Tag Archives: 6-string bass

6-String Bass Duet – Fretless & Fretted – Bass Practice Diary 154

6-String Bass Duet – Fretless & Fretted – Warwick & Overwater – Bass Practice Diary – 20 April 2021

It seems that I’m in a contemplative mood after more than a year of lockdowns. There have been virtually no opportunities to play with other musicians. So, I’ve been recording on my own a lot. Recently, I’ve been trying to arrange material for these two basses, probably my favourite two basses. A fretted Overwater Hollowbody 6-string and a fretless Warwick Thumb SC 6-string bass. This arrangement came out of some Keith Jarrett improvisations that I was transcribing.

The Chord Progression

I’ve always felt that Keith Jarrett is a wonderful improviser. He regularly improvises entire solo piano concerts and he seems to effortlessly incorporate both jazz and classical influences. What I’ve played here is not exactly a transcription, but my own arrangement based on some of the harmonic ideas that I transcribed.

Here are diagrams for the chords I’m using. The diagrams are all written for 6-string bass in standard tuning. Don’t take the chord names too seriously. I considered not including any names above the chords, but I thought they might be helpful for locating the correct positions on the neck.

6 String Bass Duet Chords
6 String Bass Duet Chords

It’s hard to find accurate names for some chord shapes. For example, look at the last chord. It includes two D’s, an Ab and an Eb. It’s like an Ab Lydian triad (root, #4th & 5th) in the first inversion. So, I’ve called it Abmaj7(#11)/D. However, it doesn’t have a major third, C. The major 7th G is not in the chord either, but it is played by the fretless bass as a melody note. So, the chord symbol isn’t very helpful.

So, some of the chord symbols are helpful and others aren’t, don’t take them too seriously. I’m fairly certain that Keith Jarrett doesn’t think about chord symbols when he plays and I certainly didn’t think about chord symbols when I played this. I didn’t put the names on the chords until after I shot this.

In the performance, I played the chord sequence through twice in its entirety. Also, I used the first two chords played repeatedly as both an intro and an outro.

Slow Train – A Bob Dylan song

Slow Train – A Bob Dylan song performed by Johnny Cox

It’s now been over a year since musicians in the UK were last able to play together with other musicians. So, I’ve recently decided to do something that I’ve never done before, record and mix an entire track on my own including vocals. It feels like a big step to put this out on my channel. I’m not a singer and I don’t ever practice singing. I’ve been using Bob Dylan’s back catalogue as a source of material. His lyrics are unbelievably good and I also have a fighting chance of being able to sing them. I’ve recorded four of his songs so far. You can find the other three on my other YouTube channel called Johnny Cox Guitar & Bass School.

Bob Dylan

I’ve featured many of my musical influences on this channel, but I’ve never played anything by Bob Dylan until now. I guess that’s mostly because I’m not a singer. And without anyone to sing the lyrics, there didn’t seem any possibility of featuring one of his songs. However, recently during lockdown I’ve decided to work on music production and editing vocals. Without any other musicians to work with I’ve been singing Bob Dylan songs myself.

I’ve been listening to Dylan for my entire life (literally, his albums were playing at home since I was too young to remember). So, by now I know a lot of the lyrics off by heart, and singing them is so much fun because he is a truly brilliant lyricist.

I can remember this song, Slow Train, and the album of the same name as being something of a soundtrack to my childhood. My mother was and still is a Bob Dylan fan. Slow Train was released four years before I was born and for some reason, as a small child, I took a particular shine to it. It seems odd to me that I still listen now to an album that I used to like when I was four years old, but I guess it shows consistency in my character if nothing else.

Slow Train Coming

The song and the album were both released in 1979. This was the first of his so-called “gospel” albums following his conversion to Christianity in the late 70’s. But this song is a classic Dylan protest song that could draw parallels with some of his early work from the 60’s. The song was partly written prior to his religious conversion and partly after. So, the lyrics are not overtly Christian but they do contain references. Like “fools trying to manipulate Satan”. But really it’s a song about the state of America at the time he was writing. And as with a lot of great art, much of the content still seems relevant over 40 years later.

