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 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.
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.
In this example I’ve arranged the fifteen subdivisions into three groups of four and one group of three.
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.
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.
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.
The final example in the video features a more relaxed 8th note feel on a 7/4 time signature.
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!
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.
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.
Here is my first 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.
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.
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.
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 Turk. What 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.
Example 2 stretches the shuffle feel even further.
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.
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.