Tag Archives: jazz improvisation

Introduction to Triad Pairs on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 90

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.

The exercises

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.

Triad Pairs - Exercise 1
Triad Pairs – Exercise 1

This next exercise uses a similar idea, but with triplets. So, you play three notes on each triad rather than four.

Triad Pairs - Exercise 2
Triad Pairs – Exercise 2

Finally, here is a pattern that plays four notes on C and then three on D.

Triad Pairs - Exercise 3
Triad Pairs – Exercise 3

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.

PLAYING CHORDS ON THE BASS – PART 3 – TRIADS

Practice Playing on Jazz Chord Progressions – Bass Practice Diary 66

How to Practice Playing on Difficult Jazz Chord Progressions – Bass Practice Diary – 23rd July 2019

Last week I was practicing Herbie Hancock’s classic composition Dolphin Dance. Which features a unique and quite complicated set of chord changes to improvise on. So, this week I wanted to share my approach to practising playing on tricky jazz chord progressions like this one.

A good starting point for practicing anything difficult is always to start slowly and practice in short sections. And that’s particularly true in this case. Dolphin Dance has quite a long form for a jazz standard. Anything over 32 Bars is unusual. But even a 32 bar standard would usually have repeated sections. Dolphin Dance has hardly any repetition within the harmonic structure, so it does feel like a lot to learn.

How I Use Backing Tracks

When I break a standard down into sections, I will usually practice in 4-8 bar sections. Generally I will create my own backing tracks, either using a loop pedal or by recording piano chords in to Protools. These backing tracks can be very basic. They only need to be good enough to keep the form and the structure. The advantage of creating my own backing tracks is that I can set the exact harmony and tempo that I want to practice. There may be apps that now exist that can do this for you, but I will always prefer to do it myself.

The problem with most commercially available backing tracks is that they usually only feature the entire form played at one tempo. Which makes it harder to practice slowly and in short sections. I do use commercial backing tracks and backing tracks from the internet. But with a tricky tune like Dolphin Dance, I’ll only uses them when I feel ready to take on the entire form after practising with my own backing tracks first.

Write Out Examples

When I’m practising in short sections, I will particularly focus on the most tricky sections of the harmony. In the video I’ve picked out one of the more unusual harmonic sections of Dolphin Dance. The section begins with an Eb7 chord before immediately changing key into G major with a II – V. Then it goes to a Bm7 chord, which could be chord III in G major but that’s followed by an E7 chord so that implies a II – V in A major. But the E7 is followed by Dm7 which doesn’t belong in either G or A major and that’s followed by C#m7 which is chord II in B major.

So, the harmony is jumping around which will keep you on your toes when you’re improvising. I think if you’re going to learn how to improvise melodically on a progression like this, then it really helps to write some ideas down. I usually do this by trying to come up with a melody or rhythmic phrase that I can hear in my head, and then trying to see if I can make that melody fit through the harmony. This might involve making chromatic adjustments to help the phrase fit in with the harmony.

In the video I featured three examples, and here they are.

Dolphin Dance - Short Melodic Jazz Improvisation Examples
Dolphin Dance – Short Melodic Jazz Improvisation Examples

Augmented/Whole Tone Symmetrical Jazz Bass Exercise – Bass Practice Diary 64

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).

Augmented Whole Tone Bass Symmetrical Exercise
Augmented Whole Tone Bass Symmetrical Exercise

Giant Steps Improvisation – Bass Practice Diary 50

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.

You can find my bass TAB and analysis of a John Coltrane lick from that album here. It comes from a composition called Countdown which features similar chord movement to Giant Steps.

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.

Modal Jazz Improvisation on Three Basses – Bass Practice Diary 31

Modal Jazz Improvisation on 3 Basses – Based on Flamenco Sketches – Bass Practice Diary – 20th November 2018

This week I was inspired by the chord changes of Miles Davis’ modal jazz masterpiece Flamenco Sketches. I used the chords as the basis to improvise using three basses, fretless electric, acoustic upright (double bass) and acoustic bass guitar.

This is the second video I’ve made playing jazz with these three basses. If you’d like to find out more about why I’m using them, then check out my previous video called Playing Jazz with Three Different Basses.

Miles Davis and his Compositions

Once again, I’ve featured a composition by the great jazz trumpeter and band leader Miles Davis. My previous video featured a composition called Solar. It wasn’t a conscious decision to feature the same composer twice. However, it does reflect the influence that Miles Davis’ music has had on me and my own jazz education.

