Tag Archives: bass practice diary

Practice Playing on Jazz Chord Progressions – Bass Practice Diary 66

How to Practice Playing on Difficult Jazz Chord Progressions – Bass Practice Diary – 23rd July 2019

Last week I was practicing Herbie Hancock’s classic composition Dolphin Dance. Which features a unique and quite complicated set of chord changes to improvise on. So, this week I wanted to share my approach to practising playing on tricky jazz chord progressions like this one.

A good starting point for practicing anything difficult is always to start slowly and practice in short sections. And that’s particularly true in this case. Dolphin Dance has quite a long form for a jazz standard. Anything over 32 Bars is unusual. But even a 32 bar standard would usually have repeated sections. Dolphin Dance has hardly any repetition within the harmonic structure, so it does feel like a lot to learn.

How I Use Backing Tracks

When I break a standard down into sections, I will usually practice in 4-8 bar sections. Generally I will create my own backing tracks, either using a loop pedal or by recording piano chords in to Protools. These backing tracks can be very basic. They only need to be good enough to keep the form and the structure. The advantage of creating my own backing tracks is that I can set the exact harmony and tempo that I want to practice. There may be apps that now exist that can do this for you, but I will always prefer to do it myself.

The problem with most commercially available backing tracks is that they usually only feature the entire form played at one tempo. Which makes it harder to practice slowly and in short sections. I do use commercial backing tracks and backing tracks from the internet. But with a tricky tune like Dolphin Dance, I’ll only uses them when I feel ready to take on the entire form after practising with my own backing tracks first.

Write Out Examples

When I’m practising in short sections, I will particularly focus on the most tricky sections of the harmony. In the video I’ve picked out one of the more unusual harmonic sections of Dolphin Dance. The section begins with an Eb7 chord before immediately changing key into G major with a II – V. Then it goes to a Bm7 chord, which could be chord III in G major but that’s followed by an E7 chord so that implies a II – V in A major. But the E7 is followed by Dm7 which doesn’t belong in either G or A major and that’s followed by C#m7 which is chord II in B major.

So, the harmony is jumping around which will keep you on your toes when you’re improvising. I think if you’re going to learn how to improvise melodically on a progression like this, then it really helps to write some ideas down. I usually do this by trying to come up with a melody or rhythmic phrase that I can hear in my head, and then trying to see if I can make that melody fit through the harmony. This might involve making chromatic adjustments to help the phrase fit in with the harmony.

In the video I featured three examples, and here they are.

Dolphin Dance - Short Melodic Jazz Improvisation Examples
Dolphin Dance – Short Melodic Jazz Improvisation Examples

Augmented/Whole Tone Symmetrical Jazz Bass Exercise – Bass Practice Diary 64

Augmented & Whole Tone Symmetrical Jazz Bass Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 9th July 2019

This week I’ve been practising symmetrical jazz bass exercises. Symmetrical means anything that uses the same repeating intervals over and over. For example diminished chords are symmetrical because they use only intervals of a minor 3rd. And in this video I’m using augmented triads (major 3rds) and the whole tone scale (major 2nds).

Why practice symmetrical exercises?

I was first turned onto the idea of practicing symmetrical exercises years ago when I first ready Ray Brown’s Bass Method. For those of you who don’t know, Ray Brown was a pioneering jazz upright bass player. And he is famed as an innovator of using the upright bass for playing bop style bass solos. So his book gives a great insight into how he thinks.

But he doesn’t use a lot of words, it’s mostly just exercises and there are many of them. There are pages and pages of symmetrical exercises and all he tells us is that we should practice them alongside scales because they’re extremely useful for playing jazz vocabulary. But he doesn’t explain why, and it took me a while to fully appreciate just how useful these exercises are.

First of all, the fact that these exercises are symmetrical means that they work over a number of different chords, not just one. In the video I’m using dominant 7th chords as an example. If you use an exercise to harmonise a dominant 7th chord. And every interval in the exercise is the same. Then logically you can use the same exercise to harmonise different dominant 7th chords starting with a root note on every single note in the exercise.

