Six String Fretless Bass Arrangement – I Know You – Bass Practice Diary – 19th November 2019
Multi-tracking fretless bass is a big challenge. It’s hard enough to get any fretless instrument to sound in tune on even a single bass line. But to try and get multiple tracks of the same instrument to sound in tune with itself is really hard. Because if any one note is slightly out of tune, then the whole thing sounds bad. So, I set myself a challenge this week to see if I could arrange a tune using only my Warwick Thumb SC 6-string fretless bass.
I Know You by Mike Stern
The tune that I chose was I Know You which comes from a collaboration between Richard Bona and Mike Stern on the album These Times. It’s a beautiful tune and I highly recommend checking out the original version. Richard Bona’s vocals and bass playing are just sublime.
My version probably doesn’t do justice to the original, but it kind of works in it’s own way. The intonation certainly isn’t perfect, but I include it in my Bass Practice Diary as a demonstration of the kind of ideas that I like to use to help me improve my intonation on fretless bass. If you have a loop pedal and a fretless bass, try multi-tracking some of your own fretless lines. It’s hard to get it to sound good!
Truss Rod Adjustment & Setup on fretless Sire Marcus Miller M7 – Bass Practice Diary – 12th November 2019
One of the most useful skills that you can learn as a bass player is to set up your own bass. It’s easy. Two weeks ago I released my review of the Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5-string bass. It’s a good bass, but the setup was a mess when it arrived. So, on the same day that I shot the review, I also made a video about how I set the bass up, and here it is.
Why you should set up your own bass
When I was younger, I always paid a professional luthier to set my instruments up. I thought that a really good instrument needs a professional set up, and if I tried to do it myself I might ruin it. But there was one incident that completely changed my perspective, and I’m very glad that it did.
I was in my mid twenties and I’d been playing professional gigs for a few years. And I always took my basses to the same bass shop to have them set up. A very good shop where they make their own high end custom basses. So they know what they’re doing. I had just spent a lot of money on buying what was, at that time, the most expensive bass I’d ever owned.
The setup was almost perfect on my new bass, but there was a small issue on the first string, with the action being a bit too low. And so, on a few frets, the first string wasn’t ringing clearly. Naturally I took it straight to my usual bass shop where I knew and trusted them. And I paid them to give it a full setup. I didn’t mention the issue on the first string, I thought I didn’t need to. I assumed that as professional luthiers, they would make the setup perfect.
You’ve probably guessed by now, that when I came to pick up the bass two or three days later. The bass was in exactly the same condition that I had left it. Same issue on the first string. And while I was trying the bass out, I over heard the luthier say to his colleague in another room, that he hadn’t known what to do with my bass because the setup had been perfect from the start.
Only you know how you want your bass to be set up
Naturally I was dismayed to have wasted my time and money on a setup that had made no difference to my bass. I asked the luthier to make some extra adjustments, which he did, and they also made no difference. Then I left with my bass, not knowing what I should do. I didn’t complain, because I didn’t want to humiliate the guy, he had done his best.
When I got home, all I could do was try and sort out the issue myself, which I did in less than 10 minutes and I got the bass playing perfectly. And this was a revelation to me. I had always assumed that I couldn’t possibly set an instrument up as well as a professional. But I had fixed a problem in a few minutes that a professional had failed to even identify in three days.
Now, I assure you that I’m not trying to say that luthiers are incompetent or a sham. There is a reason why the luthier couldn’t get my bass setup right and I could. And that reason is because I’m a musician and he isn’t. I’ve heard all of the luthiers in that shop playing basses before, and their bass playing is very rudimentary and basic. Their skills are in making instruments, not playing them. So, when they set up an instrument, their approach is to make very detailed accurate measurements.
The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t take in to account the idiosyncrasies of each individual instrument. The luthier had performed all of the measurements on my bass, and found that everything was as it should be. That’s not really surprising, because it was an expensive bass, and I’m sure that the manufacturer had also made all the same measurements when it left the factory and decided it was perfect.
However, neither the factory nor the luthier in the shop had picked up on the issue that I was having, because they don’t play the bass like I do. And that is the key point. Only I know how I want my bass to be set up. Paying somebody else to do it doesn’t make any sense at all. They can only give me a generic set up based on what they think I want. But if I do it myself, I can make the bass play exactly how I want it to play.
How to set up a bass
There are only really five things that you need to learn how to do. And most of them are extremely easy. The most important, and possibly most difficult, is to set the relief in the neck by adjusting the truss rod. I’ve demonstrated in the video how a luthier adjusts the relief in the neck. But I tend to do everything by feel. I make small adjustments and then I try it out to see how it feels.
