Odd Meter Bass Groove – 7/4 Rock Bass Groove with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 14th May 2019
This week I’ve been working on writing play-along pieces for my upcoming book. It will be my second bass book released by Fundamental Changes. The video features a bassline that I wrote for an odd meter rock piece. It’s a rock bass groove in 7/4 time signature. You can find my video guide to playing bass in odd meters here.
What Are Odd Meters?
The term odd meter simply means any time signature that has an odd number of beats or subdivisions in a bar. Odd meters divide opinion amongst musicians. Some musicians (including me) love them and think they can flow and groove just as well as any groove in 4/4. Others hate playing them.
My approach to playing odd meters is not that different to my approach for playing in any meter. But I think that musicians who are not comfortable playing in odd meters often feel that they have to do something different. And that might be the root cause of why they struggle to play them.
7/4 is an unusual time signature in rock and pop music but there are famous examples of its use. All You Need is Love by The Beatles, Money by Pink Floyd and Times Like These by the Foo Fighters all contain sections in 7/4.
Pentatonic Exercise for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 7th May 2019
This week I’m featuring a pentatonic exercise. The reason that I’ve shared this is to show you how I approach practicing scales, or as I like to think of it harmony. I prefer not to use the word scale because it implies going up and down a pattern of notes. Whereas what I’m trying to achieve is learning how those notes fit all over the fretboard. And then coming up with different ways of playing them.
How to practice scales
When I’m practicing a particular scale or harmony, I like to come up with new and different ways to move the harmony around the fretboard. The example in the video is just one example that I came up with. But in a single practice session I might come up with 5 or 6 different exercises using the same scale and practice them all for a few minutes each.
This works for any scale, arpeggio or melodic pattern. It’s the same process that I use when I’m practicing any harmony. I’ve used the pentatonic scale as an example because it’s simple and most people know it.
The pentatonic scale exercise with bass TAB
Here is the pentatonic exercise for bass written out as I played it in the video. I’ve used the root note G for both examples because the open string works well playing the root note. But you could adapt this exercise for any scale that has a G natural in it.
First, here is the G minor pentatonic exercise.
The exercise is simply a three note pattern that starts with an open string. The open string first string is always the first note of the three note pattern. But the other two notes move up and down the neck on the second and third strings.
The final element of the exercise is a rhythmic element. The three note pattern is played with a 1/16th note feel. Meaning that the emphasis keeps shifting onto a different 1/16th note each time you repeat the three note pattern.
The Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale – Bass Practice Diary – 30th April 2019
Recently I did a video about the altered scale, which is one of seven modes that come from the melodic minor scale. You can find it here. That got me thinking about the other modes of the melodic minor scale. There are a few that I use quite a lot, but there are others that I almost never use. So this week I set myself the task of practicing all of them, and thinking about what harmonic context I can use them in.
If you’ve seen my altered scale video, you’ll already know that melodic minor scale is only one note different from a major scale. If you take out the major 3rd from a major scale and replace it with a minor 3rd, then you have a melodic minor scale.
This small alteration creates the potential for seven modes, that are each different and distinct from the seven major scale modes. (Ionian, dorian, phrygian, lydian, mixolydian, aeolian and locrian). Modes are extracted from scales by changing the root note to a different degree of the scale. For example, if you play the notes of a C major scale but change the root note to D, then you have a dorian mode.
What are the melodic minor modes?
These are the seven modes of the melodic minor scale. Each has been written out in one octave and I’ve written the implied chord symbol above each mode. I’ve chosen to use D melodic minor for this exercise.
The first mode is the melodic minor scale itself. I use the melodic minor to play on minor 6th chords and it can also be used on minor/major chords (meaning minor 3rd with a major 7th.
The second mode is like a dorian mode with a flattened 2nd. It implies a minor 7th chord. But the flattened 2nd is a strange note to play on a minor 7th chord. Hence, this is one of the modes that isn’t commonly used.
The third mode is like a lydian scale with a raised 5th. The implied harmony is a major 7th chord with a #5. I don’t currently use this scale a lot. But I’ll try and use it more in future, because it sounds cool.
The fourth mode is usually called lydian dominant because it has a raised 4th, like the lydian mode. But it also has a dominant (flattened) 7th. It’s a scale that I like to use on dominant 7th chords. It’s essentially a mixolydian scale with a raised 4th. Which makes it sound more interesting than a mixolydian scale when played on an un-altered dominant 7th chord.
The fifth mode is basically a mixolydian scale with a flattened 6th. I don’t use it very much but you could use it on a dominant 7th chord with a b13.
