Spain on 6-string Fretless Bass and Nylon String Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 4th February 2020
Chick Corea’s composition Spain is one of the most iconic jazz tunes written in the 20th Century. Last week I was using some of the chord changes for the solo section of Spain to demonstrate how to use major triad pairs to solo on jazz chord changes. After shooting that video I was practicing playing the tune as a duet with myself. I was using my Godin ACS nylon string guitar and my fretless Warwick Thumb SC.
Bass and Nylon String Guitar
Some combinations of instruments just work really well, even though you rarely hear them used. I think that the combination of bass guitar and nylon string or classical guitar is a great combination. I keep meaning to write more musical arrangements using this combination and I hope I will in the future. Another great combination is bass and flute, think about Jaco Pastorius’ tune (Used to be a) Cha Cha.
This is my first video of an arrangement using just bass and nylon string guitar. To be honest, I haven’t done much arranging, I pretty much just played the tune and improvised a solo on bass.
Six String Bass – A guide to the 6 String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 30th October 2018
I just want to share some of the reasons why I play a six string bass. I get asked about six string basses a lot. So, I thought I should make a video about why I play them. And also give out some advice for anyone learning or thinking of learning to play a six string bass. I’ll also write a little bit about the history of the bass guitar and how basses came to have six strings.
The first thing I need to say is that how many strings you choose to play, 4, 5, 6 or any other number, is not that important. What is important is the music you play and how you choose to play your instrument.
You need to decide what is the best instrument for you and the way you want to play. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to how many strings. And I think that bass players sometimes care too much about it. They need to remember that what matters is music, not strings.
Why do I play a six string bass?
Having said that, I do have good reasons for playing six strings and I’ll share some of them with you now.
The biggest advantage of playing six strings is the extra range you get. With an extra low string and an extra high string you can extend your range in both directions, which makes six string basses very versatile. I don’t do many gigs where I don’t need to use the extended low range of my six string bass. I can play bass lines that weren’t originally written to be played on bass guitar.
The extended high range of the instrument enables me to play melodies, chord voicings and harmonies that would be very hard to achieve on four and five string basses. I know that not every bass player wants to explore these kind of harmonies, but I do, and if you’re interested in that too then you should think about playing six strings.
Is it Harder to Play Six string Bass?
Yes and no. Hopefully if you’ve seen my other videos you’ve seen me play four and five string basses. Other than the extended range, there’s no difference in the way I play 6 string to 4 or 5 string basses either technically or musically. My technique changes when I switch to fretless bass. But it doesn’t change when I switch between a fretted 4 and a fretted 6 string bass.
So for me, playing 6 isn’t any harder than 4 or 5 strings. In fact it’s easier because I play 6 most of the time and it’s what I’m most comfortable with.
Having said that, you need a strong technique to play 6 string bass well. And you need to make sure that you really learn all six strings.
There are a few technical things to consider when you learn to play six string bass. I see some 4 string players putting their left hand thumb on top of the neck when they play. It’s not great technique to do that and you can’t get away with it on a 6. The extra width in the neck means you won’t be able to access the low strings.
Another technical consideration is string damping, meaning that you don’t want to let open strings make noise when you’re not playing them. This is a technical consideration for all bass players, but the more strings you have, the more difficult it is, so you need to work on that if you’re going to play six strings well.
My final thought on the technical considerations is that it’s a bit harder to learn to play slap bass on a six string, because the high C string can be a bit in the way. But if your technique is good then you can still play in that style.
Learning to play bass
When I started playing bass, I learned on a 4 string bass like most people do. Then I switched to 5 and then 6. I started playing 6 string basses in my late teens. The first thing I did when I got the extra strings, was learn where the notes are on those strings. If you don’t do that, you’ll never play the 6 string bass really well.
I’ve heard it said that bass players should learn how to play 4 strings properly before trying to play 6. That doesn’t make any sense to me at all. If you take that argument to it’s logical conclusion then we should all start with one string on our basses. We should learn it properly and then add another and learn that properly. That’s not how you learn to play a musical instrument.
My advice would be that if you want to play a six string bass, then get one and start to learn it properly. Make sure that your technique is good and that you learn all six strings.
What to Look out for When Buying a Six String Bass?
So if you’re thinking of learning a six string bass, there is some advice that I’d like to give you about the instrument that you buy.
The first thing that I think is really important is string spacing. You want a nice wide string spacing, just like a 4 string bass. I really wouldn’t recommend getting a bass with a very narrow neck and the strings close together. I’ve mentioned already that there’s no difference in the way I approach playing 4, 5 or 6 strings. And for that to be the case, I need the string spacings to be the same. If the strings are much closer together then it suddenly feels like I’m playing a different instrument.
