Category Archives: Bass Blog

Tom Kennedy Jazz Blues Lines and Techniques – Bass Practice Diary 57

Jazz Blues Lines and Techniques on Bass Guitar from Tom Kennedy Solo – Bass Practice Diary – 21st May 2019

This week I’ve been trying to transcribe some of Tom Kennedy’s lines on a Bb blues I saw him playing on Youtube. In this video I’m looking at one particular Tom Kennedy lick. And I focus on his left hand technique which he seems to have adapted to electric bass from his years of playing the upright bass.

Tom Kennedy Left Hand Technique

The first time I heard Tom Kennedy play was at Ronnie Scott’s in London. It was more than 10 years ago and I’d gone to see the Dave Weckl band. Tom Kennedy was playing electric bass in the band and straight away I pegged him as an upright bass player because of his left hand technique. I don’t play a lot of double bass but I’ve played enough to recognise the technique. And I’ve seen a lot of double bass players playing electric bass over the years so I’ve learned to recognise what they tend to do.

But that’s not the end of the story. The story is that after about 10 or 15 minutes of the first set the band arrived at the first bass solo. And Tom Kennedy played jazz lines with such incredible speed and intensity that it left me questioning everything that I though I knew about electric bass technique. Who would have thought that you could approach the electric bass in that way and yet play so fast. The only other bass player that I can think of who can do that is Christian McBride. (I know that you’re probably thinking John Patitucci but his left hand technique on electric bass is distinctly different to his technique on upright).

So, why does Tom Kennedy’s left hand technique remind me of an upright bassist? He tends to cover just three frets in each position instead of four, playing notes with his first, second and fourth fingers. He likes to play electric bass in the positions around the first four or five frets, even when playing jazz solos. And when he does shift up the neck he tends to shift up and down on the first string.

Jazz Blues Lick

The lick that I featured in the video is played on the II chord Cm7. It goes like this.

Tom Kennedy Lick
Tom Kennedy Lick

I’ve included the bass TAB so you can see exactly how he played the line. If I saw a line like this written down without TAB I would probably play it something like this.

You could argue that my fingering is more consistent with the way that most jazz electric bass players would approach playing a jazz solo line like this. Notice that my fingering doesn’t take me anywhere near the first position. I’ve arranged the whole thing from the 7th fret and above.

But you could also argue that Tom Kennedy’s approach enables him to come up with lines that other electric bass players wouldn’t think of. And at the same time execute them at high speed. His technique also impacts the way he phrases his lines. So they don’t sound like they would if they were played by another bass player (me, for example).

A chorus of Bb Blues played by Tom Kennedy

Here is one full chorus of the solo that I’ve transcribed. I’ve picked a chorus that doesn’t include any of his super fast 1/16th note lines. Because they provide a serious technical challenge for any electric bass player to execute. But playing this chorus from his solo does give you a really interesting insight into how he arranges lines with his left hand.

Tom Kennedy Blues Solo
Tom Kennedy Blues Solo

Find my analysis of a jazz blues lick by another great jazz electric bass player, Jeff Andrews, here!

The Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale – Bass Practice Diary 54

The Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale – Bass Practice Diary – 30th April 2019

Recently I did a video about the altered scale, which is one of seven modes that come from the melodic minor scale. You can find it here. That got me thinking about the other modes of the melodic minor scale. There are a few that I use quite a lot, but there are others that I almost never use. So this week I set myself the task of practicing all of them, and thinking about what harmonic context I can use them in.

If you’ve seen my altered scale video, you’ll already know that melodic minor scale is only one note different from a major scale. If you take out the major 3rd from a major scale and replace it with a minor 3rd, then you have a melodic minor scale.

This small alteration creates the potential for seven modes, that are each different and distinct from the seven major scale modes. (Ionian, dorian, phrygian, lydian, mixolydian, aeolian and locrian). Modes are extracted from scales by changing the root note to a different degree of the scale. For example, if you play the notes of a C major scale but change the root note to D, then you have a dorian mode.

What are the melodic minor modes?

These are the seven modes of the melodic minor scale. Each has been written out in one octave and I’ve written the implied chord symbol above each mode. I’ve chosen to use D melodic minor for this exercise.

