Tag Archives: Johnny Cox

Improve Your Time Feel by Practicing with Drums – Bass Practice Diary 26

Improve Your Time Feel by Practicing with a Drummer or Drum Beat- Bass Practice Diary – 16th October 2018

In my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove there’s an entire chapter about playing with drummers. If you want to improve your timing and your time feel on bass, then practising subdivisions with a drummer is a great way to go about it. Here’s a video featuring my good friend Lewis Davies on drums to show you how I do it.

Understanding time feel and groove

It’s important to understand that a band grooves and not just an individual. So, if you want to improve your groove, it’s essential to practice with other musicians and not just on your own. The best place to start is by practicing with a drummer. Practice placing your notes accurately on the subdivisions that the drummer plays, and you will begin to develop the collective time feel  that you need for a band to groove.

It’s important to understand that virtually all music uses just a small number of subdivisions. Eighth note, sixteenth note, and triplet feels occur in virtually all styles and genres of music. If you want to have a great time feel on bass, it’s essential to not only understand them, but also to be able to execute playing them accurately. That is the premise of my book Improve Your Groove.

This post is not so much about understanding them, but more about how to play them better. If you want to understand subdivisions better, you could buy the book, or you could check out this post called Rhythmic Subdivisions on Bass Guitar.

Eighth note bass lines

When I talk about an eighth note feel, what I mean is that eighth notes are the smallest subdivision in the bassline. Therefore, in order to make the bassline groove you must feel the eighth notes running through the music. All of the eighth notes, not just the ones that you play on.

Here are the two eighth note bass lines that are featured in the video.

Ex 5d Time Feel
Ex 5d Eighth Note Example from Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove
Ex 5f Time Feel
Ex 5f Syncopated Eighth Note Example from Improve Your Groove

Triplets and shuffle feel

When you play a shuffle feel, the smallest subdivision is a triplet. Typically in a shuffle, you create a different kind of off-beat to the straight eighth note feel, by playing just the first and third triplet subdivisions in each beat. As I explained in the video, if you recite Ta-Ki-Ta for your triplets, and only play on the two Ta syllables, you get a shuffle feel.

This shuffle bass line is fairly advanced and it adds a few passing notes on the second subdivisions. But, it still retains the feel of a shuffle and Lewis is playing a shuffle on the drums.

Triplet/shuffle subdivisions
Ex 3g Shuffle Feel Example from Improve Your Groove

The following example shows how you can change the feel whilst still using a triplet subdivision by accenting the second subdivision.

Ex 3n Time Feel
Ex 3n Altered Shuffle Feel Example from Improve Your Groove

Sixteenth note feel

It’s important to understand that a sixteenth note feel does not necessarily mean that you have to play more or faster just because there are more subdivisions. It just means that in order to get the feel right, you need to feel the sixteenth notes in the music, Ta-Ka-Di-Mi.

Here is an example of a bassline with a sixteenth note feel that doesn’t contain lots of notes or any fast passages.

Ex 5r time feel
Ex 5r Sixteenth Note Feel Example from Improve Your Groove

For me, the most interesting aspect of a sixteenth note feel is the expanded rhythmic potential that sixteen subdivisions in each bar offers. Which is why we bass players love to improvise bass lines with a sixteenth note feel. There are so many potential rhythmic variations out there. And as long as you accurately place the notes onto the subdivisions, then you can’t really go wrong.

Here is an example of a more advanced, syncopated sixteenth note bass groove.

Ex 2n time feel
Ex 2n Syncopated Sixteenth Note Feel Example from Improve Your Groove

Grooving with the drums

All you need to do is make sure that your notes land on the drummers subdivisions. If you can’t practice with a real drummer, then practice with a drum beat backing track. But there’s no substitute for the real thing if you can find a drummer to practice with.

It’s always a good idea to record yourself if you can, and listen back. It doesn’t have to be amazing sound quality, just enough so you can hear how accurately you’re placing your notes. And don’t worry if you feel like you’re not very good. Learn together with a drummer and improve together over time. Lewis and I have been playing together since we were teenagers. And I think we’ve learned a lot both together and separately since then.

Jazz Chord Extensions for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 23

Chord Extensions on 4, 5 & 6 String Bass Guitars – Bass Practice Diary – 25th September 2018

I’ve done a few videos in the past about playing chords on the bass. This week I’m demonstrating a fairly simple approach you can use to playing jazz chord extensions. The system involves using two different voicings of 7th chords. Each using three notes, root, 3rd and 7th. Then adding chord extensions like 9ths, 11ths and 13ths as well as common alterations.

