Make Your Pentatonic Licks Sound Like Jazz – Bass Practice Diary – 24th November 2020
How do you make pentatonic licks sound like jazz licks? This week I’m featuring a jazz lick created using a D minor pentatonic scale with the addition of chromatic approach notes. This is a concept that I introduced last week in my video about making the major scale sound like jazz. Chromatic approach notes are a great way to create a jazz sound in your lines, no matter how simple the harmony.
My Pentatonic Jazz Lick
I came up with my pentatonic jazz lick example by first coming up with a simple pentatonic lick. I used only the notes of the D minor pentatonic scale.
I added a chromatic approach note before the first note D. Then I added further chromatic approach notes before the 3rd note, F, the 5th note, C, the 7th note, D and the the final note, A.
You can use licks like this in any improvised scenario when you would use a pentatonic scale. You can use the chromatic approach notes to bring a jazz flavour to your lines. Why not try coming up with your own jazz licks using this method. Once you’ve written down a few licks, you can try improvising with the same method.
How to Make a Major Scale Sound Like Jazz – Bass Practice Diary – 17th November 2020
If you study harmony, you begin to realise just how important the major scale is. Diatonic harmony in its entirety realties to the intervalic relationships of the major scale (also sometimes called the diatonic scale). So, it’s hardly surprising that a major scale is a popular choice for improvisation as well. But, how do you make a major scale sound like jazz?
Why use major scales in jazz improvisation?
I think that a lot of musicians learn to analyse diatonic chord progressions in jazz standards. They know the right key to play at every point in the progression. Each key is defined by the notes of the parent scale, which in the case of major keys, is a major scale. So, you can break a lot of jazz tunes down to playing different major scales at different points in the chord progression. But the problem is, that major scales on their own don’t sound very much like jazz. So, how do you use the major scale to make jazz lines?
I’ve noticed that a lot of people learning to improvise are looking for a scale or scales that will make them sound like jazz. I don’t think it works like that. I think there are a lot of different approaches to improvising in a jazz style. Today, I’m looking at two key concepts. One is approach notes, the other is outside notes. The concept of outside notes is simple to understand. There are seven notes in any key (the notes of the major scale) and there are twelve notes in the octave (the chromatic scale). Outside notes are the five other notes that are not in the major scale. If you want your lines to sound like jazz lines, you need to come up with some creative ways to use them.
A simple and great way to begin to incorporate some outside notes into a major scale, is with the use of chromatic approach notes. A chromatic approach note can be as simple as picking a target note from the parent scale, and playing a semi-tone (one fret) below or above that note before you play it. Of course, not all of these chromatic approach notes will be outside notes. If your target note is the major 7th, and you play a chromatic approach note above that note, you’re playing the root note. But some (most) of your chromatic approach notes will be outside notes. And that’s enough to bring a jazz flavour to your lines.
Play a major scale with chromatic approach notes
This is an exercise that I featured in the video.
I’m playing a C major scale in ascending thirds (root, 3rd, 2nd, 4th, 3rd, 5th etc). Each third interval is two notes. I’m then adding a chromatic approach note before and below the first, lower note. So, C, E (Root, 3rd) becomes B, C, E, a three note grouping. D, F (2nd, 4th) becomes C#, D, F.
It sounds good, but it sounds like an exercise. I want to make it sound less like an exercise and more like an improvised jazz line. Try mixing up the exercise by varying the chromatic approach notes either above or below the target notes. You can also vary whether you play your thirds ascending or descending. When you play a descending third you can play the approach note before the higher of the two notes.
Tapping Chords on Bass Guitar – Two-Hand Tapping Exercises – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 10th November 2020
Last week was part one in my series of two-hand tapping exercises for bass guitar. I was looking at the basic technique of coordinating hammer ons and pull offs between both right and left hand. This week, I’m looking at tapping chords by hammering on notes simultaneously with both right and left hand.
Tapping Seventh Chords
These ideas should work on pretty much any bass guitar. I’ve used a 4-string bass in the video to demonstrate that you can make full sounding chord voicings on just 4-strings. My bass has 24 frets, but I’ve deliberately not gone above the 20th fret, so you can play everything in the video on a Fender style bass with 20 frets.
I’m playing 7th chords (major 7, minor 7 & dominant 7). These are four note chords, root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. The concept of this exercise is that I’m going to tap the root and 5th with my left hand and the 3rd and 7th with my right hand. The left hand notes are played on the 3rd and 4th strings and the right hand notes on the 1st and 2nd.
