In a Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington – Jazz Arranged for Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 4th September 2018
I love to play jazz on my basses at home when I get the chance. I usually make my own backing tracks and practice by playing along with them. In this video I’ve laid down the chords of Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood on my acoustic bass guitar and played over the chords on my fretless Warwick Thumb SC.
In a Sentimental Mood
In a Sentimental Mood is one of those great jazz tunes that’s both simple and beautiful. It has a very lyrical melody and some simple but effective chord changes. It was written by Duke Ellington in 1935 and originally performed by his orchestra. But the version that I’ve been listening to was recorded by Duke Ellington with John Coltrane in 1963. I also like Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal rendition of the song, where she sings the melody with just a guitar backing her. I’ve tried to get some of the flavour of both versions in my video. In a Sentimental Mood is also a staple standard of Sonny Rollins sets. He seems to play it a lot and he’s done some wonderful versions of it.
The Warwick Thumb SC is not only the best fretless bass I’ve ever played, it’s the best bass I’ve ever played. If you’ve seen many of my other videos you’re probably quite familiar with this bass by now. But if you’d like more info, you can find it here.
Inside and Outside Notes – Start Using More Outside Notes in Your Bass Lines – Bass Practice Diary – 28th August 2018
Recently I made a video called Everything You Need to Know About Harmony on Bass Guitar. You can check it out by clicking on the link. In the video I talked about using inside and outside notes. Well I thought it was time for a practical video about how you can practice playing inside and outside notes. Here it is!
Inside and Outside Notes
The simplest way to explain inside and outside notes is that inside notes are notes that belong in the key you are playing and outside notes don’t. Hopefully you know already that I don’t believe there is any such thing as “wrong” notes. Simply because outside notes can make your basslines more interesting when they’re used in a musical way. You can use them to create tension within music, which is very hard to achieve if you only play inside notes. And the resolution of those notes onto inside notes creates a resolution of the tension.
How Can You Practice Using Outside Notes
This video is a practical guide not a theory lesson so I’m going to jump straight in to the musical examples. If you’d like to learn more of the theory then jump to my previous video which is linked in the opening paragraph.
I started with two chords, G7 and C7. And I created a bassline using only chord tones. The notes are G, B, D and F for G7 and C, E, G and Bb for C7.
The first variation I played was to add a note one fret above or below either of the root notes. In the following example I’ve added the note Db before the C root note and Ab before the G root note. Both Db and Ab are outside notes on both G7 and C7 chords.
Notice that these notes always resolve onto the root note. Meaning that the next note after the outside note is always the root note. It’s that resolution that keeps the outside notes from sounding “wrong”.
Resolving Outside Notes Onto Chord Tones
You can resolve outside notes onto any chord tone. It doesn’t have to be the root. The following example starts on a Bb, which is an outside note on G7. The Bb resolves up one fret onto B natural which is a chord tone. The next outside note is Db which resolves onto the root note of the next chord C7.
The final technique for incorporating outside notes that I looked at in the video is chromatic runs. I usually use these when leading into a chord change.
Starting three frets either above or below the root note, simply play each fret either up or down to the root. It’s a simple technique, but it sounds cool if you don’t over use it. The following bassline demonstrates the technique.
How to Approach Playing Bass in Odd Meters and Time Signatures – Bass Practice Diary – 21st August 2018
This week I’ve been practising playing in odd meters and I want to briefly share my system for playing any unusual time signature. My system revolves around learning and reciting rhythmic phrases rather than counting beats, and if you use it properly it should make playing odd meters no harder than playing in 4/4.
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.
I want to share an approach that I use to playing odd meters. It’s actually 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 when playing odd meters. And that might be the root cause of why they struggle with them.
Think About Rhythmic Phrases
What do I mean by rhythmic phrases? Every meter or time signature has a fixed number of subdivisions per bar. Check out my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove if you’d like to learn more about subdivisions and rhythmic structure.
