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.
Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 2: Naima on Fretless Bass- Bass Practice Diary – 14th July 2020
Naima by John Coltrane has a beautiful but challenging chord progression. Last week, I featured a video demonstrating how I play the chords. But the story isn’t complete without looking at how to improvise over those chords. So, this week I’m demonstrating an improvisation strategy for playing over the part that I find hardest to improvise on.
Modal Chord Progression
Most improvisers think of Naima as being a modal composition. Meaning that they think of each chord as representing the sound of a scale or mode. This is different to the diatonic approach that I looked at in my Improvisation Strategies: Part 1 video. In that video I looked at a I-VI-II-V sequence of chords where each chord represented a different degree in the key of Bb major.
When you hear improvisers analysing how to play Naima, usually you’ll hear them say something like, ” play this scale or mode on that chord, and this scale or mode on that chord etc”. And it’s not wrong to think about the progression as a sequence of modes. If you listen to Coltane playing Naima, you can definitely hear that he is playing complete modes quite often.
However, when I’m coming up with an improvisation strategy, I prefer to think in a more economical way. I want to start with something small that I can expand upon. I want to zero in on the notes that I feel best spell out the sound of the harmony. Remember that you can come up with multiple strategies for playing on the same progression. So when you zero in on just a few notes, you’re not limiting yourself, you’re actually creating the potential for much more variation. Because if you start by using all of the notes from the implied scale or mode, then it doesn’t leave as much scope for expanding and using different harmonic ideas.
Naima Improvisation Strategy
Last week I wrote about how I think of all of the chords as being major 7th chord voicings over a pedalled bass note. I won’t repeat myself, so if you’re interested in the chords check out last week’s post.
This four bar section of the harmony comes from the second half of the B section. The chord symbols that I’ve written are different from the Real Book changes, (even when you allow for the change of key). But I think that my changes reflect the harmony that Coltrane was using fairly closely. I wouldn’t recommend getting bogged down in what the chord symbols are. When I was working out how to play this piece, I wasn’t thinking about chord symbols, I was just trying to recreate the sounds that I was hearing and I put the chord symbols on afterwards. So, here is my improvisation strategy for this short four-bar sequence, I’ve picked out five notes to use on each chord.
Naima by John Coltrane: Chords on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 21st July 2020
Naima is one of my favourite jazz compositions (I have a lot of favourite jazz compositions). I know that a lot of other musicians feel the same way about Naima, because it has an incredibly beautiful and unusual chord progression. It comes from the John Coltrane’s Giant Steps album, which I’ve featured before in my Bass Practice Diary. It was recorded in 1959, the same year as Kind of Blue, and it stands alongside that album as one of the iconic jazz albums of the 20th century.
However, Naima is not the type of composition that most people would associate with that album. Giant Steps tends to be remembered for it’s burning fast bop tunes with furiously fast key changes like the title track and Countdown. Naima is a slow ballad that Coltrane played many times, and I think many people forget that it originally featured on the Giant Steps album. However, Naima does have something in common with those other tunes I mentioned, it has an incredibly innovative chord progression.
A long time ago I set myself the challenge of arranging these incredible chords on my 6-string bass. I quickly realised that I needed to change the key to get the chords in the B section to work well. The reason being, that there’s a chord in the B section with the melody note Db. The highest fretted note on a 24 fret 6-string bass is C, one semi-tone too low. So, to voice the chord accurately, you need to play the top note way down on the 13th fret of the 1st string. It isn’t wrong to do that, but it just doesn’t sound very good.
So, to make it sound better, I transposed everything down a semi-tone. I played that top note as a C on the 24th fret of the first string. An extra advantage of transposing was that I could use the open A string as the bass note, instead of the Bb in the original key. When I play Naima I also tune my E-string down to a D. I use the open string to play the peddled bass note in the A section. If you want to transpose my arrangement into the original key, then you could tune your bass up a semi-tone.
When you see Naima written in books, you normally see the chord progression in the A section written something like this.
Changes similar to these feature in the jazz Real Books and the Coltrane Omnibook. I even found them on Naima’s wikipedia page (which I thought was unusual!)
The Major 7th Chords Trick
I’ve never found these Real Book chords helpful. I worked out by ear that you could create the sound of Naima by moving major 7th chords around over the pedalled bass notes. I do understand that when you change the bass note, you change the chord. So, a lot of these chords don’t function as major 7th chords. I gave the example in the video that when you play an Fmaj7 chord over a D bass note, you get the sound of Dm9.
Recently, I was playing Naima with a Saxophonist, and we were using the Real Book chord changes. I mentioned to him that I’ve always thought of the tune as being entirely made up of major 7th chords over pedalled bass notes. He told me that a scrap of paper had been discovered with John Coltrane’s handwritten chords for Naima. They were written out for Tommy Flanagan, the pianist on the original recording. Coltrane had written every chord as a major seventh chord.
