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.
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.
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).
Jaco Pastorius Fingerstyle Funk Lines – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd July 2019
This week I’ve been practicing playing Jaco style fingerstyle funk lines by using a book of his transcriptions called The Essential Jaco Pastorius. I particularly wanted to study the way he improvises funky fingerstyle bass lines. Which is why I read through this passage. It’s played on a Bb7 chord towards the end of his composition Opus Pocus from his self titled debut album. I haven’t included any TAB this time because I don’t want to infringe the copyright of the book. But if you’d like to see some analysis of a Jaco line with bass TAB then check out this video.
Practising with transcriptions
If you’ve followed my Bass Practice Diary regularly you will probably know by now that I love to practice playing transcriptions of great musicians. Sometimes I transcribe the music myself and sometimes, like this week, I work from books of transcriptions. I truly believe that practicing transcriptions is one of the best ways you can practice the bass or any other instrument. Playing a Jaco Pastorius transcription is like getting a lesson from the master himself. What better way is there to get inside his brilliant mind than by playing his own lines.
I’ve often found that great musicians are often not great teachers. Jaco is probably a good example of this phenomena. Most of you are probably familiar with his Modern Electric Bass instructional video from the 1980’s. There is some good stuff in it. But I would say that you will learn much more by transcribing his music than by listening to what he says. Jaco is a very natural musician. And I’ve noticed that most natural musicians don’t make the best teachers. Because they often can’t explain what it is they do in a way that people can understand. There are exceptions to that. Victor Wooten is both a great natural musician and a great teacher. Because he’s taken the time to break down what he does and distill it in an understandable way.
Whatever great musician you want to learn from, you can have a one to one lesson from a master, when you start transcribing their music. Or, for a little bit more money, you can buy a transcription book. Which now exist for many great musicians on a wide variety of instruments and styles.
Triads Exercise on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 11th June 2019
This is a triads exercise that I’ve adapted onto bass guitar from something that I saw the guitarist Pat Metheny play. The original version of the exercise came from this video.
He doesn’t start playing the triads until about 3 minutes into the video. And it isn’t clear if he’s improvising or playing an exercise that he’s previously practiced. But I thought it sounded great and it looked like a great way to practice triads and their inversions. So I adapted a short section of what he played onto my six string bass and I’ve turned it into an exercise.
Triads and their inversions
A triad is a three note chord. The obvious way to arrange a triad in root position is root, third, fifth. Then you can play two inversions, third, fifth, root and fifth, root, third.
But that’s not necessarily the best way to play them on fretted instruments like guitars and basses. In this exercise, when Metheny plays a root position triad, he skips the third and goes straight to the fifth. Then he plays the third up an octave, a tenth above the root note. So using this arrangement, the three inversions of the triads are root, fifth, third. Then third, root, fifth and finally fifth, third, root.
Below is an Ab major triad and a Bb minor triad arranged in this way on four string bass.
There are two other common types of triad, diminished and augmented. These are actually much simpler to play because they’re symmetrical. Meaning that they use the same interval over and over. Diminished arpeggios divide the octave up into four minor third intervals and augmented arpeggios divide the octave into three major third intervals. Which is why there are four inversions of the diminished triad below but only three of the augmented triad.
This is the exercise. It mostly uses the major triads and the inversions. But there are a few minor and diminished triads. There are no augmented triads in this exercise. I’ve written the chords on top to help you keep track of which chord you’re playing.
Single String Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 4th June 2019
In this week’s video I’m talking about single string exercises. When I practice scales, I don’t really think of them as scales. I think of it as learning harmony. You can relate everything to do with harmony back to scales. And whatever harmonic exercise I’m working on, my goal is always to be able to play it in every position on the fretboard.
Why practice on just one string?
If you’re going to learn to use the entire fretboard then you need to practice by breaking it up into sections. You could do this by taking a modal approach and learning the scale in every position. Or you could take a single string approach by learning all the notes on just one string at a time. The big advantages of the single string approach are that it forces you to think about the notes rather than patterns on the fretboard. And it helps you to practice making the position shifts necessary.
When you’re working out a harmony on a single string you need to think about your left hand fingering. Below is a G major scale played on the first string. I’ve included my fingerings for reference.
Every bass is different, so I would recommend practicing these exercises on the usable range of your instrument. If the upper frets are hard to access then just play up to the point where it stops being comfortable to play.
