I’m offering a free 30 minute bass lesson via Skype for anyone who would like to have a one to one lesson with me. If you’ve ever considered having online music lessons, this is a great way to try it out without having to commit to anything. I can tailor a lesson to your specific needs regardless of your level or previous experience of playing the bass. Send me a message here and we can arrange the lesson.
During these difficult times, in the midst of COVID-19, I like many others have had most of my income sources taken away from me. As a self employed musician, I can’t do any gigs or teach any lessons face to face. Therefore I’m moving my entire teaching business online and I’d love to hear from anyone who is looking to embrace music during the isolation that most of us will experience this year.
Music is such a massive part of my life that I can’t imagine being stuck at home without the ability to play my basses. I can’t think of a better way to spend these difficult weeks and months than by working on music and improving your bass skills! So contact me for your free bass lesson.
Bass Practice Diary
As most of you already know, I’ve been releasing weekly Bass Practice Diary videos for the last 2 years. The idea is that each video highlights a different idea that I’ve been practicing. Last week was my 100th Bass Practice Diary video. It featured some of my best tips for how to improve your bass practice time. You can watch it by clicking the link below. Bass Practice Diary will be back as normal next week!
5 Tips for Better Bass Practice – Bass Practice Diary – 17th March 2020
To celebrate my 100th Bass Practice Diary video I’m sharing 5 tips for better bass practice. All of my videos up until now have dealt with ideas that you can practice, or gear advice and suggestions, or performances of things I’ve been practicing. However, I’ve never dealt with the most fundamental aspect of practice, how you should be practicing. I think lots of musicians have misguided ideas of what practice should be, I know that I did for a long time. So, I made this video to try and share with you some of the conclusions that I’ve come to about how to make the most out of your practice time.
Tip 1 – Make Your Practice Easy Not Hard
One of the mistakes I made, and I see a lot of my students doing the same thing, is to think that practice should be about pushing yourself to play difficult things that you can’t already play. It’s not bad to want to play difficult things. But you’ll achieve your targets much quicker if you start by practicing things you can already do. Then you can gradually make them harder in an incremental way.
I can remember repeatedly driving myself to the point of frustration as a teenager by practicing things over and over and still not getting them right. Now that never happens, because when I’m trying to learn something difficult, I start by breaking it down into simple easy exercises which I then gradually build up to the full thing that I’m trying to learn. If at any point I get stuck, I change what I’m practicing by making it easier. Easier could mean slower or breaking it down into smaller chunks.
I would also recommend practicing in time, either with a slow drum beat or metronome. It has the double benefit of helping you keep in time, but it also stops you from practicing something faster than you can manage.
Tip 2 – Try to Get as Much Variety as Possible
Another mistake that I made as a kid was practicing the same things over and over again until I became bored and frustrated. And while this approach can yield results, it’s not the best way to become a rounded musician, or to find enjoyment in playing music. I started my Bass Practice Diary to show that there are so many different things to practice. You shouldn’t ever be in the situation where you sit down with a musical instrument and think, “I don’t know what to practice”.
There are so many different things that you could be practicing that the problem should be, “I don’t know how to decide what to practice because there’s so much”.
The answer to that problem is to set yourself longer term goals, and then come up with exercises that will help you achieve those goals over time. Then don’t practice any one exercise for too long. Practice each exercise for a couple of minutes each and then keep coming back to them and changing them and building on what you’ve already done. Repetition is important, but you don’t need to do all your repetitions in one practice, you can spread them over weeks and months.
Tip 3 – Play for Fun
This one may seem obvious, because it’s something that we all do. But I’ve noticed that sometimes my students are apologetic about doing it. It’s like they think that all practice should be about practicing scales or learning repertoire or absorbing complex harmonic ideas. There’s only so much information a human brain can take in in one go. If you keep trying to learn new stuff for hours and hours you won’t retain most of what you’re practicing.
A lot of the time when I’m playing my bass at home, I’m just playing for the shear love of playing music. I’m not setting myself any targets or exercises, I’m just playing because I enjoy doing it. And if that wasn’t the case, I just don’t think I’d be a musician. And that leads me neatly on to my next tip which is…
Tip 4 – Play Your Instrument Every Day
If you make a habit out of playing your instrument every day you will almost certainly get good at it. I’ve never made a conscious decision to play every day, but I know that on the very rare days when I don’t play a bass, I feel like something is missing. It’s almost impossible to not be good at something that you do every day. My advice is to pick up your instrument every day, even if it’s only for a really short time and even if it feels like it hasn’t achieved anything.
