Six String Fretless Bass Arrangement – I Know You – Bass Practice Diary – 19th November 2019
Multi-tracking fretless bass is a big challenge. It’s hard enough to get any fretless instrument to sound in tune on even a single bass line. But to try and get multiple tracks of the same instrument to sound in tune with itself is really hard. Because if any one note is slightly out of tune, then the whole thing sounds bad. So, I set myself a challenge this week to see if I could arrange a tune using only my Warwick Thumb SC 6-string fretless bass.
I Know You by Mike Stern
The tune that I chose was I Know You which comes from a collaboration between Richard Bona and Mike Stern on the album These Times. It’s a beautiful tune and I highly recommend checking out the original version. Richard Bona’s vocals and bass playing are just sublime.
My version probably doesn’t do justice to the original, but it kind of works in it’s own way. The intonation certainly isn’t perfect, but I include it in my Bass Practice Diary as a demonstration of the kind of ideas that I like to use to help me improve my intonation on fretless bass. If you have a loop pedal and a fretless bass, try multi-tracking some of your own fretless lines. It’s hard to get it to sound good!
Truss Rod Adjustment & Setup on fretless Sire Marcus Miller M7 – Bass Practice Diary – 12th November 2019
One of the most useful skills that you can learn as a bass player is to set up your own bass. It’s easy. Two weeks ago I released my review of the Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5-string bass. It’s a good bass, but the setup was a mess when it arrived. So, on the same day that I shot the review, I also made a video about how I set the bass up, and here it is.
Why you should set up your own bass
When I was younger, I always paid a professional luthier to set my instruments up. I thought that a really good instrument needs a professional set up, and if I tried to do it myself I might ruin it. But there was one incident that completely changed my perspective, and I’m very glad that it did.
I was in my mid twenties and I’d been playing professional gigs for a few years. And I always took my basses to the same bass shop to have them set up. A very good shop where they make their own high end custom basses. So they know what they’re doing. I had just spent a lot of money on buying what was, at that time, the most expensive bass I’d ever owned.
The setup was almost perfect on my new bass, but there was a small issue on the first string, with the action being a bit too low. And so, on a few frets, the first string wasn’t ringing clearly. Naturally I took it straight to my usual bass shop where I knew and trusted them. And I paid them to give it a full setup. I didn’t mention the issue on the first string, I thought I didn’t need to. I assumed that as professional luthiers, they would make the setup perfect.
You’ve probably guessed by now, that when I came to pick up the bass two or three days later. The bass was in exactly the same condition that I had left it. Same issue on the first string. And while I was trying the bass out, I over heard the luthier say to his colleague in another room, that he hadn’t known what to do with my bass because the setup had been perfect from the start.
Only you know how you want your bass to be set up
Naturally I was dismayed to have wasted my time and money on a setup that had made no difference to my bass. I asked the luthier to make some extra adjustments, which he did, and they also made no difference. Then I left with my bass, not knowing what I should do. I didn’t complain, because I didn’t want to humiliate the guy, he had done his best.
When I got home, all I could do was try and sort out the issue myself, which I did in less than 10 minutes and I got the bass playing perfectly. And this was a revelation to me. I had always assumed that I couldn’t possibly set an instrument up as well as a professional. But I had fixed a problem in a few minutes that a professional had failed to even identify in three days.
Now, I assure you that I’m not trying to say that luthiers are incompetent or a sham. There is a reason why the luthier couldn’t get my bass setup right and I could. And that reason is because I’m a musician and he isn’t. I’ve heard all of the luthiers in that shop playing basses before, and their bass playing is very rudimentary and basic. Their skills are in making instruments, not playing them. So, when they set up an instrument, their approach is to make very detailed accurate measurements.
The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t take in to account the idiosyncrasies of each individual instrument. The luthier had performed all of the measurements on my bass, and found that everything was as it should be. That’s not really surprising, because it was an expensive bass, and I’m sure that the manufacturer had also made all the same measurements when it left the factory and decided it was perfect.
However, neither the factory nor the luthier in the shop had picked up on the issue that I was having, because they don’t play the bass like I do. And that is the key point. Only I know how I want my bass to be set up. Paying somebody else to do it doesn’t make any sense at all. They can only give me a generic set up based on what they think I want. But if I do it myself, I can make the bass play exactly how I want it to play.
How to set up a bass
There are only really five things that you need to learn how to do. And most of them are extremely easy. The most important, and possibly most difficult, is to set the relief in the neck by adjusting the truss rod. I’ve demonstrated in the video how a luthier adjusts the relief in the neck. But I tend to do everything by feel. I make small adjustments and then I try it out to see how it feels.
