Tag Archives: free bass lesson

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

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.

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.

Jeff Andrews Jazz Bass Lick – Bass Practice Diary 48

Learn a Jazz Bass Lick by Jeff Andrews – Bass Practice Diary – 19th March 2019

I heard the news a couple of days ago that Jeff Andrews had passed away. He really deserves to be remembered as one of the great jazz electric bass players. I know him best from his work with Mike Stern. He played on albums such as Time in Place and Between the Lines which have been among my favourites for a long time. As well as his work with Mike Stern, he’s also played with jazz and fusion greats like Michael Brecker, Bob Berg, Vital Information and Steps Ahead.

After hearing the news, I immediately started listening to some of those albums again. And I also found a really cool compilation of his solos on Youtube. It really struck me what a great musician and improviser Jeff Andrews is. And predictably I started trying to work out what he was playing. What I found was a goldmine of incredible jazz lines improvised on electric bass.

Using Inside and Outside Lines

What struck me about his style was his brilliant use of inside and outside lines. It’s a commonly used technique of many jazz improvisers. Incorporating lines that are both inside the harmony and outside the harmony as a way of creating tension and resolution. Jeff Andrews is an absolute master of this. He improvises lines at high speed that outline the harmony, but then take you way outside the harmony before bringing you back in for the resolution.

Jazz Blues Bass Lick

The lines he creates are so cool, and I could have picked any one of his lines as a demonstration. But I choose this one which is from a Mike Stern tune called Bait Tone Blues.

Jeff Andrews Jazz Bass Lick
Jeff Andrews Jazz Bass Lick

This line takes place over the last four bars of blues in F. And it starts by clearly outlining a ii – v in the key of F. But then follows a sequence which starts on a B natural and ends with a sort of chromatic run featuring the notes A, Bb, Ab, E and G. That’s an uncomfortable sounding sequence of notes when you play it over a standard blues turnaround in the key of F. But then having played that outside sequence, he immediately brings it back inside the harmony by outlining a C major triad at the end. With the C7 functioning as the V chord in the last bar of the blues.

It’s really hard to analyse some of these outside lines other than to say that when you play the lick through, it just sounds really cool. And it shows that Jeff Andrews had incredible musical instincts as an improviser. He had the ability to throw in outside passages and make them sound like they fit with the inside harmony. He will be missed.

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.

John Coltrane Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 44

John Coltrane Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 19th February 2019

This week I’m breaking down another jazz lick on bass guitar. And I wanted to take on one of the all time great jazz improvisers, John Coltrane.

So, I was reading through the bass clef John Coltrane Omnibook trying to choose where I should start. And I decided I should start by looking at how he played over what are know as the Coltrane Changes. Or the Coltrane Matrix as it was called when I was taught it at music college.

Coltrane Changes

The Coltrane changes are a sequence of chords that take you through three keys. Each key is a major third away from the previous key. So, the progression always resolves back into the original key. Because an octave divides perfectly into three major thirds.

John Coltrane used this progression as a substitution for a standard II – V – I progression. Coltrane used this substitution in his composition Countdown from the Giant Steps album. The Countdown chord progression is a reharmonisation of the jazz standard Tune Up.

The Lick Arranged for Bass

So, I’ve arranged one of John Coltrane’s licks from Countdown for bass guitar. The lick takes place over three bars and encompasses all three key changes. It starts like this.

Coltrane Jazz Lick Bar 1

The first chord, Cm7, is chord II in the key of Bb major. If you’re going to analyse the first two notes in terms of their relationship to the chord then they would be 5th and 11th. But I feel like in this case, Coltrane was just using two notes from the key of Bb major to lead into the new key. Which is why I haven’t written 5th and 11th above the notes.

The Db7 chord is chord V in the new key, Gb major. From this point on, it’s really interesting to see how many chord tones John Coltrane uses in his line. So I’ve written the chord tone relationships above the notes. Here’s the second bar.

Coltrane Jazz Lick Bar 2

In this bar, the key changes from Gb major to D major (A7). You’ll notice that virtually every note he uses in this lick is either root, third, fifth, seventh or ninth. The only note that isn’t in this bar is the Ab passing note between the root and seventh of the A7 chord.

Using Chord Tones

His approach might seem quite simplistic on the face of it. It would certainly seem like a simplistic way of building lines if you were to apply it to the standard, unaltered II – V – I progression. But, if you look at it in context with the chord progression, it makes complete sense.

He’s using this incredibly cool substitution, which features constantly moving harmony. And he wants his line to reflect the substituted harmony. If he filled his line with chromatic alterations and extensions, then the underlying chord progression could quickly become unrecognisable. Here’s bar three.

Coltrane Jazz Lick Bar 3

In this bar the key returns to the original Bb major (F7). The pattern used on the Dmaj7 chord is very typical of the 1, 2, 3, 5 patterns that Coltrane loved to use around this period. Which is why I’ve put 2nd in brackets next to the 9th, E. Here is the full lick.

John Coltrane Jazz Lick

John Coltrane Improvisation Style

Analysing these licks is like getting a lesson in jazz improvisation from one of the masters. This lick is very typical off what John Coltrane was playing in the late 1950’s. But, during his career he went through several different stages. Each featuring a different approach to improvising. So I have no doubt that I will be analysing more Coltrane licks in the near future from different stages of his career.

In the mean time, why not check out this Jaco Pastorius Jazz Lick. Or if you’ve already seen that you can check out one of my own jazz licks here. And here is an example of a diminished jazz blues lick. Enjoy!

