Tag Archives: jazz on bass guitar

Learn to Play Giant Steps Jazz Lines On Bass – Bass Practice Diary 51

How to Improvise on Giant Steps – Bass Practice Diary – 9th April 2019

Last week I posted a video of me practicing improvising on Giant Steps chord changes on fretless and fretted bass. So this week I want to talk a bit about my approach to playing on what are some of the most notoriously difficult chords changes in jazz.

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.

Giant Steps Licks for Bass Bars 1-3
Giant Steps Licks for Bass Bars 1-3

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.

Giant Steps Lick for Bass Bars 5-7
Giant Steps Lick for Bass 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 – 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.

Sus Chords – Play Bass on Suspended Chords – Bass Practice Diary 47

Play Bass on Sus Chords (Suspended Chords) – Bass Practice Diary – 12th March 2019

Sus chords or suspended chords create a really cool modern sound. Last week I put out a video of a bassline I’d written on four sus chords. This week I want to explain a little bit of the theory behind my approach to playing on these types of chords.

What is a suspended chord?

I think there is often confusion over what the term suspended actually means when it relates to music. A suspended chord is simply a chord that doesn’t contain a third. A basic musical triad (three note chord) usually contains a root, a third and a fifth. And it’s the third that defines the chord as being either major or minor.

Suspended chords don’t use the third. The third is usually replaced by a fourth (sus4) or a second (sus2). Therefore they’re not major or minor chords. They need a different name, and that name is suspended. The name itself doesn’t really tell you anything important about the nature of the chords or how to play on them, so most musicians usually abbreviate and call them sus chords.

How do you play on sus chords?

Personally, I take a jazz approach to playing on sus chords. A basic sus4 or sus2 chord (like the kind you might find in a pop song) is all very well. But for me these chords get really interesting when you start extending them, creating richer fuller harmonies and chord voicings.

When I’m playing bass on sus chords, I like use the notes of a major 9th chord or arpeggio. But I think of the root note of the sus chord as being the 9th of the major arpeggio.

So, for example, G is the 9th of F major. So I can think of a Gsus chord as being an inverted Fmaj9 chord with the 9th becoming the root.

F major 9th arpeggio on G sus chord
F major 9th arpeggio on G sus chord

If you think of the notes of an Fmaj9 chord with the root G, then the chord tones are root, 2nd (9th), 4th, 6th (13th) and b7th (dominant 7th). So you can think of my Gsus chord as being a G7sus4 chord with a 9th and a 13th added as chord extensions. However, I would simply think of it as Gsus and the chord extensions are there at the discretion of the musicians voicing the chords.

More sus chord arpeggios

These kind of extended sus chords create a really cool modern jazz sound. I think they’re cool because they aren’t major or minor, so the sound of them is always a bit of a question mark. Almost like you’re not really sure when you hear them, how they’re supposed to make you feel.

In the bassline I played in last week’s video, I used four sus chords Gsus, Bbsus, Dbsus and Esus. In each case I thought of the root note as being the ninth of a major 9th arpeggio.

Ab major 9th arpeggio on a Bbsus chord
Ab major 9th arpeggio on a Bbsus chord
Cb major 9th arpeggio on a Dbsus chord
Cb major 9th arpeggio on a Dbsus chord
D major 9th arpeggio on a Esus chord
D major 9th arpeggio on a Esus chord