I’m offering a free 30 minute bass lesson via Skype for anyone who would like to have a one to one lesson with me. If you’ve ever considered having online music lessons, this is a great way to try it out without having to commit to anything. I can tailor a lesson to your specific needs regardless of your level or previous experience of playing the bass. Send me a message here and we can arrange the lesson.
During these difficult times, in the midst of COVID-19, I like many others have had most of my income sources taken away from me. As a self employed musician, I can’t do any gigs or teach any lessons face to face. Therefore I’m moving my entire teaching business online and I’d love to hear from anyone who is looking to embrace music during the isolation that most of us will experience this year.
Music is such a massive part of my life that I can’t imagine being stuck at home without the ability to play my basses. I can’t think of a better way to spend these difficult weeks and months than by working on music and improving your bass skills! So contact me for your free bass lesson.
Bass Practice Diary
As most of you already know, I’ve been releasing weekly Bass Practice Diary videos for the last 2 years. The idea is that each video highlights a different idea that I’ve been practicing. Last week was my 100th Bass Practice Diary video. It featured some of my best tips for how to improve your bass practice time. You can watch it by clicking the link below. Bass Practice Diary will be back as normal next week!
5 Tips for Better Bass Practice – Bass Practice Diary – 17th March 2020
To celebrate my 100th Bass Practice Diary video I’m sharing 5 tips for better bass practice. All of my videos up until now have dealt with ideas that you can practice, or gear advice and suggestions, or performances of things I’ve been practicing. However, I’ve never dealt with the most fundamental aspect of practice, how you should be practicing. I think lots of musicians have misguided ideas of what practice should be, I know that I did for a long time. So, I made this video to try and share with you some of the conclusions that I’ve come to about how to make the most out of your practice time.
Tip 1 – Make Your Practice Easy Not Hard
One of the mistakes I made, and I see a lot of my students doing the same thing, is to think that practice should be about pushing yourself to play difficult things that you can’t already play. It’s not bad to want to play difficult things. But you’ll achieve your targets much quicker if you start by practicing things you can already do. Then you can gradually make them harder in an incremental way.
I can remember repeatedly driving myself to the point of frustration as a teenager by practicing things over and over and still not getting them right. Now that never happens, because when I’m trying to learn something difficult, I start by breaking it down into simple easy exercises which I then gradually build up to the full thing that I’m trying to learn. If at any point I get stuck, I change what I’m practicing by making it easier. Easier could mean slower or breaking it down into smaller chunks.
I would also recommend practicing in time, either with a slow drum beat or metronome. It has the double benefit of helping you keep in time, but it also stops you from practicing something faster than you can manage.
Tip 2 – Try to Get as Much Variety as Possible
Another mistake that I made as a kid was practicing the same things over and over again until I became bored and frustrated. And while this approach can yield results, it’s not the best way to become a rounded musician, or to find enjoyment in playing music. I started my Bass Practice Diary to show that there are so many different things to practice. You shouldn’t ever be in the situation where you sit down with a musical instrument and think, “I don’t know what to practice”.
There are so many different things that you could be practicing that the problem should be, “I don’t know how to decide what to practice because there’s so much”.
The answer to that problem is to set yourself longer term goals, and then come up with exercises that will help you achieve those goals over time. Then don’t practice any one exercise for too long. Practice each exercise for a couple of minutes each and then keep coming back to them and changing them and building on what you’ve already done. Repetition is important, but you don’t need to do all your repetitions in one practice, you can spread them over weeks and months.
Tip 3 – Play for Fun
This one may seem obvious, because it’s something that we all do. But I’ve noticed that sometimes my students are apologetic about doing it. It’s like they think that all practice should be about practicing scales or learning repertoire or absorbing complex harmonic ideas. There’s only so much information a human brain can take in in one go. If you keep trying to learn new stuff for hours and hours you won’t retain most of what you’re practicing.
A lot of the time when I’m playing my bass at home, I’m just playing for the shear love of playing music. I’m not setting myself any targets or exercises, I’m just playing because I enjoy doing it. And if that wasn’t the case, I just don’t think I’d be a musician. And that leads me neatly on to my next tip which is…
Tip 4 – Play Your Instrument Every Day
If you make a habit out of playing your instrument every day you will almost certainly get good at it. I’ve never made a conscious decision to play every day, but I know that on the very rare days when I don’t play a bass, I feel like something is missing. It’s almost impossible to not be good at something that you do every day. My advice is to pick up your instrument every day, even if it’s only for a really short time and even if it feels like it hasn’t achieved anything.
Tip 5 – Love Music and Listen to Music
This may seem obvious, but it always amazes me how many people seem to miss this. I regularly ask my students “what have you been listening to this week?” Honestly, for me that’s a more important question than “what have you been practicing this week?”
