Tag Archives: bass practice diary

Jazz Blues Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary 30

Jazz Blues Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 13th November 2018

This week I’ve done a detailed breakdown of a jazz lick that I played on a Bb blues progression in last week’s Bass Practice Diary. The lick combines the diminished scale with the blues scale which creates a jazz blues sound.

I’ve played the lick on my Warwick Thumb SC six string fretless bass. But I’ve transposed the lick down an octave so it can be comfortably played on a four string bass and I’ve written the TAB for four string bass in standard tuning.

Jazz Blues Lick

The concept of the blues solo that I played last week was combining the diminished scale and the blues scale. The reason why I’ve highlighted this very short lick is because it combines both the blues scale sound and the diminished sound in one very short lick. The Diminished scale provides a jazz sound while the blues scale keeps the lick rooted in the blues.

If you want to know more of the theory then check out last week’s video, but for now I’ll just take you through the lick.

The Lick

Jazz Blues Lick
Bb7 Jazz Blues Lick

The lick is played on a Bb7 chord but it starts on a G. The lick actually starts before beat one. The way I played it last week, you can think of the G as functioning as the major 3rd of the Eb7 chord in the preceding bar. However you could also play the same note on a Bb7 chord and think of it as a 13th.

From that note it goes up using the diminished scale. The second note Ab lands on beat one and it’s a chord tone, the dominant 7th. If you followed the sequence of the scale then the next note would be the root note Bb, but I’ve chosen to skip the root and go to the next note in the scale which is the b9, B natural (Cb).

Then it’s D and F. Two chord tones, major 3rd and 5th. And both feature in the diminished scale.

It’s worth mentioning at this point, that it’s the b9 that’s creating the diminished sound. All of the other notes are chord tones. They exist in the diminished scale, but without the b9, they would just sound like an arpeggio. It’s amazing what the presence of just one outside note can do to change the sound of a harmonic phrase.

For more of the theory about inside and outside notes, check out these two posts.

Everything You Need to Know About Harmony on Bass Guitar

How to Use Outside Notes In Your Basslines

The Blues Scale

The Blues has its own rules when it comes to harmony. The blues scale is essentially a minor pentatonic scale with one extra note. An outside note, the b5.

If you want to define the sound of the blues, then a good place to start is by playing the minor 3rd from the blues scale on a dominant 7th chord containing a major 3rd. You could argue that anytime you mix minor and major 3rds on dominant chords you are playing a blues sound.

Going back to my lick, I’ve just played a major third and then the 5th of the Bb7 chord, F. The note F exists in the Bb blues scale, the Bb diminished scale and the Bb7 chord. So it’s a very safe note. I’m using it here to transition from playing the diminished scale into playing the blues scale.

From the F, the lick simply goes down the blues scale until it gets to the root note Bb. It includes the minor third Db, so the riff includes both major 3rd, D and minor 3rd Db. Which, as I’ve mentioned, creates a blues sound.

In Conclusion

The diminished scale, and especially the b9 from the diminished scale, create a jazz sound. While the presence of both major and minor 3rds creates a blues sound. And both of these sounds are combined in one very short lick, just nine notes altogether. Which I think is quite cool.

I played several licks with a similar idea in last week’s video and I’ve transcribed one full 12-bar chorus. I think that the lick that I’ve chosen is the shortest and most succinct. Which is why I chose this one. I hope you’ve found this helpful!

 

Learn a Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary 25

Learn a Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 9th October 2018

The best way to use “licks” in jazz is a subject that divides opinion amongst musicians. I’ve written a melodic jazz lick in the key of F major over a II-V-I chord progression. In this post I’ll explain the lick and also share some of my thoughts on the use of licks in jazz.

What is a Jazz Lick?

In this context, a jazz lick is a melodic phrase, like a musical sentence.  It’s a small fragment of melody that can comprise part of a longer jazz solo.

The debate amongst musicians tends to centre around whether or not it’s appropriate to use pre-learned licks as part of improvised jazz solos.  It’s something that a lot of musicians do, including really good musicians, and the argument in favour of using licks is as follows. By learning licks, you are effectively learning jazz vocabulary. And the more jazz vocabulary you learn, the greater your range will be as an improviser.