The symbolism of the train is never explained or made clear in the lyrics. I think it’s intentionally left ambiguous for the listener to make their own interpretation. Is the train a religious metaphor, bring with it salvation and riding to some kind of promised land? Or is the train bringing something altogether more sinister. Such questions were probably lost on me as a child. At that point I think I just liked it because it had a funky bass line and some brilliant guitar playing from Mark Knopfler. But as the years have passed I’ve come to appreciate it as a brilliant example of Dylan’s lyric writing as well.

Octave Shifting Exercise on Bass – Bass Practice Diary 152

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.

Octave Displacement Line - A Major
Octave Displacement Line – A Major

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.

Octave Shifting Exercise - A major - 4-string bass
Octave Shifting Exercise – A major – 4-string bass

Here is an extended version of the same exercise written for 6-string bass. This time the key is Bb major.

Octave Shifting Exercise - Bb major - 6-string bass
Octave Shifting Exercise – Bb major – 6-string bass

Practicing Jazz on My Overwater Hollowbody – Up Jumped Spring – Bass Practice Diary 151

Practicing Jazz on My Overwater Hollowbody – Up Jumped Spring – Bass Practice Diary – 23 March 2021

In this video, I’m improvising over the chord changes of the jazz standard Up Jumped Spring after recoding the chords into a looper. If you were wondering why you haven’t seen this beautiful bass on my channel for a few months. It’s because she’s been back with Chris May and the team at Overwater having a new bridge installed. However, she was returned to me this week and I’m so happy to have her back.

Overwater Hollowbody

She’s my custom made Overwater Hollowbody 6-string bass. The first fretted version to be made and the first with a 34″ scale length. The bass features a wooden acoustic style bridge, but with adjustable saddles, like an electric bass bridge. The first bridge was made from ebony, and I was finding that the wood was slightly too soft to hold some of the saddles in place and the intonation was slipping. Chris very kindly fashioned this new bridge from a very hard wood from South Africa. So far it seems to be holding the intonation perfectly.

Practicing with a looper

In the video I’m demonstrating something that I’ve done regularly in my practice for well over a decade. I bought my first looper pedal about 15 years ago, and I’ve found loopers to be an amazing practice tool. One of my favourite techniques for practicing using a looper is to record the chord changes to a jazz standard into the looper and then improvise over the looped changes. In this video I’m using the chord changes of Freddie Hubbard’s jazz waltz Up Jumped Spring.

I’ve often been asked “what is a good looper to buy?” And it’s a question I always feel uncomfortable answering. Because I’ve used various loopers from cheap ones with just a single button to expensive ones laden with features. Which one you choose depends on what you’re planning to use it for. If you just want one for the kind of practice that I’m doing in this video, then buy a very cheap one. It will do the job. However if you want something to perform with, then it’s impossible to advise you. Because you will have to choose a looper that has features that correspond to how you’re planning to use it in performance.

I recently purchased a Headrush Looperboard, which is like a recording device/audio interface/live looper all rolled into one. So far I’m impressed by it, but I haven’t yet had the chance to use it in a live performance as the UK has been in COVID lockdown continuously since I first bought it.

However, if you’re interested in trying looping for the first time, I would suggest buying something very cheap to try it out at home. And then you can upgrade later on if and when you start to feel like you need to.

Freedom Jazz Dance – Jazz Melody on 6-string Bass – Bass Practice Diary 149

Freedom Jazz Dance – Melody on 6-String Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 9th March 2021

Miles Smiles has been one of my favourite Miles Davis albums for a long time. The most famous composition on the album is probably Footprints by Wayne Shorter. Which is a minor blues that has become a staple of jazz jam sessions. Today, I’m looking at another track on that album Freedom Jazz Dance.

The Second Great Miles Davis Quintet

The Miles Davis band at that time (1966) contained four young musicians who would go on to become some of the most important figures in modern jazz. Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams are all great composers as well as improvisors and band leaders. So, it was a little bit unusual for them to record a tune that was written by someone who wasn’t in the band.

Freedom Jazz Dance was written by a tenor saxophonist called Eddie Harris. He had recorded the tune himself a year earlier. When you listen to the Eddie Harris version of Freedom Jazz Dance, you quickly realise that the Miles Davis band has completely reconceptualised and recomposed the tune. Harris’ version is built on a funky groove between the bass and piano on a Bb7 chord. The melody is played in one continuous sequence with three phrases.

