6-String Fretless Bass Modal Improvisation – Bass Practice Diary – 29th December 2020
This is a modal improvisation on my Warwick Thumb SC 6-string fretless bass. What do I practice in the week between Christmas and New Year? Inevitably I’ve practiced less at Christmas than I usually would. Normally I would have been visiting various family members. But all my plans were cancelled at the last minute due to a COVID lockdown announced by the UK government on December 19th. However, despite that, I still have a wife and son at home, so my usual practice time got devoted to trying to make Christmas special for them despite the restrictions.
So, what should you practice at a time when you haven’t done much practice? For me, the answer is, just play! Play for fun, improvise, play for the love of playing music. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or not. Just get the feeling of the strings back under your fingers. So, with that in mind, here’s a video of me improvising on a short modal chord sequence that I’ve been playing around with this week.
I’ve called this a modal improvisation. But how can it be called modal if I’m improvising over a chord sequence? The reason I’m calling it modal is because the chords are not connected by diatonic harmony. So I’m thinking of each chord as being a different scale or mode to improvise on. There is no key that connects the chords. They are simply connected by a bass note, each chord is played over an E bass note.
The chord progression in the video is very simple. It starts on an Eb major chord over an E natural bass note. That chord resolves upwards onto an Emaj7 chord. Then I raise the 5th and make that chord an Emaj7#5 before dropping back onto the Emaj7. These might sound like really small changes, and they are. But each chord change creates the sound of a new mode.
I think it’s an interesting way to think about chord progressions. Rather than thinking about chord changes. Think about changing just one note in a chord and see how that one note changes the overall sound.
Fretless Bass Jam/Improv on My Sire M7 5-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 20th October 2020
I haven’t featured this Sire Marcus Miller M7 5-String fretless bass in a video since I first got it and reviewed it last year. In that review I mentioned that I liked the sound and playability of the bass, but I’d had some issues with it. So, I’ll use this post to update you on how I’ve got along with the bass, one year later.
Before I talk about the bass, I’ll just quickly tell you about the music in the video. I like to jam with myself at home. Meaning record an improvised bassline and then play over it. Let’s face it, it’ll be a while before I get to jam with any other musicians. Lockdown restrictions have been tightened once again in London and I don’t think it will let up over the winter. So I might as well jam alone.
The bassline was a one take improvised line. I was just improvising bass grooves in 7/8 time signature. I was playing along with the little clave ostinato that you hear at the beginning. The rest of the drums were added after the bass parts.
For the improvised solo parts, I did five complete takes. With each take I got gradually more used to playing along with the bassline I’d improvised. The take in the video is number five. The only composed element is the little harmonised melody section. I added that afterwards as I felt it needed some kind of recognisable melody.
The bass sounds good and it plays well. And you could certainly argue that, that’s all a musical instrument needs to do. I’m inclined to think that way myself, and I do like this bass.
Having said that, as much as I enjoy playing this bass, it has turned out to be the most unreliable instrument that I’ve ever owned in terms of holding it’s setup. I made a video, alongside my review, demonstrating how I initially set the bass up. I needed to do it because the setup was a mess when I first got the bass, which in hindsight was a red flag.
Sire Marcus Miller M7 5-String Fretless, One Year Later!
In the year that’s passed, I’ve needed to set the bass up three times. Setups are susceptible to changes in atmospheric conditions, and changes in seasons often necessitate minor changes to setup and intonation.
The bass arrived in the autumn in the UK having come via Germany. It was built in Indonesia. So it’s fair to say it had experienced a few changes in atmosphere before I ever took it out the box. This partly explains the poor condition of the setup when the bass was new. By the time we arrived at spring this year and the weather started warming up, the action completely changed, and then again recently as we move into autumn again.
Moving from dry and hot to wet and cold seems to really mess this bass up. If you think this is normal, then I’m not explaining the scale of the problem very well. I own a lot of instruments and while some of them experience small changes as the seasons go by, this bass is ten times worse than anything I’ve experienced before.
I’ve been unlucky with this bass, I don’t for a moment think that this is true of all Sire M7 basses. I don’t know what it is about this particular one, maybe there’s a problem or a fault with the truss rod. I own enough Sire instruments to know that the setups are fairly stable on most of their instruments.
I’m used to doing the setups now. I can get the bass back to where I want it in under 20 minutes. However, I feel like I can’t ever sell the bass. Or if I do, I must sell it to someone who really understands what they’re taking on. On the other hand, as much as the setup issue is annoying, I always forgive the bass when I start playing it. Because it plays and sounds really good.
Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage Fretless – Bass Practice Diary – 15th September 2020
I’ve been wanting to feature my Sire V7 Vintage fretless bass in a video for a while. I’ve featured Sire basses in my videos before, but never this one. And this is probably my favourite of all of the Sire Marcus Miller basses I’ve played. This is the only Sire bass that I’ve played that I didn’t need to do any setting up when it came out of the box. It played perfectly from the outset and the setup has remained very stable ever since.
Sire V7 vs V7 Vintage
So, what’s the difference between this Sire V7 Vintage and the regular V7’s that I featured in this video. This bass has a body made from Ash and the fretted V7’s both had Alder bodies. However, all of the V7 models come in both ash and alder versions. This bass has a maple fingerboard, my fretted V7’s have ebony fretboards, but once again, both models come with both options.
To find the differences between the models you have to look a bit more closely, and the differences are small. The position of the bridge pickup is different. It’s closer to the bridge on the Vintage model and further away on the standard V7’s. This does give the Vintage model a slightly tighter sound on the back pickup. The Vintage models have a gloss finish on the neck, the standard V7 neck has a really nice matt feel. I slightly prefer the matt feel of the standard V7 neck, but it doesn’t make much difference to me.
I think those are the important differences. There are cosmetic differences, like the scratch plate looks different and the bridge on the Vintage model has vintage style saddles. But I’m not interested in that stuff. I’m only interested in how it plays and how it sounds.
Why I like the Sire V7 Vintage Fretless
I said that this is probably my favourite Sire bass that I’ve played. The setup is really good, but honestly that’s probably just luck with this particular bass. Sire basses are set up with a low action, which can be great but it can also go wrong, and this particular one came out well.
So, that’s not the reason I like it. The reason I like it is because it gives me something that I never thought I’d have, for a very low price. I grew up listening to legendary bass players like Jaco Pastorius and Marcus Miller playing vintage Fender Jazz basses. But it’s never been my thing to try and recreate a vintage sound. I’ve always looked forward and tried to create a modern bass sound. Investing in a proper vintage Fender Jazz bass, even a reissue, would be very expensive. And it’s not an investment that I’m willing to make when it’s not the sound I’m aspiring to make.
This Sire bass gives me a vintage style passive J style fretless bass for a price that I can justify buying it and keeping it just to have fun with. Honestly, I hardly ever play the bass with the preamp switched on. Not because the preamp isn’t good (it’s really good). But because I just want it to be a vintage Fender Jazz Bass. The fact that it has this preamp on it, which makes it capable of functioning as a modern active fretless bass, is just a bonus. It really adds to the versatility of the instrument.
I’ve even kept the flat wound strings on it, and I never play flats on my fretless basses. To be honest, the bass has the wrong name on the headstock. I know that Marcus Miller is an under rated fretless player. But every time I pick up this bass I just end up playing Jaco lines for hours. I spent years learning Jaco’s catalogue and playing it on basses that sounded nothing like his bass. Now I have the right tool for the job and I love it.
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.
Altered Pentatonic Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd June 2020
Last week I featured a pentatonic scale that you can create by altering just one note in a standard major or minor pentatonic scale. This week I’ve put that altered pentatonic scale into practice. I’ve come up with a jazz lick on fretless bass that features both the standard and altered versions of the pentatonic scale.
I’ve composed the line on a II-V-I-IV progression in the key of C major. I choose to use the IV chord rather than the more common VI7 chord in order to feature two different pentatonic approaches to playing on major 7th chords. On the Cmaj7 chord I’ve played an E minor pentatonic scale. It gives me the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th relative to the root note of the chord. On the Fmaj7 chord, I’ve used the altered version of the scale to create a lydian augmented sound. The notes are E, F, A, B & C#, 7th, root, 3rd, #4th, #5th relative to the F root note. It’s like an F# minor pentatonic scale, with an F natural root note instead of F#. It’s a sound that I featured in last week’s video.
On the II chord I’m using the obvious D minor pentatonic scale. I like to start my jazz lines inside the harmony and then take them outside. The altered version of the pentatonic scale does a really good job of spelling out the sound of an altered dominant chord. It helps me bring in some of those outside notes on the G7 chord V. The notes are G, Bb, B, Eb & F, which is root, #9, 3rd, b13 &7th. It’s like the notes an altered dominant arpeggio. You can think of it as C minor pentatonic scale with the root note lowered by a semitone to B.
