Tag Archives: bass

Rhythmic Subdivisions on Bass Guitar

If You Want to Improve Your Bass Groove, Try Thinking More About Subdivisions

What are rhythmic subdivisions?

Rhythmic subdivisions exist within all music. They are created by dividing beats into smaller sub-beats. In this video lesson I’ll explain why they’re so important and I’ll give you some tips on how to practise them to improve your bass groove.

Why are they important?

Subdivisions are the key to having great timing on the bass. Rhythms are created by playing notes on subdivisions. If you want your rhythms to be accurate and your bass lines to groove then you must place your notes accurately onto them.

How many different subdivisions are there?

Not as many as you might think. In theory you could divide a beat into any number. However, most music divides beats into either two, three or four. If you can execute these three subdivisions accurately then you will have a great groove in virtually all musical situations.

How can I practise subdivisions?

I’m going to use some examples from my book Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove: The Essential Guide to Mastering Time and Feel on Bass Guitar. The first example features an eighth note subdivision, meaning each beat is subdivided into two.

eighth note subdivisions
Subdividing beats into two

Two is the simplest subdivision,  but this is not a simple rhythm. The rhythm features notes played on the beat and off the beat. In order to play the rhythm accurately you must be aware of which notes are on the beat and which are off the beat. Then you need to have a system for hitting the beats and the off-beats accurately.

If you’ve followed my previous posts then you’re probably already familiar with my system for counting beats and off-beats. I use the syllables Ta-KaTa is the beat and Ka is the off-beat. Try playing the example above slowly while reciting Ta-Ka. Make sure the notes played on the beat land on Ta and the off-beat notes land on Ka. If you’re not sure how to do this, refer to the video where I demonstrate this at 1m53s.

Subdividing into three

Have a look at this example. This is a bass groove with the beat divided into three. Listen to it in the video at 3m21s.

Triplet/shuffle subdivisions
Subdividing beats into three

When you subdivide a beat into three, there’s no longer a conventional off-beat as there is with eighth notes. When you divide a beat into three equal subdivisions you get a beat and two different places where you can place a note off the beat. The notes in this example that look like eighth notes are played with a shuffle feel which is a triplet feel.

The added off-beat subdivisions that you get when you subdivide a beat into three and four means that there are so many potential variations of rhythm, it would be impossible to even give an overview in just a single post. So please check out Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove: The Essential Guide to Mastering Time and Feel on Bass Guitar. In it you will find over 140 audio and written examples featuring these subdivisions played in a variety of styles. There are also five play along pieces featuring subdivisions of two, three and four to help you put this into practise.

Subdividing into four

When you divide a beat into four subdivisions, it creates a sixteenth note feel. Here is an example.

sixteenth note subdivisions
Subdividing beats into four

It may seem odd that this sixteenth note example feels less busy than the previous example that is subdivided into three. You might assume that more subdivisions means more notes, but that isn’t necessarily true.

The example above is a sixteenth note rhythm because there are three notes that can only be played if you divide the beats into four. Therefore you must feel the sixteenth note subdivision all the way through the example in order to really groove.

The most important thing to remember about subdivisions is that you must always feel the smallest subdivision all the way through any piece of music you play. Sometimes that will mean dividing the beats into two (eighth notes) and sometimes into three (triplets) and four sixteenth notes.

Please check out the book, if you want to study subdivisions in more detail. And remember, if you want to improve your bass groove, you need to think more about subdivisions.

3D Cover Image Improve Your Groove
Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove

A Guide to Playing Offbeat Bass Grooves

A Guide to Playing Offbeat Bass Grooves

In this video lesson I’m going to explain why offbeats are so important. What is an offbeat and how can you improve your bass groove by playing them more accurately?

Where’s the one?

It’s a question I often hear when I’m teaching rhythms like the one below. It usually means that the bass line in question either doesn’t accent the first beat of the bar, or in this case, doesn’t play on beat one at all.

Cuban Tumbao Rhythm

Offbeat and On the Beat
Bass Groove based on a Cuban Tumbao Rhythm

The rhythm above is based on the Cuban tumbao rhythm. It’s a tricky rhythm because it never plays on the first beat of the bar.

