Tag Archives: Johnny Cox Music

Happy Christmas! – Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow! – Bass Practice Diary 36

Let it Snow played on Three Basses!

A Christmas Bass Practice Diary – Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow! – 25th December 2018

Christmas should be a joyful time. It’s a time for families to get together and eat, drink and be merry! However, if, like me, you feel that Christmas generally doesn’t have enough bass in it. Then this Christmas Bass Practice Diary is for you! Another classic Christmas Standard arranged for three basses! It’s exactly what you need to bring a bit more bass into your Christmas Day!

This week I’ve arranged Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow for fretless bass, acoustic bass guitar and double bass. And all that remains is for me to wish you a very Bassy Christmas!

If you’d like to hear another Christmas standard arranged on three basses, then check out my bass arrangement of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) from last weeks Bass Practice Diary video!

The Christmas Song played on Three Basses – Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire – Bass Practice Diary 35

The Christmas Song aka Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire – Bass Practice Diary – 18th December 2018

It’s one week to go until Christmas! So let me first wish everyone a bass filled holiday season! What else could I do other than arrange a classic Christmas Standard for three basses. This is The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) played on fretless bass, acoustic bass guitar and double bass. 

Nat King Cole and Fretless Bass

The reason I choose this song is because the voice of Nat King Cole always makes me want to play my fretless bass. Every time I hear him sing, I think of fretless bass. There’s something about the register he sings in and the way he phrases that just conjure’s up in my mind the warm rich tone of a fretless bass guitar. So I played the melody on my Warwick Thumb SC six string fretless bass after I’d laid down the chords, with a few natural harmonics on my Warwick Alien Deluxe six string  acoustic bass guitar. 

Find my guide to playing natural harmonics on bass guitar here!

The Christmas Song

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire has a 32-bar AABA form like many jazz standards from that era. The song has a jazz ballad feel, which I’ve replicated on all of the A sections. In the B section, I changed the feel, to bring in a bit of variation. I’m using a 4/4 jazz swing feel and the upright bass (double bass) comes in at the B section playing a 4/4 jazz walking bassline. During the B section the two bass guitars also change feel to a swing feel, before all three basses play the final A section with the original straight jazz ballad feel.

For the intro and outro, I’ve used the acoustic bass guitar playing chords using natural harmonics. It’s a technique that I wrote about in my guide to natural harmonics and I think it’s a beautiful sound.

A Guide to Harmonics on Bass – Part 1: Natural Harmonics – Bass Practice Diary 34

Play Harmonics on Bass Guitar – Part 1: Natural Harmonics – Bass Practice Diary – 11th December 2018

I use harmonics a lot in my bass arrangements, so I thought I’d do a complete guide to playing harmonics on bass. It’s too much information for just one video, so I’ve split it into two parts, natural harmonics and artificial harmonics. This video contains everything you need to know about natural harmonics on bass. Including the harmonic series and advice for making chord voicing using harmonics.

Natural Harmonics

I should start by saying that I’m not a big fan of the terms natural and artificial harmonics. To me, they are all just harmonics, they follow the same rules and principles. The distinction is that natural harmonics are created from open strings, whereas artificial harmonics are created from notes that are fretted with the left hand. Calling them natural or artificial makes as much sense as calling notes played on open strings ‘natural notes’ and notes fretted with the left hand ‘artificial notes’.

There is nothing artificial about artificial harmonics, all harmonics exist naturally. However, there is a difference in the techniques that you use to play natural verses artificial harmonics, which I will look at across these two videos. So, I’ll continue to use the terms, natural and artificial, even though I’m not sure they’re ideal.

So, natural harmonics are created by touching the open strings very lightly with your left hand and then plucking the string as normal with your right hand. For the harmonic to be clear, you must avoid the string making contact with any fret, and you should remove both hands from the string immediately after plucking with your right hand. The string should be left to ring as if it were an open string. The difference is that the note you will hear will be much higher than the open string.

The Harmonic Series (Overtone Series)

In order to properly understand and use harmonics, you must first become familiar with the harmonic series. The harmonic series is a sequence of tones that make up a musical note. Musical notes are not simple sound waves. In fact they’re very complex and they comprise a whole sequence of overtones that we call the harmonic series. We can explore this sequence on our basses by playing harmonics.

