Category Archives: Side Bar

Use Fretless Bass to Play Jazz Solos and Melodies – Bass Practice Diary 12

Jazz Solos and Melodies on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th July 2018

This week I’m featuring an excerpt from Miles Davis’ solo on the tune So What from the seminal jazz album Kind of Blue. I’m playing it on my Warwick Thumb SC fretless bass.

Why Play Jazz Solos on Bass Guitar

The purpose of this video practice diary is not to copy Miles Davis or any other jazz soloist. Firstly, it’s to try to show how well the fretless bass works as an instrument for playing jazz solos. Especially solos with the type of lyrical phrasing demonstrated by Miles Davis. Secondly, it’s because I believe that anybody that wants to learn how to solo and improvise, should try and work out solos and melodies by as many great musicians and improvisers as they can. Not because you should try to copy other musicians, but simply in order to learn from them.

Jaco Pastorius is the most influential jazz bassist in history and he overwhelmingly favoured playing fretless. He also stated that the first thing he would do when learning any new piece, was learn the melody. He felt that learning melodies was essential to playing bass lines. I strongly agree with him. I’ve stated in a previous post that one of the principle functions of bass lines, is harmony. And in order to really understand a composition and how to harmonise, you must understand the melody.

What is “Lyrical” Soloing

When I use the adjective “lyrical” to describe a solo, it might seem like an odd choice of word. The word seems to imply lyrics which is strange to attach to an instrumental solo.

A dictionary definition of lyrical is “expressing the writer’s emotions in an imaginative and beautiful way”. Which more or less sums up what I mean. But there is a bit more. The word lyrical to me implies being like a human voice. Miles Davis was quite open about this with his soloing, he was trying to use his trumpet to phrase like a singer would. This is what I’m trying to achieve with my fretless bass. And it can work well because you can slide in and out of notes and use vibrato in a way that you can’t on a fretted bass. However, you do have to be careful to not over use any of these things.

Intonation is also a key consideration when playing fretless. Meaning; are the notes in tune? If you put your fingers in even slightly the wrong place on the fret board, the notes will be out of tune. You don’t need to be nearly so accurate on a fretted bass.

Learning How to Play Jazz Solos on Bass

This Bass Practice Diary entry leads on from what I was doing last week, when I was playing Charlie Parker melodies on fretless bass. I believe that the best way to learn how to play jazz solos, is to learn to play as many jazz solos and melodies as you can.

Technical information about chords and scales is useful theory, but it doesn’t teach you how to improvise a jazz solo. Soloing is about creating melody, and melody is about creating musical phrases. The best way to do this is by listening to as much music as you can and working out how to play the melodic phrases.

Preferably, do it by ear. If you find it difficult to work out music by ear, I would recommend starting very simply, by using folk or pop melodies before moving onto jazz. It can be a slow process at first because it takes a lot of trial and error to begin with. So don’t be put off if you’re only starting out. You will get faster with experience.

Charlie Parker Tunes on Fretless Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 11

Playing Charlie Parker Melodies on Solo Fretless Electric Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd July 2018

This week I’m playing Charlie Parker melodies on my fretless Warwick Thumb SC 6 string bass guitar.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker is a pioneer of modern jazz and one of the greatest saxophonists in history. Alongside trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie he pioneered the genre called Bebop. His compositions provide a musical and technical challenge to perform on bass, especially fretless bass. But doing so will improve your technique as well as help you learn the language and phrasing of modern jazz.

The Influence of Jaco Pastorius

I first started learning Charlie Parker melodies on bass when I was in my teens after I discovered Jaco Pastorius’ debut, self titled album. Track 1 on the album was Donna Lee. The melody was played by Jaco on a fretless electric bass. Like many other bass players, hearing this was a revelation to me. He took the bass out of it’s traditional role and elevated it to the level of a jazz solo instrument. I immediately decided that I needed to try doing the same thing.

So I used a Jazz Real Book to start working out jazz bebop melodies on my bass. I didn’t start with Donna Lee. It was the concept of playing jazz melodies on bass that I wanted to emulate, not necessarily that particular tune. Although I did get around to learning Donna Lee soon enough.

