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.
5-String Bass Exercises – Three Exercises with Five String Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 29th September 2020
Here are three exercises that you can use on 5-string bass. These are typical of the kind of exercises that I play when I’m adjusting to playing a 5-string bass, especially if I haven’t played one for a while. If you follow my Bass Practice Diary videos regularly, then you know that I play 4-string and 6-string basses a lot. It’s easy to trip up on a 5-string bass when you’ve grown accustomed to playing four or six. A few exercises like this, when you start, will really help you to get used to the feel and the range of the instrument. Even if you always play 5-string bass, and you’re looking to improve your fluency around the fretboard. These kind of exercises are great for that too.
Exercise 1: Playing Across All Five Strings
In this first exercise, I’m simply thinking about arpeggiating two chords. Dm7 and A7(b9).
The exercise starts by going up the notes of a D minor 7 arpeggio. Then it comes down on the A7(b9). I’m relying heavily on the notes of a C#dim7 arpeggio for the A7(b9) chord. The notes C#, E, G and A# are the 3rd, 5th, 7th and b9th of the A7 chord. In the second bar I’ve substituted an Fmaj7 arpeggio for the Dm7 chord. The notes of the F major chord are the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th of the Dm7 chord.
Exercise 2: Using the Entire Range of the Bass
In the second exercise, I’m simply playing a C major scale over the entire range of my 5-string bass neck.
This is such a fundamental exercise on any instrument. I don’t think of it as playing a C major scale. I think of it as learning the notes in the key of C major. The whole of Western harmony is built around this key. You can think of it as learning all the white notes on a piano, but really it’s just learning where the notes A, B, C, D, E, F & G are. If you know where they are then you can easily work out where the sharps (#) and flats (b) are. And then you know where every note on your bass is.
Exercise 3: Playing a Bass Groove Using the Low B-string
The final exercise is a bass groove.
If anyone says that, “a bass groove isn’t an exercise, it’s music”, then I think that they need to re-think the way that they practice. To me, every piece of music that I play is an exercise, or at least it can be if I think about it in the right way. Exercises exist to help us play music, if there is a disconnect in your mind between the exercises you play and the music you play, then you’ve missed the point. Every exercise that I play is related to something that I have to use in real musical situations. I understand the relationship between the exercise and the practical application of it. In this particular exercise/groove, I’m working on playing a low Eb on the 4th fret of the B-string, whilst playing in the key of C minor. It’s tricky note to hit and it’s hard to make it sound good!
Slap Bass Timing Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 8th September 2020
If you’ve been following my recent series of videos about timing exercises, then you’ll know how these work by now. You take an odd number note grouping and play those groupings as continuous 16th notes. What I didn’t mention on any of my previous videos, was that these exercises are a great way to practice slap bass. This video feature three slap bass timing exercises. And you can take this concept and develop your own exercises.
The first exercise is 16th notes played in three note groupings. The three note grouping consists of a note, G, thumped with the right hand thumb (T). A tap on the strings with the left hand, marked L.H on the notation. And finally a pull with the index finger of the right hand, which I’ve played as a dead note by muting the strings with my left hand.
The second of the three note sequence, the left hand tap, can be very soft. You don’t need to hit the strings hard, you just need to do it in time. Hitting the strings with the left hand has the effect of silencing the first note. So, even if you don’t here the tap, you will still feel the rhythm by hearing the note G go silent.
The second exercise is an extension of that idea. This time the three note grouping is made by thumb (right hand), hammer (left hand) and pluck (right hand index). And the notes are taken from a C minor pentatonic scale.
The final exercise features a five note grouping. The five notes are as follows. Thump the G and then tap with the left hand, exactly as in exercise 1. Then thump with the right hand thumb again, but this time as a dead note muted by the left hand. That’s three, the final two notes are F and G. Pluck the F on the D string and hammer onto the G on the fifth fret with your left hand.
Triplet Timing Exercises for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 1st September 2020
This is my third video of timing exercises for bass guitar. The previous two videos both involved playing odd number note groupings as 16th notes in 4/4. In this video, I’m changing the subdivision and I’m playing four and five note groupings as triplets in 4/4. All of these triplet timing exercises are written with 8th note triplets. However, if you want to take the exercises a step further, you can make them harder by using quarter note triplets or 16th note triplets.
