Autumn Leaves – Bass Duet – Double Bass & 6-String Electric Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 11 May 2021
I always thought it would be fun to make a jazz trio with double bass, electric bass and drums. In my head it would be something like this. However, my double bass skills are not the best. So ideally in this trio I would play the electric bass and the double bass would be played by someone who can solo, play with a bow and express themselves musically on the instrument.
I shot this video by recording the double bass part first. It was done in just one continuous take. At the point when I played the upright bass part, I hadn’t worked out any of the electric bass part. Having recorded the upright bass I then had a few goes at playing along with it with my Overwater Hollowbody 6-string bass. Once I was happy with what I was doing, I shot the bass guitar part. If you saw my video from two weeks ago featuring three jazz lines on 4-string bass, you might notice that I used one of the lines at the end of the first solo chorus.
I was basically just practicing improvising on a standard. It’s something I do quite regularly, although I rarely go as far as recording a bass line on the upright. Normally I’ll record the bass line on bass guitar and play over that. However, I feel like the double bass adds an extra layer of jazz authenticity, even with my limited double bass skills.
Learn a Jazz Tune on Bass – CTA by Jimmy Heath with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 13 April 2021
If you follow my Bass Practice Diary videos regularly you already know that I love to play jazz tunes on bass guitar. A few weeks ago I featured the tune for Freedom Jazz Dance. In that video I was playing a 6-string bass, but I want to show that you can do this on any bass, you don’t necessarily need 6-strings or 24 frets. This week I’m demonstrating the Jimmy Heath tune CTA on a Fender Precision with 20 frets.
CTA by Jimmy Heath
I first came across this tune on Chick Corea’s album Paint the World. It’s a jazz fusion album. The band on the album was called the Elektric Band II. The rhythm section was completely different to the original Elektric Band. It featured Gary Novak on drums, Mike Miller on guitar and Jimmy Earl on bass. However, it’s a really good album. I think it ranks up alongside anything that the more famous lineup of Dave Weckl, Frank Gambale and John Patitucci recorded. In fact I saw the classic lineup of the Elektric Band play two of the tunes from this album, CTA and Blue Miles when I saw them at the Barbican in London in 2004.
The Chick Corea version of CTA is very different from the original Jimmy Heath version. Jimmy Heath plays it in a bop style and he plays it with swung 1/8th notes. This is the opening melody from Jimmy Heath’s version.
Chick Corea gives the tune a straight funky fusion feel. And there is a long section at the end which is added. It’s like a tag on the end of the melody. The key has also been changed from Bb to C. Here is the tag tabbed for 6-string bass.
How do you learn jazz improvisation?
I honestly believe that learning jazz melodies is fundamental to learning how to improvise. It’s even more fundamental than transcribing solos. A good jazz improviser will use the melody in a solo. So, if you work out a solo without knowing the melody, then you’ve missed the most important piece of the puzzle.
I wanted to feature a melody played on a Fender Precision. Because when I started doing this, I was working jazz melodies out on a P style bass with 20 frets and 4-strings. I think a lot of bass players think that jazz melodies and improvisation is only for a certain type of bass player that plays extended range instruments, but that does not have to be the case.
The first jazz melody I ever learned on bass was Goodbye Pork Pie Hat by Charles Mingus. It was famously covered by Jeff Beck and Joni Mitchell. But I didn’t know that when I was 15 years old. I knew Mingus’ version from the album Ah Um and then I heard Marcus Miller play it on fretless bass. I remember playing the melody on my red Vester bass as a teenager.
After learning that melody, I then started learning plenty more jazz melodies on my 4-string bass. My first bop style tune was Tricotism by Oscar Pettiford/Ray Brown. And I remember learning the Charlie Parker tunes, Confirmation, Donna Lee & Anthropology on 4-string before I made the switch to 6-string at 19 years old. I still remember most of the fingerlings that I worked out for those tunes on 4-string.