I think that is another really key point. Everything you do, just make tiny adjustments and keep trying it out. It might take ages to get it right, the first time that you do it. But it’s the best way, and it minimises the chances of you doing any damage to your bass.
Apart from the truss rod, the other four things that you can adjust are the saddles on the bridge for string height, the intonation on each string, the pickup height and the nut height.
As I mentioned in the video, most basses don’t come with adjustable nuts. I wish they did, check out Warwick’s Just-a-Nut III here. I don’t know why other companies can’t come up with a similar idea. If you don’t have an adjustable nut, you can lower a nut by filing it down. If you want to raise it, you need to replace it with a new nut. This is something that you probably should get a luthier to do, but most bass setup’s can be done without needing a new nut. I’ve only ever had to have a nut replaced twice in over 25 years of playing bass.
Jazz Chord Progressions on 6 String Bass – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 8th October 2019
Here’s Part 2 of the video I started last week about playing jazz chord progressions on six string bass. Last week I was looking at the chord progression I III IV V. And I came up with some diatonic voicings on my six string bass to take me through that progression in a few different keys. This week I’m including some common and simple chord alterations that you can add, to make that chord progression sound more interesting.
I – III7 – IV – V
I mentioned last week that there are two common ways to play through the I III IV V progression. The first is with a minor 7th chord on chord III. Which is the correct voicing if you harmonise all the chords according to the major scale of the key you’re in (diatonic harmony). But there is a common jazz alteration, which is to play the III chord as a dominant 7th chord. Listen to the opening chords on the melody of the jazz standard Someday My Prince Will Come and you’ll recognise that sound.
Here is how I would play that chord progression in the key of E on a six string bass.
You’ll notice that I’ve included either extensions or alterations on each voicing except the very first one. The first chord is E major 7th, which I’ve voiced like this.
There is one obvious alteration that I could make to this chord, which would be a sharpened 4th (commonly referred to as 11th). That chord alteration would change the sound of Chord I to a Lydian sound. The chord would look like this.
Chord III7 and IV
In the example in the video I’ve played the III chord as G#7b13, like this.
But it’s important to understand that it isn’t the b13 note which is the outside note in this key. The G#7 chord is already a chord substitution because the major 3rd, C (or B#) isn’t in the key of E major. The b13 note is actually the note E, which obviously is in the key of E major.
The IV chord I’ve played like this.
The inclusion of the #11 here is a normal diatonic note to play on a IV chord in a major key. A simple chord substitution here would be to play F# minor 7th instead of A major.
Chords V and I
The V chord is where you can really have some fun with extensions and alterations. In my example I’ve used a B7b13 voicing.
But you can also alter the 9th by sharpening or flattening it.
And you can even alter the 5th by flattening it as well. These kind of altered dominant sounds would often be used as chord V in a minor key. Chord V in a major key would be more conventionally played without alterations, such as B9 or B13.
But I really like the use of the b13 in this case, especially because I’ve voiced the final I chord as E major 9th with the ninth at the top.
So those two chords, B7b13 – Emaj9, create a little chromatic melodic movement. The b13 on the B chord is the note G, which drops onto the F# which is the 9th of the E major chord. It could also go chromatically up onto G# which would be the major 3rd of the E major chord. These are chromatic approach notes which are a common melodic device used in jazz.
Keep following my weekly practice diary on Johnny Cox Music for many more videos about jazz chord progressions coming up soon.
Blues in A with a 10/8 Time Signature – Bass Practice Diary – 24th September 2019
Blues is at the root of so much of what I play. I started out by playing blues as a child. And the blues is also at the root of so much modern music, including jazz, rock, funk, soul… the list goes on. It’s actually incredible when you think about it, how the musical vocabulary of the blues has permeated so much music in the last 100 years or more. But, can you play a blues in an odd meter? That’s what I found myself wondering this week.
Where does blues end and modern jazz start?
Blues has its own rhythmic feels and distinctive harmony. Which have proved very adaptable to other genres of music. And it could be argued that once you break out of these structures, you’re no longer playing the blues. My own musical journey through my teen years took me from blues to modern jazz, simply by a process of trying to expand my harmonic language. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part to leave the blues behind. I simply started to become interested in upper chord structures and alterations, and expanding my role as a bass player, and modern jazz is where I found myself.
So I’ve no doubt that some people could argue that an odd meter blues isn’t blues, it’s (blues influenced) modern jazz. But I would argue that if you can stay true to the rhythmic feeling, structure and harmony of the blues, while playing an odd meter. Then you can play an odd meter blues. And that’s what I’ve tried to do in this video.