The first exercise involves playing four note groupings. I’m using two arpeggios in the key of C major, a Dm7 arpeggio and a Cmaj7 arpeggio. You can use any four note grouping to do this. Four note groupings played as continuous triplets in 4/4 will arrive back on beat one after two bars. So, I’ve put the note C on beat one of bar three to complete the exercise. You can loop the exercise as many times as you want to.
Another way to play four note groupings would be to play a scale, four notes at a time. This is a C major scale played descending from G, the fifth.
Playing five note groupings as triplets is harder. The next exercise lands back on beat one at the beginning of bar 6.
Finally, this last exercise combines the four and five note groupings. It’s actually a bit more straight forward than playing just the five note groupings, because four and five makes nine. So, this is effectively a grouping of nine. And because nine is divisible by three, it fits into triplet rhythms quite nicely.
Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar #2 – 16th Notes in Five Note Groupings – Bass Practice Diary – 18th August 2020
This week’s timing exercise features five note groupings, played as 16th notes. Last week I featured a similar exercise with three note phrases. You can make exercises like this by using any odd number grouping, and then playing those groupings as continuous 16th notes in 4/4.
Odd Number Rhythmic Groupings
The larger the grouping, the more rhythmic possibilities it creates. For example, five note groupings can be counted as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Da-Di-Gi-Na-Dum). Or you could count 3+2 (Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka) or 2+3 (Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta). However, a seven note grouping would give more options, 4+3, 3+4, 2+3+2, 5+2 etc.
The idea of playing odd number rhythmic groups, is that it creates a continuously moving polyrhythmic feel against the four beats in a bar of 4/4 and the four 16th note subdivisions in each beat. The idea of these exercises, is that they systematically go through every possible rhythmic placement of a five note grouping of 16th notes in a bar of 4/4, before arriving back on beat one at the beginning of the sixth bar.
Three Variations of The Exercise
In the first exercise, I’m playing five note arpeggios in the key of C major.
As you can see, I play the tonic, C on beat one of bar 6. If you can hit that note on the downbeat, then you know you’ve played the exercise correctly.
The second variation of this exercise is a variation of the first exercise. This time, I’m playing the five notes as three and then two.
The third variation also uses the three and two idea. However, this time I’m using an ascending G major scale.
Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar – 16th Notes in Groups of 3 – Bass Practice Diary – 11th August 2020
The concept of this timing exercise is very simple. You take any sequence of three notes, and play the sequence as continuous 16th notes in 4/4. So, you subdivide the beats into four, but you play a pattern of three, which creates a simple polyrhythm. Each time you play the sequence, it will start on a different 16th note. After three bars, you will have played all of the different permutations of where that sequence can start in a bar of 4/4. So, if you play the sequence correctly for three bars, the sequence should begin again on beat one of bar 4.
The Exercise and Variations
This would be a simple version of the exercise. It’s a “one finger per fret” exercise, but each note is played three times.
I would more commonly play the exercise using triads, as I have here.
You could also apply the same idea to practicing scales. Here is a C major scale played in three note groupings. First ascending and then descending.
Slap Bass 10 Minute Workout – Bass Practice Diary – 4th August 2020
This is the third 10 minute bass practice workout that I’ve released, but the first to feature slap bass techniques. There are a lot of videos on YouTube of bass players teaching and demonstrating slap techniques. They’re often fast and flashy and they almost always involve using lots of open strings. There’s nothing wrong with that, because those things are fun to play. But, in this video I’ve tried to zero in on what I think are the fundamental techniques that bass players should practice, so that they can use slap bass techniques in “real world” music situations.
What are the fundamentals of slap bass?
If you follow my Bass Practice Diary videos, then you probably know that slap bass is not my “main thing” on bass. The vast majority of what I do is played finger style, but I like to keep my slap bass chops ready for when they’re needed. This line, that I’ve written is typical of the kind of exercise that I’ll set for myself when I’m practicing slap bass.