The next thing to consider is that the bass has a very even sound across it’s whole range. It needs to have a strong and clear low B string. And it also needs to sound good and be easy to play in the high register. If your bass is week in any part of it’s range, then you’ll lose the benefit of having the extra range that the 6 strings give you.
The last thing that I would highlight is the balance. That’s very important. If your bass neck is too heavy then it will dive to the floor when you let go with your left hand. Which means that you’ll have to constantly hold it up which will ruin anybody’s technique. So make sure your bass is well balanced. Make sure you can rest it on your lap with no hands and the neck doesn’t dive for the floor.
So, if you have a six string bass with a wide string spacing, a nice even sound across it’s whole range and it’s well balanced, then you have everything you need. And the good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good six string bass.
My Warwick Artist Series “Steve Bailey” Bass
I know that people will ask what is the bass in the video. So, I should say that it’s a Warwick Artist Series bass. Unfortunately they don’t make these any more, which is a shame because they’re really good. But if you’re looking for something similar without breaking the bank, then I would recommend trying the Warwick Rockbass line.
I just want to say one more thing about the history of the bass guitar and why basses have four strings to begin with.
Many people think that Leo Fender invented the electric bass in the 1950’s, he didn’t. It was invented in the 1930’s by a gentleman named Paul Tutmarc. And it was originally sold as a bass fiddle.
Musical instruments usually evolve from other instruments rather than being invented out of the blue. The electric bass was no different. It was modelled on the orchestral strings violins, double basses etc. Hence it had four strings, was tuned like a double bass and it was called a bass fiddle.
What Leo Fender did, which was revolutionary for the electric bass, was to realise that it would be much easier to play if it was shaped like a guitar rather than a fiddle. And he created all of those iconic Fender basses like the Precision and the Jazz Bass which became the archetypes for all future bass guitars. But the Fender basses retained the four string tuning of Tutmarc’s original electric bass fiddles.
Who Invented the Six String Bass?
It was Anthony Jackson in the 1970’s who started to ask the question, if the bass guitar is now a member of the guitar family, not the orchestral strings family, then why retain the four string double bass tuning? Surely it makes more sense to have six strings like a guitar? It was Jackson who came up with what we now consider standard tuning for a six string bass. He called his bass guitars contrabass guitars. The name never caught on, but the concept of the six string bass has become more and more popular.
That’s my thoughts, and please don’t take this as any kind of criticism of four or five string basses. Most of my favourite bass players play four string basses and many play five. I play four string basses. And I can’t stress how much it doesn’t matter how many strings you like to use. You should find the bass that feels right for the way you play, and that’s all that matters.
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.
Anthony Jackson’s Bass Line on Not Yet by Michel Camilo – Bass Practice Diary – 12th June 2018
This week I’ve been working on some of Anthony Jackson’s phenomenal bass lines from the albums he made with Michel Camilo. In the video I’ve featured an excerpt from a composition called Not Yet. It features on several albums but the version I’ve been working with comes from an album called Why Not?
I’ve heard so many great musicians say that Anthony Jackson is their favourite bass player. And it’s for good reason. He is often credited as the originator of the modern six string bass guitar. Which he called a Contrabass Guitar and first started playing in the 1970’s. He must be one of the most recorded bass players of the 20th century and he is perhaps best known for playing with popular singers like Chaka Khan and the O’Jays. But jazz followers know him for playing with the likes of Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Michel Petrucciani and the subject of this post Michel Camilo.
Recordings with Michel Camilo
Anthony Jackson must have one of the longest CV’s of any bass player in history. So it’s easy to miss recordings in his incredible discography. I would urge everybody to find the recordings he made with Michel Camilo because they are wonderful. And they contain some of the finest examples of electric bass playing ever heard. I would particularly recommend the big band albums Caribe and One More Once.
Not Yet Bass Line
I’ve been looking at a few of the pieces from Michel Camilo and Anthony Jackson this week. Including Caribe and Just Kidding. I may post excepts from those tunes in future. But I decided to start with an excerpt from Not Yet because I think it perfectly encapsulates both Anthony Jackson’s incredible bass playing and Michel Camilo’s wonderful composing.
The bass line is comprised of both improvised sections and fast composed runs. Linking the sections together is extremely technically challenging and it’s fast! Many people don’t think of Anthony Jackson as being the fastest bass player out there, but this performance begs to differ.
What stands out for me is the way he uses the full range of the instrument. Often going from high to very low in the blink of an eye. But always keeping his tone very even with a huge low end sound. His bass lines are always, first and foremost, musical. No matter how technical or not, his musicianship and musicality always shines through.
