Bass Practice Diary is One Year Old – 23rd April 2019
A year ago I decided to start documenting my bass practice by picking one thing that I was working each week and making a short video about it.
As a music teacher, I believe that if you want to keep improving your musicianship, then it’s essential that you keep finding new things to practice. It seems to me that a lot of people get stuck in the same practice routines, practicing the same things. And then they wonder why their playing isn’t progressing in the way that they want it to.
What I’m trying to show, is that there is an almost unlimited number of different things to practice. And many different ways that you can practice them.
I release the videos every Tuesday. And I haven’t missed a week in the whole year. So there are currently over 50 videos. All available for free without subscription.
If you would like to follow my free videos each week then you can always find them here on JohnnyCoxMusic.com. And if you subscribe to my Youtube channel and click on the bell icon, then you should be alerted each week when my videos are uploaded. You can also follow me on my Facebook page Johnny Cox Music. And you can find me on Instagram @johnny.cox.music
The Altered Scale – Bass Practice Diary – 16th April 2019
Jazz musicians love to play on dominant 7th chords. And the altered scale is a really important scale to practice if you want to create a jazz sound when playing on these 7th chords. I think that using the altered scale is often perceived as “advanced” harmony. But, as with most things, it’s easy when you understand it. So, here’s my very quick guide to using the altered scale on bass.
What is the altered scale?
The altered scale is a mode of the melodic minor scale. Meaning that it contains all of the same intervals as a melodic minor scale. The altered scale is essentially what you get when you play a melodic minor scale starting finishing on the 7th note of the scale.
So, what’s a melodic minor scale? It’s basically only one note different from a major scale. If you take a major scale and change the major 3rd to a minor 3rd, you have a melodic minor scale.
Here’s the notes of an F major scale.
And here are the notes of an F melodic minor scale.
Notice that the only difference is the third note. It’s an A natural in the major scale and an Ab in the melodic minor.
If you play the notes of an F melodic minor scale but use E (the 7th note) as the root note. You would be playing an E altered scale.
When you think about the notes of the F melodic minor with an E as the root note, it creates these interval relationships to the root note.
The 3rd of E7 would, of course, be written as G# not Ab. But the altered scale creates some interesting theoretical anomalies like that. Because the major 3rd note (Ab/G#) is actually the 4th note of the scale.
How do you use the altered scale?
As I mentioned at the start, the altered scale works really well on dominant 7th chords. You can think of the altered scale as being a kind of extended dominant 7th arpeggio with lots of chromatic alterations.
The scale includes the root, major 3rd and dominant 7th notes which are the fundamental ingredients of a dominant 7th arpeggio. But the other four notes are all chromatic alterations of some kind. Hence why it’s called the altered scale.
You can alter chord tones and extensions by moving them one semi-tone up or down. The 5th of E7 is B natural, but in the altered scale the 5th has been flattened to Bb. So the altered scale could be used on an E7b5 chord.
The 9th can be altered by sharpening or flattening it. The altered scale uses both alterations. So you could use it on an E7b9 or an E7#9 chord. The final alteration is a b13.
So you can use the altered scale to play on any of these altered dominant chord types. And you will sometimes see the chord symbol E7alt. Which implies a chord that could include any or all of these alterations.
So if you want to start using this altered dominant sound on your dominant 7th chords. Then start to think about using a melodic minor scale that starts one semi-tone above the root of the chord. So, if you’re playing on a D7 chord, think Eb melodic minor. For A7, thing Bb melodic minor, for G7 think Ab melodic minor, for B7 think C melodic minor etc.
Play Bass on Sus Chords (Suspended Chords) – Bass Practice Diary – 12th March 2019
Sus chords or suspended chords create a really cool modern sound. Last week I put out a video of a bassline I’d written on four sus chords. This week I want to explain a little bit of the theory behind my approach to playing on these types of chords.
What is a suspended chord?
I think there is often confusion over what the term suspended actually means when it relates to music. A suspended chord is simply a chord that doesn’t contain a third. A basic musical triad (three note chord) usually contains a root, a third and a fifth. And it’s the third that defines the chord as being either major or minor.