Six String Fretless Bass Arrangement – I Know You – Bass Practice Diary – 19th November 2019
Multi-tracking fretless bass is a big challenge. It’s hard enough to get any fretless instrument to sound in tune on even a single bass line. But to try and get multiple tracks of the same instrument to sound in tune with itself is really hard. Because if any one note is slightly out of tune, then the whole thing sounds bad. So, I set myself a challenge this week to see if I could arrange a tune using only my Warwick Thumb SC 6-string fretless bass.
I Know You by Mike Stern
The tune that I chose was I Know You which comes from a collaboration between Richard Bona and Mike Stern on the album These Times. It’s a beautiful tune and I highly recommend checking out the original version. Richard Bona’s vocals and bass playing are just sublime.
My version probably doesn’t do justice to the original, but it kind of works in it’s own way. The intonation certainly isn’t perfect, but I include it in my Bass Practice Diary as a demonstration of the kind of ideas that I like to use to help me improve my intonation on fretless bass. If you have a loop pedal and a fretless bass, try multi-tracking some of your own fretless lines. It’s hard to get it to sound good!
A Marcus Miller tune with Sire Marcus Miller Basses – V7 & M7 – Bass Practice Diary – 5th November 2019
Recently I’ve been trying out some Sire basses. You may have already seen my review of the M7 fretless 5-string bass that I released last week. And I’ll be following up with a review of the V7 4-string and 5-string versions in the coming weeks. But, it struck me this week, that what a lot of people will want to know is, can you make them sound like Marcus Miller? In an attempt to answer, I’ve recorded one of his tunes, Amandla from the album of the same name.
Do the M7 and V7 sound like Marcus Miller basses?
Yes and no… Yes for the V7 and no for the M7. Not that the M7 is a bad bass. It’s a nice sounding fretless bass, as I covered in my review last week, but it’s a very different style of bass to anything I’ve ever seen Marcus Miller play. The V7, on the other hand, is very much a Marcus Miller style of bass. It’s essentially a Fender Jazz style bass with an active preamp.
I should point out that my style of playing the bass is very different to his, and the basses that I usually play are very different to those that he plays. I love Marcus Miller as both a composer and a musician, but I’ve never tried to imitate his sound before.
So, when you listen to the V7 bass in the video, you should bare in mind that it’s being played by someone who is trying to imitate a playing style that he almost never plays on a style of bass that he very rarely uses. And with that in mind, I’m quite surprised how much the bass tone does remind me of Marcus Miller. I don’t think I’ve ever played a bass before that was so easy to get that kind of tone out of.
Tutu and Amandla
So, the tune in the video is called Amandla, and it’s one of my favourite Marcus Miller compositions. It’s also a great tune for demonstrating these basses, because the original version includes both fretted and fretless basses and both finger style and slap techniques. So it covers a wide range of Marcus’ tones and techniques.
Marcus Miller wrote and produced two albums in the 1980s for the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, called Tutu and Amandla. He played bass on other Miles Davis albums, but those two were really his albums. Tutu is more well known. It’s probably Miles Davis’ most well known album from the last period of his career. I certainly remember listening to it a lot when I was in my teens. But as the years have gone by, I’ve grown to love the album Amandla more and more. It contains a few of my favourite Marcus Miller compositions including the title track.
If you don’t know them already, I would highly recommend checking out both albums. Many people see Tutu as a Marcus Miller album with Miles Davis on trumpet, even though it’s Miles Davis’ name and face on the cover. But Amandla feels more like a collaboration because there’s more input from Miles’ band. Which at that time included the brilliant improvisers Kenny Garret and Joseph “Foley” McCreary.
Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5 string bass guitar review – Bass Practice Diary – 29th October 2019
Here’s my review of the Sire Marcus Miller M7 fretless 5 string bass. I’m sure most of you have probably heard about the so-called Sire Revolution by now. A relatively unknown Korean company called Sire created seismic waves in the bass community when they secured the endorsement of Marcus Miller. A legendary bass player, who had previously been associated with playing the same Fender Jazz Bass since he bought it in the 1970’s. And nobody had ever really seen him play anything other than a Fender bass.
Are Sire Basses as good as people are saying?
So, I had to see for myself what it was that convinced this bass legend to put his name to this selection of affordable instruments. I’ve been trying out some V7 and M7 basses, fretted, fretless, 4-string and 5-string. And this week I’m starting this week with the Sire Marcus Miller M7.