A Very Quick Guide to Jazz Harmony – 7th Chords

Chord extensions and alterations are synonymous with jazz harmony. 7th chords form the foundation of most jazz chords and I’m going to look at the three most common types of 7th chord. They are Major 7th, Minor 7th and Dominant 7th.

7th chords are four note chords, all of the chord types mentioned above contain root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. The root and 5th are the same in all three chord types, so the 7th chords are defined by the thirds and sevenths. Major 7th chords have a major 3rds and 7ths. Minor 7th chords have minor 3rds and 7ths and dominant 7th chords have major thirds and minor 7ths.

There are other types of 7th chords, but in this post I’m only going to look at these three types because they’re the most common.

When voicing extended chords it’s extremely important to know which notes to leave out. Regardless of whether you play 4, 5 or 6 string basses, you only have a finite number of strings. I recommend that you don’t try to cram every note from an extended chord into a chord voicing. It’s rarely a useful or practical approach.

The first note to leave out is the 5th, because it’s the same in each chord type. It doesn’t tell you anything about the chord. So, when I voice 7th chords, I voice them as three note chords, root, 3rd and 7th.

Assuming that you keep the root as the lowest note, that means you can voice a 7th chord in two different ways. The first way is with the 7th on top, as demonstrated in the three diagrams below.

Example 1 Chord Extensions
7th Chords: Root, 3rd & 7th

9th Chords

The reason that I’ve voiced these chords on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings is so that I can use the first string to add a chord extension. These voicings work well for 9th chords. The 9th above my root note A is the note B played on the 16th fret of the first string. You can add this note to each of the chord types and you get these chord voicings.

Example 2 Chord Extensions
9th Chords: Root, 3rd, 7th & 9th

There are two alterations you can make to the 9th in the dominant 9th chord. You can sharpen it to make an A7#9 chord or you can flatten it to make an A7b9 chord.

Example 3 Chord Extensions
Altered 9th Chords

Voicing 7th Chords With the Third on Top

I stated previously that there were two ways I was going to voice the 7th chords. The first was with the 7th on top. Now I’m going to make the 3rd the highest note. I’ll play the root and 7th in the same place, but I’ll move the third up an octave, from the third string onto the first string.

Example 4 Chord Extensions
7th Chords: Root, 7th & 3rd

11th Chords

In these voicings the 3rd string is not being used. So I can add a chord extension to the 3rd string. An obvious one to use is an 11th, because it sits comfortably in these chord shapes.

The natural 11th sounds good in a minor 7th chord. But, it doesn’t work so well on chords with major 3rds. So, for the major 7th chord I’ll add a sharpened 11th, which creates a lydian sound.

The sharpened 11th also works well on the dominant and minor 7th chords, and in these cases the sharpened 11th can also be described as a flattened 5th. So, I can create four new voicings by adding either a sharp or natural 11th to the 3rd string.

Example 5 Chord Extensions
11th Chord Voicings: Root, 11th, 7th, 3rd

Chord Voicings for 5 String and 6 String Bass

All the voicings I’ve played so  far can be played on 4 string bass. However, more strings means more potential chord voicings so I’m going to look at some voicings that will only work on 5 and 6 string basses.

First I’m going to take a couple of the 11th chords from the previous examples, and move the 11th up one octave. So, in the following voicings the 11th is the top note above the 3rd.

Example 6 Chord Extensions
11th Chords: Root, 7th, 3rd & 11th

13th Chords

Finally I’m going to look at some voicings for 13th chords. The 13th is basically the same as a major 6th which is a note that can work on major, minor and dominant chords.

The voicings below are all dominant 13th chords. In each voicing the 13th is played as the highest note on the 1st string. It can be altered by flattening it as I’ve done in the second voicing. And, it can also be combined with the 9th, as I’ve done in the final voicing.

Example 7 Chord Extensions
Dominant Chord Voicings with 13ths

One big benefit of playing chord voicings on a 6 string bass is that you can play multiple chord extensions as I have in the final A13 voicing.

 

 

 

 

Why I Play an Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 22

Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 18th September 2018

I wanted to put out a video where I talk about acoustic bass guitars. What are they for and how to use them? I’ve been playing acoustic bass guitars for more than half of my life and for a long time I struggled to figure out exactly how to get the best out of them. Finally after close to twenty years, I feel like I have a clear idea of how I like to play acoustic bass guitar. And more importantly, why I like use them.

Every Instrument Has it’s Own Identity… Right?

