Category Archives: Bass Blog

Jimmy Johnson Bass Lick – Bass Practice Diary 148

Learn a Jimmy Johnson Bass Lick with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd March 2021

I’m always surprised that Jimmy Johnson isn’t talked about more among the bass community. Some great bass players achieve legendary status, like Jaco Pastorius and Marcus Miller, while others aren’t heralded in the same way. I would argue that Jimmy Johnson belongs in the very top echelon of bass players, and most of the professionals that I know who are familiar with his work agree with me.

I’ve only been lucky enough to witness him play live once, about 10 years ago with Allan Holdsworth and Gary Husband. I’ve been to a lot of gigs in my life both before and after that night and I’ve seen most of the bassists that I consider to be the greatest in the business. But even so, that night sticks in my memory for being a particularly extraordinary night of musicianship from all three members of the band.

For me, what makes Jimmy Johnson so extraordinary is his execution. He seems to place every note perfectly even when playing highly complex music, such as the compositions of Allan Holdsworth. He never seems to make a mistake or misplace a note even when playing and improvising through lightening fast compositions with irregular meters and complex harmony.

Sadly, Allan Holdsworth is no longer with us, but Jimmy Johnson is, and I would recommend that every bass player try to see him play live at least once.

The Lick

Having talked a bit about highly complex music, I’ve actually picked a lick from a fairly simple composition, Rio Funk by Lee Ritenour. It’s a tune that is most famous in the bass community for Marcus Miller’s iconic bass line on the original version. Jimmy Johnson’s approach to playing and soloing on the tune is completely different to Marcus Miller. It’s interesting to listen to the two versions side by side, both contain a bass solo.

The lick that I’ve transcribed comes 2 minutes and 34 seconds into the YouTube video linked here. It’s an almost entirely diatonic line that he plays over Gm7 and C7. But what I like, is the way he effortlessly navigates virtually the entire fretboard from 24th fret down to 3rd fret. It’s a lesson in knowing the harmony over the entire fretboard and executing the techniques involved in moving through the positions while improvising.

Jimmy Johnson Bass Lick on Rio Funk
Jimmy Johnson Bass Lick on Rio Funk

I’ve TAB’d this for 5-string bass because Jimmy Johnson is playing a 5-string bass. However, I mentioned in the video that you don’t need a 5-string to play this. You do need 24 frets if you want to play the notes in the same positions that he plays them. It is possible to play the line on a 4-string bass with 22 frets by moving one note. You need to move the D on the 24th fret of the 2nd string to the 19th fret of the first string. However, the reason I transcribed the line from a video is because I wanted to see where he was placing the notes and how he made the shifts. So, the version that I’ve written is accurate in terms of where he plays the notes on the fretboard.

Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Lick on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 147

Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Lick on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 23rd February 2021

I recently introduced the concept of playing cascading arpeggios on bass with a video featuring some exercises. I mentioned in that video that this is a very versatile idea that gets used in a wide variety of different musical contexts. So, the obvious next step is to demonstrate a situation where I might use this idea. This video features a cascading arpeggio jazz lick which I’ve created to played on a jazz blues in Bb.

The Lick

Here is the Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Lick.

Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Blues Lick in Bb
Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Blues Lick in Bb

The lick starts on the third beat of the third bar. It’s important to start in the right place if you want the line to resolve onto the Eb7 chord on beat one of bar five. I’ve written the line in straight 16th notes, which creates a polyrhythmic effect against a triplet swing feel. I’ve done a video about this in the past.

The first arpeggio in the lick is Bb7, starting on the third, D and coming down 3rd, root, 7th, 5th. Then I play an E7 arpeggio descending from the root note, E. E7 is the tritone substitute for Bb7. This is a common chord substitution in jazz. It works because the E7 chord shares two notes in common with the Bb7. The 3rd and the 7th, in this case D and Ab (G#). The third arpeggio which starts on beat one of bar four is a Dm7b5 or D half diminished arpeggio. However, this arpeggio is really functioning as a Bb9 chord.

The Diminished Arpeggios

Then follows two diminished 7th arpeggios, Eo7 and Do7. I edited the explanation of these out of the video because it was a bit too long and boring, but I’ll include it here for those who are interested. Diminished sounds, both scales and arpeggios, work really well on dominant 7th chords.

