Altered Pentatonic Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd June 2020
Last week I featured a pentatonic scale that you can create by altering just one note in a standard major or minor pentatonic scale. This week I’ve put that altered pentatonic scale into practice. I’ve come up with a jazz lick on fretless bass that features both the standard and altered versions of the pentatonic scale.
I’ve composed the line on a II-V-I-IV progression in the key of C major. I choose to use the IV chord rather than the more common VI7 chord in order to feature two different pentatonic approaches to playing on major 7th chords. On the Cmaj7 chord I’ve played an E minor pentatonic scale. It gives me the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th relative to the root note of the chord. On the Fmaj7 chord, I’ve used the altered version of the scale to create a lydian augmented sound. The notes are E, F, A, B & C#, 7th, root, 3rd, #4th, #5th relative to the F root note. It’s like an F# minor pentatonic scale, with an F natural root note instead of F#. It’s a sound that I featured in last week’s video.
On the II chord I’m using the obvious D minor pentatonic scale. I like to start my jazz lines inside the harmony and then take them outside. The altered version of the pentatonic scale does a really good job of spelling out the sound of an altered dominant chord. It helps me bring in some of those outside notes on the G7 chord V. The notes are G, Bb, B, Eb & F, which is root, #9, 3rd, b13 &7th. It’s like the notes an altered dominant arpeggio. You can think of it as C minor pentatonic scale with the root note lowered by a semitone to B.
6-String Bass Solo & Chords with Bass TAB & Chord Diagrams – Bass Practice Diary – 14th April 2020
This week I’ve transcribed a 6-string bass solo that I played in practice. It follows on from what I was doing last week, finding creative ways to use pentatonic scales in jazz solos. These days I often practice the same ideas on both guitar and bass. In this case I started by playing some pretty chords on the guitar. Then I came up with two pentatonic scales, a tone apart, that worked on each chord. So, each chord had a different pair of scales. I then tried to improvise lines on my 6-string bass using the two pentatonic scales plus a third outside scale that sits exactly between the two scales. Using this idea I was trying to create inside/outside jazz lines in the same way I did for my pentatonic jazz lick last week.
Having done this I then switched it around. So, I worked out how to play the chords on my 6-string bass and I improvised solo lines using the same system on the guitar. Here are the chords and scales that I used in the video.
The first chord is Emaj9, and the two inside scales are C# minor pentatonic and D# minor pentatonic. The reason I chose those two chords is that I was thinking of the Emaj9 chord as lydian, and those two scales spell out the E lydian sound very well. The outside scale would have been D minor pentatonic, but I didn’t use it on the solo I included in the video.
I then played a sequence of major chords over a peddled E bass note. D/E creates an Esus chord and I used the B & C# minor pentatonic scales and C minor pentatonic for the outside notes. Then on C/E I used A & B minor pentatonic and Bb for the outside notes and then A/E I used F# & G# minor pentatonic and G for the outside notes. In each one of these slash chords I was thinking of the major chord as being lydian.
Finally I played an Em9 chord which I treated like a II-V-I in D major, exactly as I did last week. In fact, I tried to used the lick from last weeks video on this chord. I didn’t execute it perfectly but the idea still came across.
These solos are a long way from being perfect, they represent what I’ve been working on this week, which is the point of my bass practice diary. I’m including the transcriptions here to help you see my thought processes as I tried to create these lines. But I’m sure that you can take these ideas and improve on what I’ve done, which is what I’m going to do as well. It’s actually a great exercise to transcribe your own solos, because you can immediately think about how you would do it better next time. Here is the bass solo I played in the video.
Pentatonic Modern Jazz Lick – Bass Practice Diary – 7th April 2020
This week I’ve written a pentatonic jazz lick to try and demonstrate how pentatonic scales can be applied to modern jazz. If you think that pentatonic scales are just easy scales for beginners then you need to read this. I think Google and YouTube probably need to read this as well, because when you search for pentatonic scales, you get a lot of content that is targeted at beginners.
The Pentatonic Scale
Pentatonic means five notes. So, you could technically have any number of different five note scales that could be labeled pentatonic. But there is one pentatonic scale which is “the” pentatonic scale. The same scale can be used for both major and minor and it goes like this.
It’s an incredibly useful scale because pentatonic melodies are universal. I can’t think of many styles of music that don’t use pentatonic melodies. They have a very distinctive character.
