Armando’s Rhumba – a tribute to Chick Corea – Bass Practice Diary – 16th February 2021
Armando’s Rhumba wasn’t the first Chick Corea composition that I heard. But it was probably the tune that really got me listening to him in a big way. His real first name is Armando, but that’s also his father’s name. I have a feeling that the piece is named for his father, but I might be mis-remembering that.
We’ve lost many great musicians in the last 12 months, but none hit me harder than the news of Chick Corea’s passing this week. I have been an avid follower of his work for over 20 years and he has influenced me musically more than just about any other artist. The first time I saw him play live was in 2004. Since that day I’ve made a point of going to see him play whenever he came to London. I was fortunate enough to meet him once after a gig and I was more star struck than I’ve ever been. He was extremely nice to me. He made the effort to make conversation with me, even when I was struggling to put two words together.
Chick Corea 1941-2021
His death, from a rare form of cancer, came as a shock to me. I didn’t know he was ill. He may have been 79 years old, but anyone who has seen him recently will know that he seemed to have a lot of life in him. He did not look, talk, move or play music like an older man.
I woke up on Thursday morning, and as soon as I checked social media, my heart sank. I saw image after image of Chick Corea from posts from so many musicians that I follow. Tragically, that only usually means one thing, and my fears were realised.
I had a ticket to see him play live at the Barbican last year in March with a wonderful trio including bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. The concert was cancelled with less than 48 hours notice due to the first COVID lockdown.
I’ve been trying to bring to mind all of the times I’ve seen him live. I was trying to count them and I got into double figures, but I’m sure I’ve missed some. I’ve never paid to see any other musician play live that many times. I think the reason that I kept going back to watch him play again and again is because it was never the same twice. There are other wonderful artists that I have seen four or five times and thought “I don’t need to see them again, I’ve seen it”. I’ve never thought that about Chick Corea. Even when I’ve seen him with the same band twice, it was never the same. He truly was a musical genius.
Chord Progression on 6-String Bass with Chord Diagrams – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd February 2021
This week I’ve been coming up with chord progressions on my new Sandberg Superlight 6-string bass. I thought this chord progression was quite nice, so I made a video of it. It uses mostly simple chord voicings, triads and the occasional 7th chord. Simple chord voicings tend to work well on bass. Too many notes in the lower register can sound like a mess.
I started out trying to play something in C major, and as you can hear, I ended up in Bb major. I wasn’t necessarily planning that when I came up with this. But that was where my instinct took me, and when I listened back, I liked it. I did think about including bass tablature in the video. But in the end I decided that chord diagrams worked better.
However, if you’re looking for a note for note transcription, here it is with tablature for 6-string bass.
If you’d like to learn more chord progressions on 6-string bass then check out my YouTube channel, Johnny Cox Music. It features a playlist of 6-string bass videos including several videos on the subject of chords and chord progressions.
Sandberg “Superlight” 6-String Bass – California II TT6 SL – Lightweight Six String Bass
Update 13/01/2021 I have now spoken to Sandberg and the Sandberg distributer in the UK. I’ve learned that there are two more SL 6-string basses planned to be built. However, they are unlikely to be completed before Autumn 2021. Both basses will be sold by Bass Direct.
The answer to the question, “why did they only make one?” is that the body was cut by accident. Apparently, they had intended to cut a 6-string body from alder. The person cutting the body picked up the Paulownia by mistake. I believe that it was either Bass Direct themselves or the UK distributor that requested that the Paulownia body be made up into an SL 6-string bass.
I also found out that the Paulownia wood used by Sandberg is grown in Spain. It comes originally from South East Asia but it has been imported into Spain and it grows well there.
My Original Post
Here is my new Sandberg Superlight 6-String Bass. Currently the only one in existence, but keep checking this page to find out if and when there will be more. I’ve been trying to find a good lightweight 6-string bass for several years and I was very lucky to find this instrument. I came across it on the Bass Direct website. They are one of the UK’s official Sandberg dealers.
Sandberg SL basses
I did some research into Sandberg Superlight or SL basses when I first heard of them a couple of years ago. They are made in Germany. They make the bodies out of a very lightweight and strong wood called Paulownia. I stopped researching the basses because they only offered them as 4-string and 5-string basses. They still do only offer 4 and 5-string “Superlight” basses. But, every now and then I’ve been checking them online to see if there were plans for a 6-string version.
It was during one of these online searches that I came across Bass Direct offering a Sandberg California II TT6 “Superlight”. I Immediately started doing more research to find out when Sandberg had started making 6-string Superlight basses. But when I went on the Sandberg website, it said that the SL basses were only available in 4-string and 5-string. So, I emailed Bass Direct to try and find out what the story was, and apparently this is currently the only one.
I didn’t get a lot of information from Bass Direct, but what they said is that the 6-string Paulownia body was initially made by mistake. Having made the body they finished making the bass and offered it to Bass Direct. Apparently Bass Direct had suggested an SL 6-string previously. I have emailed Sandberg to ask for more info but I’ve received no reply yet. I will email them again with a link to the video and hopefully they will get back to me at some point.