The influence of John McLaughlin
It’s not a completely original idea, although I’ve never heard anyone try to do exactly what I’ve done here. However, I was partly inspired by the jazz guitarist John McLaughlin. There’s a tune called New Blues, Old Bruise on his album Industrial Zen. It’s in 15/8 and I think it’s a brilliantly original approach to playing blues harmonic language. That tune would undoubtedly be classed by most people as jazz fusion, but nevertheless, the blues influence is undoubtedly present.
The other influence of John McLaughlin came from his brilliant DVD called Gateway to Rhythm. In which, he briefly demonstrates a kind of subverted blues shuffle feel in 10/8. The rhythmic phrase he uses is Ta-Ki-Ta Ta-Ki-Ta Ta-Ka Ta-Ka, which is 3+3+2+2. When I heard it I thought it was genius. Because it seemed to capture the feel of a blues shuffle, but it wasn’t a shuffle. I think the phrase originally came from one of his old Mahavishnu Orchestra albums.
Hearing that made me think, if you can capture the feeling of a shuffle in 10/8 then maybe you can play an entire 12 bar blues in 10/8. I haven’t used that particular rhythmic phrase in my blues, because I didn’t want to copy John McLaughlin’s rhythmic phrase. But it did inspire me to come up with the blues in 10/8.
The bass line
The bass line was partly improvised and partly worked out in advance. It turns out that you have to concentrate really hard when you’re playing a 12 bar blues in 10/8. Especially when you don’t just stick to one rhythmic phrase. As I haven’t here, I’ve tried to mix up the rhythms as much as I could. But here is one chorus of transcribed blues bass line in 10/8.
The fretless bass solo
The fretless solo on top was just a bit of messing around. I added it to add some context to the bass line. I found while I was doing it that I had to concentrated really hard on where to start my lines. To make sure they came out in the right place harmonically. I’ve transcribed the solo too and here it is.
Michael Brecker Jazz Solo Transcription on 6 String Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th September 2019
This week I’m playing a transcription of part of Michael Brecker’s solo on Charlie Parker’s Confirmation from Chick Corea’s Three Quartet’s album. If you saw my video last week, you’ll know that I picked out one lick from this solo already. Because I felt it fitted nicely onto a four string bass. But I actually worked out the transcription on 6 string bass. That’s what I usually do with jazz transcriptions. So, this week I thought I’d feature the solo, or at least as much of it as I’ve transcribed so far, on my fretless 6 string bass.
The Solo Transcription with Bass TAB
This isn’t the complete solo, it’s just the first chorus plus a couple of bars. And I’ve played the transcription one octave below where Michael Brecker plays it. Just because I think it sounds and fits better on a bass guitar in this register. I have seen other transcriptions of this solo but they’re all written in treble clef and in the key of G major for Bb tenor saxophone. As far as I’m aware, mine is the only bass clef transcription in the concert pitch key of F major.
The backing track that I’ve used in the video is not one of my own. If you follow my videos regularly, you’ll know that I often make my own backing tracks. But this was just a convenient backing track of Confirmation that I found. The feel is slightly different to the feel of Chick Corea and Michael Brecker’s original. So I’ve played the feel to fit in with the backing track.
Michael Brecker Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd September 2019
This week I’ve been working out some jazz lines that Michael Brecker played on Charlie Parker’s tune Confirmation. And this week I’m featuring one particular lick that comes from that tune.
The recording that I was working from comes from a Chick Corea album called Three Quartets. And it features Michael Brecker performing a duet with Chick Corea who is playing the drums rather than his more familiar role as a pianist. The performance is notable for Michael Brecker’s brilliant solo. Which features a number of brilliant jazz lines. And I’ve picked out this particular lick, because I think it fit’s nicely onto a four string bass guitar. Although I should point out that I’m playing the lick one octave below where Michael Brecker plays it. Here’s the lick.
The lick happens in the middle 8, and it’s played on a II-V-I in Db major. I recently wrote about the importance of practicing II-V-I’s in my post about applying jazz vocabulary to jazz standards. This lick is a really useful piece of jazz vocabulary. And when you practice these kind of lines, I would strongly recommend practising transposing them into different keys. Here’s the same lick played in Ab major to get you started.
Rhythm Changes (Oleo) with Tim Pettingale – Bass Practice Diary – 27th August 2019
I’ve written before about the importance of practicing with other musicians. And it was an absolute pleasure this week to welcome jazz guitarist Tim Pettingale to my studio in East London. Tim’s latest book, which I’ve been reading recently, is called Rhythm Changes for Jazz Guitar. So it seemed like a great opportunity to ask Tim to put me through my paces on a Rhythm Changes tune. We choose Sonny Rollins’ tune Oleo, because Tim refers to it in his book.
