Spain on 6-string Fretless Bass and Nylon String Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 4th February 2020
Chick Corea’s composition Spain is one of the most iconic jazz tunes written in the 20th Century. Last week I was using some of the chord changes for the solo section of Spain to demonstrate how to use major triad pairs to solo on jazz chord changes. After shooting that video I was practicing playing the tune as a duet with myself. I was using my Godin ACS nylon string guitar and my fretless Warwick Thumb SC.
Bass and Nylon String Guitar
Some combinations of instruments just work really well, even though you rarely hear them used. I think that the combination of bass guitar and nylon string or classical guitar is a great combination. I keep meaning to write more musical arrangements using this combination and I hope I will in the future. Another great combination is bass and flute, think about Jaco Pastorius’ tune (Used to be a) Cha Cha.
This is my first video of an arrangement using just bass and nylon string guitar. To be honest, I haven’t done much arranging, I pretty much just played the tune and improvised a solo on bass.
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.
Minor Scales – Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor, Natural Minor & Dorian – Bass Practice Diary – 21st January 2020
If I ask you to play a C minor scale, what do you play? Minor scales are not as simple as major scales. Most of us know what to play if someone asks us to play a C major scale, but minor scales are confusing. There are several different minor scales, and how do you know which one to play and when.
How many different minor scales are there?
If you’re going to understand minor scales, then it’s important to understand the difference between three different scales, melodic minor, harmonic minor and natural minor. Every scale is a sequence of intervals, and for each of these three scales the intervals are the same for the first five notes. It’s the 6th and 7th notes of the scales that contain the variations.
The terminology of minor scales confuses people for the simple reason that classical musicians treat minor scales differently from jazz musicians. To help explain this I’m going to start by looking at the natural minor and the melodic minor scales. I’ll use the key of A minor because it’s the simplest, it has no sharps or flats, so the natural minor scale contains the notes A, B, C, D, E, F & G.
The A natural minor scale contains all of the same notes as a C major scale. That means that the natural minor scale is actually a mode of the major scale. It’s mode six, called Aeolian. Now, compare that to the melodic minor scale.
The melodic minor scale
The melodic minor scale has a raised 6th and 7th, meaning F# instead of F natural and G# instead of G natural. It’s important to understand that the melodic minor scale is not a mode of the major scale like the natural minor. It’s a parent scale and has seven modes of it’s own. You can check out my video about the modes of the melodic minor scale.
So, the natural minor scale is mode six of the major scale and the melodic minor is a scale with it’s own set of modes. So, not only do these scales sound different, they are also very different in their application. The natural minor scale implies a minor 7th chord functioning as chord VI in a major key, while the melodic minor implies a minor chord with a major 7th functioning as chord I in a minor key.
This becomes more confusing when you learn that classical music treats both these scales as one scale. The melodic minor is the ascending version of the scale, and the natural minor is the descending version of the scale. And together these are called the melodic minor. You can play it on the bass like this.
The harmonic minor scale
There is another minor scale, which, like the melodic minor, is a parent scale to seven of it’s own modes. It’s called the harmonic minor and it has a minor 6th and a major 7th. That means that in the key of A minor, the 6th will be an F natural and the 7th will be a G#.
The harmonic minor scale can also imply chord I in a minor key.
The Dorian Mode
I’ve included a fourth scale in my video. The dorian scale is another mode of the major scale, mode number two. The reason I’ve included it is because it’s a much more common choice of scale for improvisers playing on minor 7th chords than the natural minor scale. However, you wouldn’t use an A dorian scale to play on chord I in the key of A minor. You would use it to play on an A minor 7th chord functioning as chord II in G major. It goes like this.
The A dorian scale contains a major 6th F# and the minor 7th G natural.
Bright Size Life on Fretless Bass and Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 14th January 2020
One of my favourite albums is Bright Size Life by Pat Metheny. It was not only Metheny’s debut album as a band leader but it was also one of the earliest recordings of Jaco Pastorius. Pastorius went on to become arguably the most influential electric bass player of the 20th century, and Bright Size Life features some of his best jazz work. Metheny and Pastorius together on this album are two young jazz genius’ working together in the very stripped down context of a trio with drummer Bob Moses.
The album features some of the best guitar and bass arrangements ever heard in the history of jazz and the title track is one of my personal favourites. This week I was reading through transcriptions of both Metheny’s and Jaco’s parts and I’ve tried to put them together. Admittedly, my playing in this video doesn’t live up to the genius of these two legends, but I was having fun so I put the camera on anyway. I hope you enjoy it.
Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage Fretless
The bass I’m using is a fretless Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage. I’ve done a video about the Sire V7’s before, and I think they’re brilliant. But I haven’t yet done a video about this fretless Vintage version. The thing with this Vintage version is that it’s clearly based on a 70’s fretless Fender Jazz Bass. So, even though it has Marcus Miller’s name on it, it makes me think of Jaco Pastorius.
Introduction to Triad Pairs on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 7th January 2020
This week I want to introduce some basic triad pairs exercises. The basic concept of playing triad pairs on bass is that you take two triads (three note chords) that don’t have any notes in common. Meaning that you have six different notes. And then you use those triads to makes lines and exercises.
Why use triad pairs?
Triad pairs are now a really common concept in jazz improvisation. But it’s not only jazz musicians that use them. You can apply triad pairs to almost any genre of music. They work particularly well for improvisation, but you can also use them to write bass lines.
This week, I’m only going to introduce the most basic form of triad pairs. Which is when you take two major triads that are spaced a tone apart. The reason for spacing them a tone apart, is because the triads function like chords IV and V in a major key. So you can use these kind of lines in any major key by transposing the two triads to the notes of chords IV and V in the key.
All of these exercises are played using the triads C major and D major. Which are chords IV and V in the key of G major. But that doesn’t mean that you can only use these in the key of G major. There are all kinds of interesting and creative applications of triad pairs which I’ll try and cover in my future videos.
There are three obvious ways to voice a triad (inversions). You can put the root at the bottom, the 3rd at the bottom or the 5th at the bottom. This first exercise demonstrates those three different inversions, which you need to learn really well if you’re going to get good at playing these exercises. Bar 1 uses the root position triads for both C and D and then bar 2 uses the 1st inversion and bar 3 uses the second inversion.
This next exercise uses a similar idea, but with triplets. So, you play three notes on each triad rather than four.
Finally, here is a pattern that plays four notes on C and then three on D.
The purpose of playing patterns like this one in exercise 3, is that it helps to make the exercise sound less like a pattern. If you’re playing triad pairs in an improvised solo, and you play three notes up and three notes down, like exercise 2. It will very quickly sound like you’re playing a repeating pattern. That’s ok if it’s the sound you want. But, if you want to make it sound less like a pattern, then a pattern with an odd number sequence (three then four) will create a less predictable feel when played as part of a solo.
Happy New Year – New Year’s Eve Bass Practice Diary – 31st December 2019
Happy New Year! It’s New Year’s Eve and I want to thank everyone who has followed Johnny Cox Music in 2019. I have big plans moving forward into 2020, including a lot more free original bass content, so stay tuned! My second book is almost ready for publication and I’m planning to launch a dedicated teaching website for bass players in 2020.
Here’s a video that I shot last year to help you usher in the new year with a bit of solo 6-string bass. I would have shot a new video this year, but unfortunately I don’t know any other New Year’s Eve song apart from Auld Lang Syne. So this is one of the very rare occasions where I’m recycling an old video. I hope you enjoy it!
Auld Lang Syne
There are a number of ways you can approach harmonising this tune, and I didn’t spend very long coming up with this arrangement. I didn’t write the arrangement down, I just worked out a few things by ear before I hit record.
The loose structure of the arrangement is as follows. I played the first half of the song solo, using simple I, IV, V harmony. I intentionally set it in a key where I could utilise the open strings as bass notes. Then I added some jazz chords and alterations in the second half and immediately overdubbed the melody for the second half of the tune.
This was actually one of the quickest videos I’ve done. The shooting of it didn’t take more than five minutes. But I’m happy with the results. Sometimes playing something “off the cuff” is the best way rather than overthinking it.
I hope you enjoy this bit of bassy mellowness, whether your New Year’s Eve is mellow like mine or a bit more exciting. And I hope that the coming year gives you many opportunities to play the bass!
Carol of the Bells – Christmas Bass Practice Diary – 24th December 2019
Happy Christmas and thanks to everyone that’s been following my Bass Practice Diary videos this year. Here is my new Christmas bass video for 2019. I wanted to find something that I could arrange with a loop pedal and my 6-string bass. I immediately thought of Carol of the Bells. The arrangement of the song immediately lends itself to looping.
The way that I’ve arranged it makes it possible to perform live with two loop pedals, one going into the other. However, I shot this video in two parts with one loop pedal. It’s much easier doing it that way rather than as one continuous take.
I VI II V Chord Progressions on 6-string Bass – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 17th December 2019
This week I’m revisiting my introduction to I VI II V chord progressions on 6-string bass video. There are so many ways that you can alter and substitute chords in a I VI II V sequence. Jazz musicians will often alter and add to the progression so much, that it’s almost impossible to tell that it was ever a I-VI-II V progression in the first place.
