How I Approach Improvising on Dominant 7th Chords – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd June 2021
I’ve mentioned many times in previous videos that jazz musicians love dominant chords. They love them because there’s so many different ways you can play on them. Depending on the context, you can get away with playing any note on a dominant chord. But it doesn’t help you learn how to improvise if you think “play anything”. It helps if you think about strategies for improvisation. I think everyone who improvises has at least some kind of strategy. And a more experienced improviser probably has many strategies to draw upon. So when you’re practicing improvisation, don’t just pick your favourite strategy. Practice as many strategies as you can think of. And then you never know what you might discover.
To me, every scale is a sound. Or it creates a particular sound against a specific chord. So, when I’m improvising, I’m thinking about sounds, not scales. But, having said that, all of these scales form those sounds, so that’s why we think about scales when we study improvisation strategies. The important thing to remember, is that when you’re learning any of these scales. You are not just learning a fingering or a pattern on the fretboard. You are trying to learn the sound that it creates against a dominant chord. Here are the scales.
Six Eight Bass Grooves – Learn Four Bass Lines in 6/8 Time Signature – Bass Practice Diary – 8 June 2021
I did a video in 2018 about playing bass in 6/8 time signature. It turned out to be a much more popular video than I was expecting. It currently has nearly 25,000 views on YouTube and I wasn’t expecting more than a few hundred. As I mentioned in that video, I love to groove in 6/8. It’s amazing how much music you can make with just six 1/8th notes in a bar. And I felt it was time to add to the content of that video by featuring some of my own, previously unreleased bass lines in six eight.
Bass Groove Number 1
As I mentioned in the video, if you want to unlock the full potential of six eight, then try not to think of it as a shuffle feel. If you think of the six 1/8th notes as two ta-ki-ta’s, then the shuffle feel is what you get if you only play on the ta syllables and ignore the other syllable, ki. If you treat the ki subdivisions as being just as important as the ta syllables then it unlocks a whole world of new bass lines and rhythms.
This bass line, written above, is an example of a groove that is starting to explore the ki syllable. Bars 1 &3 are a straight forward shuffle rhythm using only the ta’s. However, bars 2 & 4 both emphasise one of the ki syllables. Just that alone immediately takes this groove somewhere else and prevents it from sounding like a basic shuffle.
Bass Groove Number 2
This is a bass line that I have featured in a previous video. The other three are previously unreleased. I like this one because it demonstrates the idea of superimposing a straight 3/4 feel onto 6/8. Bars 1 & 3 look like a bar of 3/4 played on the beat. And bar two looks like you’re hitting all the off-beats in a bar of 3/4. But because the drums are playing 6/8, the feel is entirely different to 3/4. The final bar is a more conventional 6/8 feel, but I’m still hitting the ki syllable. I really like this bass groove, which is why I’m featuring it for a second time.
Bass Grooves Number 3 & 4
The grooves in this video get gradually more complex as we go along. Examples 3 & 4 are both quite hard to play. Both involve string skipping. You can use any technique you want when you play them, but I find it much easier to play the string skipping if I use my right hand thumb to play the notes on the E and A strings and my fingers to play the notes on the D and G strings.
String Skipping Arpeggios – Another 6-String Bass Exercise – Bass Practice Diary – 18th May 2021
This is another 6-string bass exercise featuring string skipping. The last one involved playing scales and skipping strings after every three notes. This one is a bit more difficult. It involves playing arpeggios and string skipping on every note. I first came across this exercise years ago when I saw it featured on an instructional video by the great guitarist Frank Gambale. It’s a tricky exercise to play on guitar or bass, but it sounds great. When I was thinking of ways to take my string skipping on bass to another level, I remembered this exercise and I set about trying to adapt it onto 6-string bass.
I’ve played the exercise in the key of A minor, which is the same key Frank Gambale plays it in. The exercise uses notes from the A harmonic minor scale arranged into three arpeggios. Chord I, A minor, chord IV, D minor and chord V, E. The A minor arpeggio is played as a triad using just the notes A, C and E. But the IV chord includes the note B on a D minor chord, which makes it Dm6. The V chord is really E7, but the exercise only features the notes of the major triad, E, G# & B. It’s played like this.
