Make Your Pentatonic Licks Sound Like Jazz – Bass Practice Diary – 24th November 2020
How do you make pentatonic licks sound like jazz licks? This week I’m featuring a jazz lick created using a D minor pentatonic scale with the addition of chromatic approach notes. This is a concept that I introduced last week in my video about making the major scale sound like jazz. Chromatic approach notes are a great way to create a jazz sound in your lines, no matter how simple the harmony.
My Pentatonic Jazz Lick
I came up with my pentatonic jazz lick example by first coming up with a simple pentatonic lick. I used only the notes of the D minor pentatonic scale.
I added a chromatic approach note before the first note D. Then I added further chromatic approach notes before the 3rd note, F, the 5th note, C, the 7th note, D and the the final note, A.
You can use licks like this in any improvised scenario when you would use a pentatonic scale. You can use the chromatic approach notes to bring a jazz flavour to your lines. Why not try coming up with your own jazz licks using this method. Once you’ve written down a few licks, you can try improvising with the same method.
How to Make a Major Scale Sound Like Jazz – Bass Practice Diary – 17th November 2020
If you study harmony, you begin to realise just how important the major scale is. Diatonic harmony in its entirety realties to the intervalic relationships of the major scale (also sometimes called the diatonic scale). So, it’s hardly surprising that a major scale is a popular choice for improvisation as well. But, how do you make a major scale sound like jazz?
Why use major scales in jazz improvisation?
I think that a lot of musicians learn to analyse diatonic chord progressions in jazz standards. They know the right key to play at every point in the progression. Each key is defined by the notes of the parent scale, which in the case of major keys, is a major scale. So, you can break a lot of jazz tunes down to playing different major scales at different points in the chord progression. But the problem is, that major scales on their own don’t sound very much like jazz. So, how do you use the major scale to make jazz lines?
I’ve noticed that a lot of people learning to improvise are looking for a scale or scales that will make them sound like jazz. I don’t think it works like that. I think there are a lot of different approaches to improvising in a jazz style. Today, I’m looking at two key concepts. One is approach notes, the other is outside notes. The concept of outside notes is simple to understand. There are seven notes in any key (the notes of the major scale) and there are twelve notes in the octave (the chromatic scale). Outside notes are the five other notes that are not in the major scale. If you want your lines to sound like jazz lines, you need to come up with some creative ways to use them.
A simple and great way to begin to incorporate some outside notes into a major scale, is with the use of chromatic approach notes. A chromatic approach note can be as simple as picking a target note from the parent scale, and playing a semi-tone (one fret) below or above that note before you play it. Of course, not all of these chromatic approach notes will be outside notes. If your target note is the major 7th, and you play a chromatic approach note above that note, you’re playing the root note. But some (most) of your chromatic approach notes will be outside notes. And that’s enough to bring a jazz flavour to your lines.
Play a major scale with chromatic approach notes
This is an exercise that I featured in the video.
I’m playing a C major scale in ascending thirds (root, 3rd, 2nd, 4th, 3rd, 5th etc). Each third interval is two notes. I’m then adding a chromatic approach note before and below the first, lower note. So, C, E (Root, 3rd) becomes B, C, E, a three note grouping. D, F (2nd, 4th) becomes C#, D, F.
It sounds good, but it sounds like an exercise. I want to make it sound less like an exercise and more like an improvised jazz line. Try mixing up the exercise by varying the chromatic approach notes either above or below the target notes. You can also vary whether you play your thirds ascending or descending. When you play a descending third you can play the approach note before the higher of the two notes.
Two Hand Tapping Exercise for Bass Guitar – Tapping Triads – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd November 2020
Last week I featured a two-hand tapping bass groove that I wrote on bass guitar. This week I’m starting a series of lessons in which I break down the fundamentals of my tapping techniques. The most basic tapping technique is the ability to perform hammer-ons and pull-offs with both your left and right hand. If you’d like some left hand hammer on and pull off exercises, then check out this video. Today I’m going to focus on tapping with the right-hand index finger.
Tapping techniques work particularly well for playing arpeggios. Using both hands to generate notes means that you can play wider intervals very fast. That’s extremely hard to do if you’re fretting with the left-hand and plucking with the right-hand. It’s relatively easy to play the smaller intervals of scales fast, by using conventional plucking techniques. But tapping creates a huge advantage for playing the wider intervals of arpeggios fast.
