Tag Archives: bass practice diary

5 Tips for Better Bass Practice – Bass Practice Diary 100

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.

Bass Practice Diary

My very first Bass Practice Diary video was released on 24th April 2018 and you can watch it here.

You can check out Simon Peter King here!

Passion Dance by McCoy Tyner on fretless 6-string bass – Bass Practice Diary 99

Passion Dance by McCoy Tyner on fretless 6-string bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th March 2020

One of the most memorable musical moments in my life was seeing McCoy Tyner play live at the Jazz Cafe in London in 2003. I was 19 years old and I had recently got very into the John Coltrane Quartet. My parents had given me A Love Supreme on CD as a 19th birthday present. The thought that I was going to watch the pianist from that album play live, was almost too exciting!

I arrived when the doors opened (about 3 hours before the gig started) to get myself a position with the best view. I literally sat about a metre from McCoy Tyner’s right hand as he played an absolutely burning set with his trio, which at that time included the unbelievably talented Charnett Moffett on bass and Eric Harland on drums. It’s a memory I will never forget. At that point in my life I had never heard music played with that level of intensity by a small acoustic jazz band.

I’ve heard many musicians imitate McCoy Tyner’s style over the years. But I’ve never heard anyone who could do it like him. I saw him live many more times after that, always in concert halls rather than jazz clubs. I even met him on one occasion. But it’s that first gig in a jazz club in London that will always stick in my memory as one of my happiest musical memories. It was one of the first times that I’d seen “the real thing” up close and it had a huge impact on me.

It was with great sadness that I heard about McCoy Tyner’s passing this week at the age of 81. He was a truly unique musician, and his influence on modern jazz is enourmous.

Quartal Harmony

McCoy Tyner is best known for the sound of quartal harmony. That’s when you arrange chord voicings in fourth intervals. It’s a very distinctive sound, and instantly recognisable in modern jazz. Passion Dance uses that quartal sound, and is a great example of McCoy Tyner’s signature sound. My rendition certainly doesn’t capture the intensity with which McCoy Tyner used to play it. But I wanted to put my own tribute out for a great musician who influenced me massively.

Extended Arpeggios on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 98

Extended Arpeggios on 6-String Bass with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd March 2020

Extended arpeggios are a great way to practice harmony on 6-string bass. All chords and arpeggios derive from scales, and an extended arpeggio is a brilliant way to present the sound of a scale or mode, without it sounding like you’re playing a scale. For that reason, they work brilliantly in solos.

How to work out an extended arpeggio

The extended arpeggio ideas that I’m using in the video are actually much easier to work out than they sound. You can work them out by taking a scale, in this case the C major scale, because I’m using a II-V-I chord progression in C major. And when you have your scale, you can play the extended arpeggios using alternate notes in the scale. There are seven notes in most major and minor scales, so when you’ve played seven consecutive alternate notes, you’ve played every note from the scale as an arpeggio.

Here’s how it works. The notes of a C major scale are C, D, E, F, G, A & B. Imagine you’re playing a two octave scale so each note happens twice, giving you fourteen notes across the two octaves. Take the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th notes of that two octave scale. These are notes C, E, G, B, D, F & A, which is your C major extended arpeggio.

NB. Jazz musicians often play a #11, in this case F# on a major 7th extended arpeggio.

Next you could take the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, 12th & 14th notes of the two octave scale. This will give you a D minor 7th extended arpeggio. This is the arpeggio I featured in the video.

Arpeggios with a chord substitution

Here is the full example that I featured in the video.

Extended Arpeggios on 6-String Bass
Extended Arpeggios on 6-String Bass

I’ve explained how I created the extended arpeggios for the Dm7 and Cmaj7 chords. So, how did I create the arpeggio that I played on the G7 chord? I could have done it using all the notes of a C major scale. But I felt that would sound boring if all three arpeggios used the same set of notes.

Instead, I used the notes of a common chord substitution, the tritone substitution. It’s a harmonic device that jazz musicians love to use on dominant 7th chords. In this case, for the G7 chord, I’ve used an arpeggio for a chord with a root note that is three tones (a tritone) away from G, which is Db7. It works because the 3rd of the G chord, B, is the 7th of the Db chord. And the 3rd of the Db chord, F, is the 7th of the G chord.