Many people associate pentatonic melodies with blues guitar playing. But the applications of pentatonic melodies go way beyond blues licks. Not that there’s anything wrong with playing blues lines. Blues melodies and phrasing are hugely important in jazz, and blues phrases played well can be both beautiful and sophisticated.
However, it’s possible to approach pentatonic melodies in a completely different way. And that’s what I’m looking at this week.
One of the great strengths of the pentatonic scale is it’s versatility. If you’re only using the scale one way, then you’ve missed part of the point of them. If you take any major key, then you always have three different pentatonic scales within that key. Using the key of D major as an example, you have B minor/D major, E minor/G major and F# minor/A major pentatonic scales all within the key. Each creates a different sound played against a D major chord.
Pentatonic Jazz Lick
My pentatonic jazz lick uses three pentatonic scales in the key of D, but none of them are D major pentatonic. I’ve used E minor pentatonic scale on the Em7 chord, which is chord II, and I’ve used the F# minor pentatonic scale on Dmaj7, chord I.
The other scale that I’ve used is F minor pentatonic. This is a scale which gives you all of the notes that are not in the key of D major. I’m using this scale on an A7 chord, chord V. Why play a scale that uses all theoutside notes? To create tension that can be resolved on the one chord (Dmaj7).
Of the five notes in an F minor pentatonic scale, F, Ab, Bb, C & Eb. Four of those notes are altered extensions on an A altered dominant chord, b9, #9, b5 & b13. The other note is Ab. That’s not a note you want to feature too prominently on an A7 chord, because it’s a major 7th on a dominant chord. You can use it, but you have to be careful how you use it. I’ve used the Ab once in my lick and it’s the last note before resolving to chord I. The Ab functions as a chromatic approach note leading to A natural, which is a chord tone in the Dmaj7 chord. Here’s the lick.
Superimposing II V I Licks
I’ve written the line above onto a II V I in D major. But I wouldn’t necessarily choose to play the lick in that context. When I came up with the lick, I was thinking about it more as a straight 1/16th note feel on a funky modal idea.
Jazz musicians love to superimpose II V I lines onto individual chords. You could play that entire lick on a single Em7 chord or Dmaj7 chord or A7 chord.
You could even play it on a G major chord and it would create an inside/outside lick with a lydian sound.
Michael Brecker Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd September 2019
This week I’ve been working out some jazz lines that Michael Brecker played on Charlie Parker’s tune Confirmation. And this week I’m featuring one particular lick that comes from that tune.
The recording that I was working from comes from a Chick Corea album called Three Quartets. And it features Michael Brecker performing a duet with Chick Corea who is playing the drums rather than his more familiar role as a pianist. The performance is notable for Michael Brecker’s brilliant solo. Which features a number of brilliant jazz lines. And I’ve picked out this particular lick, because I think it fit’s nicely onto a four string bass guitar. Although I should point out that I’m playing the lick one octave below where Michael Brecker plays it. Here’s the lick.
The lick happens in the middle 8, and it’s played on a II-V-I in Db major. I recently wrote about the importance of practicing II-V-I’s in my post about applying jazz vocabulary to jazz standards. This lick is a really useful piece of jazz vocabulary. And when you practice these kind of lines, I would strongly recommend practising transposing them into different keys. Here’s the same lick played in Ab major to get you started.
John Coltrane Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 19th February 2019
This week I’m breaking down another jazz lick on bass guitar. And I wanted to take on one of the all time great jazz improvisers, John Coltrane.
So, I was reading through the bass clef John Coltrane Omnibook trying to choose where I should start. And I decided I should start by looking at how he played over what are know as the Coltrane Changes. Or the Coltrane Matrix as it was called when I was taught it at music college.
The Coltrane changes are a sequence of chords that take you through three keys. Each key is a major third away from the previous key. So, the progression always resolves back into the original key. Because an octave divides perfectly into three major thirds.
John Coltrane used this progression as a substitution for a standard II – V – I progression. Coltrane used this substitution in his composition Countdown from the Giant Steps album. The Countdown chord progression is a reharmonisation of the jazz standard Tune Up.
The Lick Arranged for Bass
So, I’ve arranged one of John Coltrane’s licks from Countdown for bass guitar. The lick takes place over three bars and encompasses all three key changes. It starts like this.
The first chord, Cm7, is chord II in the key of Bb major. If you’re going to analyse the first two notes in terms of their relationship to the chord then they would be 5th and 11th. But I feel like in this case, Coltrane was just using two notes from the key of Bb major to lead into the new key. Which is why I haven’t written 5th and 11th above the notes.