This is why I practice jazz licks or phrases. Sometimes I work out my own ones, as I’ve done in this video and at other times I play licks written by other musicians, as I have in this video.

Personally, I don’t like to use pre-prepared licks when I’m performing or playing with a band. Improvising is the thing I love to do most in music. And I like to not know for sure where the music will go. Sometimes the music can suffer as a result of this approach, and if you’re looking for more consistency in your soloing, then learning licks is a good place to start. But, I wouldn’t choose to sacrifice the process of improving by using pre-learned licks. I’ve tried it and I just don’t enjoy it. To me it feels like trying to introduce a pre prepared sentence into a conversation. It might be a great sentence, but there’s every chance it won’t make sense depending on where the conversation goes.

However, using licks is something that probably all improvisers do either consciously or unconsciously. We all fall into patterns of playing, often without realising it. I’m fairly certain that even musicians who are very against the idea of using licks, often unknowingly fall back on melodic phrases that they’ve played many times before.

Fretless Bass Jazz Lick

If you follow my Bass Practice Diary you’ll know that I like to play jazz melodies on fretless bass. So, when I do this kind of practice, I’ll always use my fretless. Having said that, the lick will also work on a fretted bass.

Jazz Lick Ex 1
II – V – I Jazz Lick for Bass Guitar

I’ve TAB’d it for 4 string bass so everyone can play it. I sold my 4 string fretless bass after I got the 6 string Warwick Thumb SC in the video. That’s the only reason that I’m playing a 6 string bass in the video.

The lick is meant to be played over a II – V – I chord progression in the key of F major. Gm7 – C7 – Fmaj7. The II – V – I chord progression is the most common chord sequence in jazz. I won’t go into the theory of it because there are so many articles in existence about II – V – I’s, like this one. I’ll just explain what I’m playing on each chord.

Inside and Outside Notes

I think the reason that jazz musicians love to play over II – V – I chord progressions is because the V chord affords a great opportunity to use outside notes. Whereas the II and the I chord tend to favour the use of inside notes. So, you can create a feeling of starting inside the harmony and then moving outside on the V before coming back in on the I. This is a very jazz approach. The feeling of taking the harmony out and then bringing it back in, immediately sounds like jazz. And it’s that sound that I’ve tried to demonstrate with my jazz lick.

If you want to learn more about inside and outside notes and how to use them then check out this video.

Here’s what I’ve played on the II chord Gm7.

Jazz Lick Ex 2
II chord Gm7

As you can see, all of the notes are in the key of F major, creating an inside sound. Which is fine because we’re about to step outside of the harmony on the V chord.

There are several chromatic alterations in this bar. Playing a b9 on beat one is a very strong statement that I’m taking the melody outside of the key signature. I love this kind of bold harmonic statement. The other chromatic alterations (outside notes) are the #9 and the b13. The final note of the bar is also an outside note, but in this case it’s functioning as a passing note rather than an altered chord extension. It’s simply a semi tone above G natural to take us to an A natural on beat one of the next bar.

How much outside harmony you choose to use is a matter of personal taste. I mentioned in the video that you could play a similar phrase on the V chord but with a natural 9th instead of the #9 and a natural 13th instead of the b13. It would go like this.

Jazz Lick Inside
Alternative Line on the V Chord

Finally, on the I chord, F major 7, the lick resolves itself onto the major 3rd A. Which is about the most inside sounding note you can use at this point.

As I’ve said, I’m not planning to use this lick again any time soon. For me, this is simply an exercise in expanding my jazz vocabulary so I can improvise lines in a similar way in future. But if you’d like to learn  it, and use it in future, I would consider it an honour that anyone chooses to play one of my lines. I hope this has been helpful!

Recording Bass Parts for Siemy Di – Bass Practice Diary 24

Making Bass Guitar Tracks for Master Drummer Siemy Di – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd October 2018

This week I’ve been hanging out with my good friend Siemy Di and working on recording some of his compositions. Siemy and I have worked together a lot, over a number of years. So, when he needed someone to record tracks for his upcoming appearance on the Drum Channel, he asked me to help out.

