Dolphin Dance on Three Basses – Bass Practice Diary – 16th July 2019
This week I’ve been studying transcriptions of Herbie Hancock’s classic 1965 recording of Dolphin Dance from the Maiden Voyage album. I’ve always loved it as a piece of music and I think it perfectly captures what Herbie Hancock was about at that time and why he’s a genius. I’ve been attempting to transfer what I’ve studied onto three basses. 6 string fretted and fretless electric basses as well as upright bass.
The harmony is highly complex and jazz musicians have argued for decades over what are the correct chords to play. So, my main interest in analysing the transcriptions was to find out how Herbie Hancock himself voiced the chords, not only for the melody but also behind his own solo.
In spite of the complex jazz harmony, Dolphin Dance is first and foremost, a beautiful tune. And therein lies the genius of the composer. I’d compare it to tunes like Monk’s Round Midnight, Mingus’ Goodbye PorkPie Hat and Coltrane’s Naima. All beautiful melodies that are elevated by unusual and challenging harmonic structures.
Bass Solo Transcription
I’ve transcribed one whole chorus of my bass solo. I’ve written the chord symbols in above the stave for reference. But I would advise you not to take them too seriously. I took the chord symbols from a book, but I wasn’t following them when I played my solo or when I recorded the chords. I was trying to follow the notes that Herbie Hancock actually played, and the chord symbols don’t necessarily represent a completely accurate picture of that.
Augmented & Whole Tone Symmetrical Jazz Bass Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 9th July 2019
This week I’ve been practising symmetrical jazz bass exercises. Symmetrical means anything that uses the same repeating intervals over and over. For example diminished chords are symmetrical because they use only intervals of a minor 3rd. And in this video I’m using augmented triads (major 3rds) and the whole tone scale (major 2nds).
Why practice symmetrical exercises?
I was first turned onto the idea of practicing symmetrical exercises years ago when I first ready Ray Brown’s Bass Method. For those of you who don’t know, Ray Brown was a pioneering jazz upright bass player. And he is famed as an innovator of using the upright bass for playing bop style bass solos. So his book gives a great insight into how he thinks.
But he doesn’t use a lot of words, it’s mostly just exercises and there are many of them. There are pages and pages of symmetrical exercises and all he tells us is that we should practice them alongside scales because they’re extremely useful for playing jazz vocabulary. But he doesn’t explain why, and it took me a while to fully appreciate just how useful these exercises are.
First of all, the fact that these exercises are symmetrical means that they work over a number of different chords, not just one. In the video I’m using dominant 7th chords as an example. If you use an exercise to harmonise a dominant 7th chord. And every interval in the exercise is the same. Then logically you can use the same exercise to harmonise different dominant 7th chords starting with a root note on every single note in the exercise.
The augmented/whole tone exercise
The exercise in the video is built around the whole tone scale starting and finishing on C. It has six notes in it, C, D, E, F#, Ab and Bb. And the six notes are harmonised into two augmented triads, C, E & Ab and D, F# & Bb. These notes can be used to harmonise the following dominant 7th chords. C7, D7, E7, F#7/Gb7, G#7/Ab7 and A#7/Bb7. The scale will create the intervals root, 9th, maj 3rd, #11th, b13th and dominant 7th. Three chord tones (R, 3rd, 7th), one unaltered extension (9th) and two altered extensions (#11, b13).
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.
The next line that I shared in the video is meant to be played over the first four bars of Stella By Starlight.
And the final example is over the changes for the first four bars of John Coltrane’s classic composition Moment’s Notice.
Jazz Blues Lines and Techniques on Bass Guitar from Tom Kennedy Solo – Bass Practice Diary – 21st May 2019
This week I’ve been trying to transcribe some of Tom Kennedy’s lines on a Bb blues I saw him playing on Youtube. In this video I’m looking at one particular Tom Kennedy lick. And I focus on his left hand technique which he seems to have adapted to electric bass from his years of playing the upright bass.
Tom Kennedy Left Hand Technique
The first time I heard Tom Kennedy play was at Ronnie Scott’s in London. It was more than 10 years ago and I’d gone to see the Dave Weckl band. Tom Kennedy was playing electric bass in the band and straight away I pegged him as an upright bass player because of his left hand technique. I don’t play a lot of double bass but I’ve played enough to recognise the technique. And I’ve seen a lot of double bass players playing electric bass over the years so I’ve learned to recognise what they tend to do.
But that’s not the end of the story. The story is that after about 10 or 15 minutes of the first set the band arrived at the first bass solo. And Tom Kennedy played jazz lines with such incredible speed and intensity that it left me questioning everything that I though I knew about electric bass technique. Who would have thought that you could approach the electric bass in that way and yet play so fast. The only other bass player that I can think of who can do that is Christian McBride. (I know that you’re probably thinking John Patitucci but his left hand technique on electric bass is distinctly different to his technique on upright).
So, why does Tom Kennedy’s left hand technique remind me of an upright bassist? He tends to cover just three frets in each position instead of four, playing notes with his first, second and fourth fingers. He likes to play electric bass in the positions around the first four or five frets, even when playing jazz solos. And when he does shift up the neck he tends to shift up and down on the first string.
Jazz Blues Lick
The lick that I featured in the video is played on the II chord Cm7. It goes like this.
I’ve included the bass TAB so you can see exactly how he played the line. If I saw a line like this written down without TAB I would probably play it something like this.
You could argue that my fingering is more consistent with the way that most jazz electric bass players would approach playing a jazz solo line like this. Notice that my fingering doesn’t take me anywhere near the first position. I’ve arranged the whole thing from the 7th fret and above.