The rhythmic structure of a bass groove comes from how you organise these subdivisions. I’ll use the examples from the video to demonstrate. The first one is in a very unusual time signature 15/16. Which means there are fifteen 16th note subdivisions in every bar.
In this example I’ve arranged the fifteen subdivisions into three groups of four and one group of three.
If you’ve read my book or followed some of my previous videos you’ll know that I like to use Indian Konnakol syllables to recite rhythms. The syllables for a group of four subdivisions are Ta-Ka-Di-Mi and the syllables for a group of three subdivisions are Ta-Ki-Ta.
So, the rhythmic phrase for the above example is as follows.
Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ki-Ta
It’s actually a very simple rhythmic phrase, even thought the time signature 15/16 might make you think of something very complex.
An even more simple arrangement of fifteen subdivisions would be five Ta-Ki-Ta’s. This creates the feel of a 5/4 shuffle.
How Can You Apply This System in Any Time Signature?
This idea can and should be applied to any groove in any time signature. Including the obvious ones like 4/4. It’s not always easy because there are much more complex rhythmic structures than the examples above. But the key is to understand firstly, what is the subdivision (8th notes, 16th notes, triplets etc.) and secondly how many are there in each bar.
Once you know the answer to those two questions you can work out rhythmic structures using basic maths and Konnakol.
Here are some more examples I’ve come up with for the purposes of demonstration. The first one is in 3/4.
3/4 is often not thought of as an odd meter because it’s been a fairly common time signature for hundreds of years. It crops up regularly in classical music and jazz as waltzes. But as you can see from my example. It doesn’t have to have a waltz feel. The addition of 16th note subdivisions changes the feel entirely.
Here’s another example in 5/4. This also has a 16th note feel and the rhythmic structure is slightly more complex than the previous examples.
The final example in the video features a more relaxed 8th note feel on a 7/4 time signature.
How to Practice Odd Meters
I would suggest practising this in three stages. You don’t need an instrument until the third stage.
The first stage is to work out your own rhythmic phrases. Pick a meter that you want to practice and work out rhythmic phrases that contain the correct number of subdivisions. An old fashioned pen and paper might be the best way of doing this.
Next, recite the rhythmic structures using Konnakol (or whatever system you prefer). My application of Konnakol involves using Da for one subdivision, Ta-Ka for two, Ta-Ki-Ta for three and Ta-Ka-Di-Mi for four. For more subdivisions you can just combine syllables. For example five could be Ta-Ki-Ta Ta-Ka. Six Could be two Ta-Ki-Ta’s and seven could be Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ki-Ta etc.
The final stage is playing your rhythmic phrases on your bass!
Playing Bass through a Roland GR-55 Guitar Synth Pedal – Bass Practice Diary – 14th August 2018
I started using a Roland GR-55 about four years ago. Soon after getting it, I made a video of some of my original compositions arranged entirely on my bass. I used the GR-55 to create different voices. Remarkably, that video passed 20,000 views last week. You can watch it here. To mark the event I’ve decided to feature the GR-55 in my Bass Practice Diary for the first time.
I never imagined that my original video would be so popular. In fact I was slightly concerned about releasing it. Because I thought I might get some negativity from people who don’t like the idea of playing a bass through a guitar synth. In fact the reception that the video has received has been almost entirely positive.
Why I started using a Roland GR-55
I write and arrange music on my bass every week. I can play several instruments, but bass will always be my first instrument, just like English is my first language. So it’s far easier for me to compose with my bass than with a guitar or piano. The Roland GR-55 gives me the capability to use my bass like an electric keyboard. As a way of utilising MIDI. The advantage of this is that I can lay down entire tracks on my bass, either multi-tracking or looping without it sounding like an orchestra of bass guitars. And the GR-55 also gives me the potential to use the regular pickups on my bass at the same time or independently, so I have the best of all worlds. It’s like my bass has become a bass and an electric keyboard all rolled into one.
