Tag Archives: 6 string bass

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 2: Naima – Bass Practice Diary 118

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 2: Naima on Fretless Bass- Bass Practice Diary – 14th July 2020

Naima by John Coltrane has a beautiful but challenging chord progression. Last week, I featured a video demonstrating how I play the chords. But the story isn’t complete without looking at how to improvise over those chords. So, this week I’m demonstrating an improvisation strategy for playing over the part that I find hardest to improvise on.

Modal Chord Progression

Most improvisers think of Naima as being a modal composition. Meaning that they think of each chord as representing the sound of a scale or mode. This is different to the diatonic approach that I looked at in my Improvisation Strategies: Part 1 video. In that video I looked at a I-VI-II-V sequence of chords where each chord represented a different degree in the key of Bb major.

When you hear improvisers analysing how to play Naima, usually you’ll hear them say something like, ” play this scale or mode on that chord, and this scale or mode on that chord etc”. And it’s not wrong to think about the progression as a sequence of modes. If you listen to Coltane playing Naima, you can definitely hear that he is playing complete modes quite often.

However, when I’m coming up with an improvisation strategy, I prefer to think in a more economical way. I want to start with something small that I can expand upon. I want to zero in on the notes that I feel best spell out the sound of the harmony. Remember that you can come up with multiple strategies for playing on the same progression. So when you zero in on just a few notes, you’re not limiting yourself, you’re actually creating the potential for much more variation. Because if you start by using all of the notes from the implied scale or mode, then it doesn’t leave as much scope for expanding and using different harmonic ideas.

Naima Improvisation Strategy

Last week I wrote about how I think of all of the chords as being major 7th chord voicings over a pedalled bass note. I won’t repeat myself, so if you’re interested in the chords check out last week’s post.

This four bar section of the harmony comes from the second half of the B section. The chord symbols that I’ve written are different from the Real Book changes, (even when you allow for the change of key). But I think that my changes reflect the harmony that Coltrane was using fairly closely. I wouldn’t recommend getting bogged down in what the chord symbols are. When I was working out how to play this piece, I wasn’t thinking about chord symbols, I was just trying to recreate the sounds that I was hearing and I put the chord symbols on afterwards. So, here is my improvisation strategy for this short four-bar sequence, I’ve picked out five notes to use on each chord.

Improvisation Strategies - Naima
Improvisation Strategies – Naima

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 1: I VI II V – Bass Practice Diary 116

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 1: I VI II V – Bass Practice Diary – 14th July 2020

I often get asked questions about how to improvise. I’ve noticed that people are usually looking for a simple answer, like “you just need to know the right scale.” However, if you’re reading this, you probably already know that it isn’t that simple. To become a fluent improviser, you should work on lots of different improvisation strategies. As part of my own practice, I regularly try to find new and different ways to play through chord progressions that I’ve played on many times. To help demonstrate what I do, I’m presenting one improvisation strategy that I’ve come up with on a I-VI-II-V chord progression.

Improvisation Strategies

Before we get into the specifics of this particular strategy, I should say that my end goal is the same for any improvisation strategy. That goal is to be able to improvise all over the fretboard. So, when I practice a strategy, I’ll practice it in multiple positions until I can connect up the notes all over the entire fretboard.

In this particular strategy, I’m looking at jazz improvisation on a I VI II V progression in Bb major. Although I would recommend practicing any strategy in multiple keys. The chords in the key of Bb major are Bb – G7 – Cm7 – F7. Notice that Chord VI is played as a dominant chord rather than a minor 7th chord. This is so that it leads nicely to the II chord. It is a very common chord substitution in jazz (and other styles).

A very simple approach to improvising on a I VI II V progression would be to just play a Bb major or major pentatonic scale. The problem with that as a strategy, is that it ignores the B natural in the G7 chord. So most jazz musicians will prefer to play something different for every chord. This is often referred to as “spelling out the harmony”. So what I’ve done is chosen four different notes for each chord. Each set of four notes is specific and unique to each chord.

Why Play Four Notes for Each Chord?

Normally when a I VI II V is played in the context of a jazz standard, the entire progression is played over two bars. Meaning that each chord lasts for just two beats. With just two beats on each chord, four notes provide more than enough options to fill up the space. If you’re strategy was to use an entire scale, even a pentatonic scale, it would be more notes than you need. It would make improvising on the progression harder than it needs to be.

In choosing the four notes for this strategy, I used arpeggios. You don’t have to use arpeggios, you can use any four notes that you like the sound of. But I think that arpeggios are fundamental to the sound to jazz improvisation, so that’s why I’m using them. I could have simply used a Bb major arpeggio for the Bb major chord and a G7 arpeggio for the G7 chord etc. That would certainly have spelled out the harmony, but it would also probably have sounded a bit predictable. Instead, I opted to play a Dm7 arpeggio on the Bb major chord. The notes of the Dm7 arpeggio played over a Bb major chord create the sound of a Bb major 9 arpeggio without the root note.