The sixth mode works well on half diminished chords (m7b5). It has a minor 3rd and 7th and a flattened fifth. But unlike the locrian scale, it has a natural 9th rather than a flattened 9th.
The seventh mode is the altered scale, which I’ve already covered in my previous video. It’s an extremely useful scale for playing on altered dominant chords.
Bass Practice Diary is One Year Old – 23rd April 2019
A year ago I decided to start documenting my bass practice by picking one thing that I was working each week and making a short video about it.
As a music teacher, I believe that if you want to keep improving your musicianship, then it’s essential that you keep finding new things to practice. It seems to me that a lot of people get stuck in the same practice routines, practicing the same things. And then they wonder why their playing isn’t progressing in the way that they want it to.
What I’m trying to show, is that there is an almost unlimited number of different things to practice. And many different ways that you can practice them.
I release the videos every Tuesday. And I haven’t missed a week in the whole year. So there are currently over 50 videos. All available for free without subscription.
If you would like to follow my free videos each week then you can always find them here on JohnnyCoxMusic.com. And if you subscribe to my Youtube channel and click on the bell icon, then you should be alerted each week when my videos are uploaded. You can also follow me on my Facebook page Johnny Cox Music. And you can find me on Instagram @johnny.cox.music
The Altered Scale – Bass Practice Diary – 16th April 2019
Jazz musicians love to play on dominant 7th chords. And the altered scale is a really important scale to practice if you want to create a jazz sound when playing on these 7th chords. I think that using the altered scale is often perceived as “advanced” harmony. But, as with most things, it’s easy when you understand it. So, here’s my very quick guide to using the altered scale on bass.
What is the altered scale?
The altered scale is a mode of the melodic minor scale. Meaning that it contains all of the same intervals as a melodic minor scale. The altered scale is essentially what you get when you play a melodic minor scale starting finishing on the 7th note of the scale.
So, what’s a melodic minor scale? It’s basically only one note different from a major scale. If you take a major scale and change the major 3rd to a minor 3rd, you have a melodic minor scale.
Here’s the notes of an F major scale.
And here are the notes of an F melodic minor scale.
Notice that the only difference is the third note. It’s an A natural in the major scale and an Ab in the melodic minor.
If you play the notes of an F melodic minor scale but use E (the 7th note) as the root note. You would be playing an E altered scale.
When you think about the notes of the F melodic minor with an E as the root note, it creates these interval relationships to the root note.
The 3rd of E7 would, of course, be written as G# not Ab. But the altered scale creates some interesting theoretical anomalies like that. Because the major 3rd note (Ab/G#) is actually the 4th note of the scale.
How do you use the altered scale?
As I mentioned at the start, the altered scale works really well on dominant 7th chords. You can think of the altered scale as being a kind of extended dominant 7th arpeggio with lots of chromatic alterations.
The scale includes the root, major 3rd and dominant 7th notes which are the fundamental ingredients of a dominant 7th arpeggio. But the other four notes are all chromatic alterations of some kind. Hence why it’s called the altered scale.
You can alter chord tones and extensions by moving them one semi-tone up or down. The 5th of E7 is B natural, but in the altered scale the 5th has been flattened to Bb. So the altered scale could be used on an E7b5 chord.
The 9th can be altered by sharpening or flattening it. The altered scale uses both alterations. So you could use it on an E7b9 or an E7#9 chord. The final alteration is a b13.
So you can use the altered scale to play on any of these altered dominant chord types. And you will sometimes see the chord symbol E7alt. Which implies a chord that could include any or all of these alterations.
So if you want to start using this altered dominant sound on your dominant 7th chords. Then start to think about using a melodic minor scale that starts one semi-tone above the root of the chord. So, if you’re playing on a D7 chord, think Eb melodic minor. For A7, thing Bb melodic minor, for G7 think Ab melodic minor, for B7 think C melodic minor etc.
Having said that, I don’t think that soloing on Giant Steps needs to be very difficult. As long as you start slowly and focus on internalising the sound of the chords before you increase the tempo.
One of the reasons that John Coltrane’s Giant Steps has it’s fearsome reputation is because of the chord changes in the first two bars. The first bar starts on a Bmaj7 chord for two beats and immediately changes to a D7 chord on beat three. Which is a key change to G major. The second bar starts with a resolution to a Gmaj7 chord. Then it changes key again. This time to Bb7 on beat three which is the fifth of Eb major.
So the tune starts with three different keys in two bars. Needless to say, if you’re not prepared for it, it will catch you out. And many Giant Steps solos have failed before they’ve begun because musicians can’t negotiate these quick key changes quickly enough.
