Tag Archives: Six String Bass Chords

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 2: Naima – Bass Practice Diary 118

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 2: Naima on Fretless Bass- Bass Practice Diary – 14th July 2020

Naima by John Coltrane has a beautiful but challenging chord progression. Last week, I featured a video demonstrating how I play the chords. But the story isn’t complete without looking at how to improvise over those chords. So, this week I’m demonstrating an improvisation strategy for playing over the part that I find hardest to improvise on.

Modal Chord Progression

Most improvisers think of Naima as being a modal composition. Meaning that they think of each chord as representing the sound of a scale or mode. This is different to the diatonic approach that I looked at in my Improvisation Strategies: Part 1 video. In that video I looked at a I-VI-II-V sequence of chords where each chord represented a different degree in the key of Bb major.

When you hear improvisers analysing how to play Naima, usually you’ll hear them say something like, ” play this scale or mode on that chord, and this scale or mode on that chord etc”. And it’s not wrong to think about the progression as a sequence of modes. If you listen to Coltane playing Naima, you can definitely hear that he is playing complete modes quite often.

However, when I’m coming up with an improvisation strategy, I prefer to think in a more economical way. I want to start with something small that I can expand upon. I want to zero in on the notes that I feel best spell out the sound of the harmony. Remember that you can come up with multiple strategies for playing on the same progression. So when you zero in on just a few notes, you’re not limiting yourself, you’re actually creating the potential for much more variation. Because if you start by using all of the notes from the implied scale or mode, then it doesn’t leave as much scope for expanding and using different harmonic ideas.

Naima Improvisation Strategy

Last week I wrote about how I think of all of the chords as being major 7th chord voicings over a pedalled bass note. I won’t repeat myself, so if you’re interested in the chords check out last week’s post.

This four bar section of the harmony comes from the second half of the B section. The chord symbols that I’ve written are different from the Real Book changes, (even when you allow for the change of key). But I think that my changes reflect the harmony that Coltrane was using fairly closely. I wouldn’t recommend getting bogged down in what the chord symbols are. When I was working out how to play this piece, I wasn’t thinking about chord symbols, I was just trying to recreate the sounds that I was hearing and I put the chord symbols on afterwards. So, here is my improvisation strategy for this short four-bar sequence, I’ve picked out five notes to use on each chord.

Improvisation Strategies - Naima
Improvisation Strategies – Naima

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 1: I VI II V – Bass Practice Diary 116

Improvisation Strategies on 6-String Bass – Part 1: I VI II V – Bass Practice Diary – 14th July 2020

I often get asked questions about how to improvise. I’ve noticed that people are usually looking for a simple answer, like “you just need to know the right scale.” However, if you’re reading this, you probably already know that it isn’t that simple. To become a fluent improviser, you should work on lots of different improvisation strategies. As part of my own practice, I regularly try to find new and different ways to play through chord progressions that I’ve played on many times. To help demonstrate what I do, I’m presenting one improvisation strategy that I’ve come up with on a I-VI-II-V chord progression.

Improvisation Strategies

Before we get into the specifics of this particular strategy, I should say that my end goal is the same for any improvisation strategy. That goal is to be able to improvise all over the fretboard. So, when I practice a strategy, I’ll practice it in multiple positions until I can connect up the notes all over the entire fretboard.

In this particular strategy, I’m looking at jazz improvisation on a I VI II V progression in Bb major. Although I would recommend practicing any strategy in multiple keys. The chords in the key of Bb major are Bb – G7 – Cm7 – F7. Notice that Chord VI is played as a dominant chord rather than a minor 7th chord. This is so that it leads nicely to the II chord. It is a very common chord substitution in jazz (and other styles).

A very simple approach to improvising on a I VI II V progression would be to just play a Bb major or major pentatonic scale. The problem with that as a strategy, is that it ignores the B natural in the G7 chord. So most jazz musicians will prefer to play something different for every chord. This is often referred to as “spelling out the harmony”. So what I’ve done is chosen four different notes for each chord. Each set of four notes is specific and unique to each chord.

Why Play Four Notes for Each Chord?

Normally when a I VI II V is played in the context of a jazz standard, the entire progression is played over two bars. Meaning that each chord lasts for just two beats. With just two beats on each chord, four notes provide more than enough options to fill up the space. If you’re strategy was to use an entire scale, even a pentatonic scale, it would be more notes than you need. It would make improvising on the progression harder than it needs to be.

