Tag Archives: Bass guitar

Single String Exercises – Bass Practice Diary 59

Single String Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 4th June 2019

In this week’s video I’m talking about single string exercises. When I practice scales, I don’t really think of them as scales. I think of it as learning harmony. You can relate everything to do with harmony back to scales. And whatever harmonic exercise I’m working on, my goal is always to be able to play it in every position on the fretboard.

Why practice on just one string?

If you’re going to learn to use the entire fretboard then you need to practice by breaking it up into sections. You could do this by taking a modal approach and learning the scale in every position. Or you could take a single string approach by learning all the notes on just one string at a time. The big advantages of the single string approach are that it forces you to think about the notes rather than patterns on the fretboard. And it helps you to practice making the position shifts necessary.

Position shifting is something that I’ve been talking about a lot in my videos lately. Check out my video about using open strings to make smooth accurate position shifts on fretless bass.

G major scale exercise on single strings

When you’re working out a harmony on a single string you need to think about your left hand fingering. Below is a G major scale played on the first string. I’ve included my fingerings for reference.

G major scale single string exercise - 1st string
G major scale single string exercise – 1st string

Every bass is different, so I would recommend practicing these exercises on the usable range of your instrument. If the upper frets are hard to access then just play up to the point where it stops being comfortable to play.

Then repeat these exercises on every string. Here is the G major scale played on the second string.

G major scale single string exercise - 2nd string
G major scale single string exercise – 2nd string

A word about sight reading

Learning harmony in this way is extremely important if you want to improve your sight reading. I think that many bass players who struggle to sight read miss the importance of learning scales all over the fretboard.

Key signatures are extremely important in written music. They tell us the parent scale that we use to read it. If the key signature has one # (sharp), then the parent scale is G major. So, to read the written music successfully you need to be able to visualise the scale on the neck of your bass. Learning the scale in just one position will almost certainly not be enough, unless it’s a very simple piece of music.

Using Open Strings for Position Shifts – Bass Practice Diary 58

Fretless Jazz Lines – Using Open Strings for Position Shifts – Bass Practice Diary – 28th May 2019

This week I’ve been coming up with jazz lines on my fretless bass. But specifically I’ve been trying to use open strings to help me make fast accurate position shifts in these jazz lines. I’ve been inspired to try this after I transcribed a blues solo played by the phenomenal bassist Tom Kennedy in last week’s practice diary video.

I think that one of the best ways to improve as a musician is to work out passages played by great musicians. I often use transcriptions and books written by other people, which are useful tools to use. But I feel that I learn the most when I work it out for myself.

Use open strings to make position shifts

The next challenge, after you’ve worked out a piece of music, is to see what you can take from it and incorporate into your own playing. And the thing that struck me most about Tom Kennedy’s blues solo was the way he was organising his left hand and his use of the open strings.

Can I take some of that and apply it to my own playing? In order to find out, I started writing out jazz lines for my fretless bass that use open strings and position shifts in the way that I’ve seen Tom Kennedy do it.

The theory behind it, is that if you play an open string before you shift position, then that gives you a little bit of extra time to make the shift. And it also gives you a reference note to help you hear if your position shift is accurately in tune. Which is extremely important on fretless bass. It’s a technique that I believe Tom Kennedy has adapted from playing upright bass. But he applies it onto fretted electric bass and he plays jazz lines at ferocious speed.

The fretless jazz lines

My fretless bass is a 6 string. I don’t have another fretless bass because I sold my four string fretless when I bought my 6 string. However, I usually write my TAB’s out for 4 string so that all bass players can use them. So, these three examples are all written for 4 string bass. Even though they’re played on 6 string in the video.

The first one that I played, at the start of the video, is written on the middle eight section of Rhythm Changes. It’s the second most popular chord progression in jazz after Blues changes.

Rhythm Changes Jazz Line with Open Strings
Rhythm Changes Jazz Line with Open Strings

The next line that I shared in the video is meant to be played over the first four bars of Stella By Starlight.

Stella By Starlight Jazz Line with Open Strings
Stella By Starlight Jazz Line with Open Strings

And the final example is over the changes for the first four bars of John Coltrane’s classic composition Moment’s Notice.

