Tag Archives: bass lesson

Slap Bass Timing Exercises – Bass Practice Diary 124

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 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.

Slap Bass Timing Exercises – 16th notes in Groupings of Three

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.

Slap Bass Timing Exercises – 16th notes in Groupings of Three – C minor Pentatonic

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.

Slap Bass Timing Exercises – 16th notes in Groupings of Five

Slap Bass 10 Minute Workout – Bass Practice Diary 119

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.

Slap Bass 10 Minute Workout
Slap Bass 10 Minute Workout

The Exercises

The first exercise goes like this.

Exercise 1 - Slap Bass Workout
Exercise 1

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.

Exercise 2

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.

Exercise 3

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.

Exercise 4

Another rest on beat 1. More combinations of thumping and plucking, hammer ons and pull offs. Good Luck!

G Major Over the Entire Fretboard – 10 Minute Workout – Bass Practice Diary 112

Learn G Major On the Entire Fretboard – 10 Minute Bass Practice Workout – Bass Practice Diary – 16th June 2020

This is the second 10 minute bass practice workout that I’ve posted. This one is specifically designed to help you learn your fretboard up and down by learning the key of G major in every position. These workouts are an example of the kind of practice workout that I often give to my students. The idea is, that if you use your time efficiently, like this, then you can achieve a lot more than you might think in 10 minutes.

The G Major 10 Minute Bass Practice Workout

After releasing the first fretboard workout in full, I got a lot of positive feedback from bass players. So, here is another one.

G Major 10 Minute Bass Practice Workout
G Major 10 Minute Bass Practice Workout

The idea is that you practice each line for 2 minutes (roughly) and then the final 2 minutes is for playing the entire example all together. Each line contains all of the notes in the key of G major in a particular area of the fretboard. For example, the first line covers all of the notes between the open strings and the 4th fret. The second line covers the 5th fret to the 9th fret, and so it goes on up the fretboard until, at the end, I’ve played every possible note in the key of G major on my 20 fret fretboard in every possible position .

Each 2 minute section of the workout is divided into four tempos, with approximately 30 seconds spent on each tempo. I like to start at a very comfortable (meaning slow) tempo. And then work up to a tempo that challenges me. In this workout, I haven’t pushed the tempo up as high as I did previously. The reason is because my main goal here is to learn the notes and positions for G major. Speed is not necessary to achieve that. However I have still increased the tempo because there’s no harm in pushing my technique at the same time as learning my fretboard.

Learning Your Bass Fretboard

Learning the notes of every key all over your fretboard is huge. It will make a massive difference to your playing. It probably makes most sense to start with C major, but it doesn’t really matter which order you learn the keys in. You can think of this as learning modes as well as keys. When you’re learning the key go G major, you’re also learning A dorian, B phrygian, C lydian, D mixolydian, E aeolian and F# locrian. It helps if you can practice playing the notes against some kind of harmony, which is why I recorded some diatonic chords in the key of G major to go along with the workout.

Last week I featured a different method for learning the fretboard on my 6-string bass.

Altering the Pentatonic Scale – The Pentatonic Scale in Modern Jazz Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary 109

Altering the Pentatonic Scale – The Pentatonic Scale in Modern Jazz Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 26th May 2020

Recently I’ve been exploring some more advanced applications of the pentatonic scale in modern jazz. This week I’m altering just one note in the pentatonic scale and creating some interesting and versatile jazz sounds. This altered pentatonic scale is still a pentatonic scale, because it has five notes in it. It’s no longer the conventional major or minor pentatonic scale that we all know. But technically a pentatonic scale can be any scale with five different tones in it.

How to alter the pentatonic scale

In the video, I started with the scale C major/A minor pentatonic.

C major/A minor Pentatonic

Five notes, E, G, A, C & D. The one alteration was to change A to Ab (or G#). So the altered pentatonic scale contains the notes E, G, Ab, C & D.

