Christmas Bass Practice Diary 2020 – We Three Kings – Bass Practice Diary 139

Christmas Bass Practice Diary 2020 – We Three Kings – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd December 2020

Happy Christmas 2020! This is the fourth time that I’ve given a Christmas song the “Bass Practice Diary” treatment. You can find them all on my YouTube channel and This year I’ve decided to take on a Christmas carol for the first time. I’ve arranged We Three Kings for double bass and 6-string bass guitar.

The inspiration for this came because I was arranging Christmas carols for online church carol services. As most church services this year are taking place exclusively online due to the pandemic. I’ve been preparing performances of carols (mostly on guitar) to be streamed as part of online Christmas services. It was in the process of doing that, that I started to have some fun with We Three Kings. This arrangement is much to dark and uncomfortable sounding to use for a church service. But I was having fun with it, so I arranged it on bass, and here it is.

The Arrangement

As I’ve already alluded to, this arrangement started life as a solo guitar arrangement. I originally came up with the chord melody arrangement for the verse part on guitar, while pedalling the open E string underneath. For the bass arrangement, I put the E bass note on my double bass and played the chord melody on my 6-string bass. The bass is actually in an altered tuning for this.

I very rarely play bass in altered tunings. But in this case, I needed to reach a high D to be able to play the entire melody. The highest fret on my first string in standard tuning is C. So, I tuned up a whole tone to reach the D. Having done that, I tuned the G string up to A and the D string up to F. This enabled me to play the chord voicings using similar fingerings to those I’d worked out on the guitar. The solos on the intro and outro are both played in standard tuning.

The middle section of the piece was arranged entirely on bass. If I’m being honest, I’ve never really liked this section of the song. So, I wanted to give it a complete overhaul and change the harmony entirely. I tried a few things, but nothing really grabbed me until I started playing the “James Bond” style chord progression that you hear in this section. I was obviously channeling something that I did last year, because I realised afterwards that I played something very similar at one point in last years Christmas Bass Video.

Let’s Look Forward to 2021 (It has to be better!)

This is, in some ways, a strange treatment of a Christmas Carol. It doesn’t sound like a celebration. But, on the other hand, this is a very strange Christmas. I am stuck at home in lockdown, unable to see my parents or any of my extended family. We’re all sheltering from the virus and trying to protect others. So it feels to me like this arrangement reflects the times we are living in. Hopefully next year will bring a more cheerful Christmas Bass Video.

Sire Marcus Miller V7 vs Warwick Rockbass Infinity – Bass Practice Diary 136

Sire Marcus Miller V7 vs Warwick Rockbass Infinity – Bass Practice Diary – 1st December 2020

Sire created a sensation in the bass world when they released their Marcus Miller basses a few years ago. They are great sounding basses sold at an amazingly competitive price. However, while they are really good basses, I’ve often thought that Sire were not the first company to come out with high quality instruments for a budget. If you follow my videos, you know that I’ve been playing Warwick basses for many years. So, I’ve long thought of doing a comparison between Warwick’s more budget friendly Rockbass instruments and Sire’s Marcus Miller basses.

Sire vs Warwick

If I’m being completely honest, this video is just a bit of fun. It’s not a particularly scientific comparison. The basses had different strings at the time of recording. The Sire was strung up with some nice new Overwater bass strings whereas the Warwick had a very cheap set of Warwick Red Label strings.

The pickup configuration is obviously different as well. With the Sire, I’m using both pickups in the video, but with the Warwick I’m only using the single coil pickup at the front.

However, I should say that both of these basses were a very similar price point when I bought them. Less than £500 at full price in the UK. The new Warwick Rockbass Infinity basses are being sold for considerably more. They’ve given the model a makeover in 2020 with a flamed maple top, but my one is the more simple looking 2018 model. There are Warwick Rockbass models in 2020 that can still rival the Sire V7 for affordability. You probably need to look at something like a Corvette or a Streamer.

If you want to see a proper comparison of Sire and Warwick Rockbass and what they both offer for the price, then let me know by leaving a comment on the YouTube video. If enough people want a detailed comparison, then I’ll do it.

Tapping Chords on Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 133

Tapping Chords on Bass Guitar – Two-Hand Tapping Exercises – Part 2 – Bass Practice Diary – 10th November 2020

Last week was part one in my series of two-hand tapping exercises for bass guitar. I was looking at the basic technique of coordinating hammer ons and pull offs between both right and left hand. This week, I’m looking at tapping chords by hammering on notes simultaneously with both right and left hand.

Tapping Seventh Chords

These ideas should work on pretty much any bass guitar. I’ve used a 4-string bass in the video to demonstrate that you can make full sounding chord voicings on just 4-strings. My bass has 24 frets, but I’ve deliberately not gone above the 20th fret, so you can play everything in the video on a Fender style bass with 20 frets.

I’m playing 7th chords (major 7, minor 7 & dominant 7). These are four note chords, root, 3rd, 5th and 7th. The concept of this exercise is that I’m going to tap the root and 5th with my left hand and the 3rd and 7th with my right hand. The left hand notes are played on the 3rd and 4th strings and the right hand notes on the 1st and 2nd.

An Exercise to Develop Your Tapping Technique

Before you start, I would recommend practicing tapping four finger exercises with both hands. Something like this.