Moments Notice Jazz Line with Open Strings
Moment’s Notice Jazz Line with Open Strings

Tom Kennedy Jazz Blues Lines and Techniques – Bass Practice Diary 57

Jazz Blues Lines and Techniques on Bass Guitar from Tom Kennedy Solo – Bass Practice Diary – 21st May 2019

This week I’ve been trying to transcribe some of Tom Kennedy’s lines on a Bb blues I saw him playing on Youtube. In this video I’m looking at one particular Tom Kennedy lick. And I focus on his left hand technique which he seems to have adapted to electric bass from his years of playing the upright bass.

Tom Kennedy Left Hand Technique

The first time I heard Tom Kennedy play was at Ronnie Scott’s in London. It was more than 10 years ago and I’d gone to see the Dave Weckl band. Tom Kennedy was playing electric bass in the band and straight away I pegged him as an upright bass player because of his left hand technique. I don’t play a lot of double bass but I’ve played enough to recognise the technique. And I’ve seen a lot of double bass players playing electric bass over the years so I’ve learned to recognise what they tend to do.

But that’s not the end of the story. The story is that after about 10 or 15 minutes of the first set the band arrived at the first bass solo. And Tom Kennedy played jazz lines with such incredible speed and intensity that it left me questioning everything that I though I knew about electric bass technique. Who would have thought that you could approach the electric bass in that way and yet play so fast. The only other bass player that I can think of who can do that is Christian McBride. (I know that you’re probably thinking John Patitucci but his left hand technique on electric bass is distinctly different to his technique on upright).

So, why does Tom Kennedy’s left hand technique remind me of an upright bassist? He tends to cover just three frets in each position instead of four, playing notes with his first, second and fourth fingers. He likes to play electric bass in the positions around the first four or five frets, even when playing jazz solos. And when he does shift up the neck he tends to shift up and down on the first string.

Jazz Blues Lick

The lick that I featured in the video is played on the II chord Cm7. It goes like this.

Tom Kennedy Lick
Tom Kennedy Lick

I’ve included the bass TAB so you can see exactly how he played the line. If I saw a line like this written down without TAB I would probably play it something like this.

You could argue that my fingering is more consistent with the way that most jazz electric bass players would approach playing a jazz solo line like this. Notice that my fingering doesn’t take me anywhere near the first position. I’ve arranged the whole thing from the 7th fret and above.

But you could also argue that Tom Kennedy’s approach enables him to come up with lines that other electric bass players wouldn’t think of. And at the same time execute them at high speed. His technique also impacts the way he phrases his lines. So they don’t sound like they would if they were played by another bass player (me, for example).

A chorus of Bb Blues played by Tom Kennedy

Here is one full chorus of the solo that I’ve transcribed. I’ve picked a chorus that doesn’t include any of his super fast 1/16th note lines. Because they provide a serious technical challenge for any electric bass player to execute. But playing this chorus from his solo does give you a really interesting insight into how he arranges lines with his left hand.

Tom Kennedy Blues Solo
Tom Kennedy Blues Solo

Find my analysis of a jazz blues lick by another great jazz electric bass player, Jeff Andrews, here!

Rock Bass Groove in 7/4 – Bass Practice Diary 56

Odd Meter Bass Groove – 7/4 Rock Bass Groove with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 14th May 2019

This week I’ve been working on writing play-along pieces for my upcoming book. It will be my second bass book released by Fundamental Changes. The video features a bassline that I wrote for an odd meter rock piece. It’s a rock bass groove in 7/4 time signature. You can find my video guide to playing bass in odd meters here.

7/4 Rock Bass Groove
7/4 Rock Bass Groove

What Are Odd Meters?

The term odd meter simply means any time signature that has an odd number of beats or subdivisions in a bar. Odd meters divide opinion amongst musicians. Some musicians (including me) love them and think they can flow and groove just as well as any groove in 4/4. Others hate playing them.

My approach to playing odd meters is not that different to my approach for playing in any meter. But I think that musicians who are not comfortable playing in odd meters often feel that they have to do something different. And that might be the root cause of why they struggle to play them.

7/4 is an unusual time signature in rock and pop music but there are famous examples of its use. All You Need is Love by The Beatles, Money by Pink Floyd and Times Like These by the Foo Fighters all contain sections in 7/4.

Pentatonic Exercise – Bass Practice Diary 55

Pentatonic Exercise for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 7th May 2019

This week I’m featuring a pentatonic exercise. The reason that I’ve shared this is to show you how I approach practicing scales, or as I like to think of it harmony. I prefer not to use the word scale because it implies going up and down a pattern of notes. Whereas what I’m trying to achieve is learning how those notes fit all over the fretboard. And then coming up with different ways of playing them.