By making this substitution, I was thinking of the progression as III-VI-II-V, Dm7 – G7 – Cm7 – F7. This actually simplifies things a lot because it leaves me with two minor 7 chords and two dominant 7 chords. I can use the same strategy for both minor 7 chords and the same strategy for both dominant 7 chords. So I used minor 7 arpeggios on chords III and II and on chords VI and V, I used diminished 7 arpeggios starting on the third of each chord. Bo7 on the G7 chord and Ao7 on the F7 chord. (o in this case means diminished).

Jazz Improvisation Strategies - Example 1
Jazz Improvisation Strategies I VI II V – Example 1

Putting the Strategy Into Practice

The best way to put any improvisation strategy into practice is with a backing track. You can find free I VI II V backing tracks on the internet. It’s always a good idea to start slowly, and you can start by just playing the notes you’ve prepared over the chords as an exercise. As you get comfortable doing that you can start to improvise lines that connect up the chords by adding passing notes. Here are three examples that I’ve written out to demonstrate.

Jazz Improvisation Strategies - Example 2
Jazz Improvisation Strategies – Example 2

The passing notes could be chromatic notes or scale tones. Or to put it another way, they could be literally any note that helps to connect the lines. If you use the four note patterns that you’ve prepared as the structure for your lines, then adding passing notes here and there, won’t interfere with the musical sense of the lines.

There are so many ways that you can vary this one simple idea. You can (and should) practice it in multiple positions on the neck. Here is another position to get you started.

Jazz Improvisation Strategies - I VI II V Example 3
Jazz Improvisation Strategies I VI II V – Example 3

Then try to improvise by connecting up the different positions that you’ve practiced.

Then you could try practicing the same ideas in different keys. You could then try using the same chords, but changing the four note patterns. And finally you could try playing similar patterns on different chord progressions. When you get into practicing these kind of ideas, there really is a lot of different ways you could be doing it. And the more different strategies that you practice, the more fluent your improvising will become.

“Changes in Rhythm” based on Rhythm Changes – Bass Practice Diary 115

“Changes in Rhythm” 6-String Bass Solo based on Rhythm Changes – Bass Practice Diary – 7th July 2020

This morning I released this solo bass piece called “Changes in Rhythm” as a demo of my new Overwater Hollowbody 6-string bass. The demo video featured just the sound of my solo bass playing along with a percussion track. But for those of you that follow my Bass Practice Diary videos, I wanted to release this version of the same video. It includes chords, that I added to help demonstrate the harmonic structure, and bass TAB for 6-string bass.

Transcription with 6-String Bass TAB

I wrote this based on the popular jazz chord progression Rhythm Changes. The chord changes that I’ve included on this version of the video more or less represent what I was thinking about when I wrote it. Although I was often thinking about building lines from chord substitutions that could then be played on the original changes.

Rhythm Changes was very popular in the Bebop era. Charlie Parker wrote a few tunes on this progression. My focus was on putting together a solo that uses some of the Blues and Bebop style of lines from that era, but with a totally different time feel, hence the title.

The middle 8 departs most radically from a traditional Rhythm Changes. I’m using lots of natural harmonics to make chords. But it still follows the cycle of fifths that everyone knows from the middle 8 of Rhythm Changes. Here is the piece in full.

Changes in Rhythm
Changes in Rhythm

Overwater Hollowbody Thinline Fretted 6-string Bass – Fingerstyle Demo

“Changes in Rhythm” – Overwater Hollowbody Thinline Fretted 6-string Bass Demo

Here’s a finger style demo of my new Overwater Hollowbody Thinline fretted 6-string bass. I’ve owned the bass for a couple of weeks now and I wanted to get a demo out because a lot of people have asked for one. In the video, I’m playing only through the bridge pickup and the low end and the mids are slightly boosted and the treble slightly dipped. This is a tremendously versatile instrument, and this demo only really demonstrates one aspect of its personality. So I will be recording more demos in order to show off its full range of characteristics.

Changes in Rhythm (based on Rhythm Changes) by Johnny Cox

I’m currently writing compositions specifically to be played on this bass. And “Changes in Rhythm” is the first one that I’ve completed. The piece is based on the jazz chord progression known as Rhythm Changes. Rhythm Changes is probably the second most popular jazz chord progression (after the 12-bar blues) and it’s almost always played with a medium fast or fast swing feel. My idea was to take the Rhythm Changes progression but completely change the feel to a slowish 16th note Latin feel. Hence the title “Changes in Rhythm”.

