Tag Archives: chords on bass guitar

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 2: Naima – Bass Practice Diary 118

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 2: Naima on Fretless Bass- Bass Practice Diary – 14th July 2020

Naima by John Coltrane has a beautiful but challenging chord progression. Last week, I featured a video demonstrating how I play the chords. But the story isn’t complete without looking at how to improvise over those chords. So, this week I’m demonstrating an improvisation strategy for playing over the part that I find hardest to improvise on.

Modal Chord Progression

Most improvisers think of Naima as being a modal composition. Meaning that they think of each chord as representing the sound of a scale or mode. This is different to the diatonic approach that I looked at in my Improvisation Strategies: Part 1 video. In that video I looked at a I-VI-II-V sequence of chords where each chord represented a different degree in the key of Bb major.

When you hear improvisers analysing how to play Naima, usually you’ll hear them say something like, ” play this scale or mode on that chord, and this scale or mode on that chord etc”. And it’s not wrong to think about the progression as a sequence of modes. If you listen to Coltane playing Naima, you can definitely hear that he is playing complete modes quite often.

However, when I’m coming up with an improvisation strategy, I prefer to think in a more economical way. I want to start with something small that I can expand upon. I want to zero in on the notes that I feel best spell out the sound of the harmony. Remember that you can come up with multiple strategies for playing on the same progression. So when you zero in on just a few notes, you’re not limiting yourself, you’re actually creating the potential for much more variation. Because if you start by using all of the notes from the implied scale or mode, then it doesn’t leave as much scope for expanding and using different harmonic ideas.

Naima Improvisation Strategy

Last week I wrote about how I think of all of the chords as being major 7th chord voicings over a pedalled bass note. I won’t repeat myself, so if you’re interested in the chords check out last week’s post.

This four bar section of the harmony comes from the second half of the B section. The chord symbols that I’ve written are different from the Real Book changes, (even when you allow for the change of key). But I think that my changes reflect the harmony that Coltrane was using fairly closely. I wouldn’t recommend getting bogged down in what the chord symbols are. When I was working out how to play this piece, I wasn’t thinking about chord symbols, I was just trying to recreate the sounds that I was hearing and I put the chord symbols on afterwards. So, here is my improvisation strategy for this short four-bar sequence, I’ve picked out five notes to use on each chord.

Improvisation Strategies - Naima
Improvisation Strategies – Naima

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 1: I VI II V – Bass Practice Diary 116

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 1: I VI II V – Bass Practice Diary – 14th July 2020

I often get asked questions about how to improvise. I’ve noticed that people are usually looking for a simple answer, like “you just need to know the right scale.” However, if you’re reading this, you probably already know that it isn’t that simple. To become a fluent improviser, you should work on lots of different improvisation strategies. As part of my own practice, I regularly try to find new and different ways to play through chord progressions that I’ve played on many times. To help demonstrate what I do, I’m presenting one improvisation strategy that I’ve come up with on a I-VI-II-V chord progression.

Improvisation Strategies

Before we get into the specifics of this particular strategy, I should say that my end goal is the same for any improvisation strategy. That goal is to be able to improvise all over the fretboard. So, when I practice a strategy, I’ll practice it in multiple positions until I can connect up the notes all over the entire fretboard.

In this particular strategy, I’m looking at jazz improvisation on a I VI II V progression in Bb major. Although I would recommend practicing any strategy in multiple keys. The chords in the key of Bb major are Bb – G7 – Cm7 – F7. Notice that Chord VI is played as a dominant chord rather than a minor 7th chord. This is so that it leads nicely to the II chord. It is a very common chord substitution in jazz (and other styles).

A very simple approach to improvising on a I VI II V progression would be to just play a Bb major or major pentatonic scale. The problem with that as a strategy, is that it ignores the B natural in the G7 chord. So most jazz musicians will prefer to play something different for every chord. This is often referred to as “spelling out the harmony”. So what I’ve done is chosen four different notes for each chord. Each set of four notes is specific and unique to each chord.

Why Play Four Notes for Each Chord?

