Tag Archives: fretless bass

Giant Steps Improvisation – Bass Practice Diary 50

Giant Steps Improvisation on Fretless & Fretted 6 String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd April 2019

Some jazz tunes are so iconic that every jazz musician and enthusiast should know them. John Coltrane’s Giant Steps definitely falls into that category. The chord changes have made it iconic, because they’re notoriously difficult to improvise on. Over the years it’s become a kind of rite of passage for aspiring jazz musicians to learn to play on those changes.

I’ll do a more complete analysis of how I approach playing on Giant Steps next week. But the purpose of this video is to show how I approach practising any tricky piece like this. The first and most important thing when approaching any difficult repertoire is to start slow. If you want to be able to play fast, then practice slow.

Start Slow and Vary the Feel

When I’m approaching any chord progression, I’m trying to internalise the sound of the changes. It’s much harder to do this if the changes are flying past at 300bpm. Coltrane may have played Giant Steps blisteringly fast, but I’d be willing to bet that he practiced it slowly first.

I love practicing playing over slow changes. You can really enjoy playing over each chord and having loads of time to hear the changes go past. And this will really help you to get the sound of the changes into your ears.

Another piece of advice I would offer, is to practice playing the changes over as many different feels as you can. As you can hear in my video I start by using a slow straight 1/16th note feel, and then move on to a faster swing feel. But that only scratches the surface, there are so many different tempos and feels that you can use.

It always amazes me that some jazz musicians seem to only practice improvising in a swing feel. You can always tell who these people are because they instantly sound very uncomfortable playing in anything that doesn’t have a swing feel.

John Coltrane and Giant Steps

Giant Steps was recorded and released in 1959, which was a watershed year in jazz for many reasons. It came from the album which was also called Giant Steps, and that album is seen by many as a masterpiece of jazz Bop style improvisation and composition. In fact it’s seen by many as the ultimate recording in that style of jazz.

You can find my bass TAB and analysis of a John Coltrane lick from that album here. It comes from a composition called Countdown which features similar chord movement to Giant Steps.

It’s certainly possible to believe that Coltrane himself believed that he couldn’t improve upon Giant Steps. Because from that point on in his career he went on to explore other aspects of jazz improvisation such as modal jazz and free jazz. And he never returned to the Bop style vocabulary of the Giant Steps album.

Wild Mountain Thyme – Scottish Folk Melody – Bass Practice Diary 49

Wild Mountain Thyme – Scottish Folk Melody – Bass Practice Diary – 26th March 2019

This week I’ve done something a bit different. This is an arrangement of a Scottish folk melody called Wild Mountain Thyme. This came about because I did a gig last weekend with a wonderful group called the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir.

There aren’t very many opportunities in the UK to get paid to play bass for a Gospel Choir. So, I considered myself very fortunate to get this gig. And needless to say, it was a beautiful show. One of the most enjoyable I’ve played in a long time.

There was quite a lot of preparation that I needed to do for the gig. I had to learn about 14 songs. I often learn more than double that number of songs for a gig. But much of their repertoire was from American Gospel acts like Kirk Franklin, Hezekiah Walker and Isreal Houghton. And if any of you’re familiar with those guys, you’ll know that there’s some serious bass work on those recordings.

One song in the second half was performed by the choir with piano alone. So I’d never even heard it before the concert. It was completely different from their other repertoire. They sang their own arrangement of a Scottish Folk Song called Wild Mountain Thyme. As I sat listening to the choir sing it, I thought it was beautiful.

So when I got home, I started to mess around with it on bass and guitar. And the result is what I’ve shared in the video above. I’m not sure that my version totally captures the rich harmonies of a gospel choir. But it does at least give you an insight into what I do when I hear a melody I like. I hope you enjoy it and make sure you check out the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir!

Fretless Bass Groove #2 – Bass Practice Diary 46

Jazz Fretless Bass Groove on Suspended Chords – Bass Practice Diary – 5th March 2019

This week I’ve been writing original basslines on sus chords. And I’ve featured one of my lines in this video. This is the second time I’ve featured a fretless bass groove in my practice diary, and I’m planning to do many more in a variety of different styles and feels. You can find my first fretless bass groove video here.

When I’m practicing a particular harmony, chord progression or time feel, I like to compose original bass grooves that fit in to what I’m working on. This week I was working on suspended chord sounds. And here is an original bassline I’ve written on four sus chords. Gsus, Bbsus, Dbsus and Esus.

