String Skipping Arpeggios – Another 6-String Bass Exercise – Bass Practice Diary – 18th May 2021
This is another 6-string bass exercise featuring string skipping. The last one involved playing scales and skipping strings after every three notes. This one is a bit more difficult. It involves playing arpeggios and string skipping on every note. I first came across this exercise years ago when I saw it featured on an instructional video by the great guitarist Frank Gambale. It’s a tricky exercise to play on guitar or bass, but it sounds great. When I was thinking of ways to take my string skipping on bass to another level, I remembered this exercise and I set about trying to adapt it onto 6-string bass.
I’ve played the exercise in the key of A minor, which is the same key Frank Gambale plays it in. The exercise uses notes from the A harmonic minor scale arranged into three arpeggios. Chord I, A minor, chord IV, D minor and chord V, E. The A minor arpeggio is played as a triad using just the notes A, C and E. But the IV chord includes the note B on a D minor chord, which makes it Dm6. The V chord is really E7, but the exercise only features the notes of the major triad, E, G# & B. It’s played like this.
6-String Bass Duet – Fretless & Fretted – Warwick & Overwater – Bass Practice Diary – 20 April 2021
It seems that I’m in a contemplative mood after more than a year of lockdowns. There have been virtually no opportunities to play with other musicians. So, I’ve been recording on my own a lot. Recently, I’ve been trying to arrange material for these two basses, probably my favourite two basses. A fretted Overwater Hollowbody 6-string and a fretless Warwick Thumb SC 6-string bass. This arrangement came out of some Keith Jarrett improvisations that I was transcribing.
The Chord Progression
I’ve always felt that Keith Jarrett is a wonderful improviser. He regularly improvises entire solo piano concerts and he seems to effortlessly incorporate both jazz and classical influences. What I’ve played here is not exactly a transcription, but my own arrangement based on some of the harmonic ideas that I transcribed.
Here are diagrams for the chords I’m using. The diagrams are all written for 6-string bass in standard tuning. Don’t take the chord names too seriously. I considered not including any names above the chords, but I thought they might be helpful for locating the correct positions on the neck.
It’s hard to find accurate names for some chord shapes. For example, look at the last chord. It includes two D’s, an Ab and an Eb. It’s like an Ab Lydian triad (root, #4th & 5th) in the first inversion. So, I’ve called it Abmaj7(#11)/D. However, it doesn’t have a major third, C. The major 7th G is not in the chord either, but it is played by the fretless bass as a melody note. So, the chord symbol isn’t very helpful.
So, some of the chord symbols are helpful and others aren’t, don’t take them too seriously. I’m fairly certain that Keith Jarrett doesn’t think about chord symbols when he plays and I certainly didn’t think about chord symbols when I played this. I didn’t put the names on the chords until after I shot this.
In the performance, I played the chord sequence through twice in its entirety. Also, I used the first two chords played repeatedly as both an intro and an outro.
6-String Fretless Bass Modal Improvisation – Bass Practice Diary – 29th December 2020
This is a modal improvisation on my Warwick Thumb SC 6-string fretless bass. What do I practice in the week between Christmas and New Year? Inevitably I’ve practiced less at Christmas than I usually would. Normally I would have been visiting various family members. But all my plans were cancelled at the last minute due to a COVID lockdown announced by the UK government on December 19th. However, despite that, I still have a wife and son at home, so my usual practice time got devoted to trying to make Christmas special for them despite the restrictions.
So, what should you practice at a time when you haven’t done much practice? For me, the answer is, just play! Play for fun, improvise, play for the love of playing music. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or not. Just get the feeling of the strings back under your fingers. So, with that in mind, here’s a video of me improvising on a short modal chord sequence that I’ve been playing around with this week.
I’ve called this a modal improvisation. But how can it be called modal if I’m improvising over a chord sequence? The reason I’m calling it modal is because the chords are not connected by diatonic harmony. So I’m thinking of each chord as being a different scale or mode to improvise on. There is no key that connects the chords. They are simply connected by a bass note, each chord is played over an E bass note.
The chord progression in the video is very simple. It starts on an Eb major chord over an E natural bass note. That chord resolves upwards onto an Emaj7 chord. Then I raise the 5th and make that chord an Emaj7#5 before dropping back onto the Emaj7. These might sound like really small changes, and they are. But each chord change creates the sound of a new mode.
I think it’s an interesting way to think about chord progressions. Rather than thinking about chord changes. Think about changing just one note in a chord and see how that one note changes the overall sound.