I met Siemy in 2005 at a concert at the Barbican in London by the African Jazz All Stars. We were introduced by the leader of the All Stars, a great musician called Lucky Ranku, who had been a teacher of mine when I was at Music College.

In the years since we’ve worked together a lot, and we’ve played on each others projects. Our careers have overlapped in a number of bands and we’ve even gigged together as a duo on a number of occasions.

Siemy Di

Siemy is a superb and original musician. The reason that he stands out is because he has a genuine commitment to creating original music. But he understands that in order to create something new you must understand the history of your instrument. Siemy is a student of both the drum kit and the South Indian percussion instrument called the mridangam. He is steeped in the history of both jazz drumming and carnatic classical music, and the influence of both traditions comes through strongly in his music.

There are not too many musicians these days that manage to be unique in the way they approach their instrument. But, Siemy has achieved this and he deserves to be considered a master drummer.

Odd Meters

Many of Siemy’s compositions are in odd meters, which is in part due to the influence of Indian classical music. I share his love for both Indian Classical Music and Odd Meters. You can find my video lesson about playing bass in odd meters here. And you can find a video that I made with the wonderful mridangam player Arun Maheswaran here.

Jazz Chord Extensions for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 23

Chord Extensions on 4, 5 & 6 String Bass Guitars – Bass Practice Diary – 25th September 2018

I’ve done a few videos in the past about playing chords on the bass. This week I’m demonstrating a fairly simple approach you can use to playing jazz chord extensions. The system involves using two different voicings of 7th chords. Each using three notes, root, 3rd and 7th. Then adding chord extensions like 9ths, 11ths and 13ths as well as common alterations.

A Very Quick Guide to Jazz Harmony – 7th Chords

Chord extensions and alterations are synonymous with jazz harmony. 7th chords form the foundation of most jazz chords and I’m going to look at the three most common types of 7th chord. They are Major 7th, Minor 7th and Dominant 7th.

7th chords are four note chords, all of the chord types mentioned above contain root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. The root and 5th are the same in all three chord types, so the 7th chords are defined by the thirds and sevenths. Major 7th chords have a major 3rds and 7ths. Minor 7th chords have minor 3rds and 7ths and dominant 7th chords have major thirds and minor 7ths.

There are other types of 7th chords, but in this post I’m only going to look at these three types because they’re the most common.

When voicing extended chords it’s extremely important to know which notes to leave out. Regardless of whether you play 4, 5 or 6 string basses, you only have a finite number of strings. I recommend that you don’t try to cram every note from an extended chord into a chord voicing. It’s rarely a useful or practical approach.

The first note to leave out is the 5th, because it’s the same in each chord type. It doesn’t tell you anything about the chord. So, when I voice 7th chords, I voice them as three note chords, root, 3rd and 7th.

Assuming that you keep the root as the lowest note, that means you can voice a 7th chord in two different ways. The first way is with the 7th on top, as demonstrated in the three diagrams below.

Example 1 Chord Extensions
7th Chords: Root, 3rd & 7th

9th Chords

The reason that I’ve voiced these chords on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings is so that I can use the first string to add a chord extension. These voicings work well for 9th chords. The 9th above my root note A is the note B played on the 16th fret of the first string. You can add this note to each of the chord types and you get these chord voicings.

Example 2 Chord Extensions
9th Chords: Root, 3rd, 7th & 9th

There are two alterations you can make to the 9th in the dominant 9th chord. You can sharpen it to make an A7#9 chord or you can flatten it to make an A7b9 chord.

Example 3 Chord Extensions
Altered 9th Chords

Voicing 7th Chords With the Third on Top

I stated previously that there were two ways I was going to voice the 7th chords. The first was with the 7th on top. Now I’m going to make the 3rd the highest note. I’ll play the root and 7th in the same place, but I’ll move the third up an octave, from the third string onto the first string.