I feel that the acoustic bass guitar hasn’t yet fully found its own identity. Some people like to use it as a way of sounding more like an upright bass, I would never use it for that reason. Partly because I don’t think it sounds very much like an upright bass. But also because I have an upright bass. Conversely, some people play it like it’s an electric bass. But it isn’t either of those things. So, where’s it’s identity as an instrument?

We don’t even seem to have decided what are the best strings to use. Many acoustic basses are sold with bronze coloured strings like an acoustic guitar. But I’ve heard bass players and technicians tell me that they use electric bass strings on their acoustics because they think they work better.

It’s still a fairly young instrument. Its not like the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar. The acoustic guitar has existed much longer than the electric guitar and clearly has a very strong identity of it’s own. But the acoustic bass guitar doesn’t have the same extensive history.

I see people on the internet trying to do original things with acoustic bass guitars. Maybe we’ll look back in twenty or thirty years and we’ll clearly be able to see where the acoustic bass guitar was heading. But for now I see a lot of people trying things. Like the Andy McKee/Newton Faulkner acoustic guitar thing. Where you strike the body of the instrument with your hands to imitate drum and percussion sounds. Which sounds cool but I think it works better on acoustic guitars. Or I see people playing slap bass techniques, which I think work better on electric bass. It all sounds good but I’m not sure it’s where the identity of the instrument lies.

Why I Play Acoustic Bass Guitars?

Because I love having an acoustic instrument that I can express myself on. There’s so much I can do on my acoustic bass guitar that I can’t do on an upright bass. Especially relating to playing chords and arranging solos. You can arrange entire pieces on solo acoustic bass guitar. You can also sing with an acoustic bass guitar.

I would always choose to play mine either on my own or as part of a small group. A duo or probably maximum a trio. I wouldn’t choose to play it as part of a larger group. I just think that the subtleties  get lost. I think that if you’re playing in a larger group you’re probably better off playing electric basses or upright basses.

A big development for me was when I switched to playing a six string acoustic bass. I’ve been playing six string electric basses since I was a teenager. But, I only got this Warwick Alien Deluxe six string acoustic bass guitar about five years ago. I think it’s only in relatively recent years that six string acoustic bass guitars are being manufactured at an affordable price and are good enough quality to perform with.

The Warwick Alien acoustics really are magnificent instruments. They’re well balanced and playable and they don’t cost a fortune.

You can find out more about my Warwick Alien Deluxe here.

Who Else Plays Acoustic Bass Guitars?

One person who I’ve seem playing in a very original style on acoustic bass guitar is the jazz bassist and composer Steve Swallow.

You can check out a performance by his band here.

He started his career as an upright bassist and he switched to electric bass and then acoustic bass guitar. He has a very unique style and he seems to have found a unique use for an acoustic bass guitar. But whether his style will be taken on by others and turned into an identity for the instrument remains to be seen.

Bass and Drums – Playing a Bass Ostinato for a Drum Solo – Bass Practice Diary 21

Playing a Bass Ostinato for a Drum Solo – Bass Practice Diary – 11th September 2018

This week I visited my good friend Lewis Davies at his studio in South London. We spent the afternoon practising, just bass and drums. At the end I shot some videos to show what we were working on. One of the things we practised was playing a bass ostinato through a drum solo.

What’s an Ostinato

An ostinato is simply a repeating musical phrase, a bit like a riff. The purpose of playing an ostinato on the bass in this situation, is to hold down a groove while the drummer plays a solo.

The biggest problem with playing solos on either bass or drums, is that it breaks up the groove between the bass and drums. The purpose of the bass ostinato in this situation is for the bass player to take full responsibility for the groove so that the drummer can play a solo without it feeling as if the groove has been lost.

It’s a very high pressure situation for a bass player. The performance entirely depends on your timing and ability to keep the groove going against the potential distractions of a pyrotechnic drum solo. I remember as a young bass player being put in that situation on stage without having practised it. And I found it very uncomfortable. It’s very easy to rely too much on the drummer for the groove when you’re on stage.

Billy Cobham

A lot of drummers like to solo in this way. The composer and jazz musician Billy Cobham is just such a drummer. He writes and arranges his own compositions. So, he writes the kind of bass ostinatos that he wants to play over. I’ve always enjoyed playing Billy Cobham’s bass lines and in many of his arrangements it’s not only the bass player that plays the ostinatos.

The bass ostinato we play at the end of the video is from Billy Cobham’s classic composition Stratus which originally featured on his seminal jazz fusion album Spectrum.