6-String Bass Exercise – String Skipping Three Notes Per String – Bass Practice Diary – 4th May 2021
This is one of those exercises that you do when you know a scale well, and you want to find a new way to practice it. There are two techniques I’m practicing here, string skipping and three notes per string. You can use this idea in solos. It will help your scale lines sound less like scales.
Three Notes Per String
The three notes per string idea works really well on 6-string bass. Three notes per string across six strings gives you eighteen notes. So, with a seven note scale like a major scale you can achieve two octaves plus a fourth without shifting positions on the neck. The idea does also work on four strings but you only get twelve notes per position which is a range of less than two octaves.
String skipping or crossing strings, is what I call playing consecutive notes on strings that are not next to each other. So, playing a note on the fourth string and then one on the second string, for example. You need to cross the third string to be able to do it, and it can be awkward at high tempos. There are plenty of other ways to practice that. You could play a scale using 6th intervals for example. But I choose to add this element to my three notes per string exercise, partly because it’s an essential technique to practice, but also because it sounds cool.
If you’d like to see more 6-string bass videos and exercises. I’ve put all of my 6-string bass videos into one playlist on YouTube. You can find it here.
Jazz Solo Lines for 4-String Bass with Bass Tab – Bass Practice Diary – 27 April 2021
This week I’m featuring three jazz solo lines that I’ve adapted to be played on 4-string bass. I’ve been thinking recently about how I first learned jazz on bass as a teenager. I started out with a 4-string bass, like most bass players do. In recent years, I’ve done most of my jazz playing on 6-string basses. But jazz improvisation isn’t only for bass players who play extended range basses.
I didn’t play a 6-string bass until I was 19 years old. By that time, I had already completed a year of a bachelors degree at a music college. I was studying and performing music by Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Chick Corea and others. To cut a long story short, I learned to play jazz on a 4-string bass with 20 frets. And this week I’m returning to my roots by arranging some brilliant jazz solo lines on 4-string bass.
Jazz Line #1: Autumn Leaves, Keith Jarrett
This line comes from Keith Jarrett’s brilliant trio album Still Live with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette. It’s played in the last eight bars of the first chorus of the piano solo on the classic jazz standard Autumn Leaves. He doesn’t play any left hand chord voicings during the line. So, the chord symbols written above represent the implied harmony and you shouldn’t necessarily take them too literally. One of the great things about that ‘standards trio’ was the way they interpreted the harmony of standards so loosely and with such freedom. This line is just a great example of a jazz solo line improvised by a wonderful musician on a classic standard.
Jazz Line #2: Whole-tone Line in Cm, Mike Stern
This second line doesn’t come from a recording, but from a book. It’s a brilliant book by the legendary guitarist Mike Stern called Altered Scale Soloing for Jazz Guitar. It comes in a chapter where he’s talking about using the whole-tone scale to create an altered dominant sound. The chord progression in the example is simply I-V in C minor. If you play a whole-tone scale over the dominant V chord, it gives you the root, 9th, 3rd, #11, b13 and dominant 7th. It’s an interesting mix of chord tones and alterations. And this line is a great example of how to create a modern sounding altered jazz line in a minor key.
Jazz Line #3: Oleo (Bb Rhythm Changes), Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen
The third and final line comes from the brilliant duet album Chops by Joe Pass and the incredible double bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. This line is played at the start of the bass solo on Sonny Rollins’ tune Oleo. So this is a line that you can use on any Bb ‘Rhythm Changes’ tune. Rhythm Changes is played in eight bar sections and this is played over the first A section. Although it does drift into the start of bar 9 which is the start of the second A section.
I think this line is an example of a bass player proving that the bass can be a dynamic jazz soloing instrument. Just like any other melodic or harmonic instrument. I haven’t attempted to figure out where he was playing the notes on the fretboard. My fingerings are based on how I would play this line as an electric bass player, not on how I imagine an upright player would play it. However, unlike the previous two lines, I have played this example in the same octave that Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen originally played it in.
In the past I’ve done some analysis of the differences between the way double bass players and bass guitar players arrange lines on the fingerboard. You can check out the video in which I analyse a jazz line by the great bassist Tom Kennedy. He started life as a double bass player. Then he transitioned onto electric bass, taking many of the upright bass techniques and fingerings with him.
