Michael Brecker Jazz Solo Transcription on 6 String Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th September 2019
This week I’m playing a transcription of part of Michael Brecker’s solo on Charlie Parker’s Confirmation from Chick Corea’s Three Quartet’s album. If you saw my video last week, you’ll know that I picked out one lick from this solo already. Because I felt it fitted nicely onto a four string bass. But I actually worked out the transcription on 6 string bass. That’s what I usually do with jazz transcriptions. So, this week I thought I’d feature the solo, or at least as much of it as I’ve transcribed so far, on my fretless 6 string bass.
The Solo Transcription with Bass TAB
This isn’t the complete solo, it’s just the first chorus plus a couple of bars. And I’ve played the transcription one octave below where Michael Brecker plays it. Just because I think it sounds and fits better on a bass guitar in this register. I have seen other transcriptions of this solo but they’re all written in treble clef and in the key of G major for Bb tenor saxophone. As far as I’m aware, mine is the only bass clef transcription in the concert pitch key of F major.
The backing track that I’ve used in the video is not one of my own. If you follow my videos regularly, you’ll know that I often make my own backing tracks. But this was just a convenient backing track of Confirmation that I found. The feel is slightly different to the feel of Chick Corea and Michael Brecker’s original. So I’ve played the feel to fit in with the backing track.
Rhythm Changes (Oleo) with Tim Pettingale – Bass Practice Diary – 27th August 2019
I’ve written before about the importance of practicing with other musicians. And it was an absolute pleasure this week to welcome jazz guitarist Tim Pettingale to my studio in East London. Tim’s latest book, which I’ve been reading recently, is called Rhythm Changes for Jazz Guitar. So it seemed like a great opportunity to ask Tim to put me through my paces on a Rhythm Changes tune. We choose Sonny Rollins’ tune Oleo, because Tim refers to it in his book.
What is Rhythm Changes?
Rhythm Changes is a 32 bar chord progression which is loosely based on Gershwin’s tune I’ve Got Rhythm. Many famous jazz tunes have been written on the Rhythm Changes. And it’s the second most commonly used progression in jazz after the 12 bar blues. However, just like the blues progression, there are hundreds of variations that you can play for Rhythm Changes. And you rarely hear it played exactly the same way twice. Tim’s book features explanation and solo examples for many of these variations.
In the video, we’ve tried to feature a few cool variations and chord substitutions from the book in our very short rendition of Oleo. I’ll try and explain them very briefly here.
Rhythm Changes chord theory
Rhythm Changes has an AABA structure. Each A and B section is eight bars long. For the first two A sections we played Sonny Rollins’ melody. Then Tim’s solo started on the middle 8, which is the B section. We used the standard Rhythm Changes middle 8, which is four dominant 7th chords each played for two bars, D7 – G7 – C7 – F7.
The A section usually starts with a I-VI-II-V chord progression in Bb major. The VI chord is often played as G7 rather than Gm7. Having played the I-VI-II-V twice, we then played a cycle of II-V’s starting in Eb major. And then going through the keys Db major and C major before resolving back into Bb major. So bars 5-8 of the A section, as we played it, went like this, Fm7 – Bb7 – Ebm7 – Ab7 – Dm7 – G7 – Cm7 – F7 with two beats on each chord.
The next A section took us back to the start of the AABA form. And we started to introduce some chord substitutions. Instead of the usual I-VI-II-V’s, we played Dm7 – Db7b5 – Cm7 – B7b5. It’s a clever substitution for a I-VI-II-V because it creates a root movement descending in semi-tones. The Dm7 is chord III in Bb major. Chord III is a common substitution for Chord I because the notes in a Dm7 chord are the same as the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th of a Bbmaj9 chord. The Db7b5 is a tritone substitution for the G7 (chord VI) and the B7b5 is a tritone substitution for the F7 (chord V). The Cm7 is chord II and it’s the only one of the four chords that isn’t substituted.
We played one more A section, during which we played more or less the standard changes. And then we went into another B section. This time we played tritone substitutions on the D7 and C7 chords. So the progression as we played it was Ab7 – G7 – Gb7 – F7.