I think that is another really key point. Everything you do, just make tiny adjustments and keep trying it out. It might take ages to get it right, the first time that you do it. But it’s the best way, and it minimises the chances of you doing any damage to your bass.
Apart from the truss rod, the other four things that you can adjust are the saddles on the bridge for string height, the intonation on each string, the pickup height and the nut height.
As I mentioned in the video, most basses don’t come with adjustable nuts. I wish they did, check out Warwick’s Just-a-Nut III here. I don’t know why other companies can’t come up with a similar idea. If you don’t have an adjustable nut, you can lower a nut by filing it down. If you want to raise it, you need to replace it with a new nut. This is something that you probably should get a luthier to do, but most bass setup’s can be done without needing a new nut. I’ve only ever had to have a nut replaced twice in over 25 years of playing bass.
A Marcus Miller tune with Sire Marcus Miller Basses – V7 & M7 – Bass Practice Diary – 5th November 2019
Recently I’ve been trying out some Sire basses. You may have already seen my review of the M7 fretless 5-string bass that I released last week. And I’ll be following up with a review of the V7 4-string and 5-string versions in the coming weeks. But, it struck me this week, that what a lot of people will want to know is, can you make them sound like Marcus Miller? In an attempt to answer, I’ve recorded one of his tunes, Amandla from the album of the same name.
Do the M7 and V7 sound like Marcus Miller basses?
Yes and no… Yes for the V7 and no for the M7. Not that the M7 is a bad bass. It’s a nice sounding fretless bass, as I covered in my review last week, but it’s a very different style of bass to anything I’ve ever seen Marcus Miller play. The V7, on the other hand, is very much a Marcus Miller style of bass. It’s essentially a Fender Jazz style bass with an active preamp.
I should point out that my style of playing the bass is very different to his, and the basses that I usually play are very different to those that he plays. I love Marcus Miller as both a composer and a musician, but I’ve never tried to imitate his sound before.
So, when you listen to the V7 bass in the video, you should bare in mind that it’s being played by someone who is trying to imitate a playing style that he almost never plays on a style of bass that he very rarely uses. And with that in mind, I’m quite surprised how much the bass tone does remind me of Marcus Miller. I don’t think I’ve ever played a bass before that was so easy to get that kind of tone out of.
Tutu and Amandla
So, the tune in the video is called Amandla, and it’s one of my favourite Marcus Miller compositions. It’s also a great tune for demonstrating these basses, because the original version includes both fretted and fretless basses and both finger style and slap techniques. So it covers a wide range of Marcus’ tones and techniques.
Marcus Miller wrote and produced two albums in the 1980s for the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, called Tutu and Amandla. He played bass on other Miles Davis albums, but those two were really his albums. Tutu is more well known. It’s probably Miles Davis’ most well known album from the last period of his career. I certainly remember listening to it a lot when I was in my teens. But as the years have gone by, I’ve grown to love the album Amandla more and more. It contains a few of my favourite Marcus Miller compositions including the title track.
If you don’t know them already, I would highly recommend checking out both albums. Many people see Tutu as a Marcus Miller album with Miles Davis on trumpet, even though it’s Miles Davis’ name and face on the cover. But Amandla feels more like a collaboration because there’s more input from Miles’ band. Which at that time included the brilliant improvisers Kenny Garret and Joseph “Foley” McCreary.
Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5 string bass guitar review – Bass Practice Diary – 29th October 2019
Here’s my review of the Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5 string bass. I’m sure most of you have probably heard about the so-called Sire Revolution by now. A relatively unknown Korean company called Sire created seismic waves in the bass community when they secured the endorsement of Marcus Miller. A legendary bass player, who had previously been associated with playing the same Fender Jazz Bass since he bought it in the 1970’s. And nobody had ever really seen him play anything other than a Fender bass.
Are Sire Basses as good as people are saying?
So, I had to see for myself what it was that convinced this bass legend to put his name to this selection of affordable instruments. I’ve been trying out some V7 and M7 basses, fretted, fretless, 4-string and 5-string. And this week I’m starting this week with the Sire Marcus Miller M7.
The basses are made in Indonesia. And the idea is that Sire are trying to produce professional quality instruments for an affordable price. And all the reviews that I’d read prior to trying these instruments out, suggested that they’d succeeded.
What are the best affordable bass guitars?