Example 4 Chord Extensions
7th Chords: Root, 7th & 3rd

11th Chords

In these voicings the 3rd string is not being used. So I can add a chord extension to the 3rd string. An obvious one to use is an 11th, because it sits comfortably in these chord shapes.

The natural 11th sounds good in a minor 7th chord. But, it doesn’t work so well on chords with major 3rds. So, for the major 7th chord I’ll add a sharpened 11th, which creates a lydian sound.

The sharpened 11th also works well on the dominant and minor 7th chords, and in these cases the sharpened 11th can also be described as a flattened 5th. So, I can create four new voicings by adding either a sharp or natural 11th to the 3rd string.

Example 5 Chord Extensions
11th Chord Voicings: Root, 11th, 7th, 3rd

Chord Voicings for 5 String and 6 String Bass

All the voicings I’ve played so  far can be played on 4 string bass. However, more strings means more potential chord voicings so I’m going to look at some voicings that will only work on 5 and 6 string basses.

First I’m going to take a couple of the 11th chords from the previous examples, and move the 11th up one octave. So, in the following voicings the 11th is the top note above the 3rd.

Example 6 Chord Extensions
11th Chords: Root, 7th, 3rd & 11th

13th Chords

Finally I’m going to look at some voicings for 13th chords. The 13th is basically the same as a major 6th which is a note that can work on major, minor and dominant chords.

The voicings below are all dominant 13th chords. In each voicing the 13th is played as the highest note on the 1st string. It can be altered by flattening it as I’ve done in the second voicing. And, it can also be combined with the 9th, as I’ve done in the final voicing.

Example 7 Chord Extensions
Dominant Chord Voicings with 13ths

One big benefit of playing chord voicings on a 6 string bass is that you can play multiple chord extensions as I have in the final A13 voicing.

 

 

 

 

Why I Play an Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 22

Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 18th September 2018

I wanted to put out a video where I talk about acoustic bass guitars. What are they for and how to use them? I’ve been playing acoustic bass guitars for more than half of my life and for a long time I struggled to figure out exactly how to get the best out of them. Finally after close to twenty years, I feel like I have a clear idea of how I like to play acoustic bass guitar. And more importantly, why I like use them.

Every Instrument Has it’s Own Identity… Right?

I feel that the acoustic bass guitar hasn’t yet fully found its own identity. Some people like to use it as a way of sounding more like an upright bass, I would never use it for that reason. Partly because I don’t think it sounds very much like an upright bass. But also because I have an upright bass. Conversely, some people play it like it’s an electric bass. But it isn’t either of those things. So, where’s it’s identity as an instrument?

We don’t even seem to have decided what are the best strings to use. Many acoustic basses are sold with bronze coloured strings like an acoustic guitar. But I’ve heard bass players and technicians tell me that they use electric bass strings on their acoustics because they think they work better.

It’s still a fairly young instrument. Its not like the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar. The acoustic guitar has existed much longer than the electric guitar and clearly has a very strong identity of it’s own. But the acoustic bass guitar doesn’t have the same extensive history.

I see people on the internet trying to do original things with acoustic bass guitars. Maybe we’ll look back in twenty or thirty years and we’ll clearly be able to see where the acoustic bass guitar was heading. But for now I see a lot of people trying things. Like the Andy McKee/Newton Faulkner acoustic guitar thing. Where you strike the body of the instrument with your hands to imitate drum and percussion sounds. Which sounds cool but I think it works better on acoustic guitars. Or I see people playing slap bass techniques, which I think work better on electric bass. It all sounds good but I’m not sure it’s where the identity of the instrument lies.

Why I Play Acoustic Bass Guitars?

Because I love having an acoustic instrument that I can express myself on. There’s so much I can do on my acoustic bass guitar that I can’t do on an upright bass. Especially relating to playing chords and arranging solos. You can arrange entire pieces on solo acoustic bass guitar. You can also sing with an acoustic bass guitar.

I would always choose to play mine either on my own or as part of a small group. A duo or probably maximum a trio. I wouldn’t choose to play it as part of a larger group. I just think that the subtleties  get lost. I think that if you’re playing in a larger group you’re probably better off playing electric basses or upright basses.