Michael Brecker Jazz Solo Transcription on 6 String Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th September 2019
This week I’m playing a transcription of part of Michael Brecker’s solo on Charlie Parker’s Confirmation from Chick Corea’s Three Quartet’s album. If you saw my video last week, you’ll know that I picked out one lick from this solo already. Because I felt it fitted nicely onto a four string bass. But I actually worked out the transcription on 6 string bass. That’s what I usually do with jazz transcriptions. So, this week I thought I’d feature the solo, or at least as much of it as I’ve transcribed so far, on my fretless 6 string bass.
The Solo Transcription with Bass TAB
This isn’t the complete solo, it’s just the first chorus plus a couple of bars. And I’ve played the transcription one octave below where Michael Brecker plays it. Just because I think it sounds and fits better on a bass guitar in this register. I have seen other transcriptions of this solo but they’re all written in treble clef and in the key of G major for Bb tenor saxophone. As far as I’m aware, mine is the only bass clef transcription in the concert pitch key of F major.
The backing track that I’ve used in the video is not one of my own. If you follow my videos regularly, you’ll know that I often make my own backing tracks. But this was just a convenient backing track of Confirmation that I found. The feel is slightly different to the feel of Chick Corea and Michael Brecker’s original. So I’ve played the feel to fit in with the backing track.
Rhythm Changes (Oleo) with Tim Pettingale – Bass Practice Diary – 27th August 2019
I’ve written before about the importance of practicing with other musicians. And it was an absolute pleasure this week to welcome jazz guitarist Tim Pettingale to my studio in East London. Tim’s latest book, which I’ve been reading recently, is called Rhythm Changes for Jazz Guitar. So it seemed like a great opportunity to ask Tim to put me through my paces on a Rhythm Changes tune. We choose Sonny Rollins’ tune Oleo, because Tim refers to it in his book.
What is Rhythm Changes?
Rhythm Changes is a 32 bar chord progression which is loosely based on Gershwin’s tune I’ve Got Rhythm. Many famous jazz tunes have been written on the Rhythm Changes. And it’s the second most commonly used progression in jazz after the 12 bar blues. However, just like the blues progression, there are hundreds of variations that you can play for Rhythm Changes. And you rarely hear it played exactly the same way twice. Tim’s book features explanation and solo examples for many of these variations.
In the video, we’ve tried to feature a few cool variations and chord substitutions from the book in our very short rendition of Oleo. I’ll try and explain them very briefly here.
Rhythm Changes chord theory
Rhythm Changes has an AABA structure. Each A and B section is eight bars long. For the first two A sections we played Sonny Rollins’ melody. Then Tim’s solo started on the middle 8, which is the B section. We used the standard Rhythm Changes middle 8, which is four dominant 7th chords each played for two bars, D7 – G7 – C7 – F7.
The A section usually starts with a I-VI-II-V chord progression in Bb major. The VI chord is often played as G7 rather than Gm7. Having played the I-VI-II-V twice, we then played a cycle of II-V’s starting in Eb major. And then going through the keys Db major and C major before resolving back into Bb major. So bars 5-8 of the A section, as we played it, went like this, Fm7 – Bb7 – Ebm7 – Ab7 – Dm7 – G7 – Cm7 – F7 with two beats on each chord.
The next A section took us back to the start of the AABA form. And we started to introduce some chord substitutions. Instead of the usual I-VI-II-V’s, we played Dm7 – Db7b5 – Cm7 – B7b5. It’s a clever substitution for a I-VI-II-V because it creates a root movement descending in semi-tones. The Dm7 is chord III in Bb major. Chord III is a common substitution for Chord I because the notes in a Dm7 chord are the same as the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th of a Bbmaj9 chord. The Db7b5 is a tritone substitution for the G7 (chord VI) and the B7b5 is a tritone substitution for the F7 (chord V). The Cm7 is chord II and it’s the only one of the four chords that isn’t substituted.
We played one more A section, during which we played more or less the standard changes. And then we went into another B section. This time we played tritone substitutions on the D7 and C7 chords. So the progression as we played it was Ab7 – G7 – Gb7 – F7.
All of these substitutions and many others are featured in Tim’s book. I would highly recommend it for anyone who plays guitar and wants to learn about jazz. Tim is the author of Jazz Bebop Blues Guitar as well as the Rhythm Changes book. His books are great, because they don’t assume any prior knowledge of jazz. So they very clearly explain the fundamental principles before going on to deliver simple guides to playing and improvising. All his books have an informal and easy to read style. And they contain multiple short examples written in standard notation and guitar TAB, all with accompanying audio Mp3’s.
