Tag Archives: free bass lessons

Applying Jazz Vocabulary to Jazz Standards – Bass Practice Diary 70

Jazz Vocabulary on Jazz Standards with Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 20th August 2019

Last week I was writing out and practicing 16th note jazz lines on II-V-I’s. When you’re practicing jazz vocabulary like that, the next logical step is to try to apply the vocabulary to the chord changes of a tune or jazz standard. And that’s what I’ve been doing this week.

Why do jazz musicians practice playing II-V-I’s?

When I first came across the idea of practicing II-V-I’s, I couldn’t understand why jazz musicians were so obsessed with this one very simple chord progression. But now I get it. Because once you can play lines on II-V-I’s, you can then use those lines in such a huge number of musical situations. Even when there isn’t a II-V-I written in the music, you can superimpose the II-V-I harmony with your lines over it.

Here are just a few examples of what I’m talking about. If you are playing on a minor 7th chord. You can treat that chord as a chord II and play II-V lines over it. Or, if you’re playing on a dominant 7th chord, you can treat it as a V chord and do the same thing. The most obvious place to superimpose a II-V-I is on a major chord or major 7th chord. Using these kind of ideas, jazz musicians have become masters of turning just about any harmonic progression into a sequence of II-V’s or II-V-I’s.

So if you can get good at improvising on II-V-I’s, then you can improvise on so many different chord progressions and harmonies.

Applying jazz vocabulary to standards

Practicing jazz vocabulary in this case just means playing lines that work over common jazz chord changes. Most commonly II-V-I’s. It’s essentially like learning licks. The vocabulary could be lines that you’ve worked out yourself or they could be lines played by someone else. If you’re going to learn to improvise in a jazz style, I think it’s essential to practice some jazz vocabulary. And that’s basically what I was doing last week.

When you practice jazz vocabulary it’s a good idea to transpose it into different keys. It’s an even better idea to apply it to the changes of a real jazz standard. Because then you have to think about how and where you can use the lines. As well as changing the key to follow the harmonic movement of the standard.

I’ve written out two examples. This first one is on the first eight bars of In Your Own Sweet Way.

In Your Own Sweet Way - Jazz Vocabulary Exercise
In Your Own Sweet Way – Jazz Vocabulary Exercise

As you can see, there are lots of II-V’s in this tune. Both major and minor. So, it works really well for applying this kind of jazz vocabulary. My next example was on Miles Davis’ tune Solar.

Solar - Jazz Vocabulary Exercise
Solar – Jazz Vocabulary Exercise

Why practice jazz vocabulary?

Now I should point out, as I did in the video, that this is just an exercise. I wouldn’t choose to improvise like this. Because I don’t use licks or preprepared vocabulary when I improvise. I know that a lot of jazz musicians do use licks in their solos. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that. But it doesn’t work for me. Because I see improvisation as spontaneously creating something in the moment. And that’s what I love about it. If I were to apply a preprepared idea into an improvisation it would feel incongruous to me, and so I don’t do it.

The reason that I practice licks and vocabulary is so that I can hopefully absorb the sounds and melodic ideas. So that hopefully when I want to improvise a jazz solo, I can come up with similar ideas of my own.

The Bass Clef Real Book – Bass Practice Diary 62

Using the Bass Clef Real Book – Melody and Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 25th June 2019

Jazz musicians love to practice with Real Books. And most Real Books are now available in bass clef editions. I have several different editions of bass clef Real Books, such as this one. And in this video I’m demonstrating a system of practicing with the Bass Clef Real Book that combines playing melodies with bass notes. I’ve seen guitarists using this system but it’s not often used by bass players.

What are Real Books?

Real Books are big books filled with hundreds of jazz tunes and standards. The arrangements are mostly written very simply as just a single melody line with chord symbols written above. Some of the tunes have little bits of additional arrangement written in, such as a bass line or harmony. But mostly they just distill each tune down to the simplest structure of melody and chords. The concept was created so that jazz musicians could use a standardised melody and chord progression for each tune when playing them at jam sessions.

How can you use Real Books when you practice?

