Tag Archives: learn jazz

John Coltrane Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 44

John Coltrane Jazz Lick on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 19th February 2019

This week I’m breaking down another jazz lick on bass guitar. And I wanted to take on one of the all time great jazz improvisers, John Coltrane.

So, I was reading through the bass clef John Coltrane Omnibook trying to choose where I should start. And I decided I should start by looking at how he played over what are know as the Coltrane Changes. Or the Coltrane Matrix as it was called when I was taught it at music college.

Coltrane Changes

The Coltrane changes are a sequence of chords that take you through three keys. Each key is a major third away from the previous key. So, the progression always resolves back into the original key. Because an octave divides perfectly into three major thirds.

John Coltrane used this progression as a substitution for a standard II – V – I progression. Coltrane used this substitution in his composition Countdown from the Giant Steps album. The Countdown chord progression is a reharmonisation of the jazz standard Tune Up.

The Lick Arranged for Bass

So, I’ve arranged one of John Coltrane’s licks from Countdown for bass guitar. The lick takes place over three bars and encompasses all three key changes. It starts like this.

Coltrane Jazz Lick Bar 1

The first chord, Cm7, is chord II in the key of Bb major. If you’re going to analyse the first two notes in terms of their relationship to the chord then they would be 5th and 11th. But I feel like in this case, Coltrane was just using two notes from the key of Bb major to lead into the new key. Which is why I haven’t written 5th and 11th above the notes.

The Db7 chord is chord V in the new key, Gb major. From this point on, it’s really interesting to see how many chord tones John Coltrane uses in his line. So I’ve written the chord tone relationships above the notes. Here’s the second bar.

Coltrane Jazz Lick Bar 2

In this bar, the key changes from Gb major to D major (A7). You’ll notice that virtually every note he uses in this lick is either root, third, fifth, seventh or ninth. The only note that isn’t in this bar is the Ab passing note between the root and seventh of the A7 chord.

Using Chord Tones

His approach might seem quite simplistic on the face of it. It would certainly seem like a simplistic way of building lines if you were to apply it to the standard, unaltered II – V – I progression. But, if you look at it in context with the chord progression, it makes complete sense.

He’s using this incredibly cool substitution, which features constantly moving harmony. And he wants his line to reflect the substituted harmony. If he filled his line with chromatic alterations and extensions, then the underlying chord progression could quickly become unrecognisable. Here’s bar three.

Coltrane Jazz Lick Bar 3

In this bar the key returns to the original Bb major (F7). The pattern used on the Dmaj7 chord is very typical of the 1, 2, 3, 5 patterns that Coltrane loved to use around this period. Which is why I’ve put 2nd in brackets next to the 9th, E. Here is the full lick.

John Coltrane Jazz Lick

John Coltrane Improvisation Style

Analysing these licks is like getting a lesson in jazz improvisation from one of the masters. This lick is very typical off what John Coltrane was playing in the late 1950’s. But, during his career he went through several different stages. Each featuring a different approach to improvising. So I have no doubt that I will be analysing more Coltrane licks in the near future from different stages of his career.

In the mean time, why not check out this Jaco Pastorius Jazz Lick. Or if you’ve already seen that you can check out one of my own jazz licks here. And here is an example of a diminished jazz blues lick. Enjoy!

Charlie Parker Tunes on Fretless Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 11

Playing Charlie Parker Melodies on Solo Fretless Electric Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd July 2018

This week I’m playing Charlie Parker melodies on my fretless Warwick Thumb SC 6 string bass guitar.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker is a pioneer of modern jazz and one of the greatest saxophonists in history. Alongside trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie he pioneered the genre called Bebop. His compositions provide a musical and technical challenge to perform on bass, especially fretless bass. But doing so will improve your technique as well as help you learn the language and phrasing of modern jazz.

The Influence of Jaco Pastorius

I first started learning Charlie Parker melodies on bass when I was in my teens after I discovered Jaco Pastorius’ debut, self titled album. Track 1 on the album was Donna Lee. The melody was played by Jaco on a fretless electric bass. Like many other bass players, hearing this was a revelation to me. He took the bass out of it’s traditional role and elevated it to the level of a jazz solo instrument. I immediately decided that I needed to try doing the same thing.

So I used a Jazz Real Book to start working out jazz bebop melodies on my bass. I didn’t start with Donna Lee. It was the concept of playing jazz melodies on bass that I wanted to emulate, not necessarily that particular tune. Although I did get around to learning Donna Lee soon enough.

The first bebop tune I learned was called Tricotism, by the legendary double bass player Ray Brown. I figured I should start with a piece that was created for bass. Having done that I then learned the tune Confirmation by Charlie Parker. You hear me play an excerpt at the end of the video.

Why Play Charlie Parker Tunes on Bass?

I suppose the simplest answer is, because I think they sound really cool. Especially on fretless bass. But there are plenty of other great reasons to try this out. First, it is fantastic for improving your left hand technique. To play these tunes on bass you need to organise your left hand extremely well. Each tune forces you to practise spreading out your fingers, playing one finger per fret positions and shifting quickly and smoothly between these positions.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out my free video lesson on Left Hand Techniques. The video begins with me playing another Charlie Parker tune called Anthropology on a 4 string bass.

How do You Start Playing Charlie Parker Tunes on the Bass?

Slowly, is always good advice. Take it one phrase at a time and work out good left hand fingerings for each phrase. It’s so important to have a well organised left hand in order to play these melodies.

If you can read music, you can start with a jazz Real Book. That’s how I started, and as I understand it, that’s how Jaco started as well. I don’t know if they had Real Books back in the 70’s but I understand that he had a book with the melodies in. You can get bass clef versions of most of the Real Books now, which is a big advantage. As a teenager I only had a treble clef Real Book and it took me a while to work out the melodies because at that time my treble clef reading was nowhere near as good as the bass clef.

