes land on the drummers subdivisions. If you can’t practice with a real drummer, then practice with a drum beat backing track. But there’s no substitute for the real thing if you can find a drummer to practice with.
It’s always a good idea to record yourself if you can, and listen back. It doesn’t have to be amazing sound quality, just enough so you can hear how accurately you’re placing your notes. And don’t worry if you feel like you’re not very good. Learn together with a drummer and improve together over time. Lewis and I have been playing together since we were teenagers. And I think we’ve learned a lot both together and separately since then.
Chord Extensions on 4, 5 & 6 String Bass Guitars – Bass Practice Diary – 25th September 2018
I’ve done a few videos in the past about playing chords on the bass. This week I’m demonstrating a fairly simple approach you can use to playing jazz chord extensions. The system involves using two different voicings of 7th chords. Each using three notes, root, 3rd and 7th. Then adding chord extensions like 9ths, 11ths and 13ths as well as common alterations.
A Very Quick Guide to Jazz Harmony – 7th Chords
Chord extensions and alterations are synonymous with jazz harmony. 7th chords form the foundation of most jazz chords and I’m going to look at the three most common types of 7th chord. They are Major 7th, Minor 7th and Dominant 7th.
7th chords are four note chords, all of the chord types mentioned above contain root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. The root and 5th are the same in all three chord types, so the 7th chords are defined by the thirds and sevenths. Major 7th chords have a major 3rds and 7ths. Minor 7th chords have minor 3rds and 7ths and dominant 7th chords have major thirds and minor 7ths.
There are other types of 7th chords, but in this post I’m only going to look at these three types because they’re the most common.
When voicing extended chords it’s extremely important to know which notes to leave out. Regardless of whether you play 4, 5 or 6 string basses, you only have a finite number of strings. I recommend that you don’t try to cram every note from an extended chord into a chord voicing. It’s rarely a useful or practical approach.
The first note to leave out is the 5th, because it’s the same in each chord type. It doesn’t tell you anything about the chord. So, when I voice 7th chords, I voice them as three note chords, root, 3rd and 7th.
Assuming that you keep the root as the lowest note, that means you can voice a 7th chord in two different ways. The first way is with the 7th on top, as demonstrated in the three diagrams below.
The reason that I’ve voiced these chords on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings is so that I can use the first string to add a chord extension. These voicings work well for 9th chords. The 9th above my root note A is the note B played on the 16th fret of the first string. You can add this note to each of the chord types and you get these chord voicings.
There are two alterations you can make to the 9th in the dominant 9th chord. You can sharpen it to make an A7#9 chord or you can flatten it to make an A7b9 chord.
Voicing 7th Chords With the Third on Top
I stated previously that there were two ways I was going to voice the 7th chords. The first was with the 7th on top. Now I’m going to make the 3rd the highest note. I’ll play the root and 7th in the same place, but I’ll move the third up an octave, from the third string onto the first string.
In these voicings the 3rd string is not being used. So I can add a chord extension to the 3rd string. An obvious one to use is an 11th, because it sits comfortably in these chord shapes.
The natural 11th sounds good in a minor 7th chord. But, it doesn’t work so well on chords with major 3rds. So, for the major 7th chord I’ll add a sharpened 11th, which creates a lydian sound.
The sharpened 11th also works well on the dominant and minor 7th chords, and in these cases the sharpened 11th can also be described as a flattened 5th. So, I can create four new voicings by adding either a sharp or natural 11th to the 3rd string.
Chord Voicings for 5 String and 6 String Bass
All the voicings I’ve played so far can be played on 4 string bass. However, more strings means more potential chord voicings so I’m going to look at some voicings that will only work on 5 and 6 string basses.
First I’m going to take a couple of the 11th chords from the previous examples, and move the 11th up one octave. So, in the following voicings the 11th is the top note above the 3rd.
Finally I’m going to look at some voicings for 13th chords. The 13th is basically the same as a major 6th which is a note that can work on major, minor and dominant chords.
The voicings below are all dominant 13th chords. In each voicing the 13th is played as the highest note on the 1st string. It can be altered by flattening it as I’ve done in the second voicing. And, it can also be combined with the 9th, as I’ve done in the final voicing.