I get that many bass purists won’t like some of the synth sounds. But for me, as a way of presenting my music, the pro’s of the GR-55 vastly outweigh the cons.
Can You Plug a Bass Straight Into a Roland GR-55?
No, you need to install a Roland GK-3B pickup onto your bass before you can plug into a Roland GR-55. Because the GR-55 does not have a jack input. You need to use a 13-Pin MIDI cable which will connect with the GK-3B pickup. The pickup also has a jack input so you can plug your bass into the GK-3B and control both your normal bass pickups and the GK-3B MIDI pickup through the GR-55.
The GK-3B is relatively easy to install. I installed mine myself by following the instructions. You can install it with double sided sticky strips, so there’s no need to drill into your instrument unless you want to attach it permanently. You may have noticed that I’ve attached the GK-3B to a black bass. The pickup is black, so if you install it on a bass of any other colour, there’s a good chance it will spoil the appearance. You can attach the GK-3B to 4, 5 or 6 string basses. The same pickup works for all of them.
How to Vary the Rhythm of Your Bass Grooves – Bass Practice Diary – 7th August 2018
In this week’s video practice diary I’ve been thinking about how to practice rhythmic variations. As bass players we often find ourselves playing repetitive grooves with static harmony. You can make those static grooves more interesting by playing subtle rhythmic variations. Here is how I would practice that.
We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve played a bass groove for a period of time. And during that period of time we’ve started to feel that it’s getting boring, not just for us but for the audience listening to us. It’s a dilemma, because if you change the groove too much it can affect the band and the performance in ways that might not be appreciated. So the key in that situation is to come up with subtle variations. They may be so subtle that your audience doesn’t consciously notice them, but they will still add to a feeling of movement and flow in the music that will prevent it from becoming boring.
How Do You Come Up With Rhythmic Variations?
It’s easy to say that the answer is to come up with subtle variations, but it’s harder to achieve it without becoming repetitive. So I’ve come up with this system for coming up with as many potential rhythmic variations as you can.
You need to start with a groove. You can come up with one of your own or you can use one that you know. I’ve come up with my own in the video to avoid copyright complications. But I did think about doing the video with a famous bass line to help illustrate the idea.
Here is the bass line I’ve used in the video.
The next stage of my process was to come up with a rhythmic variation. I restricted myself to only changing the rhythm of two notes. Because I want my variations to be subtle. I’m not trying to change the whole groove. The variations should sound organic and fit in with the original feel.
Here is my first variation.
The last note of the first bar has been moved one sixteenth note later. And the third note of the second bar has been moved one sixteenth note earlier.
I then came up with two more variations, I allowed myself to add individual notes and move notes by a single subdivision. But not many because I’m still trying to keep the core elements of the groove.
Here are variations two and three.
Hopefully you can see that this system gives you the potential to come up with a lot of subtle variations for your bass grooves. It even gives you the potential to evolve your grooves into something rhythmically different without ever making an obvious change that an audience would notice.
If the music will allow it, you could keep changing the groove in two places each time you play it. Before long you can build a bass groove that is entirely different without having played an obvious change to the groove.
The Groove With Variations
At the bottom of the page I’ve put the bass groove plus the variations. I’ve demonstrated playing it all together in the video.
When I played it for my wife, who isn’t a musician, she said it sounded good but she couldn’t tell the difference between the variations. That is exactly what I was trying to achieve. Because the variations exist to make the music sound more interesting without it sounding like I’m changing the groove. An audience will respond positively to rhythmic variation, if it’s done well, but they probably won’t consciously be aware of what it is that sounds good.
Suspended and Major Chord Voicings – Bass Practice Diary – 31st July 2018
This week I’ve been looking for new and interesting chord voicings on my 6-string bass. Suspended chords tend to create a modern sound and I’ve demonstrated one particular voicing that I like and has proved to be quite versatile.
When I found this particular voicing I started moving it around to different positions and playing it over open strings, which created other chords, mostly major chords. What you see in the video is me improvising using this chord voicing.