Normally when a I VI II V is played in the context of a jazz standard, the entire progression is played over two bars. Meaning that each chord lasts for just two beats. With just two beats on each chord, four notes provide more than enough options to fill up the space. If you’re strategy was to use an entire scale, even a pentatonic scale, it would be more notes than you need. It would make improvising on the progression harder than it needs to be.

In choosing the four notes for this strategy, I used arpeggios. You don’t have to use arpeggios, you can use any four notes that you like the sound of. But I think that arpeggios are fundamental to the sound to jazz improvisation, so that’s why I’m using them. I could have simply used a Bb major arpeggio for the Bb major chord and a G7 arpeggio for the G7 chord etc. That would certainly have spelled out the harmony, but it would also probably have sounded a bit predictable. Instead, I opted to play a Dm7 arpeggio on the Bb major chord. The notes of the Dm7 arpeggio played over a Bb major chord create the sound of a Bb major 9 arpeggio without the root note.

By making this substitution, I was thinking of the progression as III-VI-II-V, Dm7 – G7 – Cm7 – F7. This actually simplifies things a lot because it leaves me with two minor 7 chords and two dominant 7 chords. I can use the same strategy for both minor 7 chords and the same strategy for both dominant 7 chords. So I used minor 7 arpeggios on chords III and II and on chords VI and V, I used diminished 7 arpeggios starting on the third of each chord. Bo7 on the G7 chord and Ao7 on the F7 chord. (o in this case means diminished).

Jazz Improvisation Strategies - Example 1
Jazz Improvisation Strategies I VI II V – Example 1

Putting the Strategy Into Practice

The best way to put any improvisation strategy into practice is with a backing track. You can find free I VI II V backing tracks on the internet. It’s always a good idea to start slowly, and you can start by just playing the notes you’ve prepared over the chords as an exercise. As you get comfortable doing that you can start to improvise lines that connect up the chords by adding passing notes. Here are three examples that I’ve written out to demonstrate.

Jazz Improvisation Strategies - Example 2
Jazz Improvisation Strategies – Example 2

The passing notes could be chromatic notes or scale tones. Or to put it another way, they could be literally any note that helps to connect the lines. If you use the four note patterns that you’ve prepared as the structure for your lines, then adding passing notes here and there, won’t interfere with the musical sense of the lines.

There are so many ways that you can vary this one simple idea. You can (and should) practice it in multiple positions on the neck. Here is another position to get you started.

Jazz Improvisation Strategies - I VI II V Example 3
Jazz Improvisation Strategies I VI II V – Example 3

Then try to improvise by connecting up the different positions that you’ve practiced.

Then you could try practicing the same ideas in different keys. You could then try using the same chords, but changing the four note patterns. And finally you could try playing similar patterns on different chord progressions. When you get into practicing these kind of ideas, there really is a lot of different ways you could be doing it. And the more different strategies that you practice, the more fluent your improvising will become.

I VI II V Chord Progressions – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary 87

I VI II V Chord Progressions on 6-string Bass – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 17th December 2019

This week I’m revisiting my introduction to I VI II V chord progressions on 6-string bass video. There are so many ways that you can alter and substitute chords in a I VI II V sequence. Jazz musicians will often alter and add to the progression so much, that it’s almost impossible to tell that it was ever a I-VI-II V progression in the first place.

Chord substitutions

There really aren’t any rules when it comes to substituting chords. There are certain standard substitutions that are very common, such as the tritone substitution, which I looked at in my last video. But, honestly, you can substitute any chord for any other one that you like the sound of. A lot of it depends on the musical context that you’re playing the substitution in, but also it comes down to opinion. What sounds interesting to some people, will sound odd to others.

This week I’m just going to take you through some familiar chord substitutions and additions to I VI II V’s. These examples go quite a bit further than the examples in my previous video. But, believe me, you can take these ideas much further out than this.

The I VI II V examples

I created this first example by taking the III-VI-II-V example from my previous video and turning all the chords into dominant 7th chords. I then applied tritone substitutions to the VI and II chords. Then I added whatever extensions and alterations that I liked the sound of.

