Cascading Arpeggios Exercises for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 9th February 2021
You probably have an idea in your head of what cascading arpeggios sound like, even though it isn’t a particularly technical musical term. I think that music journalists and writers often use the term more than musicians do. It gets used as a descriptive term in any number of different musical contexts. From classical music to guitar solos.
What are cascading arpeggios?
Usually they are either fast or repetitive descending arpeggios. It’s a very popular melodic device. And they also get used as a way of playing chords under a melody. In theory you could apply this idea to any arpeggio. In this video I’ve only used diatonic 7th chord arpeggios as an example. So, here are the four different inversions of a descending C major 7th arpeggio.
You can create an exercise by taking each of these inversions down through all of the diatonic arpeggios in the key of C major. I’ve done the first one of these in the video.
An alternative way of playing this is to move each arpeggio down the neck of the bass. Position shifting every time you start a new arpeggio. This is harder for the left hand.
I would strongly recommend practicing these both ways. Exercise 1 is easier to play, and it’s ok to play in one position like that. However, it also helps if you can shift positions smoothly. If you can’t, you’ll get stuck playing everything in just one place on the neck.
The final example that I featured in the video starts on an E7 chord and it uses the diatonic arpeggios in the key of A major. The inversion starts on the 5th, B in the case of the E7 chord.
Chord Progression on 6-String Bass with Chord Diagrams – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd February 2021
This week I’ve been coming up with chord progressions on my new Sandberg Superlight 6-string bass. I thought this chord progression was quite nice, so I made a video of it. It uses mostly simple chord voicings, triads and the occasional 7th chord. Simple chord voicings tend to work well on bass. Too many notes in the lower register can sound like a mess.
I started out trying to play something in C major, and as you can hear, I ended up in Bb major. I wasn’t necessarily planning that when I came up with this. But that was where my instinct took me, and when I listened back, I liked it. I did think about including bass tablature in the video. But in the end I decided that chord diagrams worked better.
However, if you’re looking for a note for note transcription, here it is with tablature for 6-string bass.
If you’d like to learn more chord progressions on 6-string bass then check out my YouTube channel, Johnny Cox Music. It features a playlist of 6-string bass videos including several videos on the subject of chords and chord progressions.
Create Chromatic Jazz Lines by Using Passing Notes – Bass Practice Diary – 19th January 2021
When you improvise a jazz line, you can put a chromatic passing note anywhere, right? That’s true up to a point. But your lines will be significantly improved if you think about where you place them. Chromatic passing notes can be used to connect scale notes and chord notes. In this video I’m looking mostly at scales, but you still need to think about where you play the chord tones. Otherwise your chromatic jazz lines can sound like you’re just playing a chromatic scale.
Chromatic Passing Notes
The idea behind chromatic passing notes is very simple. You simply move between two notes chromatically (in half steps). Major scales consist of five whole step intervals (whole tones) and two half step intervals (semitones). That means that there are five places in a major scale (or any of it’s modes) where you could place a chromatic passing note. Between any of the five whole tone intervals.
If you place a chromatic passing note in all five places, you have a chromatic scale. We don’t want our lines to sound like we’re playing a chromatic scale. We want them to sound like they belong with the harmony of the music. So, to make a chromatic jazz line sound like it fits the harmony, you need to think about what the chords are. And where are the chord tones in your line.
My Chromatic Jazz Line
This is the line I featured in the video. I’ve used a chromatic passing note on the V chord A7. I’m thinking of the whole line as being in D major, so I’m using the notes of the D major scale. I’m also thinking about the chord tones for each chord. So, on the A7 I’m thinking about A, C#, E & G. The one chromatic passing note that I’ve included on the second bar is placed between the root note, A and the 7th, G. I’ve done that to ensure that both notes land on the beats, while the chromatic passing note (G#) lands on the off-beat.
The rest of the notes in that bar are taken from the D major scale (or A mixolydian mode). The addition of that one passing note between the root and 7th ensures that a chord note lands on every beat. The notes on the off-beats act as passing notes (either scale notes or that one chromatic note). This basically gives us what is known as a bebop scale.
