Jazz Blues Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 13th November 2018
This week I’ve done a detailed breakdown of a jazz lick that I played on a Bb blues progression in last week’s Bass Practice Diary. The lick combines the diminished scale with the blues scale which creates a jazz blues sound.
I’ve played the lick on my Warwick Thumb SC six string fretless bass. But I’ve transposed the lick down an octave so it can be comfortably played on a four string bass and I’ve written the TAB for four string bass in standard tuning.
Jazz Blues Lick
The concept of the blues solo that I played last week was combining the diminished scale and the blues scale. The reason why I’ve highlighted this very short lick is because it combines both the blues scale sound and the diminished sound in one very short lick. The Diminished scale provides a jazz sound while the blues scale keeps the lick rooted in the blues.
If you want to know more of the theory then check out last week’s video, but for now I’ll just take you through the lick.
The lick is played on a Bb7 chord but it starts on a G. The lick actually starts before beat one. The way I played it last week, you can think of the G as functioning as the major 3rd of the Eb7 chord in the preceding bar. However you could also play the same note on a Bb7 chord and think of it as a 13th.
From that note it goes up using the diminished scale. The second note Ab lands on beat one and it’s a chord tone, the dominant 7th. If you followed the sequence of the scale then the next note would be the root note Bb, but I’ve chosen to skip the root and go to the next note in the scale which is the b9, B natural (Cb).
Then it’s D and F. Two chord tones, major 3rd and 5th. And both feature in the diminished scale.
It’s worth mentioning at this point, that it’s the b9 that’s creating the diminished sound. All of the other notes are chord tones. They exist in the diminished scale, but without the b9, they would just sound like an arpeggio. It’s amazing what the presence of just one outside note can do to change the sound of a harmonic phrase.
For more of the theory about inside and outside notes, check out these two posts.
The Blues has its own rules when it comes to harmony. The blues scale is essentially a minor pentatonic scale with one extra note. An outside note, the b5.
If you want to define the sound of the blues, then a good place to start is by playing the minor 3rd from the blues scale on a dominant 7th chord containing a major 3rd. You could argue that anytime you mix minor and major 3rds on dominant chords you are playing a blues sound.
Going back to my lick, I’ve just played a major third and then the 5th of the Bb7 chord, F. The note F exists in the Bb blues scale, the Bb diminished scale and the Bb7 chord. So it’s a very safe note. I’m using it here to transition from playing the diminished scale into playing the blues scale.
From the F, the lick simply goes down the blues scale until it gets to the root note Bb. It includes the minor third Db, so the riff includes both major 3rd, D and minor 3rd Db. Which, as I’ve mentioned, creates a blues sound.
The diminished scale, and especially the b9 from the diminished scale, create a jazz sound. While the presence of both major and minor 3rds creates a blues sound. And both of these sounds are combined in one very short lick, just nine notes altogether. Which I think is quite cool.
I played several licks with a similar idea in last week’s video and I’ve transcribed one full 12-bar chorus. I think that the lick that I’ve chosen is the shortest and most succinct. Which is why I chose this one. I hope you’ve found this helpful!
Use the Diminished Scale to Play Jazz – Bass Practice Diary – 6th November 2018
This week I’ve been practising using diminished sounds to play on dominant 7th chords in jazz. If you want to bring a more jazz sound to your playing, using the diminished scale is a great way to do it. Because it creates an interesting series of inside and outside notes when played on dominant chords.
What is the diminished scale?
The diminished scale is what I would call a symmetrical scale. It sounds like it should be something very complicated but it’s actually very simple. In many ways it’s even more simple than a major scale.
Symmetrical scales are scales that use the same intervals repeatedly. In the case of a diminished scale the intervals are a half tone (semi tone) and a whole tone. Symmetrical scales are also called modes of limited transposition or fixed transposition, which sounds even more complicated. But it still isn’t. It simply means that there are a very limited number of different ways you can transpose the scale. For example, because of the repeating intervals a G diminished scale is the same as a Bb diminished scale and Db and E diminished scales. So the idea of playing in 12 keys is a bit redundant. Another example of a mode of limited transposition is the whole tone scale. You can also use the whole tone scale to play on dominant 7th chords, but that’s another video for another day.