What is Rhythm Changes?
Rhythm Changes is a 32 bar chord progression which is loosely based on Gershwin’s tune I’ve Got Rhythm. Many famous jazz tunes have been written on the Rhythm Changes. And it’s the second most commonly used progression in jazz after the 12 bar blues. However, just like the blues progression, there are hundreds of variations that you can play for Rhythm Changes. And you rarely hear it played exactly the same way twice. Tim’s book features explanation and solo examples for many of these variations.
In the video, we’ve tried to feature a few cool variations and chord substitutions from the book in our very short rendition of Oleo. I’ll try and explain them very briefly here.
Rhythm Changes chord theory
Rhythm Changes has an AABA structure. Each A and B section is eight bars long. For the first two A sections we played Sonny Rollins’ melody. Then Tim’s solo started on the middle 8, which is the B section. We used the standard Rhythm Changes middle 8, which is four dominant 7th chords each played for two bars, D7 – G7 – C7 – F7.
The A section usually starts with a I-VI-II-V chord progression in Bb major. The VI chord is often played as G7 rather than Gm7. Having played the I-VI-II-V twice, we then played a cycle of II-V’s starting in Eb major. And then going through the keys Db major and C major before resolving back into Bb major. So bars 5-8 of the A section, as we played it, went like this, Fm7 – Bb7 – Ebm7 – Ab7 – Dm7 – G7 – Cm7 – F7 with two beats on each chord.
The next A section took us back to the start of the AABA form. And we started to introduce some chord substitutions. Instead of the usual I-VI-II-V’s, we played Dm7 – Db7b5 – Cm7 – B7b5. It’s a clever substitution for a I-VI-II-V because it creates a root movement descending in semi-tones. The Dm7 is chord III in Bb major. Chord III is a common substitution for Chord I because the notes in a Dm7 chord are the same as the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th of a Bbmaj9 chord. The Db7b5 is a tritone substitution for the G7 (chord VI) and the B7b5 is a tritone substitution for the F7 (chord V). The Cm7 is chord II and it’s the only one of the four chords that isn’t substituted.
We played one more A section, during which we played more or less the standard changes. And then we went into another B section. This time we played tritone substitutions on the D7 and C7 chords. So the progression as we played it was Ab7 – G7 – Gb7 – F7.
All of these substitutions and many others are featured in Tim’s book. I would highly recommend it for anyone who plays guitar and wants to learn about jazz. Tim is the author of Jazz Bebop Blues Guitar as well as the Rhythm Changes book. His books are great, because they don’t assume any prior knowledge of jazz. So they very clearly explain the fundamental principles before going on to deliver simple guides to playing and improvising. All his books have an informal and easy to read style. And they contain multiple short examples written in standard notation and guitar TAB, all with accompanying audio Mp3’s.
During Tim’s visit we also shot another video of one of Tim’s original compositions, which was a jazz waltz. Keep checking both mine and Tim’s social media because we’ll be posting that video in the next few weeks.
Jazz Vocabulary on Jazz Standards with Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 20th August 2019
Last week I was writing out and practicing 16th note jazz lines on II-V-I’s. When you’re practicing jazz vocabulary like that, the next logical step is to try to apply the vocabulary to the chord changes of a tune or jazz standard. And that’s what I’ve been doing this week.
Why do jazz musicians practice playing II-V-I’s?
When I first came across the idea of practicing II-V-I’s, I couldn’t understand why jazz musicians were so obsessed with this one very simple chord progression. But now I get it. Because once you can play lines on II-V-I’s, you can then use those lines in such a huge number of musical situations. Even when there isn’t a II-V-I written in the music, you can superimpose the II-V-I harmony with your lines over it.
Here are just a few examples of what I’m talking about. If you are playing on a minor 7th chord. You can treat that chord as a chord II and play II-V lines over it. Or, if you’re playing on a dominant 7th chord, you can treat it as a V chord and do the same thing. The most obvious place to superimpose a II-V-I is on a major chord or major 7th chord. Using these kind of ideas, jazz musicians have become masters of turning just about any harmonic progression into a sequence of II-V’s or II-V-I’s.
So if you can get good at improvising on II-V-I’s, then you can improvise on so many different chord progressions and harmonies.