If you’re interested in taking this idea further, there is a book called Charlie Parker for Bass. It features melodies and solos transcribed and tabbed for 4-string bass. It hadn’t been published when I was learning this stuff, but I know some of my students use it now. When I was learning these tunes I was learning them from a Real Book (treble clef version).
Practicing Jazz on My Overwater Hollowbody – Up Jumped Spring – Bass Practice Diary – 23 March 2021
In this video, I’m improvising over the chord changes of the jazz standard Up Jumped Spring after recoding the chords into a looper. If you were wondering why you haven’t seen this beautiful bass on my channel for a few months. It’s because she’s been back with Chris May and the team at Overwater having a new bridge installed. However, she was returned to me this week and I’m so happy to have her back.
She’s my custom made Overwater Hollowbody 6-string bass. The first fretted version to be made and the first with a 34″ scale length. The bass features a wooden acoustic style bridge, but with adjustable saddles, like an electric bass bridge. The first bridge was made from ebony, and I was finding that the wood was slightly too soft to hold some of the saddles in place and the intonation was slipping. Chris very kindly fashioned this new bridge from a very hard wood from South Africa. So far it seems to be holding the intonation perfectly.
Practicing with a looper
In the video I’m demonstrating something that I’ve done regularly in my practice for well over a decade. I bought my first looper pedal about 15 years ago, and I’ve found loopers to be an amazing practice tool. One of my favourite techniques for practicing using a looper is to record the chord changes to a jazz standard into the looper and then improvise over the looped changes. In this video I’m using the chord changes of Freddie Hubbard’s jazz waltz Up Jumped Spring.
I’ve often been asked “what is a good looper to buy?” And it’s a question I always feel uncomfortable answering. Because I’ve used various loopers from cheap ones with just a single button to expensive ones laden with features. Which one you choose depends on what you’re planning to use it for. If you just want one for the kind of practice that I’m doing in this video, then buy a very cheap one. It will do the job. However if you want something to perform with, then it’s impossible to advise you. Because you will have to choose a looper that has features that correspond to how you’re planning to use it in performance.
I recently purchased a Headrush Looperboard, which is like a recording device/audio interface/live looper all rolled into one. So far I’m impressed by it, but I haven’t yet had the chance to use it in a live performance as the UK has been in COVID lockdown continuously since I first bought it.
However, if you’re interested in trying looping for the first time, I would suggest buying something very cheap to try it out at home. And then you can upgrade later on if and when you start to feel like you need to.
Cascading Arpeggio Jazz Lick on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 23rd February 2021
I recently introduced the concept of playing cascading arpeggios on bass with a video featuring some exercises. I mentioned in that video that this is a very versatile idea that gets used in a wide variety of different musical contexts. So, the obvious next step is to demonstrate a situation where I might use this idea. This video features a cascading arpeggio jazz lick which I’ve created to played on a jazz blues in Bb.
The first arpeggio in the lick is Bb7, starting on the third, D and coming down 3rd, root, 7th, 5th. Then I play an E7 arpeggio descending from the root note, E. E7 is the tritone substitute for Bb7. This is a common chord substitution in jazz. It works because the E7 chord shares two notes in common with the Bb7. The 3rd and the 7th, in this case D and Ab (G#). The third arpeggio which starts on beat one of bar four is a Dm7b5 or D half diminished arpeggio. However, this arpeggio is really functioning as a Bb9 chord.
The Diminished Arpeggios
Then follows two diminished 7th arpeggios, Eo7 and Do7. I edited the explanation of these out of the video because it was a bit too long and boring, but I’ll include it here for those who are interested. Diminished sounds, both scales and arpeggios, work really well on dominant 7th chords.
You can think of a D diminished 7th chord as being a Bb7b9 chord without the root note. You can also play a Bb half/whole diminished scale over a Bb7 chord. I’ve also done a video about this sound. The scale gives you an interesting mix of inside and outside notes, Root, b9, #9, 3rd, #11, 5th, 13th & 7th. You can divide this scale into two diminished 7th arpeggios. Do7 gives you 3rd, 5th, 7th & b9, the other arpeggio gives you root, #9, #11 & 13th. In the video I’ve called this arpeggio Eo7 although you could also think of it as Bbo7, Dbo7 or Go7. I’m only thinking of it as Eo7 because in the inversion that I’ve used, the lowest note is the E.