An Exercise to Develop Your Tapping Technique
Before you start, I would recommend practicing tapping four finger exercises with both hands. Something like this.
When I’m practicing exercises like this, my goal is not to play the exercise fast. My goal is to make good sounding notes and to get an even sound across four fingers and four strings. As I mentioned in the video, I never use my little finger on the right hand to tap notes when I’m playing music, but I still practice it. Why? Because maybe I’ll develop a technique that uses my little finger one day. Only practice the 3rd and 4th fingers on your right hand if you want to. For the purposes of this exercise, all you need are two fingers on your right hand.
Playing Chord Progressions
I’ve used a II-V-I progression in the video because it’s the most commonly used chord sequence in jazz. You can use any progression you want and any rhythm or style. But whatever you play, I would start by making a bassline out of the root and 5ths. Like this.
This exercise should be played entirely with the left hand and all of the notes are hammered on. The left hand notes are your bassline, they are the foundation of the groove. So, it’s worth practicing this until you get the feel where you want it.
When you have the feel, you can add the 3rds and 7ths with your right hand. These right hand notes should be played simultaneously. Not one after the other like the left hand notes. The right hand notes can be played simultaneously with the root note played by your left hand. This involves simultaneously hammering three different notes on three strings. You can see I’ve done this with the F7 chord. The F is hammered by the left hand while the A and Eb are hammered on by the right hand. Alternatively, you can hammer the right hand notes in between the left hand notes. You can see I’ve done this with the Cm7 and Bbmaj7 chords. Here is the II-V-I exercise.
Two Hand Tapping Exercise for Bass Guitar – Tapping Triads – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd November 2020
Last week I featured a two-hand tapping bass groove that I wrote on bass guitar. This week I’m starting a series of lessons in which I break down the fundamentals of my tapping techniques. The most basic tapping technique is the ability to perform hammer-ons and pull-offs with both your left and right hand. If you’d like some left hand hammer on and pull off exercises, then check out this video. Today I’m going to focus on tapping with the right-hand index finger.
Tapping techniques work particularly well for playing arpeggios. Using both hands to generate notes means that you can play wider intervals very fast. That’s extremely hard to do if you’re fretting with the left-hand and plucking with the right-hand. It’s relatively easy to play the smaller intervals of scales fast, by using conventional plucking techniques. But tapping creates a huge advantage for playing the wider intervals of arpeggios fast.
The most basic arpeggio type is a triad, a three note chord. There are four main types of triad: major, minor, diminished and augmented. This exercise simply goes through each one in a sequence.
The reason that the sequence is in this order is because I’m starting with the smallest intervals (two minor 3rds), which is a diminished arpeggio. And I’m moving up to the largest intervals (two major 3rds) which is the augmented triad. In the video I then play the exercise in reverse order going from largest intervals to smallest.
Should You Use Compression When Tapping?
I touched on the subject of compression very briefly in the video. Dynamic Range Compression is an audio effect that effectively squashes the dynamics in your playing. It makes the loud notes quieter and the quiet notes louder to even out the dynamics and make everything the same level. You can play bass through a compression pedal, there are many on the market. Or you can add compression to a recording of your bass in a DAW like Pro Tools or Logic.
There is an obvious advantage and an obvious disadvantage to using compression when tapping. The advantage is, that if your hammer ons are louder than your pull offs, or your right hand notes are quieter than your left hand notes, then the compression will compensate and even out the sound.
The obvious disadvantage of using compression when you’re playing, is that it will amplify any unwanted noise. Any squeak from a string or rumble from an unmuted open string will be made louder. Personally, I never use compression when I’m playing, but I do sometimes add it to a recording when appropriate. It’s entirely up to the individual whether they use compression or not, but it is common to use compression for tapping techniques.
Two- Hand Tapping Groove on Bass Guitar with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 27th October 2020
I haven’t done a video featuring two-hand tapping techniques for a while. I’ve had it in my mind to do a series of short video lessons demonstrating some of the tapping techniques that I use. I’m going to do that, starting next week, but first I thought I’d do a video demonstrating how you can apply two-hand tapping techniques to playing a bass groove. I think there’s a common perception of tapping techniques as being flashy soloing techniques. But the truth is that you can use these same techniques to groove. So this week, I’ve written this two-hand tapping groove by way of demonstration.
The Two-Hand Tapping Bass Groove
I won’t break down all the techniques that I’m using here, because I’m going to do that over the next few weeks. But essentially this groove is just based around two dominant 7 chords, G7 and C7. I’ve played it and TAB’d it on 5-string bass, but you can play it on 4-string. You can move the F and G notes at the start onto the first and third fret of the E-string. It’s slightly easier to tap those notes on the low B-string, that’s the only reason I’ve played it on a 5-string.