A big development for me was when I switched to playing a six string acoustic bass. I’ve been playing six string electric basses since I was a teenager. But, I only got this Warwick Alien Deluxe six string acoustic bass guitar about five years ago. I think it’s only in relatively recent years that six string acoustic bass guitars are being manufactured at an affordable price and are good enough quality to perform with.

The Warwick Alien acoustics really are magnificent instruments. They’re well balanced and playable and they don’t cost a fortune.

You can find out more about my Warwick Alien Deluxe here.

Who Else Plays Acoustic Bass Guitars?

One person who I’ve seem playing in a very original style on acoustic bass guitar is the jazz bassist and composer Steve Swallow.

You can check out a performance by his band here.

He started his career as an upright bassist and he switched to electric bass and then acoustic bass guitar. He has a very unique style and he seems to have found a unique use for an acoustic bass guitar. But whether his style will be taken on by others and turned into an identity for the instrument remains to be seen.

Bass and Drums – Playing a Bass Ostinato for a Drum Solo – Bass Practice Diary 21

Playing a Bass Ostinato for a Drum Solo – Bass Practice Diary – 11th September 2018

This week I visited my good friend Lewis Davies at his studio in South London. We spent the afternoon practising, just bass and drums. At the end I shot some videos to show what we were working on. One of the things we practised was playing a bass ostinato through a drum solo.

What’s an Ostinato

An ostinato is simply a repeating musical phrase, a bit like a riff. The purpose of playing an ostinato on the bass in this situation, is to hold down a groove while the drummer plays a solo.

The biggest problem with playing solos on either bass or drums, is that it breaks up the groove between the bass and drums. The purpose of the bass ostinato in this situation is for the bass player to take full responsibility for the groove so that the drummer can play a solo without it feeling as if the groove has been lost.

It’s a very high pressure situation for a bass player. The performance entirely depends on your timing and ability to keep the groove going against the potential distractions of a pyrotechnic drum solo. I remember as a young bass player being put in that situation on stage without having practised it. And I found it very uncomfortable. It’s very easy to rely too much on the drummer for the groove when you’re on stage.

Billy Cobham

A lot of drummers like to solo in this way. The composer and jazz musician Billy Cobham is just such a drummer. He writes and arranges his own compositions. So, he writes the kind of bass ostinatos that he wants to play over. I’ve always enjoyed playing Billy Cobham’s bass lines and in many of his arrangements it’s not only the bass player that plays the ostinatos.

The bass ostinato we play at the end of the video is from Billy Cobham’s classic composition Stratus which originally featured on his seminal jazz fusion album Spectrum.

Lewis Davies

Lewis is a good friend of mine and a multi talented man. He’s a music teacher, musician and he makes extremely high quality custom guitars. We met at music college when we were both in our late teens. And we’ve played, performed and practiced together a lot over the years.

Stay tuned for some more videos from our practice session in the next few weeks. And for now you can also check out this video we made together at a similar practice session a couple of years ago.

 

Playing Jazz on Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 20

In a Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington – Jazz Arranged for Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 4th September 2018

I love to play jazz on my basses at home when I get the chance. I usually make my own backing tracks and practice by playing along with them. In this video I’ve laid down the chords of Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood on my acoustic bass guitar and played over the chords on my fretless Warwick Thumb SC.

In a Sentimental Mood

In a Sentimental Mood is one of those great jazz tunes that’s both simple and beautiful. It has a very lyrical melody and some simple but effective chord changes. It was written by Duke Ellington in 1935 and originally performed by his orchestra. But the version that I’ve been listening to was recorded by Duke Ellington with John Coltrane in 1963. I also like Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal rendition of the song, where she sings the melody with just a guitar backing her. I’ve tried to get some of the flavour of both versions in my video. In a Sentimental Mood is also a staple standard of Sonny Rollins sets. He seems to play it a lot and he’s done some wonderful versions of it.

The Basses

The video features two of my favourite basses. The acoustic bass is an Alien Deluxe 6 string acoustic bass guitar. If you’d like to learn more about this bass you can check out my solo arrangement of the jazz standard Autumn Leaves. Or you can check out this demo that I made a few years ago when I first owned the bass.