Use Intervals of a 4th To Create a Modern Jazz Sound – Bass Practice Diary 43

Playing lines in 4th intervals is a very popular sound modern jazz. It’s a very distinctive sound. And once you’ve incorporated it into your playing, you’ll start to recognise when you hear other musicians using it. This video features an exercise that I’ve written to help you incorporate this sound in your playing.

If you’re not sure what I mean by an interval of a 4th then check out my video guide to playing intervals on the bass.

How to Play 4ths on Bass Guitar

There are two obvious ways to play 4ths on bass guitar. I believe that if you’re going to be able to come up with basslines in 4ths, then you need to practice and use both ways.

The first way is the easy way. You go from any fretted note to the same fret on an adjacent string. The bass is tuned in 4ths. So, as long as you stick to the same fret, you’ll be playing a 4th. This is very simple and you can apply this to playing scales and harmonies. Here is a G major scale played in intervals of a 4th.

G major scale in 4th intervals
G major scale in 4th intervals

This way of playing 4ths is so simple, that it can lead to some bass players ignoring the slightly more complicated way of playing 4ths. Which is by shifting position up five frets on a single string. Like this.

4th intervals on a single string
4th intervals on a single string

I think that this element of shifting position, is essential if you’re going to create musical lines in 4ths. If you only use the first, easier technique, then you’ll very quickly find that you’re stuck in one position on the bass neck. And as a result, it will massively limit your ability to come up with musical lines.

The 4ths Exercise

So I’ve written this exercise, which is designed to help you practice playing 4ths in both ways.

4th Intervals Exercise

I’ve written it in the key of A major. But, if you want to master it, please practice it in any and every key. The concept is simple. It starts with a position shift from the A on the 5th fret of the E string to the D on the 10th fret. Then you play a 4th interval from the B on the 7th fret to the E on the 7th fret of the A string.

So it immediately uses both ways of playing 4ths. Then it repeats the same pattern all the way up the neck until you can’t go any further. And then you play everything the same way in reverse.

Once you’ve got used to playing lines in 4ths, start to listen to listen out for the sound of 4ths in other musicians lines. Listen to players like Evan Marien, he’s a brilliant bass player that loves the sound of 4ths in his basslines.

Jaco Pastorius Jazz Lick – Bass Practice Diary 42

Jaco Pastorius Jazz Lick – Bass Practice Diary – 5th February 2019

This week I’m featuring a lick from Jaco Pastorius’ solo on (Used to be a) Cha Cha from his debut album. It’s one of my favourite Jaco solo’s because it contains incredible melodic jazz lines like the one I’ve featured in the video. Here’s the lick!

Jaco Pastorius Jazz Lick

Several things stand out to me about this lick. It’s very fast, it takes place over moving harmony, Eb major to D minor and it includes an odd meter bar. I don’t know for sure that he improvised the line, but I believe that he did. And to improvise a line at that speed over moving harmony and an odd meter bar is extraordinary. That solo is one of many moments from that album that really underline why Jaco was such a genius and why his legacy has been so long lasting on the bass guitar.


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.

How to Practice Sliding Notes on a Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary 40

Sliding Notes on a Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd January 2019

Sliding between notes is an integral part of phrasing on a fretless bass. This video features an exercise to help you practice sliding accurately between notes by using the pentatonic scale.

When you slide between notes on a fretless bass, the first thing that you need to concentrate on, is keeping the notes in tune. When you slide, it’s very easy to slide too far and go sharp, or not quite far enough and the note will be flat. So my first advice is to start slowly and use a backing track.

Backing tracks are very easy to find for free on Youtube. Here is an example of a backing track in G major that you could use to help you practice this exercise. When you practice with a backing track it’s so much easier to hear when you go a little bit out of tune.

Use the Pentatonic Scale to Practice Sliding Notes on Fretless Bass

The easiest way to play a pentatonic scale is by playing two notes on each string like this.

G major pentatonic – two notes per string

The reason it’s easy is because it doesn’t involve any position shifts. But it offers very little opportunity to slide between notes.

In order to incorporate slides, you need to keep shifting position, which involves playing at least three notes per string like this.

Sliding Notes with 1st Finger in G major Ascending
Sliding Notes with 1st Finger in G major Descending

You can also practice this on a fretted bass. It’s easier on a fretted bass because you don’t need to be as accurate. But position shifting is an important skill for any bass player to practice.

The idea of the exercise is that you always slide with your 1st finger (index finger). Playing three notes on each string, you play the first of the three notes with your 1st finger and then slide up to the second note. You can play the third note on each string with either your third finger or little finger.

Slide Notes With Any Finger

It’s easiest to use your 1st finger to slide. But you want to be able to slide accurately with all of the fingers on your left hand. So come up with your own variations of this exercise and use different fingers to play the slides. Here’s a variation that I demonstrated in the video which uses your 4th finger (little finger) to play the slides.

Sliding Notes with 4th Finger in G major Ascending

Another variation that I demonstrated in the video, is to break the exercise down into small sections. Don’t feel like you need to practice the whole scale all at once. Work on each position shift one at a time. Like this.

I think that practicing like this actually replicates what you will play in a real musical situation better than playing the whole scale all at once. You could use the example above as a fretless bass fill on a G major chord. And the example below which starts on a D could also be a fill when you’re playing in the key of G.

Just like any scale exercise, don’t forget to practice this exercise in different positions and different keys. And try to adapt the idea of sliding and position shifting to any other scales, arpeggios or technical exercises that you practice.