The most basic arpeggio type is a triad, a three note chord. There are four main types of triad: major, minor, diminished and augmented. This exercise simply goes through each one in a sequence.
The reason that the sequence is in this order is because I’m starting with the smallest intervals (two minor 3rds), which is a diminished arpeggio. And I’m moving up to the largest intervals (two major 3rds) which is the augmented triad. In the video I then play the exercise in reverse order going from largest intervals to smallest.
Should You Use Compression When Tapping?
I touched on the subject of compression very briefly in the video. Dynamic Range Compression is an audio effect that effectively squashes the dynamics in your playing. It makes the loud notes quieter and the quiet notes louder to even out the dynamics and make everything the same level. You can play bass through a compression pedal, there are many on the market. Or you can add compression to a recording of your bass in a DAW like Pro Tools or Logic.
There is an obvious advantage and an obvious disadvantage to using compression when tapping. The advantage is, that if your hammer ons are louder than your pull offs, or your right hand notes are quieter than your left hand notes, then the compression will compensate and even out the sound.
The obvious disadvantage of using compression when you’re playing, is that it will amplify any unwanted noise. Any squeak from a string or rumble from an unmuted open string will be made louder. Personally, I never use compression when I’m playing, but I do sometimes add it to a recording when appropriate. It’s entirely up to the individual whether they use compression or not, but it is common to use compression for tapping techniques.
Two- Hand Tapping Groove on Bass Guitar with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 27th October 2020
I haven’t done a video featuring two-hand tapping techniques for a while. I’ve had it in my mind to do a series of short video lessons demonstrating some of the tapping techniques that I use. I’m going to do that, starting next week, but first I thought I’d do a video demonstrating how you can apply two-hand tapping techniques to playing a bass groove. I think there’s a common perception of tapping techniques as being flashy soloing techniques. But the truth is that you can use these same techniques to groove. So this week, I’ve written this two-hand tapping groove by way of demonstration.
The Two-Hand Tapping Bass Groove
I won’t break down all the techniques that I’m using here, because I’m going to do that over the next few weeks. But essentially this groove is just based around two dominant 7 chords, G7 and C7. I’ve played it and TAB’d it on 5-string bass, but you can play it on 4-string. You can move the F and G notes at the start onto the first and third fret of the E-string. It’s slightly easier to tap those notes on the low B-string, that’s the only reason I’ve played it on a 5-string.
Why Two-Hand Tapping on Bass?
Playing two-hand tapping techniques on bass is not a particularly new idea. Solo bass virtuoso’s like Victor Wooten and Billy Sheehan have been showcasing these techniques for decades. But the popular conception of tapping is still that it’s a guitar technique. The truth is, that tapping works just as well on bass as guitar. But the image of tapping by 1980’s rock guitar heroes like Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai has left an indelible print in popular consciousness.
My own journey with tapping started as a teenager, after hearing one of the above mentioned guitarists and thinking “can I do that on bass?”. It turned out I could and it wasn’t particularly difficult. At that time tapping was just a party trick for me. But my relationship with tapping changed when I started playing with the Chapman Stick player Jim Lampi.
What’s the Best Instrument for Two-Hand Tapping?
The Chapman Stick is designed as a two-hand tapping instrument. It usually has either ten or twelve strings, half the strings are played with the right-hand and the other half the left. Jim plays the Stick with quite a pianistic approach. He doesn’t go in for the flamboyant rock guitar techniques, but instead uses his instruments to play jazz and make soundscapes and back up singing. He most famously played in John Martyn’s band. Tony Levein is a bass player who also played Chapman Stick.
Jim Lampi opened my eyes to two things about two-hand tapping. One is that it can be incredibly versatile and used musically in any number of different contexts. The other is that, if you want to take two-hand tapping seriously, you should think about investing in a proper two-hand tapping instrument like a Chapman Stick. While tapping works just as well on bass as guitar, the truth is that neither guitar or bass is an ideal instrument for tapping.
I did think once upon a time about investing in a Chapman Stick, but the truth is, that I don’t want anything to distract me from playing the bass. So, I’m going to continue to treat two-hand tapping as a fun diversion from my more frequently used bass techniques.
