Videos

A Quick Guide to the Altered Scale – Bass Practice Diary 52

The Altered Scale – Bass Practice Diary – 16th April 2019

Jazz musicians love to play on dominant 7th chords. And the altered scale is a really important scale to practice if you want to create a jazz sound when playing on these 7th chords. I think that using the altered scale is often perceived as “advanced” harmony. But, as with most things, it’s easy when you understand it. So, here’s my very quick guide to using the altered scale on bass.

What is the altered scale?

The altered scale is a mode of the melodic minor scale. Meaning that it contains all of the same intervals as a melodic minor scale. The altered scale is essentially what you get when you play a melodic minor scale starting finishing on the 7th note of the scale.

So, what’s a melodic minor scale? It’s basically only one note different from a major scale. If you take a major scale and change the major 3rd to a minor 3rd, you have a melodic minor scale.

Here’s the notes of an F major scale.

F major scale
F major scale

And here are the notes of an F melodic minor scale.

F melodic minor scale
F melodic minor scale

Notice that the only difference is the third note. It’s an A natural in the major scale and an Ab in the melodic minor.

If you play the notes of an F melodic minor scale but use E (the 7th note) as the root note. You would be playing an E altered scale.

When you think about the notes of the F melodic minor with an E as the root note, it creates these interval relationships to the root note.

E altered scale
E altered scale

The 3rd of E7 would, of course, be written as G# not Ab. But the altered scale creates some interesting theoretical anomalies like that. Because the major 3rd note (Ab/G#) is actually the 4th note of the scale.

How do you use the altered scale?

As I mentioned at the start, the altered scale works really well on dominant 7th chords. You can think of the altered scale as being a kind of extended dominant 7th arpeggio with lots of chromatic alterations.

The scale includes the root, major 3rd and dominant 7th notes which are the fundamental ingredients of a dominant 7th arpeggio. But the other four notes are all chromatic alterations of some kind. Hence why it’s called the altered scale.

You can alter chord tones and extensions by moving them one semi-tone up or down. The 5th of E7 is B natural, but in the altered scale the 5th has been flattened to Bb. So the altered scale could be used on an E7b5 chord.

The 9th can be altered by sharpening or flattening it. The altered scale uses both alterations. So you could use it on an E7b9 or an E7#9 chord. The final alteration is a b13.

So you can use the altered scale to play on any of these altered dominant chord types. And you will sometimes see the chord symbol E7alt. Which implies a chord that could include any or all of these alterations.

So if you want to start using this altered dominant sound on your dominant 7th chords. Then start to think about using a melodic minor scale that starts one semi-tone above the root of the chord. So, if you’re playing on a D7 chord, think Eb melodic minor. For A7, thing Bb melodic minor, for G7 think Ab melodic minor, for B7 think C melodic minor etc.

For another great jazz approach to playing on dominant 7th chords, check out my video guide to using diminished scale on bass.

Learn to Play Giant Steps Jazz Lines On Bass – Bass Practice Diary 51

How to Improvise on Giant Steps – Bass Practice Diary – 9th April 2019

Last week I posted a video of me practicing improvising on Giant Steps chord changes on fretless and fretted bass. So this week I want to talk a bit about my approach to playing on what are some of the most notoriously difficult chords changes in jazz.

Having said that, I don’t think that soloing on Giant Steps needs to be very difficult. As long as you start slowly and focus on internalising the sound of the chords before you increase the tempo.

One of the reasons that John Coltrane’s Giant Steps has it’s fearsome reputation is because of the chord changes in the first two bars. The first bar starts on a Bmaj7 chord for two beats and immediately changes to a D7 chord on beat three. Which is a key change to G major. The second bar starts with a resolution to a Gmaj7 chord. Then it changes key again. This time to Bb7 on beat three which is the fifth of Eb major.

So the tune starts with three different keys in two bars. Needless to say, if you’re not prepared for it, it will catch you out. And many Giant Steps solos have failed before they’ve begun because musicians can’t negotiate these quick key changes quickly enough.

This chord movement in bars 1 and 2 repeats itself in bars 5 and 6 but transposed so that the progression starts on Gmaj7. And it’s this chord progression that defines Giant Steps. So if you want to improvise on Giant Steps you need to spend some time really working on this two bar chord progression.

Use the Chord Tones

My first piece of advice would be to come up with lines over this two bar progression using chord tones. The progression itself is already complex enough on it’s own that you don’t need to add lots of chromaticism or substitutions to make your lines sound interesting. It’s amazing how many interesting sounding jazz lines you can come up with on Giant Steps using nothing but roots, 3rds, 5ths and 7ths.

Here are three different lines that I came up with which use nothing but chord tones.

Giant Steps Licks for Bass Bars 1-3
Giant Steps Licks for Bass Bars 1-3

You can transpose each of these to work over bars 5 and 6. But here’s another one that I wrote specifically to be played over bars 5-7.