There are only two different ways you can play a diminished scale, you can either start with a half tone or you can start with a whole tone. After that it just repeats the same patterns over and over. Which makes it quite easy to play, as I said before, in many ways easier to play than a major scale.
Here is an example of an arpeggiated diminished scale pattern that I featured in the video.
How to practise a diminished scale
In the video I’ve used the example of a Bb7 chord. Here is a diminished scale starting on a Bb and beginning with a half tone.
I don’t always think about the scale starting on the root note. Often I will use the major third (D natural in this case) as a jumping off point. And in that case I will think of the scale as starting with a whole tone.
Another approach that I use is to start on the #9 or minor third. In this case Db. In this case the first two notes of the scale will be the minor 3rd (an outside note) resolving to the major third (a chord tone). This is a real signifier of the blues and it will help give your diminished licks a bluesy flavour.
How to apply the diminished scale in jazz
As I’ve previously mentioned, the diminished scale most commonly gets applied to dominant 7th chords in jazz. Here is the same Bb half/whole scale written out with the intervalic relationships to a Bb7 chord written over each note.
As you can see, the scale gives you all of the standard chord tones in a Bb7 chord. Root, major third, 5th and dominant 7th. However, it also includes one unaltered chord extension, the 13th, and three altered chord voicing, b9, #9 and #11. It’s these altered extensions that give the diminished scale a jazz flavour when you play them on a dominant 7th chord.
The best way to demonstrate this is by playing a jazz blues, because the blues uses dominant 7th chords a lot. I’ve transcribed a chorus of blues solo that I improvised in which I was using both the diminished sounds and the more traditional blues sound of the blues scale.
Check out next weeks Bass Practice Diary 30 if you want to look more at some of the diminished blues licks I’m playing here.
Six String Bass – A guide to the 6 String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 30th October 2018
I just want to share some of the reasons why I play a six string bass. I get asked about six string basses a lot. So, I thought I should make a video about why I play them. And also give out some advice for anyone learning or thinking of learning to play a six string bass. I’ll also write a little bit about the history of the bass guitar and how basses came to have six strings.
The first thing I need to say is that how many strings you choose to play, 4, 5, 6 or any other number, is not that important. What is important is the music you play and how you choose to play your instrument.
You need to decide what is the best instrument for you and the way you want to play. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to how many strings. And I think that bass players sometimes care too much about it. They need to remember that what matters is music, not strings.
Why do I play a six string bass?
Having said that, I do have good reasons for playing six strings and I’ll share some of them with you now.
The biggest advantage of playing six strings is the extra range you get. With an extra low string and an extra high string you can extend your range in both directions, which makes six string basses very versatile. I don’t do many gigs where I don’t need to use the extended low range of my six string bass. I can play bass lines that weren’t originally written to be played on bass guitar.
The extended high range of the instrument enables me to play melodies, chord voicings and harmonies that would be very hard to achieve on four and five string basses. I know that not every bass player wants to explore these kind of harmonies, but I do, and if you’re interested in that too then you should think about playing six strings.
Is it Harder to Play Six string Bass?
Yes and no. Hopefully if you’ve seen my other videos you’ve seen me play four and five string basses. Other than the extended range, there’s no difference in the way I play 6 string to 4 or 5 string basses either technically or musically. My technique changes when I switch to fretless bass. But it doesn’t change when I switch between a fretted 4 and a fretted 6 string bass.
So for me, playing 6 isn’t any harder than 4 or 5 strings. In fact it’s easier because I play 6 most of the time and it’s what I’m most comfortable with.
Having said that, you need a strong technique to play 6 string bass well. And you need to make sure that you really learn all six strings.
There are a few technical things to consider when you learn to play six string bass. I see some 4 string players putting their left hand thumb on top of the neck when they play. It’s not great technique to do that and you can’t get away with it on a 6. The extra width in the neck means you won’t be able to access the low strings.
Another technical consideration is string damping, meaning that you don’t want to let open strings make noise when you’re not playing them. This is a technical consideration for all bass players, but the more strings you have, the more difficult it is, so you need to work on that if you’re going to play six strings well.
My final thought on the technical considerations is that it’s a bit harder to learn to play slap bass on a six string, because the high C string can be a bit in the way. But if your technique is good then you can still play in that style.