Beats and Offbeats

Bass players shouldn’t define their grooves by beat one. All music with a 4/4 time signature (which is most music) contains four beats and four offbeats in every bar. Every beat and every offbeat is equal, and you must know how to place notes accurately on any of them if you want to have a great groove. Beat one isn’t more important than any of the other seven subdivisions.

The key to making the bass line in the example above groove is the ability to play the offbeats very accurately. Most people can play accurately on beats but playing on the offbeats is harder.

How do I practise playing offbeats?

The following example was written to help you practise playing on the offbeats. The first note of each bar is on beat one and the remaining notes are played on the four offbeats.

Practise playing offbeat bass lines
Offbeat Bass Groove

The next example for you to practise is a funky bass groove that features lots of offbeats.

Bass Line featuring lots of offbeats
Offbeat Funk Bass Groove

How do you improve your offbeat groove?

When you practise the examples above, make sure you play the offbeats very accurately. In order to do this, start by playing slowly in time with a metronome or drum beat. You can find these for free online. Then say Ta-Ka in time with the beat. Ta is the beat and Ka is the offbeat. If your offbeat notes land exactly on the syllable Ka, then you know your timing is good.

It often helps to record yourself playing slowly. You will often notice misplaced notes more when you listen back to a recording than you did when you were playing.

For more examples, check out my new book Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove: The Essential Guide to Mastering Time and Feel on Bass Guitar.

3D Cover Image Improve Your Groove
Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove

Containing over 140 audio examples featuring eighth and sixteenth note grooves in a variety of styles including rock, blues, jazz and Latin. It also features sections on syncopation, shuffle feels, triplets and swing. It has practical advice for grooving with drums and sharing a collective time feel in a group. And it features five pieces with play along backing tracks to help you put these ideas into practice.

8th and 16th Note Bass Lines – Part 2 – Sixteenth Note Bass Grooves

Eighth and Sixteenth Note Bass Grooves

In this video lesson you’ll learn all about sixteenth note bass grooves. How they differ from eighth note grooves and some practical advice for practising them.

What’s the difference between eighth and sixteenth note feels?

I explained in Part 1 of this lesson that when you divide a beat into two, you get an eighth note feel. If you divide each beat and each off-beat into two, so that each beat is divided into four, then you will have a sixteenth note feel.

When you play eighth note grooves, you can place notes either on the beat or off the beat. On Ta or on Ka. When playing sixteenth note grooves you can still place notes on the beat, but there are now three different places where you can place notes off the beat.

There is still a conventional off-beat, as there was with eighth note grooves. This is the point in time exactly equally distant from the beat before and the beat after. However, there are now two other sub-divisions. The first comes between the beat and the off-beat, and the second comes after the off-beat. All four sixteenth note sub-divisions must be equal. None of them is longer or shorter than the others.

Learn to feel all four sixteenth note sub-divisions individually.

In Part 1 I explained that in order to groove in an eighth note feel,  you must feel the beats and the off-beats. So if you want to groove while playing a sixteenth note feel, then you must also feel the other two sixteenth note sub-divisions. And, to have great timing you should be able to accurately place a single note on any sixteenth note sub-divisions.

Each of the four sub-divisions has it’s own unique feel when you place a single note on it. Just as the beat has a very distinct feel from the off-beat. So the other two sixteenth note sub-divisions have their own distinct feel.

How do I improve my sixteenth note groove?

First you need four syllables to represent the four sixteenth note sub-divisions, Ta-Ka-Di-Mi. I used Ta-Ka to represent the beat and off-beat in eighth note grooves. For sixteenth note grooves Ta is the beat, Di is now the off-beat and Ka and Mi represent the additional sixteenth note sub-divisions.

As with eighth note grooves, the key to having great timing is the ability to place a single note very accurately onto a sub-division. If fact that is the key to having great timing no matter what the feel or style of music. So begin by trying the exercise demonstrated in the video. Say Ta-Ka-Di-Mi, making sure you say it in time, with every syllable equal in length. Use a metronome or drum beat to help if you need to. Then try playing a single note on each of the four syllables. First Ta, then Ka, then Di, then Mi. This should help you to experience the different feels of the four sub-division.

Once you’ve done that, try playing this sixteenth note example from the video slowly.

Sixteenth note bass groove
Sixteenth Note Bass Line for Electric Bass

Try reciting Ta-Ka-Di-Mi while you play it, as I’ve demonstrated in the video. Play it as slowly as you need to in order to place all of the notes accurately. Once you can do that, try gradually increasing the tempo. Don’t try playing the example fast until you’ve mastered it slowly.