III – VI – II – V – I chord progression with dominant 7th substitutions

Once you have four dominant 7th chords like this, you can come up with so many variations just by applying tritone substitutions.

My next example derives from the first example. I’ve simply turned the E7, Eb7 and G7 chords into II-V’s. Meaning that I’ve added minor 7th chords before each dominant 7th chord. Each minor 7th has a root note that is a 4th below (or a fifth above) the root note of the dominant 7th chord. I’ve altered the VI chord to make it a major 7th instead of a dominant 7th chord. This completes a II-V-I in the key of Ab major, which is a strange thing to find in a chord progression in C major, but it works!

I – VI – II – V progression with II – V substitutions

I VI II V Chord Progressions on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 84

An Introduction to I VI II V – Chords on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 26th November 2019

I VI II V is possibly the most commonly used chord sequence in jazz. So, I think it’s time I started to look at how you can approach playing this simple but versatile chord progression on a 6-string bass. It’s been a few weeks since my last video about playing chords on 6-string bass. So, I’m bringing the series back this week with an important one.

Why is I VI II V so common in jazz?

That’s a question I used to ask myself a lot when I was younger. When you listen to the progression played in it’s simplest form, it’s not particularly interesting. It’s quite practical, because it has a nice cycle of fifths movement, with the VI leading to the II to the V and back to the one. So it can just go around and around, with the V always leading back to the I. It’s a nice cyclical chord movement that takes you back to chord I. And as such it’s very often played on the turnaround of a jazz progression.

In the standard chord progression, chord I is a major 7th chord, chord VI is usually played as a dominant 7th chord. Although if you harmonise the chords using the diatonic major scale it would be a minor 7th chord. The reason it’s usually played as a dominant 7th chord is because it acts as a chord V leading to the minor 7th chord II. And the real chord V is also a dominant 7th chord.

Here is my version of a standard I VI II V chord progression in the key of E.

I VI II V in the key of E major
I VI II V in the key of E

But to really understand why I VI II V is so popular, I think you need to understand a bit about how and when jazz musicians like to use it.

Chord substitutions

The first thing that you need to know about how most jazz musicians will use the I VI II V progression, is that they will try to find as many ways as they can to avoid playing the obvious chord progression. They do this by finding chord substitutions and adding extensions and alterations to the standard chords.

I often get people asking me to explain the concept of chord substitutions. But it’s a very difficult thing to do. Because the truth is, that you can substitute any chord with any other chord. The only restriction is what your ear will accept is a valid substitution. And that is a matter of taste and opinion. How much dissonance are you willing to accept?

However, if I was going to sum up the concept of chord substitutions in one short paragraph. I would say that you are looking for chords that have important notes in common with each other. Which brings me neatly on to the most common chord substitution in jazz, the tritone substitution.

Substituting dominant chords

Tritone substitutions can be performed on any dominant 7th chord. The principle is, that any dominant 7th chord shares two notes in common with another dominant 7th chord. Those notes are the 3rd and the 7th. In order to find the substitute dominant chord you need to find a root note that is an interval of three tones away from the root note of the original chord. If you’re not sure what I mean, check out my guide to playing intervals on the bass.

Take the example of the G7 chord. The root is G, there 3rd is B and the 7th is F. You can play it like this.

G7 chord on 6-string bass. Root, 3rd and 7th.

The tritone substitution would be Db7. The root is Db, the 7th is B (Cb) and the 3rd is F.

Db7 chord on 6-string bass. Root, 7th and 3rd

Here is the I VI II V chord progression played in C major using tritone substitutions on the two dominant 7th chords. I’ve also substituted chord III for chord one in the first bar.

III VI II V with tritone substitutions

Chord Scales on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 79

Chord Scales on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd October 2019

I’ve done a few videos recently about chord voicings and progressions for six string bass. So, I felt that I really needed to do a video about chord scales. Because chord scales might be the best way to practice playing chords on bass. If you really want to explore the full potential of every chord voicing that you play. As well as learn how to use them all over the fretboard. Then practising chord scales is the way to achieve that.

What is a chord scale?