In choosing the four notes for this strategy, I used arpeggios. You don’t have to use arpeggios, you can use any four notes that you like the sound of. But I think that arpeggios are fundamental to the sound to jazz improvisation, so that’s why I’m using them. I could have simply used a Bb major arpeggio for the Bb major chord and a G7 arpeggio for the G7 chord etc. That would certainly have spelled out the harmony, but it would also probably have sounded a bit predictable. Instead, I opted to play a Dm7 arpeggio on the Bb major chord. The notes of the Dm7 arpeggio played over a Bb major chord create the sound of a Bb major 9 arpeggio without the root note.

By making this substitution, I was thinking of the progression as III-VI-II-V, Dm7 – G7 – Cm7 – F7. This actually simplifies things a lot because it leaves me with two minor 7 chords and two dominant 7 chords. I can use the same strategy for both minor 7 chords and the same strategy for both dominant 7 chords. So I used minor 7 arpeggios on chords III and II and on chords VI and V, I used diminished 7 arpeggios starting on the third of each chord. Bo7 on the G7 chord and Ao7 on the F7 chord. (o in this case means diminished).

Jazz Improvisation Strategies - Example 1
Jazz Improvisation Strategies I VI II V – Example 1

Putting the Strategy Into Practice

The best way to put any improvisation strategy into practice is with a backing track. You can find free I VI II V backing tracks on the internet. It’s always a good idea to start slowly, and you can start by just playing the notes you’ve prepared over the chords as an exercise. As you get comfortable doing that you can start to improvise lines that connect up the chords by adding passing notes. Here are three examples that I’ve written out to demonstrate.

Jazz Improvisation Strategies - Example 2
Jazz Improvisation Strategies – Example 2

The passing notes could be chromatic notes or scale tones. Or to put it another way, they could be literally any note that helps to connect the lines. If you use the four note patterns that you’ve prepared as the structure for your lines, then adding passing notes here and there, won’t interfere with the musical sense of the lines.

There are so many ways that you can vary this one simple idea. You can (and should) practice it in multiple positions on the neck. Here is another position to get you started.

Jazz Improvisation Strategies - I VI II V Example 3
Jazz Improvisation Strategies I VI II V – Example 3

Then try to improvise by connecting up the different positions that you’ve practiced.

Then you could try practicing the same ideas in different keys. You could then try using the same chords, but changing the four note patterns. And finally you could try playing similar patterns on different chord progressions. When you get into practicing these kind of ideas, there really is a lot of different ways you could be doing it. And the more different strategies that you practice, the more fluent your improvising will become.

I VI II V Chord Progressions – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary 87

I VI II V Chord Progressions on 6-string Bass – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 17th December 2019

This week I’m revisiting my introduction to I VI II V chord progressions on 6-string bass video. There are so many ways that you can alter and substitute chords in a I VI II V sequence. Jazz musicians will often alter and add to the progression so much, that it’s almost impossible to tell that it was ever a I-VI-II V progression in the first place.

Chord substitutions

There really aren’t any rules when it comes to substituting chords. There are certain standard substitutions that are very common, such as the tritone substitution, which I looked at in my last video. But, honestly, you can substitute any chord for any other one that you like the sound of. A lot of it depends on the musical context that you’re playing the substitution in, but also it comes down to opinion. What sounds interesting to some people, will sound odd to others.

This week I’m just going to take you through some familiar chord substitutions and additions to I VI II V’s. These examples go quite a bit further than the examples in my previous video. But, believe me, you can take these ideas much further out than this.

The I VI II V examples

I created this first example by taking the III-VI-II-V example from my previous video and turning all the chords into dominant 7th chords. I then applied tritone substitutions to the VI and II chords. Then I added whatever extensions and alterations that I liked the sound of.

III – VI – II – V – I chord progression with dominant 7th substitutions

Once you have four dominant 7th chords like this, you can come up with so many variations just by applying tritone substitutions.

My next example derives from the first example. I’ve simply turned the E7, Eb7 and G7 chords into II-V’s. Meaning that I’ve added minor 7th chords before each dominant 7th chord. Each minor 7th has a root note that is a 4th below (or a fifth above) the root note of the dominant 7th chord. I’ve altered the VI chord to make it a major 7th instead of a dominant 7th chord. This completes a II-V-I in the key of Ab major, which is a strange thing to find in a chord progression in C major, but it works!

I – VI – II – V progression with II – V substitutions

I VI II V Chord Progressions on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 84

An Introduction to I VI II V – Chords on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 26th November 2019

I VI II V is possibly the most commonly used chord sequence in jazz. So, I think it’s time I started to look at how you can approach playing this simple but versatile chord progression on a 6-string bass. It’s been a few weeks since my last video about playing chords on 6-string bass. So, I’m bringing the series back this week with an important one.

