Carol of the Bells – Christmas Bass Practice Diary – 24th December 2019
Happy Christmas and thanks to everyone that’s been following my Bass Practice Diary videos this year. Here is my new Christmas bass video for 2019. I wanted to find something that I could arrange with a loop pedal and my 6-string bass. I immediately thought of Carol of the Bells. The arrangement of the song immediately lends itself to looping.
The way that I’ve arranged it makes it possible to perform live with two loop pedals, one going into the other. However, I shot this video in two parts with one loop pedal. It’s much easier doing it that way rather than as one continuous take.
Rhythm Changes (Oleo) with Tim Pettingale – Bass Practice Diary – 27th August 2019
I’ve written before about the importance of practicing with other musicians. And it was an absolute pleasure this week to welcome jazz guitarist Tim Pettingale to my studio in East London. Tim’s latest book, which I’ve been reading recently, is called Rhythm Changes for Jazz Guitar. So it seemed like a great opportunity to ask Tim to put me through my paces on a Rhythm Changes tune. We choose Sonny Rollins’ tune Oleo, because Tim refers to it in his book.
What is Rhythm Changes?
Rhythm Changes is a 32 bar chord progression which is loosely based on Gershwin’s tune I’ve Got Rhythm. Many famous jazz tunes have been written on the Rhythm Changes. And it’s the second most commonly used progression in jazz after the 12 bar blues. However, just like the blues progression, there are hundreds of variations that you can play for Rhythm Changes. And you rarely hear it played exactly the same way twice. Tim’s book features explanation and solo examples for many of these variations.
In the video, we’ve tried to feature a few cool variations and chord substitutions from the book in our very short rendition of Oleo. I’ll try and explain them very briefly here.
Rhythm Changes chord theory
Rhythm Changes has an AABA structure. Each A and B section is eight bars long. For the first two A sections we played Sonny Rollins’ melody. Then Tim’s solo started on the middle 8, which is the B section. We used the standard Rhythm Changes middle 8, which is four dominant 7th chords each played for two bars, D7 – G7 – C7 – F7.
The A section usually starts with a I-VI-II-V chord progression in Bb major. The VI chord is often played as G7 rather than Gm7. Having played the I-VI-II-V twice, we then played a cycle of II-V’s starting in Eb major. And then going through the keys Db major and C major before resolving back into Bb major. So bars 5-8 of the A section, as we played it, went like this, Fm7 – Bb7 – Ebm7 – Ab7 – Dm7 – G7 – Cm7 – F7 with two beats on each chord.
The next A section took us back to the start of the AABA form. And we started to introduce some chord substitutions. Instead of the usual I-VI-II-V’s, we played Dm7 – Db7b5 – Cm7 – B7b5. It’s a clever substitution for a I-VI-II-V because it creates a root movement descending in semi-tones. The Dm7 is chord III in Bb major. Chord III is a common substitution for Chord I because the notes in a Dm7 chord are the same as the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th of a Bbmaj9 chord. The Db7b5 is a tritone substitution for the G7 (chord VI) and the B7b5 is a tritone substitution for the F7 (chord V). The Cm7 is chord II and it’s the only one of the four chords that isn’t substituted.
We played one more A section, during which we played more or less the standard changes. And then we went into another B section. This time we played tritone substitutions on the D7 and C7 chords. So the progression as we played it was Ab7 – G7 – Gb7 – F7.
All of these substitutions and many others are featured in Tim’s book. I would highly recommend it for anyone who plays guitar and wants to learn about jazz. Tim is the author of Jazz Bebop Blues Guitar as well as the Rhythm Changes book. His books are great, because they don’t assume any prior knowledge of jazz. So they very clearly explain the fundamental principles before going on to deliver simple guides to playing and improvising. All his books have an informal and easy to read style. And they contain multiple short examples written in standard notation and guitar TAB, all with accompanying audio Mp3’s.
During Tim’s visit we also shot another video of one of Tim’s original compositions, which was a jazz waltz. Keep checking both mine and Tim’s social media because we’ll be posting that video in the next few weeks.
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.
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.
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 book features thousands of licks mostly about 4 bars long. And most of the licks are written over the opening bars of jazz standards. There are 16 standards featured in the book including Invitation, All the Things You Are, Autumn Leaves and the standard I featured in the video The Days of Wine and Roses.
What makes the book so good is that it takes a very comprehensive approach to learning these short sections of harmony. Each standard has 91 different licks in 13 different key signatures. 7 licks are written for each key, from one flat to six flats and six sharps to one sharp, as well as C major/A minor which has no sharps or flats.
The book also features licks written over II-V-I’s and jazz turnarounds. So, there are a lot of licks. All written in bass clef without any bass TAB. So, it’s good for learning the language of jazz improvisation, and it’s also really useful sight reading practice.
Last week I described how I practice playing on jazz standards by breaking the harmony down into sections. And writing out and improvising lines that work over the short sections. That’s the same concept that this book works on. My advice for using this book would be to play the licks in the book and then write out some of your own lines on the same standards. And try to come up with lines that go over all parts of the chord progressions, not just the beginnings.
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.