For me, as a bass teacher, I’m constantly being asked to advise people on what are the best basses to buy on a budget. So, there is a really important reason why I wanted to try out these Sire basses. If you follow my videos regularly, you’ll know that I play Warwick basses. Warwick make outstanding high quality instruments in Germany. But they also make a more affordable line of instruments in China which they call Rockbass. I’ve always been happy to recommend these to students looking for an affordable instrument as they’re excellent basses for the money.
However, the prices have been going up a lot in recent years. And the cheapest Sire basses are now available for less than the cheapest Warwick Rockbass basses. So I need to know if they’re a viable option to recommend to my bass students looking for quality on a budget.
And I have to say that I’ve been impressed with these nice sounding, easy to play basses. Especially with the V7 model, which is closely modelled on Marcus Miller’s style of Fender Jazz Bass. I’ll be doing a separate review of the V7’s soon. But this week I wanted to start by reviewing the M7, which as you can see, caused me a few problems when it first arrived.
The setup on the M7
I will be doing a whole other video on how I set up this bass. Because It would have been too much to include in this video. But I had to do a complete setup before I could play the bass because the setup was an absolute mess when I got it out the box. The worst I’ve seen on a brand new bass.
Sire set up their basses with a very low action. As far as I know, this was a request by Marcus Miller. He wants people to experience the basses set up the way that he likes to play. But, for a bass manufacturer to set their basses with a very low action is a huge gamble, which won’t always pay off. I really wonder how many basses have been sent back because the setup was so bad.
The problem is, that if you set up your bass with a low action, then you must expect to have to re-set it up every now and then. Because, as seasons and atmospheric conditions change, so will your bass setup. And a low action can very quickly become unplayable when the strings start hitting the frets.
Are Sire basses good for beginners?
This is fine for an experienced bass player who has set up basses before. But, as Sire are targeting the budget end of the market as well, then they will be selling basses to people who won’t necessarily know how to set them up. And they don’t provide any kind of instructions with the basses. So, I imagine that a few of these have probably been sent back by people frustrated that their strings keep buzzing.
The setups on the V7’s that I played weren’t as bad as the M7. But there were still little issues that I had to fix. All of which were caused by a low action. And I know that if I ever recommend one of these basses to one of my students, then I’ll have to offer to set it up for them if the setup is a mess when it arrives.
For this reason, they might not be ideal for complete beginners, unless they have a teacher who can sort out any setup issues.
It’s a good bass. It sounds good and it plays well, and it has a powerful low B string. The setup issues weren’t enough to put me off from liking this bass. I’ve had lots of fun playing it since I set it up.
I should point out, that in the process of setting it up, I also changed the strings. The bass comes with flat wound strings. Which again, I assume is at the request of Marcus Miller. But I much prefer the sound of round wounds on fretless. So that is the sound you hear in the video.
Sire Marcus Miller M7 vs V7
The biggest criticism that I would level at this bass, is that it just isn’t as good as the Sire Marcus Miller V7. The V7 is a proper Marcus Miller style of bass and the M7 just isn’t. The M7 is also slightly more expensive than the V7, which I find odd, because it isn’t as good.
Why is the V7 better? Because it sounds better. It sounds like a proper Marcus Miller style Fender Jazz Bass. The M7 sounds good when the preamp is switched on. But the V7 has the same preamp, and the V7 sounds good without the preamp as well. To be honest, the V7 sounds good even when it’s not plugged in. I’m serious! You can usually tell if a bass will sound good by playing it without an amplifier. No matter how good your electronics are, they won’t rescue the sound of a bad sounding bass. Now, I’m not saying the M7 is a bad sounding bass. It just doesn’t sound as good as the V7.
The only advantages that I can see for the M7 over the V7 are, that it has more frets. 24 on the M7, 20 on the V7. And it has a better low B string on the 5 string version. Because the M7 5-string has a 35 inch scale, whereas the V7 5-string has a 34 inch scale. That extra inch tightens up the low B-string a bit. So, if I have a student who wants to use the extra range both high and low, then I might recommend the M7. But, more often than not, I’d be much more likely to recommend the 4-string V7.
Half Rounds Bass Strings on 6 String Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 15th October 2019
I get a lot of questions on social media about bass strings. What strings do you use? What do you think of these strings? etc. One question that I’ve never been able to answer is, what do you think of half rounds? Because I’ve never tried them, until now. So, I’ve just put a set of D’addario ENF71 Half Rounds on my Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 string acoustic bass guitar. The string gauges are 30-45-65-80-100-130.