Lewis Davies

Lewis is a good friend of mine and a multi talented man. He’s a music teacher, musician and he makes extremely high quality custom guitars. We met at music college when we were both in our late teens. And we’ve played, performed and practiced together a lot over the years.

Stay tuned for some more videos from our practice session in the next few weeks. And for now you can also check out this video we made together at a similar practice session a couple of years ago.

 

Play Bass Grooves in Odd Meters and Time Signatures – Bass Practice Diary 18

How to Approach Playing Bass in Odd Meters and Time Signatures – Bass Practice Diary – 21st August 2018

This week I’ve been practising playing in odd meters and I want to briefly share my system for playing any unusual time signature. My system revolves around learning and reciting rhythmic phrases rather than counting beats, and if you use it properly it should make playing odd meters no harder than playing in 4/4.

What Are Odd Meters?

he term odd meter simply means any time signature that has an odd number of beats or subdivisions in a bar. Odd meters divide opinion amongst musicians. Some musicians (including me) love them and think they can flow and groove just as well as any groove in 4/4. Others hate playing them.

I want to share an approach that I use to playing odd meters. It’s actually not that different to my approach for playing in any meter, but I think that musicians who are not comfortable playing in odd meters often feel that they have to do something different when playing odd meters. And that might be the root cause of why they struggle with them.

Think About Rhythmic Phrases

What do I mean by rhythmic phrases? Every meter or time signature has a fixed number of subdivisions per bar. Check out my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove if you’d like to learn more about subdivisions and rhythmic structure.

The rhythmic structure of a bass groove comes from how you organise these subdivisions. I’ll use the examples from the video to demonstrate. The first one is in a very unusual time signature 15/16. Which means there are fifteen 16th note subdivisions in every bar.

Odd Meter Bassline in 15/16
Odd Meter Bassline in 15/16

The Method

In this example I’ve arranged the fifteen subdivisions into three groups of four and one group of three.

4+4+4+3=15.

If you’ve read my book or followed some of my previous videos you’ll know that I like to use Indian Konnakol syllables to recite rhythms. The syllables for a group of four subdivisions are Ta-Ka-Di-Mi and the syllables for a group of three subdivisions are Ta-Ki-Ta.

So, the rhythmic phrase for the above example is as follows.

Ta-Ka-Di-Mi     Ta-Ka-Di-Mi     Ta-Ka-Di-Mi     Ta-Ki-Ta

It’s actually a very simple rhythmic phrase, even thought the time signature 15/16 might make you think of something very complex.

An even more simple arrangement of fifteen subdivisions would be five Ta-Ki-Ta’s. This creates the feel of a 5/4 shuffle.

Odd Meter 5/4 Shuffle
Odd Meter 5/4 Shuffle

How Can You Apply This System in Any Time Signature?

This idea can and should be applied to any groove in any time signature. Including the obvious ones like 4/4. It’s not always easy because there are much more complex rhythmic structures than the examples above. But the key is to understand firstly, what is the subdivision (8th notes, 16th notes, triplets etc.) and secondly how many are there in each bar.

Once you know the answer to those two questions you can work out rhythmic structures using basic maths and Konnakol.

Here are some more examples I’ve come up with for the purposes of demonstration. The first one is in 3/4.

Odd Meter 3/4 Example
Odd Meter 3/4 Example

3/4 is often not thought of as an odd meter because it’s been a fairly common time signature for hundreds of years. It crops up regularly in classical music and jazz as waltzes. But as you can see from my example. It doesn’t have to have a waltz feel. The addition of 16th note subdivisions changes the feel entirely.

Here’s another example in 5/4. This also has a 16th note feel and the rhythmic structure is slightly more complex than the previous examples.

Odd Meter 5/4 with a 16th note feel
Odd Meter 5/4 Bassline with a 16th Note Feel

The final example in the video features a more relaxed 8th note feel on a 7/4 time signature.

Odd Meter 7/4 Bassline
Odd Meter 7/4 Bassline

How to Practice Odd Meters

I would suggest practising this in three stages. You don’t need an instrument until the third stage.

The first stage is to work out your own rhythmic phrases. Pick a meter that you want to practice and work out rhythmic phrases that contain the correct number of subdivisions. An old fashioned pen and paper might be the best way of doing this.