I wanted to record this with a percussionist as a duo. Similar to the concept of Jaco Pastorius and Don Alias playing Donna Lee. But unfortunately the lockdown put an end to those ideas. Hopefully I will record this tune again in the future as part of a duo.

My New Overwater Hollowbody 6-string – Bass Practice Diary 113

My New Overwater Hollowbody 6-string Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 23rd June 2020

This week I received my custom made Overwater Hollowbody 6-string bass guitar. It’s taken just over a year to build. And this bass is currently unique. It’s the first fretted 6-string hollowbody that Overwater has made and the first with a 34″ scale length. I’ve only owned this bass for a few days, but my early impressions are very positive. It’s relatively light for a 6-string bass, but the low end it gives you is huge. And it has one of the best low B-strings of any bass I’ve played.

Chris May and Overwater Basses

Bass players outside the UK might not be familiar yet with Overwater basses. The company was founded in 1979 and is run by it’s founder Chris May. Many British professional bass players play Overwaters including Scott Devine of Scott’s Bass Lessons. Chris has featured in videos on Scott’s Bass Lessons and he has earned his reputation as one of the best bass builders in the business.

Over the last few years I’ve spoken to several companies about making me a lightweight 6-string. As you know, I’ve always played Warwick 6-string basses. They’re great, but they’re heavy. And it’s not always practical to take out a heavy 6-string bass. Especially when I know I’m going to be playing long sets. So, I’ve often found myself taking out lighter 4 or 5 string basses when I’d prefer to play 6.

I first spoke to Warwick about making me something lighter. Their position was, that if you make a bass too light, it won’t sound like a Warwick. Which is a very fair point, but it lead me to the conclusion that I needed to look elsewhere in order to find what I was looking for. So, I started by talking to UK based bass manufacturers like Status, Sei and Overwater. All of them make great instruments that I would be happy to play.

The reason that I opted for Overwater was down to Chris May. Out of all the companies that I spoke to. It’s not easy to build a good light 6-string bass. And I felt that all of the other companies I spoke to were slightly cautious about taking on the challenge. But Chris was exceptional in his enthusiasm and expertise and in taking a personal interest in what I needed.

My Overwater Hollowbody 6-string bass

The bass has a Walnut top and a Swamp Ash body. It has a 3-piece maple neck and the neck joint is glued. The fretboard is Indian Rosewood. It’s a thinline body. I’ve played a fretless version of this model with a much thicker body shape and a 35″ scale. It sounded awesome but it was heavy!

Overwater have their own pickups and they match the wood on the pickup covers to the bass. They also do their own 3-band active eq with matching wood covers on the control knobs. The onboard preamp also includes a balanced XLR output, which effectively makes the bass itself an active DI box. With the two outputs you can route the jack output to your amp and send the balanced XLR output to the front of house.

I’ll do a proper demo of this bass in the next few weeks. The playing in this video was literally the first time I’d played this bass. And I was playing with all the EQ’s on the bass and amp set flat. I’ll be able to give a much better demonstration of what this bass is capable of when I’ve played her for a few weeks.

Learn the Entire Fretboard in 12 Days – Bass Practice Diary 111

A Quick Tip for Learning the Fretboard on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 9th June 2020

How good are you at locating notes on the fretboard of your bass? There’s a big difference between being able to work out where a note is, and knowing it without having to think about it. Knowing all the notes in every part of the neck is fundamental, but a lot of musicians never fully get to that point.

The fretboard can look very intimidating when you don’t know it well. But I can tell you that it’s much easier to learn the entire fretboard than you might think. It does take an investment of your time, but perhaps not as much time as you think. If you take a methodical approach to learning it, you can learn the entire fretboard in weeks rather than months.

One Note at a Time, One String at a Time

I’m going to show you two exercises for learning where you can find the note C all over the fretboard of a 6-string bass with 24 frets. Most 6-string basses have 24 frets. Having said that, you can easily use this same process to learn the notes on any instrument. It will work equally well on 4 or 5-string basses or on a guitar.

The first exercise involves starting at the open string, and working your way up the neck from the 1st fret to the 24th. Play the note C on every string in every position. You’ll find that the fretboard of a 6-string bass with 24 frets contains the note C in five different octaves. You can play those five C’s in 13 different positions on the neck and I’ve written them out here.

Learning the Fretboard Exercise 1
All the C’s on a 24 fret 6-string bass

As you can see, the notes make a pattern in three’s going up the neck. But we’re trying to learn the notes, not just the pattern. So, for that reason, I would also recommend playing through this second exercise.

Learning the Fretboard Exercise 2
All the C’s played one string at a time

When you play the notes on one string at a time, it forces you to think about where each individual note is, rather than thinking about the pattern that the notes make on the fretboard.