The Warwick Thumb SC is not only the best fretless bass I’ve ever played, it’s the best bass I’ve ever played. If you’ve seen many of my other videos you’re probably quite familiar with this bass by now. But if you’d like more info, you can find it here.

 

Play Bass Grooves in Odd Meters and Time Signatures – Bass Practice Diary 18

How to Approach Playing Bass in Odd Meters and Time Signatures – Bass Practice Diary – 21st August 2018

This week I’ve been practising playing in odd meters and I want to briefly share my system for playing any unusual time signature. My system revolves around learning and reciting rhythmic phrases rather than counting beats, and if you use it properly it should make playing odd meters no harder than playing in 4/4.

What Are Odd Meters?

he term odd meter simply means any time signature that has an odd number of beats or subdivisions in a bar. Odd meters divide opinion amongst musicians. Some musicians (including me) love them and think they can flow and groove just as well as any groove in 4/4. Others hate playing them.

I want to share an approach that I use to playing odd meters. It’s actually not that different to my approach for playing in any meter, but I think that musicians who are not comfortable playing in odd meters often feel that they have to do something different when playing odd meters. And that might be the root cause of why they struggle with them.

Think About Rhythmic Phrases

What do I mean by rhythmic phrases? Every meter or time signature has a fixed number of subdivisions per bar. Check out my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove if you’d like to learn more about subdivisions and rhythmic structure.

The rhythmic structure of a bass groove comes from how you organise these subdivisions. I’ll use the examples from the video to demonstrate. The first one is in a very unusual time signature 15/16. Which means there are fifteen 16th note subdivisions in every bar.

Odd Meter Bassline in 15/16
Odd Meter Bassline in 15/16

The Method

In this example I’ve arranged the fifteen subdivisions into three groups of four and one group of three.

4+4+4+3=15.

If you’ve read my book or followed some of my previous videos you’ll know that I like to use Indian Konnakol syllables to recite rhythms. The syllables for a group of four subdivisions are Ta-Ka-Di-Mi and the syllables for a group of three subdivisions are Ta-Ki-Ta.

So, the rhythmic phrase for the above example is as follows.

Ta-Ka-Di-Mi     Ta-Ka-Di-Mi     Ta-Ka-Di-Mi     Ta-Ki-Ta

It’s actually a very simple rhythmic phrase, even thought the time signature 15/16 might make you think of something very complex.

An even more simple arrangement of fifteen subdivisions would be five Ta-Ki-Ta’s. This creates the feel of a 5/4 shuffle.

Odd Meter 5/4 Shuffle
Odd Meter 5/4 Shuffle

How Can You Apply This System in Any Time Signature?

This idea can and should be applied to any groove in any time signature. Including the obvious ones like 4/4. It’s not always easy because there are much more complex rhythmic structures than the examples above. But the key is to understand firstly, what is the subdivision (8th notes, 16th notes, triplets etc.) and secondly how many are there in each bar.

Once you know the answer to those two questions you can work out rhythmic structures using basic maths and Konnakol.

Here are some more examples I’ve come up with for the purposes of demonstration. The first one is in 3/4.

Odd Meter 3/4 Example
Odd Meter 3/4 Example

3/4 is often not thought of as an odd meter because it’s been a fairly common time signature for hundreds of years. It crops up regularly in classical music and jazz as waltzes. But as you can see from my example. It doesn’t have to have a waltz feel. The addition of 16th note subdivisions changes the feel entirely.

Here’s another example in 5/4. This also has a 16th note feel and the rhythmic structure is slightly more complex than the previous examples.

Odd Meter 5/4 with a 16th note feel
Odd Meter 5/4 Bassline with a 16th Note Feel

The final example in the video features a more relaxed 8th note feel on a 7/4 time signature.

Odd Meter 7/4 Bassline
Odd Meter 7/4 Bassline

How to Practice Odd Meters

I would suggest practising this in three stages. You don’t need an instrument until the third stage.