Applying jazz vocabulary to standards
Practicing jazz vocabulary in this case just means playing lines that work over common jazz chord changes. Most commonly II-V-I’s. It’s essentially like learning licks. The vocabulary could be lines that you’ve worked out yourself or they could be lines played by someone else. If you’re going to learn to improvise in a jazz style, I think it’s essential to practice some jazz vocabulary. And that’s basically what I was doing last week.
When you practice jazz vocabulary it’s a good idea to transpose it into different keys. It’s an even better idea to apply it to the changes of a real jazz standard. Because then you have to think about how and where you can use the lines. As well as changing the key to follow the harmonic movement of the standard.
I’ve written out two examples. This first one is on the first eight bars of In Your Own Sweet Way.
As you can see, there are lots of II-V’s in this tune. Both major and minor. So, it works really well for applying this kind of jazz vocabulary. My next example was on Miles Davis’ tune Solar.
Why practice jazz vocabulary?
Now I should point out, as I did in the video, that this is just an exercise. I wouldn’t choose to improvise like this. Because I don’t use licks or preprepared vocabulary when I improvise. I know that a lot of jazz musicians do use licks in their solos. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that. But it doesn’t work for me. Because I see improvisation as spontaneously creating something in the moment. And that’s what I love about it. If I were to apply a preprepared idea into an improvisation it would feel incongruous to me, and so I don’t do it.
The reason that I practice licks and vocabulary is so that I can hopefully absorb the sounds and melodic ideas. So that hopefully when I want to improvise a jazz solo, I can come up with similar ideas of my own.
16th Note Jazz Lines on 6 String Bass with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 13th August 2019
This week I’ve written out some 1/16th note jazz lines on a II-V-I chord progression in C major. If you’ve read my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove, then you’ll know that I love to practise subdivisions. In fact, I believe it’s probably the most important thing that every bass player should practice. And this week I’ve been working on a tricky little subdivisions exercise. Playing 1/16th notes on a jazz swing feel!
Why is it hard to play 16th notes on a swing feel?
A 1/16th note feel can be described as a straight feel. Straight, in this case means anything with a subdivision that is divisible by two. 1/8th notes, 1/16th notes etc. But a swing feel is a triplet feel. Meaning the subdivision is three not two. So playing 1/16th notes over a triplet (swing) feel requires playing a different subdivision to the rest of the band. And that requires really good time keeping discipline.
You’ll also notice that the 1/16th notes feel fast, even on a quite moderate tempo swing feel. So there are technical challenges in playing these lines accurately. As well as the challenge of getting the timing right. Here are the lines that I wrote out for the video. If you try playing these, I would recommend counting the 1/16th notes using the Konnakol syllables Ta-Ka-Di-Mi as I did in the video.
If you’d like to learn more about practicing subdivisions on bass guitar then check out my book or you can watch this short video!
Diminished Scale Exercise for Jazz Lines – Bass Practice Diary – 6th August 2019
Recently I’ve been practicing lots of symmetrical exercises. And this week I’ve featured a diminished scale exercise that I came up with this week. A few weeks ago I featured an exercise that involved harmonising the whole tone scale into augmented triads. A symmetrical exercise can be anything with a limited number of transpositions. In practice that usually means using patterns of repeating intervals. They have a vey unique sound that you won’t achieve just by using major and minor scales and their modes.
The Diminished Scale in Jazz
I’ve spoken a bit in the past about the diminished scale in jazz. The diminished scale is probably the most versatile symmetrical scale. The most obvious time to use it would be over a diminished chord, but that isn’t the most common place it gets used in jazz. The most common use of diminished scales in jazz is on dominant 7th chords. And I’ve used dominant 7th chords as the backing for the exercise in the video. The chords go around in a cycle of 5ths like the middle 8 section of the Rhythm Changes chord progression (D7, G7, C7, F7).
Let me explain how and why diminished scales work on dominant chords. I’ll use C7 as an example and I’m going to start my scale on the root note C. The first intervals in the scale will be a semi-tone and then a tone. So, the first three notes are C(root), Db(b9) and D#(#9). These same intervals will then repeat through the octave creating a scale with eight notes in it, C-Db-D#-E-F#-G-A-Bb.
The interval pattern this creates is an interesting mix of inside and outside notes when played on a C7 chord. The b9 and #9 are both outside notes, and both common alterations on dominant 7th chords. The C, E, G and Bb are the chord tones, root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. And the A is the 13th, which is a chord extension but an inside note. The F# is a #11th, which is another common altered chord extension.
The Diminished Scale Exercise
The exercise I came up with in the video is just an idea to help you improvise lines using the diminished scale. It’s slightly different ascending and descending as I referred to in the video. Here is the exercise as I played it in the video.