I’ll start by asking myself the question, what do I need to be able to do in order to execute slap bass lines quickly and accurately when they’re put in front of me on a gig? Then I’ll come up with a line, like this one, that I feel tests me on the fundamental techniques that I need. So, I haven’t included any advanced techniques like double thumbing or machine gun triplets. Those are great techniques for playing slap bass solos, but I’m more interested in the fundamentals that I need to make my slap bass lines sound good.
For me, the fundamental techniques of slap bass are the thump with your thumb, the pull with your index finger, the hammer ons and pull offs with your left hand for playing legato lines and dead notes. When I’m practicing these fundamentals, I’m concentrating on trying to get my timing as well as my tone and dynamics even. So all the notes can be heard and nothing is coming out too loud.
Bass players often use compression on their slap bass lines to even out the dynamics. It’s ok to do that, but I would strongly recommend that you don’t use compression when you practice. You need to learn to control the dynamics with your hands. Using compression will subconsciously teach you that you don’t need to control the dynamics because the compression does it for you.
The 10 Minute Slap Bass Workout
If you’ve done one of my workouts before, you’ll know the format by now. I divide the 10 minutes up into four exercises, each practiced for 2 minutes (roughly). And then the last 2 minutes is for putting all four exercises together into one line. Each exercise is practiced at four different tempos, roughly 30 seconds at each tempo. The first tempo should be very slow to help get used to the notes in each new exercise. And the last tempo for each exercise should be pushing you to the edge of your comfort zone.
The last tempo should be challenging but not impossible. It’s a mistake to try and go too fast. You need to push yourself in the last 30 seconds but I think it’s a much bigger mistake to go too fast than too slow. I’ve set the tempos in this video at tempos that work for me, 40bpm, 55bpm, 70bpm and 85bpm. If those tempos don’t work for you, then do the workout in your own time at your own tempos. You only need a metronome or a drum beat, which you can find for free online.
The line is based around a jazz III-VI-II-V in the key of E major. The line itself uses hardly any open strings. I’ve done this deliberately, because it’s harder to play slap bass without using open strings. Typically, when I’ve been asked to play slap bass on gigs, I’m very rarely required to play in keys like E and A where I can use lots of open strings. It’s more often in keys like F and Bb because those are popular keys for keyboard players and horn players.
My line is in the key of E. However, I’ve chosen the chords G#m7 – G7 – F#m7 – F7. Therefore, there isn’t much opportunity to use the open strings on the root notes. However, once you’ve learned the line, you can resolve it onto an E chord, which is fun because you can then bring in the open E string. Here’s the line.
The first exercise goes like this.
I’m practicing it as a 3-beat repeating cycle. The chords at this point go from G#m7 to G7. I’ve included one dead note, which I’m playing by striking the string with my right-hand thumb while muting with my left hand. I haven’t included many dead notes, because I feel like I probably over use them when I improvise a slap bass part. I also put dead notes in instinctively on rest strokes. You can hear me doing it in the video. So feel free to improvise dead notes on any of the rests. You can play dead notes with your right hand and left hand, I usually use a combination of both.
After the dead note, there’s a hammer on from the 2nd to 4th fret on the A-string. In this exercise, I’m working on getting an even sound between the notes that I’m thumping, which are the notes on the A and E-strings. And the notes that I’m plucking on the G and D-strings.
The second exercise is this.
This is a bass fill played using a combination of hammer ons and pull offs with the left hand. While the right hand is using both index finger and thumb. It starts by plucking the 6th fret on the first string and pulling off to the 4th fret. Then the right-hand thumb plays the open string second string and the left hand hammers on the 5th fret. Then I use my thumb again to play the 2nd fret on the A-string and I hammer on to the 4th fret. Watch out for the rest on beat 1, and the goal is to make it sound like one smooth line.
Exercise 3 goes like this.
Each note in this exercise is articulated using either the thumb or index finger on the right hand, with no written dead notes or legato phrasing. You can improvise dead notes on the rests. It’s a 3-beat cycle, like exercise 1. I could play exercise 3 as a 2-beat cycle, but it flows better with the quarter note rest on the end.
This is the fourth and final exercise.
Another rest on beat 1. More combinations of thumping and plucking, hammer ons and pull offs. Good Luck!
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.