Bebop Scales and Beyond
A bebop scale on a dominant 7th chord is just the notes of the mixolydian mode with the addition of that one chromatic passing note between the root and 7th. It’s a useful scale because if you start by playing a chord tone on beat one, as I did. You can play the scale either descending or ascending. If you play 8th notes starting on beat one, you will hit a chord tone on every beat.
That’s not the only bebop scale. There is one for major chords as well that involves adding a chromatic passing note between the fifth and sixth notes of a major scale. There are three other bebop scales which I might cover in a future video. The dominant 7th version that I’ve used here is the one I use most often.
But what if you want to go beyond bebop scales and play more than one chromatic passing note in a line? I’ve given one example in the video of playing a chromatic line that goes from 3rd down to 7th chromatically.
It’s essentially just a sequence from the chromatic scale. But it works as a jazz line because I’ve planned where the chord tones land. The 3rd lands on beat one, the 9th on beat two. The 9th is a chord extension, but it can be treated as a chord tone for the purposes of making jazz lines. Then the root note is on beat three and the 7th on beat four. When you listen to it played against an A7 chord, you can hear the sound of the chord coming from this chromatic line.
How to Make a Major Scale Sound Like Jazz – Bass Practice Diary – 17th November 2020
If you study harmony, you begin to realise just how important the major scale is. Diatonic harmony in its entirety realties to the intervalic relationships of the major scale (also sometimes called the diatonic scale). So, it’s hardly surprising that a major scale is a popular choice for improvisation as well. But, how do you make a major scale sound like jazz?
Why use major scales in jazz improvisation?
I think that a lot of musicians learn to analyse diatonic chord progressions in jazz standards. They know the right key to play at every point in the progression. Each key is defined by the notes of the parent scale, which in the case of major keys, is a major scale. So, you can break a lot of jazz tunes down to playing different major scales at different points in the chord progression. But the problem is, that major scales on their own don’t sound very much like jazz. So, how do you use the major scale to make jazz lines?
I’ve noticed that a lot of people learning to improvise are looking for a scale or scales that will make them sound like jazz. I don’t think it works like that. I think there are a lot of different approaches to improvising in a jazz style. Today, I’m looking at two key concepts. One is approach notes, the other is outside notes. The concept of outside notes is simple to understand. There are seven notes in any key (the notes of the major scale) and there are twelve notes in the octave (the chromatic scale). Outside notes are the five other notes that are not in the major scale. If you want your lines to sound like jazz lines, you need to come up with some creative ways to use them.
A simple and great way to begin to incorporate some outside notes into a major scale, is with the use of chromatic approach notes. A chromatic approach note can be as simple as picking a target note from the parent scale, and playing a semi-tone (one fret) below or above that note before you play it. Of course, not all of these chromatic approach notes will be outside notes. If your target note is the major 7th, and you play a chromatic approach note above that note, you’re playing the root note. But some (most) of your chromatic approach notes will be outside notes. And that’s enough to bring a jazz flavour to your lines.
Play a major scale with chromatic approach notes
This is an exercise that I featured in the video.
I’m playing a C major scale in ascending thirds (root, 3rd, 2nd, 4th, 3rd, 5th etc). Each third interval is two notes. I’m then adding a chromatic approach note before and below the first, lower note. So, C, E (Root, 3rd) becomes B, C, E, a three note grouping. D, F (2nd, 4th) becomes C#, D, F.
It sounds good, but it sounds like an exercise. I want to make it sound less like an exercise and more like an improvised jazz line. Try mixing up the exercise by varying the chromatic approach notes either above or below the target notes. You can also vary whether you play your thirds ascending or descending. When you play a descending third you can play the approach note before the higher of the two notes.
Slap Bass Timing Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 8th September 2020
If you’ve been following my recent series of videos about timing exercises, then you’ll know how these work by now. You take an odd number note grouping and play those groupings as continuous 16th notes. What I didn’t mention on any of my previous videos, was that these exercises are a great way to practice slap bass. This video feature three slap bass timing exercises. And you can take this concept and develop your own exercises.