James Jamerson Bass Lines – Bass Practice Diary 6 – 29th May 2018
This week I’ve been playing some of the bass lines of the great Motown bassist James Jamerson. I’ve been reading transcriptions from a book called Standing In the Shadows of Motown. Playing the transcriptions has been so much fun. Especially playing them along with the original Motown recordings. Every time I play James Jamerson bass lines I’m reminded why he has earned a place in the Pantheon of great bassists.
What made James Jamerson a great bassist?
He was unquestionably one of the great innovators and pioneers of the bass guitar. His syncopated improvised style can be heard on some of the most famous recordings in the history of popular music. His discography is far to massive to list here, but Standing In the Shadows of Motown contains bass transcriptions from songs by Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and Marvin Gaye to name but a few.
However, CV’s and biographies don’t make a musician great, James Jamerson’s impact on music goes far beyond merely playing with famous artists on popular recordings. What I love most about his style is that he improvises bass lines in a very melodic way. I believe he plays bass lines in the truest sense. His lines are created to harmonise the melodies and it sounds like he’s improvising a duet with the singers.
It’s very rare that any instrumentalist is given that much scope to improvise in popular music. Even at Motown, you don’t hear any of the other session musicians improvising lines like that on any of the records. It’s never been fashionable in popular music to allow session musicians to improvise. Producers and engineers hate it because they can’t control the outcome. It’s a measure of James Jamerson’s genius that his improvised bass lines were not only included on the released versions of the songs. But that some those songs went on to become some of the most successful in the history of popular music and some of the most popular bass lines.
Who has been influenced by James Jamerson?
The honest answer is, probably everyone who has come after him. Any bass player who isn’t aware of James Jamerson has probably been influenced by other bass players who have been directly influenced by Jamerson. Also, the bass players who contributed transcriptions for the book Standing In the Shadows of Motown speaks volumes.
The book was originally released in 1989. The bass players featured in it read like a who’s who of bassists at that time. Chuck Rainey, Anthony Jackson, Marcus Miller, Pino Palladino and Will Lee as well as rock superstars including John Entwistle and Paul McCartney all contribute. These are just a few names but it gives an idea of the scale and the breadth of Jamerson’s influence.
How can you study James Jamerson’s bass lines?
A good place to start would be getting the book Standing In the Shadows of Motown. It comes with two audio CD’s featuring all the transcriptions. Be aware that the transcriptions don’t include any bass TAB. Which makes it great for sight reading practice but obviously not so great if you’re not a reader.
Warwick Pro Series Star Bass
I’m using my Warwick Pro Series Star Bass 5 string bass in the video. I use this bass to create a vintage sound. I’ve also used James Jamerson’s trick of putting damping material under the strings at the bridge to create a muted sound.
James Jamerson’s sound is definitely vintage, he was famous for using a 1962 Fender Precision. I’m not trying to make my Warwick Pro Series Star Bass sound like a Fender Precision. I don’t like to imitate other bass players sounds. It’s like trying to imitate someone’s accent. You’ll never get it perfect and you’ll sound like a cheap imitation. Having said that, I’m not sure that James Jamerson’s bass lines sound their best on the modern sounding active basses that I’m known for playing. So it’s nice to have a passive more vintage tone when I’m playing these bass lines.
Victor Wooten Techniques on 6-string Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 15th May 2018
This week I’m doing something that I don’t don very often, I’m practising slap bass. And I’m learning from the very best by playing excerpts from a book called The Best of Victor Wooten. In this video I’m demonstrating a passage from a piece called A Show of Hands.
Why Use a 6-string Bass? Victor Wooten always plays 4-string basses!
There are two reasons why I’m using my Warwick “Steve Bailey” 6-string bass for this.
The first is that it’s the bass I use on most of my gigs. I usually play finger style but I’m often asked to play slap bass on one or two tunes in a set. So, I need to know that my slap bass chops are ready to go when required. And I need to know I can do it on my first choice gigging instrument. I can’t stop during a gig to switch onto a 4 or 5 string bass. Also, I often need to play slap bass on just one part of a song and finger style on other parts.
The second reason is that many of the transcriptions in The Best Of Victor Wooten, including A Show of Hands are written and were originally performed by Victor Wooten on a 4-string bass tuned A-D-G-C. He calls this his tenor bass. This tuning is the same as the first four strings of a 6-string bass. It’s not possible to achieve this tuning on a standard 4 or 5 string bass without changing the strings or using a capo. My 6-string bass can play all of the transcriptions in the book at the correct pitch. Including all the pieces played on Standard E-A-D-G tuning and the A-D-G-C tenor tuning.