Why Two-Hand Tapping on Bass?
Playing two-hand tapping techniques on bass is not a particularly new idea. Solo bass virtuoso’s like Victor Wooten and Billy Sheehan have been showcasing these techniques for decades. But the popular conception of tapping is still that it’s a guitar technique. The truth is, that tapping works just as well on bass as guitar. But the image of tapping by 1980’s rock guitar heroes like Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai has left an indelible print in popular consciousness.
My own journey with tapping started as a teenager, after hearing one of the above mentioned guitarists and thinking “can I do that on bass?”. It turned out I could and it wasn’t particularly difficult. At that time tapping was just a party trick for me. But my relationship with tapping changed when I started playing with the Chapman Stick player Jim Lampi.
What’s the Best Instrument for Two-Hand Tapping?
The Chapman Stick is designed as a two-hand tapping instrument. It usually has either ten or twelve strings, half the strings are played with the right-hand and the other half the left. Jim plays the Stick with quite a pianistic approach. He doesn’t go in for the flamboyant rock guitar techniques, but instead uses his instruments to play jazz and make soundscapes and back up singing. He most famously played in John Martyn’s band. Tony Levein is a bass player who also played Chapman Stick.
Jim Lampi opened my eyes to two things about two-hand tapping. One is that it can be incredibly versatile and used musically in any number of different contexts. The other is that, if you want to take two-hand tapping seriously, you should think about investing in a proper two-hand tapping instrument like a Chapman Stick. While tapping works just as well on bass as guitar, the truth is that neither guitar or bass is an ideal instrument for tapping.
I did think once upon a time about investing in a Chapman Stick, but the truth is, that I don’t want anything to distract me from playing the bass. So, I’m going to continue to treat two-hand tapping as a fun diversion from my more frequently used bass techniques.
5-String Bass Exercises – Three Exercises with Five String Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 29th September 2020
Here are three exercises that you can use on 5-string bass. These are typical of the kind of exercises that I play when I’m adjusting to playing a 5-string bass, especially if I haven’t played one for a while. If you follow my Bass Practice Diary videos regularly, then you know that I play 4-string and 6-string basses a lot. It’s easy to trip up on a 5-string bass when you’ve grown accustomed to playing four or six. A few exercises like this, when you start, will really help you to get used to the feel and the range of the instrument. Even if you always play 5-string bass, and you’re looking to improve your fluency around the fretboard. These kind of exercises are great for that too.
Exercise 1: Playing Across All Five Strings
In this first exercise, I’m simply thinking about arpeggiating two chords. Dm7 and A7(b9).
The exercise starts by going up the notes of a D minor 7 arpeggio. Then it comes down on the A7(b9). I’m relying heavily on the notes of a C#dim7 arpeggio for the A7(b9) chord. The notes C#, E, G and A# are the 3rd, 5th, 7th and b9th of the A7 chord. In the second bar I’ve substituted an Fmaj7 arpeggio for the Dm7 chord. The notes of the F major chord are the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th of the Dm7 chord.
Exercise 2: Using the Entire Range of the Bass
In the second exercise, I’m simply playing a C major scale over the entire range of my 5-string bass neck.
This is such a fundamental exercise on any instrument. I don’t think of it as playing a C major scale. I think of it as learning the notes in the key of C major. The whole of Western harmony is built around this key. You can think of it as learning all the white notes on a piano, but really it’s just learning where the notes A, B, C, D, E, F & G are. If you know where they are then you can easily work out where the sharps (#) and flats (b) are. And then you know where every note on your bass is.
Exercise 3: Playing a Bass Groove Using the Low B-string
The final exercise is a bass groove.
If anyone says that, “a bass groove isn’t an exercise, it’s music”, then I think that they need to re-think the way that they practice. To me, every piece of music that I play is an exercise, or at least it can be if I think about it in the right way. Exercises exist to help us play music, if there is a disconnect in your mind between the exercises you play and the music you play, then you’ve missed the point. Every exercise that I play is related to something that I have to use in real musical situations. I understand the relationship between the exercise and the practical application of it. In this particular exercise/groove, I’m working on playing a low Eb on the 4th fret of the B-string, whilst playing in the key of C minor. It’s tricky note to hit and it’s hard to make it sound good!