The harmonic series is, in theory at least, infinite. So it’s impossible to learn or play the entire harmonic series. As you go further up the series, the harmonics become harder and harder to hear and to find on your bass string. So, I’m only really interested in the first few notes of the series.

The series always starts at the exact half way point of the string. This means the halfway point between the nut and the bridge. On your bass, the halfway point is marked by the twelfth fret. You will always find a harmonic at the halfway point of any string that is pulled tight between two points. It doesn’t matter what note you tune the string to and it doesn’t matter what instrument you are playing. The harmonic at the twelfth fret will produce a note that is exactly one octave above the open string.

So, the harmonic series starts with an octave and then is goes up a fifth and then to another octave. This will be a note two octaves above the open string. These harmonics will both occur in two different places on each string. One on the left side of the centre of the string, and one in the same position on the right side of the centre.

The next note in the sequence is a major 3rd above the previous note. So the harmonic series up to this point gives us a kind of major arpeggio.

Natural Harmonics - Harmonic Series on G
Natural Harmonics – Harmonic Series on G

Here is the sequence written out on the first string of a four string bass. So, the sequence is written in G. The sequence goes, G, D, G, B.

Creating Chord Voicings with Harmonics

The same major arpeggio pattern will repeat itself on any open string, Root, 5th, Root, 3rd. Which makes it fairly simple to work out what notes you’re playing when you play these harmonics.

Once you know what the notes are, you can start to combine natural harmonics and normal fretted bass notes to create chord voicings. I gave two examples in the video, both using the harmonics D and G played on the fifth fret of the first and second strings.

When you add the root note Eb to the harmonics D and G it creates an Eb major 7th chord. G is the major third and D is the major seventh. I’ve done that by fretting the Eb on the 6th fret of the third string, but there are other ways you could play this chord. If you change the root note to E, you get an E minor 7th chord. The G and D become the minor 3rd and 7th.

Ebmaj7 Voiced Using Natural Harmonics
Ebmaj7 Voiced Using Natural Harmonics

Em7 Voiced Using Natural Harmonics
Em7 Voiced Using Natural Harmonics

Hammer Ons and Pull Offs on Bass – Left Hand Technique Lesson – Bass Practice Diary 32

Hammer Ons and Pull Offs – Left Hand Technique Lesson – Bass Practice Diary – 27 November 2018

Someone asked me recently to do a video with some Hammer Ons and Pull Offs exercises. I don’t usually do videos based on suggestions, but this time I thought it was a good idea. Because practising Hammer Ons and Pull Offs is a great way to improve your Left Hand Technique.

Having said that, I believe that there are a few basic things that you need to get right if you are going to improve your technique by practicing hammer ons and pull offs.

Left Hand Techniques

The first thing is to come up with exercises that use four fingers on your left hand. If you want to play with good technique in your left hand then you need to be able to play evenly between all of your fingers.

I see so many beginner and intermediate bass players favouring certain fingers and trying to avoid other fingers on their left hand. It’s very natural to play like that because when you start, everyone has stronger index and middle fingers than ring finger and little finger. But that’s the reason you practice left hand techniques, in order to overcome that.

If you play hammer ons and pull offs using the same two fingers every time, then you are actually making your left hand technique more uneven when you practice.

So, Rule One of left hand technique is practice with four fingers. The only exception to this is when you are specifically working on strengthening a weak finger. As I demonstrated in the video with my third finger.

Hammer Ons

The second thing that you need to get right is, when you hammer on, you need to hammer on to the fret and not in between two frets. For example, if you want to play the fifth fret on the first string, you need to hammer onto the fifth fret, not in between the fourth and fifth fret.

You need to be very accurate because if you go even a little bit in front of the fret, you will lose the note. The sound is created by striking the string against the fret. So, if you don’t hammer on accurately then the sound will be weak and quiet.

Many bass players struggle with this because they don’t spread out their fingers on the left hand. If you play with your fingers too close together, you won’t be able to reach the frets with your third and fourth fingers and your hammer ons will be weak.

So, Rule Two is spread you fingers wide and hammer on accurately onto the frets.

Pull Offs

The pull off technique is a bit easier. But make sure you don’t just lift your fingers off the strings. You need to excerpt a gentle pull on the string as you pull off. If you don’t, the notes will die out as you repeat the exercises. If you pull too hard, the notes will sound uneven as your pull offs will be much louder than your hammer ons.

