Bass Guitar Exercise – Sus Chord Triad Arpeggios – Bass Practice Diary – 13th July 2021
Last week I was demonstrating a line played by Rick Beato. He uses a lot of sus chord arpeggios and chord voicings in his playing. It’s a really popular idea among improvising musicians and I can see why. The sus chord arpeggios create a really distinctive sound and they are incredibly versatile. You can use them over all kinds of different harmonies and chord voicings. And you can find five different sus arpeggios hidden within a major scale. So, you can create improvised lines by sequencing different sus arpeggios together.
What’s a sus chord?
A sus chord is a chord with no third. The third is usually replaced by either a fourth or a second. So a sus chord triad goes either root, 2nd 5th (sus2) or root, 4th, 5th (sus4). As I mentioned in the video, a sus2 triad is an inversion of a sus4 triad. So, for example Gsus4/C is Csus2. So you can think of sus2 arpeggio shapes as being the same as sus4 arpeggio shapes. The only difference is which note you think of as the root note.
The absence of the major or minor 3rd makes it ambiguous as to whether the chords are functioning as major or minor. And that ambiguity makes them very versatile. When you play these arpeggios you get a lot of perfect 4th and 5th intervals. That means that you can create modern sounding jazz lines in the style of quartal harmony.
The exercise that I’ve come up with is quite advanced because it uses some big stretches. There are easier ways to play sus arpeggios. But I think this exercise is good because it really gets you moving around the fretboard. That’s a big advantage when it comes to improvising melodic lines. Here is the exercise.
Jazz Solo Lines for 4-String Bass with Bass Tab – Bass Practice Diary – 27 April 2021
This week I’m featuring three jazz solo lines that I’ve adapted to be played on 4-string bass. I’ve been thinking recently about how I first learned jazz on bass as a teenager. I started out with a 4-string bass, like most bass players do. In recent years, I’ve done most of my jazz playing on 6-string basses. But jazz improvisation isn’t only for bass players who play extended range basses.
I didn’t play a 6-string bass until I was 19 years old. By that time, I had already completed a year of a bachelors degree at a music college. I was studying and performing music by Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Chick Corea and others. To cut a long story short, I learned to play jazz on a 4-string bass with 20 frets. And this week I’m returning to my roots by arranging some brilliant jazz solo lines on 4-string bass.
Jazz Line #1: Autumn Leaves, Keith Jarrett
This line comes from Keith Jarrett’s brilliant trio album Still Live with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette. It’s played in the last eight bars of the first chorus of the piano solo on the classic jazz standard Autumn Leaves. He doesn’t play any left hand chord voicings during the line. So, the chord symbols written above represent the implied harmony and you shouldn’t necessarily take them too literally. One of the great things about that ‘standards trio’ was the way they interpreted the harmony of standards so loosely and with such freedom. This line is just a great example of a jazz solo line improvised by a wonderful musician on a classic standard.
Jazz Line #2: Whole-tone Line in Cm, Mike Stern
This second line doesn’t come from a recording, but from a book. It’s a brilliant book by the legendary guitarist Mike Stern called Altered Scale Soloing for Jazz Guitar. It comes in a chapter where he’s talking about using the whole-tone scale to create an altered dominant sound. The chord progression in the example is simply I-V in C minor. If you play a whole-tone scale over the dominant V chord, it gives you the root, 9th, 3rd, #11, b13 and dominant 7th. It’s an interesting mix of chord tones and alterations. And this line is a great example of how to create a modern sounding altered jazz line in a minor key.
Jazz Line #3: Oleo (Bb Rhythm Changes), Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen
The third and final line comes from the brilliant duet album Chops by Joe Pass and the incredible double bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. This line is played at the start of the bass solo on Sonny Rollins’ tune Oleo. So this is a line that you can use on any Bb ‘Rhythm Changes’ tune. Rhythm Changes is played in eight bar sections and this is played over the first A section. Although it does drift into the start of bar 9 which is the start of the second A section.
