Inside/Outside Pentatonic Jazz Exercise for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 5th May 2020
This week I’m featuring a pentatonic jazz exercise that I came up with. Since I released my pentatonic jazz lick video a few weeks ago, I’ve been coming up with exercises to help me play these inside/outside pentatonic ideas all over my bass and in different keys. I’m featuring the exercise for two reasons. One is because it’s a useful exercise to practice, but the other, more important reason, is to help you come up with exercises of your own by sharing my process with you. This is how I came up with the exercise.
A minor pentatonic exercise
An idea for an exercise usually starts with something very simple, and then I find ways to make it progressively more challenging. In this case, I started with the notes of an A minor triad. Then I took those three notes through the notes of an A minor pentatonic scale by moving each note one scale step downwards on each repetition. Like this.
Then I changed the feel from triplets to 16th notes. That created a three against four polyrhythmic feel. The pattern is three notes but each beat had four subdivisions.
Then I added the II-V-I inside/outside idea from my last pentatonic video. If you think of the Am triad as being chord II in a II-V-I in G major, then you would play two beats on A minor. Then two beats on D7 before resolving onto the one chord, G major, in the second bar.
The three scales used are A minor pentatonic on the A minor chord. The outside scale is Bb minor pentatonic on the D7 chord. And the exercise resolves onto B minor pentatonic on the G major chord. Three pentatonic scales separated by a semi-tone. Two of the scales contain entirely inside notes in the key of G and the other contains entirely outside notes.
Can a Cheap Bass Sound Great by Adding a Good Pickup (Fender Custom ’62 P Bass Pickup)? – Bass Practice Diary – 21st April 2020
Can you get a good P Bass tone out of a cheap bass with the addition of a good pickup? This week I’m doing something a bit different. I’m bringing a bass back to life that hasn’t worked for somewhere in the region of 15-20 years. I’m literally changing all of the electronics, including the pickup, jack input and volume and tone pots as well as all the wiring. But the star of this is the Fender Custom Shop Custom ’62 Precision Bass pickup.
Vester Stage Series P Bass Copy
The bass in question is the first bass I ever owned. It’s a Korean made P Bass copy called a Vester Stage Series. My parents bought it for me in 1994 and it cost £150 when it was brand new. It’s actually quite a good copy of a Fender Precision. So good in fact that they were successfully sued by Fender in the 90’s and as a result, these basses didn’t last long.
There’s a lot on this bass that feels cheap. The original pickups are uninspiring sounding. The body is plywood, the scratchplate is cheap and flimsy and all the screws have gone rusty. But the main reason I say that it’s a good copy, is because the neck is really good. It’s very playable and it’s really in good shape for a cheap 26 year old bass. Other elements on the bass which are good are the tuners and the bridge. So there is the shell of a good bass, especially when you consider that the pickups, scratchplate and screws are all easy to replace. Would a solid wood body lead to a better tone than the plywood body? Probably a bit, but I personally don’t think that it would make a massive difference.
As I’ve already mentioned, the neck, bridge and tuners are in remarkably good shape for a cheap bass of this age, but the frets needed attention. So the first job, having removed the old strings was to clean the frets. A great trick for doing this is using 0000 grade wire wool. I would strongly recommend using electrical tape to protect the fretboard. You can get tools that go over the frets to protect the board, I have the tools but I don’t find that they work better than tape. In fact, I’ve found I can be more accurate with tape.
After cleaning the frets with wire wool, I polished them with Frine Fret Polishing Kit and I cleaned the fretboard with a normal guitar polish. I would normally use lemon oil but I wouldn’t recommend using lemon oil on a maple fingerboard.
Next I had to remove the scratchplate and the bridge. The bridge had to come off so I could remove the earth wire that runs through the body of the bass and attaches to the tone control pot. Having done that, the old input and volume and tone control pots were easy to remove. The old pickups were not easy to remove. The heads of the screws holding the old pickups in place were so rusted that no screw driver could turn them. It was very difficult getting the pickups out, I eventually had to break the old pickups to get the out of the bass and then get the screws out with pliers.
Installing the Fender Custom ’62 P Bass Pickup
By contrast, installing the new Fender Custom ’62 P Bass pickup couldn’t have been easier. I lined up the position by placing the old scratchplate in place. I made four new holes for the screws and then I fixed the pickup in place and soldered the two wires according to the instructions that came with the Fender Custom ’62 pickup. You really don’t need to be an electrician or even a DIY expert to do this. P style basses are really very simple to wire up.