When you get the pull off technique right, you should be able to keep all of these exercises going continuously without needing to play any notes with your right hand. The pull off technique is easiest to execute on the first string.

So, Rule Three is practice these exercises on all strings, not just on the first string.

The Hammer On and Pull Off Exercises with Bass TAB

This is the first exercise that I played in the video.

Hammer Ons and Pull Offs Example 1
Hammer Ons and Pull Offs Example 1

I would recommend that you don’t spend too much time playing the same exercise the same way. You should keep coming up with your own little variations. And try to focus on the things that you find difficult.

If you practice the same exercise too much, you will become very good at playing that one exercise. But if you keep varying the exercise you will eventually become very good at the technique, which is what you want.

Here is the second exercise from the video.

Hammer Ons and Pull Offs Example 2
Hammer Ons and Pull Offs Example 2

In this example you keep your first finger held down continuously. Now here is a variation in which you hold your second finger down continuously.

Hammer Ons and Pull Offs Example 3
Hammer Ons and Pull Offs Example 3

Make sure you hold your second finger down on a string that you’re not using. Because you won’t be able to pull off with your first finger if your second finger is held down on the string you’re playing. You can vary this exercise again by holding down your third and then fourth fingers. It gets harder each time.

Rule Four

Rule four is the most important rule, and it should apply to everything you practice. The rule is, focus on timing and not speed. Use a drum beat or a metronome and practice everything you do by playing in time.

Hammer ons and pull offs are relatively easy to play fast, but they’re much harder to play in time, and it’s hard to get all the notes to sound even. So my best recommendation is start slow, play in time, make it even and then gradually increase the tempo.

 

 

Modal Jazz Improvisation on Three Basses – Bass Practice Diary 31

Modal Jazz Improvisation on 3 Basses – Based on Flamenco Sketches – Bass Practice Diary – 20th November 2018

This week I was inspired by the chord changes of Miles Davis’ modal jazz masterpiece Flamenco Sketches. I used the chords as the basis to improvise using three basses, fretless electric, acoustic upright (double bass) and acoustic bass guitar.

This is the second video I’ve made playing jazz with these three basses. If you’d like to find out more about why I’m using them, then check out my previous video called Playing Jazz with Three Different Basses.

Miles Davis and his Compositions

Once again, I’ve featured a composition by the great jazz trumpeter and band leader Miles Davis. My previous video featured a composition called Solar. It wasn’t a conscious decision to feature the same composer twice. However, it does reflect the influence that Miles Davis’ music has had on me and my own jazz education.

The two compositions, Solar and Flamenco Sketches, actually have very little in common. Other than that they’re written by the same composer. Solar is what jazz musicians would refer to as a Bop tune. And Flamenco Sketches is an example of Modal Jazz. They represent very different stages of Miles Davis’ career even though they were only written about five years apart.

Also, in this video, I’m only using the chord progression for Flamenco Sketches as a basis for improvisation. Whereas, I played the melody of Solar as well as an improvised solo, which is more or less consistent with the Bop style.

The album Kind of Blue, is one of the most famous jazz albums of all time. It was released in 1959 and it marked a complete change of direction in modern jazz. It’s debatable whether or not Miles Davis actually came up with the idea of Modal Jazz. Because there are earlier compositions by other composers, that could be described as modal jazz even though the term wasn’t used to describe them at the time. But Kind of Blue undoubtedly established modal jazz as a major movement in modern music, and it marked a sea-change in jazz.

What is Bop?

The concept of modal jazz is actually very simple. In order to understand it, you must first understand Bop, which had been the prevailing style in modern jazz up until the late 1950’s. Modern jazz really started with a style of music called Bebop, and particularly two gentlemen, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Check out my video about playing Charlie Parker Bebop melodies on fretless bass here.

Miles Davis began his career as a teenager, playing with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. So his background was in Bebop and he continued playing a style of Bop called Hard Bop throughout the 1950’s when he lead his own band. The composition Solar first featured on a Miles Davis album in 1954, and it is typical of a Bop style jazz melody.

The style of Bebop was all about complex melodies and fast moving chord progressions. In order to play it you needed both technical skill, to keep up with the pace, and also exceptional understanding of harmony and ability to navigate fast moving chord and key changes. The Hard Bop movement was a bit less high paced and a bit more soulful, but it still relied upon the melodic and harmonic style of it’s predecessor Bebop.