Tip 5 – Love Music and Listen to Music
This may seem obvious, but it always amazes me how many people seem to miss this. I regularly ask my students “what have you been listening to this week?” Honestly, for me that’s a more important question than “what have you been practicing this week?”
It’s amazing how often it turns out that people haven’t consciously listened to any music all week. In this day and age, it’s normal for musicians to practice and to watch Youtube videos about our instruments, but we don’t always make time to listen to the music we love.
Loving music means listening to music and I firmly believe that you learn as much (if not more) from listening to music as you do from playing your instrument. So my fifth, but most important tip, is to make time to listen to music, really listen to it, don’t just have it on while you’re doing something else.
Nothing inspires me to make music more than listening to music. And I know that everyone has busy lives, but if you’re planning to do an hour bass practice tomorrow, I would suggest spending 30 minutes listening and 30 minutes playing. It doesn’t necessarily matter what music you listen to, but I would point you back to Tip 2 and suggest that variety is equally important in the music you listen to as well as in your practice time.
Triad Pairs – Part 3 – Triad Pairs & Hexatonic Scales on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 18th February 2020
This week I’m exploring the connection between triad pairs and hexatonic scales. My two previous Triad Pairs videos have featured major triad pairs on 4-string bass. This week I’m opening it up to include all types of triads. And I’ve switched onto my 6-string bass because I would most commonly use these kind of ideas on my 6-string.
What are hexatonic scales?
Hexatonic scales are simply scales that have six different notes. The term hexatonic doesn’t get used that often, except in the context of quite advanced jazz improvisation. But hexatonic scales are actually a lot more common than you might think. Probably the most obvious example of a commonly used hexatonic scale is the blues scale. Another common hexatonic scale is the whole tone scale.
The C whole tone scale above is comprised of the notes of a C augmented triad and a D augmented triad.
Minor triad pairs
Having explored major triad pairs in my first two videos, the next most obvious triad pair would be two minor triads separated by a whole tone (2 frets). You can think of these as chords II and III in a major key. For example these two triads, Dm and Em, can be used to play lines in the key of C major.
You can also find two minor triads a tone apart in the melodic minor scale. The altered scale is a mode of the melodic minor scale. I demonstrated in the video how you can create an altered scale sound on a C7 chord by using Db minor and Eb minor triads.
Combining different types of triads
The idea of triad pairs, as I’ve mentioned previously, is to find two different triads that give you six different notes. Those two triads don’t have to be the same type of triad. In this next example, I’m playing an E augmented triad and a G major triad. This triad pair also creates an altered scale/melodic minor sound.
The Augmented Scale
Another hexatonic scale created by combining two augmented triads is the augmented scale.
The augmented scale is comprised of the notes of two augmented triads a semitone apart. In this case, C augmented and B augmented.
These examples only scratch the surface of everything that you can do with triad pairs. Any time you can find two triads that give you six different notes, you have a triad pair. And those six notes can be played as a hexatonic scale. Practice my examples and see if you can find some more of your own.
Diatonic 7th Arpeggios in C major – Bass Practice Diary – 11th February 2020
In this video I’m playing all the diatonic 7th arpeggios in the key of C major on my 6-string bass. Exercises like this are ideal for learning how to play in any key, in any position on the fretboard. C major is the easiest key to demonstrate this in, because it has no sharps or flats. However, once you can do this in C major, it’s easy to transpose into other keys. And you should practice it in different keys.
What are diatonic 7th arpeggios?
Diatonic 7th arpeggios is just a fancy name for a simple idea. 7th chords are chords with four notes, root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. Diatonic 7th chords, just means all of the 7th chords you find in a particular key, like C major in this example. And these arpeggios are just those chords played one note at a time.
Chord I in the key of C major is Cmaj7, which includes the notes C (root), E (3rd), G (5th) and B (7th). You build these arpeggios by taking alternate notes of the C major scale, 1, 3, 5 & 7. Chord II is formed by taking the 2nd (D), 4th (F), 6th (A) and 8th (C) notes of the C major scale. These four notes create a Dm7 chord, and the pattern carries on for the remaining 5 chords in the key of C major, which are Em7, Fmaj7, G7, Am7 & Bm7b5.
I’ve arranged the arpeggios with the 7th as the first note, rather than the root. I’m only doing this because I like the way it sounds. And there’s no rule that says you must always play arpeggios starting on the root note.
Spain on 6-string Fretless Bass and Nylon String Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 4th February 2020
Chick Corea’s composition Spain is one of the most iconic jazz tunes written in the 20th Century. Last week I was using some of the chord changes for the solo section of Spain to demonstrate how to use major triad pairs to solo on jazz chord changes. After shooting that video I was practicing playing the tune as a duet with myself. I was using my Godin ACS nylon string guitar and my fretless Warwick Thumb SC.