Mellow Fretless Bass Groove 2
Fretless Bass Groove

Each chord is two bars, and I’ve written the bass TAB for 4 string fretless bass. I’ll write more about the theory of playing on suspended chords in next week’s practice diary. But for now, this is just a mellow jazzy bassline that you can learn and practice. If you like it!

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.

Learn a Fretless Bass Groove with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary 39

Fretless Bass Groove with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 15th January 2019

This week during my bass practice, I’ve been composing bass grooves in 6/8. This video features one fretless bass groove that I’ve written. I choose to feature this one because it fits nicely on 4, 5 or 6 string bass. So hopefully all bass players will be able to have a go at playing it.

Fretless Bass Groove

The bassline is in G major. I’ve written some phrasing, by marking some of the slides on the TAB. But my advice is to focus on the rhythm more than the phrasing.

Once you’ve got the rhythm of the groove, I think you’ll find that the phrasing comes quite naturally. And I don’t mind if you phrase it differently to me. I think phrasing is very personal and I rarely try to imitate another musicians phrasing too closely.

Start by practicing slowly. The full speed is 110BPM and I’ve included a slower version at 70BPM. But I would probably advise starting even slower than that. And make sure that the rhythm is accurate. The rhythm in bar two is particularly tricky. It’s like playing on all of the off beats in a bar of 3/4, but the feel is still 6/8.

Six Eight (6/8) Time Signature

I’ve written before that 6/8 is one of my favourite meters to play in. You can find my guide to playing 6/8 basslines here. I’ve also written about 6/8 in my upcoming book for Fundamental Changes which will be published this year.

Happy Christmas! – Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow! – Bass Practice Diary 36

Let it Snow played on Three Basses!

A Christmas Bass Practice Diary – Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow! – 25th December 2018

Christmas should be a joyful time. It’s a time for families to get together and eat, drink and be merry! However, if, like me, you feel that Christmas generally doesn’t have enough bass in it. Then this Christmas Bass Practice Diary is for you! Another classic Christmas Standard arranged for three basses! It’s exactly what you need to bring a bit more bass into your Christmas Day!

This week I’ve arranged Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow for fretless bass, acoustic bass guitar and double bass. And all that remains is for me to wish you a very Bassy Christmas!

If you’d like to hear another Christmas standard arranged on three basses, then check out my bass arrangement of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) from last weeks Bass Practice Diary video!

The Christmas Song played on Three Basses – Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire – Bass Practice Diary 35

The Christmas Song aka Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire – Bass Practice Diary – 18th December 2018

It’s one week to go until Christmas! So let me first wish everyone a bass filled holiday season! What else could I do other than arrange a classic Christmas Standard for three basses. This is The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) played on fretless bass, acoustic bass guitar and double bass. 

Nat King Cole and Fretless Bass

The reason I choose this song is because the voice of Nat King Cole always makes me want to play my fretless bass. Every time I hear him sing, I think of fretless bass. There’s something about the register he sings in and the way he phrases that just conjure’s up in my mind the warm rich tone of a fretless bass guitar. So I played the melody on my Warwick Thumb SC six string fretless bass after I’d laid down the chords, with a few natural harmonics on my Warwick Alien Deluxe six string  acoustic bass guitar. 

Find my guide to playing natural harmonics on bass guitar here!

The Christmas Song

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire has a 32-bar AABA form like many jazz standards from that era. The song has a jazz ballad feel, which I’ve replicated on all of the A sections. In the B section, I changed the feel, to bring in a bit of variation. I’m using a 4/4 jazz swing feel and the upright bass (double bass) comes in at the B section playing a 4/4 jazz walking bassline. During the B section the two bass guitars also change feel to a swing feel, before all three basses play the final A section with the original straight jazz ballad feel.

For the intro and outro, I’ve used the acoustic bass guitar playing chords using natural harmonics. It’s a technique that I wrote about in my guide to natural harmonics and I think it’s a beautiful sound.

Jazz Blues Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary 30

Jazz Blues Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 13th November 2018

This week I’ve done a detailed breakdown of a jazz lick that I played on a Bb blues progression in last week’s Bass Practice Diary. The lick combines the diminished scale with the blues scale which creates a jazz blues sound.

I’ve played the lick on my Warwick Thumb SC six string fretless bass. But I’ve transposed the lick down an octave so it can be comfortably played on a four string bass and I’ve written the TAB for four string bass in standard tuning.