Cycle of Fifths Exercise on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 13th October 2020
This week I’m featuring another 6-string bass exercise. Just like last week’s exercise, this one features the cycle of fifths (or circle of fifths). However this week’s exercise has a much more simple concept and it’s also going the opposite way around the cycle. So the pattern here goes C-F-Bb-Eb etc. rather than C-G-D-A etc. as I played with my triads exercise last week.
As I’ve already alluded to, there are two different ways of going around the cycle of fifths. You can go up a 5th (which is like going down a 4th) or down a 5th (like going up a 4th). This exercise uses the latter. All you have to do, is go around the cycle one note at a time. Once you’ve played 12 notes, you’ve played every note in the octave.
The idea is that you keep going, to find where all the notes are all over the fretboard. It’s a great way of learning your fretboard, and it’s also a great technical exercise. Also, playing lines using 4th and 5th intervals is very popular in modern jazz vocabulary, so this exercise will also help you to play those kind of lines.
I’ve written the exercise out over three octaves to get you started. However, I would recommend taking the idea and trying to play continuously all over the fretboard. Start slow and speed up. You don’t have to follow the notes that I’ve written out. No matter what note you’ve just played, you always have the option to either go a 4th up or a 5th down. Good luck!
5-String Bass Exercises – Three Exercises with Five String Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 29th September 2020
Here are three exercises that you can use on 5-string bass. These are typical of the kind of exercises that I play when I’m adjusting to playing a 5-string bass, especially if I haven’t played one for a while. If you follow my Bass Practice Diary videos regularly, then you know that I play 4-string and 6-string basses a lot. It’s easy to trip up on a 5-string bass when you’ve grown accustomed to playing four or six. A few exercises like this, when you start, will really help you to get used to the feel and the range of the instrument. Even if you always play 5-string bass, and you’re looking to improve your fluency around the fretboard. These kind of exercises are great for that too.
Exercise 1: Playing Across All Five Strings
In this first exercise, I’m simply thinking about arpeggiating two chords. Dm7 and A7(b9).
The exercise starts by going up the notes of a D minor 7 arpeggio. Then it comes down on the A7(b9). I’m relying heavily on the notes of a C#dim7 arpeggio for the A7(b9) chord. The notes C#, E, G and A# are the 3rd, 5th, 7th and b9th of the A7 chord. In the second bar I’ve substituted an Fmaj7 arpeggio for the Dm7 chord. The notes of the F major chord are the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th of the Dm7 chord.
Exercise 2: Using the Entire Range of the Bass
In the second exercise, I’m simply playing a C major scale over the entire range of my 5-string bass neck.
This is such a fundamental exercise on any instrument. I don’t think of it as playing a C major scale. I think of it as learning the notes in the key of C major. The whole of Western harmony is built around this key. You can think of it as learning all the white notes on a piano, but really it’s just learning where the notes A, B, C, D, E, F & G are. If you know where they are then you can easily work out where the sharps (#) and flats (b) are. And then you know where every note on your bass is.
Exercise 3: Playing a Bass Groove Using the Low B-string
The final exercise is a bass groove.
If anyone says that, “a bass groove isn’t an exercise, it’s music”, then I think that they need to re-think the way that they practice. To me, every piece of music that I play is an exercise, or at least it can be if I think about it in the right way. Exercises exist to help us play music, if there is a disconnect in your mind between the exercises you play and the music you play, then you’ve missed the point. Every exercise that I play is related to something that I have to use in real musical situations. I understand the relationship between the exercise and the practical application of it. In this particular exercise/groove, I’m working on playing a low Eb on the 4th fret of the B-string, whilst playing in the key of C minor. It’s tricky note to hit and it’s hard to make it sound good!
Slap Bass Timing Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 8th September 2020
If you’ve been following my recent series of videos about timing exercises, then you’ll know how these work by now. You take an odd number note grouping and play those groupings as continuous 16th notes. What I didn’t mention on any of my previous videos, was that these exercises are a great way to practice slap bass. This video feature three slap bass timing exercises. And you can take this concept and develop your own exercises.
The first exercise is 16th notes played in three note groupings. The three note grouping consists of a note, G, thumped with the right hand thumb (T). A tap on the strings with the left hand, marked L.H on the notation. And finally a pull with the index finger of the right hand, which I’ve played as a dead note by muting the strings with my left hand.