How to practice scales

When I’m practicing a particular scale or harmony, I like to come up with new and different ways to move the harmony around the fretboard. The example in the video is just one example that I came up with. But in a single practice session I might come up with 5 or 6 different exercises using the same scale and practice them all for a few minutes each.

This works for any scale, arpeggio or melodic pattern. It’s the same process that I use when I’m practicing any harmony. I’ve used the pentatonic scale as an example because it’s simple and most people know it.

The pentatonic scale exercise with bass TAB

Here is the pentatonic exercise for bass written out as I played it in the video. I’ve used the root note G for both examples because the open string works well playing the root note. But you could adapt this exercise for any scale that has a G natural in it.

First, here is the G minor pentatonic exercise.

G Minor Pentatonic Bass Exercise
G Minor Pentatonic Bass Exercise

The exercise is simply a three note pattern that starts with an open string. The open string first string is always the first note of the three note pattern. But the other two notes move up and down the neck on the second and third strings.

The final element of the exercise is a rhythmic element. The three note pattern is played with a 1/16th note feel. Meaning that the emphasis keeps shifting onto a different 1/16th note each time you repeat the three note pattern.

If you’re not sure what a 1/16th note feel means, then check out my guide to 1/8th and 1/16th note feels here.

Finally, here is the same exercise adapted to the G major pentatonic scale.

G Major Pentatonic Bass Exercise
G Major Pentatonic Bass Exercise

The Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale – Bass Practice Diary 54

The Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale – Bass Practice Diary – 30th April 2019

Recently I did a video about the altered scale, which is one of seven modes that come from the melodic minor scale. You can find it here. That got me thinking about the other modes of the melodic minor scale. There are a few that I use quite a lot, but there are others that I almost never use. So this week I set myself the task of practicing all of them, and thinking about what harmonic context I can use them in.

If you’ve seen my altered scale video, you’ll already know that melodic minor scale is only one note different from a major scale. If you take out the major 3rd from a major scale and replace it with a minor 3rd, then you have a melodic minor scale.

This small alteration creates the potential for seven modes, that are each different and distinct from the seven major scale modes. (Ionian, dorian, phrygian, lydian, mixolydian, aeolian and locrian). Modes are extracted from scales by changing the root note to a different degree of the scale. For example, if you play the notes of a C major scale but change the root note to D, then you have a dorian mode.

What are the melodic minor modes?

These are the seven modes of the melodic minor scale. Each has been written out in one octave and I’ve written the implied chord symbol above each mode. I’ve chosen to use D melodic minor for this exercise.

Modes of the Melodic Minor
Modes of the Melodic Minor

The first mode is the melodic minor scale itself. I use the melodic minor to play on minor 6th chords and it can also be used on minor/major chords (meaning minor 3rd with a major 7th.

The second mode is like a dorian mode with a flattened 2nd. It implies a minor 7th chord. But the flattened 2nd is a strange note to play on a minor 7th chord. Hence, this is one of the modes that isn’t commonly used.

The third mode is like a lydian scale with a raised 5th. The implied harmony is a major 7th chord with a #5. I don’t currently use this scale a lot. But I’ll try and use it more in future, because it sounds cool.

The fourth mode is usually called lydian dominant because it has a raised 4th, like the lydian mode. But it also has a dominant (flattened) 7th. It’s a scale that I like to use on dominant 7th chords. It’s essentially a mixolydian scale with a raised 4th. Which makes it sound more interesting than a mixolydian scale when played on an un-altered dominant 7th chord.

The fifth mode is basically a mixolydian scale with a flattened 6th. I don’t use it very much but you could use it on a dominant 7th chord with a b13.

The sixth mode works well on half diminished chords (m7b5). It has a minor 3rd and 7th and a flattened fifth. But unlike the locrian scale, it has a natural 9th rather than a flattened 9th.

The seventh mode is the altered scale, which I’ve already covered in my previous video. It’s an extremely useful scale for playing on altered dominant chords.

One Year of Weekly Bass Videos – Bass Practice Diary 53

Bass Practice Diary is One Year Old – 23rd April 2019

A year ago I decided to start documenting my bass practice by picking one thing that I was working each week and making a short video about it.