Giant Steps Lick for Bass Bars 5-7
Giant Steps Lick for Bass Bars 5-7

I don’t work out these licks so that I can play them in a solo. I do it to help me get the sound of the chord changes into my ears. And the more lines like this that I work out, the more likely I’ll be to be able to improvise something like this in a solo. So feel free to play through my licks and practice them, but also come up with some of your own.

I honestly feel that this two-bar chord progression is the key to unlocking Giant Steps. Once you can improvise over this tricky chord sequence, the rest of the progression is easy, dare I say it. It’s just a sequence of II – V – I’s in three different keys. Eb major, G major and B major.

Playing on II – V – I’s is a jazz musicians bread and butter. There are hundreds of lessons and videos out there about playing on them.

Giant Steps Improvisation – Bass Practice Diary 50

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.

You can find my bass TAB and analysis of a John Coltrane lick from that album here. It comes from a composition called Countdown which features similar chord movement to Giant Steps.

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 49

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!

Jeff Andrews Jazz Bass Lick – Bass Practice Diary 48

Learn a Jazz Bass Lick by Jeff Andrews – Bass Practice Diary – 19th March 2019

I heard the news a couple of days ago that Jeff Andrews had passed away. He really deserves to be remembered as one of the great jazz electric bass players. I know him best from his work with Mike Stern. He played on albums such as Time in Place and Between the Lines which have been among my favourites for a long time. As well as his work with Mike Stern, he’s also played with jazz and fusion greats like Michael Brecker, Bob Berg, Vital Information and Steps Ahead.

After hearing the news, I immediately started listening to some of those albums again. And I also found a really cool compilation of his solos on Youtube. It really struck me what a great musician and improviser Jeff Andrews is. And predictably I started trying to work out what he was playing. What I found was a goldmine of incredible jazz lines improvised on electric bass.

Using Inside and Outside Lines

What struck me about his style was his brilliant use of inside and outside lines. It’s a commonly used technique of many jazz improvisers. Incorporating lines that are both inside the harmony and outside the harmony as a way of creating tension and resolution. Jeff Andrews is an absolute master of this. He improvises lines at high speed that outline the harmony, but then take you way outside the harmony before bringing you back in for the resolution.

Jazz Blues Bass Lick

The lines he creates are so cool, and I could have picked any one of his lines as a demonstration. But I choose this one which is from a Mike Stern tune called Bait Tone Blues.

Jeff Andrews Jazz Bass Lick
Jeff Andrews Jazz Bass Lick

This line takes place over the last four bars of blues in F. And it starts by clearly outlining a ii – v in the key of F. But then follows a sequence which starts on a B natural and ends with a sort of chromatic run featuring the notes A, Bb, Ab, E and G. That’s an uncomfortable sounding sequence of notes when you play it over a standard blues turnaround in the key of F. But then having played that outside sequence, he immediately brings it back inside the harmony by outlining a C major triad at the end. With the C7 functioning as the V chord in the last bar of the blues.

It’s really hard to analyse some of these outside lines other than to say that when you play the lick through, it just sounds really cool. And it shows that Jeff Andrews had incredible musical instincts as an improviser. He had the ability to throw in outside passages and make them sound like they fit with the inside harmony. He will be missed.

Fretless Bass Groove #2 – Bass Practice Diary 46

Jazz Fretless Bass Groove on Suspended Chords – Bass Practice Diary – 5th March 2019

This week I’ve been writing original basslines on sus chords. And I’ve featured one of my lines in this video. This is the second time I’ve featured a fretless bass groove in my practice diary, and I’m planning to do many more in a variety of different styles and feels. You can find my first fretless bass groove video here.

When I’m practicing a particular harmony, chord progression or time feel, I like to compose original bass grooves that fit in to what I’m working on. This week I was working on suspended chord sounds. And here is an original bassline I’ve written on four sus chords. Gsus, Bbsus, Dbsus and Esus.

Mellow Fretless Bass Groove 2
Fretless Bass Groove

Each chord is two bars, and I’ve written the bass TAB for 4 string fretless bass. I’ll write more about the theory of playing on suspended chords in next week’s practice diary. But for now, this is just a mellow jazzy bassline that you can learn and practice. If you like it!

Quartal Chord Voicings on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 45

Quartal Chord Voicings on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 26th February 2019

I haven’t done a video about bass chord voicings for a while. So, this week I’ve decided to practice some of my favourite jazz chords, quartal chord voicings. Quartal harmony is a jazz term which means harmonising chords in intervals of a fourth.

4th Intervals

I did a video recently about playing modern jazz lines using 4th intervals. But I thought after making that video that I wasn’t telling the full story about using 4ths in modern jazz. The quartal chord voicings themselves create a very distinctive modern jazz sound. It’s instantly recognisable once you become familiar with the sound.

Chords are traditionally voiced in intervals of a third. Using quartal voicings in jazz became popular in the 1960’s after Miles Davis made quartal chord voicings a feature of his composition So What from the 1959 album Kind of Blue.