There are a few different ways that you can use Real Books when you practice. The obvious one is for learning the melody and chords of famous jazz tunes. And they’re also good for sight reading practice. There are a wide range of jazz tunes in most Real Books, everything from slow simple ones to fast complicated Bebop lines. So there should be something to practice, no matter what your reading level is. You could also practice improvising on the tunes with the addition of play along backing tracks.

But this week I’ve been trying something different with my Real Books. Instead of just reading the melodies alone, I’ve been trying to include the root notes of the chords, to make a simple solo arrangement of each tune. This is a concept that I’ve heard jazz guitarists like Julian Lage and Martin Taylor talk about.

The idea is that it helps you to learn the tunes by boiling them down to the fundamentals of melody and bass. So rather than thinking about chord changes (which jazz musicians do a lot) you are thinking more about how does the melody interact with the simple bass line root movement.

I’ve only recently started doing this, but here is a transcription of one of my early attempts. The tune is All of You by Cole Porter.

Bass Clef Real Book
All of You – Melody and Bass page 1
All of You - Melody and Bass page 2
All of You – Melody and Bass page 2

Triads Exercise on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 60

Triads Exercise on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 11th June 2019

This is a triads exercise that I’ve adapted onto bass guitar from something that I saw the guitarist Pat Metheny play. The original version of the exercise came from this video.

He doesn’t start playing the triads until about 3 minutes into the video. And it isn’t clear if he’s improvising or playing an exercise that he’s previously practiced. But I thought it sounded great and it looked like a great way to practice triads and their inversions. So I adapted a short section of what he played onto my six string bass and I’ve turned it into an exercise.

Triads and their inversions

A triad is a three note chord. The obvious way to arrange a triad in root position is root, third, fifth. Then you can play two inversions, third, fifth, root and fifth, root, third.

But that’s not necessarily the best way to play them on fretted instruments like guitars and basses. In this exercise, when Metheny plays a root position triad, he skips the third and goes straight to the fifth. Then he plays the third up an octave, a tenth above the root note. So using this arrangement, the three inversions of the triads are root, fifth, third. Then third, root, fifth and finally fifth, third, root.

Below is an Ab major triad and a Bb minor triad arranged in this way on four string bass.

Ab major and Bb minor triads
Ab major and Bb minor triads

There are two other common types of triad, diminished and augmented. These are actually much simpler to play because they’re symmetrical. Meaning that they use the same interval over and over. Diminished arpeggios divide the octave up into four minor third intervals and augmented arpeggios divide the octave into three major third intervals. Which is why there are four inversions of the diminished triad below but only three of the augmented triad.

B diminished and C augmented triads
B diminished and C augmented triads

The Exercise

This is the exercise. It mostly uses the major triads and the inversions. But there are a few minor and diminished triads. There are no augmented triads in this exercise. I’ve written the chords on top to help you keep track of which chord you’re playing.

Triads Exercise on Six String Bass
Triads Exercise on Six String Bass

Using Open Strings for Position Shifts – Bass Practice Diary 58

Fretless Jazz Lines – Using Open Strings for Position Shifts – Bass Practice Diary – 28th May 2019

This week I’ve been coming up with jazz lines on my fretless bass. But specifically I’ve been trying to use open strings to help me make fast accurate position shifts in these jazz lines. I’ve been inspired to try this after I transcribed a blues solo played by the phenomenal bassist Tom Kennedy in last week’s practice diary video.

I think that one of the best ways to improve as a musician is to work out passages played by great musicians. I often use transcriptions and books written by other people, which are useful tools to use. But I feel that I learn the most when I work it out for myself.

Use open strings to make position shifts

The next challenge, after you’ve worked out a piece of music, is to see what you can take from it and incorporate into your own playing. And the thing that struck me most about Tom Kennedy’s blues solo was the way he was organising his left hand and his use of the open strings.

Can I take some of that and apply it to my own playing? In order to find out, I started writing out jazz lines for my fretless bass that use open strings and position shifts in the way that I’ve seen Tom Kennedy do it.