Remember, that there are only twelve notes in the octave (chromatic scale). So if you set yourself a target of learning one note per day, using these two exercises. Then you’ll learn the entire fretboard in 12 days.

Find a 10 minute Fretboard Workout here.

6-String Bass Solo & Chords – Bass Practice Diary 103

6-String Bass Solo & Chords with Bass TAB & Chord Diagrams – Bass Practice Diary – 14th April 2020

This week I’ve transcribed a 6-string bass solo that I played in practice. It follows on from what I was doing last week, finding creative ways to use pentatonic scales in jazz solos. These days I often practice the same ideas on both guitar and bass. In this case I started by playing some pretty chords on the guitar. Then I came up with two pentatonic scales, a tone apart, that worked on each chord. So, each chord had a different pair of scales. I then tried to improvise lines on my 6-string bass using the two pentatonic scales plus a third outside scale that sits exactly between the two scales. Using this idea I was trying to create inside/outside jazz lines in the same way I did for my pentatonic jazz lick last week.

The Chords

Having done this I then switched it around. So, I worked out how to play the chords on my 6-string bass and I improvised solo lines using the same system on the guitar. Here are the chords and scales that I used in the video.

The first chord is Emaj9, and the two inside scales are C# minor pentatonic and D# minor pentatonic. The reason I chose those two chords is that I was thinking of the Emaj9 chord as lydian, and those two scales spell out the E lydian sound very well. The outside scale would have been D minor pentatonic, but I didn’t use it on the solo I included in the video.

I then played a sequence of major chords over a peddled E bass note. D/E creates an Esus chord and I used the B & C# minor pentatonic scales and C minor pentatonic for the outside notes. Then on C/E I used A & B minor pentatonic and Bb for the outside notes and then A/E I used F# & G# minor pentatonic and G for the outside notes. In each one of these slash chords I was thinking of the major chord as being lydian.

Finally I played an Em9 chord which I treated like a II-V-I in D major, exactly as I did last week. In fact, I tried to used the lick from last weeks video on this chord. I didn’t execute it perfectly but the idea still came across.

The Solos

These solos are a long way from being perfect, they represent what I’ve been working on this week, which is the point of my bass practice diary. I’m including the transcriptions here to help you see my thought processes as I tried to create these lines. But I’m sure that you can take these ideas and improve on what I’ve done, which is what I’m going to do as well. It’s actually a great exercise to transcribe your own solos, because you can immediately think about how you would do it better next time. Here is the bass solo I played in the video.

6-string Bass Solo featuring Inside/Outside Pentatonics
6-string Bass Solo featuring Inside/Outside Pentatonics
6-string Bass Solo featuring Inside/Outside Pentatonics

Here is the guitar solo.

Guitar Solo featuring Inside/Outside Pentatonics
Guitar Solo featuring Inside/Outside Pentatonics

Chord Scales on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 79

Chord Scales on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd October 2019

I’ve done a few videos recently about chord voicings and progressions for six string bass. So, I felt that I really needed to do a video about chord scales. Because chord scales might be the best way to practice playing chords on bass. If you really want to explore the full potential of every chord voicing that you play. As well as learn how to use them all over the fretboard. Then practising chord scales is the way to achieve that.

What is a chord scale?

You can turn just about any chord voicing into a chord scale. The idea is, that every chord implies a particular scale. There may be more than one scale option for a particular chord. For example, for an E7 chord you could us E mixolydian. But you could also use plenty of other scales, like an E lydian dominant scale. In that case you could come up more than one chord scale.

Once you have a chord voicing and a scale, you simply create a chord scale by moving all of the notes in your chord voicing up one scale step at a time.

So, I’ll use the C major chord scale that I used in the video as an example. The C major scale goes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. And the notes of the C major chord are C, E and G. So, to make the second chord in the scale, the C becomes D, E becomes F and G becomes A. D, F and A is D minor. And when you continue moving up the chord scale you get seven different chords. One chord starting on each of the seven notes of the C major scale.

C Major Chord Scale
C Major Chord Scale

More Chord Scale Examples

Here are some more examples from the video. This first one is in F major and uses a basic triads voicing.

F Major Chord Scale - triads
F Major Chord Scale – triads

Here is the same key using seventh chords.

F Major Chord Scale - 7ths
F Major Chord Scale – 7ths

This next one is in the key of A major, and it uses inverted triads. Meaning that the root note is not the lowest note in the chord voicing.

A Major Chord Scale
A Major Chord Scale

These are all fairly simple chord scales. If you’d like to find a slightly more advanced application of this idea. Then check out this video. It’s a voicing that I learned from Oteil Burbridge, that I then turned into a chord scale.