Suspended chords don’t use the third. The third is usually replaced by a fourth (sus4) or a second (sus2). Therefore they’re not major or minor chords. They need a different name, and that name is suspended. The name itself doesn’t really tell you anything important about the nature of the chords or how to play on them, so most musicians usually abbreviate and call them sus chords.
How do you play on sus chords?
Personally, I take a jazz approach to playing on sus chords. A basic sus4 or sus2 chord (like the kind you might find in a pop song) is all very well. But for me these chords get really interesting when you start extending them, creating richer fuller harmonies and chord voicings.
When I’m playing bass on sus chords, I like use the notes of a major 9th chord or arpeggio. But I think of the root note of the sus chord as being the 9th of the major arpeggio.
So, for example, G is the 9th of F major. So I can think of a Gsus chord as being an inverted Fmaj9 chord with the 9th becoming the root.
If you think of the notes of an Fmaj9 chord with the root G, then the chord tones are root, 2nd (9th), 4th, 6th (13th) and b7th (dominant 7th). So you can think of my Gsus chord as being a G7sus4 chord with a 9th and a 13th added as chord extensions. However, I would simply think of it as Gsus and the chord extensions are there at the discretion of the musicians voicing the chords.
More sus chord arpeggios
These kind of extended sus chords create a really cool modern jazz sound. I think they’re cool because they aren’t major or minor, so the sound of them is always a bit of a question mark. Almost like you’re not really sure when you hear them, how they’re supposed to make you feel.
Jazz Fretless Bass Groove on Suspended Chords – Bass Practice Diary – 5th March 2019
This week I’ve been writing original basslines on sus chords. And I’ve featured one of my lines in this video. This is the second time I’ve featured a fretless bass groove in my practice diary, and I’m planning to do many more in a variety of different styles and feels. You can find my first fretless bass groove video here.
When I’m practicing a particular harmony, chord progression or time feel, I like to compose original bass grooves that fit in to what I’m working on. This week I was working on suspended chord sounds. And here is an original bassline I’ve written on four sus chords. Gsus, Bbsus, Dbsus and Esus.
Each chord is two bars, and I’ve written the bass TAB for 4 string fretless bass. I’ll write more about the theory of playing on suspended chords in next week’s practice diary. But for now, this is just a mellow jazzy bassline that you can learn and practice. If you like it!
Quartal Chord Voicings on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 26th February 2019
I haven’t done a video about bass chord voicings for a while. So, this week I’ve decided to practice some of my favourite jazz chords, quartal chord voicings. Quartal harmony is a jazz term which means harmonising chords in intervals of a fourth.
I did a video recently about playing modern jazz lines using 4th intervals. But I thought after making that video that I wasn’t telling the full story about using 4ths in modern jazz. The quartal chord voicings themselves create a very distinctive modern jazz sound. It’s instantly recognisable once you become familiar with the sound.
Chords are traditionally voiced in intervals of a third. Using quartal voicings in jazz became popular in the 1960’s after Miles Davis made quartal chord voicings a feature of his composition So What from the 1959 album Kind of Blue.
Quartal harmony was a sound that then became associated with the great John Coltrane Quartet of the early to mid 1960’s. The chords were supplied by pianist McCoy Tyner, who is synonymous with quartal harmony, and one of my all time favourite jazz pianists.
McCoy Tyner was using these voicings at a time when the Coltrane Quartet was playing a lot of modal jazz. Meaning that there weren’t lots of chord changes. And the emphasis was more on scalic improvisation over static harmony. So What is also a modal jazz piece. So, if you’re looking to apply some of these quartal chord voicings, then modal jazz tunes are a good place to start.
Quartal Harmony on Bass
The bass is setup for playing quartal chord voicings because the strings are tuned in intervals of a fourth. Which is why it amazes me that more bass players don’t use quartal chord voicings. Many of the chord voicings in the video can be played with just one finger. But despite this simplicity, they create a sophisticated jazz harmony sound.
Here is an A major scale harmonised in 4ths.
In the video, I’ve used the open A string as a root note underneath all of these voicings.
When you play this, it doesn’t sound like a typical major scale harmonisation. That’s what’s so great about quartal harmony. You can take simple harmony, like a major scale, and completely change it’s character, without needing to change or add any notes.