You can think of a D diminished 7th chord as being a Bb7b9 chord without the root note. You can also play a Bb half/whole diminished scale over a Bb7 chord. I’ve also done a video about this sound. The scale gives you an interesting mix of inside and outside notes, Root, b9, #9, 3rd, #11, 5th, 13th & 7th. You can divide this scale into two diminished 7th arpeggios. Do7 gives you 3rd, 5th, 7th & b9, the other arpeggio gives you root, #9, #11 & 13th. In the video I’ve called this arpeggio Eo7 although you could also think of it as Bbo7, Dbo7 or Go7. I’m only thinking of it as Eo7 because in the inversion that I’ve used, the lowest note is the E.

A rhythmic variation

The final arpeggio is the tritone substitute, E7 again. This time descending from the third, G# (Ab). It’s very common to play the tritone sub on beat four of bar four of a jazz blues because it drops chromatically onto the four chord, Eb7, at the beginning of bar five. My lick resolves onto the note Db which is the 7th of the Eb7 chord.

I’ve also included a rhythmic variation in the video, which is fun to play but difficult to execute even at relatively moderate tempos. It goes like this.

Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Blues Lick in Bb - rhythmic variation
Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Blues Lick in Bb – rhythmic variation

I finished the video by improvising three choruses of a blues in Bb, and inserting the lick in the appropriate place each time. My plan had been to improvise three choruses and pick my favourite chorus and only include that one. But I’m increasingly becoming less interested in editing myself as time passes. All of the choruses are ok while being flawed in some way (thank God! Nothing bores me like perfect music). And if people don’t want to watch all three choruses they are free to stop watching whenever they want. So I included the whole thing.

I had intended to play the variation on one of the choruses to see if I could execute it. But as you can see, that didn’t happen. I clearly need to practice more!

Armando’s Rhumba – a tribute to Chick Corea – Bass Practice Diary 146

Armando’s Rhumba – a tribute to Chick Corea – Bass Practice Diary – 16th February 2021

Armando’s Rhumba wasn’t the first Chick Corea composition that I heard. But it was probably the tune that really got me listening to him in a big way. His real first name is Armando, but that’s also his father’s name. I have a feeling that the piece is named for his father, but I might be mis-remembering that.

We’ve lost many great musicians in the last 12 months, but none hit me harder than the news of Chick Corea’s passing this week. I have been an avid follower of his work for over 20 years and he has influenced me musically more than just about any other artist. The first time I saw him play live was in 2004. Since that day I’ve made a point of going to see him play whenever he came to London. I was fortunate enough to meet him once after a gig and I was more star struck than I’ve ever been. He was extremely nice to me. He made the effort to make conversation with me, even when I was struggling to put two words together.

Chick Corea 1941-2021

His death, from a rare form of cancer, came as a shock to me. I didn’t know he was ill. He may have been 79 years old, but anyone who has seen him recently will know that he seemed to have a lot of life in him. He did not look, talk, move or play music like an older man.

I woke up on Thursday morning, and as soon as I checked social media, my heart sank. I saw image after image of Chick Corea from posts from so many musicians that I follow. Tragically, that only usually means one thing, and my fears were realised.

I had a ticket to see him play live at the Barbican last year in March with a wonderful trio including bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. The concert was cancelled with less than 48 hours notice due to the first COVID lockdown.

I’ve been trying to bring to mind all of the times I’ve seen him live. I was trying to count them and I got into double figures, but I’m sure I’ve missed some. I’ve never paid to see any other musician play live that many times. I think the reason that I kept going back to watch him play again and again is because it was never the same twice. There are other wonderful artists that I have seen four or five times and thought “I don’t need to see them again, I’ve seen it”. I’ve never thought that about Chick Corea. Even when I’ve seen him with the same band twice, it was never the same. He truly was a musical genius.

This isn’t the first time I’ve featured a Chick Corea composition in my Bass Practice Diary. You can find my version of Spain here.

Cascading Arpeggios Exercises – Bass Practice Diary 145

Cascading Arpeggios Exercises for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 9th February 2021

You probably have an idea in your head of what cascading arpeggios sound like, even though it isn’t a particularly technical musical term. I think that music journalists and writers often use the term more than musicians do. It gets used as a descriptive term in any number of different musical contexts. From classical music to guitar solos.