Next, recite the rhythmic structures using Konnakol (or whatever system you prefer). My application of Konnakol involves using Da for one subdivision, Ta-Ka for two, Ta-Ki-Ta for three and Ta-Ka-Di-Mi for four. For more subdivisions you can just combine syllables. For example five could be Ta-Ki-Ta Ta-Ka. Six Could be two Ta-Ki-Ta’s and seven could be Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ki-Ta etc.

The final stage is playing your rhythmic phrases on your bass!

Practice Playing Rhythmic Variations – Bass Practice Diary 16

How to Vary the Rhythm of Your Bass Grooves – Bass Practice Diary – 7th August 2018

In this week’s video practice diary I’ve been thinking about how to practice rhythmic variations. As bass players we often find ourselves playing repetitive grooves with static harmony. You can make those static grooves more interesting by playing subtle rhythmic variations. Here is how I would practice that.

We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve played a bass groove for a period of time. And during that period of time we’ve started to feel that it’s getting boring, not just for us but for the audience listening to us. It’s a dilemma, because if you change the groove too much it can affect the band and the performance in ways that might not be appreciated. So the key in that situation is to come up with subtle variations. They may be so subtle that your audience doesn’t consciously notice them, but they will still add to a feeling of movement and flow in the music that will prevent it from becoming boring.

How Do You Come Up With Rhythmic Variations?

It’s easy to say that the answer is to come up with subtle variations, but it’s harder to achieve it without becoming repetitive. So I’ve come up with this system for coming up with as many potential rhythmic variations as you can.

You need to start with a groove. You can come up with one of your own or you can use one that you know. I’ve come up with my own in the video to avoid copyright complications. But I did think about doing the video with a famous bass line to help illustrate the idea.

Here is the bass line I’ve used in the video.

Bass Groove for Rhythmic Variations
Bass Groove for Rhythmic Variations

The next stage of my process was to come up with a rhythmic variation. I restricted myself to only changing the rhythm of two notes. Because I want my variations to be subtle. I’m not trying to change the whole groove. The variations should sound organic and fit in with the original feel.

The Variations

Here is my first variation.

First Rhythmic Variation
First Rhythmic Variation

The last note of the first bar has been moved one sixteenth note later. And the third note of the second bar has been moved one sixteenth note earlier.

If you’re not sure what I mean then check out my lessons on rhythmic subdivisions and eighth and sixteenth note bass grooves.

I then came up with two more variations, I allowed myself to add individual notes and move notes by a single subdivision. But not many because I’m still trying to keep the core elements of the groove.

Here are variations two and three.

Rhythmic Variation Example 3
Second Rhythmic Variation
hythmic Variation Example 4
Third Rhythmic Variation

Hopefully you can see that this system gives you the potential to come up with a lot of subtle variations for your bass grooves. It even gives you the potential to evolve your grooves into something rhythmically different without ever making an obvious change that an audience would notice.

If the music will allow it, you could keep changing the groove in two places each time you play it. Before long you can build a bass groove that is entirely different without having played an obvious change to the groove.

The Groove With Variations

At the bottom of the page I’ve put the bass groove plus the variations. I’ve demonstrated playing it all together in the video.

When I played it for my wife, who isn’t a musician, she said it sounded good but she couldn’t tell the difference between the variations. That is exactly what I was trying to achieve. Because the variations exist to make the music sound more interesting  without it sounding like I’m changing the groove. An audience will respond positively to rhythmic variation, if it’s done well, but they probably won’t consciously be aware of what it is that sounds good.

Bass Groove and Rhythmic Variations
Bass Groove and Rhythmic Variations

 

Suspended and Major Chord Voicings – Bass Practice Diary 15

Suspended and Major Chord Voicings – Bass Practice Diary – 31st July 2018

This week I’ve been looking for new and interesting chord voicings on my 6-string bass. Suspended chords tend to create a modern sound and I’ve demonstrated one particular voicing that I like and has proved to be quite versatile.

When I found this particular voicing I started moving it around to different positions and playing it over open strings, which created other chords, mostly major chords. What you see in the video is me improvising using this chord voicing.

It isn’t particularly structured practice, but that’s ok, because sometimes when you’re practising an impulse takes over and you just play for fun. That’s what’s happening in this video. And as soon as I’d shot the video, I pulled out my fretless Warwick Thumb SC to play a bit of melodic improvisation over the top.

If you’re interested in that kind of melodic improvising with fretless bass then check out these two recent posts. Use Fretless Bass to Play Jazz Solos and Melodies and Charlie Parker Tunes on Fretless Bass Guitar.

What Are Suspended Chords?