It’s amazing how often it turns out that people haven’t consciously listened to any music all week. In this day and age, it’s normal for musicians to practice and to watch Youtube videos about our instruments, but we don’t always make time to listen to the music we love.
Loving music means listening to music and I firmly believe that you learn as much (if not more) from listening to music as you do from playing your instrument. So my fifth, but most important tip, is to make time to listen to music, really listen to it, don’t just have it on while you’re doing something else.
Nothing inspires me to make music more than listening to music. And I know that everyone has busy lives, but if you’re planning to do an hour bass practice tomorrow, I would suggest spending 30 minutes listening and 30 minutes playing. It doesn’t necessarily matter what music you listen to, but I would point you back to Tip 2 and suggest that variety is equally important in the music you listen to as well as in your practice time.
Practising John Patitucci’s Searching, Finding – Bass Practice Diary – 18th June 2019
Searching, Finding was written by John Patitucci and it featured on his self titled debut album. This week I was reading through a book of John Patitucci transcriptions. It’s an unusual bass book, from the point of view that most of it is written in the treble clef rather than the bass clef. But if you can cope with the treble clef reading, then there are great tunes in it, like this one.
I should point out that the only part of the transcription that I’m playing in the video is the melody. The solos are all improvised by me and I’ve written out one of the choruses of my solo in bass TAB.
How I practice tunes on bass
One of the reasons why I’m posting this video is because it gives an insight into the way that I practice learning tunes. When I say “learning tunes” I don’t just mean learning the melody, I mean melody, bass line, chord progression, structure etc. Everything that’s involved in learning a composition.
The first thing I’ll do is make myself a simple backing track, usually involving drums and chords. I’ll programme the drums in ProTools and add chords on either piano, guitar or six string bass. In this case I played the chords on piano.
When I have my simple backing track I’ll loop it and practice playing the melody, bass line and improvised solos on it. And that’s what you can see me doing in the video. I’m using my fretless six string bass to play a walking bass line and improvise on the modal section. While my fretted six string bass is used to play the bass figure in the modal section and the melody and solos during the choruses.
My solo chorus on Searching, Finding
When I study an artist’s transcription, like John Patitucci’s solo on Searching Finding. I don’t do it so that I can perform his solo or rip off his licks. I do it so that I can study the notes and the phrasing that he uses over the harmony. So that I can then use the information to assist my own improvisation. Before I start improvising I will often write out some lines that fit over some of the trickier harmonic sections. In the first solo chorus in the video, starting at 0:59, you can see me putting some of my ideas into practice. Here is the transcription of that chorus.
Once I’ve analysed an artists solo and tried to assimilate what I can into my own ideas. I will then try to improvise in the purest sense of the word. Meaning that I will try not to think about any pre planned ideas and just improvise off the cuff. This is what you can see me doing in the second chorus of solo starting at 2:24 in the video.
Hopefully at this point I’ve started to internalise the melody, harmony and structure of the composition. And this information will come out in my improvisation without me having to consciously work it out in advance. The solo I played in the video partly demonstrates this, although it isn’t perfect yet.
Quartal Chord Voicings on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 26th February 2019
I haven’t done a video about bass chord voicings for a while. So, this week I’ve decided to practice some of my favourite jazz chords, quartal chord voicings. Quartal harmony is a jazz term which means harmonising chords in intervals of a fourth.
I did a video recently about playing modern jazz lines using 4th intervals. But I thought after making that video that I wasn’t telling the full story about using 4ths in modern jazz. The quartal chord voicings themselves create a very distinctive modern jazz sound. It’s instantly recognisable once you become familiar with the sound.
Chords are traditionally voiced in intervals of a third. Using quartal voicings in jazz became popular in the 1960’s after Miles Davis made quartal chord voicings a feature of his composition So What from the 1959 album Kind of Blue.
Quartal harmony was a sound that then became associated with the great John Coltrane Quartet of the early to mid 1960’s. The chords were supplied by pianist McCoy Tyner, who is synonymous with quartal harmony, and one of my all time favourite jazz pianists.
McCoy Tyner was using these voicings at a time when the Coltrane Quartet was playing a lot of modal jazz. Meaning that there weren’t lots of chord changes. And the emphasis was more on scalic improvisation over static harmony. So What is also a modal jazz piece. So, if you’re looking to apply some of these quartal chord voicings, then modal jazz tunes are a good place to start.
Quartal Harmony on Bass
The bass is setup for playing quartal chord voicings because the strings are tuned in intervals of a fourth. Which is why it amazes me that more bass players don’t use quartal chord voicings. Many of the chord voicings in the video can be played with just one finger. But despite this simplicity, they create a sophisticated jazz harmony sound.
Here is an A major scale harmonised in 4ths.
In the video, I’ve used the open A string as a root note underneath all of these voicings.