Learning to play bass
When I started playing bass, I learned on a 4 string bass like most people do. Then I switched to 5 and then 6. I started playing 6 string basses in my late teens. The first thing I did when I got the extra strings, was learn where the notes are on those strings. If you don’t do that, you’ll never play the 6 string bass really well.
I’ve heard it said that bass players should learn how to play 4 strings properly before trying to play 6. That doesn’t make any sense to me at all. If you take that argument to it’s logical conclusion then we should all start with one string on our basses. We should learn it properly and then add another and learn that properly. That’s not how you learn to play a musical instrument.
My advice would be that if you want to play a six string bass, then get one and start to learn it properly. Make sure that your technique is good and that you learn all six strings.
What to Look out for When Buying a Six String Bass?
So if you’re thinking of learning a six string bass, there is some advice that I’d like to give you about the instrument that you buy.
The first thing that I think is really important is string spacing. You want a nice wide string spacing, just like a 4 string bass. I really wouldn’t recommend getting a bass with a very narrow neck and the strings close together. I’ve mentioned already that there’s no difference in the way I approach playing 4, 5 or 6 strings. And for that to be the case, I need the string spacings to be the same. If the strings are much closer together then it suddenly feels like I’m playing a different instrument.
The next thing to consider is that the bass has a very even sound across it’s whole range. It needs to have a strong and clear low B string. And it also needs to sound good and be easy to play in the high register. If your bass is week in any part of it’s range, then you’ll lose the benefit of having the extra range that the 6 strings give you.
The last thing that I would highlight is the balance. That’s very important. If your bass neck is too heavy then it will dive to the floor when you let go with your left hand. Which means that you’ll have to constantly hold it up which will ruin anybody’s technique. So make sure your bass is well balanced. Make sure you can rest it on your lap with no hands and the neck doesn’t dive for the floor.
So, if you have a six string bass with a wide string spacing, a nice even sound across it’s whole range and it’s well balanced, then you have everything you need. And the good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good six string bass.
My Warwick Artist Series “Steve Bailey” Bass
I know that people will ask what is the bass in the video. So, I should say that it’s a Warwick Artist Series bass. Unfortunately they don’t make these any more, which is a shame because they’re really good. But if you’re looking for something similar without breaking the bank, then I would recommend trying the Warwick Rockbass line.
I just want to say one more thing about the history of the bass guitar and why basses have four strings to begin with.
Many people think that Leo Fender invented the electric bass in the 1950’s, he didn’t. It was invented in the 1930’s by a gentleman named Paul Tutmarc. And it was originally sold as a bass fiddle.
Musical instruments usually evolve from other instruments rather than being invented out of the blue. The electric bass was no different. It was modelled on the orchestral strings violins, double basses etc. Hence it had four strings, was tuned like a double bass and it was called a bass fiddle.
What Leo Fender did, which was revolutionary for the electric bass, was to realise that it would be much easier to play if it was shaped like a guitar rather than a fiddle. And he created all of those iconic Fender basses like the Precision and the Jazz Bass which became the archetypes for all future bass guitars. But the Fender basses retained the four string tuning of Tutmarc’s original electric bass fiddles.
Who Invented the Six String Bass?
It was Anthony Jackson in the 1970’s who started to ask the question, if the bass guitar is now a member of the guitar family, not the orchestral strings family, then why retain the four string double bass tuning? Surely it makes more sense to have six strings like a guitar? It was Jackson who came up with what we now consider standard tuning for a six string bass. He called his bass guitars contrabass guitars. The name never caught on, but the concept of the six string bass has become more and more popular.
That’s my thoughts, and please don’t take this as any kind of criticism of four or five string basses. Most of my favourite bass players play four string basses and many play five. I play four string basses. And I can’t stress how much it doesn’t matter how many strings you like to use. You should find the bass that feels right for the way you play, and that’s all that matters.
Jazz on Three Basses – Fretless Bass, Double Bass & Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 23rd October 2018
This week I’ve made a very quick video to demonstrate the bass as an instrument. Specifically, it’s potential to play more than just bass lines. So, I’ve played a jazz standard on three different basses. Two of them are fretless, two of them are acoustic, two of them have six strings and only two of them are bass guitars! Read on to find out more!