During Tim’s visit we also shot another video of one of Tim’s original compositions, which was a jazz waltz. Keep checking both mine and Tim’s social media because we’ll be posting that video in the next few weeks.
Practising John Patitucci’s Searching, Finding – Bass Practice Diary – 18th June 2019
Searching, Finding was written by John Patitucci and it featured on his self titled debut album. This week I was reading through a book of John Patitucci transcriptions. It’s an unusual bass book, from the point of view that most of it is written in the treble clef rather than the bass clef. But if you can cope with the treble clef reading, then there are great tunes in it, like this one.
I should point out that the only part of the transcription that I’m playing in the video is the melody. The solos are all improvised by me and I’ve written out one of the choruses of my solo in bass TAB.
How I practice tunes on bass
One of the reasons why I’m posting this video is because it gives an insight into the way that I practice learning tunes. When I say “learning tunes” I don’t just mean learning the melody, I mean melody, bass line, chord progression, structure etc. Everything that’s involved in learning a composition.
The first thing I’ll do is make myself a simple backing track, usually involving drums and chords. I’ll programme the drums in ProTools and add chords on either piano, guitar or six string bass. In this case I played the chords on piano.
When I have my simple backing track I’ll loop it and practice playing the melody, bass line and improvised solos on it. And that’s what you can see me doing in the video. I’m using my fretless six string bass to play a walking bass line and improvise on the modal section. While my fretted six string bass is used to play the bass figure in the modal section and the melody and solos during the choruses.
My solo chorus on Searching, Finding
When I study an artist’s transcription, like John Patitucci’s solo on Searching Finding. I don’t do it so that I can perform his solo or rip off his licks. I do it so that I can study the notes and the phrasing that he uses over the harmony. So that I can then use the information to assist my own improvisation. Before I start improvising I will often write out some lines that fit over some of the trickier harmonic sections. In the first solo chorus in the video, starting at 0:59, you can see me putting some of my ideas into practice. Here is the transcription of that chorus.
Once I’ve analysed an artists solo and tried to assimilate what I can into my own ideas. I will then try to improvise in the purest sense of the word. Meaning that I will try not to think about any pre planned ideas and just improvise off the cuff. This is what you can see me doing in the second chorus of solo starting at 2:24 in the video.
Hopefully at this point I’ve started to internalise the melody, harmony and structure of the composition. And this information will come out in my improvisation without me having to consciously work it out in advance. The solo I played in the video partly demonstrates this, although it isn’t perfect yet.
Giant Steps Improvisation on Fretless & Fretted 6 String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd April 2019
Some jazz tunes are so iconic that every jazz musician and enthusiast should know them. John Coltrane’s Giant Steps definitely falls into that category. The chord changes have made it iconic, because they’re notoriously difficult to improvise on. Over the years it’s become a kind of rite of passage for aspiring jazz musicians to learn to play on those changes.
I’ll do a more complete analysis of how I approach playing on Giant Steps next week. But the purpose of this video is to show how I approach practising any tricky piece like this. The first and most important thing when approaching any difficult repertoire is to start slow. If you want to be able to play fast, then practice slow.
Start Slow and Vary the Feel
When I’m approaching any chord progression, I’m trying to internalise the sound of the changes. It’s much harder to do this if the changes are flying past at 300bpm. Coltrane may have played Giant Steps blisteringly fast, but I’d be willing to bet that he practiced it slowly first.
I love practicing playing over slow changes. You can really enjoy playing over each chord and having loads of time to hear the changes go past. And this will really help you to get the sound of the changes into your ears.
Another piece of advice I would offer, is to practice playing the changes over as many different feels as you can. As you can hear in my video I start by using a slow straight 1/16th note feel, and then move on to a faster swing feel. But that only scratches the surface, there are so many different tempos and feels that you can use.
It always amazes me that some jazz musicians seem to only practice improvising in a swing feel. You can always tell who these people are because they instantly sound very uncomfortable playing in anything that doesn’t have a swing feel.
John Coltrane and Giant Steps
Giant Steps was recorded and released in 1959, which was a watershed year in jazz for many reasons. It came from the album which was also called Giant Steps, and that album is seen by many as a masterpiece of jazz Bop style improvisation and composition. In fact it’s seen by many as the ultimate recording in that style of jazz.
It’s certainly possible to believe that Coltrane himself believed that he couldn’t improve upon Giant Steps. Because from that point on in his career he went on to explore other aspects of jazz improvisation such as modal jazz and free jazz. And he never returned to the Bop style vocabulary of the Giant Steps album.