I think this line is an example of a bass player proving that the bass can be a dynamic jazz soloing instrument. Just like any other melodic or harmonic instrument. I haven’t attempted to figure out where he was playing the notes on the fretboard. My fingerings are based on how I would play this line as an electric bass player, not on how I imagine an upright player would play it. However, unlike the previous two lines, I have played this example in the same octave that Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen originally played it in.
In the past I’ve done some analysis of the differences between the way double bass players and bass guitar players arrange lines on the fingerboard. You can check out the video in which I analyse a jazz line by the great bassist Tom Kennedy. He started life as a double bass player. Then he transitioned onto electric bass, taking many of the upright bass techniques and fingerings with him.
PRS Bass 4 – 1986 rare Paul Reed Smith bass guitar – the 29th ever made
I’m not a vintage guitar or bass collector. The oldest instrument I ever owned before this was my first ever bass. My parents bought that one for me in 1994. However, when I saw this 1986 PRS Bass 4 on sale in the UK at a price I could afford, I was intrigued. I’ve played a few PRS guitars in my life. I’ve always been impressed by them. I own an S2 Standard 24 which you can see in the video. It’s a really well made guitar. However, as a bass player I’ve always been curious to know if the legendary Paul Reed Smith had designed and built any basses that were as good as his guitars. It turns out he has!
Paul Reed Smith Bass Guitars
So, I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to try a PRS bass. But it’s not that easy to try one in the UK at the moment. PRS doesn’t make that many basses. The only bass model being manufactured in the US is the Grainger 4 and 5. They retail for over 3000 Euros in Europe. Getting one would also involve paying import duties in the UK as we are no longer part of the EU. That’s a bigger investment than I can afford.
Alternatively, there are a couple of PRS SE basses called the Kingfisher and the Kestrel. The SE basses retail for under £1000 in the UK. They are made for Paul Reed Smith under license by a company called Cor-Tek in Indonesia. I’ve played PRS SE guitars, and they’re great. But it’s not quite the same thing as playing one of the US made core instruments.
My Paul Reed Smith Bass IV
So, when this bass came up for sale, you can see why it seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up. I’m always slightly nervous about buying second hand. It’s hard to know if the seller has been less than forthcoming about the true condition of the instrument. So, I asked the seller to send me some extra photos. He was very obliging and sent me everything I requested. He told me he had owned the bass since 2002 and hardly played it at all. And that shows in the condition of the bass which is absolutely excellent for an instrument that is nearly 35 years old. It has some scratches and marks on the back, but the front is in excellent condition. It’s nearly the same age as me, but it’s definitely in better condition for it’s age.
Three Pickups on a Bass?
The design of the bass is what I think makes it so special. The pickups and the pickup configuration are excellent. Three single coil pickups, each with a very different tonal flavour. The way the pickups are spaced is very well thought out. The space has been maximised to ensure the maximum tonal variety between the three positions. I’ve played three pickup guitars where the pickups have been right next to each other. In those situations, the middle pickup doesn’t make enough tonal difference to be worth bothering with.
In the case of this bass, the spacing on the pickups ensures a significantly different character to the middle pickup. The neck pickup is a classic neck pickup with a woody jazz tone, the bridge pickup gives you classic mid range punch and the middle pickup give you a very usable classic single coil electric bass tone.
Then add to that two hum-cancelling positions made by combining the bridge pickup with either the middle or neck pickup. Suddenly you have a lot of different and very usable electric bass tones at your disposal, even before you engage the active circuitry. When you play the bass in passive mode, the active treble control seems to act as a very subtle passive tone control. When you engage the active controls, which completely changes the character of the sound, you suddenly realise that this bass is really capable of doing a lot of different things. The video I’ve made really only scratches the surface.
A Compact and Versatile Bass Design
This might be the most versatile bass design I’ve ever played. The compact body size and the two and two headstock make for a small bass with a long scale length which balances beautifully and plays as well as all PRS instruments seem to. I think it’s really a shame that this brilliant piece of design never caught on.