Why you should always start by practising slowly

A good rule of thumb to remember is this. If you can’t play something in time slowly, your time feel won’t be good when you play faster. I’ve often heard students say that it’s harder to play something slow than fast. It can often feel that way. The reason is that playing something slowly makes all of the little errors of timing very obvious. They’re not so obvious when you play fast. However, if you want to improve your groove, you need to get rid of those little timing errors. Those notes that are placed slightly before or after the sub-division they were meant to be on. And that involves playing very accurately slowly, and then gradually speeding up while maintaining the same levels of accuracy. That’s how you improve your bass groove!

All of the examples in this series of videos come from my book Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove: The Essential Guide to Mastering Time and Feel on Bass Guitar.

3D Cover Image Improve Your Groove
Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove

Click on the link to find the book. https://geni.us/bassgroove.

The book contains over 140  audio examples featuring eighth and sixteenth note grooves in a variety of styles including rock, blues, jazz and latin. It also features sections on syncopation, shuffle feels, triplets and swing. It has practical advice for grooving with drums and sharing a collective time feel in a group. And it features five pieces with play along backing tracks to help you put these ideas into practice.

Happy practising!

 

8th and 16th Note Bass Lines – Part 1 – Eighth Note Bass Grooves

Eighth Note and Sixteenth Note Bass Grooves

This is an important topic for bass players because most music has either an eighth note or sixteenth note feel. So, every bass player should know when and how to use eighth and sixteenth notes.

What are they and how do I master them on bass?

In this video lesson I’ll demonstrate the difference between bass lines with an eighth and a sixteenth note feel. Then, I’ll explain how to improve your rhythmic accuracy when playing these feels so that you will improve your groove.

 

First have a look at these two examples from my book Electric Bass – Improve Your Groove: The Essential Guide to Mastering Time and Feel on Bass GuitarFind the book by following this link.

https://geni.us/bassgroove

Eighth Note Example
Bass line with an eighth note Feel
Eighth Note Bass Line for Electric Bass
Sixteenth Note Example
Bass line with a 16th note feel
Sixteenth Note Bass Line for Electric Bass

Listen to both examples either by watching the video or by using the Mp3 audio tracks that accompany the book. It’s so important to listen to the examples as well as reading them. If you only read them without listening then you’re only getting half the story.

The first thing that I want you to notice about these examples is that they’re quite similar. The speed and chord progression are the same and they contain mostly the same notes. I deliberately wrote them that way because I wanted the only difference to be the rhythmic feel. The first example has an eighth note feel and the second has a sixteenth note feel.

What is an eighth note feel?

An eighth note feel means that every beat is divided into two. So each beat contains a beat and an off-beat.

The off-beat is the point in time exactly equally distant from the beat before and the beat after. The eighth note example above has four beats in each bar so there are four beats and four off-beats in each bar. Therefore there are eight different places in each bar where you can place a note either on the beat or off the beat. Hence it is called an eighth note feel.

It can only be called an eighth note feel if all the notes are placed on either beats or off-beats. If a note is placed on any other sub-division then it’s no longer an eighth note feel.

An eighth note feel does not mean that you have to play eight notes in every bar on all of the eight sub-divisions. It means that all of the notes that you play are placed on either beats or off-beats.

How do I improve my eighth note groove?

In most cases when you’re playing an eighth note feel, you’ll play with an eighth note drum beat. Meaning that the drums are playing the eighth note sub-division. If you want your bass line to groove you need to make sure your notes sit very accurately in time with the drummers sub-divisions.

However, you should also be able to groove playing eighth notes even when you’re not playing with a drum beat. In order to improve your eighth note grooves you need to have a system for feeling the eighth note sub-division when you play.

My system involves using the syllables Ta-Ka. Using this system Ta represents the beat and Ka represents the off-beat. Recite Ta-Ka four times making sure that every syllable has equal length, Ta-Ka / Ta-Ka / Ta-Ka / Ta-Ka. This represents one bar of eighth notes. Four Ta‘s represent the four beats and four Ka‘s represent the four off-beats. Try reciting the Ta-Ka‘s in time with the audio example in the video (you’ll find it at 1m52s). If you can do that and keep it in time, then you are feeling the eighth note sub-division.