One big benefit of playing chord voicings on a 6 string bass is that you can play multiple chord extensions as I have in the final A13 voicing.
Inside and Outside Notes – Start Using More Outside Notes in Your Bass Lines – Bass Practice Diary – 28th August 2018
Recently I made a video called Everything You Need to Know About Harmony on Bass Guitar. You can check it out by clicking on the link. In the video I talked about using inside and outside notes. Well I thought it was time for a practical video about how you can practice playing inside and outside notes. Here it is!
Inside and Outside Notes
The simplest way to explain inside and outside notes is that inside notes are notes that belong in the key you are playing and outside notes don’t. Hopefully you know already that I don’t believe there is any such thing as “wrong” notes. Simply because outside notes can make your basslines more interesting when they’re used in a musical way. You can use them to create tension within music, which is very hard to achieve if you only play inside notes. And the resolution of those notes onto inside notes creates a resolution of the tension.
How Can You Practice Using Outside Notes
This video is a practical guide not a theory lesson so I’m going to jump straight in to the musical examples. If you’d like to learn more of the theory then jump to my previous video which is linked in the opening paragraph.
I started with two chords, G7 and C7. And I created a bassline using only chord tones. The notes are G, B, D and F for G7 and C, E, G and Bb for C7.
The first variation I played was to add a note one fret above or below either of the root notes. In the following example I’ve added the note Db before the C root note and Ab before the G root note. Both Db and Ab are outside notes on both G7 and C7 chords.
Notice that these notes always resolve onto the root note. Meaning that the next note after the outside note is always the root note. It’s that resolution that keeps the outside notes from sounding “wrong”.
Resolving Outside Notes Onto Chord Tones
You can resolve outside notes onto any chord tone. It doesn’t have to be the root. The following example starts on a Bb, which is an outside note on G7. The Bb resolves up one fret onto B natural which is a chord tone. The next outside note is Db which resolves onto the root note of the next chord C7.
The final technique for incorporating outside notes that I looked at in the video is chromatic runs. I usually use these when leading into a chord change.
Starting three frets either above or below the root note, simply play each fret either up or down to the root. It’s a simple technique, but it sounds cool if you don’t over use it. The following bassline demonstrates the technique.
How to Approach Playing Bass in Odd Meters and Time Signatures – Bass Practice Diary – 21st August 2018
This week I’ve been practising playing in odd meters and I want to briefly share my system for playing any unusual time signature. My system revolves around learning and reciting rhythmic phrases rather than counting beats, and if you use it properly it should make playing odd meters no harder than playing in 4/4.
What Are Odd Meters?
he 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.
I want to share an approach that I use to playing odd meters. It’s actually 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 when playing odd meters. And that might be the root cause of why they struggle with them.
Think About Rhythmic Phrases
What do I mean by rhythmic phrases? Every meter or time signature has a fixed number of subdivisions per bar. Check out my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove if you’d like to learn more about subdivisions and rhythmic structure.
The rhythmic structure of a bass groove comes from how you organise these subdivisions. I’ll use the examples from the video to demonstrate. The first one is in a very unusual time signature 15/16. Which means there are fifteen 16th note subdivisions in every bar.
In this example I’ve arranged the fifteen subdivisions into three groups of four and one group of three.
If you’ve read my book or followed some of my previous videos you’ll know that I like to use Indian Konnakol syllables to recite rhythms. The syllables for a group of four subdivisions are Ta-Ka-Di-Mi and the syllables for a group of three subdivisions are Ta-Ki-Ta.
So, the rhythmic phrase for the above example is as follows.
Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ki-Ta
It’s actually a very simple rhythmic phrase, even thought the time signature 15/16 might make you think of something very complex.
An even more simple arrangement of fifteen subdivisions would be five Ta-Ki-Ta’s. This creates the feel of a 5/4 shuffle.
How Can You Apply This System in Any Time Signature?
This idea can and should be applied to any groove in any time signature. Including the obvious ones like 4/4. It’s not always easy because there are much more complex rhythmic structures than the examples above. But the key is to understand firstly, what is the subdivision (8th notes, 16th notes, triplets etc.) and secondly how many are there in each bar.