The second of the three note sequence, the left hand tap, can be very soft. You don’t need to hit the strings hard, you just need to do it in time. Hitting the strings with the left hand has the effect of silencing the first note. So, even if you don’t here the tap, you will still feel the rhythm by hearing the note G go silent.
The second exercise is an extension of that idea. This time the three note grouping is made by thumb (right hand), hammer (left hand) and pluck (right hand index). And the notes are taken from a C minor pentatonic scale.
The final exercise features a five note grouping. The five notes are as follows. Thump the G and then tap with the left hand, exactly as in exercise 1. Then thump with the right hand thumb again, but this time as a dead note muted by the left hand. That’s three, the final two notes are F and G. Pluck the F on the D string and hammer onto the G on the fifth fret with your left hand.
Triplet Timing Exercises for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 1st September 2020
This is my third video of timing exercises for bass guitar. The previous two videos both involved playing odd number note groupings as 16th notes in 4/4. In this video, I’m changing the subdivision and I’m playing four and five note groupings as triplets in 4/4. All of these triplet timing exercises are written with 8th note triplets. However, if you want to take the exercises a step further, you can make them harder by using quarter note triplets or 16th note triplets.
The first exercise involves playing four note groupings. I’m using two arpeggios in the key of C major, a Dm7 arpeggio and a Cmaj7 arpeggio. You can use any four note grouping to do this. Four note groupings played as continuous triplets in 4/4 will arrive back on beat one after two bars. So, I’ve put the note C on beat one of bar three to complete the exercise. You can loop the exercise as many times as you want to.
Another way to play four note groupings would be to play a scale, four notes at a time. This is a C major scale played descending from G, the fifth.
Playing five note groupings as triplets is harder. The next exercise lands back on beat one at the beginning of bar 6.
Finally, this last exercise combines the four and five note groupings. It’s actually a bit more straight forward than playing just the five note groupings, because four and five makes nine. So, this is effectively a grouping of nine. And because nine is divisible by three, it fits into triplet rhythms quite nicely.
Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar #2 – 16th Notes in Five Note Groupings – Bass Practice Diary – 18th August 2020
This week’s timing exercise features five note groupings, played as 16th notes. Last week I featured a similar exercise with three note phrases. You can make exercises like this by using any odd number grouping, and then playing those groupings as continuous 16th notes in 4/4.
Odd Number Rhythmic Groupings
The larger the grouping, the more rhythmic possibilities it creates. For example, five note groupings can be counted as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Da-Di-Gi-Na-Dum). Or you could count 3+2 (Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka) or 2+3 (Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta). However, a seven note grouping would give more options, 4+3, 3+4, 2+3+2, 5+2 etc.
The idea of playing odd number rhythmic groups, is that it creates a continuously moving polyrhythmic feel against the four beats in a bar of 4/4 and the four 16th note subdivisions in each beat. The idea of these exercises, is that they systematically go through every possible rhythmic placement of a five note grouping of 16th notes in a bar of 4/4, before arriving back on beat one at the beginning of the sixth bar.
Three Variations of The Exercise
In the first exercise, I’m playing five note arpeggios in the key of C major.
As you can see, I play the tonic, C on beat one of bar 6. If you can hit that note on the downbeat, then you know you’ve played the exercise correctly.
The second variation of this exercise is a variation of the first exercise. This time, I’m playing the five notes as three and then two.
The third variation also uses the three and two idea. However, this time I’m using an ascending G major scale.
Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar – 16th Notes in Groups of 3 – Bass Practice Diary – 11th August 2020
The concept of this timing exercise is very simple. You take any sequence of three notes, and play the sequence as continuous 16th notes in 4/4. So, you subdivide the beats into four, but you play a pattern of three, which creates a simple polyrhythm. Each time you play the sequence, it will start on a different 16th note. After three bars, you will have played all of the different permutations of where that sequence can start in a bar of 4/4. So, if you play the sequence correctly for three bars, the sequence should begin again on beat one of bar 4.
The Exercise and Variations
This would be a simple version of the exercise. It’s a “one finger per fret” exercise, but each note is played three times.
I would more commonly play the exercise using triads, as I have here.
You could also apply the same idea to practicing scales. Here is a C major scale played in three note groupings. First ascending and then descending.