Fretless Bass Line with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 30th June 2020
This is a fretless bass line that I wrote recently as part of a piece I’m working on. During the lockdown I’ve been trying to keep my creativity going by writing some music. The drums are provided by my good friend Lewis Davies who has appeared on my channel before.
The Bass Line
The bass line has a triplet feel. I’ve written it in 4/4 but I could have written it in 12/8. If you’ve read my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove then you’ll know that I like to count triplets with the syllables ta-ki-ta. Using those syllables, the two ta’s become the beat and off beat in a shuffle or swing feel. But I think it’s how and when you use the other syllable, ki, that can make a triplet feel really pop. Notice that I’ve placed a note on this subdivision after the second beat in every bar of this bass line. To my ears, that is what defines the character of this line.
If you’d like to check out another of my fretless bass lines with bass tab, then you can find one here.
Warwick Thumb Bass – 6-String Bolt-on Broad Neck – Bass Practice Diary – 19th May 2020
This week I was servicing my 6-string Warwick Thumb bass when I realised that I’ve never featured it in a Bass Practice Diary video. Recently I did a video in which I renovated my first childhood bass. But this Warwick Thumb bass has even more significance to me. It was my first 6-string bass, and I’ve played this bass more than any other instrument in my life. This is probably a slightly self indulgent Bass Practice Diary video, but I thought this might be interesting for my fellow Warwick bass enthusiasts.
A couple of times each year I take this bass out and service it. I change the strings, polish the frets, oil the fretboard with lemon oil and treat the natural oil finish with surface finishing wax. That’s what I was doing this week when I realised that I’ve never featured this bass before in one of my Bass Practice Diary videos. You’ll only recognise this bass if you’ve followed some of my old, old videos from before I started my practice diary.
How I Came to Own It
I’ve owned this bass since I was 19 years old and it was my first 6-string bass. I was at music college at the time and I had a teacher that played 6-string bass. At that time I was still playing mostly 4-string. I owned a cheap 5-string bass, but it wasn’t good and I rarely played it. My main basses were a fretless Mexican Fender Jazz Bass and a Gibson USA Les Paul Bass, both of which I’d picked up second hand.
It was a good time for buying second hand. I couldn’t afford a good new bass and at that time. And you could pick up second hand instruments for a fraction of their value new. These days, I look at the high prices of second hand instruments and I wonder why anybody buys them.
My dream bass in my late teens was a Warwick. I’d never played one up to that point. But they were very popular at that time among pro and semi-pro bassists. So I heard them a lot in the live music venues that I regularly visited. They had a very distinctive tone, and that tone, to me represented what a modern electric bass should sound like.
So I dreamed of buying a Warwick bass and, inspired by my teacher, dreamed of playing a 6-string bass. So, for months I scoured the internet for a second hand 6-string Warwick bass that I could potentially afford, assuming I sold all my other basses.
My Warwick Thumb Bass
It’s a difficult instrument to play. The neck is massive, both deep and wide. It has a 34 inch scale, which is standard on Warwick basses and it has 20mm spacing between the strings, which makes it a broad neck model. Over the years, I’ve seen many bass players try and play this bass and fail. This bass was built for tone not playability. It’s heavy and it doesn’t balance very well on the strap. It balances well on your lap when you sit down and play it which makes it a good bass for recording, but gigging is hard work.
The best way to get it to balance is to put weights on the strap, which adds to the weight of an already very heavy bass. I would always have a very stiff and aching shoulder the morning after any gig. It’s remarkable really that I used this as my number one bass for 10 years. I thought for a long time that this would be my number one bass for my entire career. It was so much a part of my sound and my playing style. But eventually, practical considerations took over, and using a bass that is as heavy and as distinctive sounding as this one is just not practical in many situations.
The bass is made from solid Ovankol, which is a heavy tone wood, similar in it’s tonal characteristics to Rosewood. The fretboard is made from Wenge. The pickups are MEC Soap-bar and the active circuitry features Bass and Treble controls and an active/passive push/pull control on the volume knob.
It’s a bass that really needs to be your number one. It’s hard to play, so if you’re going to master it, you need to spend lots of time with it. If you stop playing it regularly, it’s very hard to pick it up again which is why you don’t see me playing it very much any more. It’s a shame because it’s a bass that means a lot to me, and I learned so much with it.
Fender Custom 62 Precision Bass Pickup on Vester P Bass Demo – Bass Practice Diary – 28th April 2020
This is a quick demo I recorded this week for my Vester P Bass (Vester Stage Series). The bass sound is completely unedited. I wanted to try and give you the clearest idea of what the bass sounds like now that I’ve installed a Fender Custom 62 Precision bass pickup. The bass was recorded directly from the line out of my Markbass Little Mark III. All the EQ on the amp was set flat. I did no editing after recording and I didn’t add any EQ, effects, compression or anything else.