What is Modal Jazz?

Modal jazz, by contrast, doesn’t rely on chord progressions. Where Bop compositions tend to change chords in virtually every bar. Modal compositions tend to stay on just one chord for extended periods. The improvisers role in modal jazz is not to navigate continually shifting harmony as in Bebop. It’s to create melody from modes.

Modes are essentially scales. Each chord implies an accompanying scale which the improviser can use to create a tune. Flamenco Sketches is a classic example of a modal jazz composition, it is essentially just five chords, or five modes. Very simple in theory, but it’s also one of my favourite jazz compositions.

Flamenco Sketches Chords

Flamenco Sketches starts in C major, I would use a C lydian mode to improvise on this first section. Find my video about Lydian Sounds here. The second chord is Ab7sus4. The sus4 chord voicing is intentionally ambiguous, because it doesn’t define the chord as being either major or minor. Therefore there are a number of different ways you can approach it. Miles Davis uses a major triad starting on the fourth Db, which I’ve tried to emulate in my improvisation.

The third chord is a Bb major chord, and again you can use a lydian mode here. This precedes one of my favourite moments in any jazz composition. Which is a change from the Bb major to a D phrygian dominant mode. This has to be one of my favourite chord changes. I remember seeing Ron Carter’s band play this piece in London in about 2003. It was such a beautiful concert. One moment from the concert that I can still remember all these years later was when the band changed to the D chord in Flamenco Sketches. Ron Carter had an extended range on his fourth string so he could reach a low D on his bass. I’ve tuned the fourth string on my upright bass down to a D in the video to emulate this.

It’s the phrygian dominant mode that gives the piece it’s Spanish flavour. You can find my video about the phrygian dominant mode here. The Spanish sound is integral to the composition. For this reason, this section of the song lasts twice as long as the other four modes. The final chord is a Gm7 chord, you can play a dorian mode here.

Artificial Harmonics

The original idea for this video came because I was practicing a technique for artificial harmonics which I’ve adapted from the guitar. I’ve never done artificial harmonics like this on bass before. I use a different technique usually. I haven’t done a video about artificial harmonics yet, but I will do one soon. So stay tuned to my Bass Practice Diary if you want to learn this technique.

I was using this technique on a guitar and I started wondering if I could use it to play chords on my acoustic bass guitar. Once I found it worked I immediately had the idea of playing the chord changes for Flamenco Sketches using the technique. I recorded it and added the improvisation on double bass and fretless bass, and that’s the video!

 

 

Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 4 – Chord Extensions

In Part 4 we’re going to look at chord extensions.

In this video lesson you’re going to learn how to play chords with chord extensions on the bass.  I’ll also explain what notes you can leave out and why, in order to make your chords sound more interesting.

What are chord extensions?

Extended harmony is where chords get a lot more interesting sounding but it’s also where the theory gets more complicated. Chord extensions are notes that we can add to basic chords like triads. Having established how to play triads in Part 3, we can now look at adding chord extensions to them.

The most common chord extension by far is the seventh. In Part 3 we looked at how triads are made up of a root, a third and a fifth. And there is an interval of a third between each of these notes. In order to make a triad into a seventh chord we just continue this pattern of stacking intervals of a third. We add a note that is a third above the fifth and we call this note the seventh. Seventh chords have four notes in them root, third, fifth and seventh.

Four types of seventh chords

If you watched my video about “Intervals” then you’ll know that there are two types of sevenths, major and minor just like there are major and minor thirds. Fifths however are not major or minor and so the fifth is the same in both major and minor chords. For this reason, it’s the third and seventh notes of each chord that define what type of chord it is.

For example if you have a chord with a major third and a major seventh in it, it’s called a major seventh chord and a chord with a minor third and a minor seventh is called a minor seventh chord. The word used to describe a chord that has a major third and a minor seventh in it is “dominant” and dominant seventh chords are very common.

The chord symbol for a dominant seventh chord is just the number 7 (eg. G7, A7, C7 etc.) minor seventh chords are written m7 (eg. Gm7, Am7, Cm7 etc.) and major seventh chords can be written a number of ways such as with a small triangle or sometimes with an upper case M, but most commonly they are written maj7 (eg. Gmaj7, Amaj7, Cmaj7 etc.)