Then repeat these exercises on every string. Here is the G major scale played on the second string.
A word about sight reading
Learning harmony in this way is extremely important if you want to improve your sight reading. I think that many bass players who struggle to sight read miss the importance of learning scales all over the fretboard.
Key signatures are extremely important in written music. They tell us the parent scale that we use to read it. If the key signature has one # (sharp), then the parent scale is G major. So, to read the written music successfully you need to be able to visualise the scale on the neck of your bass. Learning the scale in just one position will almost certainly not be enough, unless it’s a very simple piece of music.
Jazz Blues Lines and Techniques on Bass Guitar from Tom Kennedy Solo – Bass Practice Diary – 21st May 2019
This week I’ve been trying to transcribe some of Tom Kennedy’s lines on a Bb blues I saw him playing on Youtube. In this video I’m looking at one particular Tom Kennedy lick. And I focus on his left hand technique which he seems to have adapted to electric bass from his years of playing the upright bass.
Tom Kennedy Left Hand Technique
The first time I heard Tom Kennedy play was at Ronnie Scott’s in London. It was more than 10 years ago and I’d gone to see the Dave Weckl band. Tom Kennedy was playing electric bass in the band and straight away I pegged him as an upright bass player because of his left hand technique. I don’t play a lot of double bass but I’ve played enough to recognise the technique. And I’ve seen a lot of double bass players playing electric bass over the years so I’ve learned to recognise what they tend to do.
But that’s not the end of the story. The story is that after about 10 or 15 minutes of the first set the band arrived at the first bass solo. And Tom Kennedy played jazz lines with such incredible speed and intensity that it left me questioning everything that I though I knew about electric bass technique. Who would have thought that you could approach the electric bass in that way and yet play so fast. The only other bass player that I can think of who can do that is Christian McBride. (I know that you’re probably thinking John Patitucci but his left hand technique on electric bass is distinctly different to his technique on upright).
So, why does Tom Kennedy’s left hand technique remind me of an upright bassist? He tends to cover just three frets in each position instead of four, playing notes with his first, second and fourth fingers. He likes to play electric bass in the positions around the first four or five frets, even when playing jazz solos. And when he does shift up the neck he tends to shift up and down on the first string.
Jazz Blues Lick
The lick that I featured in the video is played on the II chord Cm7. It goes like this.
I’ve included the bass TAB so you can see exactly how he played the line. If I saw a line like this written down without TAB I would probably play it something like this.
You could argue that my fingering is more consistent with the way that most jazz electric bass players would approach playing a jazz solo line like this. Notice that my fingering doesn’t take me anywhere near the first position. I’ve arranged the whole thing from the 7th fret and above.
But you could also argue that Tom Kennedy’s approach enables him to come up with lines that other electric bass players wouldn’t think of. And at the same time execute them at high speed. His technique also impacts the way he phrases his lines. So they don’t sound like they would if they were played by another bass player (me, for example).
A chorus of Bb Blues played by Tom Kennedy
Here is one full chorus of the solo that I’ve transcribed. I’ve picked a chorus that doesn’t include any of his super fast 1/16th note lines. Because they provide a serious technical challenge for any electric bass player to execute. But playing this chorus from his solo does give you a really interesting insight into how he arranges lines with his left hand.
The Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale – Bass Practice Diary – 30th April 2019
Recently I did a video about the altered scale, which is one of seven modes that come from the melodic minor scale. You can find it here. That got me thinking about the other modes of the melodic minor scale. There are a few that I use quite a lot, but there are others that I almost never use. So this week I set myself the task of practicing all of them, and thinking about what harmonic context I can use them in.
If you’ve seen my altered scale video, you’ll already know that melodic minor scale is only one note different from a major scale. If you take out the major 3rd from a major scale and replace it with a minor 3rd, then you have a melodic minor scale.
This small alteration creates the potential for seven modes, that are each different and distinct from the seven major scale modes. (Ionian, dorian, phrygian, lydian, mixolydian, aeolian and locrian). Modes are extracted from scales by changing the root note to a different degree of the scale. For example, if you play the notes of a C major scale but change the root note to D, then you have a dorian mode.
What are the melodic minor modes?
These are the seven modes of the melodic minor scale. Each has been written out in one octave and I’ve written the implied chord symbol above each mode. I’ve chosen to use D melodic minor for this exercise.