Modes of the Melodic Minor
Modes of the Melodic Minor

The first mode is the melodic minor scale itself. I use the melodic minor to play on minor 6th chords and it can also be used on minor/major chords (meaning minor 3rd with a major 7th.

The second mode is like a dorian mode with a flattened 2nd. It implies a minor 7th chord. But the flattened 2nd is a strange note to play on a minor 7th chord. Hence, this is one of the modes that isn’t commonly used.

The third mode is like a lydian scale with a raised 5th. The implied harmony is a major 7th chord with a #5. I don’t currently use this scale a lot. But I’ll try and use it more in future, because it sounds cool.

The fourth mode is usually called lydian dominant because it has a raised 4th, like the lydian mode. But it also has a dominant (flattened) 7th. It’s a scale that I like to use on dominant 7th chords. It’s essentially a mixolydian scale with a raised 4th. Which makes it sound more interesting than a mixolydian scale when played on an un-altered dominant 7th chord.

The fifth mode is basically a mixolydian scale with a flattened 6th. I don’t use it very much but you could use it on a dominant 7th chord with a b13.

The sixth mode works well on half diminished chords (m7b5). It has a minor 3rd and 7th and a flattened fifth. But unlike the locrian scale, it has a natural 9th rather than a flattened 9th.

The seventh mode is the altered scale, which I’ve already covered in my previous video. It’s an extremely useful scale for playing on altered dominant chords.

A Quick Guide to the Altered Scale – Bass Practice Diary 52

The Altered Scale – Bass Practice Diary – 16th April 2019

Jazz musicians love to play on dominant 7th chords. And the altered scale is a really important scale to practice if you want to create a jazz sound when playing on these 7th chords. I think that using the altered scale is often perceived as “advanced” harmony. But, as with most things, it’s easy when you understand it. So, here’s my very quick guide to using the altered scale on bass.

What is the altered scale?

The altered scale is a mode of the melodic minor scale. Meaning that it contains all of the same intervals as a melodic minor scale. The altered scale is essentially what you get when you play a melodic minor scale starting finishing on the 7th note of the scale.

So, what’s a melodic minor scale? It’s basically only one note different from a major scale. If you take a major scale and change the major 3rd to a minor 3rd, you have a melodic minor scale.

Here’s the notes of an F major scale.

F major scale
F major scale

And here are the notes of an F melodic minor scale.

F melodic minor scale
F melodic minor scale

Notice that the only difference is the third note. It’s an A natural in the major scale and an Ab in the melodic minor.

If you play the notes of an F melodic minor scale but use E (the 7th note) as the root note. You would be playing an E altered scale.

When you think about the notes of the F melodic minor with an E as the root note, it creates these interval relationships to the root note.

E altered scale
E altered scale

The 3rd of E7 would, of course, be written as G# not Ab. But the altered scale creates some interesting theoretical anomalies like that. Because the major 3rd note (Ab/G#) is actually the 4th note of the scale.

How do you use the altered scale?

As I mentioned at the start, the altered scale works really well on dominant 7th chords. You can think of the altered scale as being a kind of extended dominant 7th arpeggio with lots of chromatic alterations.

The scale includes the root, major 3rd and dominant 7th notes which are the fundamental ingredients of a dominant 7th arpeggio. But the other four notes are all chromatic alterations of some kind. Hence why it’s called the altered scale.

You can alter chord tones and extensions by moving them one semi-tone up or down. The 5th of E7 is B natural, but in the altered scale the 5th has been flattened to Bb. So the altered scale could be used on an E7b5 chord.

The 9th can be altered by sharpening or flattening it. The altered scale uses both alterations. So you could use it on an E7b9 or an E7#9 chord. The final alteration is a b13.

So you can use the altered scale to play on any of these altered dominant chord types. And you will sometimes see the chord symbol E7alt. Which implies a chord that could include any or all of these alterations.

So if you want to start using this altered dominant sound on your dominant 7th chords. Then start to think about using a melodic minor scale that starts one semi-tone above the root of the chord. So, if you’re playing on a D7 chord, think Eb melodic minor. For A7, thing Bb melodic minor, for G7 think Ab melodic minor, for B7 think C melodic minor etc.

For another great jazz approach to playing on dominant 7th chords, check out my video guide to using diminished scale on bass.