So, I harmonised my extended Db7 arpeggio using notes from Gb major. Db7 is chord five in the key of Gb major. This creates a lot of dissonances, some notes in Gb major work in the key of C major, but also some sound quite dissonant. But that’s the point, jazz musicians love to create tension by using dissonances on a V chord before resolving them on the I chord.

Bright Size Life on Fretless Bass and Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 91

Bright Size Life on Fretless Bass and Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 14th January 2020

One of my favourite albums is Bright Size Life by Pat Metheny. It was not only Metheny’s debut album as a band leader but it was also one of the earliest recordings of Jaco Pastorius. Pastorius went on to become arguably the most influential electric bass player of the 20th century, and Bright Size Life features some of his best jazz work. Metheny and Pastorius together on this album are two young jazz genius’ working together in the very stripped down context of a trio with drummer Bob Moses.

The album features some of the best guitar and bass arrangements ever heard in the history of jazz and the title track is one of my personal favourites. This week I was reading through transcriptions of both Metheny’s and Jaco’s parts and I’ve tried to put them together. Admittedly, my playing in this video doesn’t live up to the genius of these two legends, but I was having fun so I put the camera on anyway. I hope you enjoy it.

Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage Fretless

The bass I’m using is a fretless Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage. I’ve done a video about the Sire V7’s before, and I think they’re brilliant. But I haven’t yet done a video about this fretless Vintage version. The thing with this Vintage version is that it’s clearly based on a 70’s fretless Fender Jazz Bass. So, even though it has Marcus Miller’s name on it, it makes me think of Jaco Pastorius.

Introduction to Triad Pairs on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 90

Introduction to Triad Pairs on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 7th January 2020

This week I want to introduce some basic triad pairs exercises. The basic concept of playing triad pairs on bass is that you take two triads (three note chords) that don’t have any notes in common. Meaning that you have six different notes. And then you use those triads to makes lines and exercises.

Why use triad pairs?

Triad pairs are now a really common concept in jazz improvisation. But it’s not only jazz musicians that use them. You can apply triad pairs to almost any genre of music. They work particularly well for improvisation, but you can also use them to write bass lines.

This week, I’m only going to introduce the most basic form of triad pairs. Which is when you take two major triads that are spaced a tone apart. The reason for spacing them a tone apart, is because the triads function like chords IV and V in a major key. So you can use these kind of lines in any major key by transposing the two triads to the notes of chords IV and V in the key.

The exercises

All of these exercises are played using the triads C major and D major. Which are chords IV and V in the key of G major. But that doesn’t mean that you can only use these in the key of G major. There are all kinds of interesting and creative applications of triad pairs which I’ll try and cover in my future videos.

There are three obvious ways to voice a triad (inversions). You can put the root at the bottom, the 3rd at the bottom or the 5th at the bottom. This first exercise demonstrates those three different inversions, which you need to learn really well if you’re going to get good at playing these exercises. Bar 1 uses the root position triads for both C and D and then bar 2 uses the 1st inversion and bar 3 uses the second inversion.

Triad Pairs - Exercise 1
Triad Pairs – Exercise 1

This next exercise uses a similar idea, but with triplets. So, you play three notes on each triad rather than four.

Triad Pairs - Exercise 2
Triad Pairs – Exercise 2

Finally, here is a pattern that plays four notes on C and then three on D.

Triad Pairs - Exercise 3
Triad Pairs – Exercise 3

The purpose of playing patterns like this one in exercise 3, is that it helps to make the exercise sound less like a pattern. If you’re playing triad pairs in an improvised solo, and you play three notes up and three notes down, like exercise 2. It will very quickly sound like you’re playing a repeating pattern. That’s ok if it’s the sound you want. But, if you want to make it sound less like a pattern, then a pattern with an odd number sequence (three then four) will create a less predictable feel when played as part of a solo.