It isn’t particularly structured practice, but that’s ok, because sometimes when you’re practising an impulse takes over and you just play for fun. That’s what’s happening in this video. And as soon as I’d shot the video, I pulled out my fretless Warwick Thumb SC to play a bit of melodic improvisation over the top.
Suspended chords or sus chords are chords that omit a third in favour of using either the second or fourth or both. The absence of a third makes the chords neither major or minor. It’s the third that defines whether a chord is major or minor. And sus chords have a neutral sound as a result of not having a third. Listen to Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage for an example of the suspended chord sound being used in jazz.
The chord symbol for a C suspended chord can be written as Csus. I sometimes see it written as C11. I don’t like the 11 chord symbol because, although a 4th is the same as an 11th, the 11 chord symbol implies to me the presence of a third, dominant seventh and a ninth. So the sus symbol is more accurate.
Csus2 is C, D and G (root, 2nd, 5th), Csus4 is C, F and G (root, 4th, 5th). You can think of C7sus as Bb/C. The Bb, D and F from the Bb major triad function as the dominant 7th, 2nd and 4th and create a suspended sound when you play them over a C root note. You could also call the same chord C9sus because the 2nd and 9th are interchangeable in the same way that the 4th and 11th are.
The Opening Chord Sequence
The opening sequence in the video is played over an open A string until the final chord which is played over an open E. All of the voicings are built by playing an interval of a sixth between the D and G strings, and an interval of a second between the G and C strings. Try making your own chords using the same voicings. You can adapt them onto four and five string basses by playing over the open E string and voicing the chords on the A, D and G strings.
Due to the improvised nature of my performance in the video, many of these chords are no longer sus chords. Many of them are major chords. What started off as an exercise in finding suspended chord voicings became an improvisation using the same chord voicing against open strings.
The Chord Theory
The first chord in the opening sequence is a suspended chord, but the second has a major sound. It contains a C#. Which is the major 3rd of A. If you listen carefully in the video I don’t play the top note on the second chord. It would have been a D. I was improvising and I’ve no idea what I was thinking in the moment. But I may have thought that C# and D would clash, being a semi-tone apart. In hindsight I slightly regret this. Conventional jazz theory says don’t include a major 3rd and natural 11th in the same chord voicing. But I think it works in this context. So I’ve included the note in the TAB even though it’s not in the video.
The third chord creates a lydian sound with the sharp 11th D# and major 3rd C#. You can check out my video on lydian sounds by clicking here. The fourth chord creates a straightforward A major sound with an added 9th. And the final chord creates an E major/Esus sound. Again, I’ve included the major 3rd and natural 11th, which I think sounds cool. Even though the two notes clash if you play them simultaneously. Notice that I’ve finger picked each note individually to cut down on the impact of such clashes. The final note that I’ve included is tapped with my right hand index finger.
The Closing Sequence
The closing sequence simply uses the last two chords of the opening sequence and repeats them. I hope you have some fun with these chord voicings and you’re able to come up with some original chords.
Learn Basslines in 9/8 Time Signature – Bass Practice Diary – 24 July 2018
This week’s bass practice diary leads on directly from what I was doing last week. I’m writing and recording examples for an upcoming book. Last week I was exploring bass grooves in 6/8 time signature. This week I’m taking a logical next step and looking at bass grooves in 9/8 time signature.
9/8 Time Signature
While 9/8 is a logical next step from 6/8, it also enters a new world of odd meters. However you group the nine eighth notes in each bar you will inevitably end up with an odd number. The most obvious way to divide the bar is into three beats, each subdivided into three eighth notes. This creates the feel of a 3/4 shuffle as I’ve demonstrated in the video.
So, 6/8 and 9/8 can both be related to 3/4 time signature. 6/8 can be played as a straight 3/4, as I demonstrated in this video last week. And 9/8 is most commonly played as a 3/4 shuffle. You can also think of a jazz waltz as being 9/8.
