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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The following post is written by the superb jazz guitarist and teacher Marc-Andre Seguin. Marc is the founder of the phenomenally successful jazz guitar website JazzGuitarLessons.net. I asked Marc if he could sum up what he feels are the essential things that he expects from a jazz bass player. In this post he gives a brilliant overview of time, swing feel, walking bass lines, harmony and chord progressions.
Marc has included so much great information here, much of which I’ll be following up very soon with some posts of my own. If you want to learn more about time, swing feel, triplets and locking in with the drums, check out my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove. It includes a chapter on triplets and swing feel and another chapter on grooving with drums. But most importantly check out Marc-Andre Seguin’s wonderful music and his website JazzGuitarLessons.net.
Essentials to Expect from a Jazz Bass Player
The essentials for a jazz bass player range from basic to just about wherever they wish to take it.
The jazz bass player does have a few essential tricks up their sleeve that other genres may not require.
Let’s take a look at these essentials starting with a couple of the basics.
An essential requirement is holding down the beat with the drummer.
As part of the rhythm section, you and the drummer are best friends.
Lock it in.
Listen, and be with that ride cymbal when swinging in the groove.
We’ll take a closer look at why and how further on in this post.
The entire band is looking to you to lead them into the next chord and provide the necessary bass notes to compliment the current chord of the song.
The leading tone is critical when heading to a chord change, so stay tuned (pun intended) for clarification.
Let’s get to it.
Walking Bass Lines
One of the staples of jazz is the walking bass line. It is also one of the more creative parts that a jazz bassist can play due to its’ improvisational characteristics. You hold the groove down but can improvise lines.
A walking bass line requires the bassist to play one note for every beat of the measure, so in 4/4 time you would play a quarter note on every beat. Play the root note of the chord on beat one for an easy line.
For the second beat, play any note in the scale of the chord, or a chord tone.
The third beat can be the same or different note of the scale or chord.
The fourth beat creates tension prior to resolving to the root, so play a dominant 5th or a leading tone a half step below the root of the next chord.
The leading tone into the next chord change is critical to nail as your band members are relying on it as a guide to the impending chord change.
Piano player asks, “Where’s the bass player?” Drummer, “He’s in the parking lot again.” Piano player, “We’re going to have to get him some walking bass line lessons.”
Don’t worry, with the information you learn in this post, you’ll be on stage the entire time, and if they announce that you have left the building, it will be a good thing! “Elvis has left the building!”
A little trick is to make sure you always have a lick or two to fall back on when improvising a line. It will help you find your way back if necessary.
See what you can come up with for your own walking bass lines using different variations of the scale notes or chord notes.
This is all about the triplet.
When you are emphasizing each beat of the measure you will create a swing feel when the drummer splits those beats into triplets by hitting between every beat you play.
Listen to the ride cymbal as your center of gravity and let your notes ring as the ride cymbal does. You and the drummer have it going, creating that musical space for the soloists and the rest of the band to play in, until it’s your turn to solo.
Know Your Progressions
There are some common chord progressions that jazz players of all stripes use. One of the most common is the 2-5-1 chord progression.
If you know the scale notes and the chord notes to the chord being played, you can hold down the low end by moving the same line into different keys, which makes for a good default lick.
A great way to practice lines for this progression is by playing through the cycle of fourths in all 12 keys.
Cycle of Fourths
They look intimidating when you see the sheet with the big circle of notes and names around it, but it is pretty easy to use once you understand it.
Here is a link if you wish to learn more about the cycle of fourths. The cycle of fifths is the same thing, just backwards.
How Does a Jazz Bass Player Acquire the Essentials?
As we progress in our playing more doors open presenting unique challenges and most of us usually have something that we are trying to improve upon.
One way to improve our musicianship is to listen to other musicians, be they our favourite artists or our new favourite artists. Listening to good music is not only inspiring but can really propel our learning as something to strive for.
There have been some absolutely great bass and drummer combinations over the years. A notable rhythm unit is Jaco Pastorius and the drummer Peter Erskine who held down the rhythm section for the jazz fusion band “Weather Report” during that band’s heyday. Check them out.
Sometimes deep listening is required, singling out the separate instruments in a band and how they interact with each other. This deep listening is also an essential quality for any musician that plays with others in a band.
There is absolutely no doubt that a good jazz bass player can really take a band to new places.
The bass player holds a lot of power in their hands and forms an essential part of the very foundation of any band.
I encourage you to keep on learning. Start working on some new lines and seek out like-minded players, as getting together and playing with other musicians will really give your playing a boost, and it’s a lot of fun.
About the Author
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.
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#.
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 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 Wooten. In 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 – 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.
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.
Lydian Sounds for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 24th April 2018
In this practice diary I’m demonstrating lydian sounds over major chords using my fretless Warwick Thumb SC. My inspiration for this is Jaco Pastorius’ composition Havona from the album Heavy Weather by Weather Report.
What does Lydian mean?
Don’t be put off by words like lydian and mode. They’re much simpler than you might think. You can think of modes as types of scales. Lydian is the name of one of the modes of the major scale. In fact it’s only one note different from a major scale. The fourth note of the scale is a semi-tone higher than the major scale.
Jaco uses a lot of lydian harmony in Havona. I’ve taken four chords from Havona, E major, C major, B major and G major and played two bars on each chord.
Most jazz musicians prefer to use the lydian scale rather than the major scale when playing over major chords. The reason is that the natural 4th found in the major scale clashes with the third in the major chord. But the raised 4th doesn’t clash. In fact it creates a really nice sound.
For the first four bars I’m playing a seven note phrase using 16th notes. I’ve taken the phrase from Jaco’s solo in Havona, he plays it over an E major chord. The notes in E lydian are E, F#, G#, A#, B, C# and D#. Each time I repeat the seven note phrase, I move it one note up the scale. Using this method I explore all of the possible harmonisations of this phrase within the mode. After two bars on E major I switch to the notes of C lydian without stopping or altering the seven note phrase.
The reason I’m using an odd number of notes is so the phrase will start on a different subdivision each time I change the harmony. So I’m exploring every possible harmonic variation and every possible 16th note rhythmic variation of the phrase.
16th note and Triplet phrases
Another aspect of Jaco’s solo on Havona is the use of triplet as well as 16th note phrases. For this reason I’ve used a triplet phrase taken from Jaco’s solo for the next four bars. Starting on B lydian, Ive played the phrase and this time moved it down one step each time I’ve repeated it. After two bars on B the harmony switches to G lydian and the phrase continues.
Here is the TAB of what I played in the video
I’ve written the TAB for 6-string bass in standard tuning. You can adapt these ideas for 4 or 5-string bass. You could start by playing the phrase one octave lower. ie. playing it exactly as it’s written without the 8va marking.