What are cascading arpeggios?

Usually they are either fast or repetitive descending arpeggios. It’s a very popular melodic device. And they also get used as a way of playing chords under a melody. In theory you could apply this idea to any arpeggio. In this video I’ve only used diatonic 7th chord arpeggios as an example. So, here are the four different inversions of a descending C major 7th arpeggio.

Descending C major 7th arpeggio inversions

You can create an exercise by taking each of these inversions down through all of the diatonic arpeggios in the key of C major. I’ve done the first one of these in the video.

Cascading Arpeggios - Diatonic 7th Chords in the Key of C Major
Exercise 1 – Cascading Arpeggios – Diatonic 7th Chords in the Key of C Major

An alternative way of playing this is to move each arpeggio down the neck of the bass. Position shifting every time you start a new arpeggio. This is harder for the left hand.

Exercise 2 – Cascading Arpeggios in the Key of C Major with Position Shifts

I would strongly recommend practicing these both ways. Exercise 1 is easier to play, and it’s ok to play in one position like that. However, it also helps if you can shift positions smoothly. If you can’t, you’ll get stuck playing everything in just one place on the neck.

The final example that I featured in the video starts on an E7 chord and it uses the diatonic arpeggios in the key of A major. The inversion starts on the 5th, B in the case of the E7 chord.

Exercise 3 – Cascading Arpeggios – Diatonic 7th Chords in the Key of A Major

Create Chromatic Jazz Lines – Bass Practice Diary 142

Create Chromatic Jazz Lines by Using Passing Notes – Bass Practice Diary – 19th January 2021

When you improvise a jazz line, you can put a chromatic passing note anywhere, right? That’s true up to a point. But your lines will be significantly improved if you think about where you place them. Chromatic passing notes can be used to connect scale notes and chord notes. In this video I’m looking mostly at scales, but you still need to think about where you play the chord tones. Otherwise your chromatic jazz lines can sound like you’re just playing a chromatic scale.

Chromatic Passing Notes

The idea behind chromatic passing notes is very simple. You simply move between two notes chromatically (in half steps). Major scales consist of five whole step intervals (whole tones) and two half step intervals (semitones). That means that there are five places in a major scale (or any of it’s modes) where you could place a chromatic passing note. Between any of the five whole tone intervals.

If you place a chromatic passing note in all five places, you have a chromatic scale. We don’t want our lines to sound like we’re playing a chromatic scale. We want them to sound like they belong with the harmony of the music. So, to make a chromatic jazz line sound like it fits the harmony, you need to think about what the chords are. And where are the chord tones in your line.

My Chromatic Jazz Line

Chromatic Jazz Line on a II V I in D Major

This is the line I featured in the video. I’ve used a chromatic passing note on the V chord A7. I’m thinking of the whole line as being in D major, so I’m using the notes of the D major scale. I’m also thinking about the chord tones for each chord. So, on the A7 I’m thinking about A, C#, E & G. The one chromatic passing note that I’ve included on the second bar is placed between the root note, A and the 7th, G. I’ve done that to ensure that both notes land on the beats, while the chromatic passing note (G#) lands on the off-beat.

The rest of the notes in that bar are taken from the D major scale (or A mixolydian mode). The addition of that one passing note between the root and 7th ensures that a chord note lands on every beat. The notes on the off-beats act as passing notes (either scale notes or that one chromatic note). This basically gives us what is known as a bebop scale.

Bebop Scales and Beyond

A bebop scale on a dominant 7th chord is just the notes of the mixolydian mode with the addition of that one chromatic passing note between the root and 7th. It’s a useful scale because if you start by playing a chord tone on beat one, as I did. You can play the scale either descending or ascending. If you play 8th notes starting on beat one, you will hit a chord tone on every beat.

That’s not the only bebop scale. There is one for major chords as well that involves adding a chromatic passing note between the fifth and sixth notes of a major scale. There are three other bebop scales which I might cover in a future video. The dominant 7th version that I’ve used here is the one I use most often.

But what if you want to go beyond bebop scales and play more than one chromatic passing note in a line? I’ve given one example in the video of playing a chromatic line that goes from 3rd down to 7th chromatically.