Suspended chords or sus chords are chords that omit a third in favour of using either the second or fourth or both. The absence of a third makes the chords neither major or minor. It’s the third that defines whether a chord is major or minor. And sus chords have a neutral sound as a result of not having a third. Listen to Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage for an example of the suspended chord sound being used in jazz.

The chord symbol for a C suspended chord can be written as Csus. I sometimes see it written as C11. I don’t like the 11 chord symbol because, although a 4th is the same as an 11th, the 11 chord symbol implies to me the presence of a third, dominant seventh and a ninth. So the sus symbol is more accurate.

Csus2 is C, D and G (root, 2nd, 5th), Csus4 is C, F and G (root, 4th, 5th). You can think of C7sus as Bb/C. The Bb, D and F from the Bb major triad function as the dominant 7th, 2nd and 4th and create a suspended sound when you play them over a C root note. You could also call the same chord C9sus because the 2nd and 9th are interchangeable in the same way that the 4th and 11th are.

The Opening Chord Sequence

Suspended and Major Chord Voicings Opening Sequence
Suspended and Major Chord Voicings Opening Sequence

The opening sequence in the video is played over an open A string until the final chord which is played over an open E. All of the voicings are built by playing an interval of a sixth between the D and G strings, and an interval of a second between the G and C strings. Try making your own chords using the same voicings. You can adapt them onto four and five string basses by playing over the open E string and voicing the chords on the A, D and G strings.

Due to the improvised nature of my performance in the video, many of these chords are no longer sus chords. Many of them are major chords. What started off as an exercise in finding suspended chord voicings became an improvisation using the same chord voicing against open strings.

The Chord Theory

The first chord in the opening sequence is a suspended chord, but the second has a major sound. It contains a C#. Which is the major 3rd of A. If you listen carefully in the video I don’t play the top note on the second chord. It would have been a D. I was improvising and I’ve no idea what I was thinking in the moment. But I may have thought that C# and D would clash, being a semi-tone apart. In hindsight I slightly regret this. Conventional jazz theory says don’t include a major 3rd and natural 11th in the same chord voicing. But I think it works in this context. So I’ve included the note in the TAB even though it’s not in the video.

The third chord creates a lydian sound with the sharp 11th D# and major 3rd C#. You can check out my video on lydian sounds by clicking here. The fourth chord creates a straightforward A major sound with an added 9th. And the final chord creates an E major/Esus sound. Again, I’ve included the major 3rd and natural 11th, which I think sounds cool. Even though the two notes clash if you play them simultaneously. Notice that I’ve finger picked each note individually to cut down on the impact of such clashes. The final note that I’ve included is tapped with my right hand index finger.

The Closing Sequence

The closing sequence simply uses the last two chords of the opening sequence and repeats them. I hope you have some fun with these chord voicings and you’re able to come up with some original chords.

 

 

9/8 Time Signature Bass Grooves – Bass Practice Diary 14

Learn Basslines in 9/8 Time Signature – Bass Practice Diary – 24 July 2018

This week’s bass practice diary leads on directly from what I was doing last week. I’m writing and recording examples for an upcoming book. Last week I was exploring bass grooves in 6/8 time signature. This week I’m taking a logical next step and looking at bass grooves in 9/8 time signature.

9/8 Time Signature

While 9/8 is a logical next step from 6/8, it also enters a new world of odd meters. However you group the nine eighth notes in each bar you will inevitably end up with an odd number. The most obvious way to divide the bar is into three beats, each subdivided into three eighth notes. This creates the feel of a 3/4 shuffle as I’ve demonstrated in the video.

So, 6/8 and 9/8 can both be related to 3/4 time signature. 6/8 can be played as a straight 3/4, as I demonstrated in this video last week. And 9/8 is most commonly played as a 3/4 shuffle. You can also think of a jazz waltz as being 9/8.

Odd Meters and Time Signatures

I know that the subject of odd meters can divide opinion amongst musicians. Personally, I find odd meters fascinating and I love to play in odd meters. Technically, an odd meter is any time signature with an odd number of beats in a bar. So 3/4 and 9/8 are both odd meters, and technically 6/8 isn’t an odd meter. However, the term odd meters tends to get attached to any time signature that isn’t commonly used. We tend to not think of 3/4 as an odd meter because it’s fairly common. But an unusual meter like 10/4, for example, would usually be categorised as an odd meter, even though it technically isn’t one.

I’ve also come across an attitude from some musicians, that they think odd meters only belong in “prog rock” and “fusion”. Prog and fusion are considered dirty words by many musicians, and my own odd meter influences certainly don’t come from prog rock.