If you’ve followed my previous posts, you’ve probably realised by now that I don’t feel that bass guitars should be restricted to playing only bass lines. My instrument is the bass guitar. And the irony is not lost on me that in this video, all of the harmony is played on bass guitars except the bass line. Which I’ve played on an upright acoustic bass.
The Bass Line played on Double Bass (Upright Bass)
The reason that I’ve done this is not because I think I’m a good upright bass player. I don’t think that. I don’t have time to practice the upright nearly enough. My upright bass skills will never be better than average at best. The reason is because it’s the traditional role in jazz for the acoustic upright bass to take the bass line. And I know from years of experience, that if you try and play jazz gigs on bass guitar, acoustic bass guitar or even electric upright bass, you will very often be treated as the guy who is standing in because the band couldn’t book an acoustic double bass player.
I started to study upright bass when I was already at music college, and I did it with the aim of getting more jazz gigs. And it worked! For a while I was playing a lot of jazz gigs in London with my upright bass. But I very quickly stopped enjoying it. It’s a very difficult instrument to transport, especially when it’s impossible to park in Central London. The gigs didn’t tend to pay very much and the practice that I was having to put into the upright bass was taking away from time spent with my first instrument, the bass guitar.
So I gave up doing gigs on upright bass and I started telling people who were calling me for jazz gigs that I could do gigs on Electric Upright Bass (much smaller and more portable), but not acoustic. Needless to say, the jazz gigs dried up almost instantly.
I really enjoy playing acoustic upright bass at home, for fun. Although, I get precious little time to do it and I’m very rusty and out of practice. I’ve kept my upright bass all these years to play at home, even thought I almost never do gigs with it anymore. (I sold my electric upright).
Bass Guitars in Jazz
Do I regret my decision to stop taking gigs on acoustic upright bass? Not for a single solitary second. The upright bass is undoubtedly a beautiful instrument, but it isn’t my instrument. I’m a bass guitar player and I got to the point where I really didn’t look forward to doing gigs on upright bass. I found them to be a lot more hassle than they were worth financially.
But all this underlines the point, that as bass guitar players, we shouldn’t be aiming to take on the role of the upright bass in jazz. It’s not what jazz bands are looking for. Jazz bands that are progressive enough to want a bass guitar in the band are clearly looking for something different. Hence, the reason why I’ve played all of the harmony on bass guitars in the video apart from the bass line.
I’ve always believed that what we should strive to play is music, not just bass lines. Bass lines are an important part of music, they’re the foundation of most music. But there’s so much more music that we can also explore. And I don’t see any good reason why I shouldn’t explore all music, just because I choose to play an instrument that has the word bass in it’s name.
With that in mind, I decided to make a very short and quick demo of three basses playing a jazz tune (Solar by Miles Davis). Each bass showing a different facet of what a basses is capable of. As I’ve already described, the double bass (upright bass) is playing the bass line, the roll traditionally reserved for double bass players in jazz music.
The Acoustic Bass Guitar
The acoustic bass guitar is doing what jazz musicians term comping. Comping is basically when you use chord voicings to fill out the harmony. It’s a roll traditionally taken by piano or guitar. I’ve featured my acoustic bass guitar in a couple of recent posts. I’ve talked about how I use it as a harmonic accompanying instrument. So, rather than repeating myself, I’ll just leave these links for you to explore.
In the video the fretless electric bass is taking the rolls of melody and soloist. I suppose you could see this roll as being traditionally taken by vocalists and horn players. But, there’s actually quite a rich history of melodic bass playing in jazz. So it’s actually not that unusual to hear a bass take this role. In jazz usually everyone in the group gets a solo eventually!
Read this post to learn my thoughts about using fretless bass as a melody instrument.
Improve Your Time Feel by Practicing with a Drummer or Drum Beat- Bass Practice Diary – 16th October 2018
In my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove there’s an entire chapter about playing with drummers. If you want to improve your timing and your time feel on bass, then practising subdivisions with a drummer is a great way to go about it. Here’s a video featuring my good friend Lewis Davies on drums to show you how I do it.
Understanding time feel and groove
It’s important to understand that a band grooves and not just an individual. So, if you want to improve your groove, it’s essential to practice with other musicians and not just on your own. The best place to start is by practicing with a drummer. Practice placing your notes accurately on the subdivisions that the drummer plays, and you will begin to develop the collective time feel that you need for a band to groove.