Bass and Nylon String Guitar
Some combinations of instruments just work really well, even though you rarely hear them used. I think that the combination of bass guitar and nylon string or classical guitar is a great combination. I keep meaning to write more musical arrangements using this combination and I hope I will in the future. Another great combination is bass and flute, think about Jaco Pastorius’ tune (Used to be a) Cha Cha.
This is my first video of an arrangement using just bass and nylon string guitar. To be honest, I haven’t done much arranging, I pretty much just played the tune and improvised a solo on bass.
Minor Scales – Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor, Natural Minor & Dorian – Bass Practice Diary – 21st January 2020
If I ask you to play a C minor scale, what do you play? Minor scales are not as simple as major scales. Most of us know what to play if someone asks us to play a C major scale, but minor scales are confusing. There are several different minor scales, and how do you know which one to play and when.
How many different minor scales are there?
If you’re going to understand minor scales, then it’s important to understand the difference between three different scales, melodic minor, harmonic minor and natural minor. Every scale is a sequence of intervals, and for each of these three scales the intervals are the same for the first five notes. It’s the 6th and 7th notes of the scales that contain the variations.
The terminology of minor scales confuses people for the simple reason that classical musicians treat minor scales differently from jazz musicians. To help explain this I’m going to start by looking at the natural minor and the melodic minor scales. I’ll use the key of A minor because it’s the simplest, it has no sharps or flats, so the natural minor scale contains the notes A, B, C, D, E, F & G.
The A natural minor scale contains all of the same notes as a C major scale. That means that the natural minor scale is actually a mode of the major scale. It’s mode six, called Aeolian. Now, compare that to the melodic minor scale.
The melodic minor scale
The melodic minor scale has a raised 6th and 7th, meaning F# instead of F natural and G# instead of G natural. It’s important to understand that the melodic minor scale is not a mode of the major scale like the natural minor. It’s a parent scale and has seven modes of it’s own. You can check out my video about the modes of the melodic minor scale.
So, the natural minor scale is mode six of the major scale and the melodic minor is a scale with it’s own set of modes. So, not only do these scales sound different, they are also very different in their application. The natural minor scale implies a minor 7th chord functioning as chord VI in a major key, while the melodic minor implies a minor chord with a major 7th functioning as chord I in a minor key.
This becomes more confusing when you learn that classical music treats both these scales as one scale. The melodic minor is the ascending version of the scale, and the natural minor is the descending version of the scale. And together these are called the melodic minor. You can play it on the bass like this.
The harmonic minor scale
There is another minor scale, which, like the melodic minor, is a parent scale to seven of it’s own modes. It’s called the harmonic minor and it has a minor 6th and a major 7th. That means that in the key of A minor, the 6th will be an F natural and the 7th will be a G#.
The harmonic minor scale can also imply chord I in a minor key.
The Dorian Mode
I’ve included a fourth scale in my video. The dorian scale is another mode of the major scale, mode number two. The reason I’ve included it is because it’s a much more common choice of scale for improvisers playing on minor 7th chords than the natural minor scale. However, you wouldn’t use an A dorian scale to play on chord I in the key of A minor. You would use it to play on an A minor 7th chord functioning as chord II in G major. It goes like this.
The A dorian scale contains a major 6th F# and the minor 7th G natural.
Introduction to Triad Pairs on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 7th January 2020
This week I want to introduce some basic triad pairs exercises. The basic concept of playing triad pairs on bass is that you take two triads (three note chords) that don’t have any notes in common. Meaning that you have six different notes. And then you use those triads to makes lines and exercises.
Why use triad pairs?
Triad pairs are now a really common concept in jazz improvisation. But it’s not only jazz musicians that use them. You can apply triad pairs to almost any genre of music. They work particularly well for improvisation, but you can also use them to write bass lines.
This week, I’m only going to introduce the most basic form of triad pairs. Which is when you take two major triads that are spaced a tone apart. The reason for spacing them a tone apart, is because the triads function like chords IV and V in a major key. So you can use these kind of lines in any major key by transposing the two triads to the notes of chords IV and V in the key.
All of these exercises are played using the triads C major and D major. Which are chords IV and V in the key of G major. But that doesn’t mean that you can only use these in the key of G major. There are all kinds of interesting and creative applications of triad pairs which I’ll try and cover in my future videos.