Why is I VI II V so common in jazz?

That’s a question I used to ask myself a lot when I was younger. When you listen to the progression played in it’s simplest form, it’s not particularly interesting. It’s quite practical, because it has a nice cycle of fifths movement, with the VI leading to the II to the V and back to the one. So it can just go around and around, with the V always leading back to the I. It’s a nice cyclical chord movement that takes you back to chord I. And as such it’s very often played on the turnaround of a jazz progression.

In the standard chord progression, chord I is a major 7th chord, chord VI is usually played as a dominant 7th chord. Although if you harmonise the chords using the diatonic major scale it would be a minor 7th chord. The reason it’s usually played as a dominant 7th chord is because it acts as a chord V leading to the minor 7th chord II. And the real chord V is also a dominant 7th chord.

Here is my version of a standard I VI II V chord progression in the key of E.

I VI II V in the key of E major
I VI II V in the key of E

But to really understand why I VI II V is so popular, I think you need to understand a bit about how and when jazz musicians like to use it.

Chord substitutions

The first thing that you need to know about how most jazz musicians will use the I VI II V progression, is that they will try to find as many ways as they can to avoid playing the obvious chord progression. They do this by finding chord substitutions and adding extensions and alterations to the standard chords.

I often get people asking me to explain the concept of chord substitutions. But it’s a very difficult thing to do. Because the truth is, that you can substitute any chord with any other chord. The only restriction is what your ear will accept is a valid substitution. And that is a matter of taste and opinion. How much dissonance are you willing to accept?

However, if I was going to sum up the concept of chord substitutions in one short paragraph. I would say that you are looking for chords that have important notes in common with each other. Which brings me neatly on to the most common chord substitution in jazz, the tritone substitution.

Substituting dominant chords

Tritone substitutions can be performed on any dominant 7th chord. The principle is, that any dominant 7th chord shares two notes in common with another dominant 7th chord. Those notes are the 3rd and the 7th. In order to find the substitute dominant chord you need to find a root note that is an interval of three tones away from the root note of the original chord. If you’re not sure what I mean, check out my guide to playing intervals on the bass.

Take the example of the G7 chord. The root is G, there 3rd is B and the 7th is F. You can play it like this.

G7 chord on 6-string bass. Root, 3rd and 7th.

The tritone substitution would be Db7. The root is Db, the 7th is B (Cb) and the 3rd is F.

Db7 chord on 6-string bass. Root, 7th and 3rd

Here is the I VI II V chord progression played in C major using tritone substitutions on the two dominant 7th chords. I’ve also substituted chord III for chord one in the first bar.

III VI II V with tritone substitutions

Chord Scales on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 79

Chord Scales on Six String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd October 2019

I’ve done a few videos recently about chord voicings and progressions for six string bass. So, I felt that I really needed to do a video about chord scales. Because chord scales might be the best way to practice playing chords on bass. If you really want to explore the full potential of every chord voicing that you play. As well as learn how to use them all over the fretboard. Then practising chord scales is the way to achieve that.

What is a chord scale?

You can turn just about any chord voicing into a chord scale. The idea is, that every chord implies a particular scale. There may be more than one scale option for a particular chord. For example, for an E7 chord you could us E mixolydian. But you could also use plenty of other scales, like an E lydian dominant scale. In that case you could come up more than one chord scale.

Once you have a chord voicing and a scale, you simply create a chord scale by moving all of the notes in your chord voicing up one scale step at a time.

So, I’ll use the C major chord scale that I used in the video as an example. The C major scale goes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. And the notes of the C major chord are C, E and G. So, to make the second chord in the scale, the C becomes D, E becomes F and G becomes A. D, F and A is D minor. And when you continue moving up the chord scale you get seven different chords. One chord starting on each of the seven notes of the C major scale.

C Major Chord Scale
C Major Chord Scale

More Chord Scale Examples

Here are some more examples from the video. This first one is in F major and uses a basic triads voicing.

F Major Chord Scale - triads
F Major Chord Scale – triads

Here is the same key using seventh chords.

F Major Chord Scale - 7ths
F Major Chord Scale – 7ths

This next one is in the key of A major, and it uses inverted triads. Meaning that the root note is not the lowest note in the chord voicing.

A Major Chord Scale
A Major Chord Scale

These are all fairly simple chord scales. If you’d like to find a slightly more advanced application of this idea. Then check out this video. It’s a voicing that I learned from Oteil Burbridge, that I then turned into a chord scale.

