Category Archives: Bass Blog

Chord Tones in Jazz Solos – Bass Practice Diary 101

Chord Tones in Jazz Solos – Bass Practice Diary – 31st March 2020

When you’re playing a jazz solo, is it better to think about scales or chord tones (arpeggios)? I’ve heard musicians having that kind of debate before, but I’m presenting it here as a bit of a trick question. Because the chord tones exist within the scales so why would you think of them as being two separate things. I think it really helps if you focus on chord tones in jazz solos. You could think of your improvised lines as being lines that connect the chord tones.

Connecting Chord Tones

Chord tones are probably the strongest notes that you can use in a melody. But if you play melodic lines that only use chord tones, they can sound boring and formulaic. So I try to find ways of showcasing the chord tones in my solos by placing them in key places, like at the start and end of phrases. Scales are a great way of connecting up chord tones, so my advice is to always know where the chord tones are, even when you’re using scales.

I’ve featured the altered scale before in my Bass Practice Diary. It’s a great way of creating an outside sound on dominant 7th chords. It works because it features the three strongest chord tones in a dominant 7th chord, the root, 3rd and 7th. But the other four notes in the scale are outside notes or altered notes, b9, #9, b5 and b13. If you feature those altered notes too heavily it can sound very uncomfortable. But if you use them as notes to connect up the three chord tones it can create some really cool tension and release.

So, to take advantage of that, you need to know where the chord tones are. Here’s a C altered scale with the root, 3rd and 7th marked.

C altered scale with C7 chord tones
C altered scale with C7 chord tones

Here are some simple lines I came up with that connect chord tones on a C7 chord. This one starts and finishes on the root.

C7 altered lick – Root to Root

This is the same lick finishing on the 7th.

C7 altered lick – Root to 7th

Here’s one that starts on the root and finishes on the 3rd.

C7 altered lick – Root to 3rd

Free Bass Lesson One to one With me Online!

Online Bass Guitar Lesson

I’m offering a free 30 minute bass lesson via Skype for anyone who would like to have a one to one lesson with me. If you’ve ever considered having online music lessons, this is a great way to try it out without having to commit to anything. I can tailor a lesson to your specific needs regardless of your level or previous experience of playing the bass. Send me a message here and we can arrange the lesson.

During these difficult times, in the midst of COVID-19, I like many others have had most of my income sources taken away from me. As a self employed musician, I can’t do any gigs or teach any lessons face to face. Therefore I’m moving my entire teaching business online and I’d love to hear from anyone who is looking to embrace music during the isolation that most of us will experience this year.

Music is such a massive part of my life that I can’t imagine being stuck at home without the ability to play my basses. I can’t think of a better way to spend these difficult weeks and months than by working on music and improving your bass skills! So contact me for your free bass lesson.

Bass Practice Diary

As most of you already know, I’ve been releasing weekly Bass Practice Diary videos for the last 2 years. The idea is that each video highlights a different idea that I’ve been practicing. Last week was my 100th Bass Practice Diary video. It featured some of my best tips for how to improve your bass practice time. You can watch it by clicking the link below. Bass Practice Diary will be back as normal next week!

Bass Practice Diary 100: Five Tips for Better Bass Practice!

Free Bass Lesson
Free Bass Lesson

5 Tips for Better Bass Practice – Bass Practice Diary 100

5 Tips for Better Bass Practice – Bass Practice Diary – 17th March 2020

To celebrate my 100th Bass Practice Diary video I’m sharing 5 tips for better bass practice. All of my videos up until now have dealt with ideas that you can practice, or gear advice and suggestions, or performances of things I’ve been practicing. However, I’ve never dealt with the most fundamental aspect of practice, how you should be practicing. I think lots of musicians have misguided ideas of what practice should be, I know that I did for a long time. So, I made this video to try and share with you some of the conclusions that I’ve come to about how to make the most out of your practice time.

Tip 1 – Make Your Practice Easy Not Hard

One of the mistakes I made, and I see a lot of my students doing the same thing, is to think that practice should be about pushing yourself to play difficult things that you can’t already play. It’s not bad to want to play difficult things. But you’ll achieve your targets much quicker if you start by practicing things you can already do. Then you can gradually make them harder in an incremental way.