All of these substitutions and many others are featured in Tim’s book. I would highly recommend it for anyone who plays guitar and wants to learn about jazz. Tim is the author of Jazz Bebop Blues Guitar as well as the Rhythm Changes book. His books are great, because they don’t assume any prior knowledge of jazz. So they very clearly explain the fundamental principles before going on to deliver simple guides to playing and improvising. All his books have an informal and easy to read style. And they contain multiple short examples written in standard notation and guitar TAB, all with accompanying audio Mp3’s.
During Tim’s visit we also shot another video of one of Tim’s original compositions, which was a jazz waltz. Keep checking both mine and Tim’s social media because we’ll be posting that video in the next few weeks.
16th Note Jazz Lines on 6 String Bass with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 13th August 2019
This week I’ve written out some 1/16th note jazz lines on a II-V-I chord progression in C major. If you’ve read my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove, then you’ll know that I love to practise subdivisions. In fact, I believe it’s probably the most important thing that every bass player should practice. And this week I’ve been working on a tricky little subdivisions exercise. Playing 1/16th notes on a jazz swing feel!
Why is it hard to play 16th notes on a swing feel?
A 1/16th note feel can be described as a straight feel. Straight, in this case means anything with a subdivision that is divisible by two. 1/8th notes, 1/16th notes etc. But a swing feel is a triplet feel. Meaning the subdivision is three not two. So playing 1/16th notes over a triplet (swing) feel requires playing a different subdivision to the rest of the band. And that requires really good time keeping discipline.
You’ll also notice that the 1/16th notes feel fast, even on a quite moderate tempo swing feel. So there are technical challenges in playing these lines accurately. As well as the challenge of getting the timing right. Here are the lines that I wrote out for the video. If you try playing these, I would recommend counting the 1/16th notes using the Konnakol syllables Ta-Ka-Di-Mi as I did in the video.
If you’d like to learn more about practicing subdivisions on bass guitar then check out my book or you can watch this short video!
Diminished Scale Exercise for Jazz Lines – Bass Practice Diary – 6th August 2019
Recently I’ve been practicing lots of symmetrical exercises. And this week I’ve featured a diminished scale exercise that I came up with this week. A few weeks ago I featured an exercise that involved harmonising the whole tone scale into augmented triads. A symmetrical exercise can be anything with a limited number of transpositions. In practice that usually means using patterns of repeating intervals. They have a vey unique sound that you won’t achieve just by using major and minor scales and their modes.
The Diminished Scale in Jazz
I’ve spoken a bit in the past about the diminished scale in jazz. The diminished scale is probably the most versatile symmetrical scale. The most obvious time to use it would be over a diminished chord, but that isn’t the most common place it gets used in jazz. The most common use of diminished scales in jazz is on dominant 7th chords. And I’ve used dominant 7th chords as the backing for the exercise in the video. The chords go around in a cycle of 5ths like the middle 8 section of the Rhythm Changes chord progression (D7, G7, C7, F7).
Let me explain how and why diminished scales work on dominant chords. I’ll use C7 as an example and I’m going to start my scale on the root note C. The first intervals in the scale will be a semi-tone and then a tone. So, the first three notes are C(root), Db(b9) and D#(#9). These same intervals will then repeat through the octave creating a scale with eight notes in it, C-Db-D#-E-F#-G-A-Bb.
The interval pattern this creates is an interesting mix of inside and outside notes when played on a C7 chord. The b9 and #9 are both outside notes, and both common alterations on dominant 7th chords. The C, E, G and Bb are the chord tones, root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. And the A is the 13th, which is a chord extension but an inside note. The F# is a #11th, which is another common altered chord extension.
The Diminished Scale Exercise
The exercise I came up with in the video is just an idea to help you improvise lines using the diminished scale. It’s slightly different ascending and descending as I referred to in the video. Here is the exercise as I played it in the video.
How to Practice Playing on Difficult Jazz Chord Progressions – Bass Practice Diary – 23rd July 2019
Last week I was practicing Herbie Hancock’s classic composition Dolphin Dance. Which features a unique and quite complicated set of chord changes to improvise on. So, this week I wanted to share my approach to practising playing on tricky jazz chord progressions like this one.