The first stage is to work out your own rhythmic phrases. Pick a meter that you want to practice and work out rhythmic phrases that contain the correct number of subdivisions. An old fashioned pen and paper might be the best way of doing this.

Next, recite the rhythmic structures using Konnakol (or whatever system you prefer). My application of Konnakol involves using Da for one subdivision, Ta-Ka for two, Ta-Ki-Ta for three and Ta-Ka-Di-Mi for four. For more subdivisions you can just combine syllables. For example five could be Ta-Ki-Ta Ta-Ka. Six Could be two Ta-Ki-Ta’s and seven could be Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ki-Ta etc.

The final stage is playing your rhythmic phrases on your bass!

Practice Playing Rhythmic Variations – Bass Practice Diary 16

How to Vary the Rhythm of Your Bass Grooves – Bass Practice Diary – 7th August 2018

In this week’s video practice diary I’ve been thinking about how to practice rhythmic variations. As bass players we often find ourselves playing repetitive grooves with static harmony. You can make those static grooves more interesting by playing subtle rhythmic variations. Here is how I would practice that.

We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve played a bass groove for a period of time. And during that period of time we’ve started to feel that it’s getting boring, not just for us but for the audience listening to us. It’s a dilemma, because if you change the groove too much it can affect the band and the performance in ways that might not be appreciated. So the key in that situation is to come up with subtle variations. They may be so subtle that your audience doesn’t consciously notice them, but they will still add to a feeling of movement and flow in the music that will prevent it from becoming boring.

How Do You Come Up With Rhythmic Variations?

It’s easy to say that the answer is to come up with subtle variations, but it’s harder to achieve it without becoming repetitive. So I’ve come up with this system for coming up with as many potential rhythmic variations as you can.

You need to start with a groove. You can come up with one of your own or you can use one that you know. I’ve come up with my own in the video to avoid copyright complications. But I did think about doing the video with a famous bass line to help illustrate the idea.

Here is the bass line I’ve used in the video.

Bass Groove for Rhythmic Variations
Bass Groove for Rhythmic Variations

The next stage of my process was to come up with a rhythmic variation. I restricted myself to only changing the rhythm of two notes. Because I want my variations to be subtle. I’m not trying to change the whole groove. The variations should sound organic and fit in with the original feel.

The Variations

Here is my first variation.

First Rhythmic Variation
First Rhythmic Variation

The last note of the first bar has been moved one sixteenth note later. And the third note of the second bar has been moved one sixteenth note earlier.

If you’re not sure what I mean then check out my lessons on rhythmic subdivisions and eighth and sixteenth note bass grooves.

I then came up with two more variations, I allowed myself to add individual notes and move notes by a single subdivision. But not many because I’m still trying to keep the core elements of the groove.

Here are variations two and three.

Rhythmic Variation Example 3
Second Rhythmic Variation
hythmic Variation Example 4
Third Rhythmic Variation

Hopefully you can see that this system gives you the potential to come up with a lot of subtle variations for your bass grooves. It even gives you the potential to evolve your grooves into something rhythmically different without ever making an obvious change that an audience would notice.

If the music will allow it, you could keep changing the groove in two places each time you play it. Before long you can build a bass groove that is entirely different without having played an obvious change to the groove.

The Groove With Variations

At the bottom of the page I’ve put the bass groove plus the variations. I’ve demonstrated playing it all together in the video.

When I played it for my wife, who isn’t a musician, she said it sounded good but she couldn’t tell the difference between the variations. That is exactly what I was trying to achieve. Because the variations exist to make the music sound more interesting  without it sounding like I’m changing the groove. An audience will respond positively to rhythmic variation, if it’s done well, but they probably won’t consciously be aware of what it is that sounds good.

Bass Groove and Rhythmic Variations
Bass Groove and Rhythmic Variations

 

9/8 Time Signature Bass Grooves – Bass Practice Diary 14

Learn Basslines in 9/8 Time Signature – Bass Practice Diary – 24 July 2018

This week’s bass practice diary leads on directly from what I was doing last week. I’m writing and recording examples for an upcoming book. Last week I was exploring bass grooves in 6/8 time signature. This week I’m taking a logical next step and looking at bass grooves in 9/8 time signature.