Slap Bass Timing Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 8th September 2020
If you’ve been following my recent series of videos about timing exercises, then you’ll know how these work by now. You take an odd number note grouping and play those groupings as continuous 16th notes. What I didn’t mention on any of my previous videos, was that these exercises are a great way to practice slap bass. This video feature three slap bass timing exercises. And you can take this concept and develop your own exercises.
The first exercise is 16th notes played in three note groupings. The three note grouping consists of a note, G, thumped with the right hand thumb (T). A tap on the strings with the left hand, marked L.H on the notation. And finally a pull with the index finger of the right hand, which I’ve played as a dead note by muting the strings with my left hand.
The second of the three note sequence, the left hand tap, can be very soft. You don’t need to hit the strings hard, you just need to do it in time. Hitting the strings with the left hand has the effect of silencing the first note. So, even if you don’t here the tap, you will still feel the rhythm by hearing the note G go silent.
The second exercise is an extension of that idea. This time the three note grouping is made by thumb (right hand), hammer (left hand) and pluck (right hand index). And the notes are taken from a C minor pentatonic scale.
The final exercise features a five note grouping. The five notes are as follows. Thump the G and then tap with the left hand, exactly as in exercise 1. Then thump with the right hand thumb again, but this time as a dead note muted by the left hand. That’s three, the final two notes are F and G. Pluck the F on the D string and hammer onto the G on the fifth fret with your left hand.
A Bass Players Guide to Matching Bass Amp Heads and Cabinets – Bass Practice Diary – 25th August 2020
This week is something a bit different. I should start by saying that I’m not an electrician or audio engineer. I’m just a bass player, and this is the first time I’ve done a Bass Practice Diary video that doesn’t feature any bass playing. It’s also the first time that I’ve ever had all of my bass amp heads and speaker cabinets together in the same room. I’ve done it so I can share with you what I’ve learned about matching bass amp heads and speaker cabinets.
Combo Amplifier or Amp Head and Cabinet?
I believe that having a separate head and cab has numerous benefits over using a combo amplifier. Combo amps are only practical when they’re small. I own a couple of bass combo amplifiers, but I didn’t feature them in this video. I use them for rehearsals and small gigs because they’re small and they save space. However their use is limited. Once you get up to a medium sized bass rig, combo amplifiers become heavy and impractical.
Having a separate head and cab (or cabs) gives you many more options. Lightweight solid state bass amp heads like the Markbass heads and the Warwick LWA 1000 are small and very light, and easy to transport. And you can match your head up with different sized cabinets or combinations of two cabinets to match the requirements of your gig. Bass amp heads also give you the potential to access much more power (Wattage) than combos.
However, “with great power comes great responsibility”, and there are a couple of things that you need to know if you’re going to safely unlock the potential of using a bass amp head with speaker cabinets.
Ohms and Watts
Those things are Ohms (Ω) and Watts (W). It’s simple stuff, but back when I was trying to work all this stuff out, it always amazed me how hard it was to find this information put together for bass players in a simple to follow guide. I’m not an electrician and I have no qualifications in audio engineering, but this is my simple guide to Ohms and Watts for bass players.
All you need to know about Ohms, is that bass speaker cabinets are rated at either 4 Ohms or 8 Ohms. You need to know whether your cabinet is rated at 4 or 8 Ohms before you use it. If you run two speaker cabinets together (in parallel), then the Ohm rating halves, not doubles. So, two 8 Ohm speakers running in parallel makes a total of 4 Ohms. Virtually all bass amp heads are designed to run at a minimum of 4 Ohms. So you shouldn’t run two 4 Ohm speakers together. That would be 2 Ohms, which would be below the minimum level that the amp is designed to run at. You should also never switch your amp head on without a cabinet connected, because that would be zero Ohms.
RMS stands for Root Mean Squared. The RMS power rating (Watts) is two things. It’s the amount of continuous power that your amplifier is capable of putting out. And it’s also the amount of continuous power that a speaker cabinet is capable of handling. Before you use a speaker, you need to know how many Ohms it’s rated at and the RMS power rating. I’ve heard that some amp companies exaggerate the power handling capabilities of their speakers. They give the maximum Wattage that a speaker can handle, rather than the Root Mean Squared. RMS is the amount of continuous power it can handle. You need to make sure you know the RMS value for the Wattage.
How are Ohms and Watts Connected?
The number of Ohms your speaker is rated for will effect the RMS power that your amp head puts out. When amp manufacturers give the power ratings of their amps, they always give the RMS rating at 4 Ohms. However, if you read the technical specs for any amp head, it should give two RMS ratings. One for 4 Ohms and one for 8 Ohms. For example, the Warwick LWA 1000 is so called because it has the potential to run at 1000W RMS at 4 Ohms. At 8 Ohms it’s only 500W RMS.