How should I practise to improve my eighth note feel?

You will improve your eighth note bass grooves by playing off-beats very accurately. I hear a lot of bass players who play on the beat very well, but they seem to guess where the off-beat is. They play it either too early or too late.

The key to having great timing is the ability to place a single note very accurately onto a sub-division.  Practise this by first placing a note just on the beats (Ta‘s) and then just on the off-beats (Ka‘s). I’ve demonstrated this in the video. If you’re struggling to keep in time while you do this, make sure you practise it slowly in time with  either a metronome or drum beat.

In order to play eighth note grooves really well, you first need to feel the beats and the off-beats and you need to be aware of which notes land on the beats and which land on the off-beats. Then you need to make sure that the notes on the beats land perfectly on the Ta syllables and the notes on the off-beats land perfectly on the Ka syllables. If you do that, your bass groove will be superb when playing eighth notes either with or without a drum beat.

What About Sixteenth Note Grooves?

Please continue to Part 2 of this lesson, you can find it using the link below. In Part 2 you will learn everything you need to know about sixteenth note bass grooves.

8th and 16th Note Bass Lines – Part 2 – Sixteenth Notes

 

 

Everything You Need to Know About Harmony on Bass Guitar

Everything you need to know about harmony on the bass 

Harmony is a lot simpler than most people think.

Like it or not the bass is a harmony instrument, bass lines have been around for centuries before the electric bass was invented and they’re the lowest harmony part. So Harmony and rhythm are our main functions as bass players. Rhythm is a much bigger and (in my opinion) much more interesting topic, but I wanted to make this video to show you exactly how simple harmony is.

Know the Chromatic Scale

The key to understanding harmony is first of all knowing that there are only 12 notes. Chromatic scale is simply a technical term for what you get when you play all 12 notes one after the other. If you’re not yet familiar with the chromatic scale, that is where you should start. It’s easier than learning the alphabet, there are more than twice as many letters in the alphabet than there are notes.

How Do You Avoid Playing Wrong Notes?

As bass players we usually play one note at a time. I know that you can play chords on the bass, I’ve made videos about it, but it isn’t our primary function. The term bass line implies one note at a time.

I am firmly of the opinion that there is no such thing as a wrong note. There are only 12 notes in total so if we start classifying some of these as wrong, we’re seriously limiting our options. There are inside notes and outside notes (I’ll explain these as I go on) and it’s our job as musicians to find ways of using them that makes sense musically.

Learn To Play Arpeggios!

So our job in terms of harmony is to choose which note out of the 12 we play at any one time. And the first thing that every bass player needs to know is chord tones or arpeggios. Arpeggio is just a classical term meaning all the notes of a chord played one at a time. Guitar players have chords and bass players have arpeggios. If you don’t know your arpeggios you will end up playing root notes all the time and your basslines will be boring.

How many notes in an arpeggio depends on the chord in question, but lets take an A7 chord for example. There are 4 notes (demonstrate). 4 out of 12. That’s already 1/3rd of all the notes and the chord tones are the strongest notes you can use in a harmonic situation.

What are Inside and Outside Notes?

Next is scale tones. Scales tend to have seven notes in them (not all I know, but standard major and minor scales and all their modes do). We’ve used four of them already in the arpeggio so there are three others that we can use as passing tones. These are the inside notes, notes that belong in the harmony. The remaining five notes that are not within the scale are the outside notes, you can think of these as chromatic passing notes.

So, Here’s Everything You Need to Know!

And that’s it, there are 12 notes, chord tones, scale tones and chromatic passing tones. It’s that simple. Your job is to learn what each of them sounds like, and the only way to do that is play them as much as you can. So cancel your application for that three year college course on advanced harmony and instead go forth and play your bass!

What Else is There?

Harmony and rhythm are the two biggest worlds in the language of music. And rhythm is much simpler than you might think as well, once you know how to sub-divide a beat into two, three and four. You know most of what you need to know about rhythm, but if you want more detail on rhythm you need to get my book Improve Your Groove. Here’s a link, https://geni.us/bassgroove

Enjoy!

Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 4 – Chord Extensions

In Part 4 we’re going to look at chord extensions.