It works for all of the modes of the major scale. Here is the Dorian mode harmonised in 4ths.
Applying Quartal Harmony to Jazz
I’ve already mentioned that quartal chord voicings are extremely well suited to modal jazz. If, for example, you’re playing a modal jazz composition with long periods on a minor seventh chord. Like So What or John Coltrane’s Impressions. Then you’re faced with a challenge of how to make just one chord sound interesting.
One solution would be to apply the dorian chord voicings that I’ve written out in the example above. It gives you seven different options for voicings that you could play over a single minor seventh chord (Am7 in the example above). You could use any or all of these voicings to help create a feeling of movement in the otherwise static harmony.
You can apply quartal harmony to virtually any scale or mode. In this next example I’ve applied it to an A harmonic minor scale.
The same chord voicings can also be applied to any of the modes of the harmonic minor scale, which includes the altered scale.
One of the fourth intervals in the harmonic minor scale actually comes out as a major third. So, some of the voicings in the example above are not strictly quartal. Because they mix fourths with a third. But it still creates some interesting sounds and you can do your own experimenting to decide which of the voicings are useful.
John Coltrane Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 19th February 2019
This week I’m breaking down another jazz lick on bass guitar. And I wanted to take on one of the all time great jazz improvisers, John Coltrane.
So, I was reading through the bass clef John Coltrane Omnibook trying to choose where I should start. And I decided I should start by looking at how he played over what are know as the Coltrane Changes. Or the Coltrane Matrix as it was called when I was taught it at music college.
The Coltrane changes are a sequence of chords that take you through three keys. Each key is a major third away from the previous key. So, the progression always resolves back into the original key. Because an octave divides perfectly into three major thirds.
John Coltrane used this progression as a substitution for a standard II – V – I progression. Coltrane used this substitution in his composition Countdown from the Giant Steps album. The Countdown chord progression is a reharmonisation of the jazz standard Tune Up.
The Lick Arranged for Bass
So, I’ve arranged one of John Coltrane’s licks from Countdown for bass guitar. The lick takes place over three bars and encompasses all three key changes. It starts like this.
The first chord, Cm7, is chord II in the key of Bb major. If you’re going to analyse the first two notes in terms of their relationship to the chord then they would be 5th and 11th. But I feel like in this case, Coltrane was just using two notes from the key of Bb major to lead into the new key. Which is why I haven’t written 5th and 11th above the notes.
The Db7 chord is chord V in the new key, Gb major. From this point on, it’s really interesting to see how many chord tones John Coltrane uses in his line. So I’ve written the chord tone relationships above the notes. Here’s the second bar.
In this bar, the key changes from Gb major to D major (A7). You’ll notice that virtually every note he uses in this lick is either root, third, fifth, seventh or ninth. The only note that isn’t in this bar is the Ab passing note between the root and seventh of the A7 chord.
Using Chord Tones
His approach might seem quite simplistic on the face of it. It would certainly seem like a simplistic way of building lines if you were to apply it to the standard, unaltered II – V – I progression. But, if you look at it in context with the chord progression, it makes complete sense.
He’s using this incredibly cool substitution, which features constantly moving harmony. And he wants his line to reflect the substituted harmony. If he filled his line with chromatic alterations and extensions, then the underlying chord progression could quickly become unrecognisable. Here’s bar three.
In this bar the key returns to the original Bb major (F7). The pattern used on the Dmaj7 chord is very typical of the 1, 2, 3, 5 patterns that Coltrane loved to use around this period. Which is why I’ve put 2nd in brackets next to the 9th, E. Here is the full lick.
John Coltrane Improvisation Style
Analysing these licks is like getting a lesson in jazz improvisation from one of the masters. This lick is very typical off what John Coltrane was playing in the late 1950’s. But, during his career he went through several different stages. Each featuring a different approach to improvising. So I have no doubt that I will be analysing more Coltrane licks in the near future from different stages of his career.
Playing lines in 4th intervals is a very popular sound modern jazz. It’s a very distinctive sound. And once you’ve incorporated it into your playing, you’ll start to recognise when you hear other musicians using it. This video features an exercise that I’ve written to help you incorporate this sound in your playing.