Wild Mountain Thyme – Scottish Folk Melody – Bass Practice Diary – 26th March 2019
This week I’ve done something a bit different. This is an arrangement of a Scottish folk melody called Wild Mountain Thyme. This came about because I did a gig last weekend with a wonderful group called the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir.
There aren’t very many opportunities in the UK to get paid to play bass for a Gospel Choir. So, I considered myself very fortunate to get this gig. And needless to say, it was a beautiful show. One of the most enjoyable I’ve played in a long time.
There was quite a lot of preparation that I needed to do for the gig. I had to learn about 14 songs. I often learn more than double that number of songs for a gig. But much of their repertoire was from American Gospel acts like Kirk Franklin, Hezekiah Walker and Isreal Houghton. And if any of you’re familiar with those guys, you’ll know that there’s some serious bass work on those recordings.
One song in the second half was performed by the choir with piano alone. So I’d never even heard it before the concert. It was completely different from their other repertoire. They sang their own arrangement of a Scottish Folk Song called Wild Mountain Thyme. As I sat listening to the choir sing it, I thought it was beautiful.
So when I got home, I started to mess around with it on bass and guitar. And the result is what I’ve shared in the video above. I’m not sure that my version totally captures the rich harmonies of a gospel choir. But it does at least give you an insight into what I do when I hear a melody I like. I hope you enjoy it and make sure you check out the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir!
Sliding Notes on a Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd January 2019
Sliding between notes is an integral part of phrasing on a fretless bass. This video features an exercise to help you practice sliding accurately between notes by using the pentatonic scale.
When you slide between notes on a fretless bass, the first thing that you need to concentrate on, is keeping the notes in tune. When you slide, it’s very easy to slide too far and go sharp, or not quite far enough and the note will be flat. So my first advice is to start slowly and use a backing track.
Backing tracks are very easy to find for free on Youtube. Here is an example of a backing track in G major that you could use to help you practice this exercise. When you practice with a backing track it’s so much easier to hear when you go a little bit out of tune.
Use the Pentatonic Scale to Practice Sliding Notes on Fretless Bass
The easiest way to play a pentatonic scale is by playing two notes on each string like this.
The reason it’s easy is because it doesn’t involve any position shifts. But it offers very little opportunity to slide between notes.
In order to incorporate slides, you need to keep shifting position, which involves playing at least three notes per string like this.
You can also practice this on a fretted bass. It’s easier on a fretted bass because you don’t need to be as accurate. But position shifting is an important skill for any bass player to practice.
The idea of the exercise is that you always slide with your 1st finger (index finger). Playing three notes on each string, you play the first of the three notes with your 1st finger and then slide up to the second note. You can play the third note on each string with either your third finger or little finger.
Slide Notes With Any Finger
It’s easiest to use your 1st finger to slide. But you want to be able to slide accurately with all of the fingers on your left hand. So come up with your own variations of this exercise and use different fingers to play the slides. Here’s a variation that I demonstrated in the video which uses your 4th finger (little finger) to play the slides.
Another variation that I demonstrated in the video, is to break the exercise down into small sections. Don’t feel like you need to practice the whole scale all at once. Work on each position shift one at a time. Like this.
I think that practicing like this actually replicates what you will play in a real musical situation better than playing the whole scale all at once. You could use the example above as a fretless bass fill on a G major chord. And the example below which starts on a D could also be a fill when you’re playing in the key of G.
Just like any scale exercise, don’t forget to practice this exercise in different positions and different keys. And try to adapt the idea of sliding and position shifting to any other scales, arpeggios or technical exercises that you practice.
In a Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington – Jazz Arranged for Fretless Bass and Acoustic Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 4th September 2018
I love to play jazz on my basses at home when I get the chance. I usually make my own backing tracks and practice by playing along with them. In this video I’ve laid down the chords of Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood on my acoustic bass guitar and played over the chords on my fretless Warwick Thumb SC.
In a Sentimental Mood
In a Sentimental Mood is one of those great jazz tunes that’s both simple and beautiful. It has a very lyrical melody and some simple but effective chord changes. It was written by Duke Ellington in 1935 and originally performed by his orchestra. But the version that I’ve been listening to was recorded by Duke Ellington with John Coltrane in 1963. I also like Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal rendition of the song, where she sings the melody with just a guitar backing her. I’ve tried to get some of the flavour of both versions in my video. In a Sentimental Mood is also a staple standard of Sonny Rollins sets. He seems to play it a lot and he’s done some wonderful versions of it.
The Warwick Thumb SC is not only the best fretless bass I’ve ever played, it’s the best bass I’ve ever played. If you’ve seen many of my other videos you’re probably quite familiar with this bass by now. But if you’d like more info, you can find it here.