Learn to Play Giant Steps Jazz Lines On Bass – Bass Practice Diary 51

How to Improvise on Giant Steps – Bass Practice Diary – 9th April 2019

Last week I posted a video of me practicing improvising on Giant Steps chord changes on fretless and fretted bass. So this week I want to talk a bit about my approach to playing on what are some of the most notoriously difficult chords changes in jazz.

Having said that, I don’t think that soloing on Giant Steps needs to be very difficult. As long as you start slowly and focus on internalising the sound of the chords before you increase the tempo.

One of the reasons that John Coltrane’s Giant Steps has it’s fearsome reputation is because of the chord changes in the first two bars. The first bar starts on a Bmaj7 chord for two beats and immediately changes to a D7 chord on beat three. Which is a key change to G major. The second bar starts with a resolution to a Gmaj7 chord. Then it changes key again. This time to Bb7 on beat three which is the fifth of Eb major.

So the tune starts with three different keys in two bars. Needless to say, if you’re not prepared for it, it will catch you out. And many Giant Steps solos have failed before they’ve begun because musicians can’t negotiate these quick key changes quickly enough.

This chord movement in bars 1 and 2 repeats itself in bars 5 and 6 but transposed so that the progression starts on Gmaj7. And it’s this chord progression that defines Giant Steps. So if you want to improvise on Giant Steps you need to spend some time really working on this two bar chord progression.

Use the Chord Tones

My first piece of advice would be to come up with lines over this two bar progression using chord tones. The progression itself is already complex enough on it’s own that you don’t need to add lots of chromaticism or substitutions to make your lines sound interesting. It’s amazing how many interesting sounding jazz lines you can come up with on Giant Steps using nothing but roots, 3rds, 5ths and 7ths.

Here are three different lines that I came up with which use nothing but chord tones.

Giant Steps Licks for Bass Bars 1-3
Giant Steps Licks for Bass Bars 1-3

You can transpose each of these to work over bars 5 and 6. But here’s another one that I wrote specifically to be played over bars 5-7.

Giant Steps Lick for Bass Bars 5-7
Giant Steps Lick for Bass Bars 5-7

I don’t work out these licks so that I can play them in a solo. I do it to help me get the sound of the chord changes into my ears. And the more lines like this that I work out, the more likely I’ll be to be able to improvise something like this in a solo. So feel free to play through my licks and practice them, but also come up with some of your own.

I honestly feel that this two-bar chord progression is the key to unlocking Giant Steps. Once you can improvise over this tricky chord sequence, the rest of the progression is easy, dare I say it. It’s just a sequence of II – V – I’s in three different keys. Eb major, G major and B major.

Playing on II – V – I’s is a jazz musicians bread and butter. There are hundreds of lessons and videos out there about playing on them.

Sus Chords – Play Bass on Suspended Chords – Bass Practice Diary 47

Play Bass on Sus Chords (Suspended Chords) – Bass Practice Diary – 12th March 2019

Sus chords or suspended chords create a really cool modern sound. Last week I put out a video of a bassline I’d written on four sus chords. This week I want to explain a little bit of the theory behind my approach to playing on these types of chords.

What is a suspended chord?

I think there is often confusion over what the term suspended actually means when it relates to music. A suspended chord is simply a chord that doesn’t contain a third. A basic musical triad (three note chord) usually contains a root, a third and a fifth. And it’s the third that defines the chord as being either major or minor.

Suspended chords don’t use the third. The third is usually replaced by a fourth (sus4) or a second (sus2). Therefore they’re not major or minor chords. They need a different name, and that name is suspended. The name itself doesn’t really tell you anything important about the nature of the chords or how to play on them, so most musicians usually abbreviate and call them sus chords.

How do you play on sus chords?

Personally, I take a jazz approach to playing on sus chords. A basic sus4 or sus2 chord (like the kind you might find in a pop song) is all very well. But for me these chords get really interesting when you start extending them, creating richer fuller harmonies and chord voicings.

When I’m playing bass on sus chords, I like use the notes of a major 9th chord or arpeggio. But I think of the root note of the sus chord as being the 9th of the major arpeggio.

So, for example, G is the 9th of F major. So I can think of a Gsus chord as being an inverted Fmaj9 chord with the 9th becoming the root.