The theory behind it, is that if you play an open string before you shift position, then that gives you a little bit of extra time to make the shift. And it also gives you a reference note to help you hear if your position shift is accurately in tune. Which is extremely important on fretless bass. It’s a technique that I believe Tom Kennedy has adapted from playing upright bass. But he applies it onto fretted electric bass and he plays jazz lines at ferocious speed.

The fretless jazz lines

My fretless bass is a 6 string. I don’t have another fretless bass because I sold my four string fretless when I bought my 6 string. However, I usually write my TAB’s out for 4 string so that all bass players can use them. So, these three examples are all written for 4 string bass. Even though they’re played on 6 string in the video.

The first one that I played, at the start of the video, is written on the middle eight section of Rhythm Changes. It’s the second most popular chord progression in jazz after Blues changes.

Rhythm Changes Jazz Line with Open Strings
Rhythm Changes Jazz Line with Open Strings

The next line that I shared in the video is meant to be played over the first four bars of Stella By Starlight.

Stella By Starlight Jazz Line with Open Strings
Stella By Starlight Jazz Line with Open Strings

And the final example is over the changes for the first four bars of John Coltrane’s classic composition Moment’s Notice.

Moments Notice Jazz Line with Open Strings
Moment’s Notice Jazz Line with Open Strings

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.

Pentatonic Exercise – Bass Practice Diary 55

Pentatonic Exercise for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 7th May 2019

This week I’m featuring a pentatonic exercise. The reason that I’ve shared this is to show you how I approach practicing scales, or as I like to think of it harmony. I prefer not to use the word scale because it implies going up and down a pattern of notes. Whereas what I’m trying to achieve is learning how those notes fit all over the fretboard. And then coming up with different ways of playing them.

How to practice scales

When I’m practicing a particular scale or harmony, I like to come up with new and different ways to move the harmony around the fretboard. The example in the video is just one example that I came up with. But in a single practice session I might come up with 5 or 6 different exercises using the same scale and practice them all for a few minutes each.

This works for any scale, arpeggio or melodic pattern. It’s the same process that I use when I’m practicing any harmony. I’ve used the pentatonic scale as an example because it’s simple and most people know it.

The pentatonic scale exercise with bass TAB

Here is the pentatonic exercise for bass written out as I played it in the video. I’ve used the root note G for both examples because the open string works well playing the root note. But you could adapt this exercise for any scale that has a G natural in it.

First, here is the G minor pentatonic exercise.

G Minor Pentatonic Bass Exercise
G Minor Pentatonic Bass Exercise

The exercise is simply a three note pattern that starts with an open string. The open string first string is always the first note of the three note pattern. But the other two notes move up and down the neck on the second and third strings.

The final element of the exercise is a rhythmic element. The three note pattern is played with a 1/16th note feel. Meaning that the emphasis keeps shifting onto a different 1/16th note each time you repeat the three note pattern.

If you’re not sure what a 1/16th note feel means, then check out my guide to 1/8th and 1/16th note feels here.

Finally, here is the same exercise adapted to the G major pentatonic scale.

G Major Pentatonic Bass Exercise
G Major Pentatonic Bass Exercise

The Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale – Bass Practice Diary 54

The Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale – Bass Practice Diary – 30th April 2019

Recently I did a video about the altered scale, which is one of seven modes that come from the melodic minor scale. You can find it here. That got me thinking about the other modes of the melodic minor scale. There are a few that I use quite a lot, but there are others that I almost never use. So this week I set myself the task of practicing all of them, and thinking about what harmonic context I can use them in.

If you’ve seen my altered scale video, you’ll already know that melodic minor scale is only one note different from a major scale. If you take out the major 3rd from a major scale and replace it with a minor 3rd, then you have a melodic minor scale.

This small alteration creates the potential for seven modes, that are each different and distinct from the seven major scale modes. (Ionian, dorian, phrygian, lydian, mixolydian, aeolian and locrian). Modes are extracted from scales by changing the root note to a different degree of the scale. For example, if you play the notes of a C major scale but change the root note to D, then you have a dorian mode.

What are the melodic minor modes?

