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.
Naima by John Coltrane: Chords on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 21st July 2020
Naima is one of my favourite jazz compositions (I have a lot of favourite jazz compositions). I know that a lot of other musicians feel the same way about Naima, because it has an incredibly beautiful and unusual chord progression. It comes from the John Coltrane’s Giant Steps album, which I’ve featured before in my Bass Practice Diary. It was recorded in 1959, the same year as Kind of Blue, and it stands alongside that album as one of the iconic jazz albums of the 20th century.
However, Naima is not the type of composition that most people would associate with that album. Giant Steps tends to be remembered for it’s burning fast bop tunes with furiously fast key changes like the title track and Countdown. Naima is a slow ballad that Coltrane played many times, and I think many people forget that it originally featured on the Giant Steps album. However, Naima does have something in common with those other tunes I mentioned, it has an incredibly innovative chord progression.
A long time ago I set myself the challenge of arranging these incredible chords on my 6-string bass. I quickly realised that I needed to change the key to get the chords in the B section to work well. The reason being, that there’s a chord in the B section with the melody note Db. The highest fretted note on a 24 fret 6-string bass is C, one semi-tone too low. So, to voice the chord accurately, you need to play the top note way down on the 13th fret of the 1st string. It isn’t wrong to do that, but it just doesn’t sound very good.
So, to make it sound better, I transposed everything down a semi-tone. I played that top note as a C on the 24th fret of the first string. An extra advantage of transposing was that I could use the open A string as the bass note, instead of the Bb in the original key. When I play Naima I also tune my E-string down to a D. I use the open string to play the peddled bass note in the A section. If you want to transpose my arrangement into the original key, then you could tune your bass up a semi-tone.
When you see Naima written in books, you normally see the chord progression in the A section written something like this.
Changes similar to these feature in the jazz Real Books and the Coltrane Omnibook. I even found them on Naima’s wikipedia page (which I thought was unusual!)
The Major 7th Chords Trick
I’ve never found these Real Book chords helpful. I worked out by ear that you could create the sound of Naima by moving major 7th chords around over the pedalled bass notes. I do understand that when you change the bass note, you change the chord. So, a lot of these chords don’t function as major 7th chords. I gave the example in the video that when you play an Fmaj7 chord over a D bass note, you get the sound of Dm9.
Recently, I was playing Naima with a Saxophonist, and we were using the Real Book chord changes. I mentioned to him that I’ve always thought of the tune as being entirely made up of major 7th chords over pedalled bass notes. He told me that a scrap of paper had been discovered with John Coltrane’s handwritten chords for Naima. They were written out for Tommy Flanagan, the pianist on the original recording. Coltrane had written every chord as a major seventh chord.
I wasn’t sure I believed that this piece of paper really existed. I wanted to believe it, because it tied my way of thinking about the tune to Coltrane’s way of thinking about the tune. But, if such a piece of paper existed, then why do all the books and publications still stick with this unnecessarily complicated way of writing out the harmony? So, today I did some research to see if there was any legitimacy to the story. This is what I found.
It just goes to show the power that the jazz Real Books have had in defining how we think about jazz standards. Once a tune is written in the Real Book. The Real Book chord changes become the definitive chord changes that everyone uses. But often, the changes in the Real Books are very different to actual chord changes.
How I Play the Chords on 6-String Bass
This is how I’ve arranged the chords on my 6-string bass. I can’t pretend that this is 100% like either the Real Book changes or the Coltrane changes. It’s simply the best way that I’ve found to recreate the sound of Naima on a bass guitar.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Warwick Thumb Bass – 6-String Bolt-on Broad Neck – Bass Practice Diary – 19th May 2020
This week I was servicing my 6-string Warwick Thumb bass when I realised that I’ve never featured it in a Bass Practice Diary video. Recently I did a video in which I renovated my first childhood bass. But this Warwick Thumb bass has even more significance to me. It was my first 6-string bass, and I’ve played this bass more than any other instrument in my life. This is probably a slightly self indulgent Bass Practice Diary video, but I thought this might be interesting for my fellow Warwick bass enthusiasts.
A couple of times each year I take this bass out and service it. I change the strings, polish the frets, oil the fretboard with lemon oil and treat the natural oil finish with surface finishing wax. That’s what I was doing this week when I realised that I’ve never featured this bass before in one of my Bass Practice Diary videos. You’ll only recognise this bass if you’ve followed some of my old, old videos from before I started my practice diary.
How I Came to Own It
I’ve owned this bass since I was 19 years old and it was my first 6-string bass. I was at music college at the time and I had a teacher that played 6-string bass. At that time I was still playing mostly 4-string. I owned a cheap 5-string bass, but it wasn’t good and I rarely played it. My main basses were a fretless Mexican Fender Jazz Bass and a Gibson USA Les Paul Bass, both of which I’d picked up second hand.
It was a good time for buying second hand. I couldn’t afford a good new bass and at that time. And you could pick up second hand instruments for a fraction of their value new. These days, I look at the high prices of second hand instruments and I wonder why anybody buys them.
My dream bass in my late teens was a Warwick. I’d never played one up to that point. But they were very popular at that time among pro and semi-pro bassists. So I heard them a lot in the live music venues that I regularly visited. They had a very distinctive tone, and that tone, to me represented what a modern electric bass should sound like.
So I dreamed of buying a Warwick bass and, inspired by my teacher, dreamed of playing a 6-string bass. So, for months I scoured the internet for a second hand 6-string Warwick bass that I could potentially afford, assuming I sold all my other basses.
My Warwick Thumb Bass
It’s a difficult instrument to play. The neck is massive, both deep and wide. It has a 34 inch scale, which is standard on Warwick basses and it has 20mm spacing between the strings, which makes it a broad neck model. Over the years, I’ve seen many bass players try and play this bass and fail. This bass was built for tone not playability. It’s heavy and it doesn’t balance very well on the strap. It balances well on your lap when you sit down and play it which makes it a good bass for recording, but gigging is hard work.
The best way to get it to balance is to put weights on the strap, which adds to the weight of an already very heavy bass. I would always have a very stiff and aching shoulder the morning after any gig. It’s remarkable really that I used this as my number one bass for 10 years. I thought for a long time that this would be my number one bass for my entire career. It was so much a part of my sound and my playing style. But eventually, practical considerations took over, and using a bass that is as heavy and as distinctive sounding as this one is just not practical in many situations.
The bass is made from solid Ovankol, which is a heavy tone wood, similar in it’s tonal characteristics to Rosewood. The fretboard is made from Wenge. The pickups are MEC Soap-bar and the active circuitry features Bass and Treble controls and an active/passive push/pull control on the volume knob.
It’s a bass that really needs to be your number one. It’s hard to play, so if you’re going to master it, you need to spend lots of time with it. If you stop playing it regularly, it’s very hard to pick it up again which is why you don’t see me playing it very much any more. It’s a shame because it’s a bass that means a lot to me, and I learned so much with it.
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.
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.
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.