Jazz Blues Lick

The concept of the blues solo that I played last week was combining the diminished scale and the blues scale. The reason why I’ve highlighted this very short lick is because it combines both the blues scale sound and the diminished sound in one very short lick. The Diminished scale provides a jazz sound while the blues scale keeps the lick rooted in the blues.

If you want to know more of the theory then check out last week’s video, but for now I’ll just take you through the lick.

The Lick

Jazz Blues Lick
Bb7 Jazz Blues Lick

The lick is played on a Bb7 chord but it starts on a G. The lick actually starts before beat one. The way I played it last week, you can think of the G as functioning as the major 3rd of the Eb7 chord in the preceding bar. However you could also play the same note on a Bb7 chord and think of it as a 13th.

From that note it goes up using the diminished scale. The second note Ab lands on beat one and it’s a chord tone, the dominant 7th. If you followed the sequence of the scale then the next note would be the root note Bb, but I’ve chosen to skip the root and go to the next note in the scale which is the b9, B natural (Cb).

Then it’s D and F. Two chord tones, major 3rd and 5th. And both feature in the diminished scale.

It’s worth mentioning at this point, that it’s the b9 that’s creating the diminished sound. All of the other notes are chord tones. They exist in the diminished scale, but without the b9, they would just sound like an arpeggio. It’s amazing what the presence of just one outside note can do to change the sound of a harmonic phrase.

For more of the theory about inside and outside notes, check out these two posts.

Everything You Need to Know About Harmony on Bass Guitar

How to Use Outside Notes In Your Basslines

The Blues Scale

The Blues has its own rules when it comes to harmony. The blues scale is essentially a minor pentatonic scale with one extra note. An outside note, the b5.

If you want to define the sound of the blues, then a good place to start is by playing the minor 3rd from the blues scale on a dominant 7th chord containing a major 3rd. You could argue that anytime you mix minor and major 3rds on dominant chords you are playing a blues sound.

Going back to my lick, I’ve just played a major third and then the 5th of the Bb7 chord, F. The note F exists in the Bb blues scale, the Bb diminished scale and the Bb7 chord. So it’s a very safe note. I’m using it here to transition from playing the diminished scale into playing the blues scale.

From the F, the lick simply goes down the blues scale until it gets to the root note Bb. It includes the minor third Db, so the riff includes both major 3rd, D and minor 3rd Db. Which, as I’ve mentioned, creates a blues sound.

In Conclusion

The diminished scale, and especially the b9 from the diminished scale, create a jazz sound. While the presence of both major and minor 3rds creates a blues sound. And both of these sounds are combined in one very short lick, just nine notes altogether. Which I think is quite cool.

I played several licks with a similar idea in last week’s video and I’ve transcribed one full 12-bar chorus. I think that the lick that I’ve chosen is the shortest and most succinct. Which is why I chose this one. I hope you’ve found this helpful!


Learn a Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary 25

Learn a Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 9th October 2018

The best way to use “licks” in jazz is a subject that divides opinion amongst musicians. I’ve written a melodic jazz lick in the key of F major over a II-V-I chord progression. In this post I’ll explain the lick and also share some of my thoughts on the use of licks in jazz.

What is a Jazz Lick?

In this context, a jazz lick is a melodic phrase, like a musical sentence.  It’s a small fragment of melody that can comprise part of a longer jazz solo.

The debate amongst musicians tends to centre around whether or not it’s appropriate to use pre-learned licks as part of improvised jazz solos.  It’s something that a lot of musicians do, including really good musicians, and the argument in favour of using licks is as follows. By learning licks, you are effectively learning jazz vocabulary. And the more jazz vocabulary you learn, the greater your range will be as an improviser.

This is why I practice jazz licks or phrases. Sometimes I work out my own ones, as I’ve done in this video and at other times I play licks written by other musicians, as I have in this video.

Personally, I don’t like to use pre-prepared licks when I’m performing or playing with a band. Improvising is the thing I love to do most in music. And I like to not know for sure where the music will go. Sometimes the music can suffer as a result of this approach, and if you’re looking for more consistency in your soloing, then learning licks is a good place to start. But, I wouldn’t choose to sacrifice the process of improving by using pre-learned licks. I’ve tried it and I just don’t enjoy it. To me it feels like trying to introduce a pre prepared sentence into a conversation. It might be a great sentence, but there’s every chance it won’t make sense depending on where the conversation goes.