You can turn just about any chord voicing into a chord scale. The idea is, that every chord implies a particular scale. There may be more than one scale option for a particular chord. For example, for an E7 chord you could us E mixolydian. But you could also use plenty of other scales, like an E lydian dominant scale. In that case you could come up more than one chord scale.

Once you have a chord voicing and a scale, you simply create a chord scale by moving all of the notes in your chord voicing up one scale step at a time.

So, I’ll use the C major chord scale that I used in the video as an example. The C major scale goes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. And the notes of the C major chord are C, E and G. So, to make the second chord in the scale, the C becomes D, E becomes F and G becomes A. D, F and A is D minor. And when you continue moving up the chord scale you get seven different chords. One chord starting on each of the seven notes of the C major scale.

C Major Chord Scale
C Major Chord Scale

More Chord Scale Examples

Here are some more examples from the video. This first one is in F major and uses a basic triads voicing.

F Major Chord Scale - triads
F Major Chord Scale – triads

Here is the same key using seventh chords.

F Major Chord Scale - 7ths
F Major Chord Scale – 7ths

This next one is in the key of A major, and it uses inverted triads. Meaning that the root note is not the lowest note in the chord voicing.

A Major Chord Scale
A Major Chord Scale

These are all fairly simple chord scales. If you’d like to find a slightly more advanced application of this idea. Then check out this video. It’s a voicing that I learned from Oteil Burbridge, that I then turned into a chord scale.

Quartal Chord Voicings on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 45

Quartal Chord Voicings on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 26th February 2019

I haven’t done a video about bass chord voicings for a while. So, this week I’ve decided to practice some of my favourite jazz chords, quartal chord voicings. Quartal harmony is a jazz term which means harmonising chords in intervals of a fourth.

4th Intervals

I did a video recently about playing modern jazz lines using 4th intervals. But I thought after making that video that I wasn’t telling the full story about using 4ths in modern jazz. The quartal chord voicings themselves create a very distinctive modern jazz sound. It’s instantly recognisable once you become familiar with the sound.

Chords are traditionally voiced in intervals of a third. Using quartal voicings in jazz became popular in the 1960’s after Miles Davis made quartal chord voicings a feature of his composition So What from the 1959 album Kind of Blue.

Quartal harmony was a sound that then became associated with the great John Coltrane Quartet of the early to mid 1960’s. The chords were supplied by pianist McCoy Tyner, who is synonymous with quartal harmony, and one of my all time favourite jazz pianists.

McCoy Tyner was using these voicings at a time when the Coltrane Quartet was playing a lot of modal jazz. Meaning that there weren’t lots of chord changes. And the emphasis was more on scalic improvisation over static harmony. So What is also a modal jazz piece. So, if you’re looking to apply some of these quartal chord voicings, then modal jazz tunes are a good place to start.

Quartal Harmony on Bass

The bass is setup for playing quartal chord voicings because the strings are tuned in intervals of a fourth. Which is why it amazes me that more bass players don’t use quartal chord voicings. Many of the chord voicings in the video can be played with just one finger. But despite this simplicity, they create a sophisticated jazz harmony sound.

Here is an A major scale harmonised in 4ths.

A major scale - quartal chord voicings
A major scale – quartal chord voicings

In the video, I’ve used the open A string as a root note underneath all of these voicings.

When you play this, it doesn’t sound like a typical major scale harmonisation. That’s what’s so great about quartal harmony. You can take simple harmony, like a major scale, and completely change it’s character, without needing to change or add any notes.

It works for all of the modes of the major scale. Here is the Dorian mode harmonised in 4ths.

A dorian - quartal chord voicings
A dorian – quartal chord voicings

Applying Quartal Harmony to Jazz

I’ve already mentioned that quartal chord voicings are extremely well suited to modal jazz. If, for example, you’re playing a modal jazz composition with long periods on a minor seventh chord. Like So What or John Coltrane’s Impressions. Then you’re faced with a challenge of how to make just one chord sound interesting.