A rhythmic variation
The final arpeggio is the tritone substitute, E7 again. This time descending from the third, G# (Ab). It’s very common to play the tritone sub on beat four of bar four of a jazz blues because it drops chromatically onto the four chord, Eb7, at the beginning of bar five. My lick resolves onto the note Db which is the 7th of the Eb7 chord.
I’ve also included a rhythmic variation in the video, which is fun to play but difficult to execute even at relatively moderate tempos. It goes like this.
I finished the video by improvising three choruses of a blues in Bb, and inserting the lick in the appropriate place each time. My plan had been to improvise three choruses and pick my favourite chorus and only include that one. But I’m increasingly becoming less interested in editing myself as time passes. All of the choruses are ok while being flawed in some way (thank God! Nothing bores me like perfect music). And if people don’t want to watch all three choruses they are free to stop watching whenever they want. So I included the whole thing.
I had intended to play the variation on one of the choruses to see if I could execute it. But as you can see, that didn’t happen. I clearly need to practice more!
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.
Tapping Jazz Lines – Can You Play Jazz Solos With Two-Hand Tapping? – Bass Practice Diary – 8th December 2020
I’ve witnessed a couple of musicians in the UK playing improvised jazz solos with a two-hand tapping technique. However, I’ve never heard anyone talk about this idea. It seems to me that there is an obvious advantage to using two-hand tapping to play jazz lines. The advantage is that you can easily make big interval jumps in your lines. That is quite hard to do with a conventional playing technique. For a long time, I’ve wanted to explore the idea myself. So, when one of my advanced bass students brought up the subject of tapping in a lesson, I jumped at the opportunity to work through some ideas with him.
How I arranged the lines
We started by coming up with a jazz line on a II-V-I in Bb. This is a very typical exercise for learning to play jazz. The line we came up with was this.
We then tried to rearrange the line by moving some of the notes up one octave to be tapped with the right-hand. The remaining notes would be hammered-on by the left hand. This is the finished line.
We went through the same process again and came up with another line, which goes like this.
This idea of using two-hand tapping to make jazz lines is still very new for me. I hope I will revisit this subject in the future when I’ve had more time to work on it. At the moment, I’m still at the very early stage of working out lines and practicing them. I hope that as time goes by, I will develop the ability to improvise lines in this way.
How to Make a Major Scale Sound Like Jazz – Bass Practice Diary – 17th November 2020
If you study harmony, you begin to realise just how important the major scale is. Diatonic harmony in its entirety realties to the intervalic relationships of the major scale (also sometimes called the diatonic scale). So, it’s hardly surprising that a major scale is a popular choice for improvisation as well. But, how do you make a major scale sound like jazz?
Why use major scales in jazz improvisation?
I think that a lot of musicians learn to analyse diatonic chord progressions in jazz standards. They know the right key to play at every point in the progression. Each key is defined by the notes of the parent scale, which in the case of major keys, is a major scale. So, you can break a lot of jazz tunes down to playing different major scales at different points in the chord progression. But the problem is, that major scales on their own don’t sound very much like jazz. So, how do you use the major scale to make jazz lines?
I’ve noticed that a lot of people learning to improvise are looking for a scale or scales that will make them sound like jazz. I don’t think it works like that. I think there are a lot of different approaches to improvising in a jazz style. Today, I’m looking at two key concepts. One is approach notes, the other is outside notes. The concept of outside notes is simple to understand. There are seven notes in any key (the notes of the major scale) and there are twelve notes in the octave (the chromatic scale). Outside notes are the five other notes that are not in the major scale. If you want your lines to sound like jazz lines, you need to come up with some creative ways to use them.