A good starting point for practicing anything difficult is always to start slowly and practice in short sections. And that’s particularly true in this case. Dolphin Dance has quite a long form for a jazz standard. Anything over 32 Bars is unusual. But even a 32 bar standard would usually have repeated sections. Dolphin Dance has hardly any repetition within the harmonic structure, so it does feel like a lot to learn.
How I Use Backing Tracks
When I break a standard down into sections, I will usually practice in 4-8 bar sections. Generally I will create my own backing tracks, either using a loop pedal or by recording piano chords in to Protools. These backing tracks can be very basic. They only need to be good enough to keep the form and the structure. The advantage of creating my own backing tracks is that I can set the exact harmony and tempo that I want to practice. There may be apps that now exist that can do this for you, but I will always prefer to do it myself.
The problem with most commercially available backing tracks is that they usually only feature the entire form played at one tempo. Which makes it harder to practice slowly and in short sections. I do use commercial backing tracks and backing tracks from the internet. But with a tricky tune like Dolphin Dance, I’ll only uses them when I feel ready to take on the entire form after practising with my own backing tracks first.
Write Out Examples
When I’m practising in short sections, I will particularly focus on the most tricky sections of the harmony. In the video I’ve picked out one of the more unusual harmonic sections of Dolphin Dance. The section begins with an Eb7 chord before immediately changing key into G major with a II – V. Then it goes to a Bm7 chord, which could be chord III in G major but that’s followed by an E7 chord so that implies a II – V in A major. But the E7 is followed by Dm7 which doesn’t belong in either G or A major and that’s followed by C#m7 which is chord II in B major.
So, the harmony is jumping around which will keep you on your toes when you’re improvising. I think if you’re going to learn how to improvise melodically on a progression like this, then it really helps to write some ideas down. I usually do this by trying to come up with a melody or rhythmic phrase that I can hear in my head, and then trying to see if I can make that melody fit through the harmony. This might involve making chromatic adjustments to help the phrase fit in with the harmony.
In the video I featured three examples, and here they are.
Augmented & Whole Tone Symmetrical Jazz Bass Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 9th July 2019
This week I’ve been practising symmetrical jazz bass exercises. Symmetrical means anything that uses the same repeating intervals over and over. For example diminished chords are symmetrical because they use only intervals of a minor 3rd. And in this video I’m using augmented triads (major 3rds) and the whole tone scale (major 2nds).
Why practice symmetrical exercises?
I was first turned onto the idea of practicing symmetrical exercises years ago when I first ready Ray Brown’s Bass Method. For those of you who don’t know, Ray Brown was a pioneering jazz upright bass player. And he is famed as an innovator of using the upright bass for playing bop style bass solos. So his book gives a great insight into how he thinks.
But he doesn’t use a lot of words, it’s mostly just exercises and there are many of them. There are pages and pages of symmetrical exercises and all he tells us is that we should practice them alongside scales because they’re extremely useful for playing jazz vocabulary. But he doesn’t explain why, and it took me a while to fully appreciate just how useful these exercises are.
First of all, the fact that these exercises are symmetrical means that they work over a number of different chords, not just one. In the video I’m using dominant 7th chords as an example. If you use an exercise to harmonise a dominant 7th chord. And every interval in the exercise is the same. Then logically you can use the same exercise to harmonise different dominant 7th chords starting with a root note on every single note in the exercise.
The augmented/whole tone exercise
The exercise in the video is built around the whole tone scale starting and finishing on C. It has six notes in it, C, D, E, F#, Ab and Bb. And the six notes are harmonised into two augmented triads, C, E & Ab and D, F# & Bb. These notes can be used to harmonise the following dominant 7th chords. C7, D7, E7, F#7/Gb7, G#7/Ab7 and A#7/Bb7. The scale will create the intervals root, 9th, maj 3rd, #11th, b13th and dominant 7th. Three chord tones (R, 3rd, 7th), one unaltered extension (9th) and two altered extensions (#11, b13).
Triads Exercise on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 11th June 2019
This is a triads exercise that I’ve adapted onto bass guitar from something that I saw the guitarist Pat Metheny play. The original version of the exercise came from this video.
He doesn’t start playing the triads until about 3 minutes into the video. And it isn’t clear if he’s improvising or playing an exercise that he’s previously practiced. But I thought it sounded great and it looked like a great way to practice triads and their inversions. So I adapted a short section of what he played onto my six string bass and I’ve turned it into an exercise.