The basses are made in Indonesia. And the idea is that Sire are trying to produce professional quality instruments for an affordable price. And all the reviews that I’d read prior to trying these instruments out, suggested that they’d succeeded.
What are the best affordable bass guitars?
For me, as a bass teacher, I’m constantly being asked to advise people on what are the best basses to buy on a budget. So, there is a really important reason why I wanted to try out these Sire basses. If you follow my videos regularly, you’ll know that I play Warwick basses. Warwick make outstanding high quality instruments in Germany. But they also make a more affordable line of instruments in China which they call Rockbass. I’ve always been happy to recommend these to students looking for an affordable instrument as they’re excellent basses for the money.
However, the prices have been going up a lot in recent years. And the cheapest Sire basses are now available for less than the cheapest Warwick Rockbass basses. So I need to know if they’re a viable option to recommend to my bass students looking for quality on a budget.
And I have to say that I’ve been impressed with these nice sounding, easy to play basses. Especially with the V7 model, which is closely modelled on Marcus Miller’s style of Fender Jazz Bass. I’ll be doing a separate review of the V7’s soon. But this week I wanted to start by reviewing the M7, which as you can see, caused me a few problems when it first arrived.
The setup on the M7
I will be doing a whole other video on how I set up this bass. Because It would have been too much to include in this video. But I had to do a complete setup before I could play the bass because the setup was an absolute mess when I got it out the box. The worst I’ve seen on a brand new bass.
Sire set up their basses with a very low action. As far as I know, this was a request by Marcus Miller. He wants people to experience the basses set up the way that he likes to play. But, for a bass manufacturer to set their basses with a very low action is a huge gamble, which won’t always pay off. I really wonder how many basses have been sent back because the setup was so bad.
The problem is, that if you set up your bass with a low action, then you must expect to have to re-set it up every now and then. Because, as seasons and atmospheric conditions change, so will your bass setup. And a low action can very quickly become unplayable when the strings start hitting the frets.
Are Sire basses good for beginners?
This is fine for an experienced bass player who has set up basses before. But, as Sire are targeting the budget end of the market as well, then they will be selling basses to people who won’t necessarily know how to set them up. And they don’t provide any kind of instructions with the basses. So, I imagine that a few of these have probably been sent back by people frustrated that their strings keep buzzing.
The setups on the V7’s that I played weren’t as bad as the M7. But there were still little issues that I had to fix. All of which were caused by a low action. And I know that if I ever recommend one of these basses to one of my students, then I’ll have to offer to set it up for them if the setup is a mess when it arrives.
For this reason, they might not be ideal for complete beginners, unless they have a teacher who can sort out any setup issues.
It’s a good bass. It sounds good and it plays well, and it has a powerful low B string. The setup issues weren’t enough to put me off from liking this bass. I’ve had lots of fun playing it since I set it up.
I should point out, that in the process of setting it up, I also changed the strings. The bass comes with flat wound strings. Which again, I assume is at the request of Marcus Miller. But I much prefer the sound of round wounds on fretless. So that is the sound you hear in the video.
Sire Marcus Miller M7 vs V7
The biggest criticism that I would level at this bass, is that it just isn’t as good as the Sire Marcus Miller V7. The V7 is a proper Marcus Miller style of bass and the M7 just isn’t. The M7 is also slightly more expensive than the V7, which I find odd, because it isn’t as good.
Why is the V7 better? Because it sounds better. It sounds like a proper Marcus Miller style Fender Jazz Bass. The M7 sounds good when the preamp is switched on. But the V7 has the same preamp, and the V7 sounds good without the preamp as well. To be honest, the V7 sounds good even when it’s not plugged in. I’m serious! You can usually tell if a bass will sound good by playing it without an amplifier. No matter how good your electronics are, they won’t rescue the sound of a bad sounding bass. Now, I’m not saying the M7 is a bad sounding bass. It just doesn’t sound as good as the V7.
The only advantages that I can see for the M7 over the V7 are, that it has more frets. 24 on the M7, 20 on the V7. And it has a better low B string on the 5 string version. Because the M7 5-string has a 35 inch scale, whereas the V7 5-string has a 34 inch scale. That extra inch tightens up the low B-string a bit. So, if I have a student who wants to use the extra range both high and low, then I might recommend the M7. But, more often than not, I’d be much more likely to recommend the 4-string V7.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.