Altered Pentatonic Scale

I’ve included the chord symbol E7alt because the most obvious application of this scale would be on an E altered dominant chord. The five notes of the scale create a kind of altered dominant arpeggio with Root, 3rd, b7th, #9 and b13.

It encapsulates the sound of an altered dominant chord quite nicely. And the real benefit to using this scale is that the fingerings are very similar to a major or minor pentatonic scale. So if you’re comfortable improvising with the pentatonic scale then this is a small adjustment.

Lydian Augmented Sound

The other way that I would use this altered pentatonic scale, is to create a lydian augmented sound, which is major with #4 and #5. If you take the same five notes E, G, Ab, C & D, and play them over an Ab root note, you get Root, 3rd, #4(#11), #5 & major 7th. It’s a great sound to play on a major 7th chord if you want to play something different to the more obvious major or lydian sounds.

10 Minute Bass Fretboard Workout – Bass Practice Diary 107

10 Minute Bass Fretboard Workout – Play Along With Me – Bass Practice Diary – 12th May 2020

This week I’m posting a 10 minute bass practice workout that I prepared. You can join me by playing along with the video or you can do it at your own pace. Having done a video a few weeks ago talking about “how you should practice rather than what you should practice”. I wanted to post a practical demonstration of what I think is a really efficient method of practicing.

The Workout

First I came up with a line which goes like this.

Bass Practice Workout Line
Bass Practice Workout Line

When I was writing the line, I was trying to come up with four bars in which each bar tested something different. But all four bars put together still needed to play like a musical phrase. I wanted the finished line to involve moving both horizontally and vertically on the neck. Meaning position shifting up and down the neck as well as moving across the four strings.

The complete workout involves practicing each bar for two minutes. Then the final two minutes is spent practicing all four bars together. Each two minute section of the workout is divided into four tempos. Roughly 30 seconds each at 60, 90, 120 & 150 beats per minute.

Obviously, if you do this workout on your own, you can customise those tempos to suit you. The principle you should follow is that the first tempo should feel slow, and the last tempo should feel fast. You want to start by practicing really slowly, there’s no such thing as “too easy” at this point. There are many really important reasons why you should start at a slow speed. You want to use this time to really think about your timing, your technique, the tone and quality of each note you play, your fingering. And most importantly, you’re starting to build up some vital muscle memory which you’ll need when the tempo gets quicker.

The last 30 seconds of each two minute section is where you should be really pushing yourself. You want to be making mistakes at this point. If you’re not making mistakes at the fastest tempo, then your practice is too easy. It’s really important to get the tempos right for you. If you make the practice too easy, you won’t be improving as quickly as you could be. If you make the practice too hard you might not improve at all.

Having said that, my advice is to be cautious the first time you do it and make it easy by setting the tempos slower. If it’s too easy the first time you try it, you can always push the tempos up the second time you do it. However, if you start out too fast, you probably won’t achieve anything.

Four Finger Exercise

The first bar represents one of the most fundamental types of technical exercise on bass guitar. Four finger exercises, or what I call “one finger per fret”. These types of exercise are typically done on one string at a time. So I’ve added the additional element of taking the exercise across the strings and back again.

Bass Practice Workout - Bar 1 - Four Finger Exercise
Bass Practice Workout – Bar 1 – Four Finger Exercise

Position Shifting

The second bar adds the element of position shifting up the neck. The bar starts in the 3rd position (meaning 1st finger on the 3rd fret) and then it moves up to 5th and then 6th position.

Bass Practice Workout - Bar 2 - Position Shifting
Bass Practice Workout – Bar 2 – Position Shifting

Triad Pairs

Bar 3 is a triad pair. I’ve done videos about them already this year. Funnily enough, I wasn’t even thinking about triad pairs when I came up with the line in my head. When I wrote it down, I realised that it was a Bb minor triad and a C major triad. It just goes to show that when you practice an idea enough, it will start to become instinctive.