It’s funny, this was the first bass I ever owned, but it’s entirely different to any of the other basses that I’ve owned since. I’ve never owned a Fender Precision (or Squier) and I currently don’t own another bass that has a P style pickup on it. It’s also the only bass that I’ve ever owned that has a maple fretboard.
It’s easy to look back at your first instrument with a kind of misty eyed nostalgia, but the truth is, for me, this bass unconsciously became a kind of blueprint for how I didn’t want my future basses to be. Thinking back to my first ever bass teacher, he played a proper Fender USA made Jazz Bass. My Vester suffered in comparison, and I’m sure that unconsciously coloured my opinions of J and P style basses ever after. Later in my teens, as I started to hear modern style active basses like Warwicks. They became my blueprint for what I thought a great bass tone should be, and I moved further away from P style basses.
I remember that the electronics stopped working when I was in my late teens. I did try to get them working again, with some initial success. By that point, I already owned a newer 5-string bass. And when the electronics stopped working a second time, I didn’t have the money or the expertise to fix it. So, for about 20 years, the Vester Stage Series P Bass sat unused in a flight case in the loft. Only coming out when I moved house, or I needed the flight case to take a different bass on tour.
Vester Stage Series P Bass
What I didn’t appreciate as a child, is that there’s actually some really good things about this bass. The best thing about this bass, by far, is the neck. It’s a really good playable maple neck. I entirely failed to appreciate this as a child because I didn’t have enough experience of playing bass necks. The original bridge on the Vester is also an excellent copy of vintage style Fender P Bass Bridge. It’s still on the bass and in perfect working order, as are the Fender style tuners. It was such a good copy of a Fender P bass that Fender successfully sued them. The basses were no longer manufactured after that.
The biggest problem with the bass originally was that it wasn’t very inspiring to listen to. If only I’d known in the 90’s how easy it is to change the pickup on a P style bass.
Installing a Fender Custom 62 Precision Bass Pickup
Installing the Fender Custom 62 pickup couldn’t have been easier. It was actually much harder to get the old pickup out than it was to put the new pickup in. The screws holding the old pickup in place were so rusty that the screw heads had virtually disintegrated. Meaning that unscrewing them was impossible. I had to break the old pickups to remove them, and then remove the old screws with pliers.
Putting in the new pickup was as simple as, finding the position of the pickups using the old scratchplate, making new holes for the four screws and then soldering two wires. The Fender Custom 62 Pickup comes with a white wire and a black wire. And a diagram showing you where to solder them.
Apart from installing the pickup, the other work I did included changing all of the wiring, pots and input, cleaning and polishing the frets and the fretboard and installing a new scratchplate with access to the truss-rod. The video was shot just before the new scratchplate arrived, so here’s a picture of the finished bass.
The Guitar Solo
The guitar solo in the video is part of a transcription I’ve been working on this week from Frank Gambale. Here is a PDF of the transcription with guitar TAB.
6-String Bass Solo & Chords with Bass TAB & Chord Diagrams – Bass Practice Diary – 14th April 2020
This week I’ve transcribed a 6-string bass solo that I played in practice. It follows on from what I was doing last week, finding creative ways to use pentatonic scales in jazz solos. These days I often practice the same ideas on both guitar and bass. In this case I started by playing some pretty chords on the guitar. Then I came up with two pentatonic scales, a tone apart, that worked on each chord. So, each chord had a different pair of scales. I then tried to improvise lines on my 6-string bass using the two pentatonic scales plus a third outside scale that sits exactly between the two scales. Using this idea I was trying to create inside/outside jazz lines in the same way I did for my pentatonic jazz lick last week.
Having done this I then switched it around. So, I worked out how to play the chords on my 6-string bass and I improvised solo lines using the same system on the guitar. Here are the chords and scales that I used in the video.
The first chord is Emaj9, and the two inside scales are C# minor pentatonic and D# minor pentatonic. The reason I chose those two chords is that I was thinking of the Emaj9 chord as lydian, and those two scales spell out the E lydian sound very well. The outside scale would have been D minor pentatonic, but I didn’t use it on the solo I included in the video.
I then played a sequence of major chords over a peddled E bass note. D/E creates an Esus chord and I used the B & C# minor pentatonic scales and C minor pentatonic for the outside notes. Then on C/E I used A & B minor pentatonic and Bb for the outside notes and then A/E I used F# & G# minor pentatonic and G for the outside notes. In each one of these slash chords I was thinking of the major chord as being lydian.