PLAYING CHORDS ON THE BASS – PART 3 – TRIADS

Happy New Year – New Year’s Eve Bass Practice Diary 89

Happy New Year – New Year’s Eve Bass Practice Diary – 31st December 2019

Happy New Year! It’s New Year’s Eve and I want to thank everyone who has followed Johnny Cox Music in 2019. I have big plans moving forward into 2020, including a lot more free original bass content, so stay tuned! My second book is almost ready for publication and I’m planning to launch a dedicated teaching website for bass players in 2020.

Here’s a video that I shot last year to help you usher in the new year with a bit of solo 6-string bass. I would have shot a new video this year, but unfortunately I don’t know any other New Year’s Eve song apart from Auld Lang Syne. So this is one of the very rare occasions where I’m recycling an old video. I hope you enjoy it!

Auld Lang Syne

There are a number of ways you can approach harmonising this tune, and I didn’t spend very long coming up with this arrangement. I didn’t write the arrangement down, I just worked out a few things by ear before I hit record.

The loose structure of the arrangement is as follows. I played the first half of the song solo, using simple I, IV, V harmony. I intentionally set it in a key where I could utilise the open strings as bass notes. Then I added some jazz chords and alterations in the second half and immediately overdubbed the melody for the second half of the tune.

This was actually one of the quickest videos I’ve done. The shooting of it didn’t take more than five minutes. But I’m happy with the results. Sometimes playing something “off the cuff” is the best way rather than overthinking it.

I hope you enjoy this bit of bassy mellowness, whether your New Year’s Eve is mellow like mine or a bit more exciting. And I hope that the coming year gives you many opportunities to play the bass!

I VI II V Chord Progressions – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary 87

I VI II V Chord Progressions on 6-string Bass – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 17th December 2019

This week I’m revisiting my introduction to I VI II V chord progressions on 6-string bass video. There are so many ways that you can alter and substitute chords in a I VI II V sequence. Jazz musicians will often alter and add to the progression so much, that it’s almost impossible to tell that it was ever a I-VI-II V progression in the first place.

Chord substitutions

There really aren’t any rules when it comes to substituting chords. There are certain standard substitutions that are very common, such as the tritone substitution, which I looked at in my last video. But, honestly, you can substitute any chord for any other one that you like the sound of. A lot of it depends on the musical context that you’re playing the substitution in, but also it comes down to opinion. What sounds interesting to some people, will sound odd to others.

This week I’m just going to take you through some familiar chord substitutions and additions to I VI II V’s. These examples go quite a bit further than the examples in my previous video. But, believe me, you can take these ideas much further out than this.

The I VI II V examples

I created this first example by taking the III-VI-II-V example from my previous video and turning all the chords into dominant 7th chords. I then applied tritone substitutions to the VI and II chords. Then I added whatever extensions and alterations that I liked the sound of.

III – VI – II – V – I chord progression with dominant 7th substitutions

Once you have four dominant 7th chords like this, you can come up with so many variations just by applying tritone substitutions.

My next example derives from the first example. I’ve simply turned the E7, Eb7 and G7 chords into II-V’s. Meaning that I’ve added minor 7th chords before each dominant 7th chord. Each minor 7th has a root note that is a 4th below (or a fifth above) the root note of the dominant 7th chord. I’ve altered the VI chord to make it a major 7th instead of a dominant 7th chord. This completes a II-V-I in the key of Ab major, which is a strange thing to find in a chord progression in C major, but it works!

I – VI – II – V progression with II – V substitutions

I VI II V Chord Progressions on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 84

An Introduction to I VI II V – Chords on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 26th November 2019

I VI II V is possibly the most commonly used chord sequence in jazz. So, I think it’s time I started to look at how you can approach playing this simple but versatile chord progression on a 6-string bass. It’s been a few weeks since my last video about playing chords on 6-string bass. So, I’m bringing the series back this week with an important one.

Why is I VI II V so common in jazz?

That’s a question I used to ask myself a lot when I was younger. When you listen to the progression played in it’s simplest form, it’s not particularly interesting. It’s quite practical, because it has a nice cycle of fifths movement, with the VI leading to the II to the V and back to the one. So it can just go around and around, with the V always leading back to the I. It’s a nice cyclical chord movement that takes you back to chord I. And as such it’s very often played on the turnaround of a jazz progression.