There really aren’t any rules when it comes to substituting chords. There are certain standard substitutions that are very common, such as the tritone substitution, which I looked at in my last video. But, honestly, you can substitute any chord for any other one that you like the sound of. A lot of it depends on the musical context that you’re playing the substitution in, but also it comes down to opinion. What sounds interesting to some people, will sound odd to others.
This week I’m just going to take you through some familiar chord substitutions and additions to I VI II V’s. These examples go quite a bit further than the examples in my previous video. But, believe me, you can take these ideas much further out than this.
The I VI II V examples
I created this first example by taking the III-VI-II-V example from my previous video and turning all the chords into dominant 7th chords. I then applied tritone substitutions to the VI and II chords. Then I added whatever extensions and alterations that I liked the sound of.
Once you have four dominant 7th chords like this, you can come up with so many variations just by applying tritone substitutions.
My next example derives from the first example. I’ve simply turned the E7, Eb7 and G7 chords into II-V’s. Meaning that I’ve added minor 7th chords before each dominant 7th chord. Each minor 7th has a root note that is a 4th below (or a fifth above) the root note of the dominant 7th chord. I’ve altered the VI chord to make it a major 7th instead of a dominant 7th chord. This completes a II-V-I in the key of Ab major, which is a strange thing to find in a chord progression in C major, but it works!
TC Electronic Vibraclone Rotary with 6-String Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 10th December 2019
This week I discovered the Vibraclone Rotary pedal from TC Electronic. They call it a Rotary Speaker Emulator, which to me means it sounds like playing through a Leslie speaker. I’ve never been particularly interested in effects pedals. I very rarely take any with me on gigs. But I do use them occasionally. And if I come across a pedal that sounds good for an affordable price, then I’ll definitely snap it up. The Vibraclone ticks all the boxes of being cheap, interesting and sounding good.
How I use the Vibraclone
The Vibraclone definitely has a retro sound. The Leslie speaker was invented in the 1940’s as an addition to the hammond organ. But it was used as an effect by guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s. The terms Chorale and Tremolo are used on a switch on the Vibraclone to differentiate the slow and fast speed settings. These terms came from the Leslie speaker, which used the same terms for it’s slow and fast settings.
I prefer playing with the slower mode for most situations. I find it a bit more subtle. Although I feel like maybe the faster setting sounds more authentically like a Leslie.
Using effects pedals with bass
Generally I don’t use effects when I’m playing the bass and I’m certainly not an expert on pedals. But the times when I find them useful are when I’m playing a lot of solos. If I’m doing a duo gig for example, I know I’ll be called on to play lots of solos. Having something that can change and add variety to my tonal palette can really add something. If you’re playing your third or fourth solo of the night then you usually need something to help you change it a bit.
When I’m using effects pedals, I prefer to put them through an effects loop rather than directly into the front of an amplifier. I want my pure bass tone to be as undiluted as possible, so I don’t want anything in my signal chain between my bass and the amp.
How the effects loop works does depend on the individual amplifier. On my Ampeg GVT guitar amp I can activate and deactivate the effects loop with a foot switch. That is by far my favourite method of using an effects loop, because it means that when the effects loop is disabled I’m getting no potential discolouring of my sound from playing through a long chain of inactive pedals and patch cables. It’s a great system and I wish that I had a bass amp that worked like that.
The effects loop on the back of the Markbass Little Mark III works slightly differently. It mixes the sound of the effects loop with the clean sound of your bass going into the front of the amp. So the impact of the effects is slightly more subtle as it isn’t impacting on all of the sound coming out the amp. I used a volume pedal on the effects loop to gradually bring in and fade out the effect.
You could use the foot switch on the pedal to turn the effect on and off, but that would still leave the sound of your bass going through the pedal chain in the mix. Anything in your chain will colour your bass tone. Even a true bypass pedal must have some effect on your tone and all the extra cables will as well. Which is why I think it’s very important to use an effects loop, so you can only play through the pedals when you want to. One other major advantage of using the volume pedal is if you’re using multiple pedals that you want to turn on simultaneously.
Sire Marcus Miller V7 4-String or 5-String? – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd December 2019
I’d like to do a review of the Sire Marcus Miller V7, because it’s a really good bass. I’ve already reviewed the Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5-string. The only problem is that so many people have already reviewed the V7. I don’t want to just repeat what other people have already said, I try to make a point with my videos of always coming up with something a bit different from what’s already out there. Otherwise what’s the point in doing them.
