Tag Archives: fretless bass

Use Fretless Bass to Play Jazz Solos and Melodies – Bass Practice Diary 12

Jazz Solos and Melodies on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th July 2018

This week I’m featuring an excerpt from Miles Davis’ solo on the tune So What from the seminal jazz album Kind of Blue. I’m playing it on my Warwick Thumb SC fretless bass.

Why Play Jazz Solos on Bass Guitar

The purpose of this video practice diary is not to copy Miles Davis or any other jazz soloist. Firstly, it’s to try to show how well the fretless bass works as an instrument for playing jazz solos. Especially solos with the type of lyrical phrasing demonstrated by Miles Davis. Secondly, it’s because I believe that anybody that wants to learn how to solo and improvise, should try and work out solos and melodies by as many great musicians and improvisers as they can. Not because you should try to copy other musicians, but simply in order to learn from them.

Jaco Pastorius is the most influential jazz bassist in history and he overwhelmingly favoured playing fretless. He also stated that the first thing he would do when learning any new piece, was learn the melody. He felt that learning melodies was essential to playing bass lines. I strongly agree with him. I’ve stated in a previous post that one of the principle functions of bass lines, is harmony. And in order to really understand a composition and how to harmonise, you must understand the melody.

What is “Lyrical” Soloing

When I use the adjective “lyrical” to describe a solo, it might seem like an odd choice of word. The word seems to imply lyrics which is strange to attach to an instrumental solo.

A dictionary definition of lyrical is “expressing the writer’s emotions in an imaginative and beautiful way”. Which more or less sums up what I mean. But there is a bit more. The word lyrical to me implies being like a human voice. Miles Davis was quite open about this with his soloing, he was trying to use his trumpet to phrase like a singer would. This is what I’m trying to achieve with my fretless bass. And it can work well because you can slide in and out of notes and use vibrato in a way that you can’t on a fretted bass. However, you do have to be careful to not over use any of these things.

Intonation is also a key consideration when playing fretless. Meaning; are the notes in tune? If you put your fingers in even slightly the wrong place on the fret board, the notes will be out of tune. You don’t need to be nearly so accurate on a fretted bass.

Learning How to Play Jazz Solos on Bass

This Bass Practice Diary entry leads on from what I was doing last week, when I was playing Charlie Parker melodies on fretless bass. I believe that the best way to learn how to play jazz solos, is to learn to play as many jazz solos and melodies as you can.

Technical information about chords and scales is useful theory, but it doesn’t teach you how to improvise a jazz solo. Soloing is about creating melody, and melody is about creating musical phrases. The best way to do this is by listening to as much music as you can and working out how to play the melodic phrases.

Preferably, do it by ear. If you find it difficult to work out music by ear, I would recommend starting very simply, by using folk or pop melodies before moving onto jazz. It can be a slow process at first because it takes a lot of trial and error to begin with. So don’t be put off if you’re only starting out. You will get faster with experience.

Charlie Parker Tunes on Fretless Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 11

Playing Charlie Parker Melodies on Solo Fretless Electric Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd July 2018

This week I’m playing Charlie Parker melodies on my fretless Warwick Thumb SC 6 string bass guitar.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker is a pioneer of modern jazz and one of the greatest saxophonists in history. Alongside trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie he pioneered the genre called Bebop. His compositions provide a musical and technical challenge to perform on bass, especially fretless bass. But doing so will improve your technique as well as help you learn the language and phrasing of modern jazz.

The Influence of Jaco Pastorius

I first started learning Charlie Parker melodies on bass when I was in my teens after I discovered Jaco Pastorius’ debut, self titled album. Track 1 on the album was Donna Lee. The melody was played by Jaco on a fretless electric bass. Like many other bass players, hearing this was a revelation to me. He took the bass out of it’s traditional role and elevated it to the level of a jazz solo instrument. I immediately decided that I needed to try doing the same thing.

So I used a Jazz Real Book to start working out jazz bebop melodies on my bass. I didn’t start with Donna Lee. It was the concept of playing jazz melodies on bass that I wanted to emulate, not necessarily that particular tune. Although I did get around to learning Donna Lee soon enough.

The first bebop tune I learned was called Tricotism, by the legendary double bass player Ray Brown. I figured I should start with a piece that was created for bass. Having done that I then learned the tune Confirmation by Charlie Parker. You hear me play an excerpt at the end of the video.

Why Play Charlie Parker Tunes on Bass?

I suppose the simplest answer is, because I think they sound really cool. Especially on fretless bass. But there are plenty of other great reasons to try this out. First, it is fantastic for improving your left hand technique. To play these tunes on bass you need to organise your left hand extremely well. Each tune forces you to practise spreading out your fingers, playing one finger per fret positions and shifting quickly and smoothly between these positions.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out my free video lesson on Left Hand Techniques. The video begins with me playing another Charlie Parker tune called Anthropology on a 4 string bass.

How do You Start Playing Charlie Parker Tunes on the Bass?

Slowly, is always good advice. Take it one phrase at a time and work out good left hand fingerings for each phrase. It’s so important to have a well organised left hand in order to play these melodies.

If you can read music, you can start with a jazz Real Book. That’s how I started, and as I understand it, that’s how Jaco started as well. I don’t know if they had Real Books back in the 70’s but I understand that he had a book with the melodies in. You can get bass clef versions of most of the Real Books now, which is a big advantage. As a teenager I only had a treble clef Real Book and it took me a while to work out the melodies because at that time my treble clef reading was nowhere near as good as the bass clef.

Other books available include the Charlie Parker Omnibook which also comes in a bass clef version. It goes into each tune in a lot more detail than the Real Books because it includes transcriptions of both the melodies and solos. However, it’s not my favourite book because it doesn’t use key signatures. So each transcription contains hundreds of accidentals (sharps and flats) written throughout the music.

If you’re not a reader then the book to get is called Charlie Parker for Bass. It includes TAB and also features solo transcriptions, arranged for 4 string bass.