In Miles Davis’ version of the tune, the melody is broken down into the three phrases. They are separated by space to improvise for the rhythm section. Initially only by bass and drums. When the melody is repeated, Herbie Hancock begins to interject chord voicings. The Bb7 harmony from the original is retained, but the funky groove is gone and replaced by an altered dominant sound, and a much freer and more improvised approach to the groove.

Ron Carter

I think Ron Carter is one of the most important bass players in the history of jazz. He started his career as a classically trained cellist, who struggled to get work in touring orchestras at the time due to racist segregation laws in the Deep South. So, he made the switch to jazz double bass and became one of the most prolific musicians of the second half of the twentieth century. According to his wikipedia page, he has appeared on over 2,200 recording sessions, making him one of the most recorded musicians in history.

He still plays today at age 83 and I’ve been fortunate enough to see him perform live on a couple of occasions. The first time in 2003, when I was still a teenager, he was leading a quintet of much younger musicians. He had adopted the Miles Davis role as senior member mentoring the young talent. It was a truly memorable gig. I can still vividly remember the rendition of Flamenco Sketches that they played that night. It sent shivers down my spine. After that I saw him play one more time in a drummer-less jazz trio featuring guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Mulgrew Miller. It was musicianship of the highest caliber.

When I listen back to Miles Smiles, which I have been doing this week. It reminds me what an incredible musician he is. I think the partnership he shared with drummer Tony Williams was one of the most brilliant and innovative rhythm sections in jazz history. There are good reasons behind why the members of that band went on to become some of the biggest stars in modern jazz.

Why Learn a Jazz Tune on Bass?

I know some bass players might not agree, but I think it’s important to learn to play melodies. I think bass players are often guilty of only looking at the chords and not thinking much about the melody. This tune is a great demonstration of why that approach won’t always work. There is only one chord here, Bb7. If you only look at that, it doesn’t tell you anything about the composition. Only once you look at the melody will you understand the composition.

From a purely technical perspective, learning jazz melodies will also help to build your technique on bass. And it will also help you learn about jazz phrasing and vocabulary. I would suggest that anyone wanting to learn how to improvise in a jazz style, needs to learn as many jazz tunes as possible. Here is how I play the Freedom Jazz Dance melody on 6-string bass.

Freedom Jazz Dance on 6-String Bass
Freedom Jazz Dance on 6-String Bass

Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Lick on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 147

Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Lick on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 23rd February 2021

I recently introduced the concept of playing cascading arpeggios on bass with a video featuring some exercises. I mentioned in that video that this is a very versatile idea that gets used in a wide variety of different musical contexts. So, the obvious next step is to demonstrate a situation where I might use this idea. This video features a cascading arpeggio jazz lick which I’ve created to played on a jazz blues in Bb.

The Lick

Here is the Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Lick.

Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Blues Lick in Bb
Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Blues Lick in Bb

The lick starts on the third beat of the third bar. It’s important to start in the right place if you want the line to resolve onto the Eb7 chord on beat one of bar five. I’ve written the line in straight 16th notes, which creates a polyrhythmic effect against a triplet swing feel. I’ve done a video about this in the past.

The first arpeggio in the lick is Bb7, starting on the third, D and coming down 3rd, root, 7th, 5th. Then I play an E7 arpeggio descending from the root note, E. E7 is the tritone substitute for Bb7. This is a common chord substitution in jazz. It works because the E7 chord shares two notes in common with the Bb7. The 3rd and the 7th, in this case D and Ab (G#). The third arpeggio which starts on beat one of bar four is a Dm7b5 or D half diminished arpeggio. However, this arpeggio is really functioning as a Bb9 chord.

The Diminished Arpeggios

Then follows two diminished 7th arpeggios, Eo7 and Do7. I edited the explanation of these out of the video because it was a bit too long and boring, but I’ll include it here for those who are interested. Diminished sounds, both scales and arpeggios, work really well on dominant 7th chords.

You can think of a D diminished 7th chord as being a Bb7b9 chord without the root note. You can also play a Bb half/whole diminished scale over a Bb7 chord. I’ve also done a video about this sound. The scale gives you an interesting mix of inside and outside notes, Root, b9, #9, 3rd, #11, 5th, 13th & 7th. You can divide this scale into two diminished 7th arpeggios. Do7 gives you 3rd, 5th, 7th & b9, the other arpeggio gives you root, #9, #11 & 13th. In the video I’ve called this arpeggio Eo7 although you could also think of it as Bbo7, Dbo7 or Go7. I’m only thinking of it as Eo7 because in the inversion that I’ve used, the lowest note is the E.