Chromatic Scale Jazz Line

It’s essentially just a sequence from the chromatic scale. But it works as a jazz line because I’ve planned where the chord tones land. The 3rd lands on beat one, the 9th on beat two. The 9th is a chord extension, but it can be treated as a chord tone for the purposes of making jazz lines. Then the root note is on beat three and the 7th on beat four. When you listen to it played against an A7 chord, you can hear the sound of the chord coming from this chromatic line.

Sandberg “Superlight” 6-String Bass – California II TT6 SL

Sandberg “Superlight” 6-String Bass – California II TT6 SL – Lightweight Six String Bass

Update 13/01/2021 I have now spoken to Sandberg and the Sandberg distributer in the UK. I’ve learned that there are two more SL 6-string basses planned to be built. However, they are unlikely to be completed before Autumn 2021. Both basses will be sold by Bass Direct.

The answer to the question, “why did they only make one?” is that the body was cut by accident. Apparently, they had intended to cut a 6-string body from alder. The person cutting the body picked up the Paulownia by mistake. I believe that it was either Bass Direct themselves or the UK distributor that requested that the Paulownia body be made up into an SL 6-string bass.

I also found out that the Paulownia wood used by Sandberg is grown in Spain. It comes originally from South East Asia but it has been imported into Spain and it grows well there.

My Original Post

Here is my new Sandberg Superlight 6-String Bass. Currently the only one in existence, but keep checking this page to find out if and when there will be more. I’ve been trying to find a good lightweight 6-string bass for several years and I was very lucky to find this instrument. I came across it on the Bass Direct website. They are one of the UK’s official Sandberg dealers.

Sandberg SL basses

I did some research into Sandberg Superlight or SL basses when I first heard of them a couple of years ago. They are made in Germany. They make the bodies out of a very lightweight and strong wood called Paulownia. I stopped researching the basses because they only offered them as 4-string and 5-string basses. They still do only offer 4 and 5-string “Superlight” basses. But, every now and then I’ve been checking them online to see if there were plans for a 6-string version.

It was during one of these online searches that I came across Bass Direct offering a Sandberg California II TT6 “Superlight”. I Immediately started doing more research to find out when Sandberg had started making 6-string Superlight basses. But when I went on the Sandberg website, it said that the SL basses were only available in 4-string and 5-string. So, I emailed Bass Direct to try and find out what the story was, and apparently this is currently the only one.

I didn’t get a lot of information from Bass Direct, but what they said is that the 6-string Paulownia body was initially made by mistake. Having made the body they finished making the bass and offered it to Bass Direct. Apparently Bass Direct had suggested an SL 6-string previously. I have emailed Sandberg to ask for more info but I’ve received no reply yet. I will email them again with a link to the video and hopefully they will get back to me at some point.

Use Headphones

I’m sure that anyone visiting my website already knows this. There is a recurring problem if you run a YouTube channel for bass players. The problem is that most people watch YouTube videos while listening to the internal speakers in their phone/tablet/computer. And those speakers are very bad at reproducing low frequency sound. So, when I produce a video, I have to decide if I’m going to EQ out most of the low end. If I don’t do that, then the sound will either distort when most people listen to it, or it will just sound very quiet.

The problem is worst when I’m trying to demonstrate a product, like today. There’s no point in me saying “here is what it sounds like when I boost the bass” and then EQing out the bass afterwards so I can push up the levels. So the sound of the bass in this video is almost completely unedited. I haven’t compressed it or EQ’d it for the benefit of phone speakers.

The moral of this story is that if you want to hear the low end, use headphones or a good speaker. This is particularly true of todays video. I always test my videos by listening to them on different devices before I upload them. I know that some of this is inaudible on small speakers. If I push up the levels it will distort badly. The only solution would be to EQ out the bass which would defeat the point of the video. So I have left the audio alone. Use headphones.

Find a video about my Overwater Hollowbody 6-String Bass here.

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios with Approach Notes Exercise – Bass Practice Diary 138

6-String Bass Exercise – Diatonic 7ths with Approach Notes – Bass Practice Diary – 15th December 2020

I’ve spoken recently in my Bass Practice Diary videos about how the addition of chromatic approach notes to diatonic exercises can immediately create a jazz sound in your lines. This “approach notes” exercise is a development of that idea. I’ve featured a few 6-string bass exercises in my videos this year. This one involves playing descending diatonic 7th arpeggios, with a chromatic approach note before the start of each four note arpeggio.