So the question that I’m going to try to answer is, 4-string or 5-string? If you buy just one Sire Marcus Miller bass, I would recommend that you buy a V7. But, should you get the 4-string version or the 5-string version? Logically they should be identical apart from the number of strings, so does it make much difference if you go for the 4 or the 5? I think it does and I’m going to explain why.
What has everyone been saying about the V7?
The reviews that I’ve seen of the V7 seem to all pretty much say the same things. Sire have used high quality materials, meaning woods, hardware and even a bone nut. They have an excellent onboard preamp, they sound great, they have a low action which makes them extremely easy to play. And all for a price that is amazingly low given the quality of the instrument.
I’m not going to disagree with any of that. I would even add to it the fact that the bass sounds great without the preamp. When I first played one of these out the box, and it wasn’t yet hooked up to an amplifier, I could hear that it was a great sounding bass even without plugging it in.
It has an active/passive switch that turns the preamp on and off. It sounds great in passive mode with the preamp switched off. So I’m not sure how much it even needs the preamp. But having the preamp on the bass is definitely an added bonus.
The few minor negative comments that I’ve heard about the V7 include the fact that it’s a bit heavy. That hasn’t been a problem for me at all. I play Warwick basses which tend to be very heavy and the V7 feels relatively light in comparison. Maybe for someone who is used to playing Fender basses, the V7 might feel heavy.
Sire Basses Setup and Quality Control
I feel I should address the issue of quality control, because not all of the Sire basses are set up perfectly when you get them out the box. I’ve played four Sire basses brand new straight out of the box. Only one of them was set up exactly as it should be. Two of them, the two V7s featured in this video had very minor setup issues that were very quickly fixed. And I experienced big setup problems with the M7 bass.
I honestly don’t see that as a problem. Basses at this price are not meant to be perfect. For every bass to come out of the factory set up perfectly, Sire would need to pay luthiers to meticulously check every detail on every instrument. If they did that, the basses would be much more expensive. Personally, I would much rather they kept the price as low as possible, and I’ll sort out any issues with the setup myself.
I should start by saying that both basses in the video are identical models. They both have alder bodies. So the only difference between them, apart from the colour, is the addition of a low B-string on the five string version. So, my first question is, is the B-string on the 5-string as good as the other four strings?
It’s an important question, because it’s really hard to get a low B-string to sound good. On almost any 5 or 6-string bass, the tension on the B-string is less than the tension on the other four strings. That can often cause the B-string to sound weak in comparison to the other strings. I’ve played plenty of 5-string basses where the low B-string sounded so bad that I just didn’t want to use it.
So, how is the low B-string on the 5-string V7? It’s pretty good, which is actually a problem because the other 4-strings sound great, and the B-string only sounds good.
It’s definitely a better low B-string than many of the 5-string basses I’ve played. When you play it on it’s own, it sounds fine, but it just doesn’t sound as good as the rest of the instrument.
It’s probably the one area where the M7 beats the V7. The 5-string M7 has an extra inch in the scale length of the 5-string version, and that helps to even out the tone with the other strings.
One other issue I have with the 5-string V7 is the string spacing. The strings have a narrower spacing than on the 4-string. I know that this is something that a lot of bass manufacturers do, including Fender. But I wish they wouldn’t. 20mm is a standard string spacing for a 4-string bass. The V7 is a Fender Jazz style bass, and the only J style 5-string basses that I’ve ever played and loved, had a 20mm string spacing. When I try to play Marcus Miller thumb and pluck style bass lines with the slightly narrower string spacing, I find it harder to do.
I think the Sire Marcus Miller V7 is a brilliant bass. I really love playing the 4-string version. The 5-string version is good too, but every time I pick it up, I find myself wanting to put it down and pick up the 4-string version instead. So, if you’re planning to buy just one Sire Marcus Miller bass, and you want my advice about which one to get, then I’m going for the 4-string V7.
The 4-string version makes perfect sense. Because it’s clearly based upon Marcus Miller’s own modified Fender Jazz Bass. Marcus Miller doesn’t play 5-string basses, and I can see why, because his style doesn’t suit a 5-string bass. He does sometimes play his bass with the E-string tuned down to a D, as I demonstrated in the video. And that also works well with the V7 4-string bass.
However, I feel like I should conclude by acknowledging that I’m in the fortunate position of having basses with really good low B strings. So I don’t actually need a 5-string V7. If you’re in the position where you need a 5-string bass, and you’re thinking of the V7 as an option. You probably won’t find many better 5-string basses at this price.