Other books available include the Charlie Parker Omnibook which also comes in a bass clef version. It goes into each tune in a lot more detail than the Real Books because it includes transcriptions of both the melodies and solos. However, it’s not my favourite book because it doesn’t use key signatures. So each transcription contains hundreds of accidentals (sharps and flats) written throughout the music.

If you’re not a reader then the book to get is called Charlie Parker for Bass. It includes TAB and also features solo transcriptions, arranged for 4 string bass.

 

 

Marc-Andre Seguin’s Essentials to Expect from a Jazz Bass Player

Would You Like to Play Jazz Bass?

The following post is written by the superb jazz guitarist and teacher Marc-Andre Seguin. Marc is the founder of the phenomenally successful jazz guitar website JazzGuitarLessons.net. I asked Marc if he could sum up what he feels are the essential things that he expects from a jazz bass player. In this post he gives a brilliant overview of time, swing feel, walking bass lines, harmony and chord progressions.

Marc has included so much great information here, much of which I’ll be following up very soon with some posts of my own. If you want to learn more about time, swing feel, triplets and locking in with the drums, check out my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove. It includes a chapter on triplets and swing feel and another chapter on grooving with drums. But most importantly check out Marc-Andre Seguin’s wonderful music and his website JazzGuitarLessons.net.

Essentials to Expect from a Jazz Bass Player

The essentials for a jazz bass player range from basic to just about wherever they wish to take it.  

The jazz bass player does have a few essential tricks up their sleeve that other genres may not require.  

Let’s take a look at these essentials starting with a couple of the basics.

Time

An essential requirement is holding down the beat with the drummer.

As part of the rhythm section, you and the drummer are best friends.  

Lock it in.  

Listen, and be with that ride cymbal when swinging in the groove.

We’ll take a closer look at why and how further on in this post.

Harmony

The entire band is looking to you to lead them into the next chord and provide the necessary bass notes to compliment the current chord of the song.

The leading tone is critical when heading to a chord change, so stay tuned (pun intended) for clarification.

Let’s get to it.

Walking Bass Lines

One of the staples of jazz is the walking bass line.  It is also one of the more creative parts that a jazz bassist can play due to its’ improvisational characteristics.  You hold the groove down but can improvise lines.

  1. A walking bass line requires the bassist to play one note for every beat of the measure, so in 4/4 time you would play a quarter note on every beat.  Play the root note of the chord on beat one for an easy line.
  2. For the second beat, play any note in the scale of the chord, or a chord tone.  
  3. The third beat can be the same or different note of the scale or chord.
  4. The fourth beat creates tension prior to resolving to the root, so play a dominant 5th or a leading tone a half step below the root of the next chord.

The leading tone into the next chord change is critical to nail as your band members are relying on it as a guide to the impending chord change.

Piano player asks, “Where’s the bass player?”  
Drummer, “He’s in the parking lot again.”  
Piano player, “We’re going to have to get him some walking bass line lessons.”

Don’t worry, with the information you learn in this post, you’ll be on stage the entire time, and if they announce that you have left the building, it will be a good thing!  “Elvis has left the building!”

A little trick is to make sure you always have a lick or two to fall back on when improvising a line.  It will help you find your way back if necessary.

See what you can come up with for your own walking bass lines using different variations of the scale notes or chord notes.

Swing

This is all about the triplet.  

When you are emphasizing each beat of the measure you will create a swing feel when the drummer splits those beats into triplets by hitting between every beat you play.

Listen to the ride cymbal as your center of gravity and let your notes ring as the ride cymbal does.  You and the drummer have it going, creating that musical space for the soloists and the rest of the band to play in, until it’s your turn to solo.

Know Your Progressions

There are some common chord progressions that jazz players of all stripes use.  One of the most common is the 2-5-1 chord progression.

If you know the scale notes and the chord notes to the chord being played, you can hold down the low end by moving the same line into different keys, which makes for a good default lick.

If you wish to learn more about jazz music theory, check this out.

The chords in the key of C Major would be:

  • Dm7 (the second chord of the CM scale)
  • G7 (the 5th and dominant chord of the scale)
  • CM7 (the root)

A great way to practice lines for this progression is by playing through the cycle of fourths in all 12 keys.

Cycle of Fourths

They look intimidating when you see the sheet with the big circle of notes and names around it, but it is pretty easy to use once you understand it.

Here is a link if you wish to learn more about the cycle of fourths.  The cycle of fifths is the same thing, just backwards.

How Does a Jazz Bass Player Acquire the Essentials?

As we progress in our playing more doors open presenting unique challenges and most of us usually have something that we are trying to improve upon.  

One way to improve our musicianship is to listen to other musicians, be they our favourite artists or our new favourite artists.  Listening to good music is not only inspiring but can really propel our learning as something to strive for.

There have been some absolutely great bass and drummer combinations over the years.  A notable rhythm unit is Jaco Pastorius and the drummer Peter Erskine who held down the rhythm section for the jazz fusion band “Weather Report” during that band’s heyday.  Check them out.

Sometimes deep listening is required, singling out the separate instruments in a band and how they interact with each other.  This deep listening is also an essential quality for any musician that plays with others in a band.

Summary

There is absolutely no doubt that a good jazz bass player can really take a band to new places.

The bass player holds a lot of power in their hands and forms an essential part of the very foundation of any band.  

I encourage you to keep on learning.  Start working on some new lines and seek out like-minded players, as getting together and playing with other musicians will really give your playing a boost, and it’s a lot of fun.

Enjoy!

About the Author

Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.

Jazz Bass Essentials
Marc-Andre Seguin