The first bebop tune I learned was called Tricotism, by the legendary double bass player Ray Brown. I figured I should start with a piece that was created for bass. Having done that I then learned the tune Confirmation by Charlie Parker. You hear me play an excerpt at the end of the video.

Why Play Charlie Parker Tunes on Bass?

I suppose the simplest answer is, because I think they sound really cool. Especially on fretless bass. But there are plenty of other great reasons to try this out. First, it is fantastic for improving your left hand technique. To play these tunes on bass you need to organise your left hand extremely well. Each tune forces you to practise spreading out your fingers, playing one finger per fret positions and shifting quickly and smoothly between these positions.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out my free video lesson on Left Hand Techniques. The video begins with me playing another Charlie Parker tune called Anthropology on a 4 string bass.

How do You Start Playing Charlie Parker Tunes on the Bass?

Slowly, is always good advice. Take it one phrase at a time and work out good left hand fingerings for each phrase. It’s so important to have a well organised left hand in order to play these melodies.

If you can read music, you can start with a jazz Real Book. That’s how I started, and as I understand it, that’s how Jaco started as well. I don’t know if they had Real Books back in the 70’s but I understand that he had a book with the melodies in. You can get bass clef versions of most of the Real Books now, which is a big advantage. As a teenager I only had a treble clef Real Book and it took me a while to work out the melodies because at that time my treble clef reading was nowhere near as good as the bass clef.

Other books available include the Charlie Parker Omnibook which also comes in a bass clef version. It goes into each tune in a lot more detail than the Real Books because it includes transcriptions of both the melodies and solos. However, it’s not my favourite book because it doesn’t use key signatures. So each transcription contains hundreds of accidentals (sharps and flats) written throughout the music.

If you’re not a reader then the book to get is called Charlie Parker for Bass. It includes TAB and also features solo transcriptions, arranged for 4 string bass.

 

 

Solo Bass and Melody- Bass Practice Diary 9

Combine Bass and Melody for Solo Bass- Bass Practice Diary – 19th June 2018

This week I’ve been working on arranging jazz melodies for solo bass. I’m incorporating both bass and melody parts into my solo bass arrangements. To help me, I’ve been studying the great jazz guitarist Martin Taylor and specifically his book called Beyond Chord Melody.

Why arrange music for solo bass?

I’ve always felt that 6 string bass guitars are very well suited to being played solo. In many ways better suited than guitars, because there’s the potential to play bass lines in the lower register. I often get comments about being like a guitarist when I play my 6 string basses. And many people can’t understand why I don’t just play the guitar when I play in this style.

It’s not a comparison that I find in any way insulting. I do play the guitar and I love the guitar. But I prefer the bass. And I arrange music for solo bass because, in many musical situations, I prefer the sound of solo bass. It’s also a less common sound because fewer people do it. And there’s nothing more interesting to me than hearing music that I haven’t heard before.

All of my 6 string basses have a range that goes to at least a C above middle C. So there’s more than enough range to arrange melodies in the high male voice tenor voice. And there’s the mid range that is ideal for piano style chord voicing.

Martin Taylor

Martin Taylor is a supremely talented musician, best known for playing solo jazz arrangements on guitar. It would be hard to find a better expert for arranging solo jazz on any instrument. I think it’s so important to study great musicians of all instruments and styles if you want to become a really rounded musician.

His new book Beyond Chord Melody was recently released by Fundamental Changes. The same music book publishing company that published my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove (learn more by clicking here). In Beyond Chord Melody Martin Taylor lays out a 7-step approach to solo guitar playing. The steps include harmony, melody, chord melody, inner lines and the one that is most relevant here, melody and bass.

 

Anthony Jackson’s Bass Line on Not Yet – Bass Practice Diary 8

Anthony Jackson’s Bass Line on Not Yet by Michel Camilo – Bass Practice Diary – 12th June 2018

This week I’ve been working on some of Anthony Jackson’s phenomenal bass lines from the albums he made with Michel Camilo. In the video I’ve featured an excerpt from a composition called Not Yet. It features on several albums but the version I’ve been working with comes from an album called Why Not?