It’s important to understand that virtually all music uses just a small number of subdivisions. Eighth note, sixteenth note, and triplet feels occur in virtually all styles and genres of music. If you want to have a great time feel on bass, it’s essential to not only understand them, but also to be able to execute playing them accurately. That is the premise of my book Improve Your Groove.
When I talk about an eighth note feel, what I mean is that eighth notes are the smallest subdivision in the bassline. Therefore, in order to make the bassline groove you must feel the eighth notes running through the music. All of the eighth notes, not just the ones that you play on.
Here are the two eighth note bass lines that are featured in the video.
Triplets and shuffle feel
When you play a shuffle feel, the smallest subdivision is a triplet. Typically in a shuffle, you create a different kind of off-beat to the straight eighth note feel, by playing just the first and third triplet subdivisions in each beat. As I explained in the video, if you recite Ta-Ki-Ta for your triplets, and only play on the two Ta syllables, you get a shuffle feel.
This shuffle bass line is fairly advanced and it adds a few passing notes on the second subdivisions. But, it still retains the feel of a shuffle and Lewis is playing a shuffle on the drums.
The following example shows how you can change the feel whilst still using a triplet subdivision by accenting the second subdivision.
Sixteenth note feel
It’s important to understand that a sixteenth note feel does not necessarily mean that you have to play more or faster just because there are more subdivisions. It just means that in order to get the feel right, you need to feel the sixteenth notes in the music, Ta-Ka-Di-Mi.
Here is an example of a bassline with a sixteenth note feel that doesn’t contain lots of notes or any fast passages.
For me, the most interesting aspect of a sixteenth note feel is the expanded rhythmic potential that sixteen subdivisions in each bar offers. Which is why we bass players love to improvise bass lines with a sixteenth note feel. There are so many potential rhythmic variations out there. And as long as you accurately place the notes onto the subdivisions, then you can’t really go wrong.
Here is an example of a more advanced, syncopated sixteenth note bass groove.
Grooving with the drums
All you need to do is make sure that your notes land on the drummers subdivisions. If you can’t practice with a real drummer, then practice with a drum beat backing track. But there’s no substitute for the real thing if you can find a drummer to practice with.
It’s always a good idea to record yourself if you can, and listen back. It doesn’t have to be amazing sound quality, just enough so you can hear how accurately you’re placing your notes. And don’t worry if you feel like you’re not very good. Learn together with a drummer and improve together over time. Lewis and I have been playing together since we were teenagers. And I think we’ve learned a lot both together and separately since then.
Learn a Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 9th October 2018
The best way to use “licks” in jazz is a subject that divides opinion amongst musicians. I’ve written a melodic jazz lick in the key of F major over a II-V-I chord progression. In this post I’ll explain the lick and also share some of my thoughts on the use of licks in jazz.
What is a Jazz Lick?
In this context, a jazz lick is a melodic phrase, like a musical sentence. It’s a small fragment of melody that can comprise part of a longer jazz solo.
The debate amongst musicians tends to centre around whether or not it’s appropriate to use pre-learned licks as part of improvised jazz solos. It’s something that a lot of musicians do, including really good musicians, and the argument in favour of using licks is as follows. By learning licks, you are effectively learning jazz vocabulary. And the more jazz vocabulary you learn, the greater your range will be as an improviser.
This is why I practice jazz licks or phrases. Sometimes I work out my own ones, as I’ve done in this video and at other times I play licks written by other musicians, as I have in this video.
Personally, I don’t like to use pre-prepared licks when I’m performing or playing with a band. Improvising is the thing I love to do most in music. And I like to not know for sure where the music will go. Sometimes the music can suffer as a result of this approach, and if you’re looking for more consistency in your soloing, then learning licks is a good place to start. But, I wouldn’t choose to sacrifice the process of improving by using pre-learned licks. I’ve tried it and I just don’t enjoy it. To me it feels like trying to introduce a pre prepared sentence into a conversation. It might be a great sentence, but there’s every chance it won’t make sense depending on where the conversation goes.