This chord movement in bars 1 and 2 repeats itself in bars 5 and 6 but transposed so that the progression starts on Gmaj7. And it’s this chord progression that defines Giant Steps. So if you want to improvise on Giant Steps you need to spend some time really working on this two bar chord progression.
Use the Chord Tones
My first piece of advice would be to come up with lines over this two bar progression using chord tones. The progression itself is already complex enough on it’s own that you don’t need to add lots of chromaticism or substitutions to make your lines sound interesting. It’s amazing how many interesting sounding jazz lines you can come up with on Giant Steps using nothing but roots, 3rds, 5ths and 7ths.
Here are three different lines that I came up with which use nothing but chord tones.
You can transpose each of these to work over bars 5 and 6. But here’s another one that I wrote specifically to be played over bars 5-7.
I don’t work out these licks so that I can play them in a solo. I do it to help me get the sound of the chord changes into my ears. And the more lines like this that I work out, the more likely I’ll be to be able to improvise something like this in a solo. So feel free to play through my licks and practice them, but also come up with some of your own.
I honestly feel that this two-bar chord progression is the key to unlocking Giant Steps. Once you can improvise over this tricky chord sequence, the rest of the progression is easy, dare I say it. It’s just a sequence of II – V – I’s in three different keys. Eb major, G major and B major.
Playing on II – V – I’s is a jazz musicians bread and butter. There are hundreds of lessons and videos out there about playing on them.
Giant Steps Improvisation on Fretless & Fretted 6 String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd April 2019
Some jazz tunes are so iconic that every jazz musician and enthusiast should know them. John Coltrane’s Giant Steps definitely falls into that category. The chord changes have made it iconic, because they’re notoriously difficult to improvise on. Over the years it’s become a kind of rite of passage for aspiring jazz musicians to learn to play on those changes.
I’ll do a more complete analysis of how I approach playing on Giant Steps next week. But the purpose of this video is to show how I approach practising any tricky piece like this. The first and most important thing when approaching any difficult repertoire is to start slow. If you want to be able to play fast, then practice slow.
Start Slow and Vary the Feel
When I’m approaching any chord progression, I’m trying to internalise the sound of the changes. It’s much harder to do this if the changes are flying past at 300bpm. Coltrane may have played Giant Steps blisteringly fast, but I’d be willing to bet that he practiced it slowly first.
I love practicing playing over slow changes. You can really enjoy playing over each chord and having loads of time to hear the changes go past. And this will really help you to get the sound of the changes into your ears.
Another piece of advice I would offer, is to practice playing the changes over as many different feels as you can. As you can hear in my video I start by using a slow straight 1/16th note feel, and then move on to a faster swing feel. But that only scratches the surface, there are so many different tempos and feels that you can use.
It always amazes me that some jazz musicians seem to only practice improvising in a swing feel. You can always tell who these people are because they instantly sound very uncomfortable playing in anything that doesn’t have a swing feel.
John Coltrane and Giant Steps
Giant Steps was recorded and released in 1959, which was a watershed year in jazz for many reasons. It came from the album which was also called Giant Steps, and that album is seen by many as a masterpiece of jazz Bop style improvisation and composition. In fact it’s seen by many as the ultimate recording in that style of jazz.
It’s certainly possible to believe that Coltrane himself believed that he couldn’t improve upon Giant Steps. Because from that point on in his career he went on to explore other aspects of jazz improvisation such as modal jazz and free jazz. And he never returned to the Bop style vocabulary of the Giant Steps album.
Wild Mountain Thyme – Scottish Folk Melody – Bass Practice Diary – 26th March 2019
This week I’ve done something a bit different. This is an arrangement of a Scottish folk melody called Wild Mountain Thyme. This came about because I did a gig last weekend with a wonderful group called the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir.
There aren’t very many opportunities in the UK to get paid to play bass for a Gospel Choir. So, I considered myself very fortunate to get this gig. And needless to say, it was a beautiful show. One of the most enjoyable I’ve played in a long time.
There was quite a lot of preparation that I needed to do for the gig. I had to learn about 14 songs. I often learn more than double that number of songs for a gig. But much of their repertoire was from American Gospel acts like Kirk Franklin, Hezekiah Walker and Isreal Houghton. And if any of you’re familiar with those guys, you’ll know that there’s some serious bass work on those recordings.