Bass Practice Workout - Bar 3 - Bb minor and C major Triad Pair
Bass Practice Workout – Bar 3 – Bb minor and C major Triad Pair

Single String Exercise

The final bar is a single string exercise. I’m using it to practice shifting position up the first string by shifting between my index finger and little finger.

Bass Practice Workout – Bar 4 – Shifting Position on a Single String

What Should You Do if Your Fingers Hurt?

They probably will. There’s a reason that I’ve called this a workout. Playing the bass is like going to the gym for your fingers. When we’re practicing, we’re developing muscles in our hands, and discomfort will happen. When it does, it’s important to know what to do because over practicing can lead to injuries.

This fretboard workout involves a lot of work for your left hand, particularly your little finger, which might not be used to this much work. If your fingers are feeling very sore 24-48 hours after doing the workout, don’t panic. In the fitness world, there is a thing called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). It happens when you work a muscle that isn’t yet conditioned to the work you’re requiring it to do. It’s usually at it’s worst 24-48 hours after a workout and it isn’t an injury, it will get better after 2-3 days.

If you experience this, it is important to take a break from intense practice, to help the muscles recover. When the soreness feels better, do the workout again. That way you will start to build the strength in your fingers. The DOMS will not be anywhere near as bad after the second time.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking “it hurt so I’m not going to do it again”. If you practice regularly, it will hurt less and less as your hands get stronger. If you take a break from practicing and then start again, the DOMS will probably come back again because you will have lost some of the conditioning you built up.

Minor Scales on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 92

Minor Scales – Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor, Natural Minor & Dorian – Bass Practice Diary – 21st January 2020

If I ask you to play a C minor scale, what do you play? Minor scales are not as simple as major scales. Most of us know what to play if someone asks us to play a C major scale, but minor scales are confusing. There are several different minor scales, and how do you know which one to play and when.

How many different minor scales are there?

If you’re going to understand minor scales, then it’s important to understand the difference between three different scales, melodic minor, harmonic minor and natural minor. Every scale is a sequence of intervals, and for each of these three scales the intervals are the same for the first five notes. It’s the 6th and 7th notes of the scales that contain the variations.

The terminology of minor scales confuses people for the simple reason that classical musicians treat minor scales differently from jazz musicians. To help explain this I’m going to start by looking at the natural minor and the melodic minor scales. I’ll use the key of A minor because it’s the simplest, it has no sharps or flats, so the natural minor scale contains the notes A, B, C, D, E, F & G.

Minor Scales - A Natural Minor
A natural minor scale

The A natural minor scale contains all of the same notes as a C major scale. That means that the natural minor scale is actually a mode of the major scale. It’s mode six, called Aeolian. Now, compare that to the melodic minor scale.

The melodic minor scale

Minor Scales - Melodic Minor
A melodic minor scale

The melodic minor scale has a raised 6th and 7th, meaning F# instead of F natural and G# instead of G natural. It’s important to understand that the melodic minor scale is not a mode of the major scale like the natural minor. It’s a parent scale and has seven modes of it’s own. You can check out my video about the modes of the melodic minor scale.

So, the natural minor scale is mode six of the major scale and the melodic minor is a scale with it’s own set of modes. So, not only do these scales sound different, they are also very different in their application. The natural minor scale implies a minor 7th chord functioning as chord VI in a major key, while the melodic minor implies a minor chord with a major 7th functioning as chord I in a minor key.

This becomes more confusing when you learn that classical music treats both these scales as one scale. The melodic minor is the ascending version of the scale, and the natural minor is the descending version of the scale. And together these are called the melodic minor. You can play it on the bass like this.

Minor Scales - Classical Melodic Minor
Classical Melodic Minor Scale

The harmonic minor scale

There is another minor scale, which, like the melodic minor, is a parent scale to seven of it’s own modes. It’s called the harmonic minor and it has a minor 6th and a major 7th. That means that in the key of A minor, the 6th will be an F natural and the 7th will be a G#.

Minor Scales - Harmonic minor
A harmonic minor scale

The harmonic minor scale can also imply chord I in a minor key.