The Db7 chord is chord V in the new key, Gb major. From this point on, it’s really interesting to see how many chord tones John Coltrane uses in his line. So I’ve written the chord tone relationships above the notes. Here’s the second bar.
In this bar, the key changes from Gb major to D major (A7). You’ll notice that virtually every note he uses in this lick is either root, third, fifth, seventh or ninth. The only note that isn’t in this bar is the Ab passing note between the root and seventh of the A7 chord.
Using Chord Tones
His approach might seem quite simplistic on the face of it. It would certainly seem like a simplistic way of building lines if you were to apply it to the standard, unaltered II – V – I progression. But, if you look at it in context with the chord progression, it makes complete sense.
He’s using this incredibly cool substitution, which features constantly moving harmony. And he wants his line to reflect the substituted harmony. If he filled his line with chromatic alterations and extensions, then the underlying chord progression could quickly become unrecognisable. Here’s bar three.
In this bar the key returns to the original Bb major (F7). The pattern used on the Dmaj7 chord is very typical of the 1, 2, 3, 5 patterns that Coltrane loved to use around this period. Which is why I’ve put 2nd in brackets next to the 9th, E. Here is the full lick.
John Coltrane Improvisation Style
Analysing these licks is like getting a lesson in jazz improvisation from one of the masters. This lick is very typical off what John Coltrane was playing in the late 1950’s. But, during his career he went through several different stages. Each featuring a different approach to improvising. So I have no doubt that I will be analysing more Coltrane licks in the near future from different stages of his career.
Jazz Blues Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 13th November 2018
This week I’ve done a detailed breakdown of a jazz lick that I played on a Bb blues progression in last week’s Bass Practice Diary. The lick combines the diminished scale with the blues scale which creates a jazz blues sound.
I’ve played the lick on my Warwick Thumb SC six string fretless bass. But I’ve transposed the lick down an octave so it can be comfortably played on a four string bass and I’ve written the TAB for four string bass in standard tuning.
Jazz Blues Lick
The concept of the blues solo that I played last week was combining the diminished scale and the blues scale. The reason why I’ve highlighted this very short lick is because it combines both the blues scale sound and the diminished sound in one very short lick. The Diminished scale provides a jazz sound while the blues scale keeps the lick rooted in the blues.
If you want to know more of the theory then check out last week’s video, but for now I’ll just take you through the lick.
The lick is played on a Bb7 chord but it starts on a G. The lick actually starts before beat one. The way I played it last week, you can think of the G as functioning as the major 3rd of the Eb7 chord in the preceding bar. However you could also play the same note on a Bb7 chord and think of it as a 13th.
From that note it goes up using the diminished scale. The second note Ab lands on beat one and it’s a chord tone, the dominant 7th. If you followed the sequence of the scale then the next note would be the root note Bb, but I’ve chosen to skip the root and go to the next note in the scale which is the b9, B natural (Cb).
Then it’s D and F. Two chord tones, major 3rd and 5th. And both feature in the diminished scale.
It’s worth mentioning at this point, that it’s the b9 that’s creating the diminished sound. All of the other notes are chord tones. They exist in the diminished scale, but without the b9, they would just sound like an arpeggio. It’s amazing what the presence of just one outside note can do to change the sound of a harmonic phrase.
For more of the theory about inside and outside notes, check out these two posts.
The Blues has its own rules when it comes to harmony. The blues scale is essentially a minor pentatonic scale with one extra note. An outside note, the b5.
If you want to define the sound of the blues, then a good place to start is by playing the minor 3rd from the blues scale on a dominant 7th chord containing a major 3rd. You could argue that anytime you mix minor and major 3rds on dominant chords you are playing a blues sound.
Going back to my lick, I’ve just played a major third and then the 5th of the Bb7 chord, F. The note F exists in the Bb blues scale, the Bb diminished scale and the Bb7 chord. So it’s a very safe note. I’m using it here to transition from playing the diminished scale into playing the blues scale.
From the F, the lick simply goes down the blues scale until it gets to the root note Bb. It includes the minor third Db, so the riff includes both major 3rd, D and minor 3rd Db. Which, as I’ve mentioned, creates a blues sound.
The diminished scale, and especially the b9 from the diminished scale, create a jazz sound. While the presence of both major and minor 3rds creates a blues sound. And both of these sounds are combined in one very short lick, just nine notes altogether. Which I think is quite cool.