One song in the second half was performed by the choir with piano alone. So I’d never even heard it before the concert. It was completely different from their other repertoire. They sang their own arrangement of a Scottish Folk Song called Wild Mountain Thyme. As I sat listening to the choir sing it, I thought it was beautiful.
So when I got home, I started to mess around with it on bass and guitar. And the result is what I’ve shared in the video above. I’m not sure that my version totally captures the rich harmonies of a gospel choir. But it does at least give you an insight into what I do when I hear a melody I like. I hope you enjoy it and make sure you check out the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir!
Learn a Jazz Bass Lick by Jeff Andrews – Bass Practice Diary – 19th March 2019
I heard the news a couple of days ago that Jeff Andrews had passed away. He really deserves to be remembered as one of the great jazz electric bass players. I know him best from his work with Mike Stern. He played on albums such as Time in Place and Between the Lines which have been among my favourites for a long time. As well as his work with Mike Stern, he’s also played with jazz and fusion greats like Michael Brecker, Bob Berg, Vital Information and Steps Ahead.
After hearing the news, I immediately started listening to some of those albums again. And I also found a really cool compilation of his solos on Youtube. It really struck me what a great musician and improviser Jeff Andrews is. And predictably I started trying to work out what he was playing. What I found was a goldmine of incredible jazz lines improvised on electric bass.
Using Inside and Outside Lines
What struck me about his style was his brilliant use of inside and outside lines. It’s a commonly used technique of many jazz improvisers. Incorporating lines that are both inside the harmony and outside the harmony as a way of creating tension and resolution. Jeff Andrews is an absolute master of this. He improvises lines at high speed that outline the harmony, but then take you way outside the harmony before bringing you back in for the resolution.
Jazz Blues Bass Lick
The lines he creates are so cool, and I could have picked any one of his lines as a demonstration. But I choose this one which is from a Mike Stern tune called Bait Tone Blues.
This line takes place over the last four bars of blues in F. And it starts by clearly outlining a ii – v in the key of F. But then follows a sequence which starts on a B natural and ends with a sort of chromatic run featuring the notes A, Bb, Ab, E and G. That’s an uncomfortable sounding sequence of notes when you play it over a standard blues turnaround in the key of F. But then having played that outside sequence, he immediately brings it back inside the harmony by outlining a C major triad at the end. With the C7 functioning as the V chord in the last bar of the blues.
It’s really hard to analyse some of these outside lines other than to say that when you play the lick through, it just sounds really cool. And it shows that Jeff Andrews had incredible musical instincts as an improviser. He had the ability to throw in outside passages and make them sound like they fit with the inside harmony. He will be missed.
Play Bass on Sus Chords (Suspended Chords) – Bass Practice Diary – 12th March 2019
Sus chords or suspended chords create a really cool modern sound. Last week I put out a video of a bassline I’d written on four sus chords. This week I want to explain a little bit of the theory behind my approach to playing on these types of chords.
What is a suspended chord?
I think there is often confusion over what the term suspended actually means when it relates to music. A suspended chord is simply a chord that doesn’t contain a third. A basic musical triad (three note chord) usually contains a root, a third and a fifth. And it’s the third that defines the chord as being either major or minor.
Suspended chords don’t use the third. The third is usually replaced by a fourth (sus4) or a second (sus2). Therefore they’re not major or minor chords. They need a different name, and that name is suspended. The name itself doesn’t really tell you anything important about the nature of the chords or how to play on them, so most musicians usually abbreviate and call them sus chords.
How do you play on sus chords?
Personally, I take a jazz approach to playing on sus chords. A basic sus4 or sus2 chord (like the kind you might find in a pop song) is all very well. But for me these chords get really interesting when you start extending them, creating richer fuller harmonies and chord voicings.
When I’m playing bass on sus chords, I like use the notes of a major 9th chord or arpeggio. But I think of the root note of the sus chord as being the 9th of the major arpeggio.
So, for example, G is the 9th of F major. So I can think of a Gsus chord as being an inverted Fmaj9 chord with the 9th becoming the root.
If you think of the notes of an Fmaj9 chord with the root G, then the chord tones are root, 2nd (9th), 4th, 6th (13th) and b7th (dominant 7th). So you can think of my Gsus chord as being a G7sus4 chord with a 9th and a 13th added as chord extensions. However, I would simply think of it as Gsus and the chord extensions are there at the discretion of the musicians voicing the chords.
More sus chord arpeggios
These kind of extended sus chords create a really cool modern jazz sound. I think they’re cool because they aren’t major or minor, so the sound of them is always a bit of a question mark. Almost like you’re not really sure when you hear them, how they’re supposed to make you feel.