However, using licks is something that probably all improvisers do either consciously or unconsciously. We all fall into patterns of playing, often without realising it. I’m fairly certain that even musicians who are very against the idea of using licks, often unknowingly fall back on melodic phrases that they’ve played many times before.
Fretless Bass Jazz Lick
If you follow my Bass Practice Diary you’ll know that I like to play jazz melodies on fretless bass. So, when I do this kind of practice, I’ll always use my fretless. Having said that, the lick will also work on a fretted bass.
I’ve TAB’d it for 4 string bass so everyone can play it. I sold my 4 string fretless bass after I got the 6 string Warwick Thumb SC in the video. That’s the only reason that I’m playing a 6 string bass in the video.
The lick is meant to be played over a II – V – I chord progression in the key of F major. Gm7 – C7 – Fmaj7. The II – V – I chord progression is the most common chord sequence in jazz. I won’t go into the theory of it because there are so many articles in existence about II – V – I’s, like this one. I’ll just explain what I’m playing on each chord.
Inside and Outside Notes
I think the reason that jazz musicians love to play over II – V – I chord progressions is because the V chord affords a great opportunity to use outside notes. Whereas the II and the I chord tend to favour the use of inside notes. So, you can create a feeling of starting inside the harmony and then moving outside on the V before coming back in on the I. This is a very jazz approach. The feeling of taking the harmony out and then bringing it back in, immediately sounds like jazz. And it’s that sound that I’ve tried to demonstrate with my jazz lick.
As you can see, all of the notes are in the key of F major, creating an inside sound. Which is fine because we’re about to step outside of the harmony on the V chord.
There are several chromatic alterations in this bar. Playing a b9 on beat one is a very strong statement that I’m taking the melody outside of the key signature. I love this kind of bold harmonic statement. The other chromatic alterations (outside notes) are the #9 and the b13. The final note of the bar is also an outside note, but in this case it’s functioning as a passing note rather than an altered chord extension. It’s simply a semi tone above G natural to take us to an A natural on beat one of the next bar.
How much outside harmony you choose to use is a matter of personal taste. I mentioned in the video that you could play a similar phrase on the V chord but with a natural 9th instead of the #9 and a natural 13th instead of the b13. It would go like this.
Finally, on the I chord, F major 7, the lick resolves itself onto the major 3rd A. Which is about the most inside sounding note you can use at this point.
As I’ve said, I’m not planning to use this lick again any time soon. For me, this is simply an exercise in expanding my jazz vocabulary so I can improvise lines in a similar way in future. But if you’d like to learn it, and use it in future, I would consider it an honour that anyone chooses to play one of my lines. I hope this has been helpful!
Making Bass Guitar Tracks for Master Drummer Siemy Di – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd October 2018
This week I’ve been hanging out with my good friend Siemy Di and working on recording some of his compositions. Siemy and I have worked together a lot, over a number of years. So, when he needed someone to record tracks for his upcoming appearance on the Drum Channel, he asked me to help out.
I met Siemy in 2005 at a concert at the Barbican in London by the African Jazz All Stars. We were introduced by the leader of the All Stars, a great musician called Lucky Ranku, who had been a teacher of mine when I was at Music College.
In the years since we’ve worked together a lot, and we’ve played on each others projects. Our careers have overlapped in a number of bands and we’ve even gigged together as a duo on a number of occasions.
Siemy is a superb and original musician. The reason that he stands out is because he has a genuine commitment to creating original music. But he understands that in order to create something new you must understand the history of your instrument. Siemy is a student of both the drum kit and the South Indian percussion instrument called the mridangam. He is steeped in the history of both jazz drumming and carnatic classical music, and the influence of both traditions comes through strongly in his music.
There are not too many musicians these days that manage to be unique in the way they approach their instrument. But, Siemy has achieved this and he deserves to be considered a master drummer.
Many of Siemy’s compositions are in odd meters, which is in part due to the influence of Indian classical music. I share his love for both Indian Classical Music and Odd Meters. You can find my video lesson about playing bass in odd meters here. And you can find a video that I made with the wonderful mridangam player Arun Maheswaran here.
Chord Extensions on 4, 5 & 6 String Bass Guitars – Bass Practice Diary – 25th September 2018
I’ve done a few videos in the past about playing chords on the bass. This week I’m demonstrating a fairly simple approach you can use to playing jazz chord extensions. The system involves using two different voicings of 7th chords. Each using three notes, root, 3rd and 7th. Then adding chord extensions like 9ths, 11ths and 13ths as well as common alterations.