However, using licks is something that probably all improvisers do either consciously or unconsciously. We all fall into patterns of playing, often without realising it. I’m fairly certain that even musicians who are very against the idea of using licks, often unknowingly fall back on melodic phrases that they’ve played many times before.

Fretless Bass Jazz Lick

If you follow my Bass Practice Diary you’ll know that I like to play jazz melodies on fretless bass. So, when I do this kind of practice, I’ll always use my fretless. Having said that, the lick will also work on a fretted bass.

Jazz Lick Ex 1
II – V – I Jazz Lick for Bass Guitar

I’ve TAB’d it for 4 string bass so everyone can play it. I sold my 4 string fretless bass after I got the 6 string Warwick Thumb SC in the video. That’s the only reason that I’m playing a 6 string bass in the video.

The lick is meant to be played over a II – V – I chord progression in the key of F major. Gm7 – C7 – Fmaj7. The II – V – I chord progression is the most common chord sequence in jazz. I won’t go into the theory of it because there are so many articles in existence about II – V – I’s, like this one. I’ll just explain what I’m playing on each chord.

Inside and Outside Notes

I think the reason that jazz musicians love to play over II – V – I chord progressions is because the V chord affords a great opportunity to use outside notes. Whereas the II and the I chord tend to favour the use of inside notes. So, you can create a feeling of starting inside the harmony and then moving outside on the V before coming back in on the I. This is a very jazz approach. The feeling of taking the harmony out and then bringing it back in, immediately sounds like jazz. And it’s that sound that I’ve tried to demonstrate with my jazz lick.

If you want to learn more about inside and outside notes and how to use them then check out this video.

Here’s what I’ve played on the II chord Gm7.

Jazz Lick Ex 2
II chord Gm7

As you can see, all of the notes are in the key of F major, creating an inside sound. Which is fine because we’re about to step outside of the harmony on the V chord.

There are several chromatic alterations in this bar. Playing a b9 on beat one is a very strong statement that I’m taking the melody outside of the key signature. I love this kind of bold harmonic statement. The other chromatic alterations (outside notes) are the #9 and the b13. The final note of the bar is also an outside note, but in this case it’s functioning as a passing note rather than an altered chord extension. It’s simply a semi tone above G natural to take us to an A natural on beat one of the next bar.

How much outside harmony you choose to use is a matter of personal taste. I mentioned in the video that you could play a similar phrase on the V chord but with a natural 9th instead of the #9 and a natural 13th instead of the b13. It would go like this.

Jazz Lick Inside
Alternative Line on the V Chord

Finally, on the I chord, F major 7, the lick resolves itself onto the major 3rd A. Which is about the most inside sounding note you can use at this point.

As I’ve said, I’m not planning to use this lick again any time soon. For me, this is simply an exercise in expanding my jazz vocabulary so I can improvise lines in a similar way in future. But if you’d like to learn  it, and use it in future, I would consider it an honour that anyone chooses to play one of my lines. I hope this has been helpful!

Playing Jazz on Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 20

In a Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington – Jazz Arranged for Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 4th September 2018

I love to play jazz on my basses at home when I get the chance. I usually make my own backing tracks and practice by playing along with them. In this video I’ve laid down the chords of Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood on my acoustic bass guitar and played over the chords on my fretless Warwick Thumb SC.

In a Sentimental Mood

In a Sentimental Mood is one of those great jazz tunes that’s both simple and beautiful. It has a very lyrical melody and some simple but effective chord changes. It was written by Duke Ellington in 1935 and originally performed by his orchestra. But the version that I’ve been listening to was recorded by Duke Ellington with John Coltrane in 1963. I also like Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal rendition of the song, where she sings the melody with just a guitar backing her. I’ve tried to get some of the flavour of both versions in my video. In a Sentimental Mood is also a staple standard of Sonny Rollins sets. He seems to play it a lot and he’s done some wonderful versions of it.

The Basses

The video features two of my favourite basses. The acoustic bass is an Alien Deluxe 6 string acoustic bass guitar. If you’d like to learn more about this bass you can check out my solo arrangement of the jazz standard Autumn Leaves. Or you can check out this demo that I made a few years ago when I first owned the bass.

The Warwick Thumb SC is not only the best fretless bass I’ve ever played, it’s the best bass I’ve ever played. If you’ve seen many of my other videos you’re probably quite familiar with this bass by now. But if you’d like more info, you can find it here.