If you want to do a similar transformation to your own P bass, you don’t need to change the pots or the input as I did. I changed mine because lots of the wires were rusty, which was why the bass didn’t work. And it’s cheap and easy to buy ready wired input, volume and tone setups from guitar shops. The only fiddley job is connecting the earth wire from the bridge to the tone control pot.
To complete the installation of the pickup, I would strongly recommend setting the pickup height individually for each string. This is to ensure that you get an even sound across each string. I set my pickup heights by measuring with a metal ruler and then adjusting the heights by either tightening or loosening the four screws. The measurements I was aiming for were E – 3.9mm, A – 3.8mm, D – 3.7mm and G – 3.6mm. Although I wasn’t trying to be too specific, I don’t think my measurements were perfectly accurate. Those measurements were just a guide to get the heights roughly right, and the rest is done by playing and listening.
Pentatonic Modern Jazz Lick – Bass Practice Diary – 7th April 2020
This week I’ve written a pentatonic jazz lick to try and demonstrate how pentatonic scales can be applied to modern jazz. If you think that pentatonic scales are just easy scales for beginners then you need to read this. I think Google and YouTube probably need to read this as well, because when you search for pentatonic scales, you get a lot of content that is targeted at beginners.
The Pentatonic Scale
Pentatonic means five notes. So, you could technically have any number of different five note scales that could be labeled pentatonic. But there is one pentatonic scale which is “the” pentatonic scale. The same scale can be used for both major and minor and it goes like this.
It’s an incredibly useful scale because pentatonic melodies are universal. I can’t think of many styles of music that don’t use pentatonic melodies. They have a very distinctive character.
Many people associate pentatonic melodies with blues guitar playing. But the applications of pentatonic melodies go way beyond blues licks. Not that there’s anything wrong with playing blues lines. Blues melodies and phrasing are hugely important in jazz, and blues phrases played well can be both beautiful and sophisticated.
However, it’s possible to approach pentatonic melodies in a completely different way. And that’s what I’m looking at this week.
One of the great strengths of the pentatonic scale is it’s versatility. If you’re only using the scale one way, then you’ve missed part of the point of them. If you take any major key, then you always have three different pentatonic scales within that key. Using the key of D major as an example, you have B minor/D major, E minor/G major and F# minor/A major pentatonic scales all within the key. Each creates a different sound played against a D major chord.
Pentatonic Jazz Lick
My pentatonic jazz lick uses three pentatonic scales in the key of D, but none of them are D major pentatonic. I’ve used E minor pentatonic scale on the Em7 chord, which is chord II, and I’ve used the F# minor pentatonic scale on Dmaj7, chord I.
The other scale that I’ve used is F minor pentatonic. This is a scale which gives you all of the notes that are not in the key of D major. I’m using this scale on an A7 chord, chord V. Why play a scale that uses all theoutside notes? To create tension that can be resolved on the one chord (Dmaj7).
Of the five notes in an F minor pentatonic scale, F, Ab, Bb, C & Eb. Four of those notes are altered extensions on an A altered dominant chord, b9, #9, b5 & b13. The other note is Ab. That’s not a note you want to feature too prominently on an A7 chord, because it’s a major 7th on a dominant chord. You can use it, but you have to be careful how you use it. I’ve used the Ab once in my lick and it’s the last note before resolving to chord I. The Ab functions as a chromatic approach note leading to A natural, which is a chord tone in the Dmaj7 chord. Here’s the lick.
Superimposing II V I Licks
I’ve written the line above onto a II V I in D major. But I wouldn’t necessarily choose to play the lick in that context. When I came up with the lick, I was thinking about it more as a straight 1/16th note feel on a funky modal idea.
Jazz musicians love to superimpose II V I lines onto individual chords. You could play that entire lick on a single Em7 chord or Dmaj7 chord or A7 chord.
You could even play it on a G major chord and it would create an inside/outside lick with a lydian sound.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
The C whole tone scale above is comprised of the notes of a C augmented triad and a D augmented triad.
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.
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.
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.
The Augmented Scale
Another hexatonic scale created by combining two augmented triads is the augmented scale.
The augmented scale is comprised of the notes of two augmented triads a semitone apart. In this case, C augmented and B augmented.
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 – 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.
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.
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.
This next one is a similar exercise for playing triad pairs a tone apart.
Here’s an exercise for playing triad pairs 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 Spainas 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.