The first exercise is 16th notes played in three note groupings. The three note grouping consists of a note, G, thumped with the right hand thumb (T). A tap on the strings with the left hand, marked L.H on the notation. And finally a pull with the index finger of the right hand, which I’ve played as a dead note by muting the strings with my left hand.
The second of the three note sequence, the left hand tap, can be very soft. You don’t need to hit the strings hard, you just need to do it in time. Hitting the strings with the left hand has the effect of silencing the first note. So, even if you don’t here the tap, you will still feel the rhythm by hearing the note G go silent.
The second exercise is an extension of that idea. This time the three note grouping is made by thumb (right hand), hammer (left hand) and pluck (right hand index). And the notes are taken from a C minor pentatonic scale.
The final exercise features a five note grouping. The five notes are as follows. Thump the G and then tap with the left hand, exactly as in exercise 1. Then thump with the right hand thumb again, but this time as a dead note muted by the left hand. That’s three, the final two notes are F and G. Pluck the F on the D string and hammer onto the G on the fifth fret with your left hand.
Triplet Timing Exercises for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 1st September 2020
This is my third video of timing exercises for bass guitar. The previous two videos both involved playing odd number note groupings as 16th notes in 4/4. In this video, I’m changing the subdivision and I’m playing four and five note groupings as triplets in 4/4. All of these triplet timing exercises are written with 8th note triplets. However, if you want to take the exercises a step further, you can make them harder by using quarter note triplets or 16th note triplets.
The first exercise involves playing four note groupings. I’m using two arpeggios in the key of C major, a Dm7 arpeggio and a Cmaj7 arpeggio. You can use any four note grouping to do this. Four note groupings played as continuous triplets in 4/4 will arrive back on beat one after two bars. So, I’ve put the note C on beat one of bar three to complete the exercise. You can loop the exercise as many times as you want to.
Another way to play four note groupings would be to play a scale, four notes at a time. This is a C major scale played descending from G, the fifth.
Playing five note groupings as triplets is harder. The next exercise lands back on beat one at the beginning of bar 6.
Finally, this last exercise combines the four and five note groupings. It’s actually a bit more straight forward than playing just the five note groupings, because four and five makes nine. So, this is effectively a grouping of nine. And because nine is divisible by three, it fits into triplet rhythms quite nicely.
Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar #2 – 16th Notes in Five Note Groupings – Bass Practice Diary – 18th August 2020
This week’s timing exercise features five note groupings, played as 16th notes. Last week I featured a similar exercise with three note phrases. You can make exercises like this by using any odd number grouping, and then playing those groupings as continuous 16th notes in 4/4.
Odd Number Rhythmic Groupings
The larger the grouping, the more rhythmic possibilities it creates. For example, five note groupings can be counted as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Da-Di-Gi-Na-Dum). Or you could count 3+2 (Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka) or 2+3 (Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta). However, a seven note grouping would give more options, 4+3, 3+4, 2+3+2, 5+2 etc.
The idea of playing odd number rhythmic groups, is that it creates a continuously moving polyrhythmic feel against the four beats in a bar of 4/4 and the four 16th note subdivisions in each beat. The idea of these exercises, is that they systematically go through every possible rhythmic placement of a five note grouping of 16th notes in a bar of 4/4, before arriving back on beat one at the beginning of the sixth bar.
Three Variations of The Exercise
In the first exercise, I’m playing five note arpeggios in the key of C major.
As you can see, I play the tonic, C on beat one of bar 6. If you can hit that note on the downbeat, then you know you’ve played the exercise correctly.
The second variation of this exercise is a variation of the first exercise. This time, I’m playing the five notes as three and then two.
The third variation also uses the three and two idea. However, this time I’m using an ascending G major scale.
Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar – 16th Notes in Groups of 3 – Bass Practice Diary – 11th August 2020
The concept of this timing exercise is very simple. You take any sequence of three notes, and play the sequence as continuous 16th notes in 4/4. So, you subdivide the beats into four, but you play a pattern of three, which creates a simple polyrhythm. Each time you play the sequence, it will start on a different 16th note. After three bars, you will have played all of the different permutations of where that sequence can start in a bar of 4/4. So, if you play the sequence correctly for three bars, the sequence should begin again on beat one of bar 4.