Finally I played an Em9 chord which I treated like a II-V-I in D major, exactly as I did last week. In fact, I tried to used the lick from last weeks video on this chord. I didn’t execute it perfectly but the idea still came across.
These solos are a long way from being perfect, they represent what I’ve been working on this week, which is the point of my bass practice diary. I’m including the transcriptions here to help you see my thought processes as I tried to create these lines. But I’m sure that you can take these ideas and improve on what I’ve done, which is what I’m going to do as well. It’s actually a great exercise to transcribe your own solos, because you can immediately think about how you would do it better next time. Here is the bass solo I played in the video.
Chord Tones in Jazz Solos – Bass Practice Diary – 31st March 2020
When you’re playing a jazz solo, is it better to think about scales or chord tones (arpeggios)? I’ve heard musicians having that kind of debate before, but I’m presenting it here as a bit of a trick question. Because the chord tones exist within the scales so why would you think of them as being two separate things. I think it really helps if you focus on chord tones in jazz solos. You could think of your improvised lines as being lines that connect the chord tones.
Connecting Chord Tones
Chord tones are probably the strongest notes that you can use in a melody. But if you play melodic lines that only use chord tones, they can sound boring and formulaic. So I try to find ways of showcasing the chord tones in my solos by placing them in key places, like at the start and end of phrases. Scales are a great way of connecting up chord tones, so my advice is to always know where the chord tones are, even when you’re using scales.
I’ve featured the altered scale before in my Bass Practice Diary. It’s a great way of creating an outside sound on dominant 7th chords. It works because it features the three strongest chord tones in a dominant 7th chord, the root, 3rd and 7th. But the other four notes in the scale are outside notes or altered notes, b9, #9, b5 and b13. If you feature those altered notes too heavily it can sound very uncomfortable. But if you use them as notes to connect up the three chord tones it can create some really cool tension and release.
So, to take advantage of that, you need to know where the chord tones are. Here’s a C altered scale with the root, 3rd and 7th marked.
Here are some simple lines I came up with that connect chord tones on a C7 chord. This one starts and finishes on the root.
This is the same lick finishing on the 7th.
C7 altered lick – Root to 7th
Here’s one that starts on the root and finishes on the 3rd.
Passion Dance by McCoy Tyner on fretless 6-string bass – Bass Practice Diary – 10th March 2020
One of the most memorable musical moments in my life was seeing McCoy Tyner play live at the Jazz Cafe in London in 2003. I was 19 years old and I had recently got very into the John Coltrane Quartet. My parents had given me A Love Supremeon CD as a 19th birthday present. The thought that I was going to watch the pianist from that album play live, was almost too exciting!
I arrived when the doors opened (about 3 hours before the gig started) to get myself a position with the best view. I literally sat about a metre from McCoy Tyner’s right hand as he played an absolutely burning set with his trio, which at that time included the unbelievably talented Charnett Moffett on bass and Eric Harland on drums. It’s a memory I will never forget. At that point in my life I had never heard music played with that level of intensity by a small acoustic jazz band.
I’ve heard many musicians imitate McCoy Tyner’s style over the years. But I’ve never heard anyone who could do it like him. I saw him live many more times after that, always in concert halls rather than jazz clubs. I even met him on one occasion. But it’s that first gig in a jazz club in London that will always stick in my memory as one of my happiest musical memories. It was one of the first times that I’d seen “the real thing” up close and it had a huge impact on me.
It was with great sadness that I heard about McCoy Tyner’s passing this week at the age of 81. He was a truly unique musician, and his influence on modern jazz is enourmous.
McCoy Tyner is best known for the sound of quartal harmony. That’s when you arrange chord voicings in fourth intervals. It’s a very distinctive sound, and instantly recognisable in modern jazz. Passion Dance uses that quartal sound, and is a great example of McCoy Tyner’s signature sound. My rendition certainly doesn’t capture the intensity with which McCoy Tyner used to play it. But I wanted to put my own tribute out for a great musician who influenced me massively.
Extended Arpeggios on 6-String Bass with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 3rd March 2020
Extended arpeggios are a great way to practice harmony on 6-string bass. All chords and arpeggios derive from scales, and an extended arpeggio is a brilliant way to present the sound of a scale or mode, without it sounding like you’re playing a scale. For that reason, they work brilliantly in solos.