There are two obvious ways to play 4ths on bass guitar. I believe that if you’re going to be able to come up with basslines in 4ths, then you need to practice and use both ways.
The first way is the easy way. You go from any fretted note to the same fret on an adjacent string. The bass is tuned in 4ths. So, as long as you stick to the same fret, you’ll be playing a 4th. This is very simple and you can apply this to playing scales and harmonies. Here is a G major scale played in intervals of a 4th.
This way of playing 4ths is so simple, that it can lead to some bass players ignoring the slightly more complicated way of playing 4ths. Which is by shifting position up five frets on a single string. Like this.
I think that this element of shifting position, is essential if you’re going to create musical lines in 4ths. If you only use the first, easier technique, then you’ll very quickly find that you’re stuck in one position on the bass neck. And as a result, it will massively limit your ability to come up with musical lines.
The 4ths Exercise
So I’ve written this exercise, which is designed to help you practice playing 4ths in both ways.
I’ve written it in the key of A major. But, if you want to master it, please practice it in any and every key. The concept is simple. It starts with a position shift from the A on the 5th fret of the E string to the D on the 10th fret. Then you play a 4th interval from the B on the 7th fret to the E on the 7th fret of the A string.
So it immediately uses both ways of playing 4ths. Then it repeats the same pattern all the way up the neck until you can’t go any further. And then you play everything the same way in reverse.
Once you’ve got used to playing lines in 4ths, start to listen to listen out for the sound of 4ths in other musicians lines. Listen to players like Evan Marien, he’s a brilliant bass player that loves the sound of 4ths in his basslines.
Jaco Pastorius Jazz Lick – Bass Practice Diary – 5th February 2019
This week I’m featuring a lick from Jaco Pastorius’ solo on (Used to be a) Cha Cha from his debut album. It’s one of my favourite Jaco solo’s because it contains incredible melodic jazz lines like the one I’ve featured in the video. Here’s the lick!
Several things stand out to me about this lick. It’s very fast, it takes place over moving harmony, Eb major to D minor and it includes an odd meter bar. I don’t know for sure that he improvised the line, but I believe that he did. And to improvise a line at that speed over moving harmony and an odd meter bar is extraordinary. That solo is one of many moments from that album that really underline why Jaco was such a genius and why his legacy has been so long lasting on the bass guitar.
Bass Guitar Chords – Right-Hand Tapping Chord Extensions – Bass Practice Diary – 29th January 2019
Tapping notes with your right hand is a great way to extend your bass chords. I’ve seen lots of bassists do this, particularly in solos. It’s not as difficult as it looks and it works really well for playing extended harmonies. Even on a 4 string bass where it’s often hard to voice extended chords with just your left hand.
Bass Guitar Chords
This isn’t my first video about playing chords on the bass. So, if you’re new to this, then I’d highly recommend checking out some of my previous videos. Like this one, which is the first of a four part video I did on bass guitar chords.
This video features a different approach to playing jazz chord extensions. By tapping the extensions with your right hand. Using this technique, you can really open up your chord voicings by playing harmonies in a completely different register to the notes you’re playing with your left hand.
I should start by saying that my tapping technique is basic. I don’t use tapping techniques a lot. In fact, these types of chords are pretty much the only places where I will use my right hand to tap chords. But I think that’s also the case for most bass players. Right-hand tapping is rarely a first choice technique for bassists, it’s an added extra that you can use on solos.
Having said that. I know that there are musicians for whom tapping is there principle technique, and they have much more advanced techniques using four fingers on their right hand, just like their left. My basic tapping technique involves hammering on, sliding and pulling off notes with my index, middle and ring fingers on my right hand. It’s all I need for what I do.
Diatonic triads are just basic major and minor chords that you find in every key. (You could also include diminished and augmented triads but I’m just using major and minor here). The first four chords, in the key of D major are D, Em, F#m and G. Here is how I have voiced those chords with my left hand in this video.
These triads form the basic chords onto which I can add my chord extensions with my right hand. With each chord, I start by playing each triad, plucking the strings with my right hand, Thumb plays 4th string, index plays 3rd string, middle plays 2nd string and ring finger plays 1st string. Or p, i, m, a, to use classical guitar terminology. None of these notes are tapped, they are fretted with the left hand in traditional style.