These are the seven modes of the melodic minor scale. Each has been written out in one octave and I’ve written the implied chord symbol above each mode. I’ve chosen to use D melodic minor for this exercise.

Modes of the Melodic Minor
Modes of the Melodic Minor

The first mode is the melodic minor scale itself. I use the melodic minor to play on minor 6th chords and it can also be used on minor/major chords (meaning minor 3rd with a major 7th.

The second mode is like a dorian mode with a flattened 2nd. It implies a minor 7th chord. But the flattened 2nd is a strange note to play on a minor 7th chord. Hence, this is one of the modes that isn’t commonly used.

The third mode is like a lydian scale with a raised 5th. The implied harmony is a major 7th chord with a #5. I don’t currently use this scale a lot. But I’ll try and use it more in future, because it sounds cool.

The fourth mode is usually called lydian dominant because it has a raised 4th, like the lydian mode. But it also has a dominant (flattened) 7th. It’s a scale that I like to use on dominant 7th chords. It’s essentially a mixolydian scale with a raised 4th. Which makes it sound more interesting than a mixolydian scale when played on an un-altered dominant 7th chord.

The fifth mode is basically a mixolydian scale with a flattened 6th. I don’t use it very much but you could use it on a dominant 7th chord with a b13.

The sixth mode works well on half diminished chords (m7b5). It has a minor 3rd and 7th and a flattened fifth. But unlike the locrian scale, it has a natural 9th rather than a flattened 9th.

The seventh mode is the altered scale, which I’ve already covered in my previous video. It’s an extremely useful scale for playing on altered dominant chords.

One Year of Weekly Bass Videos – Bass Practice Diary 53

Bass Practice Diary is One Year Old – 23rd April 2019

A year ago I decided to start documenting my bass practice by picking one thing that I was working each week and making a short video about it.

As a music teacher, I believe that if you want to keep improving your musicianship, then it’s essential that you keep finding new things to practice. It seems to me that a lot of people get stuck in the same practice routines, practicing the same things. And then they wonder why their playing isn’t progressing in the way that they want it to.

What I’m trying to show, is that there is an almost unlimited number of different things to practice. And many different ways that you can practice them.

I release the videos every Tuesday. And I haven’t missed a week in the whole year. So there are currently over 50 videos. All available for free without subscription.

If you would like to follow my free videos each week then you can always find them here on JohnnyCoxMusic.com. And if you subscribe to my Youtube channel and click on the bell icon, then you should be alerted each week when my videos are uploaded. You can also follow me on my Facebook page Johnny Cox Music. And you can find me on Instagram @johnny.cox.music

A Quick Guide to the Altered Scale – Bass Practice Diary 52

The Altered Scale – Bass Practice Diary – 16th April 2019

Jazz musicians love to play on dominant 7th chords. And the altered scale is a really important scale to practice if you want to create a jazz sound when playing on these 7th chords. I think that using the altered scale is often perceived as “advanced” harmony. But, as with most things, it’s easy when you understand it. So, here’s my very quick guide to using the altered scale on bass.

What is the altered scale?

The altered scale is a mode of the melodic minor scale. Meaning that it contains all of the same intervals as a melodic minor scale. The altered scale is essentially what you get when you play a melodic minor scale starting finishing on the 7th note of the scale.

So, what’s a melodic minor scale? It’s basically only one note different from a major scale. If you take a major scale and change the major 3rd to a minor 3rd, you have a melodic minor scale.

Here’s the notes of an F major scale.

F major scale
F major scale

And here are the notes of an F melodic minor scale.

F melodic minor scale
F melodic minor scale

Notice that the only difference is the third note. It’s an A natural in the major scale and an Ab in the melodic minor.

If you play the notes of an F melodic minor scale but use E (the 7th note) as the root note. You would be playing an E altered scale.

When you think about the notes of the F melodic minor with an E as the root note, it creates these interval relationships to the root note.

E altered scale
E altered scale

The 3rd of E7 would, of course, be written as G# not Ab. But the altered scale creates some interesting theoretical anomalies like that. Because the major 3rd note (Ab/G#) is actually the 4th note of the scale.

How do you use the altered scale?