9/8 Time Signature

While 9/8 is a logical next step from 6/8, it also enters a new world of odd meters. However you group the nine eighth notes in each bar you will inevitably end up with an odd number. The most obvious way to divide the bar is into three beats, each subdivided into three eighth notes. This creates the feel of a 3/4 shuffle as I’ve demonstrated in the video.

So, 6/8 and 9/8 can both be related to 3/4 time signature. 6/8 can be played as a straight 3/4, as I demonstrated in this video last week. And 9/8 is most commonly played as a 3/4 shuffle. You can also think of a jazz waltz as being 9/8.

Odd Meters and Time Signatures

I know that the subject of odd meters can divide opinion amongst musicians. Personally, I find odd meters fascinating and I love to play in odd meters. Technically, an odd meter is any time signature with an odd number of beats in a bar. So 3/4 and 9/8 are both odd meters, and technically 6/8 isn’t an odd meter. However, the term odd meters tends to get attached to any time signature that isn’t commonly used. We tend to not think of 3/4 as an odd meter because it’s fairly common. But an unusual meter like 10/4, for example, would usually be categorised as an odd meter, even though it technically isn’t one.

I’ve also come across an attitude from some musicians, that they think odd meters only belong in “prog rock” and “fusion”. Prog and fusion are considered dirty words by many musicians, and my own odd meter influences certainly don’t come from prog rock.

The term “fusion” is one that I don’t like to use. If you think about it, virtually all music is a fusion of different influences. Certainly jazz is a fusion of many different styles and musical cultures. Too often I hear the label “fusion” attached to music as a way of putting it down. Somehow implying that it’s not pure. Particularly within the jazz world.

9/8 in Jazz and Indian Music

My interest in odd meters comes mostly from having studied jazz and Indian music. A great example of 9/8 being used in jazz, is the Dave Brubeck composition Blue Rondo a La TurkWhat sounds like a very complex rhythm when you first listen to it, is actually quite simple. The melody is based around a rhythmic phrase where the nine eighth notes are arranged into three 2’s and a 3. I would recite the rhythm Ta-ka, Ta-Ka, Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta. After the theme, Blue Rondo a La Turk moves into a jazz swing feel, which highlights the connection between these types of rhythmic phrases and the jazz swing feel.

In Indian music, a Tala, which is a beat cycle can contain 3, 5, 7 and 9 beats or even 11 or 13. The Indian approach to odd meters has crossed over into Western music many times in the last fifty years. In jazz through musicians such as John McLaughlin and Trilok Guru and even in pop music. An example is All You Need is Love by the Beatles, who were heavily influenced by the Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.

How to Groove in 9/8

I’m trying to find ways of grooving in 9/8 time signature, that move away from a straight forward 3/4 shuffle. I’ve included three examples in the video. The first two use the standard 3/4 shuffle feel. But in both examples the feel is slightly subverted by rhythmic variations.

This first example uses a 3/4 shuffle feel in bar 1. But the second bar has a rhythmic variation. The rhythm in bar 2 is the same rhythmic phrase as Blue Rondo a La Turk.

9/8 Time Signature Bass Groove Example 1
9/8 Time Signature Bass Groove Example 1

Example 2 stretches the shuffle feel even further.

9/8 Time Signature Bass Groove Example 2
9/8 Time Signature Bass Groove Example 2

In Example 3 I’ve moved away from the shuffle feel altogether. There’s no doubt that this example has much more of a feel of an odd meter, which some people will like and others won’t. I really like this bass groove, and I’ve combined it with some gospel style harmonies which I think makes a really interesting juxtaposition.

9/8 Time Signature Bass Groove Example 3
9/8 Time Signature Bass Groove Example 3

My Composition in 9/8 Time Signature

At the end of the video I’ve included a composition of my own. It is as yet un-named and un-released. It’s only a demo really. It’s one of many compositions I have compiled over the last ten years or more. Hopefully one day I’ll re-record it with a full band and release it. But for now I hope it can give you an idea of how these ideas can be applied to composing.