Once you know the answer to those two questions you can work out rhythmic structures using basic maths and Konnakol.
Here are some more examples I’ve come up with for the purposes of demonstration. The first one is in 3/4.
3/4 is often not thought of as an odd meter because it’s been a fairly common time signature for hundreds of years. It crops up regularly in classical music and jazz as waltzes. But as you can see from my example. It doesn’t have to have a waltz feel. The addition of 16th note subdivisions changes the feel entirely.
Here’s another example in 5/4. This also has a 16th note feel and the rhythmic structure is slightly more complex than the previous examples.
The final example in the video features a more relaxed 8th note feel on a 7/4 time signature.
How to Practice Odd Meters
I would suggest practising this in three stages. You don’t need an instrument until the third stage.
The first stage is to work out your own rhythmic phrases. Pick a meter that you want to practice and work out rhythmic phrases that contain the correct number of subdivisions. An old fashioned pen and paper might be the best way of doing this.
Next, recite the rhythmic structures using Konnakol (or whatever system you prefer). My application of Konnakol involves using Da for one subdivision, Ta-Ka for two, Ta-Ki-Ta for three and Ta-Ka-Di-Mi for four. For more subdivisions you can just combine syllables. For example five could be Ta-Ki-Ta Ta-Ka. Six Could be two Ta-Ki-Ta’s and seven could be Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ki-Ta etc.
The final stage is playing your rhythmic phrases on your bass!
How to Vary the Rhythm of Your Bass Grooves – Bass Practice Diary – 7th August 2018
In this week’s video practice diary I’ve been thinking about how to practice rhythmic variations. As bass players we often find ourselves playing repetitive grooves with static harmony. You can make those static grooves more interesting by playing subtle rhythmic variations. Here is how I would practice that.
We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve played a bass groove for a period of time. And during that period of time we’ve started to feel that it’s getting boring, not just for us but for the audience listening to us. It’s a dilemma, because if you change the groove too much it can affect the band and the performance in ways that might not be appreciated. So the key in that situation is to come up with subtle variations. They may be so subtle that your audience doesn’t consciously notice them, but they will still add to a feeling of movement and flow in the music that will prevent it from becoming boring.
How Do You Come Up With Rhythmic Variations?
It’s easy to say that the answer is to come up with subtle variations, but it’s harder to achieve it without becoming repetitive. So I’ve come up with this system for coming up with as many potential rhythmic variations as you can.
You need to start with a groove. You can come up with one of your own or you can use one that you know. I’ve come up with my own in the video to avoid copyright complications. But I did think about doing the video with a famous bass line to help illustrate the idea.
Here is the bass line I’ve used in the video.
The next stage of my process was to come up with a rhythmic variation. I restricted myself to only changing the rhythm of two notes. Because I want my variations to be subtle. I’m not trying to change the whole groove. The variations should sound organic and fit in with the original feel.
Here is my first variation.
The last note of the first bar has been moved one sixteenth note later. And the third note of the second bar has been moved one sixteenth note earlier.
I then came up with two more variations, I allowed myself to add individual notes and move notes by a single subdivision. But not many because I’m still trying to keep the core elements of the groove.
Here are variations two and three.
Hopefully you can see that this system gives you the potential to come up with a lot of subtle variations for your bass grooves. It even gives you the potential to evolve your grooves into something rhythmically different without ever making an obvious change that an audience would notice.
If the music will allow it, you could keep changing the groove in two places each time you play it. Before long you can build a bass groove that is entirely different without having played an obvious change to the groove.
The Groove With Variations
At the bottom of the page I’ve put the bass groove plus the variations. I’ve demonstrated playing it all together in the video.
When I played it for my wife, who isn’t a musician, she said it sounded good but she couldn’t tell the difference between the variations. That is exactly what I was trying to achieve. Because the variations exist to make the music sound more interesting without it sounding like I’m changing the groove. An audience will respond positively to rhythmic variation, if it’s done well, but they probably won’t consciously be aware of what it is that sounds good.