When you play this, it doesn’t sound like a typical major scale harmonisation. That’s what’s so great about quartal harmony. You can take simple harmony, like a major scale, and completely change it’s character, without needing to change or add any notes.
It works for all of the modes of the major scale. Here is the Dorian mode harmonised in 4ths.
Applying Quartal Harmony to Jazz
I’ve already mentioned that quartal chord voicings are extremely well suited to modal jazz. If, for example, you’re playing a modal jazz composition with long periods on a minor seventh chord. Like So What or John Coltrane’s Impressions. Then you’re faced with a challenge of how to make just one chord sound interesting.
One solution would be to apply the dorian chord voicings that I’ve written out in the example above. It gives you seven different options for voicings that you could play over a single minor seventh chord (Am7 in the example above). You could use any or all of these voicings to help create a feeling of movement in the otherwise static harmony.
You can apply quartal harmony to virtually any scale or mode. In this next example I’ve applied it to an A harmonic minor scale.
The same chord voicings can also be applied to any of the modes of the harmonic minor scale, which includes the altered scale.
One of the fourth intervals in the harmonic minor scale actually comes out as a major third. So, some of the voicings in the example above are not strictly quartal. Because they mix fourths with a third. But it still creates some interesting sounds and you can do your own experimenting to decide which of the voicings are useful.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hammer Ons and Pull Offs – Left Hand Technique Lesson – Bass Practice Diary – 27 November 2018
Someone asked me recently to do a video with some Hammer Ons and Pull Offs exercises. I don’t usually do videos based on suggestions, but this time I thought it was a good idea. Because practising Hammer Ons and Pull Offs is a great way to improve your Left Hand Technique.
Having said that, I believe that there are a few basic things that you need to get right if you are going to improve your technique by practicing hammer ons and pull offs.
Left Hand Techniques
The first thing is to come up with exercises that use four fingers on your left hand. If you want to play with good technique in your left hand then you need to be able to play evenly between all of your fingers.
I see so many beginner and intermediate bass players favouring certain fingers and trying to avoid other fingers on their left hand. It’s very natural to play like that because when you start, everyone has stronger index and middle fingers than ring finger and little finger. But that’s the reason you practice left hand techniques, in order to overcome that.
If you play hammer ons and pull offs using the same two fingers every time, then you are actually making your left hand technique more uneven when you practice.
So, Rule One of left hand technique is practice with four fingers. The only exception to this is when you are specifically working on strengthening a weak finger. As I demonstrated in the video with my third finger.
The second thing that you need to get right is, when you hammer on, you need to hammer on to the fret and not in between two frets. For example, if you want to play the fifth fret on the first string, you need to hammer onto the fifth fret, not in between the fourth and fifth fret.
You need to be very accurate because if you go even a little bit in front of the fret, you will lose the note. The sound is created by striking the string against the fret. So, if you don’t hammer on accurately then the sound will be weak and quiet.
Many bass players struggle with this because they don’t spread out their fingers on the left hand. If you play with your fingers too close together, you won’t be able to reach the frets with your third and fourth fingers and your hammer ons will be weak.
So, Rule Two is spread you fingers wide and hammer on accurately onto the frets.
The pull off technique is a bit easier. But make sure you don’t just lift your fingers off the strings. You need to excerpt a gentle pull on the string as you pull off. If you don’t, the notes will die out as you repeat the exercises. If you pull too hard, the notes will sound uneven as your pull offs will be much louder than your hammer ons.
When you get the pull off technique right, you should be able to keep all of these exercises going continuously without needing to play any notes with your right hand. The pull off technique is easiest to execute on the first string.
So, Rule Three is practice these exercises on all strings, not just on the first string.
The Hammer On and Pull Off Exercises with Bass TAB
This is the first exercise that I played in the video.
I would recommend that you don’t spend too much time playing the same exercise the same way. You should keep coming up with your own little variations. And try to focus on the things that you find difficult.
If you practice the same exercise too much, you will become very good at playing that one exercise. But if you keep varying the exercise you will eventually become very good at the technique, which is what you want.
Here is the second exercise from the video.
In this example you keep your first finger held down continuously. Now here is a variation in which you hold your second finger down continuously.
Make sure you hold your second finger down on a string that you’re not using. Because you won’t be able to pull off with your first finger if your second finger is held down on the string you’re playing. You can vary this exercise again by holding down your third and then fourth fingers. It gets harder each time.
Rule four is the most important rule, and it should apply to everything you practice. The rule is, focus on timing and not speed. Use a drum beat or a metronome and practice everything you do by playing in time.
Hammer ons and pull offs are relatively easy to play fast, but they’re much harder to play in time, and it’s hard to get all the notes to sound even. So my best recommendation is start slow, play in time, make it even and then gradually increase the tempo.