Jazz Chord Progressions – Part 2 – I III7 IV V – Bass Practice Diary 77

Jazz Chord Progressions on 6 String Bass – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 8th October 2019

Here’s Part 2 of the video I started last week about playing jazz chord progressions on six string bass. Last week I was looking at the chord progression I III IV V. And I came up with some diatonic voicings on my six string bass to take me through that progression in a few different keys. This week I’m including some common and simple chord alterations that you can add, to make that chord progression sound more interesting.

I – III7 – IV – V

I mentioned last week that there are two common ways to play through the I III IV V progression. The first is with a minor 7th chord on chord III. Which is the correct voicing if you harmonise all the chords according to the major scale of the key you’re in (diatonic harmony). But there is a common jazz alteration, which is to play the III chord as a dominant 7th chord. Listen to the opening chords on the melody of the jazz standard Someday My Prince Will Come and you’ll recognise that sound.

Here is how I would play that chord progression in the key of E on a six string bass.

I III7 IV V Chord Progression on Six String Bass
I III7 IV V Chord Progression on Six String Bass

You’ll notice that I’ve included either extensions or alterations on each voicing except the very first one. The first chord is E major 7th, which I’ve voiced like this.

There is one obvious alteration that I could make to this chord, which would be a sharpened 4th (commonly referred to as 11th). That chord alteration would change the sound of Chord I to a Lydian sound. The chord would look like this.

Chord III7 and IV

In the example in the video I’ve played the III chord as G#7b13, like this.

But it’s important to understand that it isn’t the b13 note which is the outside note in this key. The G#7 chord is already a chord substitution because the major 3rd, C (or B#) isn’t in the key of E major. The b13 note is actually the note E, which obviously is in the key of E major.

The IV chord I’ve played like this.

The inclusion of the #11 here is a normal diatonic note to play on a IV chord in a major key. A simple chord substitution here would be to play F# minor 7th instead of A major.

Chords V and I

The V chord is where you can really have some fun with extensions and alterations. In my example I’ve used a B7b13 voicing.

But you can also alter the 9th by sharpening or flattening it.

And you can even alter the 5th by flattening it as well. These kind of altered dominant sounds would often be used as chord V in a minor key. Chord V in a major key would be more conventionally played without alterations, such as B9 or B13.

But I really like the use of the b13 in this case, especially because I’ve voiced the final I chord as E major 9th with the ninth at the top.

So those two chords, B7b13 – Emaj9, create a little chromatic melodic movement. The b13 on the B chord is the note G, which drops onto the F# which is the 9th of the E major chord. It could also go chromatically up onto G# which would be the major 3rd of the E major chord. These are chromatic approach notes which are a common melodic device used in jazz.

Keep following my weekly practice diary on Johnny Cox Music for many more videos about jazz chord progressions coming up soon.

Jazz Chord Progressions – Part 1 – I III IV V – Bass Practice Diary 76

Jazz Chord Progressions on Six String Bass – Part 1 – I III IV V – Bass Practice Diary – 1st October 2019

I’ve done a few videos by now about playing jazz chord voicings on the bass. So, this week I wanted to start a series of videos about playing jazz chord progressions. The idea is to take some of the chord voicings that you hopefully already know, and apply them to simple popular chord progressions. It’s the logical next step once you’ve started to incorporate chord voicings into your bass practice regime.

The I-III-IV-V or I-III-IV-V-I Chord Progression

The chord progression I’ve chosen this week is I-III-IV-V. And I’ve resolved all my examples back to the I chord at the end, so it’s actually I-III-IV-V-I. But that often doesn’t happen in real jazz situations. So, in the key of C major, the diatonic chords would be C major, E minor, F major and G dominant. However, in jazz the III chord can also be played as a dominant 7th chord. So, it could be E7 instead of E minor.

Many of these examples were inspired by the jazz guitarist Ted Greene and his book Modern Chord Progressions. The book is obviously written for guitar not bass but I’ve still managed to adapt some of his ideas onto my 6 string bass. I’ve included four examples in the video. Each one is in a different key, and here they are.

Jazz Chord Progressions on Six String Bass - Based on I-III-IV-V-I
Jazz Chord Progressions on Six String Bass – Based on I-III-IV-V-I

Jazz Chord Voicings on Bass Guitar

If you’d like to have a look at some chord voicings before you start trying to play these progressions. Then please check out any of the following videos. This is a video I made about playing jazz chord extensions on bass guitar. And here is a video about playing quartal chord voicings which are great for jazz. This one is a video about adding chord extensions using a right hand tapping technique.

There’s also the Oteil Burbridge video which I referred to in the video. And I’ve also done a four part guide to playing chords on the bass. Which is very old and needs to be updated, but it still contains some useful information.