I’m sure that anyone visiting my website already knows this. There is a recurring problem if you run a YouTube channel for bass players. The problem is that most people watch YouTube videos while listening to the internal speakers in their phone/tablet/computer. And those speakers are very bad at reproducing low frequency sound. So, when I produce a video, I have to decide if I’m going to EQ out most of the low end. If I don’t do that, then the sound will either distort when most people listen to it, or it will just sound very quiet.
The problem is worst when I’m trying to demonstrate a product, like today. There’s no point in me saying “here is what it sounds like when I boost the bass” and then EQing out the bass afterwards so I can push up the levels. So the sound of the bass in this video is almost completely unedited. I haven’t compressed it or EQ’d it for the benefit of phone speakers.
The moral of this story is that if you want to hear the low end, use headphones or a good speaker. This is particularly true of todays video. I always test my videos by listening to them on different devices before I upload them. I know that some of this is inaudible on small speakers. If I push up the levels it will distort badly. The only solution would be to EQ out the bass which would defeat the point of the video. So I have left the audio alone. Use headphones.
6-String Bass Exercise – Diatonic 7ths with Approach Notes – Bass Practice Diary – 15th December 2020
I’ve spoken recently in my Bass Practice Diary videos about how the addition of chromatic approach notes to diatonic exercises can immediately create a jazz sound in your lines. This “approach notes” exercise is a development of that idea. I’ve featured a few 6-string bass exercises in my videos this year. This one involves playing descending diatonic 7th arpeggios, with a chromatic approach note before the start of each four note arpeggio.
Diatonic 7th Arpeggios
I’ve demonstrated this idea in the key of C major. Because it’s always the easiest key to demonstrate an idea that relates to diatonic harmony. The idea of diatonic 7th chords is simply that you build four note chords by taking the 1st (root), 3rd, 5th & 7th notes of the major scale. You can then repeat this pattern of taking alternate notes, but starting on different degrees of the scale. There are seven different notes in a major scale, hence there are seven different diatonic 7th chords in any major key.
In the example above I’m playing each arpeggio ascending, starting from the root. For the purposes of this exercise I’m playing the arpeggios descending, starting from the 7th and finishing on the root.
Chromatic Approach Notes
The term chromatic approach note simply means taking a note that is a semi-tone (half tone) away from your target note, either above or below. Then playing the chromatic approach note immediately before you play the target note.
In the case of this exercise, the target note is the 7th of each arpeggio, which is the first note that I’m playing for each one. I’m adding a chromatic approach note before the 7th each time.
There are two reasons why I’ve done this. One is because the addition of chromatic approach notes creates the sound of a jazz line, as I already mentioned. And the second reason is that it creates an odd number grouping of notes. The four note arpeggios become a five note sequence with the addition of the approach notes. The odd number grouping creates a rhythmic variation that makes this sound less like an exercise and more like a musical line.
Cycle of Fifths Exercise on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 13th October 2020
This week I’m featuring another 6-string bass exercise. Just like last week’s exercise, this one features the cycle of fifths (or circle of fifths). However this week’s exercise has a much more simple concept and it’s also going the opposite way around the cycle. So the pattern here goes C-F-Bb-Eb etc. rather than C-G-D-A etc. as I played with my triads exercise last week.
As I’ve already alluded to, there are two different ways of going around the cycle of fifths. You can go up a 5th (which is like going down a 4th) or down a 5th (like going up a 4th). This exercise uses the latter. All you have to do, is go around the cycle one note at a time. Once you’ve played 12 notes, you’ve played every note in the octave.
The idea is that you keep going, to find where all the notes are all over the fretboard. It’s a great way of learning your fretboard, and it’s also a great technical exercise. Also, playing lines using 4th and 5th intervals is very popular in modern jazz vocabulary, so this exercise will also help you to play those kind of lines.
I’ve written the exercise out over three octaves to get you started. However, I would recommend taking the idea and trying to play continuously all over the fretboard. Start slow and speed up. You don’t have to follow the notes that I’ve written out. No matter what note you’ve just played, you always have the option to either go a 4th up or a 5th down. Good luck!
6-String Bass Exercise – Major Triads in 12 Keys – Bass Practice Diary – 6th October 2020
Last week I featured three exercises for 5-string bass, this week I’ve got an exercise for 6-string bass. In this exercise, I’m playing major arpeggios. It’s fairly typical, when practicing exercises like this, to go through 12 keys. However, I wanted to make this exercise a bit more interesting than just playing twelve major triads one after the other.
I’ve added an extra element by playing the triads as a five note grouping. Rather than playing root, 3rd, 5th, root, I’m playing 3rd, root, 3rd, 5th, root. The five note grouping adds a timing element, causing the chord changes to alternate between happening on and off the beat.
The triads move in fifths, but in the opposite direction to the conventional cycle of fifths. Rather than going from C to F, I’m going from C to G, up a fifth rather than down a fifth. The reason for this is that I’m playing the major 7th note at the end of each arpeggio, but that major 7th note is then being treated as the major 3rd of the next arpeggio. This leads to the sequence of fifths that you see in the exercise.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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” 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.
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.