F major 9th arpeggio on G sus chord
F major 9th arpeggio on G sus chord

If you think of the notes of an Fmaj9 chord with the root G, then the chord tones are root, 2nd (9th), 4th, 6th (13th) and b7th (dominant 7th). So you can think of my Gsus chord as being a G7sus4 chord with a 9th and a 13th added as chord extensions. However, I would simply think of it as Gsus and the chord extensions are there at the discretion of the musicians voicing the chords.

More sus chord arpeggios

These kind of extended sus chords create a really cool modern jazz sound. I think they’re cool because they aren’t major or minor, so the sound of them is always a bit of a question mark. Almost like you’re not really sure when you hear them, how they’re supposed to make you feel.

In the bassline I played in last week’s video, I used four sus chords Gsus, Bbsus, Dbsus and Esus. In each case I thought of the root note as being the ninth of a major 9th arpeggio.

Ab major 9th arpeggio on a Bbsus chord
Ab major 9th arpeggio on a Bbsus chord
Cb major 9th arpeggio on a Dbsus chord
Cb major 9th arpeggio on a Dbsus chord
D major 9th arpeggio on a Esus chord
D major 9th arpeggio on a Esus chord

Quartal Chord Voicings on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 45

Quartal Chord Voicings on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 26th February 2019

I haven’t done a video about bass chord voicings for a while. So, this week I’ve decided to practice some of my favourite jazz chords, quartal chord voicings. Quartal harmony is a jazz term which means harmonising chords in intervals of a fourth.

4th Intervals

I did a video recently about playing modern jazz lines using 4th intervals. But I thought after making that video that I wasn’t telling the full story about using 4ths in modern jazz. The quartal chord voicings themselves create a very distinctive modern jazz sound. It’s instantly recognisable once you become familiar with the sound.

Chords are traditionally voiced in intervals of a third. Using quartal voicings in jazz became popular in the 1960’s after Miles Davis made quartal chord voicings a feature of his composition So What from the 1959 album Kind of Blue.

Quartal harmony was a sound that then became associated with the great John Coltrane Quartet of the early to mid 1960’s. The chords were supplied by pianist McCoy Tyner, who is synonymous with quartal harmony, and one of my all time favourite jazz pianists.

McCoy Tyner was using these voicings at a time when the Coltrane Quartet was playing a lot of modal jazz. Meaning that there weren’t lots of chord changes. And the emphasis was more on scalic improvisation over static harmony. So What is also a modal jazz piece. So, if you’re looking to apply some of these quartal chord voicings, then modal jazz tunes are a good place to start.

Quartal Harmony on Bass

The bass is setup for playing quartal chord voicings because the strings are tuned in intervals of a fourth. Which is why it amazes me that more bass players don’t use quartal chord voicings. Many of the chord voicings in the video can be played with just one finger. But despite this simplicity, they create a sophisticated jazz harmony sound.

Here is an A major scale harmonised in 4ths.

A major scale - quartal chord voicings
A major scale – quartal chord voicings

In the video, I’ve used the open A string as a root note underneath all of these voicings.

When you play this, it doesn’t sound like a typical major scale harmonisation. That’s what’s so great about quartal harmony. You can take simple harmony, like a major scale, and completely change it’s character, without needing to change or add any notes.

It works for all of the modes of the major scale. Here is the Dorian mode harmonised in 4ths.

A dorian - quartal chord voicings
A dorian – quartal chord voicings

Applying Quartal Harmony to Jazz

I’ve already mentioned that quartal chord voicings are extremely well suited to modal jazz. If, for example, you’re playing a modal jazz composition with long periods on a minor seventh chord. Like So What or John Coltrane’s Impressions. Then you’re faced with a challenge of how to make just one chord sound interesting.

One solution would be to apply the dorian chord voicings that I’ve written out in the example above. It gives you seven different options for voicings that you could play over a single minor seventh chord (Am7 in the example above). You could use any or all of these voicings to help create a feeling of movement in the otherwise static harmony.

You can apply quartal harmony to virtually any scale or mode. In this next example I’ve applied it to an A harmonic minor scale.

A harmonic minor - quartal chord voicings
A harmonic minor – quartal chord voicings

The same chord voicings can also be applied to any of the modes of the harmonic minor scale, which includes the altered scale.

One of the fourth intervals in the harmonic minor scale actually comes out as a major third. So, some of the voicings in the example above are not strictly quartal. Because they mix fourths with a third. But it still creates some interesting sounds and you can do your own experimenting to decide which of the voicings are useful.