Start by adding chord extensions on just one chord. In this example I’ve added a major 7th to the D major triad making it a Dmaj7. The 7th is the only note tapped by the right hand.
Make sure you tap the note onto the 18th fret. If you tap in between the 17th and 18th fret, it won’t sound as clear.
In this next example, I’ve tapped a 9th, E, and slid the note up to the major third F#.
In this third example I’ve included the major 7th and the 9th.
Right-Hand Tapping Exercise
Once you’ve got used to the technique, try playing this exercise.
There’s quite a lot going on here, so I won’t write an exhaustive analysis. But here’s a quick guide.
Over the D triad I’m tapping major 7th, 6th, #11th and 9th. On the E minor I’m adding minor 7th, 11th and 9th. On the F# minor I’ve used minor 6th, minor 7th and b9th and on the G major triad I’ve played similar extensions to the D major. Major 6th, 9th, major7th and #11th.
The term artificial harmonics relates to various techniques where you use your right hand alone to play the harmonics. Artificial harmonics are more difficult to achieve than natural harmonics because you need to do two things at the same time with your right hand. In this post I’m going to look at three different techniques.
The Jaco Pastorius Technique
Many bass players, myself included, discovered artificial harmonics through listening to Jaco Pastorius. I remember as a teenager listening to Weather Report’s tune Birdland and wondering how the introduction could possibly be played on a bass. I was already familiar with natural harmonics. But Jaco seemed to be playing melodies and bending notes with the fluency of a guitar player.
The secret was, that he was using his right-hand thumb to touch the strings lightly, while his right-hand fingers were plucking the notes. And, at the same time, he was fretting notes with his left hand and imitating the phrasing of a guitarist bending strings by sliding the notes on his fretless bass. A lot of things going on at the same time!
It was Jaco’s technique that I was trying to copy when I first started playing artificial harmonics. But that was only until I found a technique which I found worked much better for me and the way I wanted to play. I haven’t used the Jaco technique in well over 10 years now.
The Steve Bailey Technique
After hearing Jaco, the first time that I saw a bass player doing something significantly different with artificial harmonics was on a DVD called Bass Extremes Live.
I’m sure many of you are already familiar with Victor Wooten and Steve Bailey’s incredible bass duets. But at the time I first saw that film, I knew all about Victor Wooten, but I didn’t know Steve Bailey.
Steve Bailey was making incredible arrangements using artificial harmonics on a six string fretless bass. He was playing chords using bass notes and harmonics played simultaneously, which seemed impossible, even to someone who was already well familiar with Jaco Pastorius’ repertoire.
The Steve Bailey technique involves straightening your index finger on your right hand. And using it to lightly touch the string. Then you can use your third finger to pluck the string at the same time. Meanwhile, your right-hand thumb can be used to play bass notes.
Once I’d learned this technique I never went back to the Jaco technique. Because I found that I could play everything that I was doing before with the Steve Bailey technique but I could also play chords using artificial harmonics. I don’t want to get into a debate about which technique is better or worse. We’re all individuals and Jaco’s technique worked for Jaco and Steve Bailey’s technique works for him. And personally I’ve found that Steve Bailey’s technique works for me as well.
My Own Experiments with Artificial Harmonics
Recently I made a video which I called Improvisation on Three Basses. The idea for that video came because I was playing the chords of Miles Davis’ tune Flamenco Sketches using an artificial harmonics technique that I’ve seen used by guitarists like Ted Greene and Tommy Emmanuel. But I’ve never seen it used by a bass player.
I was wondering if I could adapt it to playing chords on a bass guitar. So I tried out playing one of my favourite chord progressions. I was amazed by how well it worked. And it led me to wonder why I haven’t seen it done before.
The technique involves using your index finger to touch the string. Then plucking the same string with your thumb and then using your third finger to play notes on other strings.
Here is the exercise that I wrote and played in the video using this technique.
This is an extended version of the same idea. It uses a chord progression that starts with an Emaj7#11 then F#m11 and G#m11.