A rhythmic variation

The final arpeggio is the tritone substitute, E7 again. This time descending from the third, G# (Ab). It’s very common to play the tritone sub on beat four of bar four of a jazz blues because it drops chromatically onto the four chord, Eb7, at the beginning of bar five. My lick resolves onto the note Db which is the 7th of the Eb7 chord.

I’ve also included a rhythmic variation in the video, which is fun to play but difficult to execute even at relatively moderate tempos. It goes like this.

Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Blues Lick in Bb - rhythmic variation
Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Blues Lick in Bb – rhythmic variation

I finished the video by improvising three choruses of a blues in Bb, and inserting the lick in the appropriate place each time. My plan had been to improvise three choruses and pick my favourite chorus and only include that one. But I’m increasingly becoming less interested in editing myself as time passes. All of the choruses are ok while being flawed in some way (thank God! Nothing bores me like perfect music). And if people don’t want to watch all three choruses they are free to stop watching whenever they want. So I included the whole thing.

I had intended to play the variation on one of the choruses to see if I could execute it. But as you can see, that didn’t happen. I clearly need to practice more!

Christmas Bass Practice Diary 2020 – We Three Kings – Bass Practice Diary 139

Christmas Bass Practice Diary 2020 – We Three Kings – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd December 2020

Happy Christmas 2020! This is the fourth time that I’ve given a Christmas song the “Bass Practice Diary” treatment. You can find them all on my YouTube channel and JohnnyCoxMusic.com. This year I’ve decided to take on a Christmas carol for the first time. I’ve arranged We Three Kings for double bass and 6-string bass guitar.

The inspiration for this came because I was arranging Christmas carols for online church carol services. As most church services this year are taking place exclusively online due to the pandemic. I’ve been preparing performances of carols (mostly on guitar) to be streamed as part of online Christmas services. It was in the process of doing that, that I started to have some fun with We Three Kings. This arrangement is much to dark and uncomfortable sounding to use for a church service. But I was having fun with it, so I arranged it on bass, and here it is.

The Arrangement

As I’ve already alluded to, this arrangement started life as a solo guitar arrangement. I originally came up with the chord melody arrangement for the verse part on guitar, while pedalling the open E string underneath. For the bass arrangement, I put the E bass note on my double bass and played the chord melody on my 6-string bass. The bass is actually in an altered tuning for this.

I very rarely play bass in altered tunings. But in this case, I needed to reach a high D to be able to play the entire melody. The highest fret on my first string in standard tuning is C. So, I tuned up a whole tone to reach the D. Having done that, I tuned the G string up to A and the D string up to F. This enabled me to play the chord voicings using similar fingerings to those I’d worked out on the guitar. The solos on the intro and outro are both played in standard tuning.

The middle section of the piece was arranged entirely on bass. If I’m being honest, I’ve never really liked this section of the song. So, I wanted to give it a complete overhaul and change the harmony entirely. I tried a few things, but nothing really grabbed me until I started playing the “James Bond” style chord progression that you hear in this section. I was obviously channeling something that I did last year, because I realised afterwards that I played something very similar at one point in last years Christmas Bass Video.

Let’s Look Forward to 2021 (It has to be better!)

This is, in some ways, a strange treatment of a Christmas Carol. It doesn’t sound like a celebration. But, on the other hand, this is a very strange Christmas. I am stuck at home in lockdown, unable to see my parents or any of my extended family. We’re all sheltering from the virus and trying to protect others. So it feels to me like this arrangement reflects the times we are living in. Hopefully next year will bring a more cheerful Christmas Bass Video.

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios with Approach Notes Exercise – Bass Practice Diary 138

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.

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios in the Key of C Major
Diatonic 7th Arpeggios in the Key of C Major

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.

Descending Diatonic 7th Arpeggios in the Key of C Major

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.

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios in C Major with Chromatic Approach Notes
Diatonic 7th Arpeggios in C Major with Chromatic Approach Notes

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 129

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.

The Exercise

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.

Cycle of Fifths Exercise - 6-String Bass
Cycle of Fifths Exercise – 6-String Bass

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 128

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.

The Exercise

6-String Bass Exercise - Major Triads in 12 Keys
6-String Bass Exercise – Major Triads in 12 Keys

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.