The Dorian Mode

I’ve included a fourth scale in my video. The dorian scale is another mode of the major scale, mode number two. The reason I’ve included it is because it’s a much more common choice of scale for improvisers playing on minor 7th chords than the natural minor scale. However, you wouldn’t use an A dorian scale to play on chord I in the key of A minor. You would use it to play on an A minor 7th chord functioning as chord II in G major. It goes like this.

dorian
A dorian scale

The A dorian scale contains a major 6th F# and the minor 7th G natural.

Jazz Chord Progressions – Part 2 – I III7 IV V – Bass Practice Diary 77

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.

I III7 IV V Chord Progression on Six String Bass
I III7 IV V Chord Progression on 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.

How to Practice Sliding Notes on a Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary 40

Sliding Notes on a Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd January 2019

Sliding between notes is an integral part of phrasing on a fretless bass. This video features an exercise to help you practice sliding accurately between notes by using the pentatonic scale.

When you slide between notes on a fretless bass, the first thing that you need to concentrate on, is keeping the notes in tune. When you slide, it’s very easy to slide too far and go sharp, or not quite far enough and the note will be flat. So my first advice is to start slowly and use a backing track.

Backing tracks are very easy to find for free on Youtube. Here is an example of a backing track in G major that you could use to help you practice this exercise. When you practice with a backing track it’s so much easier to hear when you go a little bit out of tune.

Use the Pentatonic Scale to Practice Sliding Notes on Fretless Bass

The easiest way to play a pentatonic scale is by playing two notes on each string like this.

G major pentatonic – two notes per string

The reason it’s easy is because it doesn’t involve any position shifts. But it offers very little opportunity to slide between notes.

In order to incorporate slides, you need to keep shifting position, which involves playing at least three notes per string like this.

Sliding Notes with 1st Finger in G major Ascending
Sliding Notes with 1st Finger in G major Descending

You can also practice this on a fretted bass. It’s easier on a fretted bass because you don’t need to be as accurate. But position shifting is an important skill for any bass player to practice.

The idea of the exercise is that you always slide with your 1st finger (index finger). Playing three notes on each string, you play the first of the three notes with your 1st finger and then slide up to the second note. You can play the third note on each string with either your third finger or little finger.

Slide Notes With Any Finger

It’s easiest to use your 1st finger to slide. But you want to be able to slide accurately with all of the fingers on your left hand. So come up with your own variations of this exercise and use different fingers to play the slides. Here’s a variation that I demonstrated in the video which uses your 4th finger (little finger) to play the slides.

Sliding Notes with 4th Finger in G major Ascending

Another variation that I demonstrated in the video, is to break the exercise down into small sections. Don’t feel like you need to practice the whole scale all at once. Work on each position shift one at a time. Like this.

I think that practicing like this actually replicates what you will play in a real musical situation better than playing the whole scale all at once. You could use the example above as a fretless bass fill on a G major chord. And the example below which starts on a D could also be a fill when you’re playing in the key of G.

Just like any scale exercise, don’t forget to practice this exercise in different positions and different keys. And try to adapt the idea of sliding and position shifting to any other scales, arpeggios or technical exercises that you practice.

Learn a Fretless Bass Groove with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary 39

Fretless Bass Groove with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 15th January 2019

This week during my bass practice, I’ve been composing bass grooves in 6/8. This video features one fretless bass groove that I’ve written. I choose to feature this one because it fits nicely on 4, 5 or 6 string bass. So hopefully all bass players will be able to have a go at playing it.

Fretless Bass Groove

The bassline is in G major. I’ve written some phrasing, by marking some of the slides on the TAB. But my advice is to focus on the rhythm more than the phrasing.

Once you’ve got the rhythm of the groove, I think you’ll find that the phrasing comes quite naturally. And I don’t mind if you phrase it differently to me. I think phrasing is very personal and I rarely try to imitate another musicians phrasing too closely.