The two compositions, Solar and Flamenco Sketches, actually have very little in common. Other than that they’re written by the same composer. Solar is what jazz musicians would refer to as a Bop tune. And Flamenco Sketches is an example of Modal Jazz. They represent very different stages of Miles Davis’ career even though they were only written about five years apart.

Also, in this video, I’m only using the chord progression for Flamenco Sketches as a basis for improvisation. Whereas, I played the melody of Solar as well as an improvised solo, which is more or less consistent with the Bop style.

The album Kind of Blue, is one of the most famous jazz albums of all time. It was released in 1959 and it marked a complete change of direction in modern jazz. It’s debatable whether or not Miles Davis actually came up with the idea of Modal Jazz. Because there are earlier compositions by other composers, that could be described as modal jazz even though the term wasn’t used to describe them at the time. But Kind of Blue undoubtedly established modal jazz as a major movement in modern music, and it marked a sea-change in jazz.

What is Bop?

The concept of modal jazz is actually very simple. In order to understand it, you must first understand Bop, which had been the prevailing style in modern jazz up until the late 1950’s. Modern jazz really started with a style of music called Bebop, and particularly two gentlemen, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Check out my video about playing Charlie Parker Bebop melodies on fretless bass here.

Miles Davis began his career as a teenager, playing with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. So his background was in Bebop and he continued playing a style of Bop called Hard Bop throughout the 1950’s when he lead his own band. The composition Solar first featured on a Miles Davis album in 1954, and it is typical of a Bop style jazz melody.

The style of Bebop was all about complex melodies and fast moving chord progressions. In order to play it you needed both technical skill, to keep up with the pace, and also exceptional understanding of harmony and ability to navigate fast moving chord and key changes. The Hard Bop movement was a bit less high paced and a bit more soulful, but it still relied upon the melodic and harmonic style of it’s predecessor Bebop.

What is Modal Jazz?

Modal jazz, by contrast, doesn’t rely on chord progressions. Where Bop compositions tend to change chords in virtually every bar. Modal compositions tend to stay on just one chord for extended periods. The improvisers role in modal jazz is not to navigate continually shifting harmony as in Bebop. It’s to create melody from modes.

Modes are essentially scales. Each chord implies an accompanying scale which the improviser can use to create a tune. Flamenco Sketches is a classic example of a modal jazz composition, it is essentially just five chords, or five modes. Very simple in theory, but it’s also one of my favourite jazz compositions.

Flamenco Sketches Chords

Flamenco Sketches starts in C major, I would use a C lydian mode to improvise on this first section. Find my video about Lydian Sounds here. The second chord is Ab7sus4. The sus4 chord voicing is intentionally ambiguous, because it doesn’t define the chord as being either major or minor. Therefore there are a number of different ways you can approach it. Miles Davis uses a major triad starting on the fourth Db, which I’ve tried to emulate in my improvisation.

The third chord is a Bb major chord, and again you can use a lydian mode here. This precedes one of my favourite moments in any jazz composition. Which is a change from the Bb major to a D phrygian dominant mode. This has to be one of my favourite chord changes. I remember seeing Ron Carter’s band play this piece in London in about 2003. It was such a beautiful concert. One moment from the concert that I can still remember all these years later was when the band changed to the D chord in Flamenco Sketches. Ron Carter had an extended range on his fourth string so he could reach a low D on his bass. I’ve tuned the fourth string on my upright bass down to a D in the video to emulate this.

It’s the phrygian dominant mode that gives the piece it’s Spanish flavour. You can find my video about the phrygian dominant mode here. The Spanish sound is integral to the composition. For this reason, this section of the song lasts twice as long as the other four modes. The final chord is a Gm7 chord, you can play a dorian mode here.

Artificial Harmonics

The original idea for this video came because I was practicing a technique for artificial harmonics which I’ve adapted from the guitar. I’ve never done artificial harmonics like this on bass before. I use a different technique usually. I haven’t done a video about artificial harmonics yet, but I will do one soon. So stay tuned to my Bass Practice Diary if you want to learn this technique.

I was using this technique on a guitar and I started wondering if I could use it to play chords on my acoustic bass guitar. Once I found it worked I immediately had the idea of playing the chord changes for Flamenco Sketches using the technique. I recorded it and added the improvisation on double bass and fretless bass, and that’s the video!