I can remember repeatedly driving myself to the point of frustration as a teenager by practicing things over and over and still not getting them right. Now that never happens, because when I’m trying to learn something difficult, I start by breaking it down into simple easy exercises which I then gradually build up to the full thing that I’m trying to learn. If at any point I get stuck, I change what I’m practicing by making it easier. Easier could mean slower or breaking it down into smaller chunks.

I would also recommend practicing in time, either with a slow drum beat or metronome. It has the double benefit of helping you keep in time, but it also stops you from practicing something faster than you can manage.

Tip 2 – Try to Get as Much Variety as Possible

Another mistake that I made as a kid was practicing the same things over and over again until I became bored and frustrated. And while this approach can yield results, it’s not the best way to become a rounded musician, or to find enjoyment in playing music. I started my Bass Practice Diary to show that there are so many different things to practice. You shouldn’t ever be in the situation where you sit down with a musical instrument and think, “I don’t know what to practice”.

There are so many different things that you could be practicing that the problem should be, “I don’t know how to decide what to practice because there’s so much”.

The answer to that problem is to set yourself longer term goals, and then come up with exercises that will help you achieve those goals over time. Then don’t practice any one exercise for too long. Practice each exercise for a couple of minutes each and then keep coming back to them and changing them and building on what you’ve already done. Repetition is important, but you don’t need to do all your repetitions in one practice, you can spread them over weeks and months.

Tip 3 – Play for Fun

This one may seem obvious, because it’s something that we all do. But I’ve noticed that sometimes my students are apologetic about doing it. It’s like they think that all practice should be about practicing scales or learning repertoire or absorbing complex harmonic ideas. There’s only so much information a human brain can take in in one go. If you keep trying to learn new stuff for hours and hours you won’t retain most of what you’re practicing.

A lot of the time when I’m playing my bass at home, I’m just playing for the shear love of playing music. I’m not setting myself any targets or exercises, I’m just playing because I enjoy doing it. And if that wasn’t the case, I just don’t think I’d be a musician. And that leads me neatly on to my next tip which is…

Tip 4 – Play Your Instrument Every Day

If you make a habit out of playing your instrument every day you will almost certainly get good at it. I’ve never made a conscious decision to play every day, but I know that on the very rare days when I don’t play a bass, I feel like something is missing. It’s almost impossible to not be good at something that you do every day. My advice is to pick up your instrument every day, even if it’s only for a really short time and even if it feels like it hasn’t achieved anything.

Tip 5 – Love Music and Listen to Music

This may seem obvious, but it always amazes me how many people seem to miss this. I regularly ask my students “what have you been listening to this week?” Honestly, for me that’s a more important question than “what have you been practicing this week?”

It’s amazing how often it turns out that people haven’t consciously listened to any music all week. In this day and age, it’s normal for musicians to practice and to watch Youtube videos about our instruments, but we don’t always make time to listen to the music we love.

Loving music means listening to music and I firmly believe that you learn as much (if not more) from listening to music as you do from playing your instrument. So my fifth, but most important tip, is to make time to listen to music, really listen to it, don’t just have it on while you’re doing something else.

Nothing inspires me to make music more than listening to music. And I know that everyone has busy lives, but if you’re planning to do an hour bass practice tomorrow, I would suggest spending 30 minutes listening and 30 minutes playing. It doesn’t necessarily matter what music you listen to, but I would point you back to Tip 2 and suggest that variety is equally important in the music you listen to as well as in your practice time.

Bass Practice Diary

My very first Bass Practice Diary video was released on 24th April 2018 and you can watch it here.

You can check out Simon Peter King here!

Extended Arpeggios on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 98

Extended Arpeggios on 6-String Bass with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd March 2020

Extended arpeggios are a great way to practice harmony on 6-string bass. All chords and arpeggios derive from scales, and an extended arpeggio is a brilliant way to present the sound of a scale or mode, without it sounding like you’re playing a scale. For that reason, they work brilliantly in solos.