The Exercise and Variations
This would be a simple version of the exercise. It’s a “one finger per fret” exercise, but each note is played three times.
I would more commonly play the exercise using triads, as I have here.
You could also apply the same idea to practicing scales. Here is a C major scale played in three note groupings. First ascending and then descending.
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.
Naima by John Coltrane: Chords on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 21st July 2020
Naima is one of my favourite jazz compositions (I have a lot of favourite jazz compositions). I know that a lot of other musicians feel the same way about Naima, because it has an incredibly beautiful and unusual chord progression. It comes from the John Coltrane’s Giant Steps album, which I’ve featured before in my Bass Practice Diary. It was recorded in 1959, the same year as Kind of Blue, and it stands alongside that album as one of the iconic jazz albums of the 20th century.
However, Naima is not the type of composition that most people would associate with that album. Giant Steps tends to be remembered for it’s burning fast bop tunes with furiously fast key changes like the title track and Countdown. Naima is a slow ballad that Coltrane played many times, and I think many people forget that it originally featured on the Giant Steps album. However, Naima does have something in common with those other tunes I mentioned, it has an incredibly innovative chord progression.
A long time ago I set myself the challenge of arranging these incredible chords on my 6-string bass. I quickly realised that I needed to change the key to get the chords in the B section to work well. The reason being, that there’s a chord in the B section with the melody note Db. The highest fretted note on a 24 fret 6-string bass is C, one semi-tone too low. So, to voice the chord accurately, you need to play the top note way down on the 13th fret of the 1st string. It isn’t wrong to do that, but it just doesn’t sound very good.
So, to make it sound better, I transposed everything down a semi-tone. I played that top note as a C on the 24th fret of the first string. An extra advantage of transposing was that I could use the open A string as the bass note, instead of the Bb in the original key. When I play Naima I also tune my E-string down to a D. I use the open string to play the peddled bass note in the A section. If you want to transpose my arrangement into the original key, then you could tune your bass up a semi-tone.
When you see Naima written in books, you normally see the chord progression in the A section written something like this.
Changes similar to these feature in the jazz Real Books and the Coltrane Omnibook. I even found them on Naima’s wikipedia page (which I thought was unusual!)
The Major 7th Chords Trick
I’ve never found these Real Book chords helpful. I worked out by ear that you could create the sound of Naima by moving major 7th chords around over the pedalled bass notes. I do understand that when you change the bass note, you change the chord. So, a lot of these chords don’t function as major 7th chords. I gave the example in the video that when you play an Fmaj7 chord over a D bass note, you get the sound of Dm9.
Recently, I was playing Naima with a Saxophonist, and we were using the Real Book chord changes. I mentioned to him that I’ve always thought of the tune as being entirely made up of major 7th chords over pedalled bass notes. He told me that a scrap of paper had been discovered with John Coltrane’s handwritten chords for Naima. They were written out for Tommy Flanagan, the pianist on the original recording. Coltrane had written every chord as a major seventh chord.
I wasn’t sure I believed that this piece of paper really existed. I wanted to believe it, because it tied my way of thinking about the tune to Coltrane’s way of thinking about the tune. But, if such a piece of paper existed, then why do all the books and publications still stick with this unnecessarily complicated way of writing out the harmony? So, today I did some research to see if there was any legitimacy to the story. This is what I found.
It just goes to show the power that the jazz Real Books have had in defining how we think about jazz standards. Once a tune is written in the Real Book. The Real Book chord changes become the definitive chord changes that everyone uses. But often, the changes in the Real Books are very different to actual chord changes.
How I Play the Chords on 6-String Bass
This is how I’ve arranged the chords on my 6-string bass. I can’t pretend that this is 100% like either the Real Book changes or the Coltrane changes. It’s simply the best way that I’ve found to recreate the sound of Naima on a bass guitar.