The only reason I can think of for why it didn’t is because after the 1980’s both guitarists and bass players seemed to stop looking for innovation in instrument design. It seems like everybody just wanted to go back to the classic bass designs. If it wasn’t a J or a P or a MusicMan Stingray (all Leo’s most famous designs) then no one seemed to be interested. I think it’s a shame. I have nothing against Leo Fender, but surely there is room for innovative designs in the bass world alongside his classics.
I’m very happy with my purchase. I didn’t buy this bass to hang it on the wall or put in a display case. I’m a player not a collector, I bought this bass to play it, and I will certainly do that. I suspect that this also might get more valuable as time goes by. But if it does, that’s just an added bonus.
This Exercise Might Drive You Crazy! Octave Shifting on Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 30 March 2021
This is an exercise I came up with during a lesson with one of my students. The student in question asked me if we could work on some octave displacement ideas. The idea being that you can start a line in one octave and shift into another octave somewhere in the line. It’s actually a very musical way to liven up your lines and bass fills. Here’s a simple example.
It’s essentially just a descending A major scale. It starts on the root note on the 14th fret of the 1st string and it descends to the fifth, E, on the 14th fret of the 2nd string. Then, instead of playing the 4th, D, on the 12th fret of the same string, you can play the open string and continue the scale one octave below. If you’re asking why? try using this as a bass fill on a tune in A major, or any of the modes of A major. It’s a simple way to make a scale sound like it’s not just a scale.
This exercise could drive you crazy
But that’s not the exercise that I’m sharing with you today. In the the lesson we asked the question, how can you practice thinking in two different octaves? And that’s when I came up with this exercise. I warn you, this is an exercise that messes with your head. It also leads to some big left-hand stretches. So it presents a technical challenge as well as a mental one.
The concept is simple. Take any scale in two octaves. Then play the scale, but shift octaves after every single note. So, you play the first note in the lower octave and the second in the higher octave. Then the third in the lower octave and the fourth in the higher etc. Here is the exercise written out both ascending and descending in the key of A on 4-string bass.
Here is an extended version of the same exercise written for 6-string bass. This time the key is Bb major.
Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage Fretless – Bass Practice Diary – 15th September 2020
I’ve been wanting to feature my Sire V7 Vintage fretless bass in a video for a while. I’ve featured Sire basses in my videos before, but never this one. And this is probably my favourite of all of the Sire Marcus Miller basses I’ve played. This is the only Sire bass that I’ve played that I didn’t need to do any setting up when it came out of the box. It played perfectly from the outset and the setup has remained very stable ever since.
Sire V7 vs V7 Vintage
So, what’s the difference between this Sire V7 Vintage and the regular V7’s that I featured in this video. This bass has a body made from Ash and the fretted V7’s both had Alder bodies. However, all of the V7 models come in both ash and alder versions. This bass has a maple fingerboard, my fretted V7’s have ebony fretboards, but once again, both models come with both options.
To find the differences between the models you have to look a bit more closely, and the differences are small. The position of the bridge pickup is different. It’s closer to the bridge on the Vintage model and further away on the standard V7’s. This does give the Vintage model a slightly tighter sound on the back pickup. The Vintage models have a gloss finish on the neck, the standard V7 neck has a really nice matt feel. I slightly prefer the matt feel of the standard V7 neck, but it doesn’t make much difference to me.
I think those are the important differences. There are cosmetic differences, like the scratch plate looks different and the bridge on the Vintage model has vintage style saddles. But I’m not interested in that stuff. I’m only interested in how it plays and how it sounds.
Why I like the Sire V7 Vintage Fretless
I said that this is probably my favourite Sire bass that I’ve played. The setup is really good, but honestly that’s probably just luck with this particular bass. Sire basses are set up with a low action, which can be great but it can also go wrong, and this particular one came out well.