How to work out an extended arpeggio

The extended arpeggio ideas that I’m using in the video are actually much easier to work out than they sound. You can work them out by taking a scale, in this case the C major scale, because I’m using a II-V-I chord progression in C major. And when you have your scale, you can play the extended arpeggios using alternate notes in the scale. There are seven notes in most major and minor scales, so when you’ve played seven consecutive alternate notes, you’ve played every note from the scale as an arpeggio.

Here’s how it works. The notes of a C major scale are C, D, E, F, G, A & B. Imagine you’re playing a two octave scale so each note happens twice, giving you fourteen notes across the two octaves. Take the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th notes of that two octave scale. These are notes C, E, G, B, D, F & A, which is your C major extended arpeggio.

NB. Jazz musicians often play a #11, in this case F# on a major 7th extended arpeggio.

Next you could take the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, 12th & 14th notes of the two octave scale. This will give you a D minor 7th extended arpeggio. This is the arpeggio I featured in the video.

Arpeggios with a chord substitution

Here is the full example that I featured in the video.

Extended Arpeggios on 6-String Bass
Extended Arpeggios on 6-String Bass

I’ve explained how I created the extended arpeggios for the Dm7 and Cmaj7 chords. So, how did I create the arpeggio that I played on the G7 chord? I could have done it using all the notes of a C major scale. But I felt that would sound boring if all three arpeggios used the same set of notes.

Instead, I used the notes of a common chord substitution, the tritone substitution. It’s a harmonic device that jazz musicians love to use on dominant 7th chords. In this case, for the G7 chord, I’ve used an arpeggio for a chord with a root note that is three tones (a tritone) away from G, which is Db7. It works because the 3rd of the G chord, B, is the 7th of the Db chord. And the 3rd of the Db chord, F, is the 7th of the G chord.

So, I harmonised my extended Db7 arpeggio using notes from Gb major. Db7 is chord five in the key of Gb major. This creates a lot of dissonances, some notes in Gb major work in the key of C major, but also some sound quite dissonant. But that’s the point, jazz musicians love to create tension by using dissonances on a V chord before resolving them on the I chord.

Triad Pairs – Part 3 – Triad Pairs & Hexatonic Scales – Bass Practice Diary 96

Triad Pairs – Part 3 – Triad Pairs & Hexatonic Scales on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 18th February 2020

This week I’m exploring the connection between triad pairs and hexatonic scales. My two previous Triad Pairs videos have featured major triad pairs on 4-string bass. This week I’m opening it up to include all types of triads. And I’ve switched onto my 6-string bass because I would most commonly use these kind of ideas on my 6-string.

What are hexatonic scales?

Hexatonic scales are simply scales that have six different notes. The term hexatonic doesn’t get used that often, except in the context of quite advanced jazz improvisation. But hexatonic scales are actually a lot more common than you might think. Probably the most obvious example of a commonly used hexatonic scale is the blues scale. Another common hexatonic scale is the whole tone scale.

Hexatonic scales
Whole Tone Scale – Starting on C

The C whole tone scale above is comprised of the notes of a C augmented triad and a D augmented triad.

C and D Augmented Triad Pair

Minor triad pairs

Having explored major triad pairs in my first two videos, the next most obvious triad pair would be two minor triads separated by a whole tone (2 frets). You can think of these as chords II and III in a major key. For example these two triads, Dm and Em, can be used to play lines in the key of C major.

D and E minor Triad Pair

You can also find two minor triads a tone apart in the melodic minor scale. The altered scale is a mode of the melodic minor scale. I demonstrated in the video how you can create an altered scale sound on a C7 chord by using Db minor and Eb minor triads.

Db and Eb minor Triad Pair

Combining different types of triads

The idea of triad pairs, as I’ve mentioned previously, is to find two different triads that give you six different notes. Those two triads don’t have to be the same type of triad. In this next example, I’m playing an E augmented triad and a G major triad. This triad pair also creates an altered scale/melodic minor sound.

E augmented and Gb major Triad Pair

The Augmented Scale

Another hexatonic scale created by combining two augmented triads is the augmented scale.

Hexatonic Scale
Augmented Scale – Starting on C

The augmented scale is comprised of the notes of two augmented triads a semitone apart. In this case, C augmented and B augmented.