Triads and their inversions
A triad is a three note chord. The obvious way to arrange a triad in root position is root, third, fifth. Then you can play two inversions, third, fifth, root and fifth, root, third.
But that’s not necessarily the best way to play them on fretted instruments like guitars and basses. In this exercise, when Metheny plays a root position triad, he skips the third and goes straight to the fifth. Then he plays the third up an octave, a tenth above the root note. So using this arrangement, the three inversions of the triads are root, fifth, third. Then third, root, fifth and finally fifth, third, root.
Below is an Ab major triad and a Bb minor triad arranged in this way on four string bass.
There are two other common types of triad, diminished and augmented. These are actually much simpler to play because they’re symmetrical. Meaning that they use the same interval over and over. Diminished arpeggios divide the octave up into four minor third intervals and augmented arpeggios divide the octave into three major third intervals. Which is why there are four inversions of the diminished triad below but only three of the augmented triad.
This is the exercise. It mostly uses the major triads and the inversions. But there are a few minor and diminished triads. There are no augmented triads in this exercise. I’ve written the chords on top to help you keep track of which chord you’re playing.
Single String Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 4th June 2019
In this week’s video I’m talking about single string exercises. When I practice scales, I don’t really think of them as scales. I think of it as learning harmony. You can relate everything to do with harmony back to scales. And whatever harmonic exercise I’m working on, my goal is always to be able to play it in every position on the fretboard.
Why practice on just one string?
If you’re going to learn to use the entire fretboard then you need to practice by breaking it up into sections. You could do this by taking a modal approach and learning the scale in every position. Or you could take a single string approach by learning all the notes on just one string at a time. The big advantages of the single string approach are that it forces you to think about the notes rather than patterns on the fretboard. And it helps you to practice making the position shifts necessary.
When you’re working out a harmony on a single string you need to think about your left hand fingering. Below is a G major scale played on the first string. I’ve included my fingerings for reference.
Every bass is different, so I would recommend practicing these exercises on the usable range of your instrument. If the upper frets are hard to access then just play up to the point where it stops being comfortable to play.
Then repeat these exercises on every string. Here is the G major scale played on the second string.
A word about sight reading
Learning harmony in this way is extremely important if you want to improve your sight reading. I think that many bass players who struggle to sight read miss the importance of learning scales all over the fretboard.
Key signatures are extremely important in written music. They tell us the parent scale that we use to read it. If the key signature has one # (sharp), then the parent scale is G major. So, to read the written music successfully you need to be able to visualise the scale on the neck of your bass. Learning the scale in just one position will almost certainly not be enough, unless it’s a very simple piece of music.
I think that one of the best ways to improve as a musician is to work out passages played by great musicians. I often use transcriptions and books written by other people, which are useful tools to use. But I feel that I learn the most when I work it out for myself.
Use open strings to make position shifts
The next challenge, after you’ve worked out a piece of music, is to see what you can take from it and incorporate into your own playing. And the thing that struck me most about Tom Kennedy’s blues solo was the way he was organising his left hand and his use of the open strings.
Can I take some of that and apply it to my own playing? In order to find out, I started writing out jazz lines for my fretless bass that use open strings and position shifts in the way that I’ve seen Tom Kennedy do it.
The theory behind it, is that if you play an open string before you shift position, then that gives you a little bit of extra time to make the shift. And it also gives you a reference note to help you hear if your position shift is accurately in tune. Which is extremely important on fretless bass. It’s a technique that I believe Tom Kennedy has adapted from playing upright bass. But he applies it onto fretted electric bass and he plays jazz lines at ferocious speed.
The fretless jazz lines
My fretless bass is a 6 string. I don’t have another fretless bass because I sold my four string fretless when I bought my 6 string. However, I usually write my TAB’s out for 4 string so that all bass players can use them. So, these three examples are all written for 4 string bass. Even though they’re played on 6 string in the video.
The first one that I played, at the start of the video, is written on the middle eight section of Rhythm Changes. It’s the second most popular chord progression in jazz after Blues changes.
The next line that I shared in the video is meant to be played over the first four bars of Stella By Starlight.
And the final example is over the changes for the first four bars of John Coltrane’s classic composition Moment’s Notice.
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.
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.