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).
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 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.
Hammer Ons and Pull Offs – Left Hand Technique Lesson – Bass Practice Diary – 27 November 2018
Someone asked me recently to do a video with some Hammer Ons and Pull Offs exercises. I don’t usually do videos based on suggestions, but this time I thought it was a good idea. Because practising Hammer Ons and Pull Offs is a great way to improve your Left Hand Technique.
Having said that, I believe that there are a few basic things that you need to get right if you are going to improve your technique by practicing hammer ons and pull offs.
Left Hand Techniques
The first thing is to come up with exercises that use four fingers on your left hand. If you want to play with good technique in your left hand then you need to be able to play evenly between all of your fingers.
I see so many beginner and intermediate bass players favouring certain fingers and trying to avoid other fingers on their left hand. It’s very natural to play like that because when you start, everyone has stronger index and middle fingers than ring finger and little finger. But that’s the reason you practice left hand techniques, in order to overcome that.
If you play hammer ons and pull offs using the same two fingers every time, then you are actually making your left hand technique more uneven when you practice.
So, Rule One of left hand technique is practice with four fingers. The only exception to this is when you are specifically working on strengthening a weak finger. As I demonstrated in the video with my third finger.
The second thing that you need to get right is, when you hammer on, you need to hammer on to the fret and not in between two frets. For example, if you want to play the fifth fret on the first string, you need to hammer onto the fifth fret, not in between the fourth and fifth fret.
You need to be very accurate because if you go even a little bit in front of the fret, you will lose the note. The sound is created by striking the string against the fret. So, if you don’t hammer on accurately then the sound will be weak and quiet.
Many bass players struggle with this because they don’t spread out their fingers on the left hand. If you play with your fingers too close together, you won’t be able to reach the frets with your third and fourth fingers and your hammer ons will be weak.
So, Rule Two is spread you fingers wide and hammer on accurately onto the frets.
The pull off technique is a bit easier. But make sure you don’t just lift your fingers off the strings. You need to excerpt a gentle pull on the string as you pull off. If you don’t, the notes will die out as you repeat the exercises. If you pull too hard, the notes will sound uneven as your pull offs will be much louder than your hammer ons.
When you get the pull off technique right, you should be able to keep all of these exercises going continuously without needing to play any notes with your right hand. The pull off technique is easiest to execute on the first string.
So, Rule Three is practice these exercises on all strings, not just on the first string.
The Hammer On and Pull Off Exercises with Bass TAB
This is the first exercise that I played in the video.
I would recommend that you don’t spend too much time playing the same exercise the same way. You should keep coming up with your own little variations. And try to focus on the things that you find difficult.
If you practice the same exercise too much, you will become very good at playing that one exercise. But if you keep varying the exercise you will eventually become very good at the technique, which is what you want.
Here is the second exercise from the video.
In this example you keep your first finger held down continuously. Now here is a variation in which you hold your second finger down continuously.
Make sure you hold your second finger down on a string that you’re not using. Because you won’t be able to pull off with your first finger if your second finger is held down on the string you’re playing. You can vary this exercise again by holding down your third and then fourth fingers. It gets harder each time.
Rule four is the most important rule, and it should apply to everything you practice. The rule is, focus on timing and not speed. Use a drum beat or a metronome and practice everything you do by playing in time.
Hammer ons and pull offs are relatively easy to play fast, but they’re much harder to play in time, and it’s hard to get all the notes to sound even. So my best recommendation is start slow, play in time, make it even and then gradually increase the tempo.