Is it harder to play slap bass on a 6-string bass?
Yes, but the more I practice, the less I notice the difference. There was a time when I used to do all of my slap bass practice on 4-string bass. I didn’t like slapping on the 6-string because the first string, C, felt too small to slap. And it got in the way when trying to pull the second string, G.
I started practising slap bass techniques on my 6-string bass for the reason I outlined above. I was playing 6-string bass on virtually all my gigs and when I was called upon to slap, it felt awkward. My slap bass chops on my 6-string were not where they needed to be.
So I realised I needed to practice slap bass on my 6-string bass. Now I feel comfortable playing slap techniques on my 6-string including on the high C-string. As a result I get all the benefits of extended range that you get from playing a 6-string. I highly recommend learning to slap on a 6-string bass, it might take a bit longer to master but for me the benefits of the extended range and the versatility far out weigh the challenges.
Everything you need to know about harmony on the bass
Harmony is a lot simpler than most people think.
Like it or not the bass is a harmony instrument, bass lines have been around for centuries before the electric bass was invented and they’re the lowest harmony part. So Harmony and rhythm are our main functions as bass players. Rhythm is a much bigger and (in my opinion) much more interesting topic, but I wanted to make this video to show you exactly how simple harmony is.
Know the Chromatic Scale
The key to understanding harmony is first of all knowing that there are only 12 notes. Chromatic scale is simply a technical term for what you get when you play all 12 notes one after the other. If you’re not yet familiar with the chromatic scale, that is where you should start. It’s easier than learning the alphabet, there are more than twice as many letters in the alphabet than there are notes.
How Do You Avoid Playing Wrong Notes?
As bass players we usually play one note at a time. I know that you can play chords on the bass, I’ve made videos about it, but it isn’t our primary function. The term bass line implies one note at a time.
I am firmly of the opinion that there is no such thing as a wrong note. There are only 12 notes in total so if we start classifying some of these as wrong, we’re seriously limiting our options. There are inside notes and outside notes (I’ll explain these as I go on) and it’s our job as musicians to find ways of using them that makes sense musically.
Learn To Play Arpeggios!
So our job in terms of harmony is to choose which note out of the 12 we play at any one time. And the first thing that every bass player needs to know is chord tones or arpeggios. Arpeggio is just a classical term meaning all the notes of a chord played one at a time. Guitar players have chords and bass players have arpeggios. If you don’t know your arpeggios you will end up playing root notes all the time and your basslines will be boring.
How many notes in an arpeggio depends on the chord in question, but lets take an A7 chord for example. There are 4 notes (demonstrate). 4 out of 12. That’s already 1/3rd of all the notes and the chord tones are the strongest notes you can use in a harmonic situation.
What are Inside and Outside Notes?
Next is scale tones. Scales tend to have seven notes in them (not all I know, but standard major and minor scales and all their modes do). We’ve used four of them already in the arpeggio so there are three others that we can use as passing tones. These are the inside notes, notes that belong in the harmony. The remaining five notes that are not within the scale are the outside notes, you can think of these as chromatic passing notes.
So, Here’s Everything You Need to Know!
And that’s it, there are 12 notes, chord tones, scale tones and chromatic passing tones. It’s that simple. Your job is to learn what each of them sounds like, and the only way to do that is play them as much as you can. So cancel your application for that three year college course on advanced harmony and instead go forth and play your bass!
What Else is There?
Harmony and rhythm are the two biggest worlds in the language of music. And rhythm is much simpler than you might think as well, once you know how to sub-divide a beat into two, three and four. You know most of what you need to know about rhythm, but if you want more detail on rhythm you need to get my book Improve Your Groove. Here’s a link, https://geni.us/bassgroove
In this video, I’m jamming with myself at home using my fretless Warwick Thumb Single Cut 6-string bass guitar. I’m improvising on the spot and the bass is being played through my Warwick Hellborg Amplifier rig, including the Hellborg preamp.
Here’s a video I made with my Warwick Thumb SC Fretless, it’s such a beautiful sounding bass and I just love to play it.
I’m a jazz musician at heart, so I love fretless bass guitars. My Warwick Thumb SC is now the only fretless bass I own, for the simple reason that it’s so good there was no point in keeping any of the others I’d owned previously. I owned two fretless basses before I purchased my Thumb SC and I sold them both on eBay within months of it arriving.
The tone of the bass is absolutely beautiful and the build quality and the quality of the wood are second to none. The body is made from Swamp Ash with a one inch Bubinga Pommele top. The neck is Flamed Maple and the fingerboard is Tigerstripe Ebony, which is a very hard wood, so even round wound strings won’t chew up the fingerboard.