I wasn’t sure I believed that this piece of paper really existed. I wanted to believe it, because it tied my way of thinking about the tune to Coltrane’s way of thinking about the tune. But, if such a piece of paper existed, then why do all the books and publications still stick with this unnecessarily complicated way of writing out the harmony? So, today I did some research to see if there was any legitimacy to the story. This is what I found.
It just goes to show the power that the jazz Real Books have had in defining how we think about jazz standards. Once a tune is written in the Real Book. The Real Book chord changes become the definitive chord changes that everyone uses. But often, the changes in the Real Books are very different to actual chord changes.
How I Play the Chords on 6-String Bass
This is how I’ve arranged the chords on my 6-string bass. I can’t pretend that this is 100% like either the Real Book changes or the Coltrane changes. It’s simply the best way that I’ve found to recreate the sound of Naima on a bass guitar.
Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 1: I VI II V – Bass Practice Diary – 14th July 2020
I often get asked questions about how to improvise. I’ve noticed that people are usually looking for a simple answer, like “you just need to know the right scale.” However, if you’re reading this, you probably already know that it isn’t that simple. To become a fluent improviser, you should work on lots of different improvisation strategies. As part of my own practice, I regularly try to find new and different ways to play through chord progressions that I’ve played on many times. To help demonstrate what I do, I’m presenting one improvisation strategy that I’ve come up with on a I-VI-II-V chord progression.
Before we get into the specifics of this particular strategy, I should say that my end goal is the same for any improvisation strategy. That goal is to be able to improvise all over the fretboard. So, when I practice a strategy, I’ll practice it in multiple positions until I can connect up the notes all over the entire fretboard.
In this particular strategy, I’m looking at jazz improvisation on a I VI II V progression in Bb major. Although I would recommend practicing any strategy in multiple keys. The chords in the key of Bb major are Bb – G7 – Cm7 – F7. Notice that Chord VI is played as a dominant chord rather than a minor 7th chord. This is so that it leads nicely to the II chord. It is a very common chord substitution in jazz (and other styles).
A very simple approach to improvising on a I VI II V progression would be to just play a Bb major or major pentatonic scale. The problem with that as a strategy, is that it ignores the B natural in the G7 chord. So most jazz musicians will prefer to play something different for every chord. This is often referred to as “spelling out the harmony”. So what I’ve done is chosen four different notes for each chord. Each set of four notes is specific and unique to each chord.
Why Play Four Notes for Each Chord?
Normally when a I VI II V is played in the context of a jazz standard, the entire progression is played over two bars. Meaning that each chord lasts for just two beats. With just two beats on each chord, four notes provide more than enough options to fill up the space. If you’re strategy was to use an entire scale, even a pentatonic scale, it would be more notes than you need. It would make improvising on the progression harder than it needs to be.
In choosing the four notes for this strategy, I used arpeggios. You don’t have to use arpeggios, you can use any four notes that you like the sound of. But I think that arpeggios are fundamental to the sound to jazz improvisation, so that’s why I’m using them. I could have simply used a Bb major arpeggio for the Bb major chord and a G7 arpeggio for the G7 chord etc. That would certainly have spelled out the harmony, but it would also probably have sounded a bit predictable. Instead, I opted to play a Dm7 arpeggio on the Bb major chord. The notes of the Dm7 arpeggio played over a Bb major chord create the sound of a Bb major 9 arpeggio without the root note.
By making this substitution, I was thinking of the progression as III-VI-II-V, Dm7 – G7 – Cm7 – F7. This actually simplifies things a lot because it leaves me with two minor 7 chords and two dominant 7 chords. I can use the same strategy for both minor 7 chords and the same strategy for both dominant 7 chords. So I used minor 7 arpeggios on chords III and II and on chords VI and V, I used diminished 7 arpeggios starting on the third of each chord. Bo7 on the G7 chord and Ao7 on the F7 chord. (o in this case means diminished).
Putting the Strategy Into Practice
The best way to put any improvisation strategy into practice is with a backing track. You can find free I VI II V backing tracks on the internet. It’s always a good idea to start slowly, and you can start by just playing the notes you’ve prepared over the chords as an exercise. As you get comfortable doing that you can start to improvise lines that connect up the chords by adding passing notes. Here are three examples that I’ve written out to demonstrate.
The passing notes could be chromatic notes or scale tones. Or to put it another way, they could be literally any note that helps to connect the lines. If you use the four note patterns that you’ve prepared as the structure for your lines, then adding passing notes here and there, won’t interfere with the musical sense of the lines.
There are so many ways that you can vary this one simple idea. You can (and should) practice it in multiple positions on the neck. Here is another position to get you started.
Then try to improvise by connecting up the different positions that you’ve practiced.
Then you could try practicing the same ideas in different keys. You could then try using the same chords, but changing the four note patterns. And finally you could try playing similar patterns on different chord progressions. When you get into practicing these kind of ideas, there really is a lot of different ways you could be doing it. And the more different strategies that you practice, the more fluent your improvising will become.