C and B augmented Triad Pair

These examples only scratch the surface of everything that you can do with triad pairs. Any time you can find two triads that give you six different notes, you have a triad pair. And those six notes can be played as a hexatonic scale. Practice my examples and see if you can find some more of your own.

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios in C major – Bass Practice Diary 95

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios in C major – Bass Practice Diary – 11th February 2020

In this video I’m playing all the diatonic 7th arpeggios in the key of C major on my 6-string bass. Exercises like this are ideal for learning how to play in any key, in any position on the fretboard. C major is the easiest key to demonstrate this in, because it has no sharps or flats. However, once you can do this in C major, it’s easy to transpose into other keys. And you should practice it in different keys.

What are diatonic 7th arpeggios?

Diatonic 7th arpeggios is just a fancy name for a simple idea. 7th chords are chords with four notes, root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. Diatonic 7th chords, just means all of the 7th chords you find in a particular key, like C major in this example. And these arpeggios are just those chords played one note at a time.

Chord I in the key of C major is Cmaj7, which includes the notes C (root), E (3rd), G (5th) and B (7th). You build these arpeggios by taking alternate notes of the C major scale, 1, 3, 5 & 7. Chord II is formed by taking the 2nd (D), 4th (F), 6th (A) and 8th (C) notes of the C major scale. These four notes create a Dm7 chord, and the pattern carries on for the remaining 5 chords in the key of C major, which are Em7, Fmaj7, G7, Am7 & Bm7b5.

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

I’ve arranged the arpeggios with the 7th as the first note, rather than the root. I’m only doing this because I like the way it sounds. And there’s no rule that says you must always play arpeggios starting on the root note.

Find my guide to playing minor scales on bass guitar in this video.

Triad Pairs – Part 2 – Using Major Triads to Improvise – Bass Practice Diary 93

Triad Pairs – Part 2 – Major Triads and How to Improvise on Chord Changes – Bass Practice Diary – 28th January 2020

A few weeks ago I introduced the idea of using Triad Pairs to make bass lines. This week I’m going to take that idea a step further by showing you how you can use pairs of major triads to improvise on chord changes. The idea with triad pairs, is to find two triads that have no notes in common, so you have six different notes. You can then use those notes to create exercises, melodies, bass lines or hexatonic scales (six note scales).

I remember when I first heard about the idea of triad pairs, it seemed to me at the time like the idea would have limited use. But when I got into it, I realised that the potential and the scope of triad pairs for creating interesting lines and harmonies, is absolutely massive.

Major triad pairs

There’s only three different ways that you can arrange two major triads and get six different notes. You can take two triads that are a semi-tone apart, a tone apart or a tritone apart. That doesn’t seem like many different options, but in a way, that’s part of the brilliance of triad pairs. You only need to practice those three simple ideas, and you suddenly have access to a massive amount of potential harmonic and melodic ideas.

Here’s an exercise for playing major triad pairs a semi-tone apart.

C and Db Major Triads – A semi-tone apart

This next one is a similar exercise for playing triad pairs a tone apart.

C and D Major Triads - A tone apart
C and D Major Triads – A tone apart

Here’s an exercise for playing triad pairs a tritone apart.

C and Gb Major Triads - A tritone apart
C and Gb Major Triads – A tritone apart

How to use major triad pairs for improvisation

Of the three exercises above, the least versatile is the triads separated by a semi-tone. That’s not to say that they don’t sound great. Two major triads separated by a semi-tone creates a phrygian dominant sound that instantly makes me think of Spanish music and Flamenco guitar. It’s a great sound, but it’s quite rare to find opportunities to use it in jazz.

One of the main reasons why I choose Chick Corea’s Spain as the template for these examples, is because the F#7 chord which immediately follows the opening G major chord, is a perfect example of how you can use the phrygian dominant sound to maximum effect.

Here’s a sample line using an F# and a G major triad.

F#7 Chord – phrygian dominant sound

By contrast, the most versatile, but arguably less interesting sounding, is to play two major triads a tone apart. The versatility rises from the fact that there are two major triads a tone apart in the major scale (chords IV and V) and in the melodic minor scale. So, you can conjure the sound of not only both of those scales but also all of their modes, including dorian, lydian, lydian dominant and altered scale, just by using two major triads a tone apart.