Start by practicing slowly. The full speed is 110BPM and I’ve included a slower version at 70BPM. But I would probably advise starting even slower than that. And make sure that the rhythm is accurate. The rhythm in bar two is particularly tricky. It’s like playing on all of the off beats in a bar of 3/4, but the feel is still 6/8.

Six Eight (6/8) Time Signature

I’ve written before that 6/8 is one of my favourite meters to play in. You can find my guide to playing 6/8 basslines here. I’ve also written about 6/8 in my upcoming book for Fundamental Changes which will be published this year.

A Guide to Harmonics on Bass – Part 2: Artificial Harmonics – Bass Practice Diary 38

Learn to Play Artificial Harmonics

Artificial Harmonics – Play Harmonics on Bass Guitar – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 8th January 2019

This is part two of my complete guide to playing harmonics on bass. This week I’m looking at artificial harmonics (find part one about natural harmonics video here).

The term artificial harmonics relates to various techniques where you use your right hand alone to play the harmonics. Artificial harmonics are more difficult to achieve than natural harmonics because you need to do two things at the same time with your right hand. In this post I’m going to look at three different techniques.

The Jaco Pastorius Technique

Many bass players, myself included, discovered artificial harmonics through listening to Jaco Pastorius. I remember as a teenager listening to Weather Report’s tune Birdland and wondering how the introduction could possibly be played on a bass. I was already familiar with natural harmonics. But Jaco seemed to be playing melodies and bending notes with the fluency of a guitar player.

The secret was, that he was using his right-hand thumb to touch the strings lightly, while his right-hand fingers were plucking the notes. And, at the same time, he was fretting notes with his left hand and imitating the phrasing of a guitarist bending strings by sliding the notes on his fretless bass. A lot of things going on at the same time!

It was Jaco’s technique that I was trying to copy when I first started playing artificial harmonics. But that was only until I found a technique which I found worked much better for me and the way I wanted to play. I haven’t used the Jaco technique in well over 10 years now.

The Steve Bailey Technique

After hearing Jaco, the first time that I saw a bass player doing something significantly different with artificial harmonics was on a DVD called Bass Extremes Live.

I’m sure many of you are already familiar with Victor Wooten and Steve Bailey’s incredible bass duets. But at the time I first saw that film, I knew all about Victor Wooten, but I didn’t know Steve Bailey.

Steve Bailey was making incredible arrangements using artificial harmonics on a six string fretless bass. He was playing chords using bass notes and harmonics played simultaneously, which seemed impossible, even to someone who was already well familiar with Jaco Pastorius’ repertoire.

The Steve Bailey technique involves straightening your index finger on your right hand. And using it to lightly touch the string. Then you can use your third finger to pluck the string at the same time. Meanwhile, your right-hand thumb can be used to play bass notes.

Once I’d learned this technique I never went back to the Jaco technique. Because I found that I could play everything that I was doing before with the Steve Bailey technique but I could also play chords using artificial harmonics. I don’t want to get into a debate about which technique is better or worse. We’re all individuals and Jaco’s technique worked for Jaco and Steve Bailey’s technique works for him. And personally I’ve found that Steve Bailey’s technique works for me as well.

My Own Experiments with Artificial Harmonics

Recently I made a video which I called Improvisation on Three Basses. The idea for that video came because I was playing the chords of Miles Davis’ tune Flamenco Sketches using an artificial harmonics technique that I’ve seen used by guitarists like Ted Greene and Tommy Emmanuel. But I’ve never seen it used by a bass player.

I was wondering if I could adapt it to playing chords on a bass guitar. So I tried out playing one of my favourite chord progressions. I was amazed by how well it worked. And it led me to wonder why I haven’t seen it done before.

The technique involves using your index finger to touch the string. Then plucking the same string with your thumb and then using your third finger to play notes on other strings.

Here is the exercise that I wrote and played in the video using this technique.

Artificial Harmonics Exercise

This is an extended version of the same idea. It uses a chord progression that starts with an Emaj7#11 then F#m11 and G#m11.

Artificial Harmonics Chord Progression