In this video lesson you’re going to learn how to play chords with chord extensions on the bass.  I’ll also explain what notes you can leave out and why, in order to make your chords sound more interesting.

What are chord extensions?

Extended harmony is where chords get a lot more interesting sounding but it’s also where the theory gets more complicated. Chord extensions are notes that we can add to basic chords like triads. Having established how to play triads in Part 3, we can now look at adding chord extensions to them.

The most common chord extension by far is the seventh. In Part 3 we looked at how triads are made up of a root, a third and a fifth. And there is an interval of a third between each of these notes. In order to make a triad into a seventh chord we just continue this pattern of stacking intervals of a third. We add a note that is a third above the fifth and we call this note the seventh. Seventh chords have four notes in them root, third, fifth and seventh.

Four types of seventh chords

If you watched my video about “Intervals” then you’ll know that there are two types of sevenths, major and minor just like there are major and minor thirds. Fifths however are not major or minor and so the fifth is the same in both major and minor chords. For this reason, it’s the third and seventh notes of each chord that define what type of chord it is.

For example if you have a chord with a major third and a major seventh in it, it’s called a major seventh chord and a chord with a minor third and a minor seventh is called a minor seventh chord. The word used to describe a chord that has a major third and a minor seventh in it is “dominant” and dominant seventh chords are very common.

The chord symbol for a dominant seventh chord is just the number 7 (eg. G7, A7, C7 etc.) minor seventh chords are written m7 (eg. Gm7, Am7, Cm7 etc.) and major seventh chords can be written a number of ways such as with a small triangle or sometimes with an upper case M, but most commonly they are written maj7 (eg. Gmaj7, Amaj7, Cmaj7 etc.)

These three types of seventh chords are by far the most common but there are others that I’ve also listed at the end of Example 1. For example, a chord with a minor third and a major seventh is called minor with a major seventh (min/maj7).

What notes can you leave out?

When we play extended chords we usually can’t play all the notes within the chord because we only have a finite number of strings on the bass. The more chord extensions we have means the more options we have, but it also means the more decisions we have to make in terms of what notes to leave out. In the case of seventh chords the decision is simple, I’ve already mentioned that the fifth is the same for major and minor chords so the fifth doesn’t fulfill a very important function in the chord (unless we alter it as in diminished and augmented chords). So if we leave out the fifth we have three notes left, the root, third and seventh.

Example 1 demonstrates two different ways of voicing major seventh, dominant seventh, minor seventh and minor with a major seventh chords. The first way is to play the root on the A string, the third on the D string and the seventh on the G string. The second way is to play the root on the E string, leave out the A string and play the seventh on the D string and the third up an octave on the G string.

Video 4 Example 1 Chord extensionsAltering the fifth

Just because the fifth is the same for both major and minor chords doesn’t mean we can’t alter it. You can flatten the fifth (lower by a semi-tone) to give you a diminished chord or sharpen it (raise it by a semi-tone) to give you an augmented chord. In order to play a diminished or augmented chord you need to include the fifth because the fact that it’s been altered makes it a key element in the chord. That is why I have included all four notes in the augmented and diminished examples in Example 1.

Sixths

Another common chord extension that we can use instead of a seventh is a major sixth. We can add a major sixth to a major triad or a minor triad. The chord symbol for a major chord with a major sixth is just the number 6 (eg. G6, A6, C6 etc.) and the chord symbol for a minor chord with a major sixth is m6 (eg. Gm6, Am6, Cm6 etc.) Example 2 demonstrates how to play these two types of chords. Again, I’ve left out the fifth in both cases.

Video 4 Example 2 Chord extensions

Harmonising D major in seventh chords

If we harmonise any major scale into seventh chords we get seven different chords, two major seventh chords (chords I & IV, three minor seventh chords (chords II,III & VI), one dominant seventh chord (chord V) and one half-diminished chord (a chord with a minor third, a minor seventh and a flattened fifth) (chord VII). In example 3 I’ve harmonised a D major scale into seventh chords.

Video 4 Example 3 Chord extensions

Ninths

After the seventh, the next extension we can add to a chord if we keep stacking intervals of a third is a ninth. A full ninth chord has five notes in it, root, third, fifth, seventh and ninth. Example 4, demonstrates how to play a few common ninth chords by adding a ninth to a major seventh chord, a dominant seventh chord, a minor seventh chord and even a major sixth chord. As before I’m leaving out the fifth in each chord.