“Changes in Rhythm” 6-String Bass Solo based on Rhythm Changes – Bass Practice Diary – 7th July 2020
This morning I released this solo bass piece called “Changes in Rhythm” as a demo of my new Overwater Hollowbody 6-string bass. The demo video featured just the sound of my solo bass playing along with a percussion track. But for those of you that follow my Bass Practice Diary videos, I wanted to release this version of the same video. It includes chords, that I added to help demonstrate the harmonic structure, and bass TAB for 6-string bass.
Transcription with 6-String Bass TAB
I wrote this based on the popular jazz chord progression Rhythm Changes. The chord changes that I’ve included on this version of the video more or less represent what I was thinking about when I wrote it. Although I was often thinking about building lines from chord substitutions that could then be played on the original changes.
Rhythm Changes was very popular in the Bebop era. Charlie Parker wrote a few tunes on this progression. My focus was on putting together a solo that uses some of the Blues and Bebop style of lines from that era, but with a totally different time feel, hence the title.
The middle 8 departs most radically from a traditional Rhythm Changes. I’m using lots of natural harmonics to make chords. But it still follows the cycle of fifths that everyone knows from the middle 8 of Rhythm Changes. Here is the piece in full.
Fretless Bass Line with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 30th June 2020
This is a fretless bass line that I wrote recently as part of a piece I’m working on. During the lockdown I’ve been trying to keep my creativity going by writing some music. The drums are provided by my good friend Lewis Davies who has appeared on my channel before.
The Bass Line
The bass line has a triplet feel. I’ve written it in 4/4 but I could have written it in 12/8. If you’ve read my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove then you’ll know that I like to count triplets with the syllables ta-ki-ta. Using those syllables, the two ta’s become the beat and off beat in a shuffle or swing feel. But I think it’s how and when you use the other syllable, ki, that can make a triplet feel really pop. Notice that I’ve placed a note on this subdivision after the second beat in every bar of this bass line. To my ears, that is what defines the character of this line.
If you’d like to check out another of my fretless bass lines with bass tab, then you can find one here.
My New Overwater Hollowbody 6-string Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 23rd June 2020
This week I received my custom made Overwater Hollowbody 6-string bass guitar. It’s taken just over a year to build. And this bass is currently unique. It’s the first fretted 6-string hollowbody that Overwater has made and the first with a 34″ scale length. I’ve only owned this bass for a few days, but my early impressions are very positive. It’s relatively light for a 6-string bass, but the low end it gives you is huge. And it has one of the best low B-strings of any bass I’ve played.
Chris May and Overwater Basses
Bass players outside the UK might not be familiar yet with Overwater basses. The company was founded in 1979 and is run by it’s founder Chris May. Many British professional bass players play Overwaters including Scott Devine of Scott’s Bass Lessons. Chris has featured in videos on Scott’s Bass Lessons and he has earned his reputation as one of the best bass builders in the business.
Over the last few years I’ve spoken to several companies about making me a lightweight 6-string. As you know, I’ve always played Warwick 6-string basses. They’re great, but they’re heavy. And it’s not always practical to take out a heavy 6-string bass. Especially when I know I’m going to be playing long sets. So, I’ve often found myself taking out lighter 4 or 5 string basses when I’d prefer to play 6.
I first spoke to Warwick about making me something lighter. Their position was, that if you make a bass too light, it won’t sound like a Warwick. Which is a very fair point, but it lead me to the conclusion that I needed to look elsewhere in order to find what I was looking for. So, I started by talking to UK based bass manufacturers like Status, Sei and Overwater. All of them make great instruments that I would be happy to play.
The reason that I opted for Overwater was down to Chris May. Out of all the companies that I spoke to. It’s not easy to build a good light 6-string bass. And I felt that all of the other companies I spoke to were slightly cautious about taking on the challenge. But Chris was exceptional in his enthusiasm and expertise and in taking a personal interest in what I needed.
My Overwater Hollowbody 6-string bass
The bass has a Walnut top and a Swamp Ash body. It has a 3-piece maple neck and the neck joint is glued. The fretboard is Indian Rosewood. It’s a thinline body. I’ve played a fretless version of this model with a much thicker body shape and a 35″ scale. It sounded awesome but it was heavy!
Overwater have their own pickups and they match the wood on the pickup covers to the bass. They also do their own 3-band active eq with matching wood covers on the control knobs. The onboard preamp also includes a balanced XLR output, which effectively makes the bass itself an active DI box. With the two outputs you can route the jack output to your amp and send the balanced XLR output to the front of house.
I’ll do a proper demo of this bass in the next few weeks. The playing in this video was literally the first time I’d played this bass. And I was playing with all the EQ’s on the bass and amp set flat. I’ll be able to give a much better demonstration of what this bass is capable of when I’ve played her for a few weeks.