A Very Quick Guide to Jazz Harmony – 7th Chords
Chord extensions and alterations are synonymous with jazz harmony. 7th chords form the foundation of most jazz chords and I’m going to look at the three most common types of 7th chord. They are Major 7th, Minor 7th and Dominant 7th.
7th chords are four note chords, all of the chord types mentioned above contain root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. The root and 5th are the same in all three chord types, so the 7th chords are defined by the thirds and sevenths. Major 7th chords have a major 3rds and 7ths. Minor 7th chords have minor 3rds and 7ths and dominant 7th chords have major thirds and minor 7ths.
There are other types of 7th chords, but in this post I’m only going to look at these three types because they’re the most common.
When voicing extended chords it’s extremely important to know which notes to leave out. Regardless of whether you play 4, 5 or 6 string basses, you only have a finite number of strings. I recommend that you don’t try to cram every note from an extended chord into a chord voicing. It’s rarely a useful or practical approach.
The first note to leave out is the 5th, because it’s the same in each chord type. It doesn’t tell you anything about the chord. So, when I voice 7th chords, I voice them as three note chords, root, 3rd and 7th.
Assuming that you keep the root as the lowest note, that means you can voice a 7th chord in two different ways. The first way is with the 7th on top, as demonstrated in the three diagrams below.
The reason that I’ve voiced these chords on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings is so that I can use the first string to add a chord extension. These voicings work well for 9th chords. The 9th above my root note A is the note B played on the 16th fret of the first string. You can add this note to each of the chord types and you get these chord voicings.
There are two alterations you can make to the 9th in the dominant 9th chord. You can sharpen it to make an A7#9 chord or you can flatten it to make an A7b9 chord.
Voicing 7th Chords With the Third on Top
I stated previously that there were two ways I was going to voice the 7th chords. The first was with the 7th on top. Now I’m going to make the 3rd the highest note. I’ll play the root and 7th in the same place, but I’ll move the third up an octave, from the third string onto the first string.
In these voicings the 3rd string is not being used. So I can add a chord extension to the 3rd string. An obvious one to use is an 11th, because it sits comfortably in these chord shapes.
The natural 11th sounds good in a minor 7th chord. But, it doesn’t work so well on chords with major 3rds. So, for the major 7th chord I’ll add a sharpened 11th, which creates a lydian sound.
The sharpened 11th also works well on the dominant and minor 7th chords, and in these cases the sharpened 11th can also be described as a flattened 5th. So, I can create four new voicings by adding either a sharp or natural 11th to the 3rd string.
Chord Voicings for 5 String and 6 String Bass
All the voicings I’ve played so far can be played on 4 string bass. However, more strings means more potential chord voicings so I’m going to look at some voicings that will only work on 5 and 6 string basses.
First I’m going to take a couple of the 11th chords from the previous examples, and move the 11th up one octave. So, in the following voicings the 11th is the top note above the 3rd.
Finally I’m going to look at some voicings for 13th chords. The 13th is basically the same as a major 6th which is a note that can work on major, minor and dominant chords.
The voicings below are all dominant 13th chords. In each voicing the 13th is played as the highest note on the 1st string. It can be altered by flattening it as I’ve done in the second voicing. And, it can also be combined with the 9th, as I’ve done in the final voicing.
One big benefit of playing chord voicings on a 6 string bass is that you can play multiple chord extensions as I have in the final A13 voicing.
Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 18th September 2018
I wanted to put out a video where I talk about acoustic bass guitars. What are they for and how to use them? I’ve been playing acoustic bass guitars for more than half of my life and for a long time I struggled to figure out exactly how to get the best out of them. Finally after close to twenty years, I feel like I have a clear idea of how I like to play acoustic bass guitar. And more importantly, why I like use them.
Every Instrument Has it’s Own Identity… Right?
I feel that the acoustic bass guitar hasn’t yet fully found its own identity. Some people like to use it as a way of sounding more like an upright bass, I would never use it for that reason. Partly because I don’t think it sounds very much like an upright bass. But also because I have an upright bass. Conversely, some people play it like it’s an electric bass. But it isn’t either of those things. So, where’s it’s identity as an instrument?