Video 4 Example 4 Chord extensions

More chord extensions

If we keep up this idea of stacking intervals of a third we end up with an eleventh and then a thirteenth. By the time you reach the thirteenth you have seven notes. Most scales have seven notes. So a seven note chord would effectively be equivalent to playing all the notes from a scale simultaneously. Which is usually a bad idea. Also, you can alter (either sharpen or flatten) the upper extensions (ninth, eleventh and thirteenth). Just like I altered the fifth earlier. This gives you a huge amount of options in terms of extending chords.

So, we have to exercise some judgement over which chord extensions we can add to which chords. And that all comes down to what we think sounds good. For example, you normally wouldn’t want to add an eleventh to a chord with a major third in it (major or dominant). Because the eleventh clashes with the third but you can add a sharpened eleventh. If you want to add an eleventh to a major chord then you would normally leave out the third. That would change the chord to what we call a “sus” chord. A sus chord is a chord that omits the third and usually replaces it with the fourth. The fourth is the same note as the eleventh. Check out my video on “intervals” if you don’t understand why the fourth and the eleventh are the same note.

Example 5 demonstrates some common chord extensions that we can play over major or minor chords on the bass.

Video 4 Example 5 Chord extensions

Chord extensions on 5 and 6 string basses

For Example 6 I’ve had to switch onto my six string bass to play some of these extensions. The ability to play more extended harmony is one of the main reasons I choose to play six string basses. If you don’t have a six string bass, many of these chords can be adapted onto a five string bass.

Video 4 Example 6 Chord extensions

Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 3 – Triads

Learn to Play Chords on the Bass – Part 3 – Triads

In this video lesson you’ll learn how to play triads on bass guitar. There are four different types of triad. I’ll explain what they are and then how to play them.

Triads, what are they and how do you play them?

In part 3 we’re going to look at how to play triads on the bass. They are simple three note chords that form a foundation for a lot of extended harmony. Before we can go on to explore chord extensions it’s really important to understand triads.

There are essentially four types of triad. Major, minor, diminished and augmented. So, example 1 contains an example of each triad. In this example they all have the root note C.

Video 3 Example 1 TriadsOf these four, major and minor are by far the most common and will be the ones we use the most.

Harmonising scales using triads

We can harmonise scales into triads. In part one we harmonised scales into intervals of a third. A triad is two intervals of a third stacked together. By which I mean, you take a root note, find a note that is a third above it and then another note which is a third above again. The three notes of a triad are often referred to as the root, the third(an interval of a third above the root) and the fifth (an interval of a third above the third and an interval of a fifth above the root).

You’ll find that when you harmonise a major scale into triads you’ll get seven chords, three major (chords I, IV & V), three minor (chords II, III and VI) and one diminished triad (chord VII). In example 2 there’s a G major scale harmonised into triads played in root position. Meaning that the root note is the lowest of the three notes.

Video 3 Example 2 TriadsIn the previous example we refer to these chords as root position because we’ve arranged each triad in a neatly stacked order with the root at the bottom and the third and the fifth stacked on top of it. If we change the order of these notes to make either the third or the fifth the lowest note then we have what we call an “Inversion”. There are only two possible ways to invert a triad. First of all put the third at the bottom as in Example 3.

Video 3 Example 3 Triads

Triad inversions

Then put the fifth at the bottom as in Example 4.

Video 3 Example 4 TriadsExample 5 is an E major scale harmonised in first inversion triads.

Video 3 Example 5 TriadsFinally example 6 is a D major scale harmonised using the second inversion.

Video 3 Example 6 Triads

Harmonising minor scales

If you harmonise a melodic minor scale into triads you get two minor chords, two major chords, two diminished chords and one augmented triad. So, in example 7 there’s a G melodic minor scale harmonised using root position triads.

Video 3 Example 7 Triads

Now move on to Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 4 – Chord Extensions. You’ll learn how we can add extensions to the triads so you can make more interesting sounding chords.

 

Improve Your Right Hand Technique on Bass Guitar

Right Hand Techniques on Electric Bass

As I was posting some of my previous videos I started thinking that I should add a new one describing some of the right hand techniques you’ve seen me using, so here it is.