How to work out an extended arpeggio
The extended arpeggio ideas that I’m using in the video are actually much easier to work out than they sound. You can work them out by taking a scale, in this case the C major scale, because I’m using a II-V-I chord progression in C major. And when you have your scale, you can play the extended arpeggios using alternate notes in the scale. There are seven notes in most major and minor scales, so when you’ve played seven consecutive alternate notes, you’ve played every note from the scale as an arpeggio.
Here’s how it works. The notes of a C major scale are C, D, E, F, G, A & B. Imagine you’re playing a two octave scale so each note happens twice, giving you fourteen notes across the two octaves. Take the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th notes of that two octave scale. These are notes C, E, G, B, D, F & A, which is your C major extended arpeggio.
NB. Jazz musicians often play a #11, in this case F# on a major 7th extended arpeggio.
Next you could take the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, 12th & 14th notes of the two octave scale. This will give you a D minor 7th extended arpeggio. This is the arpeggio I featured in the video.
Arpeggios with a chord substitution
Here is the full example that I featured in the video.
I’ve explained how I created the extended arpeggios for the Dm7 and Cmaj7 chords. So, how did I create the arpeggio that I played on the G7 chord? I could have done it using all the notes of a C major scale. But I felt that would sound boring if all three arpeggios used the same set of notes.
Instead, I used the notes of a common chord substitution, the tritone substitution. It’s a harmonic device that jazz musicians love to use on dominant 7th chords. In this case, for the G7 chord, I’ve used an arpeggio for a chord with a root note that is three tones (a tritone) away from G, which is Db7. It works because the 3rd of the G chord, B, is the 7th of the Db chord. And the 3rd of the Db chord, F, is the 7th of the G chord.
So, I harmonised my extended Db7 arpeggio using notes from Gb major. Db7 is chord five in the key of Gb major. This creates a lot of dissonances, some notes in Gb major work in the key of C major, but also some sound quite dissonant. But that’s the point, jazz musicians love to create tension by using dissonances on a V chord before resolving them on the I chord.
Warwick Red Label vs Black Label Bass Strings – Bass Practice Diary – 25th February 2020
I’ve wanted to test the Warwick Red Label bass strings for a while, because I’ve always felt they represent incredible value for money. The five string set in the video cost me €12.40 on Thomann, while a four string set at the time was less than €10. That’s incredibly cheap for stainless steel round wound bass strings from a reputable brand like Warwick. But value for money is one thing and performance is another, so I wanted to properly test these budget strings against the more expensive Warwick Black Label stainless steel bass strings.
Warwick Bass Strings
Warwick make a lot of different types of bass strings now. They have their high end coated strings called EMP, which are more expensive, but the coating will make the strings last much longer. There wouldn’t be any point in comparing a coated and uncoated bass string. The coated strings would obviously age better, so I didn’t include those in this comparison.
Warwick also manufacture bronze acoustic bass guitar strings in both Red and Black Label sets. I usually put the Warwick Red Label bronze strings on my Warwick Alien Deluxe Acoustic 6-string Bass Guitar. No other 6-string bronze set comes close to being as affordable for that quality of string. They also make tapewound strings which also sound good on acoustic bass guitar.
But if you’re looking for conventional stainless steel or nickel wound guitar strings, then Warwick has three products. Red Label, Yellow Label and Black Label, with red being the cheapest and black the most expensive. The Yellow label strings are nickel plated and made in the USA. They tend to be similar in price to the black label strings, but slightly cheaper. I didn’t include them in this test because I wanted to test the Stainless Steel Red Label strings against a similar Stainless Steel set, which is the Black Label strings.
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.
Bright Size Life on Fretless Bass and Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 14th January 2020
One of my favourite albums is Bright Size Life by Pat Metheny. It was not only Metheny’s debut album as a band leader but it was also one of the earliest recordings of Jaco Pastorius. Pastorius went on to become arguably the most influential electric bass player of the 20th century, and Bright Size Life features some of his best jazz work. Metheny and Pastorius together on this album are two young jazz genius’ working together in the very stripped down context of a trio with drummer Bob Moses.
The album features some of the best guitar and bass arrangements ever heard in the history of jazz and the title track is one of my personal favourites. This week I was reading through transcriptions of both Metheny’s and Jaco’s parts and I’ve tried to put them together. Admittedly, my playing in this video doesn’t live up to the genius of these two legends, but I was having fun so I put the camera on anyway. I hope you enjoy it.
Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage Fretless
The bass I’m using is a fretless Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage. I’ve done a video about the Sire V7’s before, and I think they’re brilliant. But I haven’t yet done a video about this fretless Vintage version. The thing with this Vintage version is that it’s clearly based on a 70’s fretless Fender Jazz Bass. So, even though it has Marcus Miller’s name on it, it makes me think of Jaco Pastorius.