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.
Chord Scales on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd October 2019
I’ve done a few videos recently about chord voicings and progressions for six string bass. So, I felt that I really needed to do a video about chord scales. Because chord scales might be the best way to practice playing chords on bass. If you really want to explore the full potential of every chord voicing that you play. As well as learn how to use them all over the fretboard. Then practising chord scales is the way to achieve that.
What is a chord scale?
You can turn just about any chord voicing into a chord scale. The idea is, that every chord implies a particular scale. There may be more than one scale option for a particular chord. For example, for an E7 chord you could us E mixolydian. But you could also use plenty of other scales, like an E lydian dominant scale. In that case you could come up more than one chord scale.
Once you have a chord voicing and a scale, you simply create a chord scale by moving all of the notes in your chord voicing up one scale step at a time.
So, I’ll use the C major chord scale that I used in the video as an example. The C major scale goes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. And the notes of the C major chord are C, E and G. So, to make the second chord in the scale, the C becomes D, E becomes F and G becomes A. D, F and A is D minor. And when you continue moving up the chord scale you get seven different chords. One chord starting on each of the seven notes of the C major scale.
More Chord Scale Examples
Here are some more examples from the video. This first one is in F major and uses a basic triads voicing.
Here is the same key using seventh chords.
This next one is in the key of A major, and it uses inverted triads. Meaning that the root note is not the lowest note in the chord voicing.
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.
Jazz Chord Progressions on 6 String Bass – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 8th October 2019
Here’s Part 2 of the video I started last week about playing jazz chord progressions on six string bass. Last week I was looking at the chord progression I III IV V. And I came up with some diatonic voicings on my six string bass to take me through that progression in a few different keys. This week I’m including some common and simple chord alterations that you can add, to make that chord progression sound more interesting.
I – III7 – IV – V
I mentioned last week that there are two common ways to play through the I III IV V progression. The first is with a minor 7th chord on chord III. Which is the correct voicing if you harmonise all the chords according to the major scale of the key you’re in (diatonic harmony). But there is a common jazz alteration, which is to play the III chord as a dominant 7th chord. Listen to the opening chords on the melody of the jazz standard Someday My Prince Will Come and you’ll recognise that sound.
Here is how I would play that chord progression in the key of E on a six string bass.
You’ll notice that I’ve included either extensions or alterations on each voicing except the very first one. The first chord is E major 7th, which I’ve voiced like this.
There is one obvious alteration that I could make to this chord, which would be a sharpened 4th (commonly referred to as 11th). That chord alteration would change the sound of Chord I to a Lydian sound. The chord would look like this.
Chord III7 and IV
In the example in the video I’ve played the III chord as G#7b13, like this.
But it’s important to understand that it isn’t the b13 note which is the outside note in this key. The G#7 chord is already a chord substitution because the major 3rd, C (or B#) isn’t in the key of E major. The b13 note is actually the note E, which obviously is in the key of E major.
The IV chord I’ve played like this.
The inclusion of the #11 here is a normal diatonic note to play on a IV chord in a major key. A simple chord substitution here would be to play F# minor 7th instead of A major.
Chords V and I
The V chord is where you can really have some fun with extensions and alterations. In my example I’ve used a B7b13 voicing.
But you can also alter the 9th by sharpening or flattening it.
And you can even alter the 5th by flattening it as well. These kind of altered dominant sounds would often be used as chord V in a minor key. Chord V in a major key would be more conventionally played without alterations, such as B9 or B13.
But I really like the use of the b13 in this case, especially because I’ve voiced the final I chord as E major 9th with the ninth at the top.
So those two chords, B7b13 – Emaj9, create a little chromatic melodic movement. The b13 on the B chord is the note G, which drops onto the F# which is the 9th of the E major chord. It could also go chromatically up onto G# which would be the major 3rd of the E major chord. These are chromatic approach notes which are a common melodic device used in jazz.
Keep following my weekly practice diary on Johnny Cox Music for many more videos about jazz chord progressions coming up soon.