A simple and great way to begin to incorporate some outside notes into a major scale, is with the use of chromatic approach notes. A chromatic approach note can be as simple as picking a target note from the parent scale, and playing a semi-tone (one fret) below or above that note before you play it. Of course, not all of these chromatic approach notes will be outside notes. If your target note is the major 7th, and you play a chromatic approach note above that note, you’re playing the root note. But some (most) of your chromatic approach notes will be outside notes. And that’s enough to bring a jazz flavour to your lines.
Play a major scale with chromatic approach notes
This is an exercise that I featured in the video.
I’m playing a C major scale in ascending thirds (root, 3rd, 2nd, 4th, 3rd, 5th etc). Each third interval is two notes. I’m then adding a chromatic approach note before and below the first, lower note. So, C, E (Root, 3rd) becomes B, C, E, a three note grouping. D, F (2nd, 4th) becomes C#, D, F.
It sounds good, but it sounds like an exercise. I want to make it sound less like an exercise and more like an improvised jazz line. Try mixing up the exercise by varying the chromatic approach notes either above or below the target notes. You can also vary whether you play your thirds ascending or descending. When you play a descending third you can play the approach note before the higher of the two notes.
Triad Pairs – Part 3 – Triad Pairs & Hexatonic Scales on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 18th February 2020
This week I’m exploring the connection between triad pairs and hexatonic scales. My two previous Triad Pairs videos have featured major triad pairs on 4-string bass. This week I’m opening it up to include all types of triads. And I’ve switched onto my 6-string bass because I would most commonly use these kind of ideas on my 6-string.
What are hexatonic scales?
Hexatonic scales are simply scales that have six different notes. The term hexatonic doesn’t get used that often, except in the context of quite advanced jazz improvisation. But hexatonic scales are actually a lot more common than you might think. Probably the most obvious example of a commonly used hexatonic scale is the blues scale. Another common hexatonic scale is the whole tone scale.
The C whole tone scale above is comprised of the notes of a C augmented triad and a D augmented triad.
Minor triad pairs
Having explored major triad pairs in my first two videos, the next most obvious triad pair would be two minor triads separated by a whole tone (2 frets). You can think of these as chords II and III in a major key. For example these two triads, Dm and Em, can be used to play lines in the key of C major.
You can also find two minor triads a tone apart in the melodic minor scale. The altered scale is a mode of the melodic minor scale. I demonstrated in the video how you can create an altered scale sound on a C7 chord by using Db minor and Eb minor triads.
Combining different types of triads
The idea of triad pairs, as I’ve mentioned previously, is to find two different triads that give you six different notes. Those two triads don’t have to be the same type of triad. In this next example, I’m playing an E augmented triad and a G major triad. This triad pair also creates an altered scale/melodic minor sound.
The Augmented Scale
Another hexatonic scale created by combining two augmented triads is the augmented scale.
The augmented scale is comprised of the notes of two augmented triads a semitone apart. In this case, C augmented and B augmented.
These examples only scratch the surface of everything that you can do with triad pairs. Any time you can find two triads that give you six different notes, you have a triad pair. And those six notes can be played as a hexatonic scale. Practice my examples and see if you can find some more of your own.
Triad Pairs – Part 2 – Major Triads and How to Improvise on Chord Changes – Bass Practice Diary – 28th January 2020
A few weeks ago I introduced the idea of using Triad Pairs to make bass lines. This week I’m going to take that idea a step further by showing you how you can use pairs of major triads to improvise on chord changes. The idea with triad pairs, is to find two triads that have no notes in common, so you have six different notes. You can then use those notes to create exercises, melodies, bass lines or hexatonic scales (six note scales).
I remember when I first heard about the idea of triad pairs, it seemed to me at the time like the idea would have limited use. But when I got into it, I realised that the potential and the scope of triad pairs for creating interesting lines and harmonies, is absolutely massive.
Major triad pairs
There’s only three different ways that you can arrange two major triads and get six different notes. You can take two triads that are a semi-tone apart, a tone apart or a tritone apart. That doesn’t seem like many different options, but in a way, that’s part of the brilliance of triad pairs. You only need to practice those three simple ideas, and you suddenly have access to a massive amount of potential harmonic and melodic ideas.