So, that’s not the reason I like it. The reason I like it is because it gives me something that I never thought I’d have, for a very low price. I grew up listening to legendary bass players like Jaco Pastorius and Marcus Miller playing vintage Fender Jazz basses. But it’s never been my thing to try and recreate a vintage sound. I’ve always looked forward and tried to create a modern bass sound. Investing in a proper vintage Fender Jazz bass, even a reissue, would be very expensive. And it’s not an investment that I’m willing to make when it’s not the sound I’m aspiring to make.
This Sire bass gives me a vintage style passive J style fretless bass for a price that I can justify buying it and keeping it just to have fun with. Honestly, I hardly ever play the bass with the preamp switched on. Not because the preamp isn’t good (it’s really good). But because I just want it to be a vintage Fender Jazz Bass. The fact that it has this preamp on it, which makes it capable of functioning as a modern active fretless bass, is just a bonus. It really adds to the versatility of the instrument.
I’ve even kept the flat wound strings on it, and I never play flats on my fretless basses. To be honest, the bass has the wrong name on the headstock. I know that Marcus Miller is an under rated fretless player. But every time I pick up this bass I just end up playing Jaco lines for hours. I spent years learning Jaco’s catalogue and playing it on basses that sounded nothing like his bass. Now I have the right tool for the job and I love it.
Triplet Timing Exercises for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 1st September 2020
This is my third video of timing exercises for bass guitar. The previous two videos both involved playing odd number note groupings as 16th notes in 4/4. In this video, I’m changing the subdivision and I’m playing four and five note groupings as triplets in 4/4. All of these triplet timing exercises are written with 8th note triplets. However, if you want to take the exercises a step further, you can make them harder by using quarter note triplets or 16th note triplets.
The first exercise involves playing four note groupings. I’m using two arpeggios in the key of C major, a Dm7 arpeggio and a Cmaj7 arpeggio. You can use any four note grouping to do this. Four note groupings played as continuous triplets in 4/4 will arrive back on beat one after two bars. So, I’ve put the note C on beat one of bar three to complete the exercise. You can loop the exercise as many times as you want to.
Another way to play four note groupings would be to play a scale, four notes at a time. This is a C major scale played descending from G, the fifth.
Playing five note groupings as triplets is harder. The next exercise lands back on beat one at the beginning of bar 6.
Finally, this last exercise combines the four and five note groupings. It’s actually a bit more straight forward than playing just the five note groupings, because four and five makes nine. So, this is effectively a grouping of nine. And because nine is divisible by three, it fits into triplet rhythms quite nicely.
Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar #2 – 16th Notes in Five Note Groupings – Bass Practice Diary – 18th August 2020
This week’s timing exercise features five note groupings, played as 16th notes. Last week I featured a similar exercise with three note phrases. You can make exercises like this by using any odd number grouping, and then playing those groupings as continuous 16th notes in 4/4.
Odd Number Rhythmic Groupings
The larger the grouping, the more rhythmic possibilities it creates. For example, five note groupings can be counted as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Da-Di-Gi-Na-Dum). Or you could count 3+2 (Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka) or 2+3 (Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta). However, a seven note grouping would give more options, 4+3, 3+4, 2+3+2, 5+2 etc.
The idea of playing odd number rhythmic groups, is that it creates a continuously moving polyrhythmic feel against the four beats in a bar of 4/4 and the four 16th note subdivisions in each beat. The idea of these exercises, is that they systematically go through every possible rhythmic placement of a five note grouping of 16th notes in a bar of 4/4, before arriving back on beat one at the beginning of the sixth bar.
Three Variations of The Exercise
In the first exercise, I’m playing five note arpeggios in the key of C major.
As you can see, I play the tonic, C on beat one of bar 6. If you can hit that note on the downbeat, then you know you’ve played the exercise correctly.
The second variation of this exercise is a variation of the first exercise. This time, I’m playing the five notes as three and then two.
The third variation also uses the three and two idea. However, this time I’m using an ascending G major scale.
Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar – 16th Notes in Groups of 3 – Bass Practice Diary – 11th August 2020
The concept of this timing exercise is very simple. You take any sequence of three notes, and play the sequence as continuous 16th notes in 4/4. So, you subdivide the beats into four, but you play a pattern of three, which creates a simple polyrhythm. Each time you play the sequence, it will start on a different 16th note. After three bars, you will have played all of the different permutations of where that sequence can start in a bar of 4/4. So, if you play the sequence correctly for three bars, the sequence should begin again on beat one of bar 4.
The Exercise and Variations
This would be a simple version of the exercise. It’s a “one finger per fret” exercise, but each note is played three times.
I would more commonly play the exercise using triads, as I have here.
You could also apply the same idea to practicing scales. Here is a C major scale played in three note groupings. First ascending and then descending.
Inside/Outside Pentatonic Jazz Exercise for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 5th May 2020
This week I’m featuring a pentatonic jazz exercise that I came up with. Since I released my pentatonic jazz lick video a few weeks ago, I’ve been coming up with exercises to help me play these inside/outside pentatonic ideas all over my bass and in different keys. I’m featuring the exercise for two reasons. One is because it’s a useful exercise to practice, but the other, more important reason, is to help you come up with exercises of your own by sharing my process with you. This is how I came up with the exercise.
A minor pentatonic exercise
An idea for an exercise usually starts with something very simple, and then I find ways to make it progressively more challenging. In this case, I started with the notes of an A minor triad. Then I took those three notes through the notes of an A minor pentatonic scale by moving each note one scale step downwards on each repetition. Like this.
Then I changed the feel from triplets to 16th notes. That created a three against four polyrhythmic feel. The pattern is three notes but each beat had four subdivisions.
Then I added the II-V-I inside/outside idea from my last pentatonic video. If you think of the Am triad as being chord II in a II-V-I in G major, then you would play two beats on A minor. Then two beats on D7 before resolving onto the one chord, G major, in the second bar.
The three scales used are A minor pentatonic on the A minor chord. The outside scale is Bb minor pentatonic on the D7 chord. And the exercise resolves onto B minor pentatonic on the G major chord. Three pentatonic scales separated by a semi-tone. Two of the scales contain entirely inside notes in the key of G and the other contains entirely outside notes.
Diminished Scale Exercise for Jazz Lines – Bass Practice Diary – 6th August 2019
Recently I’ve been practicing lots of symmetrical exercises. And this week I’ve featured a diminished scale exercise that I came up with this week. A few weeks ago I featured an exercise that involved harmonising the whole tone scale into augmented triads. A symmetrical exercise can be anything with a limited number of transpositions. In practice that usually means using patterns of repeating intervals. They have a vey unique sound that you won’t achieve just by using major and minor scales and their modes.
The Diminished Scale in Jazz
I’ve spoken a bit in the past about the diminished scale in jazz. The diminished scale is probably the most versatile symmetrical scale. The most obvious time to use it would be over a diminished chord, but that isn’t the most common place it gets used in jazz. The most common use of diminished scales in jazz is on dominant 7th chords. And I’ve used dominant 7th chords as the backing for the exercise in the video. The chords go around in a cycle of 5ths like the middle 8 section of the Rhythm Changes chord progression (D7, G7, C7, F7).
Let me explain how and why diminished scales work on dominant chords. I’ll use C7 as an example and I’m going to start my scale on the root note C. The first intervals in the scale will be a semi-tone and then a tone. So, the first three notes are C(root), Db(b9) and D#(#9). These same intervals will then repeat through the octave creating a scale with eight notes in it, C-Db-D#-E-F#-G-A-Bb.
The interval pattern this creates is an interesting mix of inside and outside notes when played on a C7 chord. The b9 and #9 are both outside notes, and both common alterations on dominant 7th chords. The C, E, G and Bb are the chord tones, root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. And the A is the 13th, which is a chord extension but an inside note. The F# is a #11th, which is another common altered chord extension.
The Diminished Scale Exercise
The exercise I came up with in the video is just an idea to help you improvise lines using the diminished scale. It’s slightly different ascending and descending as I referred to in the video. Here is the exercise as I played it in the video.