But you could also argue that Tom Kennedy’s approach enables him to come up with lines that other electric bass players wouldn’t think of. And at the same time execute them at high speed. His technique also impacts the way he phrases his lines. So they don’t sound like they would if they were played by another bass player (me, for example).
A chorus of Bb Blues played by Tom Kennedy
Here is one full chorus of the solo that I’ve transcribed. I’ve picked a chorus that doesn’t include any of his super fast 1/16th note lines. Because they provide a serious technical challenge for any electric bass player to execute. But playing this chorus from his solo does give you a really interesting insight into how he arranges lines with his left hand.
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.
And here are the notes of an 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Learn a Jazz Bass Lick by Jeff Andrews – Bass Practice Diary – 19th March 2019
I heard the news a couple of days ago that Jeff Andrews had passed away. He really deserves to be remembered as one of the great jazz electric bass players. I know him best from his work with Mike Stern. He played on albums such as Time in Place and Between the Lines which have been among my favourites for a long time. As well as his work with Mike Stern, he’s also played with jazz and fusion greats like Michael Brecker, Bob Berg, Vital Information and Steps Ahead.
After hearing the news, I immediately started listening to some of those albums again. And I also found a really cool compilation of his solos on Youtube. It really struck me what a great musician and improviser Jeff Andrews is. And predictably I started trying to work out what he was playing. What I found was a goldmine of incredible jazz lines improvised on electric bass.
Using Inside and Outside Lines
What struck me about his style was his brilliant use of inside and outside lines. It’s a commonly used technique of many jazz improvisers. Incorporating lines that are both inside the harmony and outside the harmony as a way of creating tension and resolution. Jeff Andrews is an absolute master of this. He improvises lines at high speed that outline the harmony, but then take you way outside the harmony before bringing you back in for the resolution.
Jazz Blues Bass Lick
The lines he creates are so cool, and I could have picked any one of his lines as a demonstration. But I choose this one which is from a Mike Stern tune called Bait Tone Blues.
This line takes place over the last four bars of blues in F. And it starts by clearly outlining a ii – v in the key of F. But then follows a sequence which starts on a B natural and ends with a sort of chromatic run featuring the notes A, Bb, Ab, E and G. That’s an uncomfortable sounding sequence of notes when you play it over a standard blues turnaround in the key of F. But then having played that outside sequence, he immediately brings it back inside the harmony by outlining a C major triad at the end. With the C7 functioning as the V chord in the last bar of the blues.
It’s really hard to analyse some of these outside lines other than to say that when you play the lick through, it just sounds really cool. And it shows that Jeff Andrews had incredible musical instincts as an improviser. He had the ability to throw in outside passages and make them sound like they fit with the inside harmony. He will be missed.
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.
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!
Quartal Chord Voicings on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 26th February 2019
I haven’t done a video about bass chord voicings for a while. So, this week I’ve decided to practice some of my favourite jazz chords, quartal chord voicings. Quartal harmony is a jazz term which means harmonising chords in intervals of a fourth.
I did a video recently about playing modern jazz lines using 4th intervals. But I thought after making that video that I wasn’t telling the full story about using 4ths in modern jazz. The quartal chord voicings themselves create a very distinctive modern jazz sound. It’s instantly recognisable once you become familiar with the sound.
Chords are traditionally voiced in intervals of a third. Using quartal voicings in jazz became popular in the 1960’s after Miles Davis made quartal chord voicings a feature of his composition So What from the 1959 album Kind of Blue.
Quartal harmony was a sound that then became associated with the great John Coltrane Quartet of the early to mid 1960’s. The chords were supplied by pianist McCoy Tyner, who is synonymous with quartal harmony, and one of my all time favourite jazz pianists.
McCoy Tyner was using these voicings at a time when the Coltrane Quartet was playing a lot of modal jazz. Meaning that there weren’t lots of chord changes. And the emphasis was more on scalic improvisation over static harmony. So What is also a modal jazz piece. So, if you’re looking to apply some of these quartal chord voicings, then modal jazz tunes are a good place to start.
Quartal Harmony on Bass
The bass is setup for playing quartal chord voicings because the strings are tuned in intervals of a fourth. Which is why it amazes me that more bass players don’t use quartal chord voicings. Many of the chord voicings in the video can be played with just one finger. But despite this simplicity, they create a sophisticated jazz harmony sound.
Here is an A major scale harmonised in 4ths.
In the video, I’ve used the open A string as a root note underneath all of these voicings.
When you play this, it doesn’t sound like a typical major scale harmonisation. That’s what’s so great about quartal harmony. You can take simple harmony, like a major scale, and completely change it’s character, without needing to change or add any notes.
It works for all of the modes of the major scale. Here is the Dorian mode harmonised in 4ths.
Applying Quartal Harmony to Jazz
I’ve already mentioned that quartal chord voicings are extremely well suited to modal jazz. If, for example, you’re playing a modal jazz composition with long periods on a minor seventh chord. Like So What or John Coltrane’s Impressions. Then you’re faced with a challenge of how to make just one chord sound interesting.
One solution would be to apply the dorian chord voicings that I’ve written out in the example above. It gives you seven different options for voicings that you could play over a single minor seventh chord (Am7 in the example above). You could use any or all of these voicings to help create a feeling of movement in the otherwise static harmony.
You can apply quartal harmony to virtually any scale or mode. In this next example I’ve applied it to an A harmonic minor scale.
The same chord voicings can also be applied to any of the modes of the harmonic minor scale, which includes the altered scale.
One of the fourth intervals in the harmonic minor scale actually comes out as a major third. So, some of the voicings in the example above are not strictly quartal. Because they mix fourths with a third. But it still creates some interesting sounds and you can do your own experimenting to decide which of the voicings are useful.