Use Intervals of a 4th To Create a Modern Jazz Sound – Bass Practice Diary 43

Playing lines in 4th intervals is a very popular sound modern jazz. It’s a very distinctive sound. And once you’ve incorporated it into your playing, you’ll start to recognise when you hear other musicians using it. This video features an exercise that I’ve written to help you incorporate this sound in your playing.

If you’re not sure what I mean by an interval of a 4th then check out my video guide to playing intervals on the bass.

How to Play 4ths on Bass Guitar

There are two obvious ways to play 4ths on bass guitar. I believe that if you’re going to be able to come up with basslines in 4ths, then you need to practice and use both ways.

The first way is the easy way. You go from any fretted note to the same fret on an adjacent string. The bass is tuned in 4ths. So, as long as you stick to the same fret, you’ll be playing a 4th. This is very simple and you can apply this to playing scales and harmonies. Here is a G major scale played in intervals of a 4th.

G major scale in 4th intervals
G major scale in 4th intervals

This way of playing 4ths is so simple, that it can lead to some bass players ignoring the slightly more complicated way of playing 4ths. Which is by shifting position up five frets on a single string. Like this.

4th intervals on a single string
4th intervals on a single string

I think that this element of shifting position, is essential if you’re going to create musical lines in 4ths. If you only use the first, easier technique, then you’ll very quickly find that you’re stuck in one position on the bass neck. And as a result, it will massively limit your ability to come up with musical lines.

The 4ths Exercise

So I’ve written this exercise, which is designed to help you practice playing 4ths in both ways.

4th Intervals Exercise

I’ve written it in the key of A major. But, if you want to master it, please practice it in any and every key. The concept is simple. It starts with a position shift from the A on the 5th fret of the E string to the D on the 10th fret. Then you play a 4th interval from the B on the 7th fret to the E on the 7th fret of the A string.

So it immediately uses both ways of playing 4ths. Then it repeats the same pattern all the way up the neck until you can’t go any further. And then you play everything the same way in reverse.

Once you’ve got used to playing lines in 4ths, start to listen to listen out for the sound of 4ths in other musicians lines. Listen to players like Evan Marien, he’s a brilliant bass player that loves the sound of 4ths in his basslines.

Bass Guitar Chords – Right-Hand Tapping Chord Extensions – Bass Practice Diary 41

Bass Guitar Chords – Right-Hand Tapping Chord Extensions – Bass Practice Diary – 29th January 2019

Tapping notes with your right hand is a great way to extend your bass chords. I’ve seen lots of bassists do this, particularly in solos. It’s not as difficult as it looks and it works really well for playing extended harmonies. Even on a 4 string bass where it’s often hard to voice extended chords with just your left hand.

Bass Guitar Chords

This isn’t my first video about playing chords on the bass. So, if you’re new to this, then I’d highly recommend checking out some of my previous videos. Like this one, which is the first of a four part video I did on bass guitar chords.

Playing Chords on Bass Guitar Part 1

More recently I made this video about playing chord extensions on bass guitar.

Jazz Chord Extensions on Bass Guitar

Right-Hand Tapping

This video features a different approach to playing jazz chord extensions. By tapping the extensions with your right hand. Using this technique, you can really open up your chord voicings by playing harmonies in a completely different register to the notes you’re playing with your left hand.

I should start by saying that my tapping technique is basic. I don’t use tapping techniques a lot. In fact, these types of chords are pretty much the only places where I will use my right hand to tap chords. But I think that’s also the case for most bass players. Right-hand tapping is rarely a first choice technique for bassists, it’s an added extra that you can use on solos.

Having said that. I know that there are musicians for whom tapping is there principle technique, and they have much more advanced techniques using four fingers on their right hand, just like their left. My basic tapping technique involves hammering on, sliding and pulling off notes with my index, middle and ring fingers on my right hand. It’s all I need for what I do.

Diatonic Triads

Diatonic triads are just basic major and minor chords that you find in every key. (You could also include diminished and augmented triads but I’m just using major and minor here). The first four chords, in the key of D major are D, Em, F#m and G. Here is how I have voiced those chords with my left hand in this video.