Anthony Jackson

I’ve heard so many great musicians say that Anthony Jackson is their favourite bass player. And it’s for good reason. He is often credited as the originator of the modern six string bass guitar. Which he called a Contrabass Guitar and first started playing in the 1970’s. He must be one of the most recorded bass players of the 20th century and he is perhaps best known for playing with popular singers like Chaka Khan and the O’Jays. But jazz followers know him for playing with the likes of Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Michel Petrucciani and the subject of this post Michel Camilo.

Recordings with Michel Camilo

Anthony Jackson must have one of the longest CV’s of any bass player in history. So it’s easy to miss recordings in his incredible discography. I would urge everybody to find the recordings he made with Michel Camilo because they are wonderful. And they contain some of the finest examples of electric bass playing ever heard. I would particularly recommend the big band albums Caribe and One More Once.

Not Yet Bass Line

I’ve been looking at a few of the pieces from Michel Camilo and Anthony Jackson this week. Including Caribe and Just Kidding. I may post excepts from those tunes in future. But I decided to start with an excerpt from Not Yet because I think it perfectly encapsulates both Anthony Jackson’s incredible bass playing and Michel Camilo’s wonderful composing.

The bass line is comprised of both improvised sections and fast composed runs. Linking the sections together is extremely technically challenging and it’s fast! Many people don’t think of Anthony Jackson as being the fastest bass player out there, but this performance begs to differ.

What stands out for me is the way he uses the full range of the instrument. Often going from high to very low in the blink of an eye. But always keeping his tone very even with a huge low end sound. His bass lines are always, first and foremost, musical. No matter how technical or not, his musicianship and musicality always shines through.

Chromatic Jazz Lines – Bass Practice Diary 7

Chromatic Jazz Lines – Bass Practice Diary – 5th June 2018

This week I’m working on chromatic jazz lines and exercises. I’m using a book called 240 Chromatic Exercises + 1165 Jazz Lines. I’m using the edition for bass clef instruments. 

About the Book

The title of the book tells you exactly what to expect. There’s very little text in the book, only in the introduction. So, the main part of the book contains page after page of chromatic jazz lines and exercises all written out in the bass clef. There isn’t any bass TAB so it’s a book for readers or for anyone wanting to work on bass clef sight reading. There’s a lot of information and it would take a really long time to play through the entire book. 

Olegario Diaz

It was written by the jazz pianist Olegario Diaz. If you’re not familiar with him I would highly recommend checking out some of his albums such as The Skyline Session, Basquiat by Night/Day and Aleph in Chromatic. They’re all available on Spotify and they feature some heavy weights of modern jazz such as Randy Brecker, Bill Stewart, Jeff Tain Watts, James Genus, Nate Smith, Bob Franceschini and Alex Sipiagin.

The Exercises

As mentioned previously, the book has lots of musical examples and exercises and not very much in the way of text and description. What you get is a chord symbol with alterations, such as C-7b5+11, and a very brief description, such as, ARPEGGIOS ROOT, b3, b5,♮7. The rest you’re left to work out for yourself from the notated exercise.

At the end of the video I demonstrated five examples. I choose them more or less at random from a page I was working on in the book. The first two examples that I played were both altered scale patterns in the key of C. Then, the third one I played is probably my favourite of the five. It’s the one I referenced in the paragraph above. It involves playing five note arpeggios over a minor/major chord with a flattened fifth (minor third and a major seventh). The arpeggios start on the root, then on the minor third and then on the flattened fifth.

The fourth and fifth examples uses four note major and minor seventh arpeggios with chromatic approach notes. The fourth exercise is played over a major seventh chord, creating a lydian sound and then the fifth exercise is played over a minor seventh chord.