Conventional Right Hand Technique

When I was learning to play I was taught to place the thumb of my right hand on either a pickup or on the bottom string. Then pluck the strings with my index and middle fingers. It’s a very common right hand technique for the bass and one that I still use a lot. The downside of this technique in my opinion is that it doesn’t make enough use of the thumb. The thumb is probably our most versatile and dextrous digit, so some time ago I decided that my two finger technique wasn’t versatile enough for everything I wanted to play on the bass and I started working on some right-hand techniques that use my thumb more.

String Damping

A simple way to use your thumb with the two finger right hand technique is to use it to dampen and mute the lower strings. Damping is a key issue for bass players especially with the lower strings because they have a tendency to ring and create unwanted noise when we’re not using them.

If you position your thumb so that it touches these strings when you’re not using them it will mute them and stop any unwanted noise coming from them. This is a simple adaptation to the technique that can make an important difference to your playing, especially if you have a low B string on your bass. It will involve some practice because you will need to get used to constantly moving your thumb as you change strings but if you’re conscientious about listening out for unwanted noise from your lower strings when you practice then it should become instinctive fairly quickly.

Use the right hand thumb

Now let’s change the technique altogether and get our thumb playing notes instead of just damping. The first thing we need to look at is how can we combine using our fingers and thumb. Example 1 is a simple demonstration of how we can play notes by alternating between our thumb and first finger. In the example T means play the note with your right hand thumb and i means play the note with your right hand index finger. As you can see from the example we should be able to use this technique to play across strings as in bar one, on adjacent strings as in bar two and on the same string as in bar three.

Example 1 Right Hand Technique

What are the benefits of playing notes with your right hand thumb

The advantage of this right hand technique over the two finger technique is that it’s much easier to play across strings. There’s much more independence (and physical distance) between your index finger and thumb between your index and middle fingers. I also find it much more natural to keep a constant tempo at high speeds.

Muting Strings

A third benefit of using this right hand technique is damping, particularly palm-muting. When I use this right hand technique I rest the palm of my hand on the lower strings near the bridge to dampen them and stop any unwanted noise. In effect my palm is functioning in the same role my thumb was in the previous right hand technique.

I can take this technique a step further and use my palm to mute the strings I’m playing as well. If you rest your palm on the string close enough to the bridge then you’ll still hear the note. However, it will have a muted and staccato sound. It’s a good approximation to the classic Motown sound that James Jameson used to get by putting bits of foam under his strings in front of the bridge.

Anthony Jackson is another great bass player who uses this muted sound a lot in his playing. Try playing through Example 1 both with and without the palm muting. Then when you get used to it, try applying the same techniques to other areas of your practice.

Right Hand Middle Finger and Ring Finger

The next obvious thing to do with this right hand technique is start using more fingers on your right hand. Example 2 is a demonstration of how to use your thumb, index and middle fingers to play chords. Similar to the way a guitarist finger picks. (T, i & m = Thumb, Index and Middle)

Right Hand Technique Example 2You can also add your third finger (and even your little finger) to this technique especially if you’re playing chords that use more than just three strings. Again this is similar to how a guitarist would finger pick.

Other right hand techniques

Another simple right hand technique you can apply to playing chords is raking. With either your index or middle finger or both.

Example 3 is a demonstration of this right hand technique.

Right Hand Technique Example 3You might think that the next logical place to take our right hand technique would be to try and use our thumb and three fingers and then our thumb and four fingers. And you might well be right. A lot of bass players have explored right hand techniques using all the fingers on their right hand. And I would encourage you to explore it, as I have, to find out what works best for you.

The thumb, index and ring right hand technique

My personal favourite right hand technique is a little simpler. I prefer to use my thumb with my index and third finger. It sounds a little odd because I’m not using my middle finger. However, after years of experimenting with three and four finger right hand techniques. I’ve found this one to be the most efficient for me.

I think it’s because my index and third fingers are almost the same length whereas my middle finger is longer. When I try and use those three fingers all together, it works, but it’s less comfortable than when I leave the middle finger out. This right hand technique has proved very versatile. It’s fast, it’s easy to cross strings. It’s easy to keep a constant rhythm even at high speeds without getting tired. And it works well for both triplet and sixteenth note rhythms.