Why Half Rounds?
There was a reason why I wanted to try half rounds on my acoustic bass guitar beyond just curiosity. I normally use bronze round wound strings on my Warwick Alien Deluxe. In fact, I use round wounds on all my basses. The Warwick Red Label Bronze Strings that I normally use sound great. And they are amazing value for money. But there is one issue with using round wound strings on acoustic instruments (it’s the same with steel string acoustic guitars) which is, that the strings can make annoying squeaking noises when you shift position.
An obvious solution to this issue is to use flat wound strings. I’ve tried this, and the problem is, that I don’t like the sound of flats on bass guitar. To me they sound very dull and dead, and I need the brightness of a round wound string to create the sound I’m trying to achieve.
So, the question in my head was, can half rounds provide me some of the brightness of a round wound string but with less friction (squeak), like a flat wound string? And I have to say that my early response is very good. They seem to do exactly that. The next test will be, how long will they stay bright for? That may have to be the subject of a future video.
Johnny Cox and Tim Pettingale playing Tim’s Jazz Waltz – Bass Practice Diary – 17th September 2019
A couple of weeks ago Tim Pettingale came over to visit me in my new studio. And we had a bit of a play over this idea that Tim had for a jazz waltz. I previously released another video from this session of us playing over Rhythm Changes. Tim is the author of two brilliant jazz guitar books Jazz Bebop Blues Guitar and Rhythm Changes for Jazz Guitar.
Jazz Waltz and Variations
A jazz waltz is something that I don’t practice that often. So it was really interesting when Tim came to me with this idea for an original composition. He wrote it in three sections, A, B and C, which gave us some scope to come up with some interesting rhythmic variations. On the B and C sections.
The A section is the main melody, which we played with a standard jazz waltz feel. I initially played it on my fretless bass and then Tim played it on guitar after that.
A jazz waltz is written in 3/4 but it’s probably more accurate to call it 9/8. Because you have three beats in each bar and each beat is subdivided into triplets. Which is what gives you a swing feel. So there are effectively nine 1/8th notes in each bar, hence 9/8. It’s useful to understand this because it means that you can superimpose grooves in 9/8 onto a jazz waltz without needing to change the beat or sub-division. That’s exactly what we did in the bass solo which is the C section of the composition and starts at 1:41 in the video.
A simpler approach to playing 3/4 is to play using straight 1/8th notes. Which creates six 1/8th notes in each bar instead of nine. So, a straight 3/4 can also be thought of as being interchangeable with 6/8. This is the feel that we explored in the B section which starts at 0:58 in the video. I’ve explored many of these same rhythmic ideas in my upcoming book for Fundamental Changes which I hope will be released before the end of this year.
Michael Brecker Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd September 2019
This week I’ve been working out some jazz lines that Michael Brecker played on Charlie Parker’s tune Confirmation. And this week I’m featuring one particular lick that comes from that tune.
The recording that I was working from comes from a Chick Corea album called Three Quartets. And it features Michael Brecker performing a duet with Chick Corea who is playing the drums rather than his more familiar role as a pianist. The performance is notable for Michael Brecker’s brilliant solo. Which features a number of brilliant jazz lines. And I’ve picked out this particular lick, because I think it fit’s nicely onto a four string bass guitar. Although I should point out that I’m playing the lick one octave below where Michael Brecker plays it. Here’s the lick.
The lick happens in the middle 8, and it’s played on a II-V-I in Db major. I recently wrote about the importance of practicing II-V-I’s in my post about applying jazz vocabulary to jazz standards. This lick is a really useful piece of jazz vocabulary. And when you practice these kind of lines, I would strongly recommend practising transposing them into different keys. Here’s the same lick played in Ab major to get you started.
Jazz Vocabulary on Jazz Standards with Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 20th August 2019
Last week I was writing out and practicing 16th note jazz lines on II-V-I’s. When you’re practicing jazz vocabulary like that, the next logical step is to try to apply the vocabulary to the chord changes of a tune or jazz standard. And that’s what I’ve been doing this week.
Why do jazz musicians practice playing II-V-I’s?
When I first came across the idea of practicing II-V-I’s, I couldn’t understand why jazz musicians were so obsessed with this one very simple chord progression. But now I get it. Because once you can play lines on II-V-I’s, you can then use those lines in such a huge number of musical situations. Even when there isn’t a II-V-I written in the music, you can superimpose the II-V-I harmony with your lines over it.