One solution would be to apply the dorian chord voicings that I’ve written out in the example above. It gives you seven different options for voicings that you could play over a single minor seventh chord (Am7 in the example above). You could use any or all of these voicings to help create a feeling of movement in the otherwise static harmony.

You can apply quartal harmony to virtually any scale or mode. In this next example I’ve applied it to an A harmonic minor scale.

A harmonic minor - quartal chord voicings
A harmonic minor – quartal chord voicings

The same chord voicings can also be applied to any of the modes of the harmonic minor scale, which includes the altered scale.

One of the fourth intervals in the harmonic minor scale actually comes out as a major third. So, some of the voicings in the example above are not strictly quartal. Because they mix fourths with a third. But it still creates some interesting sounds and you can do your own experimenting to decide which of the voicings are useful.

Bass Guitar Chords – Right-Hand Tapping Chord Extensions – Bass Practice Diary 41

Bass Guitar Chords – Right-Hand Tapping Chord Extensions – Bass Practice Diary – 29th January 2019

Tapping notes with your right hand is a great way to extend your bass chords. I’ve seen lots of bassists do this, particularly in solos. It’s not as difficult as it looks and it works really well for playing extended harmonies. Even on a 4 string bass where it’s often hard to voice extended chords with just your left hand.

Bass Guitar Chords

This isn’t my first video about playing chords on the bass. So, if you’re new to this, then I’d highly recommend checking out some of my previous videos. Like this one, which is the first of a four part video I did on bass guitar chords.

Playing Chords on Bass Guitar Part 1

More recently I made this video about playing chord extensions on bass guitar.

Jazz Chord Extensions on Bass Guitar

Right-Hand Tapping

This video features a different approach to playing jazz chord extensions. By tapping the extensions with your right hand. Using this technique, you can really open up your chord voicings by playing harmonies in a completely different register to the notes you’re playing with your left hand.

I should start by saying that my tapping technique is basic. I don’t use tapping techniques a lot. In fact, these types of chords are pretty much the only places where I will use my right hand to tap chords. But I think that’s also the case for most bass players. Right-hand tapping is rarely a first choice technique for bassists, it’s an added extra that you can use on solos.

Having said that. I know that there are musicians for whom tapping is there principle technique, and they have much more advanced techniques using four fingers on their right hand, just like their left. My basic tapping technique involves hammering on, sliding and pulling off notes with my index, middle and ring fingers on my right hand. It’s all I need for what I do.

Diatonic Triads

Diatonic triads are just basic major and minor chords that you find in every key. (You could also include diminished and augmented triads but I’m just using major and minor here). The first four chords, in the key of D major are D, Em, F#m and G. Here is how I have voiced those chords with my left hand in this video.

D major triad

E minor triad

F# minor triad
G major triad

These triads form the basic chords onto which I can add my chord extensions with my right hand. With each chord, I start by playing each triad, plucking the strings with my right hand, Thumb plays 4th string, index plays 3rd string, middle plays 2nd string and ring finger plays 1st string. Or p, i, m, a, to use classical guitar terminology. None of these notes are tapped, they are fretted with the left hand in traditional style.

Chord Extensions

Start by adding chord extensions on just one chord. In this example I’ve added a major 7th to the D major triad making it a Dmaj7. The 7th is the only note tapped by the right hand.

D major 7th

Make sure you tap the note onto the 18th fret. If you tap in between the 17th and 18th fret, it won’t sound as clear.

In this next example, I’ve tapped a 9th, E, and slid the note up to the major third F#.

D major with added 9th

In this third example I’ve included the major 7th and the 9th.

D major 9th

Right-Hand Tapping Exercise

Once you’ve got used to the technique, try playing this exercise.

Tapping Harmony Video Complete
Tapping Chord Extensions Exercise

There’s quite a lot going on here, so I won’t write an exhaustive analysis. But here’s a quick guide.

Over the D triad I’m tapping major 7th, 6th, #11th and 9th. On the E minor I’m adding minor 7th, 11th and 9th. On the F# minor I’ve used minor 6th, minor 7th and b9th and on the G major triad I’ve played similar extensions to the D major. Major 6th, 9th, major7th and #11th.