Warwick Thumb SC 6 string fretless

I’m playing all these examples on my Custom Shop  Warwick Thumb SC 6 string fretless. I prefer to use fretless for jazz and melodic playing but I do have to be careful to get the intonation right. So, check out this post if you’re interested in learning more about the instrument.

chromatic jazz lines
Johnny Cox’s Warwick Thumb SC fretless

 

James Jamerson Bass Lines – Bass Practice Diary 6

James Jamerson Bass Lines – Bass Practice Diary 6 – 29th May 2018

This week I’ve been playing some of the bass lines of the great Motown bassist James Jamerson. I’ve been reading transcriptions from a book called Standing In the Shadows of Motown. Playing the transcriptions has been so much fun. Especially playing them along with the original Motown recordings. Every time I play James Jamerson bass lines I’m reminded why he has earned a place in the Pantheon of great bassists.

 

What made James Jamerson a great bassist?

He was unquestionably one of the great innovators and pioneers of the bass guitar. His syncopated improvised style can be heard on some of the most famous recordings in the history of popular music. His discography is far to massive to list here, but Standing In the Shadows of Motown contains bass transcriptions from songs by Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and Marvin Gaye to name but a few.

However, CV’s and biographies don’t make a musician great, James Jamerson’s impact on music goes far beyond merely playing with famous artists on popular recordings. What I love most about his style is that he improvises bass lines in a very melodic way. I believe he plays bass lines in the truest sense. His lines are created to harmonise the melodies and it sounds like he’s improvising a duet with the singers.

It’s very rare that any instrumentalist is given that much scope to improvise in popular music. Even at Motown, you don’t hear any of the other session musicians improvising lines like that on any of the records. It’s never been fashionable in popular music to allow session musicians to improvise. Producers and engineers hate it because they can’t control the outcome. It’s a measure of James Jamerson’s genius that his improvised bass lines were not only included on the released versions of the songs. But that some those songs went on to become some of the most successful in the history of popular music and some of the most popular bass lines.

Who has been influenced by James Jamerson?

The honest answer is, probably everyone who has come after him. Any bass player who isn’t aware of James Jamerson has probably been influenced by other bass players who have been directly influenced by Jamerson. Also, the bass players who contributed transcriptions for the book Standing In the Shadows of Motown speaks volumes.

The book was originally released in 1989. The bass players featured in it read like a who’s who of bassists at that time. Chuck Rainey, Anthony Jackson, Marcus Miller, Pino Palladino and Will Lee as well as rock superstars including John Entwistle and Paul McCartney all contribute. These are just a few names but it gives an idea of the scale and the breadth of Jamerson’s influence.

How can you study James Jamerson’s bass lines?

A good place to start would be getting the book Standing In the Shadows of Motown. It comes with two audio CD’s featuring  all the transcriptions. Be aware that the transcriptions don’t include any bass TAB. Which makes it great for sight reading practice but obviously not so great if you’re not a reader.

Warwick Pro Series Star Bass

I’m using my Warwick Pro Series Star Bass 5 string bass in the video. I use this bass to create a vintage sound. I’ve also used James Jamerson’s trick of putting damping material under the strings at the bridge to create a muted sound.

James Jamerson’s sound is definitely vintage, he was famous for using a 1962 Fender Precision. I’m not trying to make my Warwick Pro Series Star Bass sound like a Fender Precision. I don’t like to imitate other bass players sounds. It’s like trying to imitate someone’s accent. You’ll never get it perfect and you’ll sound like a cheap imitation. Having said that, I’m not sure that James Jamerson’s bass lines sound their best on the modern sounding active basses that I’m known for playing. So it’s nice to have a passive more vintage tone when I’m playing these bass lines.

James Jamerson
Warwick Pro Series Star Bass 5

Spanish Phrygian Sounds – Bass Practice Diary 5

Spanish Phrygian Sounds on Fretless Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd May 2018

This week I’ve been working on Chick Corea’s wonderful composition Spain with my fretless Warwick Thumb SC. In this video I’m demonstrating a little harmonic trick I discovered for playing over the first two chords, G major and F#7. It creates a beautiful Spanish phrygian sound over the F#7 chord. Read on and I’ll explain what that means and how to play it.

Chick Corea’s Spain

Spain is not only one of Chick Corea’s most popular compositions, it’s one of the most popular pieces in all of modern jazz. It was originally recorded in 1972. The following year Spain appeared on the album Light As a Feather by Chick Corea’s band Return To Forever.