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios

I’ve demonstrated this idea in the key of C major. Because it’s always the easiest key to demonstrate an idea that relates to diatonic harmony. The idea of diatonic 7th chords is simply that you build four note chords by taking the 1st (root), 3rd, 5th & 7th notes of the major scale. You can then repeat this pattern of taking alternate notes, but starting on different degrees of the scale. There are seven different notes in a major scale, hence there are seven different diatonic 7th chords in any major key.

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios in the Key of C Major
Diatonic 7th Arpeggios in the Key of C Major

In the example above I’m playing each arpeggio ascending, starting from the root. For the purposes of this exercise I’m playing the arpeggios descending, starting from the 7th and finishing on the root.

Descending Diatonic 7th Arpeggios in the Key of C Major

Chromatic Approach Notes

The term chromatic approach note simply means taking a note that is a semi-tone (half tone) away from your target note, either above or below. Then playing the chromatic approach note immediately before you play the target note.

In the case of this exercise, the target note is the 7th of each arpeggio, which is the first note that I’m playing for each one. I’m adding a chromatic approach note before the 7th each time.

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios in C Major with Chromatic Approach Notes
Diatonic 7th Arpeggios in C Major with Chromatic Approach Notes

There are two reasons why I’ve done this. One is because the addition of chromatic approach notes creates the sound of a jazz line, as I already mentioned. And the second reason is that it creates an odd number grouping of notes. The four note arpeggios become a five note sequence with the addition of the approach notes. The odd number grouping creates a rhythmic variation that makes this sound less like an exercise and more like a musical line.

Tapping Jazz Lines on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 137

Tapping Jazz Lines – Can You Play Jazz Solos With Two-Hand Tapping? – Bass Practice Diary – 8th December 2020

I’ve witnessed a couple of musicians in the UK playing improvised jazz solos with a two-hand tapping technique. However, I’ve never heard anyone talk about this idea. It seems to me that there is an obvious advantage to using two-hand tapping to play jazz lines. The advantage is that you can easily make big interval jumps in your lines. That is quite hard to do with a conventional playing technique. For a long time, I’ve wanted to explore the idea myself. So, when one of my advanced bass students brought up the subject of tapping in a lesson, I jumped at the opportunity to work through some ideas with him.

How I arranged the lines

We started by coming up with a jazz line on a II-V-I in Bb. This is a very typical exercise for learning to play jazz. The line we came up with was this.

II-V-I Jazz Line
II-V-I Jazz Line

We then tried to rearrange the line by moving some of the notes up one octave to be tapped with the right-hand. The remaining notes would be hammered-on by the left hand. This is the finished line.

Two-Hand Tapping Jazz Line
Two-Hand Tapping Jazz Line 1

We went through the same process again and came up with another line, which goes like this.

Two-Hand Tapping Jazz Line 2
Two-Hand Tapping Jazz Line 2

If you’d like to learn more about my two-hand tapping techniques, then check out my previous videos on the subject. This video looks at the basic two-hand tapping technique of hammering and pulling notes with both hands. This video looks at arranging chords and chord progressions with two-hand tapping.

This idea of using two-hand tapping to make jazz lines is still very new for me. I hope I will revisit this subject in the future when I’ve had more time to work on it. At the moment, I’m still at the very early stage of working out lines and practicing them. I hope that as time goes by, I will develop the ability to improvise lines in this way.

Make Your Pentatonic Licks Sound Like Jazz – Bass Practice Diary 135

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.

Pentatonic Lick form D Minor Scale
Pentatonic Lick form D Minor 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.

D Minor Pentatonic Jazz Lick with Chromatic Approach Notes

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 134

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.

Major Scale Jazz Exercise with Chromatic Approach Notes
Major Scale Jazz Exercise with Chromatic Approach Notes

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.

Here’s an example that I played in the video.

Major Scale Jazz Line in 3rds with Chromatic Approach Notes
Major Scale Jazz Line in 3rds with Chromatic Approach Notes