Example 4 is a demonstration of how we can use this right hand technique to play across strings in bar 1, on adjacent strings in bar 2 and on a single string in bar 3. (In this example T=thumb, 1=index & 3=third finger)

Right Hand Technique Example 4Once you’ve found a technique, or several techniques that work well for you then try applying them in all areas of your practice. For instance, Example 5 is a demonstration of how I might apply my technique demonstrated in Example 4 to practicing a C major scale.

Right Hand Technique Example 5

 

Johnny Cox & Siemy Di – Bass and Drum Improvisation

Johnny Cox and Siemy Di – Robertinho

This video was shot way back in 2012 by my good friend Remigiusz Sowa of Chouette Films. It features myself and another good friend, master drummer and percussionist Siemy Di. The video was shot live in Siemy’s studio.

Siemy Di and I have worked together since 2006 and we have a fantastic musical relationship. We were introduced when I was in my early twenties by a mentor, Lucky Ranku, leader of the African Jazz All-stars.

In the video I’m using my 6-string Warwick Thumb BO and I’m playing it through a loop pedal. The piece is dedicated to a friend of Siemy Di’s. It’s based on the Brazilian Partido Alto rhythm and the melody was written by Siemy.

Around the time this was filmed, Siemy Di and I were performing live regularly around East London at venues such as The Servant Jazz Quarters, The Vortex, Open The Gate and The Passing Clouds. The gigs were almost entirely improvised and we deliberately did very little preparation for each gig. Some performances were better than others but it was always great fun to play with a great musician like Siemy. This video captures a little taste of what those performances were like. Not perfect but always interesting.

Siemy Di and I are still close friends but we don’t do those gigs anymore. We both have young children now, so spending our evenings at jazz clubs is out of the question these days. Maybe one day in the future we’ll do something similar, although I imagine it will be quite different. This video captures a moment in time that was an important time for both musicians.

Check out Siemy Di’s Drumeo video here. I recorded all the bass and guitar parts for both the first and last pieces.

A Guide to Playing Intervals on Bass Guitar

What Are Intervals and How Do You Play Them On a Bass?

The word “interval” describes the distance (in terms of pitch) between two musical notes. The smallest interval on the fretboard is a semi-tone. It’s the distance between any note and a note that is one fret above or below on the same string. There are 12 notes in an octave which means there are 12 semi-tone intervals. If we play these 12 semi-tone intervals one after the other then we are playing the “Chromatic Scale”. This isn’t a very interesting sounding scale but it’s really important to understand the chromatic scale if we’re going to understand intervals.

One octave chromatic scale starting and finishing  on C

Chromatic Scale Intervals on BassBecause there are 12 semi-tones in an octave, it is possible to play 12 different intervals within an octave (including the interval of an octave itself). Here is a list of all 12 intervals (plus 4 more intervals that are larger than an octave) along with tab showing how to play them on the bass. 

Intervals on Bass

The interval called a “tone” is equal to two semi-tones or you can think of it as the distance of two frets on a single string. Tones and semi-tones can also be called whole-tones and half-tones and also whole-steps and half-steps.

Thirds

An interval of three semi-tones is a minor 3rd and four semi-tones is  a major 3rd. Check out Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 1 where I show you how to make chords by using intervals of major and minor 3rd’s to harmonise scales.

Fourths, Fifths and Sixths

Five semi-tones gives us an interval of a 4th. A 4th is neither major nor minor. This interval is often described as a perfect 4th. Six semi-tones gives us an interval called a sharpened 4th because it’s one semi-tone bigger than a 4th. The same interval can be called a flattened 5th because it’s one semi-tone smaller than a 5th. It’s also sometimes called a tri-tone because six semi-tones is equal to three tones. Seven semi-tones makes a 5th or a perfect 5th. Eight semi-tones creates a minor 6th and nine semi-tones, a major sixth. Check out Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 2 where I use intervals of 4th’s, 5th’s and 6th’s to harmonise scales.

Seventh intervals and larger

Ten semi-tones make an interval called a minor 7th. Eleven semi-tones is a major 7th and twelve semitones is an octave. It’s important to note that after the octave the intervals start to repeat the same notes. However, we do still have different names for intervals above an octave. For example, a flattened 9th interval will give you the same note as a semi-tone. A natural 9th interval will give you the same note as a tone. A minor 10th interval is effectively the same as a minor 3rd and a major 10th is the same as a major 3rd