As I mentioned at the start, the altered scale works really well on dominant 7th chords. You can think of the altered scale as being a kind of extended dominant 7th arpeggio with lots of chromatic alterations.

The scale includes the root, major 3rd and dominant 7th notes which are the fundamental ingredients of a dominant 7th arpeggio. But the other four notes are all chromatic alterations of some kind. Hence why it’s called the altered scale.

You can alter chord tones and extensions by moving them one semi-tone up or down. The 5th of E7 is B natural, but in the altered scale the 5th has been flattened to Bb. So the altered scale could be used on an E7b5 chord.

The 9th can be altered by sharpening or flattening it. The altered scale uses both alterations. So you could use it on an E7b9 or an E7#9 chord. The final alteration is a b13.

So you can use the altered scale to play on any of these altered dominant chord types. And you will sometimes see the chord symbol E7alt. Which implies a chord that could include any or all of these alterations.

So if you want to start using this altered dominant sound on your dominant 7th chords. Then start to think about using a melodic minor scale that starts one semi-tone above the root of the chord. So, if you’re playing on a D7 chord, think Eb melodic minor. For A7, thing Bb melodic minor, for G7 think Ab melodic minor, for B7 think C melodic minor etc.

For another great jazz approach to playing on dominant 7th chords, check out my video guide to using diminished scale on bass.

Learn to Play Giant Steps Jazz Lines On Bass – Bass Practice Diary 51

How to Improvise on Giant Steps – Bass Practice Diary – 9th April 2019

Last week I posted a video of me practicing improvising on Giant Steps chord changes on fretless and fretted bass. So this week I want to talk a bit about my approach to playing on what are some of the most notoriously difficult chords changes in jazz.

Having said that, I don’t think that soloing on Giant Steps needs to be very difficult. As long as you start slowly and focus on internalising the sound of the chords before you increase the tempo.

One of the reasons that John Coltrane’s Giant Steps has it’s fearsome reputation is because of the chord changes in the first two bars. The first bar starts on a Bmaj7 chord for two beats and immediately changes to a D7 chord on beat three. Which is a key change to G major. The second bar starts with a resolution to a Gmaj7 chord. Then it changes key again. This time to Bb7 on beat three which is the fifth of Eb major.

So the tune starts with three different keys in two bars. Needless to say, if you’re not prepared for it, it will catch you out. And many Giant Steps solos have failed before they’ve begun because musicians can’t negotiate these quick key changes quickly enough.

This chord movement in bars 1 and 2 repeats itself in bars 5 and 6 but transposed so that the progression starts on Gmaj7. And it’s this chord progression that defines Giant Steps. So if you want to improvise on Giant Steps you need to spend some time really working on this two bar chord progression.

Use the Chord Tones

My first piece of advice would be to come up with lines over this two bar progression using chord tones. The progression itself is already complex enough on it’s own that you don’t need to add lots of chromaticism or substitutions to make your lines sound interesting. It’s amazing how many interesting sounding jazz lines you can come up with on Giant Steps using nothing but roots, 3rds, 5ths and 7ths.

Here are three different lines that I came up with which use nothing but chord tones.

Giant Steps Licks for Bass Bars 1-3
Giant Steps Licks for Bass Bars 1-3

You can transpose each of these to work over bars 5 and 6. But here’s another one that I wrote specifically to be played over bars 5-7.

Giant Steps Lick for Bass Bars 5-7
Giant Steps Lick for Bass Bars 5-7

I don’t work out these licks so that I can play them in a solo. I do it to help me get the sound of the chord changes into my ears. And the more lines like this that I work out, the more likely I’ll be to be able to improvise something like this in a solo. So feel free to play through my licks and practice them, but also come up with some of your own.

I honestly feel that this two-bar chord progression is the key to unlocking Giant Steps. Once you can improvise over this tricky chord sequence, the rest of the progression is easy, dare I say it. It’s just a sequence of II – V – I’s in three different keys. Eb major, G major and B major.

Playing on II – V – I’s is a jazz musicians bread and butter. There are hundreds of lessons and videos out there about playing on them.