The first mode is the melodic minor scale itself. I use the melodic minor to play on minor 6th chords and it can also be used on minor/major chords (meaning minor 3rd with a major 7th.
The second mode is like a dorian mode with a flattened 2nd. It implies a minor 7th chord. But the flattened 2nd is a strange note to play on a minor 7th chord. Hence, this is one of the modes that isn’t commonly used.
The third mode is like a lydian scale with a raised 5th. The implied harmony is a major 7th chord with a #5. I don’t currently use this scale a lot. But I’ll try and use it more in future, because it sounds cool.
The fourth mode is usually called lydian dominant because it has a raised 4th, like the lydian mode. But it also has a dominant (flattened) 7th. It’s a scale that I like to use on dominant 7th chords. It’s essentially a mixolydian scale with a raised 4th. Which makes it sound more interesting than a mixolydian scale when played on an un-altered dominant 7th chord.
The fifth mode is basically a mixolydian scale with a flattened 6th. I don’t use it very much but you could use it on a dominant 7th chord with a b13.
The sixth mode works well on half diminished chords (m7b5). It has a minor 3rd and 7th and a flattened fifth. But unlike the locrian scale, it has a natural 9th rather than a flattened 9th.
The seventh mode is the altered scale, which I’ve already covered in my previous video. It’s an extremely useful scale for playing on altered dominant chords.
Bass Practice Diary is One Year Old – 23rd April 2019
A year ago I decided to start documenting my bass practice by picking one thing that I was working each week and making a short video about it.
As a music teacher, I believe that if you want to keep improving your musicianship, then it’s essential that you keep finding new things to practice. It seems to me that a lot of people get stuck in the same practice routines, practicing the same things. And then they wonder why their playing isn’t progressing in the way that they want it to.
What I’m trying to show, is that there is an almost unlimited number of different things to practice. And many different ways that you can practice them.
I release the videos every Tuesday. And I haven’t missed a week in the whole year. So there are currently over 50 videos. All available for free without subscription.
If you would like to follow my free videos each week then you can always find them here on JohnnyCoxMusic.com. And if you subscribe to my Youtube channel and click on the bell icon, then you should be alerted each week when my videos are uploaded. You can also follow me on my Facebook page Johnny Cox Music. And you can find me on Instagram @johnny.cox.music
Learn a Jazz Bass Lick by Jeff Andrews – Bass Practice Diary – 19th March 2019
I heard the news a couple of days ago that Jeff Andrews had passed away. He really deserves to be remembered as one of the great jazz electric bass players. I know him best from his work with Mike Stern. He played on albums such as Time in Place and Between the Lines which have been among my favourites for a long time. As well as his work with Mike Stern, he’s also played with jazz and fusion greats like Michael Brecker, Bob Berg, Vital Information and Steps Ahead.
After hearing the news, I immediately started listening to some of those albums again. And I also found a really cool compilation of his solos on Youtube. It really struck me what a great musician and improviser Jeff Andrews is. And predictably I started trying to work out what he was playing. What I found was a goldmine of incredible jazz lines improvised on electric bass.
Using Inside and Outside Lines
What struck me about his style was his brilliant use of inside and outside lines. It’s a commonly used technique of many jazz improvisers. Incorporating lines that are both inside the harmony and outside the harmony as a way of creating tension and resolution. Jeff Andrews is an absolute master of this. He improvises lines at high speed that outline the harmony, but then take you way outside the harmony before bringing you back in for the resolution.
Jazz Blues Bass Lick
The lines he creates are so cool, and I could have picked any one of his lines as a demonstration. But I choose this one which is from a Mike Stern tune called Bait Tone Blues.
This line takes place over the last four bars of blues in F. And it starts by clearly outlining a ii – v in the key of F. But then follows a sequence which starts on a B natural and ends with a sort of chromatic run featuring the notes A, Bb, Ab, E and G. That’s an uncomfortable sounding sequence of notes when you play it over a standard blues turnaround in the key of F. But then having played that outside sequence, he immediately brings it back inside the harmony by outlining a C major triad at the end. With the C7 functioning as the V chord in the last bar of the blues.
It’s really hard to analyse some of these outside lines other than to say that when you play the lick through, it just sounds really cool. And it shows that Jeff Andrews had incredible musical instincts as an improviser. He had the ability to throw in outside passages and make them sound like they fit with the inside harmony. He will be missed.