Odd Meters and Time Signatures
I know that the subject of odd meters can divide opinion amongst musicians. Personally, I find odd meters fascinating and I love to play in odd meters. Technically, an odd meter is any time signature with an odd number of beats in a bar. So 3/4 and 9/8 are both odd meters, and technically 6/8 isn’t an odd meter. However, the term odd meters tends to get attached to any time signature that isn’t commonly used. We tend to not think of 3/4 as an odd meter because it’s fairly common. But an unusual meter like 10/4, for example, would usually be categorised as an odd meter, even though it technically isn’t one.
I’ve also come across an attitude from some musicians, that they think odd meters only belong in “prog rock” and “fusion”. Prog and fusion are considered dirty words by many musicians, and my own odd meter influences certainly don’t come from prog rock.
The term “fusion” is one that I don’t like to use. If you think about it, virtually all music is a fusion of different influences. Certainly jazz is a fusion of many different styles and musical cultures. Too often I hear the label “fusion” attached to music as a way of putting it down. Somehow implying that it’s not pure. Particularly within the jazz world.
9/8 in Jazz and Indian Music
My interest in odd meters comes mostly from having studied jazz and Indian music. A great example of 9/8 being used in jazz, is the Dave Brubeck composition Blue Rondo a La Turk. What sounds like a very complex rhythm when you first listen to it, is actually quite simple. The melody is based around a rhythmic phrase where the nine eighth notes are arranged into three 2’s and a 3. I would recite the rhythm Ta-ka, Ta-Ka, Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta. After the theme, Blue Rondo a La Turk moves into a jazz swing feel, which highlights the connection between these types of rhythmic phrases and the jazz swing feel.
In Indian music, a Tala, which is a beat cycle can contain 3, 5, 7 and 9 beats or even 11 or 13. The Indian approach to odd meters has crossed over into Western music many times in the last fifty years. In jazz through musicians such as John McLaughlin and Trilok Guru and even in pop music. An example is All You Need is Love by the Beatles, who were heavily influenced by the Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.
How to Groove in 9/8
I’m trying to find ways of grooving in 9/8 time signature, that move away from a straight forward 3/4 shuffle. I’ve included three examples in the video. The first two use the standard 3/4 shuffle feel. But in both examples the feel is slightly subverted by rhythmic variations.
This first example uses a 3/4 shuffle feel in bar 1. But the second bar has a rhythmic variation. The rhythm in bar 2 is the same rhythmic phrase as Blue Rondo a La Turk.
Example 2 stretches the shuffle feel even further.
In Example 3 I’ve moved away from the shuffle feel altogether. There’s no doubt that this example has much more of a feel of an odd meter, which some people will like and others won’t. I really like this bass groove, and I’ve combined it with some gospel style harmonies which I think makes a really interesting juxtaposition.
My Composition in 9/8 Time Signature
At the end of the video I’ve included a composition of my own. It is as yet un-named and un-released. It’s only a demo really. It’s one of many compositions I have compiled over the last ten years or more. Hopefully one day I’ll re-record it with a full band and release it. But for now I hope it can give you an idea of how these ideas can be applied to composing.
Learn Basslines in 6/8 Time Signature – Bass Practice Diary – 17 July 2018
6/8 is one of my favourite time signatures to play in. And I know several drummers who feel the same way. In this post I’m going to share with you some of the reasons why I love 6/8. As well as some of the key principles you need to know in order to groove in the 6/8 time signature.
This week, most of my practice time has been taken up by writing and recording examples for a book that I’m writing. The book will be a follow up to Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove which was published earlier in 2018. So, instead of showing you what I’ve been practising this week, I’m showing you some of the examples that I’ve been writing. And specifically I’m playing examples in the time signature six eight (6/8).
What is 6/8?