We don’t even seem to have decided what are the best strings to use. Many acoustic basses are sold with bronze coloured strings like an acoustic guitar. But I’ve heard bass players and technicians tell me that they use electric bass strings on their acoustics because they think they work better.
It’s still a fairly young instrument. Its not like the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar. The acoustic guitar has existed much longer than the electric guitar and clearly has a very strong identity of it’s own. But the acoustic bass guitar doesn’t have the same extensive history.
I see people on the internet trying to do original things with acoustic bass guitars. Maybe we’ll look back in twenty or thirty years and we’ll clearly be able to see where the acoustic bass guitar was heading. But for now I see a lot of people trying things. Like the Andy McKee/Newton Faulkner acoustic guitar thing. Where you strike the body of the instrument with your hands to imitate drum and percussion sounds. Which sounds cool but I think it works better on acoustic guitars. Or I see people playing slap bass techniques, which I think work better on electric bass. It all sounds good but I’m not sure it’s where the identity of the instrument lies.
Why I Play Acoustic Bass Guitars?
Because I love having an acoustic instrument that I can express myself on. There’s so much I can do on my acoustic bass guitar that I can’t do on an upright bass. Especially relating to playing chords and arranging solos. You can arrange entire pieces on solo acoustic bass guitar. You can also sing with an acoustic bass guitar.
I would always choose to play mine either on my own or as part of a small group. A duo or probably maximum a trio. I wouldn’t choose to play it as part of a larger group. I just think that the subtleties get lost. I think that if you’re playing in a larger group you’re probably better off playing electric basses or upright basses.
A big development for me was when I switched to playing a six string acoustic bass. I’ve been playing six string electric basses since I was a teenager. But, I only got this Warwick Alien Deluxe six string acoustic bass guitar about five years ago. I think it’s only in relatively recent years that six string acoustic bass guitars are being manufactured at an affordable price and are good enough quality to perform with.
The Warwick Alien acoustics really are magnificent instruments. They’re well balanced and playable and they don’t cost a fortune.
He started his career as an upright bassist and he switched to electric bass and then acoustic bass guitar. He has a very unique style and he seems to have found a unique use for an acoustic bass guitar. But whether his style will be taken on by others and turned into an identity for the instrument remains to be seen.
Playing a Bass Ostinato for a Drum Solo – Bass Practice Diary – 11th September 2018
This week I visited my good friend Lewis Davies at his studio in South London. We spent the afternoon practising, just bass and drums. At the end I shot some videos to show what we were working on. One of the things we practised was playing a bass ostinato through a drum solo.
What’s an Ostinato
An ostinato is simply a repeating musical phrase, a bit like a riff. The purpose of playing an ostinato on the bass in this situation, is to hold down a groove while the drummer plays a solo.
The biggest problem with playing solos on either bass or drums, is that it breaks up the groove between the bass and drums. The purpose of the bass ostinato in this situation is for the bass player to take full responsibility for the groove so that the drummer can play a solo without it feeling as if the groove has been lost.
It’s a very high pressure situation for a bass player. The performance entirely depends on your timing and ability to keep the groove going against the potential distractions of a pyrotechnic drum solo. I remember as a young bass player being put in that situation on stage without having practised it. And I found it very uncomfortable. It’s very easy to rely too much on the drummer for the groove when you’re on stage.
A lot of drummers like to solo in this way. The composer and jazz musician Billy Cobham is just such a drummer. He writes and arranges his own compositions. So, he writes the kind of bass ostinatos that he wants to play over. I’ve always enjoyed playing Billy Cobham’s bass lines and in many of his arrangements it’s not only the bass player that plays the ostinatos.
The bass ostinato we play at the end of the video is from Billy Cobham’s classic composition Stratus which originally featured on his seminal jazz fusion album Spectrum.
Lewis is a good friend of mine and a multi talented man. He’s a music teacher, musician and he makes extremely high quality custom guitars. We met at music college when we were both in our late teens. And we’ve played, performed and practiced together a lot over the years.
Stay tuned for some more videos from our practice session in the next few weeks. And for now you can also check out this video we made together at a similar practice session a couple of years ago.