Chord Tones in Jazz Solos – Bass Practice Diary – 31st March 2020
When you’re playing a jazz solo, is it better to think about scales or chord tones (arpeggios)? I’ve heard musicians having that kind of debate before, but I’m presenting it here as a bit of a trick question. Because the chord tones exist within the scales so why would you think of them as being two separate things. I think it really helps if you focus on chord tones in jazz solos. You could think of your improvised lines as being lines that connect the chord tones.
Connecting Chord Tones
Chord tones are probably the strongest notes that you can use in a melody. But if you play melodic lines that only use chord tones, they can sound boring and formulaic. So I try to find ways of showcasing the chord tones in my solos by placing them in key places, like at the start and end of phrases. Scales are a great way of connecting up chord tones, so my advice is to always know where the chord tones are, even when you’re using scales.
I’ve featured the altered scale before in my Bass Practice Diary. It’s a great way of creating an outside sound on dominant 7th chords. It works because it features the three strongest chord tones in a dominant 7th chord, the root, 3rd and 7th. But the other four notes in the scale are outside notes or altered notes, b9, #9, b5 and b13. If you feature those altered notes too heavily it can sound very uncomfortable. But if you use them as notes to connect up the three chord tones it can create some really cool tension and release.
So, to take advantage of that, you need to know where the chord tones are. Here’s a C altered scale with the root, 3rd and 7th marked.
Here are some simple lines I came up with that connect chord tones on a C7 chord. This one starts and finishes on the root.
This is the same lick finishing on the 7th.
C7 altered lick – Root to 7th
Here’s one that starts on the root and finishes on the 3rd.
Passion Dance by McCoy Tyner on fretless 6-string bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th March 2020
One of the most memorable musical moments in my life was seeing McCoy Tyner play live at the Jazz Cafe in London in 2003. I was 19 years old and I had recently got very into the John Coltrane Quartet. My parents had given me A Love Supremeon CD as a 19th birthday present. The thought that I was going to watch the pianist from that album play live, was almost too exciting!
I arrived when the doors opened (about 3 hours before the gig started) to get myself a position with the best view. I literally sat about a metre from McCoy Tyner’s right hand as he played an absolutely burning set with his trio, which at that time included the unbelievably talented Charnett Moffett on bass and Eric Harland on drums. It’s a memory I will never forget. At that point in my life I had never heard music played with that level of intensity by a small acoustic jazz band.
I’ve heard many musicians imitate McCoy Tyner’s style over the years. But I’ve never heard anyone who could do it like him. I saw him live many more times after that, always in concert halls rather than jazz clubs. I even met him on one occasion. But it’s that first gig in a jazz club in London that will always stick in my memory as one of my happiest musical memories. It was one of the first times that I’d seen “the real thing” up close and it had a huge impact on me.
It was with great sadness that I heard about McCoy Tyner’s passing this week at the age of 81. He was a truly unique musician, and his influence on modern jazz is enourmous.
McCoy Tyner is best known for the sound of quartal harmony. That’s when you arrange chord voicings in fourth intervals. It’s a very distinctive sound, and instantly recognisable in modern jazz. Passion Dance uses that quartal sound, and is a great example of McCoy Tyner’s signature sound. My rendition certainly doesn’t capture the intensity with which McCoy Tyner used to play it. But I wanted to put my own tribute out for a great musician who influenced me massively.
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.
Johnny Cox and Tim Pettingale playing Tim’s Jazz Waltz – Bass Practice Diary – 17th September 2019
A couple of weeks ago Tim Pettingale came over to visit me in my new studio. And we had a bit of a play over this idea that Tim had for a jazz waltz. I previously released another video from this session of us playing over Rhythm Changes. Tim is the author of two brilliant jazz guitar books Jazz Bebop Blues Guitar and Rhythm Changes for Jazz Guitar.
Jazz Waltz and Variations
A jazz waltz is something that I don’t practice that often. So it was really interesting when Tim came to me with this idea for an original composition. He wrote it in three sections, A, B and C, which gave us some scope to come up with some interesting rhythmic variations. On the B and C sections.
The A section is the main melody, which we played with a standard jazz waltz feel. I initially played it on my fretless bass and then Tim played it on guitar after that.
A jazz waltz is written in 3/4 but it’s probably more accurate to call it 9/8. Because you have three beats in each bar and each beat is subdivided into triplets. Which is what gives you a swing feel. So there are effectively nine 1/8th notes in each bar, hence 9/8. It’s useful to understand this because it means that you can superimpose grooves in 9/8 onto a jazz waltz without needing to change the beat or sub-division. That’s exactly what we did in the bass solo which is the C section of the composition and starts at 1:41 in the video.
A simpler approach to playing 3/4 is to play using straight 1/8th notes. Which creates six 1/8th notes in each bar instead of nine. So, a straight 3/4 can also be thought of as being interchangeable with 6/8. This is the feel that we explored in the B section which starts at 0:58 in the video. I’ve explored many of these same rhythmic ideas in my upcoming book for Fundamental Changes which I hope will be released before the end of this year.
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.
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.
16th Note Jazz Lines on 6 String Bass with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 13th August 2019
This week I’ve written out some 1/16th note jazz lines on a II-V-I chord progression in C major. If you’ve read my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove, then you’ll know that I love to practise subdivisions. In fact, I believe it’s probably the most important thing that every bass player should practice. And this week I’ve been working on a tricky little subdivisions exercise. Playing 1/16th notes on a jazz swing feel!
Why is it hard to play 16th notes on a swing feel?
A 1/16th note feel can be described as a straight feel. Straight, in this case means anything with a subdivision that is divisible by two. 1/8th notes, 1/16th notes etc. But a swing feel is a triplet feel. Meaning the subdivision is three not two. So playing 1/16th notes over a triplet (swing) feel requires playing a different subdivision to the rest of the band. And that requires really good time keeping discipline.
You’ll also notice that the 1/16th notes feel fast, even on a quite moderate tempo swing feel. So there are technical challenges in playing these lines accurately. As well as the challenge of getting the timing right. Here are the lines that I wrote out for the video. If you try playing these, I would recommend counting the 1/16th notes using the Konnakol syllables Ta-Ka-Di-Mi as I did in the video.
If you’d like to learn more about practicing subdivisions on bass guitar then check out my book or you can watch this short video!
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.
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.