Here are just a few examples of what I’m talking about. If you are playing on a minor 7th chord. You can treat that chord as a chord II and play II-V lines over it. Or, if you’re playing on a dominant 7th chord, you can treat it as a V chord and do the same thing. The most obvious place to superimpose a II-V-I is on a major chord or major 7th chord. Using these kind of ideas, jazz musicians have become masters of turning just about any harmonic progression into a sequence of II-V’s or II-V-I’s.
So if you can get good at improvising on II-V-I’s, then you can improvise on so many different chord progressions and harmonies.
Applying jazz vocabulary to standards
Practicing jazz vocabulary in this case just means playing lines that work over common jazz chord changes. Most commonly II-V-I’s. It’s essentially like learning licks. The vocabulary could be lines that you’ve worked out yourself or they could be lines played by someone else. If you’re going to learn to improvise in a jazz style, I think it’s essential to practice some jazz vocabulary. And that’s basically what I was doing last week.
When you practice jazz vocabulary it’s a good idea to transpose it into different keys. It’s an even better idea to apply it to the changes of a real jazz standard. Because then you have to think about how and where you can use the lines. As well as changing the key to follow the harmonic movement of the standard.
I’ve written out two examples. This first one is on the first eight bars of In Your Own Sweet Way.
As you can see, there are lots of II-V’s in this tune. Both major and minor. So, it works really well for applying this kind of jazz vocabulary. My next example was on Miles Davis’ tune Solar.
Why practice jazz vocabulary?
Now I should point out, as I did in the video, that this is just an exercise. I wouldn’t choose to improvise like this. Because I don’t use licks or preprepared vocabulary when I improvise. I know that a lot of jazz musicians do use licks in their solos. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that. But it doesn’t work for me. Because I see improvisation as spontaneously creating something in the moment. And that’s what I love about it. If I were to apply a preprepared idea into an improvisation it would feel incongruous to me, and so I don’t do it.
The reason that I practice licks and vocabulary is so that I can hopefully absorb the sounds and melodic ideas. So that hopefully when I want to improvise a jazz solo, I can come up with similar ideas of my own.
The book features thousands of licks mostly about 4 bars long. And most of the licks are written over the opening bars of jazz standards. There are 16 standards featured in the book including Invitation, All the Things You Are, Autumn Leaves and the standard I featured in the video The Days of Wine and Roses.
What makes the book so good is that it takes a very comprehensive approach to learning these short sections of harmony. Each standard has 91 different licks in 13 different key signatures. 7 licks are written for each key, from one flat to six flats and six sharps to one sharp, as well as C major/A minor which has no sharps or flats.
The book also features licks written over II-V-I’s and jazz turnarounds. So, there are a lot of licks. All written in bass clef without any bass TAB. So, it’s good for learning the language of jazz improvisation, and it’s also really useful sight reading practice.
Last week I described how I practice playing on jazz standards by breaking the harmony down into sections. And writing out and improvising lines that work over the short sections. That’s the same concept that this book works on. My advice for using this book would be to play the licks in the book and then write out some of your own lines on the same standards. And try to come up with lines that go over all parts of the chord progressions, not just the beginnings.
Dolphin Dance on Three Basses – Bass Practice Diary – 16th July 2019
This week I’ve been studying transcriptions of Herbie Hancock’s classic 1965 recording of Dolphin Dance from the Maiden Voyage album. I’ve always loved it as a piece of music and I think it perfectly captures what Herbie Hancock was about at that time and why he’s a genius. I’ve been attempting to transfer what I’ve studied onto three basses. 6 string fretted and fretless electric basses as well as upright bass.
The harmony is highly complex and jazz musicians have argued for decades over what are the correct chords to play. So, my main interest in analysing the transcriptions was to find out how Herbie Hancock himself voiced the chords, not only for the melody but also behind his own solo.
In spite of the complex jazz harmony, Dolphin Dance is first and foremost, a beautiful tune. And therein lies the genius of the composer. I’d compare it to tunes like Monk’s Round Midnight, Mingus’ Goodbye PorkPie Hat and Coltrane’s Naima. All beautiful melodies that are elevated by unusual and challenging harmonic structures.
Bass Solo Transcription
I’ve transcribed one whole chorus of my bass solo. I’ve written the chord symbols in above the stave for reference. But I would advise you not to take them too seriously. I took the chord symbols from a book, but I wasn’t following them when I played my solo or when I recorded the chords. I was trying to follow the notes that Herbie Hancock actually played, and the chord symbols don’t necessarily represent a completely accurate picture of that.