These three types of seventh chords are by far the most common but there are others that I’ve also listed at the end of Example 1. For example, a chord with a minor third and a major seventh is called minor with a major seventh (min/maj7).

What notes can you leave out?

When we play extended chords we usually can’t play all the notes within the chord because we only have a finite number of strings on the bass. The more chord extensions we have means the more options we have, but it also means the more decisions we have to make in terms of what notes to leave out. In the case of seventh chords the decision is simple, I’ve already mentioned that the fifth is the same for major and minor chords so the fifth doesn’t fulfill a very important function in the chord (unless we alter it as in diminished and augmented chords). So if we leave out the fifth we have three notes left, the root, third and seventh.

Example 1 demonstrates two different ways of voicing major seventh, dominant seventh, minor seventh and minor with a major seventh chords. The first way is to play the root on the A string, the third on the D string and the seventh on the G string. The second way is to play the root on the E string, leave out the A string and play the seventh on the D string and the third up an octave on the G string.

Video 4 Example 1 Chord extensionsAltering the fifth

Just because the fifth is the same for both major and minor chords doesn’t mean we can’t alter it. You can flatten the fifth (lower by a semi-tone) to give you a diminished chord or sharpen it (raise it by a semi-tone) to give you an augmented chord. In order to play a diminished or augmented chord you need to include the fifth because the fact that it’s been altered makes it a key element in the chord. That is why I have included all four notes in the augmented and diminished examples in Example 1.

Sixths

Another common chord extension that we can use instead of a seventh is a major sixth. We can add a major sixth to a major triad or a minor triad. The chord symbol for a major chord with a major sixth is just the number 6 (eg. G6, A6, C6 etc.) and the chord symbol for a minor chord with a major sixth is m6 (eg. Gm6, Am6, Cm6 etc.) Example 2 demonstrates how to play these two types of chords. Again, I’ve left out the fifth in both cases.

Video 4 Example 2 Chord extensions

Harmonising D major in seventh chords

If we harmonise any major scale into seventh chords we get seven different chords, two major seventh chords (chords I & IV, three minor seventh chords (chords II,III & VI), one dominant seventh chord (chord V) and one half-diminished chord (a chord with a minor third, a minor seventh and a flattened fifth) (chord VII). In example 3 I’ve harmonised a D major scale into seventh chords.

Video 4 Example 3 Chord extensions

Ninths

After the seventh, the next extension we can add to a chord if we keep stacking intervals of a third is a ninth. A full ninth chord has five notes in it, root, third, fifth, seventh and ninth. Example 4, demonstrates how to play a few common ninth chords by adding a ninth to a major seventh chord, a dominant seventh chord, a minor seventh chord and even a major sixth chord. As before I’m leaving out the fifth in each chord.

Video 4 Example 4 Chord extensions

More chord extensions

If we keep up this idea of stacking intervals of a third we end up with an eleventh and then a thirteenth. By the time you reach the thirteenth you have seven notes. Most scales have seven notes. So a seven note chord would effectively be equivalent to playing all the notes from a scale simultaneously. Which is usually a bad idea. Also, you can alter (either sharpen or flatten) the upper extensions (ninth, eleventh and thirteenth). Just like I altered the fifth earlier. This gives you a huge amount of options in terms of extending chords.

So, we have to exercise some judgement over which chord extensions we can add to which chords. And that all comes down to what we think sounds good. For example, you normally wouldn’t want to add an eleventh to a chord with a major third in it (major or dominant). Because the eleventh clashes with the third but you can add a sharpened eleventh. If you want to add an eleventh to a major chord then you would normally leave out the third. That would change the chord to what we call a “sus” chord. A sus chord is a chord that omits the third and usually replaces it with the fourth. The fourth is the same note as the eleventh. Check out my video on “intervals” if you don’t understand why the fourth and the eleventh are the same note.

Example 5 demonstrates some common chord extensions that we can play over major or minor chords on the bass.

Video 4 Example 5 Chord extensions

Chord extensions on 5 and 6 string basses

For Example 6 I’ve had to switch onto my six string bass to play some of these extensions. The ability to play more extended harmony is one of the main reasons I choose to play six string basses. If you don’t have a six string bass, many of these chords can be adapted onto a five string bass.

Video 4 Example 6 Chord extensions