It’s popularity has endured and Chick Corea still loves to play Spain at most of his concerts. That’s an unusual situation for a jazz musician with such a varied repertoire and such a wide variety of projects and collaborations. I make a point of going to Chick Corea’s gigs whenever he’s in London on tour and I’ve now seen him play live more times than I can keep track of. There are very few occasions that he hasn’t played Spain in some guise or another.

So why is this composition so popular, why has it’s appeal endured and grown over nearly half a century? For me, the essence of this piece and the secret to it’s enduring appeal is the beautiful Spanish phrygian harmony. It’s an unusual sound to hear in modern jazz and in some ways it’s quite hard to define. But it’s that Spanish phrygian harmonic influence that I’ve tried to get to the bottom of in this practice diary.

What is Phrygian?

Phrygian is the name given to one of the modes of the major scale. Modes are scales with the same combination of harmonic intervals. If I play a phrygian scale starting on F#, it’s the same notes as a D major scale. As I mentioned in the video, you can think of the key for Spain as being D major. And if you play all the notes from a D major scale over the G and F# chords then it will give you a lydian sound over the G and a phrygian sound over the F#.

Check out my Lydian Sounds – Bass Practice Diary here

So, phrygian is the obvious scale to play over an F# root note in the key of D major. But that’s not actually what I’m doing. As I explained in the video, the scale I’m playing is in fact not specifically a phrygian scale. But it does, to my ears, have a phrygian sound.

How Can You Create a Spanish Sound on the F#7 Chord?

The D major scale contains the notes D, E, F#, G, A, B and C#. In the video I use this notes on the G major chord creating a Lydian sound. An issue arises if you try to continue using those exact same notes over the F#7 chord. An F# phrygian scale implies an F#m7 chord because it contains an A natural which is the minor 3rd of an F# chord. The F#7 chord contains an A# which is the major 3rd. You could play an F# phrygian scale over an F#7 chord on the A natural would function as a #9. However, if you try and play this way you will be leaving out one of the most important defining notes of the F#7 chord, the major 3rd. It will be a weaker sound.

If you play the notes of the D major scale, but change one note, A natural becomes A sharp. D, E, F#, G, A#, B and C#. Then you will retain the phrygian sound but also have a much stronger harmony over the F#7 chord. I would call this scale a phrygian dominant scale and it’s actually a mode of the harmonic minor scale.

What Makes it a Phrygian Dominant Scale?

The character of the phrygian sound comes from the semi-tone interval between the root and the second. In this case, the notes F# and G. It’s dominant because it’s played over a dominant 7th chord and contains all the notes of an F# dominant 7th chord, unlike the standard phrygian scale which is minor in it’s tonality because it contains all the notes of a minor 7th chord.

If anything, this scale has an even more Spanish sound than the standard phrygian because it contains all the notes of two major triads a semi-tone apart. If you analyse the notes of the scale, it contains F#, A# and C# (F# major triad) and G, B and D (G major triad). Play these two triads one after the other or any other two triads a semi-tone apart and the sound takes you straight to Spain (the country, not just the composition). It’s the presence of these two triads that give the phrygian dominant scale it’s Spanish sound. The only other note in the scale is the E natural, which is the dominant 7th of F#, making it a Phrygian dominant scale.

Victor Wooten Slap Bass Techniques on 6-string Bass – Bass Practice Diary 4

Victor Wooten Techniques on 6-string Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 15th May 2018

This week I’m doing something that I don’t don very often, I’m practising slap bass. And I’m learning from the very best by playing excerpts from a book called The Best of Victor WootenIn this video I’m demonstrating a passage from a piece called A Show of Hands.

Why Use a 6-string Bass? Victor Wooten always plays 4-string basses!

There are two reasons why I’m using my Warwick “Steve Bailey” 6-string bass for this.

The first is that it’s the bass I use on most of my gigs. I usually play finger style but I’m often asked to play slap bass on one or two tunes in a set. So, I need to know that my slap bass chops are ready to go when required. And I need to know I can do it on my first choice gigging instrument. I can’t stop during a gig to switch onto a 4 or 5 string bass. Also, I often need to play slap bass on just one part of a song and finger style on other parts.