Here’s an exercise for playing major triad pairs a semi-tone apart.
This next one is a similar exercise for playing triad pairs a tone apart.
Here’s an exercise for playing triad pairs a tritone apart.
How to use major triad pairs for improvisation
Of the three exercises above, the least versatile is the triads separated by a semi-tone. That’s not to say that they don’t sound great. Two major triads separated by a semi-tone creates a phrygian dominant sound that instantly makes me think of Spanish music and Flamenco guitar. It’s a great sound, but it’s quite rare to find opportunities to use it in jazz.
One of the main reasons why I choose Chick Corea’s Spainas the template for these examples, is because the F#7 chord which immediately follows the opening G major chord, is a perfect example of how you can use the phrygian dominant sound to maximum effect.
Here’s a sample line using an F# and a G major triad.
By contrast, the most versatile, but arguably less interesting sounding, is to play two major triads a tone apart. The versatility rises from the fact that there are two major triads a tone apart in the major scale (chords IV and V) and in the melodic minor scale. So, you can conjure the sound of not only both of those scales but also all of their modes, including dorian, lydian, lydian dominant and altered scale, just by using two major triads a tone apart.
The example that I used in the video, was using Eb and F major triads on the chord V, A7 chord. Which is creating the sound of the altered scale.
Then on chord I, D major, I dropped both of those triads by a semi-tone (one fret down). And the D and E major triads created a lydian sound on the D major chord.
Altered dominant sounds
Two major triads separated by a tritone creates a kind of altered dominant sound. It’s not quite the same as using the altered scale, but what it gives you is two very different sounding triads. A and Eb major triads could be used to play on an A7 chord, as I demonstrated with the A7 in Spain. However, you could also use those same triads to play on an Eb7 chord.
What you get is one triad that is the root, 3rd and 5th of the chord. Those are the most obvious inside notes that you can play on any chord. While the other triad functions as 7th, b9th and #11th. Which is one chord tone and two altered extensions or outside notes. You can use this strange juxtaposition of inside and outside sounds to create some really interesting jazz lines on a dominant 7th chord.
Introduction to Triad Pairs on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 7th January 2020
This week I want to introduce some basic triad pairs exercises. The basic concept of playing triad pairs on bass is that you take two triads (three note chords) that don’t have any notes in common. Meaning that you have six different notes. And then you use those triads to makes lines and exercises.
Why use triad pairs?
Triad pairs are now a really common concept in jazz improvisation. But it’s not only jazz musicians that use them. You can apply triad pairs to almost any genre of music. They work particularly well for improvisation, but you can also use them to write bass lines.
This week, I’m only going to introduce the most basic form of triad pairs. Which is when you take two major triads that are spaced a tone apart. The reason for spacing them a tone apart, is because the triads function like chords IV and V in a major key. So you can use these kind of lines in any major key by transposing the two triads to the notes of chords IV and V in the key.
All of these exercises are played using the triads C major and D major. Which are chords IV and V in the key of G major. But that doesn’t mean that you can only use these in the key of G major. There are all kinds of interesting and creative applications of triad pairs which I’ll try and cover in my future videos.
There are three obvious ways to voice a triad (inversions). You can put the root at the bottom, the 3rd at the bottom or the 5th at the bottom. This first exercise demonstrates those three different inversions, which you need to learn really well if you’re going to get good at playing these exercises. Bar 1 uses the root position triads for both C and D and then bar 2 uses the 1st inversion and bar 3 uses the second inversion.
This next exercise uses a similar idea, but with triplets. So, you play three notes on each triad rather than four.
Finally, here is a pattern that plays four notes on C and then three on D.
The purpose of playing patterns like this one in exercise 3, is that it helps to make the exercise sound less like a pattern. If you’re playing triad pairs in an improvised solo, and you play three notes up and three notes down, like exercise 2. It will very quickly sound like you’re playing a repeating pattern. That’s ok if it’s the sound you want. But, if you want to make it sound less like a pattern, then a pattern with an odd number sequence (three then four) will create a less predictable feel when played as part of a solo.