The term “fusion” is one that I don’t like to use. If you think about it, virtually all music is a fusion of different influences. Certainly jazz is a fusion of many different styles and musical cultures. Too often I hear the label “fusion” attached to music as a way of putting it down. Somehow implying that it’s not pure. Particularly within the jazz world.

9/8 in Jazz and Indian Music

My interest in odd meters comes mostly from having studied jazz and Indian music. A great example of 9/8 being used in jazz, is the Dave Brubeck composition Blue Rondo a La TurkWhat sounds like a very complex rhythm when you first listen to it, is actually quite simple. The melody is based around a rhythmic phrase where the nine eighth notes are arranged into three 2’s and a 3. I would recite the rhythm Ta-ka, Ta-Ka, Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta. After the theme, Blue Rondo a La Turk moves into a jazz swing feel, which highlights the connection between these types of rhythmic phrases and the jazz swing feel.

In Indian music, a Tala, which is a beat cycle can contain 3, 5, 7 and 9 beats or even 11 or 13. The Indian approach to odd meters has crossed over into Western music many times in the last fifty years. In jazz through musicians such as John McLaughlin and Trilok Guru and even in pop music. An example is All You Need is Love by the Beatles, who were heavily influenced by the Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar.

How to Groove in 9/8

I’m trying to find ways of grooving in 9/8 time signature, that move away from a straight forward 3/4 shuffle. I’ve included three examples in the video. The first two use the standard 3/4 shuffle feel. But in both examples the feel is slightly subverted by rhythmic variations.

This first example uses a 3/4 shuffle feel in bar 1. But the second bar has a rhythmic variation. The rhythm in bar 2 is the same rhythmic phrase as Blue Rondo a La Turk.

9/8 Time Signature Bass Groove Example 1
9/8 Time Signature Bass Groove Example 1

Example 2 stretches the shuffle feel even further.

9/8 Time Signature Bass Groove Example 2
9/8 Time Signature Bass Groove Example 2

In Example 3 I’ve moved away from the shuffle feel altogether. There’s no doubt that this example has much more of a feel of an odd meter, which some people will like and others won’t. I really like this bass groove, and I’ve combined it with some gospel style harmonies which I think makes a really interesting juxtaposition.

9/8 Time Signature Bass Groove Example 3
9/8 Time Signature Bass Groove Example 3

My Composition in 9/8 Time Signature

At the end of the video I’ve included a composition of my own. It is as yet un-named and un-released. It’s only a demo really. It’s one of many compositions I have compiled over the last ten years or more. Hopefully one day I’ll re-record it with a full band and release it. But for now I hope it can give you an idea of how these ideas can be applied to composing.

6/8 Time Signature Bass Grooves – Bass Practice Diary 13

Learn Basslines in 6/8 Time Signature – Bass Practice Diary – 17 July 2018

6/8 is one of my favourite time signatures to play in. And I know several drummers who feel the same way. In this post I’m going to share with you some of the reasons why I love 6/8. As well as some of the key principles you need to know in order to groove in the 6/8 time signature.

This week, most of my practice time has been taken up by writing and recording examples for a book that I’m writing. The book will be a follow up to Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove which was published earlier in 2018. So, instead of showing you what I’ve been practising this week, I’m showing you some of the examples that I’ve been writing. And specifically I’m playing examples in the time signature six eight (6/8).

What is 6/8?

6/8 simply means that every bar contains six eighth notes. But you shouldn’t count the eighth notes 1 2 3 4 5 6. The basic feel of 6/8 is two beats per bar with each beat subdivided into three eighth notes. A better way to count 6/8 is 1 2 3 – 2 2 3. If you’re not sure what subdivisions are, then check out this free lesson.

Rhythmic Subdivisions on Bass Guitar

How can you make 6/8 sound more interesting?

In my opinion, the 6/8 time signature gets really interesting when you realise that a bar of 6/8 is mathematically no different from a bar of 3/4. It’s important to understand that this is only true with a straight 3/4 feel. If you play 3/4 with a swing or shuffle feel, then it’s the same as 9/8. But I’ll explain more about 9/8 in next weeks practice diary.

3/4 and 6/8 both contain six eighth notes in every bar. So any rhythm that you can play in a straight 3/4 feel can also be played in 6/8 and vice versa. Once you understand this, you suddenly have a wealth of options for playing on and off the beat in two different feels simultaneously. The 3/4 feel gives you three beats and three off beats in each bar, and the 6/8 feel gives you two beats and a further four places where you can play off the beat in every bar.