I played several licks with a similar idea in last week’s video and I’ve transcribed one full 12-bar chorus. I think that the lick that I’ve chosen is the shortest and most succinct. Which is why I chose this one. I hope you’ve found this helpful!
Learn a Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 9th October 2018
The best way to use “licks” in jazz is a subject that divides opinion amongst musicians. I’ve written a melodic jazz lick in the key of F major over a II-V-I chord progression. In this post I’ll explain the lick and also share some of my thoughts on the use of licks in jazz.
What is a Jazz Lick?
In this context, a jazz lick is a melodic phrase, like a musical sentence. It’s a small fragment of melody that can comprise part of a longer jazz solo.
The debate amongst musicians tends to centre around whether or not it’s appropriate to use pre-learned licks as part of improvised jazz solos. It’s something that a lot of musicians do, including really good musicians, and the argument in favour of using licks is as follows. By learning licks, you are effectively learning jazz vocabulary. And the more jazz vocabulary you learn, the greater your range will be as an improviser.
This is why I practice jazz licks or phrases. Sometimes I work out my own ones, as I’ve done in this video and at other times I play licks written by other musicians, as I have in this video.
Personally, I don’t like to use pre-prepared licks when I’m performing or playing with a band. Improvising is the thing I love to do most in music. And I like to not know for sure where the music will go. Sometimes the music can suffer as a result of this approach, and if you’re looking for more consistency in your soloing, then learning licks is a good place to start. But, I wouldn’t choose to sacrifice the process of improving by using pre-learned licks. I’ve tried it and I just don’t enjoy it. To me it feels like trying to introduce a pre prepared sentence into a conversation. It might be a great sentence, but there’s every chance it won’t make sense depending on where the conversation goes.
However, using licks is something that probably all improvisers do either consciously or unconsciously. We all fall into patterns of playing, often without realising it. I’m fairly certain that even musicians who are very against the idea of using licks, often unknowingly fall back on melodic phrases that they’ve played many times before.
Fretless Bass Jazz Lick
If you follow my Bass Practice Diary you’ll know that I like to play jazz melodies on fretless bass. So, when I do this kind of practice, I’ll always use my fretless. Having said that, the lick will also work on a fretted bass.
I’ve TAB’d it for 4 string bass so everyone can play it. I sold my 4 string fretless bass after I got the 6 string Warwick Thumb SC in the video. That’s the only reason that I’m playing a 6 string bass in the video.
The lick is meant to be played over a II – V – I chord progression in the key of F major. Gm7 – C7 – Fmaj7. The II – V – I chord progression is the most common chord sequence in jazz. I won’t go into the theory of it because there are so many articles in existence about II – V – I’s, like this one. I’ll just explain what I’m playing on each chord.
Inside and Outside Notes
I think the reason that jazz musicians love to play over II – V – I chord progressions is because the V chord affords a great opportunity to use outside notes. Whereas the II and the I chord tend to favour the use of inside notes. So, you can create a feeling of starting inside the harmony and then moving outside on the V before coming back in on the I. This is a very jazz approach. The feeling of taking the harmony out and then bringing it back in, immediately sounds like jazz. And it’s that sound that I’ve tried to demonstrate with my jazz lick.
As you can see, all of the notes are in the key of F major, creating an inside sound. Which is fine because we’re about to step outside of the harmony on the V chord.
There are several chromatic alterations in this bar. Playing a b9 on beat one is a very strong statement that I’m taking the melody outside of the key signature. I love this kind of bold harmonic statement. The other chromatic alterations (outside notes) are the #9 and the b13. The final note of the bar is also an outside note, but in this case it’s functioning as a passing note rather than an altered chord extension. It’s simply a semi tone above G natural to take us to an A natural on beat one of the next bar.
How much outside harmony you choose to use is a matter of personal taste. I mentioned in the video that you could play a similar phrase on the V chord but with a natural 9th instead of the #9 and a natural 13th instead of the b13. It would go like this.
Finally, on the I chord, F major 7, the lick resolves itself onto the major 3rd A. Which is about the most inside sounding note you can use at this point.
As I’ve said, I’m not planning to use this lick again any time soon. For me, this is simply an exercise in expanding my jazz vocabulary so I can improvise lines in a similar way in future. But if you’d like to learn it, and use it in future, I would consider it an honour that anyone chooses to play one of my lines. I hope this has been helpful!