There are three obvious ways to voice a triad (inversions). You can put the root at the bottom, the 3rd at the bottom or the 5th at the bottom. This first exercise demonstrates those three different inversions, which you need to learn really well if you’re going to get good at playing these exercises. Bar 1 uses the root position triads for both C and D and then bar 2 uses the 1st inversion and bar 3 uses the second inversion.
This next exercise uses a similar idea, but with triplets. So, you play three notes on each triad rather than four.
Finally, here is a pattern that plays four notes on C and then three on D.
The purpose of playing patterns like this one in exercise 3, is that it helps to make the exercise sound less like a pattern. If you’re playing triad pairs in an improvised solo, and you play three notes up and three notes down, like exercise 2. It will very quickly sound like you’re playing a repeating pattern. That’s ok if it’s the sound you want. But, if you want to make it sound less like a pattern, then a pattern with an odd number sequence (three then four) will create a less predictable feel when played as part of a solo.
Happy New Year – New Year’s Eve Bass Practice Diary – 31st December 2019
Happy New Year! It’s New Year’s Eve and I want to thank everyone who has followed Johnny Cox Music in 2019. I have big plans moving forward into 2020, including a lot more free original bass content, so stay tuned! My second book is almost ready for publication and I’m planning to launch a dedicated teaching website for bass players in 2020.
Here’s a video that I shot last year to help you usher in the new year with a bit of solo 6-string bass. I would have shot a new video this year, but unfortunately I don’t know any other New Year’s Eve song apart from Auld Lang Syne. So this is one of the very rare occasions where I’m recycling an old video. I hope you enjoy it!
Auld Lang Syne
There are a number of ways you can approach harmonising this tune, and I didn’t spend very long coming up with this arrangement. I didn’t write the arrangement down, I just worked out a few things by ear before I hit record.
The loose structure of the arrangement is as follows. I played the first half of the song solo, using simple I, IV, V harmony. I intentionally set it in a key where I could utilise the open strings as bass notes. Then I added some jazz chords and alterations in the second half and immediately overdubbed the melody for the second half of the tune.
This was actually one of the quickest videos I’ve done. The shooting of it didn’t take more than five minutes. But I’m happy with the results. Sometimes playing something “off the cuff” is the best way rather than overthinking it.
I hope you enjoy this bit of bassy mellowness, whether your New Year’s Eve is mellow like mine or a bit more exciting. And I hope that the coming year gives you many opportunities to play the bass!
Carol of the Bells – Christmas Bass Practice Diary – 24th December 2019
Happy Christmas and thanks to everyone that’s been following my Bass Practice Diary videos this year. Here is my new Christmas bass video for 2019. I wanted to find something that I could arrange with a loop pedal and my 6-string bass. I immediately thought of Carol of the Bells. The arrangement of the song immediately lends itself to looping.
The way that I’ve arranged it makes it possible to perform live with two loop pedals, one going into the other. However, I shot this video in two parts with one loop pedal. It’s much easier doing it that way rather than as one continuous take.
I VI II V Chord Progressions on 6-string Bass – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 17th December 2019
This week I’m revisiting my introduction to I VI II V chord progressions on 6-string bass video. There are so many ways that you can alter and substitute chords in a I VI II V sequence. Jazz musicians will often alter and add to the progression so much, that it’s almost impossible to tell that it was ever a I-VI-II V progression in the first place.
There really aren’t any rules when it comes to substituting chords. There are certain standard substitutions that are very common, such as the tritone substitution, which I looked at in my last video. But, honestly, you can substitute any chord for any other one that you like the sound of. A lot of it depends on the musical context that you’re playing the substitution in, but also it comes down to opinion. What sounds interesting to some people, will sound odd to others.
This week I’m just going to take you through some familiar chord substitutions and additions to I VI II V’s. These examples go quite a bit further than the examples in my previous video. But, believe me, you can take these ideas much further out than this.
The I VI II V examples
I created this first example by taking the III-VI-II-V example from my previous video and turning all the chords into dominant 7th chords. I then applied tritone substitutions to the VI and II chords. Then I added whatever extensions and alterations that I liked the sound of.
Once you have four dominant 7th chords like this, you can come up with so many variations just by applying tritone substitutions.
My next example derives from the first example. I’ve simply turned the E7, Eb7 and G7 chords into II-V’s. Meaning that I’ve added minor 7th chords before each dominant 7th chord. Each minor 7th has a root note that is a 4th below (or a fifth above) the root note of the dominant 7th chord. I’ve altered the VI chord to make it a major 7th instead of a dominant 7th chord. This completes a II-V-I in the key of Ab major, which is a strange thing to find in a chord progression in C major, but it works!