As a music teacher, I believe that if you want to keep improving your musicianship, then it’s essential that you keep finding new things to practice. It seems to me that a lot of people get stuck in the same practice routines, practicing the same things. And then they wonder why their playing isn’t progressing in the way that they want it to.

What I’m trying to show, is that there is an almost unlimited number of different things to practice. And many different ways that you can practice them.

I release the videos every Tuesday. And I haven’t missed a week in the whole year. So there are currently over 50 videos. All available for free without subscription.

If you would like to follow my free videos each week then you can always find them here on JohnnyCoxMusic.com. And if you subscribe to my Youtube channel and click on the bell icon, then you should be alerted each week when my videos are uploaded. You can also follow me on my Facebook page Johnny Cox Music. And you can find me on Instagram @johnny.cox.music

A Quick Guide to the Altered Scale – Bass Practice Diary 52

The Altered Scale – Bass Practice Diary – 16th April 2019

Jazz musicians love to play on dominant 7th chords. And the altered scale is a really important scale to practice if you want to create a jazz sound when playing on these 7th chords. I think that using the altered scale is often perceived as “advanced” harmony. But, as with most things, it’s easy when you understand it. So, here’s my very quick guide to using the altered scale on bass.

What is the altered scale?

The altered scale is a mode of the melodic minor scale. Meaning that it contains all of the same intervals as a melodic minor scale. The altered scale is essentially what you get when you play a melodic minor scale starting finishing on the 7th note of the scale.

So, what’s a melodic minor scale? It’s basically only one note different from a major scale. If you take a major scale and change the major 3rd to a minor 3rd, you have a melodic minor scale.

Here’s the notes of an F major scale.

F major scale
F major scale

And here are the notes of an F melodic minor scale.

F melodic minor scale
F melodic minor scale

Notice that the only difference is the third note. It’s an A natural in the major scale and an Ab in the melodic minor.

If you play the notes of an F melodic minor scale but use E (the 7th note) as the root note. You would be playing an E altered scale.

When you think about the notes of the F melodic minor with an E as the root note, it creates these interval relationships to the root note.

E altered scale
E altered scale

The 3rd of E7 would, of course, be written as G# not Ab. But the altered scale creates some interesting theoretical anomalies like that. Because the major 3rd note (Ab/G#) is actually the 4th note of the scale.

How do you use the altered scale?

As I mentioned at the start, the altered scale works really well on dominant 7th chords. You can think of the altered scale as being a kind of extended dominant 7th arpeggio with lots of chromatic alterations.

The scale includes the root, major 3rd and dominant 7th notes which are the fundamental ingredients of a dominant 7th arpeggio. But the other four notes are all chromatic alterations of some kind. Hence why it’s called the altered scale.

You can alter chord tones and extensions by moving them one semi-tone up or down. The 5th of E7 is B natural, but in the altered scale the 5th has been flattened to Bb. So the altered scale could be used on an E7b5 chord.

The 9th can be altered by sharpening or flattening it. The altered scale uses both alterations. So you could use it on an E7b9 or an E7#9 chord. The final alteration is a b13.

So you can use the altered scale to play on any of these altered dominant chord types. And you will sometimes see the chord symbol E7alt. Which implies a chord that could include any or all of these alterations.

So if you want to start using this altered dominant sound on your dominant 7th chords. Then start to think about using a melodic minor scale that starts one semi-tone above the root of the chord. So, if you’re playing on a D7 chord, think Eb melodic minor. For A7, thing Bb melodic minor, for G7 think Ab melodic minor, for B7 think C melodic minor etc.

For another great jazz approach to playing on dominant 7th chords, check out my video guide to using diminished scale on bass.

Learn to Play Giant Steps Jazz Lines On Bass – Bass Practice Diary 51

How to Improvise on Giant Steps – Bass Practice Diary – 9th April 2019

Last week I posted a video of me practicing improvising on Giant Steps chord changes on fretless and fretted bass. So this week I want to talk a bit about my approach to playing on what are some of the most notoriously difficult chords changes in jazz.

Having said that, I don’t think that soloing on Giant Steps needs to be very difficult. As long as you start slowly and focus on internalising the sound of the chords before you increase the tempo.