6/8 simply means that every bar contains six eighth notes. But you shouldn’t count the eighth notes 1 2 3 4 5 6. The basic feel of 6/8 is two beats per bar with each beat subdivided into three eighth notes. A better way to count 6/8 is 12 3 – 22 3. If you’re not sure what subdivisions are, then check out this free lesson.
In my opinion, the 6/8 time signature gets really interesting when you realise that a bar of 6/8 is mathematically no different from a bar of 3/4. It’s important to understand that this is only true with a straight 3/4 feel. If you play 3/4 with a swing or shuffle feel, then it’s the same as 9/8. But I’ll explain more about 9/8 in next weeks practice diary.
3/4 and 6/8 both contain six eighth notes in every bar. So any rhythm that you can play in a straight 3/4 feel can also be played in 6/8 and vice versa. Once you understand this, you suddenly have a wealth of options for playing on and off the beat in two different feels simultaneously. The 3/4 feel gives you three beats and three off beats in each bar, and the 6/8 feel gives you two beats and a further four places where you can play off the beat in every bar.
All of these beats and off-beats exist in one bar of 6/8, and if you can learn to feel both the 6/8 and 3/4 feels simultaneously within the 6/8 time signature, then you can create some really wonderful grooves.
Play the Examples in the Video
The examples in the video are just a small selection from the book that I’m writing. While researching this section of the book, I’ve been listening to as many examples of 6/8 rhythms as I can. I’ve heard music from all over Africa, South America, Eastern Europe and India to name just a few. I’ve discovered so many different approaches to playing in 6/8. And I’m happy to share just a few of them with you here ahead of my book being published later in 2018.
I wrote this first example to illustrate the difference between the 6/8 and 3/4 feels. Bars 1 and 3 have a typical 6/8 feel. Whereas bars 2 and 4 contain the three quarter notes that could be defined as 3/4.
The idea for Example 2 is that I’m using the 3/4 feel over the 6/8 but I’m focusing more on the off-beats. Look in particular at bar 2. There is a note on beat one and then the remaining three notes land where the off-beats would be in a bar of 3/4.
6/8 is a very under used time signature in rock music. Example 3 is my idea for a rock riff in 6/8.
The final example features a rhythm called Bembe. Which has it’s roots in African music but is best known in Afro Cuban music.
Jazz Solos and Melodies on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th July 2018
This week I’m featuring an excerpt from Miles Davis’ solo on the tune So What from the seminal jazz album Kind of Blue. I’m playing it on my Warwick Thumb SC fretless bass.
Why Play Jazz Solos on Bass Guitar
The purpose of this video practice diary is not to copy Miles Davis or any other jazz soloist. Firstly, it’s to try to show how well the fretless bass works as an instrument for playing jazz solos. Especially solos with the type of lyrical phrasing demonstrated by Miles Davis. Secondly, it’s because I believe that anybody that wants to learn how to solo and improvise, should try and work out solos and melodies by as many great musicians and improvisers as they can. Not because you should try to copy other musicians, but simply in order to learn from them.
Jaco Pastorius is the most influential jazz bassist in history and he overwhelmingly favoured playing fretless. He also stated that the first thing he would do when learning any new piece, was learn the melody. He felt that learning melodies was essential to playing bass lines. I strongly agree with him. I’ve stated in a previous post that one of the principle functions of bass lines, is harmony. And in order to really understand a composition and how to harmonise, you must understand the melody.
What is “Lyrical” Soloing
When I use the adjective “lyrical” to describe a solo, it might seem like an odd choice of word. The word seems to imply lyrics which is strange to attach to an instrumental solo.
A dictionary definition of lyrical is “expressing the writer’s emotions in an imaginative and beautiful way”. Which more or less sums up what I mean. But there is a bit more. The word lyrical to me implies being like a human voice. Miles Davis was quite open about this with his soloing, he was trying to use his trumpet to phrase like a singer would. This is what I’m trying to achieve with my fretless bass. And it can work well because you can slide in and out of notes and use vibrato in a way that you can’t on a fretted bass. However, you do have to be careful to not over use any of these things.