6-String Bass Duet – Fretless & Fretted – Warwick & Overwater – Bass Practice Diary – 20 April 2021
It seems that I’m in a contemplative mood after more than a year of lockdowns. There have been virtually no opportunities to play with other musicians. So, I’ve been recording on my own a lot. Recently, I’ve been trying to arrange material for these two basses, probably my favourite two basses. A fretted Overwater Hollowbody 6-string and a fretless Warwick Thumb SC 6-string bass. This arrangement came out of some Keith Jarrett improvisations that I was transcribing.
The Chord Progression
I’ve always felt that Keith Jarrett is a wonderful improviser. He regularly improvises entire solo piano concerts and he seems to effortlessly incorporate both jazz and classical influences. What I’ve played here is not exactly a transcription, but my own arrangement based on some of the harmonic ideas that I transcribed.
Here are diagrams for the chords I’m using. The diagrams are all written for 6-string bass in standard tuning. Don’t take the chord names too seriously. I considered not including any names above the chords, but I thought they might be helpful for locating the correct positions on the neck.
It’s hard to find accurate names for some chord shapes. For example, look at the last chord. It includes two D’s, an Ab and an Eb. It’s like an Ab Lydian triad (root, #4th & 5th) in the first inversion. So, I’ve called it Abmaj7(#11)/D. However, it doesn’t have a major third, C. The major 7th G is not in the chord either, but it is played by the fretless bass as a melody note. So, the chord symbol isn’t very helpful.
So, some of the chord symbols are helpful and others aren’t, don’t take them too seriously. I’m fairly certain that Keith Jarrett doesn’t think about chord symbols when he plays and I certainly didn’t think about chord symbols when I played this. I didn’t put the names on the chords until after I shot this.
In the performance, I played the chord sequence through twice in its entirety. Also, I used the first two chords played repeatedly as both an intro and an outro.
Learn a Jazz Tune on Bass – CTA by Jimmy Heath with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 13 April 2021
If you follow my Bass Practice Diary videos regularly you already know that I love to play jazz tunes on bass guitar. A few weeks ago I featured the tune for Freedom Jazz Dance. In that video I was playing a 6-string bass, but I want to show that you can do this on any bass, you don’t necessarily need 6-strings or 24 frets. This week I’m demonstrating the Jimmy Heath tune CTA on a Fender Precision with 20 frets.
CTA by Jimmy Heath
I first came across this tune on Chick Corea’s album Paint the World. It’s a jazz fusion album. The band on the album was called the Elektric Band II. The rhythm section was completely different to the original Elektric Band. It featured Gary Novak on drums, Mike Miller on guitar and Jimmy Earl on bass. However, it’s a really good album. I think it ranks up alongside anything that the more famous lineup of Dave Weckl, Frank Gambale and John Patitucci recorded. In fact I saw the classic lineup of the Elektric Band play two of the tunes from this album, CTA and Blue Miles when I saw them at the Barbican in London in 2004.
The Chick Corea version of CTA is very different from the original Jimmy Heath version. Jimmy Heath plays it in a bop style and he plays it with swung 1/8th notes. This is the opening melody from Jimmy Heath’s version.
Chick Corea gives the tune a straight funky fusion feel. And there is a long section at the end which is added. It’s like a tag on the end of the melody. The key has also been changed from Bb to C. Here is the tag tabbed for 6-string bass.
How do you learn jazz improvisation?
I honestly believe that learning jazz melodies is fundamental to learning how to improvise. It’s even more fundamental than transcribing solos. A good jazz improviser will use the melody in a solo. So, if you work out a solo without knowing the melody, then you’ve missed the most important piece of the puzzle.
I wanted to feature a melody played on a Fender Precision. Because when I started doing this, I was working jazz melodies out on a P style bass with 20 frets and 4-strings. I think a lot of bass players think that jazz melodies and improvisation is only for a certain type of bass player that plays extended range instruments, but that does not have to be the case.
The first jazz melody I ever learned on bass was Goodbye Pork Pie Hat by Charles Mingus. It was famously covered by Jeff Beck and Joni Mitchell. But I didn’t know that when I was 15 years old. I knew Mingus’ version from the album Ah Um and then I heard Marcus Miller play it on fretless bass. I remember playing the melody on my red Vester bass as a teenager.