The augmented/whole tone exercise

The exercise in the video is built around the whole tone scale starting and finishing on C. It has six notes in it, C, D, E, F#, Ab and Bb. And the six notes are harmonised into two augmented triads, C, E & Ab and D, F# & Bb. These notes can be used to harmonise the following dominant 7th chords. C7, D7, E7, F#7/Gb7, G#7/Ab7 and A#7/Bb7. The scale will create the intervals root, 9th, maj 3rd, #11th, b13th and dominant 7th. Three chord tones (R, 3rd, 7th), one unaltered extension (9th) and two altered extensions (#11, b13).

Augmented Whole Tone Bass Symmetrical Exercise
Augmented Whole Tone Bass Symmetrical Exercise

Jaco Fingerstyle Funk Lines – Bass Practice Diary 63

Jaco Pastorius Fingerstyle Funk Lines – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd July 2019

This week I’ve been practicing playing Jaco style fingerstyle funk lines by using a book of his transcriptions called The Essential Jaco Pastorius. I particularly wanted to study the way he improvises funky fingerstyle bass lines. Which is why I read through this passage. It’s played on a Bb7 chord towards the end of his composition Opus Pocus from his self titled debut album. I haven’t included any TAB this time because I don’t want to infringe the copyright of the book. But if you’d like to see some analysis of a Jaco line with bass TAB then check out this video.

Practising with transcriptions

If you’ve followed my Bass Practice Diary regularly you will probably know by now that I love to practice playing transcriptions of great musicians. Sometimes I transcribe the music myself and sometimes, like this week, I work from books of transcriptions. I truly believe that practicing transcriptions is one of the best ways you can practice the bass or any other instrument. Playing a Jaco Pastorius transcription is like getting a lesson from the master himself. What better way is there to get inside his brilliant mind than by playing his own lines.

I’ve often found that great musicians are often not great teachers. Jaco is probably a good example of this phenomena. Most of you are probably familiar with his Modern Electric Bass instructional video from the 1980’s. There is some good stuff in it. But I would say that you will learn much more by transcribing his music than by listening to what he says. Jaco is a very natural musician. And I’ve noticed that most natural musicians don’t make the best teachers. Because they often can’t explain what it is they do in a way that people can understand. There are exceptions to that. Victor Wooten is both a great natural musician and a great teacher. Because he’s taken the time to break down what he does and distill it in an understandable way.

Whatever great musician you want to learn from, you can have a one to one lesson from a master, when you start transcribing their music. Or, for a little bit more money, you can buy a transcription book. Which now exist for many great musicians on a wide variety of instruments and styles.

The Bass Clef Real Book – Bass Practice Diary 62

Using the Bass Clef Real Book – Melody and Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 25th June 2019

Jazz musicians love to practice with Real Books. And most Real Books are now available in bass clef editions. I have several different editions of bass clef Real Books, such as this one. And in this video I’m demonstrating a system of practicing with the Bass Clef Real Book that combines playing melodies with bass notes. I’ve seen guitarists using this system but it’s not often used by bass players.

What are Real Books?

Real Books are big books filled with hundreds of jazz tunes and standards. The arrangements are mostly written very simply as just a single melody line with chord symbols written above. Some of the tunes have little bits of additional arrangement written in, such as a bass line or harmony. But mostly they just distill each tune down to the simplest structure of melody and chords. The concept was created so that jazz musicians could use a standardised melody and chord progression for each tune when playing them at jam sessions.

How can you use Real Books when you practice?

There are a few different ways that you can use Real Books when you practice. The obvious one is for learning the melody and chords of famous jazz tunes. And they’re also good for sight reading practice. There are a wide range of jazz tunes in most Real Books, everything from slow simple ones to fast complicated Bebop lines. So there should be something to practice, no matter what your reading level is. You could also practice improvising on the tunes with the addition of play along backing tracks.

But this week I’ve been trying something different with my Real Books. Instead of just reading the melodies alone, I’ve been trying to include the root notes of the chords, to make a simple solo arrangement of each tune. This is a concept that I’ve heard jazz guitarists like Julian Lage and Martin Taylor talk about.