It features full line inlays on the fretboard which is a custom shop option. All Warwick’s custom shop basses have their own page on their website. You can see mine by clicking on this link.
In my opinion, all fretless bass guitars should come with fret lines. I’ve never met anyone who has perfect intonation without them. Really no one, and I’ve met many of the worlds best bassists. So, choosing not to have lines is just macho nonsense, there is no benefit to not having the lines. Jaco Pastorius had fret lines on his bass.
I’ve heard many people say, “double bass players don’t need lines on their fingerboards”. I know, and it’s not relevant because bass guitar necks are nothing like double bass necks. There are much more notes in a smaller space on a bass guitar neck which makes them almost impossible to hit accurately at high speed without markers. Also, double bass necks start narrow and get wider, so it’s much easier to feel where you are on the neck than it is on bass guitar.
The Warwick Thumb SC is quite simply the best fretless bass I’ve ever played. In fact it’s the best bass I’ve ever played and that includes Fodera’s. It’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for. Don’t forget, if you want to go fretless, get the full line inlays.
In this video I’m playing the composition Raju by John Mclaughlin and a vehicle for demonstrating my Warwick Artist Series Steve Bailey 6-String bass guitar.
Some of you will know that I’ve installed a Roland GK-3B divided pickup onto my Warwick Artist Series Steve Bailey 6-String bass. Most of my demo videos featuring this bass use the GK-3B and a Roland GR-55 guitar synth pedal.
I decided to make this video because I wanted to show what the bass sounds like without the Roland GR-55. In this video, I’m not using the GK-3B pickup at all, and you are hearing the bass exactly as it sounds coming out of the factory.
How is the quality of the Warwick Artist Series Steve Bailey 6-String?
Excellent, and as usual, Warwick’s commitment to using high quality and resonant wood to build their basses shines through. The bass has an Ovangkol neck with Ekanga veneer stripes and a Tigerstripe Ebony fingerboard. The body is made from Swamp Ash.
The shape of the bass is that of a Warwick Streamer Bass but Steve Bailey has slightly extended the cutaway to give better access to the upper frets. This is a good edition, you can see from the video that I like to play in the upper register which is why I choose this bass over the standard Streamer shape.
Another input from Steve Bailey is the electronics. The Warwick Artist Series Steve Bailey 6-String features active Seymour Duncan Soapbar pickups. The onboard preamp is Seymor Duncan Steve Bailey Active 2-way electronics.
Steve Bailey’s final input on his Artist Series bass is the fact that the standard model is fretless, however I’ve got the fretted version, because as good as this bass is, there’s no way that it’s as good as my fretless Thumb SC, check out my posts for that bass if you haven’t already.
The Warwick Artist Series Steve Bailey 6-String is a high quality professional instrument. It has become a real work horse for me because I now use it for most of my gigs. So, that should tell you how good it is given the quality instruments I have at my disposal. The fretless version may not be in the same class as the Warwick Thumb SC. However at less than half the price of the Thumb SC, you can’t go wrong.
Arun Maheswaran with Johnny Cox Mixing Jazz and Carnatic Music
In this video, Carnatic musician Arun Maheswaran is playing Mridangam and jazz musician Johnny Cox is playing his fretless Warwick Thumb SC 6-string bass guitar. Carnatic music is South Indian classical music. We’re playing a composition called Chasing Shadows by Anoushka Shankar.
Can You Mix Jazz and Carnatic Music?
Arun Maheswaran thinks you can. Arun studied Mridangam under his guru Shri K Anandandesan from the age of 10. In addition to performing and teaching the Mridangam, Arun also played the Ghatam and Udu Utar.
Recently Arun invited me to join his band Cosmic Rhythms. Which beautifully mixes Carnatic and jazz music. So, we took some time at a rehearsal to shoot this video together.
It’s been quite an education for me learning about Carnatic music. I’ve had to learn Korvai’s. A Korvai is a rhythmic phrase repeated three times in unison, each time the sub-divisions get smaller giving the impression of getting faster. Therefore, the Thalam or rhythmic structure doesn’t change. Also, Korvai’s are usually played at the end of solos or the final end of a piece.
A Koraipu is a call and response section, and as the Koraipu continues the phrases get shorter. Koraipu literally means reducing.
Why a fretless bass
The fretless bass is essential for combining Jazz and Carnatic music. The ability to bend pitches and slide between notes is essential to the phrasing in both jazz and Carnatic music. I’ve posted plenty of times about my fretless Warwick Thumb SC. I honestly believe that there isn’t a better fretless bass on the planet.