After learning that melody, I then started learning plenty more jazz melodies on my 4-string bass. My first bop style tune was Tricotism by Oscar Pettiford/Ray Brown. And I remember learning the Charlie Parker tunes, Confirmation, Donna Lee & Anthropology on 4-string before I made the switch to 6-string at 19 years old. I still remember most of the fingerlings that I worked out for those tunes on 4-string.
If you’re interested in taking this idea further, there is a book called Charlie Parker for Bass. It features melodies and solos transcribed and tabbed for 4-string bass. It hadn’t been published when I was learning this stuff, but I know some of my students use it now. When I was learning these tunes I was learning them from a Real Book (treble clef version).
PRS Bass 4 – 1986 rare Paul Reed Smith bass guitar – the 29th ever made
I’m not a vintage guitar or bass collector. The oldest instrument I ever owned before this was my first ever bass. My parents bought that one for me in 1994. However, when I saw this 1986 PRS Bass 4 on sale in the UK at a price I could afford, I was intrigued. I’ve played a few PRS guitars in my life. I’ve always been impressed by them. I own an S2 Standard 24 which you can see in the video. It’s a really well made guitar. However, as a bass player I’ve always been curious to know if the legendary Paul Reed Smith had designed and built any basses that were as good as his guitars. It turns out he has!
Paul Reed Smith Bass Guitars
So, I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to try a PRS bass. But it’s not that easy to try one in the UK at the moment. PRS doesn’t make that many basses. The only bass model being manufactured in the US is the Grainger 4 and 5. They retail for over 3000 Euros in Europe. Getting one would also involve paying import duties in the UK as we are no longer part of the EU. That’s a bigger investment than I can afford.
Alternatively, there are a couple of PRS SE basses called the Kingfisher and the Kestrel. The SE basses retail for under £1000 in the UK. They are made for Paul Reed Smith under license by a company called Cor-Tek in Indonesia. I’ve played PRS SE guitars, and they’re great. But it’s not quite the same thing as playing one of the US made core instruments.
My Paul Reed Smith Bass IV
So, when this bass came up for sale, you can see why it seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up. I’m always slightly nervous about buying second hand. It’s hard to know if the seller has been less than forthcoming about the true condition of the instrument. So, I asked the seller to send me some extra photos. He was very obliging and sent me everything I requested. He told me he had owned the bass since 2002 and hardly played it at all. And that shows in the condition of the bass which is absolutely excellent for an instrument that is nearly 35 years old. It has some scratches and marks on the back, but the front is in excellent condition. It’s nearly the same age as me, but it’s definitely in better condition for it’s age.
Three Pickups on a Bass?
The design of the bass is what I think makes it so special. The pickups and the pickup configuration are excellent. Three single coil pickups, each with a very different tonal flavour. The way the pickups are spaced is very well thought out. The space has been maximised to ensure the maximum tonal variety between the three positions. I’ve played three pickup guitars where the pickups have been right next to each other. In those situations, the middle pickup doesn’t make enough tonal difference to be worth bothering with.
In the case of this bass, the spacing on the pickups ensures a significantly different character to the middle pickup. The neck pickup is a classic neck pickup with a woody jazz tone, the bridge pickup gives you classic mid range punch and the middle pickup give you a very usable classic single coil electric bass tone.
Then add to that two hum-cancelling positions made by combining the bridge pickup with either the middle or neck pickup. Suddenly you have a lot of different and very usable electric bass tones at your disposal, even before you engage the active circuitry. When you play the bass in passive mode, the active treble control seems to act as a very subtle passive tone control. When you engage the active controls, which completely changes the character of the sound, you suddenly realise that this bass is really capable of doing a lot of different things. The video I’ve made really only scratches the surface.
A Compact and Versatile Bass Design
This might be the most versatile bass design I’ve ever played. The compact body size and the two and two headstock make for a small bass with a long scale length which balances beautifully and plays as well as all PRS instruments seem to. I think it’s really a shame that this brilliant piece of design never caught on.
The only reason I can think of for why it didn’t is because after the 1980’s both guitarists and bass players seemed to stop looking for innovation in instrument design. It seems like everybody just wanted to go back to the classic bass designs. If it wasn’t a J or a P or a MusicMan Stingray (all Leo’s most famous designs) then no one seemed to be interested. I think it’s a shame. I have nothing against Leo Fender, but surely there is room for innovative designs in the bass world alongside his classics.