The idea is that it helps you to learn the tunes by boiling them down to the fundamentals of melody and bass. So rather than thinking about chord changes (which jazz musicians do a lot) you are thinking more about how does the melody interact with the simple bass line root movement.

I’ve only recently started doing this, but here is a transcription of one of my early attempts. The tune is All of You by Cole Porter.

Bass Clef Real Book
All of You – Melody and Bass page 1
All of You - Melody and Bass page 2
All of You – Melody and Bass page 2

Triads Exercise on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 60

Triads Exercise on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 11th June 2019

This is a triads exercise that I’ve adapted onto bass guitar from something that I saw the guitarist Pat Metheny play. The original version of the exercise came from this video.

He doesn’t start playing the triads until about 3 minutes into the video. And it isn’t clear if he’s improvising or playing an exercise that he’s previously practiced. But I thought it sounded great and it looked like a great way to practice triads and their inversions. So I adapted a short section of what he played onto my six string bass and I’ve turned it into an exercise.

Triads and their inversions

A triad is a three note chord. The obvious way to arrange a triad in root position is root, third, fifth. Then you can play two inversions, third, fifth, root and fifth, root, third.

But that’s not necessarily the best way to play them on fretted instruments like guitars and basses. In this exercise, when Metheny plays a root position triad, he skips the third and goes straight to the fifth. Then he plays the third up an octave, a tenth above the root note. So using this arrangement, the three inversions of the triads are root, fifth, third. Then third, root, fifth and finally fifth, third, root.

Below is an Ab major triad and a Bb minor triad arranged in this way on four string bass.

Ab major and Bb minor triads
Ab major and Bb minor triads

There are two other common types of triad, diminished and augmented. These are actually much simpler to play because they’re symmetrical. Meaning that they use the same interval over and over. Diminished arpeggios divide the octave up into four minor third intervals and augmented arpeggios divide the octave into three major third intervals. Which is why there are four inversions of the diminished triad below but only three of the augmented triad.

B diminished and C augmented triads
B diminished and C augmented triads

The Exercise

This is the exercise. It mostly uses the major triads and the inversions. But there are a few minor and diminished triads. There are no augmented triads in this exercise. I’ve written the chords on top to help you keep track of which chord you’re playing.

Triads Exercise on Six String Bass
Triads Exercise on Six String Bass

Single String Exercises – Bass Practice Diary 59

Single String Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 4th June 2019

In this week’s video I’m talking about single string exercises. When I practice scales, I don’t really think of them as scales. I think of it as learning harmony. You can relate everything to do with harmony back to scales. And whatever harmonic exercise I’m working on, my goal is always to be able to play it in every position on the fretboard.

Why practice on just one string?

If you’re going to learn to use the entire fretboard then you need to practice by breaking it up into sections. You could do this by taking a modal approach and learning the scale in every position. Or you could take a single string approach by learning all the notes on just one string at a time. The big advantages of the single string approach are that it forces you to think about the notes rather than patterns on the fretboard. And it helps you to practice making the position shifts necessary.

Position shifting is something that I’ve been talking about a lot in my videos lately. Check out my video about using open strings to make smooth accurate position shifts on fretless bass.

G major scale exercise on single strings

When you’re working out a harmony on a single string you need to think about your left hand fingering. Below is a G major scale played on the first string. I’ve included my fingerings for reference.

G major scale single string exercise - 1st string
G major scale single string exercise – 1st string

Every bass is different, so I would recommend practicing these exercises on the usable range of your instrument. If the upper frets are hard to access then just play up to the point where it stops being comfortable to play.

Then repeat these exercises on every string. Here is the G major scale played on the second string.

G major scale single string exercise - 2nd string
G major scale single string exercise – 2nd string

A word about sight reading

Learning harmony in this way is extremely important if you want to improve your sight reading. I think that many bass players who struggle to sight read miss the importance of learning scales all over the fretboard.

Key signatures are extremely important in written music. They tell us the parent scale that we use to read it. If the key signature has one # (sharp), then the parent scale is G major. So, to read the written music successfully you need to be able to visualise the scale on the neck of your bass. Learning the scale in just one position will almost certainly not be enough, unless it’s a very simple piece of music.