D major triad

E minor triad

F# minor triad
G major triad

These triads form the basic chords onto which I can add my chord extensions with my right hand. With each chord, I start by playing each triad, plucking the strings with my right hand, Thumb plays 4th string, index plays 3rd string, middle plays 2nd string and ring finger plays 1st string. Or p, i, m, a, to use classical guitar terminology. None of these notes are tapped, they are fretted with the left hand in traditional style.

Chord Extensions

Start by adding chord extensions on just one chord. In this example I’ve added a major 7th to the D major triad making it a Dmaj7. The 7th is the only note tapped by the right hand.

D major 7th

Make sure you tap the note onto the 18th fret. If you tap in between the 17th and 18th fret, it won’t sound as clear.

In this next example, I’ve tapped a 9th, E, and slid the note up to the major third F#.

D major with added 9th

In this third example I’ve included the major 7th and the 9th.

D major 9th

Right-Hand Tapping Exercise

Once you’ve got used to the technique, try playing this exercise.

Tapping Harmony Video Complete
Tapping Chord Extensions Exercise

There’s quite a lot going on here, so I won’t write an exhaustive analysis. But here’s a quick guide.

Over the D triad I’m tapping major 7th, 6th, #11th and 9th. On the E minor I’m adding minor 7th, 11th and 9th. On the F# minor I’ve used minor 6th, minor 7th and b9th and on the G major triad I’ve played similar extensions to the D major. Major 6th, 9th, major7th and #11th.

How to Practice Sliding Notes on a Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary 40

Sliding Notes on a Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd January 2019

Sliding between notes is an integral part of phrasing on a fretless bass. This video features an exercise to help you practice sliding accurately between notes by using the pentatonic scale.

When you slide between notes on a fretless bass, the first thing that you need to concentrate on, is keeping the notes in tune. When you slide, it’s very easy to slide too far and go sharp, or not quite far enough and the note will be flat. So my first advice is to start slowly and use a backing track.

Backing tracks are very easy to find for free on Youtube. Here is an example of a backing track in G major that you could use to help you practice this exercise. When you practice with a backing track it’s so much easier to hear when you go a little bit out of tune.

Use the Pentatonic Scale to Practice Sliding Notes on Fretless Bass

The easiest way to play a pentatonic scale is by playing two notes on each string like this.

G major pentatonic – two notes per string

The reason it’s easy is because it doesn’t involve any position shifts. But it offers very little opportunity to slide between notes.

In order to incorporate slides, you need to keep shifting position, which involves playing at least three notes per string like this.

Sliding Notes with 1st Finger in G major Ascending
Sliding Notes with 1st Finger in G major Descending

You can also practice this on a fretted bass. It’s easier on a fretted bass because you don’t need to be as accurate. But position shifting is an important skill for any bass player to practice.

The idea of the exercise is that you always slide with your 1st finger (index finger). Playing three notes on each string, you play the first of the three notes with your 1st finger and then slide up to the second note. You can play the third note on each string with either your third finger or little finger.

Slide Notes With Any Finger

It’s easiest to use your 1st finger to slide. But you want to be able to slide accurately with all of the fingers on your left hand. So come up with your own variations of this exercise and use different fingers to play the slides. Here’s a variation that I demonstrated in the video which uses your 4th finger (little finger) to play the slides.

Sliding Notes with 4th Finger in G major Ascending

Another variation that I demonstrated in the video, is to break the exercise down into small sections. Don’t feel like you need to practice the whole scale all at once. Work on each position shift one at a time. Like this.

I think that practicing like this actually replicates what you will play in a real musical situation better than playing the whole scale all at once. You could use the example above as a fretless bass fill on a G major chord. And the example below which starts on a D could also be a fill when you’re playing in the key of G.

Just like any scale exercise, don’t forget to practice this exercise in different positions and different keys. And try to adapt the idea of sliding and position shifting to any other scales, arpeggios or technical exercises that you practice.

A Guide to Harmonics on Bass – Part 2: Artificial Harmonics – Bass Practice Diary 38

Learn to Play Artificial Harmonics

Artificial Harmonics – Play Harmonics on Bass Guitar – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 8th January 2019

This is part two of my complete guide to playing harmonics on bass. This week I’m looking at artificial harmonics (find part one about natural harmonics video here).

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.

Artificial Harmonics Exercise

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.

Artificial Harmonics Chord Progression