I’m very happy with my purchase. I didn’t buy this bass to hang it on the wall or put in a display case. I’m a player not a collector, I bought this bass to play it, and I will certainly do that. I suspect that this also might get more valuable as time goes by. But if it does, that’s just an added bonus.
This Exercise Might Drive You Crazy! Octave Shifting on Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 30 March 2021
This is an exercise I came up with during a lesson with one of my students. The student in question asked me if we could work on some octave displacement ideas. The idea being that you can start a line in one octave and shift into another octave somewhere in the line. It’s actually a very musical way to liven up your lines and bass fills. Here’s a simple example.
It’s essentially just a descending A major scale. It starts on the root note on the 14th fret of the 1st string and it descends to the fifth, E, on the 14th fret of the 2nd string. Then, instead of playing the 4th, D, on the 12th fret of the same string, you can play the open string and continue the scale one octave below. If you’re asking why? try using this as a bass fill on a tune in A major, or any of the modes of A major. It’s a simple way to make a scale sound like it’s not just a scale.
This exercise could drive you crazy
But that’s not the exercise that I’m sharing with you today. In the the lesson we asked the question, how can you practice thinking in two different octaves? And that’s when I came up with this exercise. I warn you, this is an exercise that messes with your head. It also leads to some big left-hand stretches. So it presents a technical challenge as well as a mental one.
The concept is simple. Take any scale in two octaves. Then play the scale, but shift octaves after every single note. So, you play the first note in the lower octave and the second in the higher octave. Then the third in the lower octave and the fourth in the higher etc. Here is the exercise written out both ascending and descending in the key of A on 4-string bass.
Here is an extended version of the same exercise written for 6-string bass. This time the key is Bb major.
Learn a Linley Marthe Bass Groove with TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 16th March 2021
Recently I was going through this concert on YouTube. It’s a trio led by the amazing jazz pianist Mario Canonge from Martinique featuring one of my favourite bass players, Linley Marthe. I’ve been watching the video and stopping at various points to transcribe some of the bass parts and I thought I’d share one of these parts with you. This little groove that I’ve worked out only happens once, very quickly.
He doesn’t play it repeatedly as I have in this video. You can find the moment that he plays it at 1 hour 39 minutes and 34 seconds. He plays it once, then he starts to play it again with a little variation before he goes elsewhere. There are so many great little moments like this in the concert. If I had the time I could probably spend a lot of hours going through this and practicing different parts.
There are a few things that you need to practice if you are going to get this groove right. First you need to get the triplet 16th note feel. Meaning that the notes written as 16th notes should be played with a shuffle feel. Then you need to look at the techniques that he uses to play the muted notes. As I mentioned in the video, he only plays three different notes in the groove, G, F & D. However, it’s the addition of all the muted notes that really brings the groove to life. The muted notes are played with a combination of raking the strings with your right hand index and middle fingers, and a percussive tap with the left hand. You can watch the video for my specific breakdown of these parts.
The fact that the groove contains relatively few different notes makes it potentially very versatile. Clearly the root note is G, but you could use this under a G7 chord, a G minor 7 chord or even some kind of G sus chord.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen Linley Marthe perform live with Joe Zawinul. Zawinul was known to have impeccable taste in bass players. If you look back through his career, both with Weather Report and the Zawinul Syndicate, he seemed to always have his finger on the pulse of who was the next great young bass player to be coming through.
I vaguely remember before the gig hoping to recognise one of the famous Zawinul bass players that I knew. Richard Bona or Victor Bailey for example. I think I was slightly disappointed when someone I didn’t recognise came on stage. However, my brief disappointment was very quickly turned into amazement as the young bass player from Mauritius proceeded to absolutely blow me away.
Since that concert, I’ve seen him live a couple more times. Once in a duo with the drum legend Paco Sery and once in a band called Ozmosys featuring Omar Hakim, Rachel Z and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Each time I see him, he amazes me with the scale and breadth of his musicianship. He is incredibly inventive with his technique. He seems to have a hundred different ways of striking the strings with his right hand, each one creating a different sound. And it’s not just his techniques that make him brilliant. His timing and groove are just incredible, and if you listen to the concert linked at the top you will hear that he has an incredible ear for harmony, melody, improvisation and the jazz language as well.
I’m trying to find ways to feature the bass players that inspire me in my videos. And for me, Linley Marthe is right up there as one of the greatest bass players of all time.