One of the reasons that John Coltrane’s Giant Steps has it’s fearsome reputation is because of the chord changes in the first two bars. The first bar starts on a Bmaj7 chord for two beats and immediately changes to a D7 chord on beat three. Which is a key change to G major. The second bar starts with a resolution to a Gmaj7 chord. Then it changes key again. This time to Bb7 on beat three which is the fifth of Eb major.

So the tune starts with three different keys in two bars. Needless to say, if you’re not prepared for it, it will catch you out. And many Giant Steps solos have failed before they’ve begun because musicians can’t negotiate these quick key changes quickly enough.

This chord movement in bars 1 and 2 repeats itself in bars 5 and 6 but transposed so that the progression starts on Gmaj7. And it’s this chord progression that defines Giant Steps. So if you want to improvise on Giant Steps you need to spend some time really working on this two bar chord progression.

Use the Chord Tones

My first piece of advice would be to come up with lines over this two bar progression using chord tones. The progression itself is already complex enough on it’s own that you don’t need to add lots of chromaticism or substitutions to make your lines sound interesting. It’s amazing how many interesting sounding jazz lines you can come up with on Giant Steps using nothing but roots, 3rds, 5ths and 7ths.

Here are three different lines that I came up with which use nothing but chord tones.

Giant Steps Licks for Bass Bars 1-3
Giant Steps Licks for Bass Bars 1-3

You can transpose each of these to work over bars 5 and 6. But here’s another one that I wrote specifically to be played over bars 5-7.

Giant Steps Lick for Bass Bars 5-7
Giant Steps Lick for Bass Bars 5-7

I don’t work out these licks so that I can play them in a solo. I do it to help me get the sound of the chord changes into my ears. And the more lines like this that I work out, the more likely I’ll be to be able to improvise something like this in a solo. So feel free to play through my licks and practice them, but also come up with some of your own.

I honestly feel that this two-bar chord progression is the key to unlocking Giant Steps. Once you can improvise over this tricky chord sequence, the rest of the progression is easy, dare I say it. It’s just a sequence of II – V – I’s in three different keys. Eb major, G major and B major.

Playing on II – V – I’s is a jazz musicians bread and butter. There are hundreds of lessons and videos out there about playing on them.

Giant Steps Improvisation – Bass Practice Diary 50

Giant Steps Improvisation on Fretless & Fretted 6 String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd April 2019

Some jazz tunes are so iconic that every jazz musician and enthusiast should know them. John Coltrane’s Giant Steps definitely falls into that category. The chord changes have made it iconic, because they’re notoriously difficult to improvise on. Over the years it’s become a kind of rite of passage for aspiring jazz musicians to learn to play on those changes.

I’ll do a more complete analysis of how I approach playing on Giant Steps next week. But the purpose of this video is to show how I approach practising any tricky piece like this. The first and most important thing when approaching any difficult repertoire is to start slow. If you want to be able to play fast, then practice slow.

Start Slow and Vary the Feel

When I’m approaching any chord progression, I’m trying to internalise the sound of the changes. It’s much harder to do this if the changes are flying past at 300bpm. Coltrane may have played Giant Steps blisteringly fast, but I’d be willing to bet that he practiced it slowly first.

I love practicing playing over slow changes. You can really enjoy playing over each chord and having loads of time to hear the changes go past. And this will really help you to get the sound of the changes into your ears.

Another piece of advice I would offer, is to practice playing the changes over as many different feels as you can. As you can hear in my video I start by using a slow straight 1/16th note feel, and then move on to a faster swing feel. But that only scratches the surface, there are so many different tempos and feels that you can use.

It always amazes me that some jazz musicians seem to only practice improvising in a swing feel. You can always tell who these people are because they instantly sound very uncomfortable playing in anything that doesn’t have a swing feel.

John Coltrane and Giant Steps

Giant Steps was recorded and released in 1959, which was a watershed year in jazz for many reasons. It came from the album which was also called Giant Steps, and that album is seen by many as a masterpiece of jazz Bop style improvisation and composition. In fact it’s seen by many as the ultimate recording in that style of jazz.

You can find my bass TAB and analysis of a John Coltrane lick from that album here. It comes from a composition called Countdown which features similar chord movement to Giant Steps.

It’s certainly possible to believe that Coltrane himself believed that he couldn’t improve upon Giant Steps. Because from that point on in his career he went on to explore other aspects of jazz improvisation such as modal jazz and free jazz. And he never returned to the Bop style vocabulary of the Giant Steps album.