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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Inside/Outside Pentatonic Jazz Exercise for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 5th May 2020
This week I’m featuring a pentatonic jazz exercise that I came up with. Since I released my pentatonic jazz lick video a few weeks ago, I’ve been coming up with exercises to help me play these inside/outside pentatonic ideas all over my bass and in different keys. I’m featuring the exercise for two reasons. One is because it’s a useful exercise to practice, but the other, more important reason, is to help you come up with exercises of your own by sharing my process with you. This is how I came up with the exercise.
A minor pentatonic exercise
An idea for an exercise usually starts with something very simple, and then I find ways to make it progressively more challenging. In this case, I started with the notes of an A minor triad. Then I took those three notes through the notes of an A minor pentatonic scale by moving each note one scale step downwards on each repetition. Like this.
Then I changed the feel from triplets to 16th notes. That created a three against four polyrhythmic feel. The pattern is three notes but each beat had four subdivisions.
Then I added the II-V-I inside/outside idea from my last pentatonic video. If you think of the Am triad as being chord II in a II-V-I in G major, then you would play two beats on A minor. Then two beats on D7 before resolving onto the one chord, G major, in the second bar.
The three scales used are A minor pentatonic on the A minor chord. The outside scale is Bb minor pentatonic on the D7 chord. And the exercise resolves onto B minor pentatonic on the G major chord. Three pentatonic scales separated by a semi-tone. Two of the scales contain entirely inside notes in the key of G and the other contains entirely outside notes.
6-String Bass Solo & Chords with Bass TAB & Chord Diagrams – Bass Practice Diary – 14th April 2020
This week I’ve transcribed a 6-string bass solo that I played in practice. It follows on from what I was doing last week, finding creative ways to use pentatonic scales in jazz solos. These days I often practice the same ideas on both guitar and bass. In this case I started by playing some pretty chords on the guitar. Then I came up with two pentatonic scales, a tone apart, that worked on each chord. So, each chord had a different pair of scales. I then tried to improvise lines on my 6-string bass using the two pentatonic scales plus a third outside scale that sits exactly between the two scales. Using this idea I was trying to create inside/outside jazz lines in the same way I did for my pentatonic jazz lick last week.
Having done this I then switched it around. So, I worked out how to play the chords on my 6-string bass and I improvised solo lines using the same system on the guitar. Here are the chords and scales that I used in the video.
The first chord is Emaj9, and the two inside scales are C# minor pentatonic and D# minor pentatonic. The reason I chose those two chords is that I was thinking of the Emaj9 chord as lydian, and those two scales spell out the E lydian sound very well. The outside scale would have been D minor pentatonic, but I didn’t use it on the solo I included in the video.
I then played a sequence of major chords over a peddled E bass note. D/E creates an Esus chord and I used the B & C# minor pentatonic scales and C minor pentatonic for the outside notes. Then on C/E I used A & B minor pentatonic and Bb for the outside notes and then A/E I used F# & G# minor pentatonic and G for the outside notes. In each one of these slash chords I was thinking of the major chord as being lydian.
Finally I played an Em9 chord which I treated like a II-V-I in D major, exactly as I did last week. In fact, I tried to used the lick from last weeks video on this chord. I didn’t execute it perfectly but the idea still came across.
These solos are a long way from being perfect, they represent what I’ve been working on this week, which is the point of my bass practice diary. I’m including the transcriptions here to help you see my thought processes as I tried to create these lines. But I’m sure that you can take these ideas and improve on what I’ve done, which is what I’m going to do as well. It’s actually a great exercise to transcribe your own solos, because you can immediately think about how you would do it better next time. Here is the bass solo I played in the video.
Pentatonic Modern Jazz Lick – Bass Practice Diary – 7th April 2020
This week I’ve written a pentatonic jazz lick to try and demonstrate how pentatonic scales can be applied to modern jazz. If you think that pentatonic scales are just easy scales for beginners then you need to read this. I think Google and YouTube probably need to read this as well, because when you search for pentatonic scales, you get a lot of content that is targeted at beginners.
The Pentatonic Scale
Pentatonic means five notes. So, you could technically have any number of different five note scales that could be labeled pentatonic. But there is one pentatonic scale which is “the” pentatonic scale. The same scale can be used for both major and minor and it goes like this.
It’s an incredibly useful scale because pentatonic melodies are universal. I can’t think of many styles of music that don’t use pentatonic melodies. They have a very distinctive character.
Many people associate pentatonic melodies with blues guitar playing. But the applications of pentatonic melodies go way beyond blues licks. Not that there’s anything wrong with playing blues lines. Blues melodies and phrasing are hugely important in jazz, and blues phrases played well can be both beautiful and sophisticated.
However, it’s possible to approach pentatonic melodies in a completely different way. And that’s what I’m looking at this week.
One of the great strengths of the pentatonic scale is it’s versatility. If you’re only using the scale one way, then you’ve missed part of the point of them. If you take any major key, then you always have three different pentatonic scales within that key. Using the key of D major as an example, you have B minor/D major, E minor/G major and F# minor/A major pentatonic scales all within the key. Each creates a different sound played against a D major chord.
Pentatonic Jazz Lick
My pentatonic jazz lick uses three pentatonic scales in the key of D, but none of them are D major pentatonic. I’ve used E minor pentatonic scale on the Em7 chord, which is chord II, and I’ve used the F# minor pentatonic scale on Dmaj7, chord I.
The other scale that I’ve used is F minor pentatonic. This is a scale which gives you all of the notes that are not in the key of D major. I’m using this scale on an A7 chord, chord V. Why play a scale that uses all theoutside notes? To create tension that can be resolved on the one chord (Dmaj7).
Of the five notes in an F minor pentatonic scale, F, Ab, Bb, C & Eb. Four of those notes are altered extensions on an A altered dominant chord, b9, #9, b5 & b13. The other note is Ab. That’s not a note you want to feature too prominently on an A7 chord, because it’s a major 7th on a dominant chord. You can use it, but you have to be careful how you use it. I’ve used the Ab once in my lick and it’s the last note before resolving to chord I. The Ab functions as a chromatic approach note leading to A natural, which is a chord tone in the Dmaj7 chord. Here’s the lick.
Superimposing II V I Licks
I’ve written the line above onto a II V I in D major. But I wouldn’t necessarily choose to play the lick in that context. When I came up with the lick, I was thinking about it more as a straight 1/16th note feel on a funky modal idea.
Jazz musicians love to superimpose II V I lines onto individual chords. You could play that entire lick on a single Em7 chord or Dmaj7 chord or A7 chord.
You could even play it on a G major chord and it would create an inside/outside lick with a lydian sound.