In the standard chord progression, chord I is a major 7th chord, chord VI is usually played as a dominant 7th chord. Although if you harmonise the chords using the diatonic major scale it would be a minor 7th chord. The reason it’s usually played as a dominant 7th chord is because it acts as a chord V leading to the minor 7th chord II. And the real chord V is also a dominant 7th chord.

Here is my version of a standard I VI II V chord progression in the key of E.

I VI II V in the key of E major
I VI II V in the key of E

But to really understand why I VI II V is so popular, I think you need to understand a bit about how and when jazz musicians like to use it.

Chord substitutions

The first thing that you need to know about how most jazz musicians will use the I VI II V progression, is that they will try to find as many ways as they can to avoid playing the obvious chord progression. They do this by finding chord substitutions and adding extensions and alterations to the standard chords.

I often get people asking me to explain the concept of chord substitutions. But it’s a very difficult thing to do. Because the truth is, that you can substitute any chord with any other chord. The only restriction is what your ear will accept is a valid substitution. And that is a matter of taste and opinion. How much dissonance are you willing to accept?

However, if I was going to sum up the concept of chord substitutions in one short paragraph. I would say that you are looking for chords that have important notes in common with each other. Which brings me neatly on to the most common chord substitution in jazz, the tritone substitution.

Substituting dominant chords

Tritone substitutions can be performed on any dominant 7th chord. The principle is, that any dominant 7th chord shares two notes in common with another dominant 7th chord. Those notes are the 3rd and the 7th. In order to find the substitute dominant chord you need to find a root note that is an interval of three tones away from the root note of the original chord. If you’re not sure what I mean, check out my guide to playing intervals on the bass.

Take the example of the G7 chord. The root is G, there 3rd is B and the 7th is F. You can play it like this.

G7 chord on 6-string bass. Root, 3rd and 7th.

The tritone substitution would be Db7. The root is Db, the 7th is B (Cb) and the 3rd is F.

Db7 chord on 6-string bass. Root, 7th and 3rd

Here is the I VI II V chord progression played in C major using tritone substitutions on the two dominant 7th chords. I’ve also substituted chord III for chord one in the first bar.

III VI II V with tritone substitutions

Chord Scales on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 79

Chord Scales on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd October 2019

I’ve done a few videos recently about chord voicings and progressions for six string bass. So, I felt that I really needed to do a video about chord scales. Because chord scales might be the best way to practice playing chords on bass. If you really want to explore the full potential of every chord voicing that you play. As well as learn how to use them all over the fretboard. Then practising chord scales is the way to achieve that.

What is a chord scale?

You can turn just about any chord voicing into a chord scale. The idea is, that every chord implies a particular scale. There may be more than one scale option for a particular chord. For example, for an E7 chord you could us E mixolydian. But you could also use plenty of other scales, like an E lydian dominant scale. In that case you could come up more than one chord scale.

Once you have a chord voicing and a scale, you simply create a chord scale by moving all of the notes in your chord voicing up one scale step at a time.

So, I’ll use the C major chord scale that I used in the video as an example. The C major scale goes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. And the notes of the C major chord are C, E and G. So, to make the second chord in the scale, the C becomes D, E becomes F and G becomes A. D, F and A is D minor. And when you continue moving up the chord scale you get seven different chords. One chord starting on each of the seven notes of the C major scale.

C Major Chord Scale
C Major Chord Scale

More Chord Scale Examples

Here are some more examples from the video. This first one is in F major and uses a basic triads voicing.

F Major Chord Scale - triads
F Major Chord Scale – triads

Here is the same key using seventh chords.

F Major Chord Scale - 7ths
F Major Chord Scale – 7ths

This next one is in the key of A major, and it uses inverted triads. Meaning that the root note is not the lowest note in the chord voicing.

A Major Chord Scale
A Major Chord Scale

These are all fairly simple chord scales. If you’d like to find a slightly more advanced application of this idea. Then check out this video. It’s a voicing that I learned from Oteil Burbridge, that I then turned into a chord scale.

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.