Quartal harmony was a sound that then became associated with the great John Coltrane Quartet of the early to mid 1960’s. The chords were supplied by pianist McCoy Tyner, who is synonymous with quartal harmony, and one of my all time favourite jazz pianists.

McCoy Tyner was using these voicings at a time when the Coltrane Quartet was playing a lot of modal jazz. Meaning that there weren’t lots of chord changes. And the emphasis was more on scalic improvisation over static harmony. So What is also a modal jazz piece. So, if you’re looking to apply some of these quartal chord voicings, then modal jazz tunes are a good place to start.

Quartal Harmony on Bass

The bass is setup for playing quartal chord voicings because the strings are tuned in intervals of a fourth. Which is why it amazes me that more bass players don’t use quartal chord voicings. Many of the chord voicings in the video can be played with just one finger. But despite this simplicity, they create a sophisticated jazz harmony sound.

Here is an A major scale harmonised in 4ths.

A major scale - quartal chord voicings
A major scale – quartal chord voicings

In the video, I’ve used the open A string as a root note underneath all of these voicings.

When you play this, it doesn’t sound like a typical major scale harmonisation. That’s what’s so great about quartal harmony. You can take simple harmony, like a major scale, and completely change it’s character, without needing to change or add any notes.

It works for all of the modes of the major scale. Here is the Dorian mode harmonised in 4ths.

A dorian - quartal chord voicings
A dorian – quartal chord voicings

Applying Quartal Harmony to Jazz

I’ve already mentioned that quartal chord voicings are extremely well suited to modal jazz. If, for example, you’re playing a modal jazz composition with long periods on a minor seventh chord. Like So What or John Coltrane’s Impressions. Then you’re faced with a challenge of how to make just one chord sound interesting.

One solution would be to apply the dorian chord voicings that I’ve written out in the example above. It gives you seven different options for voicings that you could play over a single minor seventh chord (Am7 in the example above). You could use any or all of these voicings to help create a feeling of movement in the otherwise static harmony.

You can apply quartal harmony to virtually any scale or mode. In this next example I’ve applied it to an A harmonic minor scale.

A harmonic minor - quartal chord voicings
A harmonic minor – quartal chord voicings

The same chord voicings can also be applied to any of the modes of the harmonic minor scale, which includes the altered scale.

One of the fourth intervals in the harmonic minor scale actually comes out as a major third. So, some of the voicings in the example above are not strictly quartal. Because they mix fourths with a third. But it still creates some interesting sounds and you can do your own experimenting to decide which of the voicings are useful.

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

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

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

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

Coltrane Changes

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

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

The Lick Arranged for Bass

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

Coltrane Jazz Lick Bar 1

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

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

Coltrane Jazz Lick Bar 2

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

Using Chord Tones

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

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

Coltrane Jazz Lick Bar 3

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

John Coltrane Jazz Lick

John Coltrane Improvisation Style

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

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

Jaco Pastorius Jazz Lick – Bass Practice Diary 42

Jaco Pastorius Jazz Lick – Bass Practice Diary – 5th February 2019

This week I’m featuring a lick from Jaco Pastorius’ solo on (Used to be a) Cha Cha from his debut album. It’s one of my favourite Jaco solo’s because it contains incredible melodic jazz lines like the one I’ve featured in the video. Here’s the lick!

Jaco Pastorius Jazz Lick

Several things stand out to me about this lick. It’s very fast, it takes place over moving harmony, Eb major to D minor and it includes an odd meter bar. I don’t know for sure that he improvised the line, but I believe that he did. And to improvise a line at that speed over moving harmony and an odd meter bar is extraordinary. That solo is one of many moments from that album that really underline why Jaco was such a genius and why his legacy has been so long lasting on the bass guitar.


Learn a Fretless Bass Groove with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary 39

Fretless Bass Groove with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 15th January 2019

This week during my bass practice, I’ve been composing bass grooves in 6/8. This video features one fretless bass groove that I’ve written. I choose to feature this one because it fits nicely on 4, 5 or 6 string bass. So hopefully all bass players will be able to have a go at playing it.

Fretless Bass Groove

The bassline is in G major. I’ve written some phrasing, by marking some of the slides on the TAB. But my advice is to focus on the rhythm more than the phrasing.

Once you’ve got the rhythm of the groove, I think you’ll find that the phrasing comes quite naturally. And I don’t mind if you phrase it differently to me. I think phrasing is very personal and I rarely try to imitate another musicians phrasing too closely.

Start by practicing slowly. The full speed is 110BPM and I’ve included a slower version at 70BPM. But I would probably advise starting even slower than that. And make sure that the rhythm is accurate. The rhythm in bar two is particularly tricky. It’s like playing on all of the off beats in a bar of 3/4, but the feel is still 6/8.

Six Eight (6/8) Time Signature

I’ve written before that 6/8 is one of my favourite meters to play in. You can find my guide to playing 6/8 basslines here. I’ve also written about 6/8 in my upcoming book for Fundamental Changes which will be published this year.