The example that I used in the video, was using Eb and F major triads on the chord V, A7 chord. Which is creating the sound of the altered scale.

A7 Chord – Altered Scale Sound

Then on chord I, D major, I dropped both of those triads by a semi-tone (one fret down). And the D and E major triads created a lydian sound on the D major chord.

Dmaj7 Chord – Lydian Sound

Altered dominant sounds

Two major triads separated by a tritone creates a kind of altered dominant sound. It’s not quite the same as using the altered scale, but what it gives you is two very different sounding triads. A and Eb major triads could be used to play on an A7 chord, as I demonstrated with the A7 in Spain. However, you could also use those same triads to play on an Eb7 chord.

A7 or Eb7 chord - A and Eb major triads
A7 or Eb7 chord – A and Eb major triads

What you get is one triad that is the root, 3rd and 5th of the chord. Those are the most obvious inside notes that you can play on any chord. While the other triad functions as 7th, b9th and #11th. Which is one chord tone and two altered extensions or outside notes. You can use this strange juxtaposition of inside and outside sounds to create some really interesting jazz lines on a dominant 7th chord.

Minor Scales on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 92

Minor Scales – Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor, Natural Minor & Dorian – Bass Practice Diary – 21st January 2020

If I ask you to play a C minor scale, what do you play? Minor scales are not as simple as major scales. Most of us know what to play if someone asks us to play a C major scale, but minor scales are confusing. There are several different minor scales, and how do you know which one to play and when.

How many different minor scales are there?

If you’re going to understand minor scales, then it’s important to understand the difference between three different scales, melodic minor, harmonic minor and natural minor. Every scale is a sequence of intervals, and for each of these three scales the intervals are the same for the first five notes. It’s the 6th and 7th notes of the scales that contain the variations.

The terminology of minor scales confuses people for the simple reason that classical musicians treat minor scales differently from jazz musicians. To help explain this I’m going to start by looking at the natural minor and the melodic minor scales. I’ll use the key of A minor because it’s the simplest, it has no sharps or flats, so the natural minor scale contains the notes A, B, C, D, E, F & G.

Minor Scales - A Natural Minor
A natural minor scale

The A natural minor scale contains all of the same notes as a C major scale. That means that the natural minor scale is actually a mode of the major scale. It’s mode six, called Aeolian. Now, compare that to the melodic minor scale.

The melodic minor scale

Minor Scales - Melodic Minor
A melodic minor scale

The melodic minor scale has a raised 6th and 7th, meaning F# instead of F natural and G# instead of G natural. It’s important to understand that the melodic minor scale is not a mode of the major scale like the natural minor. It’s a parent scale and has seven modes of it’s own. You can check out my video about the modes of the melodic minor scale.

So, the natural minor scale is mode six of the major scale and the melodic minor is a scale with it’s own set of modes. So, not only do these scales sound different, they are also very different in their application. The natural minor scale implies a minor 7th chord functioning as chord VI in a major key, while the melodic minor implies a minor chord with a major 7th functioning as chord I in a minor key.

This becomes more confusing when you learn that classical music treats both these scales as one scale. The melodic minor is the ascending version of the scale, and the natural minor is the descending version of the scale. And together these are called the melodic minor. You can play it on the bass like this.

Minor Scales - Classical Melodic Minor
Classical Melodic Minor Scale

The harmonic minor scale

There is another minor scale, which, like the melodic minor, is a parent scale to seven of it’s own modes. It’s called the harmonic minor and it has a minor 6th and a major 7th. That means that in the key of A minor, the 6th will be an F natural and the 7th will be a G#.

Minor Scales - Harmonic minor
A harmonic minor scale

The harmonic minor scale can also imply chord I in a minor key.

The Dorian Mode

I’ve included a fourth scale in my video. The dorian scale is another mode of the major scale, mode number two. The reason I’ve included it is because it’s a much more common choice of scale for improvisers playing on minor 7th chords than the natural minor scale. However, you wouldn’t use an A dorian scale to play on chord I in the key of A minor. You would use it to play on an A minor 7th chord functioning as chord II in G major. It goes like this.

dorian
A dorian scale

The A dorian scale contains a major 6th F# and the minor 7th G natural.