Using Open Strings for Position Shifts – Bass Practice Diary 58

Fretless Jazz Lines – Using Open Strings for Position Shifts – Bass Practice Diary – 28th May 2019

This week I’ve been coming up with jazz lines on my fretless bass. But specifically I’ve been trying to use open strings to help me make fast accurate position shifts in these jazz lines. I’ve been inspired to try this after I transcribed a blues solo played by the phenomenal bassist Tom Kennedy in last week’s practice diary video.

I think that one of the best ways to improve as a musician is to work out passages played by great musicians. I often use transcriptions and books written by other people, which are useful tools to use. But I feel that I learn the most when I work it out for myself.

Use open strings to make position shifts

The next challenge, after you’ve worked out a piece of music, is to see what you can take from it and incorporate into your own playing. And the thing that struck me most about Tom Kennedy’s blues solo was the way he was organising his left hand and his use of the open strings.

Can I take some of that and apply it to my own playing? In order to find out, I started writing out jazz lines for my fretless bass that use open strings and position shifts in the way that I’ve seen Tom Kennedy do it.

The theory behind it, is that if you play an open string before you shift position, then that gives you a little bit of extra time to make the shift. And it also gives you a reference note to help you hear if your position shift is accurately in tune. Which is extremely important on fretless bass. It’s a technique that I believe Tom Kennedy has adapted from playing upright bass. But he applies it onto fretted electric bass and he plays jazz lines at ferocious speed.

The fretless jazz lines

My fretless bass is a 6 string. I don’t have another fretless bass because I sold my four string fretless when I bought my 6 string. However, I usually write my TAB’s out for 4 string so that all bass players can use them. So, these three examples are all written for 4 string bass. Even though they’re played on 6 string in the video.

The first one that I played, at the start of the video, is written on the middle eight section of Rhythm Changes. It’s the second most popular chord progression in jazz after Blues changes.

Rhythm Changes Jazz Line with Open Strings
Rhythm Changes Jazz Line with Open Strings

The next line that I shared in the video is meant to be played over the first four bars of Stella By Starlight.

Stella By Starlight Jazz Line with Open Strings
Stella By Starlight Jazz Line with Open Strings

And the final example is over the changes for the first four bars of John Coltrane’s classic composition Moment’s Notice.

Moments Notice Jazz Line with Open Strings
Moment’s Notice Jazz Line with Open Strings

Tom Kennedy Jazz Blues Lines and Techniques – Bass Practice Diary 57

Jazz Blues Lines and Techniques on Bass Guitar from Tom Kennedy Solo – Bass Practice Diary – 21st May 2019

This week I’ve been trying to transcribe some of Tom Kennedy’s lines on a Bb blues I saw him playing on Youtube. In this video I’m looking at one particular Tom Kennedy lick. And I focus on his left hand technique which he seems to have adapted to electric bass from his years of playing the upright bass.

Tom Kennedy Left Hand Technique

The first time I heard Tom Kennedy play was at Ronnie Scott’s in London. It was more than 10 years ago and I’d gone to see the Dave Weckl band. Tom Kennedy was playing electric bass in the band and straight away I pegged him as an upright bass player because of his left hand technique. I don’t play a lot of double bass but I’ve played enough to recognise the technique. And I’ve seen a lot of double bass players playing electric bass over the years so I’ve learned to recognise what they tend to do.

But that’s not the end of the story. The story is that after about 10 or 15 minutes of the first set the band arrived at the first bass solo. And Tom Kennedy played jazz lines with such incredible speed and intensity that it left me questioning everything that I though I knew about electric bass technique. Who would have thought that you could approach the electric bass in that way and yet play so fast. The only other bass player that I can think of who can do that is Christian McBride. (I know that you’re probably thinking John Patitucci but his left hand technique on electric bass is distinctly different to his technique on upright).

So, why does Tom Kennedy’s left hand technique remind me of an upright bassist? He tends to cover just three frets in each position instead of four, playing notes with his first, second and fourth fingers. He likes to play electric bass in the positions around the first four or five frets, even when playing jazz solos. And when he does shift up the neck he tends to shift up and down on the first string.

