Tag Archives: jazz on bass guitar

Jazz Licks Bass Clef Version – Bass Practice Diary 67

Jazz Licks Bass Clef Version – Bass Practice Diary – 30th July 2019

This week I’m practising jazz licks from a book called Jazz Licks Bass Clef Version. I wanted to feature it this week because it ties in nicely with last week’s Bass Practice Diary Video. Which featured some of my own jazz licks written over the harmony of a short section of Herbie Hancock’s composition Dolphin Dance.

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.

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

Dolphin Dance on Three Basses – Bass Practice Diary 65

Dolphin Dance on Three Basses – Bass Practice Diary – 16th July 2019

This week I’ve been studying transcriptions of Herbie Hancock’s classic 1965 recording of Dolphin Dance from the Maiden Voyage album. I’ve always loved it as a piece of music and I think it perfectly captures what Herbie Hancock was about at that time and why he’s a genius. I’ve been attempting to transfer what I’ve studied onto three basses. 6 string fretted and fretless electric basses as well as upright bass.

Dolphin Dance

The harmony is highly complex and jazz musicians have argued for decades over what are the correct chords to play. So, my main interest in analysing the transcriptions was to find out how Herbie Hancock himself voiced the chords, not only for the melody but also behind his own solo.

In spite of the complex jazz harmony, Dolphin Dance is first and foremost, a beautiful tune. And therein lies the genius of the composer. I’d compare it to tunes like Monk’s Round Midnight, Mingus’ Goodbye PorkPie Hat and Coltrane’s Naima. All beautiful melodies that are elevated by unusual and challenging harmonic structures.

Bass Solo Transcription

I’ve transcribed one whole chorus of my bass solo. I’ve written the chord symbols in above the stave for reference. But I would advise you not to take them too seriously. I took the chord symbols from a book, but I wasn’t following them when I played my solo or when I recorded the chords. I was trying to follow the notes that Herbie Hancock actually played, and the chord symbols don’t necessarily represent a completely accurate picture of that.

Dolphin Dance Bass Solo - Page 1
Dolphin Dance Bass Solo – Page 1
Dolphin Dance Bass Solo - Page 2
Dolphin Dance Bass Solo – Page 2

If you’re interested in more jazz bass videos like this, then check out my video of Miles Davis’ Flamenco Sketches on three basses. Or here’s another Miles Davis tune, Solar.

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

Using Open Strings for Position Shifts – Bass Practice Diary 58

Fretless Jazz Lines – Using Open Strings for Position Shifts – Bass Practice Diary – 28th May 2019

This week I’ve been coming up with jazz lines on my fretless bass. But specifically I’ve been trying to use open strings to help me make fast accurate position shifts in these jazz lines. I’ve been inspired to try this after I transcribed a blues solo played by the phenomenal bassist Tom Kennedy in last week’s practice diary video.

I think that one of the best ways to improve as a musician is to work out passages played by great musicians. I often use transcriptions and books written by other people, which are useful tools to use. But I feel that I learn the most when I work it out for myself.

Use open strings to make position shifts

The next challenge, after you’ve worked out a piece of music, is to see what you can take from it and incorporate into your own playing. And the thing that struck me most about Tom Kennedy’s blues solo was the way he was organising his left hand and his use of the open strings.

Can I take some of that and apply it to my own playing? In order to find out, I started writing out jazz lines for my fretless bass that use open strings and position shifts in the way that I’ve seen Tom Kennedy do it.

The theory behind it, is that if you play an open string before you shift position, then that gives you a little bit of extra time to make the shift. And it also gives you a reference note to help you hear if your position shift is accurately in tune. Which is extremely important on fretless bass. It’s a technique that I believe Tom Kennedy has adapted from playing upright bass. But he applies it onto fretted electric bass and he plays jazz lines at ferocious speed.

The fretless jazz lines

My fretless bass is a 6 string. I don’t have another fretless bass because I sold my four string fretless when I bought my 6 string. However, I usually write my TAB’s out for 4 string so that all bass players can use them. So, these three examples are all written for 4 string bass. Even though they’re played on 6 string in the video.

The first one that I played, at the start of the video, is written on the middle eight section of Rhythm Changes. It’s the second most popular chord progression in jazz after Blues changes.

Rhythm Changes Jazz Line with Open Strings
Rhythm Changes Jazz Line with Open Strings

The next line that I shared in the video is meant to be played over the first four bars of Stella By Starlight.

Stella By Starlight Jazz Line with Open Strings
Stella By Starlight Jazz Line with Open Strings

And the final example is over the changes for the first four bars of John Coltrane’s classic composition Moment’s Notice.

Moments Notice Jazz Line with Open Strings
Moment’s Notice Jazz Line with Open Strings

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