Introduction to Triad Pairs on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 90

Introduction to Triad Pairs on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 7th January 2020

This week I want to introduce some basic triad pairs exercises. The basic concept of playing triad pairs on bass is that you take two triads (three note chords) that don’t have any notes in common. Meaning that you have six different notes. And then you use those triads to makes lines and exercises.

Why use triad pairs?

Triad pairs are now a really common concept in jazz improvisation. But it’s not only jazz musicians that use them. You can apply triad pairs to almost any genre of music. They work particularly well for improvisation, but you can also use them to write bass lines.

This week, I’m only going to introduce the most basic form of triad pairs. Which is when you take two major triads that are spaced a tone apart. The reason for spacing them a tone apart, is because the triads function like chords IV and V in a major key. So you can use these kind of lines in any major key by transposing the two triads to the notes of chords IV and V in the key.

The exercises

All of these exercises are played using the triads C major and D major. Which are chords IV and V in the key of G major. But that doesn’t mean that you can only use these in the key of G major. There are all kinds of interesting and creative applications of triad pairs which I’ll try and cover in my future videos.

There are three obvious ways to voice a triad (inversions). You can put the root at the bottom, the 3rd at the bottom or the 5th at the bottom. This first exercise demonstrates those three different inversions, which you need to learn really well if you’re going to get good at playing these exercises. Bar 1 uses the root position triads for both C and D and then bar 2 uses the 1st inversion and bar 3 uses the second inversion.

Triad Pairs - Exercise 1
Triad Pairs – Exercise 1

This next exercise uses a similar idea, but with triplets. So, you play three notes on each triad rather than four.

Triad Pairs - Exercise 2
Triad Pairs – Exercise 2

Finally, here is a pattern that plays four notes on C and then three on D.

Triad Pairs - Exercise 3
Triad Pairs – Exercise 3

The purpose of playing patterns like this one in exercise 3, is that it helps to make the exercise sound less like a pattern. If you’re playing triad pairs in an improvised solo, and you play three notes up and three notes down, like exercise 2. It will very quickly sound like you’re playing a repeating pattern. That’s ok if it’s the sound you want. But, if you want to make it sound less like a pattern, then a pattern with an odd number sequence (three then four) will create a less predictable feel when played as part of a solo.

PLAYING CHORDS ON THE BASS – PART 3 – TRIADS

I VI II V Chord Progressions – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary 87

I VI II V Chord Progressions on 6-string Bass – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 17th December 2019

This week I’m revisiting my introduction to I VI II V chord progressions on 6-string bass video. There are so many ways that you can alter and substitute chords in a I VI II V sequence. Jazz musicians will often alter and add to the progression so much, that it’s almost impossible to tell that it was ever a I-VI-II V progression in the first place.

Chord substitutions

There really aren’t any rules when it comes to substituting chords. There are certain standard substitutions that are very common, such as the tritone substitution, which I looked at in my last video. But, honestly, you can substitute any chord for any other one that you like the sound of. A lot of it depends on the musical context that you’re playing the substitution in, but also it comes down to opinion. What sounds interesting to some people, will sound odd to others.

This week I’m just going to take you through some familiar chord substitutions and additions to I VI II V’s. These examples go quite a bit further than the examples in my previous video. But, believe me, you can take these ideas much further out than this.

The I VI II V examples

I created this first example by taking the III-VI-II-V example from my previous video and turning all the chords into dominant 7th chords. I then applied tritone substitutions to the VI and II chords. Then I added whatever extensions and alterations that I liked the sound of.

III – VI – II – V – I chord progression with dominant 7th substitutions

Once you have four dominant 7th chords like this, you can come up with so many variations just by applying tritone substitutions.

My next example derives from the first example. I’ve simply turned the E7, Eb7 and G7 chords into II-V’s. Meaning that I’ve added minor 7th chords before each dominant 7th chord. Each minor 7th has a root note that is a 4th below (or a fifth above) the root note of the dominant 7th chord. I’ve altered the VI chord to make it a major 7th instead of a dominant 7th chord. This completes a II-V-I in the key of Ab major, which is a strange thing to find in a chord progression in C major, but it works!

I – VI – II – V progression with II – V substitutions