Jazz Blues Lick

The lick that I featured in the video is played on the II chord Cm7. It goes like this.

Tom Kennedy Lick
Tom Kennedy Lick

I’ve included the bass TAB so you can see exactly how he played the line. If I saw a line like this written down without TAB I would probably play it something like this.

You could argue that my fingering is more consistent with the way that most jazz electric bass players would approach playing a jazz solo line like this. Notice that my fingering doesn’t take me anywhere near the first position. I’ve arranged the whole thing from the 7th fret and above.

But you could also argue that Tom Kennedy’s approach enables him to come up with lines that other electric bass players wouldn’t think of. And at the same time execute them at high speed. His technique also impacts the way he phrases his lines. So they don’t sound like they would if they were played by another bass player (me, for example).

A chorus of Bb Blues played by Tom Kennedy

Here is one full chorus of the solo that I’ve transcribed. I’ve picked a chorus that doesn’t include any of his super fast 1/16th note lines. Because they provide a serious technical challenge for any electric bass player to execute. But playing this chorus from his solo does give you a really interesting insight into how he arranges lines with his left hand.

Tom Kennedy Blues Solo
Tom Kennedy Blues Solo

Find my analysis of a jazz blues lick by another great jazz electric bass player, Jeff Andrews, here!

Rock Bass Groove in 7/4 – Bass Practice Diary 56

Odd Meter Bass Groove – 7/4 Rock Bass Groove with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 14th May 2019

This week I’ve been working on writing play-along pieces for my upcoming book. It will be my second bass book released by Fundamental Changes. The video features a bassline that I wrote for an odd meter rock piece. It’s a rock bass groove in 7/4 time signature. You can find my video guide to playing bass in odd meters here.

7/4 Rock Bass Groove
7/4 Rock Bass Groove

What Are Odd Meters?

The 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.

My approach to playing odd meters is 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. And that might be the root cause of why they struggle to play them.

7/4 is an unusual time signature in rock and pop music but there are famous examples of its use. All You Need is Love by The Beatles, Money by Pink Floyd and Times Like These by the Foo Fighters all contain sections in 7/4.

Pentatonic Exercise – Bass Practice Diary 55

Pentatonic Exercise for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 7th May 2019

This week I’m featuring a pentatonic exercise. The reason that I’ve shared this is to show you how I approach practicing scales, or as I like to think of it harmony. I prefer not to use the word scale because it implies going up and down a pattern of notes. Whereas what I’m trying to achieve is learning how those notes fit all over the fretboard. And then coming up with different ways of playing them.

How to practice scales

When I’m practicing a particular scale or harmony, I like to come up with new and different ways to move the harmony around the fretboard. The example in the video is just one example that I came up with. But in a single practice session I might come up with 5 or 6 different exercises using the same scale and practice them all for a few minutes each.

This works for any scale, arpeggio or melodic pattern. It’s the same process that I use when I’m practicing any harmony. I’ve used the pentatonic scale as an example because it’s simple and most people know it.

The pentatonic scale exercise with bass TAB

Here is the pentatonic exercise for bass written out as I played it in the video. I’ve used the root note G for both examples because the open string works well playing the root note. But you could adapt this exercise for any scale that has a G natural in it.

First, here is the G minor pentatonic exercise.

G Minor Pentatonic Bass Exercise
G Minor Pentatonic Bass Exercise

The exercise is simply a three note pattern that starts with an open string. The open string first string is always the first note of the three note pattern. But the other two notes move up and down the neck on the second and third strings.

The final element of the exercise is a rhythmic element. The three note pattern is played with a 1/16th note feel. Meaning that the emphasis keeps shifting onto a different 1/16th note each time you repeat the three note pattern.

If you’re not sure what a 1/16th note feel means, then check out my guide to 1/8th and 1/16th note feels here.

Finally, here is the same exercise adapted to the G major pentatonic scale.

G Major Pentatonic Bass Exercise
G Major Pentatonic Bass Exercise