Intonation is also a key consideration when playing fretless. Meaning; are the notes in tune? If you put your fingers in even slightly the wrong place on the fret board, the notes will be out of tune. You don’t need to be nearly so accurate on a fretted bass.
Learning How to Play Jazz Solos on Bass
This Bass Practice Diary entry leads on from what I was doing last week, when I was playing Charlie Parker melodies on fretless bass. I believe that the best way to learn how to play jazz solos, is to learn to play as many jazz solos and melodies as you can.
Technical information about chords and scales is useful theory, but it doesn’t teach you how to improvise a jazz solo. Soloing is about creating melody, and melody is about creating musical phrases. The best way to do this is by listening to as much music as you can and working out how to play the melodic phrases.
Preferably, do it by ear. If you find it difficult to work out music by ear, I would recommend starting very simply, by using folk or pop melodies before moving onto jazz. It can be a slow process at first because it takes a lot of trial and error to begin with. So don’t be put off if you’re only starting out. You will get faster with experience.
Charlie Parker is a pioneer of modern jazz and one of the greatest saxophonists in history. Alongside trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie he pioneered the genre called Bebop. His compositions provide a musical and technical challenge to perform on bass, especially fretless bass. But doing so will improve your technique as well as help you learn the language and phrasing of modern jazz.
The Influence of Jaco Pastorius
I first started learning Charlie Parker melodies on bass when I was in my teens after I discovered Jaco Pastorius’ debut, self titled album. Track 1 on the album was Donna Lee. The melody was played by Jaco on a fretless electric bass. Like many other bass players, hearing this was a revelation to me. He took the bass out of it’s traditional role and elevated it to the level of a jazz solo instrument. I immediately decided that I needed to try doing the same thing.
So I used a Jazz Real Book to start working out jazz bebop melodies on my bass. I didn’t start with Donna Lee. It was the concept of playing jazz melodies on bass that I wanted to emulate, not necessarily that particular tune. Although I did get around to learning Donna Lee soon enough.
The first bebop tune I learned was called Tricotism, by the legendary double bass player Ray Brown. I figured I should start with a piece that was created for bass. Having done that I then learned the tune Confirmation by Charlie Parker. You hear me play an excerpt at the end of the video.
Why Play Charlie Parker Tunes on Bass?
I suppose the simplest answer is, because I think they sound really cool. Especially on fretless bass. But there are plenty of other great reasons to try this out. First, it is fantastic for improving your left hand technique. To play these tunes on bass you need to organise your left hand extremely well. Each tune forces you to practise spreading out your fingers, playing one finger per fret positions and shifting quickly and smoothly between these positions.
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out my free video lesson on Left Hand Techniques. The video begins with me playing another Charlie Parker tune called Anthropology on a 4 string bass.
How do You Start Playing Charlie Parker Tunes on the Bass?
Slowly, is always good advice. Take it one phrase at a time and work out good left hand fingerings for each phrase. It’s so important to have a well organised left hand in order to play these melodies.
If you can read music, you can start with a jazz Real Book. That’s how I started, and as I understand it, that’s how Jaco started as well. I don’t know if they had Real Books back in the 70’s but I understand that he had a book with the melodies in. You can get bass clef versions of most of the Real Books now, which is a big advantage. As a teenager I only had a treble clef Real Book and it took me a while to work out the melodies because at that time my treble clef reading was nowhere near as good as the bass clef.
Other books available include the Charlie Parker Omnibook which also comes in a bass clef version. It goes into each tune in a lot more detail than the Real Books because it includes transcriptions of both the melodies and solos. However, it’s not my favourite book because it doesn’t use key signatures. So each transcription contains hundreds of accidentals (sharps and flats) written throughout the music.
If you’re not a reader then the book to get is called Charlie Parker for Bass. It includes TAB and also features solo transcriptions, arranged for 4 string bass.