Jazz Chord Progressions on Six String Bass – Part 1 – I III IV V – Bass Practice Diary – 1st October 2019
I’ve done a few videos by now about playing jazz chord voicings on the bass. So, this week I wanted to start a series of videos about playing jazz chord progressions. The idea is to take some of the chord voicings that you hopefully already know, and apply them to simple popular chord progressions. It’s the logical next step once you’ve started to incorporate chord voicings into your bass practice regime.
The I-III-IV-V or I-III-IV-V-I Chord Progression
The chord progression I’ve chosen this week is I-III-IV-V. And I’ve resolved all my examples back to the I chord at the end, so it’s actually I-III-IV-V-I. But that often doesn’t happen in real jazz situations. So, in the key of C major, the diatonic chords would be C major, E minor, F major and G dominant. However, in jazz the III chord can also be played as a dominant 7th chord. So, it could be E7 instead of E minor.
Many of these examples were inspired by the jazz guitarist Ted Greene and his book Modern Chord Progressions. The book is obviously written for guitar not bass but I’ve still managed to adapt some of his ideas onto my 6 string bass. I’ve included four examples in the video. Each one is in a different key, and here they are.
There’s also the Oteil Burbridge video which I referred to in the video. And I’ve also done a four part guide to playing chords on the bass. Which is very old and needs to be updated, but it still contains some useful information.
Blues in A with a 10/8 Time Signature – Bass Practice Diary – 24th September 2019
Blues is at the root of so much of what I play. I started out by playing blues as a child. And the blues is also at the root of so much modern music, including jazz, rock, funk, soul… the list goes on. It’s actually incredible when you think about it, how the musical vocabulary of the blues has permeated so much music in the last 100 years or more. But, can you play a blues in an odd meter? That’s what I found myself wondering this week.
Where does blues end and modern jazz start?
Blues has its own rhythmic feels and distinctive harmony. Which have proved very adaptable to other genres of music. And it could be argued that once you break out of these structures, you’re no longer playing the blues. My own musical journey through my teen years took me from blues to modern jazz, simply by a process of trying to expand my harmonic language. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part to leave the blues behind. I simply started to become interested in upper chord structures and alterations, and expanding my role as a bass player, and modern jazz is where I found myself.
So I’ve no doubt that some people could argue that an odd meter blues isn’t blues, it’s (blues influenced) modern jazz. But I would argue that if you can stay true to the rhythmic feeling, structure and harmony of the blues, while playing an odd meter. Then you can play an odd meter blues. And that’s what I’ve tried to do in this video.
The influence of John McLaughlin
It’s not a completely original idea, although I’ve never heard anyone try to do exactly what I’ve done here. However, I was partly inspired by the jazz guitarist John McLaughlin. There’s a tune called New Blues, Old Bruise on his album Industrial Zen. It’s in 15/8 and I think it’s a brilliantly original approach to playing blues harmonic language. That tune would undoubtedly be classed by most people as jazz fusion, but nevertheless, the blues influence is undoubtedly present.
The other influence of John McLaughlin came from his brilliant DVD called Gateway to Rhythm. In which, he briefly demonstrates a kind of subverted blues shuffle feel in 10/8. The rhythmic phrase he uses is Ta-Ki-Ta Ta-Ki-Ta Ta-Ka Ta-Ka, which is 3+3+2+2. When I heard it I thought it was genius. Because it seemed to capture the feel of a blues shuffle, but it wasn’t a shuffle. I think the phrase originally came from one of his old Mahavishnu Orchestra albums.
Hearing that made me think, if you can capture the feeling of a shuffle in 10/8 then maybe you can play an entire 12 bar blues in 10/8. I haven’t used that particular rhythmic phrase in my blues, because I didn’t want to copy John McLaughlin’s rhythmic phrase. But it did inspire me to come up with the blues in 10/8.
The bass line
The bass line was partly improvised and partly worked out in advance. It turns out that you have to concentrate really hard when you’re playing a 12 bar blues in 10/8. Especially when you don’t just stick to one rhythmic phrase. As I haven’t here, I’ve tried to mix up the rhythms as much as I could. But here is one chorus of transcribed blues bass line in 10/8.
The fretless bass solo
The fretless solo on top was just a bit of messing around. I added it to add some context to the bass line. I found while I was doing it that I had to concentrated really hard on where to start my lines. To make sure they came out in the right place harmonically. I’ve transcribed the solo too and here it is.
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.