The second reason is that many of the transcriptions in The Best Of Victor Wooten, including A Show of Hands are written and were originally performed by Victor Wooten on a 4-string bass tuned A-D-G-C. He calls this his tenor bass. This tuning is the same as the first four strings of a 6-string bass. It’s not possible to achieve this tuning on a standard 4 or 5 string bass without changing the strings or using a capo. My 6-string bass can play all of the transcriptions in the book at the correct pitch. Including all the pieces played on Standard E-A-D-G tuning and the A-D-G-C tenor tuning.

Is it harder to play slap bass on a 6-string bass?

Yes, but the more I practice, the less I notice the difference. There was a time when I used to do all of my slap bass practice on 4-string bass. I didn’t like slapping on the 6-string because the first string, C, felt too small to slap. And it got in the way when trying to pull the second string, G.

I started practising slap bass techniques on my 6-string bass for the reason I outlined above. I was playing 6-string bass on virtually all my gigs and when I was called upon to slap, it felt awkward. My slap bass chops on my 6-string were not where they needed to be.

So I realised I needed to practice slap bass on my 6-string bass. Now I feel comfortable playing slap techniques on my 6-string including on the high C-string. As a result I get all the benefits of extended range that you get from playing a 6-string. I highly recommend learning to slap on a 6-string bass, it might take a bit longer to master but for me the benefits of the extended range and the versatility far out weigh the challenges.

 

Oteil Burbridge Chord Voicings – Bass Practice Diary 3

Oteil Burbridge Chord Voicings – Bass Practice Diary – 8th May 2018

This week I’ve been working on chord voicings based on a chord that I heard Oteil Burbridge play. Check out this video and the chords are written out at the bottom of the page.

Oteil Burbridge is a wonderful bass player. A fellow 6-string player with an incredible grasp of melody and harmony. If you’re not familiar with his playing I would highly recommend checking him out. When I heard him play the chord I demonstrated in the video I thought it had a really interesting and modern sound.

Intervals and Keys

When I’ve found a really cool voicing like this one, I like to try and find every possible permutation of it. A great place to start is with major keys.

Every chord is a sequence of intervals. See my video on intervals here. There are four  notes in this particular chord voicing which creates three intervals. Starting at the lowest note you go up a fifth to the next note. Then a second to the third note and then another fifth to the fourth and final note.

So I started by working out every permutation of these three intervals within a major key. Each key gives you seven chords. I’ve demonstrated these in the video in the key of F major. So I’m using only the notes F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E.

If you want to take this a step further you could apply the same process to other scales, such as harmonic minor, melodic minor or diminished.

You could also work out every possible mathematical permutation of a fifth, a second and a fifth. A fifth could be a perfect fifth or a flat fifth and a second could be a major second or a minor second. Arguably you could include a sharp fifth and a sharp second as well which would dramatically increase the number of possible permutations. However, I would prefer to think of a sharp second as a minor third and a sharp fifth as a flat thirteenth.

They may not all sound great and some of them might be quite tough to play. However, it would be a great exercise in working out harmony.

Here are the seven chords I worked out in the key of F major using the Oteil Burbridge chord voicing.

Oteil Burbridge Chord Voicings
Chord Voicings in the Key of F

Quite Firm by Laurence Cottle – Bass Practice Diary 2

Quite Firm by Laurence Cottle – Bass Practice Diary – 1st May 2018

This week I’ve been working on a bass chart written by the wonderful British bass player Laurence Cottle.

The first time I heard Quite Firm was when I was a teenager. I can still vividly remember it because it completely blew me away. Years later, Laurence Cottle was kind enough to give me his bass chart for it. It’s a piece I dig out every now and then when I want to work on my finger style chops and my time keeping. It’s a roast trying to keep up with Laurence’s recording which features his incredible band including some of the cream of British jazz musicians.

When I play this piece I use a three finger technique with my right hand. It features my thumb, which also provides string damping, and my first and third fingers. If you’re interested in learning more about this right hand technique then please click on this link to find my video lesson on right hand techniques.

If you’d like to hear more from Laurence Cottle then check out his website LaurenceCottle.com.