For more about beats and off beats check out this free lesson.

All of these beats and off-beats exist in one bar of 6/8, and if you can learn to feel both the 6/8 and 3/4 feels simultaneously within the 6/8 time signature, then you can create some really wonderful grooves.

Play the Examples in the Video

The examples in the video are just a small selection from the book that I’m writing. While researching this section of the book, I’ve been listening to as many examples of 6/8 rhythms as I can. I’ve heard music from all over Africa, South America, Eastern Europe and India to name just a few. I’ve discovered so many different approaches to playing in 6/8. And I’m happy to share just a few of them with you here ahead of my book being published later in 2018.

I wrote this first example to illustrate the difference between the 6/8 and 3/4 feels. Bars 1 and 3 have a typical 6/8 feel. Whereas bars 2 and 4 contain the three quarter notes that could be defined as 3/4.

6/8 Time Signature - Example 1
6/8 Time Signature – Example 1

The idea for Example 2 is that I’m using the 3/4 feel over the 6/8 but I’m focusing more on the off-beats. Look in particular at bar 2. There is a note on beat one and then the remaining three notes land where the off-beats would be in a bar of 3/4.

6/8 Time Signature - Example 2
6/8 Time Signature – Example 2

6/8 is a very under used time signature in rock music. Example 3 is my idea for a rock riff in 6/8.

6/8 Time Signature - Example 3
6/8 Time Signature – Example 3

The final example features a rhythm called Bembe. Which has it’s roots in African music but is best known in Afro Cuban music.

6/8 Time Signature - Example 4
6/8 Time Signature – Example 4

 

 

Use Fretless Bass to Play Jazz Solos and Melodies – Bass Practice Diary 12

Jazz Solos and Melodies on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th July 2018

This week I’m featuring an excerpt from Miles Davis’ solo on the tune So What from the seminal jazz album Kind of Blue. I’m playing it on my Warwick Thumb SC fretless bass.

Why Play Jazz Solos on Bass Guitar

The purpose of this video practice diary is not to copy Miles Davis or any other jazz soloist. Firstly, it’s to try to show how well the fretless bass works as an instrument for playing jazz solos. Especially solos with the type of lyrical phrasing demonstrated by Miles Davis. Secondly, it’s because I believe that anybody that wants to learn how to solo and improvise, should try and work out solos and melodies by as many great musicians and improvisers as they can. Not because you should try to copy other musicians, but simply in order to learn from them.

Jaco Pastorius is the most influential jazz bassist in history and he overwhelmingly favoured playing fretless. He also stated that the first thing he would do when learning any new piece, was learn the melody. He felt that learning melodies was essential to playing bass lines. I strongly agree with him. I’ve stated in a previous post that one of the principle functions of bass lines, is harmony. And in order to really understand a composition and how to harmonise, you must understand the melody.

What is “Lyrical” Soloing

When I use the adjective “lyrical” to describe a solo, it might seem like an odd choice of word. The word seems to imply lyrics which is strange to attach to an instrumental solo.

A dictionary definition of lyrical is “expressing the writer’s emotions in an imaginative and beautiful way”. Which more or less sums up what I mean. But there is a bit more. The word lyrical to me implies being like a human voice. Miles Davis was quite open about this with his soloing, he was trying to use his trumpet to phrase like a singer would. This is what I’m trying to achieve with my fretless bass. And it can work well because you can slide in and out of notes and use vibrato in a way that you can’t on a fretted bass. However, you do have to be careful to not over use any of these things.

Intonation is also a key consideration when playing fretless. Meaning; are the notes in tune? If you put your fingers in even slightly the wrong place on the fret board, the notes will be out of tune. You don’t need to be nearly so accurate on a fretted bass.

Learning How to Play Jazz Solos on Bass

This Bass Practice Diary entry leads on from what I was doing last week, when I was playing Charlie Parker melodies on fretless bass. I believe that the best way to learn how to play jazz solos, is to learn to play as many jazz solos and melodies as you can.

Technical information about chords and scales is useful theory, but it doesn’t teach you how to improvise a jazz solo. Soloing is about creating melody, and melody is about creating musical phrases. The best way to do this is by listening to as much music as you can and working out how to play the melodic phrases.

Preferably, do it by ear. If you find it difficult to work out music by ear, I would recommend starting very simply, by using folk or pop melodies before moving onto jazz. It can be a slow process at first because it takes a lot of trial and error to begin with. So don’t be put off if you’re only starting out. You will get faster with experience.