So, in order to unlock the full power of your amp head, you need to run it either into a 4 Ohm speaker or into two 8 Ohm speakers. However, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to connect your amp head to just one 8 Ohm speaker. In fact, that’s what I do most often when I take my amps out for rehearsals or gigs. The problem with running very high powered amps at 4 Ohms is finding speaker cabinets that have high enough RMS ratings. To safely match a 1000W bass head at 4 Ohms you’ll need a really big rig. Either two 8 Ohm cabinets rated at at least 500W RMS each, or a massive 4 Ohm cabinet, like an 8×10 with a rating of at least 1000W RMS.
Can You Match a Higher Powered Amp with a Lower Powered Speaker?
Surprisingly, yes you can. Some people will tell you, that if you have a bass amp head rated at 800W RMS for 4 Ohms and a 4 Ohm speaker rated at 500W, then the head is too powerful for the cab. It seems logical that an 800W amp is too powerful for a 500W cab. But it’s actually fine, as long as you don’t push the speaker really hard. If you play through the amp well below full volume, it should be fine. The speaker will let you know if you’re pushing it too hard, because it will start to sound bad.
Alternately, you might assume that playing an amp rated at 300W RMS into a cab rated at 600W RMS would be ok. No chance of damaging the speaker with a lower powered amp head. While that is true, you might well drive the amp head too hard by playing it through such a big speaker, so I wouldn’t recommend that as a good match either.
Connecting Two Cabs to a Single Speaker Output
Many modern solid state bass heads have just one speaker output. This really confused me when I first came across a head like that. Because historically bass amp heads had always had two outputs, so that you can run two speakers in parallel. I’d always been told not to daisy chain speakers from a single output. Because it would result in a very high resistance (Ohms) and leave your amp running very underpowered.
I new that these amps could run with two speakers but there was virtually no information about how to do it. Not in the amp manuals or in the speaker manuals or online. I’ve learned that it does work to run these type of amps by daisy chaining two speakers, but I still don’t understand why. The cabs appear to be running in series (one cab into another) but they seem to work in parallel (signal gets to both cabs simultaneously). If anyone can explain to me why that works, I’d be really interested to hear. You can send me a message on my contact page.
Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar #2 – 16th Notes in Five Note Groupings – Bass Practice Diary – 18th August 2020
This week’s timing exercise features five note groupings, played as 16th notes. Last week I featured a similar exercise with three note phrases. You can make exercises like this by using any odd number grouping, and then playing those groupings as continuous 16th notes in 4/4.
Odd Number Rhythmic Groupings
The larger the grouping, the more rhythmic possibilities it creates. For example, five note groupings can be counted as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Da-Di-Gi-Na-Dum). Or you could count 3+2 (Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka) or 2+3 (Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta). However, a seven note grouping would give more options, 4+3, 3+4, 2+3+2, 5+2 etc.
The idea of playing odd number rhythmic groups, is that it creates a continuously moving polyrhythmic feel against the four beats in a bar of 4/4 and the four 16th note subdivisions in each beat. The idea of these exercises, is that they systematically go through every possible rhythmic placement of a five note grouping of 16th notes in a bar of 4/4, before arriving back on beat one at the beginning of the sixth bar.
Three Variations of The Exercise
In the first exercise, I’m playing five note arpeggios in the key of C major.
As you can see, I play the tonic, C on beat one of bar 6. If you can hit that note on the downbeat, then you know you’ve played the exercise correctly.
The second variation of this exercise is a variation of the first exercise. This time, I’m playing the five notes as three and then two.
The third variation also uses the three and two idea. However, this time I’m using an ascending G major scale.
Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar – 16th Notes in Groups of 3 – Bass Practice Diary – 11th August 2020
The concept of this timing exercise is very simple. You take any sequence of three notes, and play the sequence as continuous 16th notes in 4/4. So, you subdivide the beats into four, but you play a pattern of three, which creates a simple polyrhythm. Each time you play the sequence, it will start on a different 16th note. After three bars, you will have played all of the different permutations of where that sequence can start in a bar of 4/4. So, if you play the sequence correctly for three bars, the sequence should begin again on beat one of bar 4.
The Exercise and Variations
This would be a simple version of the exercise. It’s a “one finger per fret” exercise, but each note is played three times.
I would more commonly play the exercise using triads, as I have here.
You could also apply the same idea to practicing scales. Here is a C major scale played in three note groupings. First ascending and then descending.