Two Hand Tapping - Four Finger Exercise
Two Hand Tapping – Four Finger Exercise

When I’m practicing exercises like this, my goal is not to play the exercise fast. My goal is to make good sounding notes and to get an even sound across four fingers and four strings. As I mentioned in the video, I never use my little finger on the right hand to tap notes when I’m playing music, but I still practice it. Why? Because maybe I’ll develop a technique that uses my little finger one day. Only practice the 3rd and 4th fingers on your right hand if you want to. For the purposes of this exercise, all you need are two fingers on your right hand.

Playing Chord Progressions

I’ve used a II-V-I progression in the video because it’s the most commonly used chord sequence in jazz. You can use any progression you want and any rhythm or style. But whatever you play, I would start by making a bassline out of the root and 5ths. Like this.

Tapping Chords - II-V-I Bassline
Tapping Chords – II-V-I Bassline – Left Hand Exercise

This exercise should be played entirely with the left hand and all of the notes are hammered on. The left hand notes are your bassline, they are the foundation of the groove. So, it’s worth practicing this until you get the feel where you want it.

When you have the feel, you can add the 3rds and 7ths with your right hand. These right hand notes should be played simultaneously. Not one after the other like the left hand notes. The right hand notes can be played simultaneously with the root note played by your left hand. This involves simultaneously hammering three different notes on three strings. You can see I’ve done this with the F7 chord. The F is hammered by the left hand while the A and Eb are hammered on by the right hand. Alternatively, you can hammer the right hand notes in between the left hand notes. You can see I’ve done this with the Cm7 and Bbmaj7 chords. Here is the II-V-I exercise.

Tapping Chords - II-V-I Exercise
Tapping Chords – II-V-I Exercise

Fretless Bass Jam/Improv on My Sire M7 5-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 130

Fretless Bass Jam/Improv on My Sire M7 5-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 20th October 2020

I haven’t featured this Sire Marcus Miller M7 5-String fretless bass in a video since I first got it and reviewed it last year. In that review I mentioned that I liked the sound and playability of the bass, but I’d had some issues with it. So, I’ll use this post to update you on how I’ve got along with the bass, one year later.

The Music

Before I talk about the bass, I’ll just quickly tell you about the music in the video. I like to jam with myself at home. Meaning record an improvised bassline and then play over it. Let’s face it, it’ll be a while before I get to jam with any other musicians. Lockdown restrictions have been tightened once again in London and I don’t think it will let up over the winter. So I might as well jam alone.

The bassline was a one take improvised line. I was just improvising bass grooves in 7/8 time signature. I was playing along with the little clave ostinato that you hear at the beginning. The rest of the drums were added after the bass parts.

For the improvised solo parts, I did five complete takes. With each take I got gradually more used to playing along with the bassline I’d improvised. The take in the video is number five. The only composed element is the little harmonised melody section. I added that afterwards as I felt it needed some kind of recognisable melody.

The bass sounds good and it plays well. And you could certainly argue that, that’s all a musical instrument needs to do. I’m inclined to think that way myself, and I do like this bass.

Having said that, as much as I enjoy playing this bass, it has turned out to be the most unreliable instrument that I’ve ever owned in terms of holding it’s setup. I made a video, alongside my review, demonstrating how I initially set the bass up. I needed to do it because the setup was a mess when I first got the bass, which in hindsight was a red flag.

Sire Marcus Miller M7 5-String Fretless, One Year Later!

In the year that’s passed, I’ve needed to set the bass up three times. Setups are susceptible to changes in atmospheric conditions, and changes in seasons often necessitate minor changes to setup and intonation.

The bass arrived in the autumn in the UK having come via Germany. It was built in Indonesia. So it’s fair to say it had experienced a few changes in atmosphere before I ever took it out the box. This partly explains the poor condition of the setup when the bass was new. By the time we arrived at spring this year and the weather started warming up, the action completely changed, and then again recently as we move into autumn again.

Moving from dry and hot to wet and cold seems to really mess this bass up. If you think this is normal, then I’m not explaining the scale of the problem very well. I own a lot of instruments and while some of them experience small changes as the seasons go by, this bass is ten times worse than anything I’ve experienced before.

I’ve been unlucky with this bass, I don’t for a moment think that this is true of all Sire M7 basses. I don’t know what it is about this particular one, maybe there’s a problem or a fault with the truss rod. I own enough Sire instruments to know that the setups are fairly stable on most of their instruments.

I’m used to doing the setups now. I can get the bass back to where I want it in under 20 minutes. However, I feel like I can’t ever sell the bass. Or if I do, I must sell it to someone who really understands what they’re taking on. On the other hand, as much as the setup issue is annoying, I always forgive the bass when I start playing it. Because it plays and sounds really good.

Cycle of Fifths Exercise on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 129

Cycle of Fifths Exercise on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 13th October 2020

This week I’m featuring another 6-string bass exercise. Just like last week’s exercise, this one features the cycle of fifths (or circle of fifths). However this week’s exercise has a much more simple concept and it’s also going the opposite way around the cycle. So the pattern here goes C-F-Bb-Eb etc. rather than C-G-D-A etc. as I played with my triads exercise last week.

The Exercise

As I’ve already alluded to, there are two different ways of going around the cycle of fifths. You can go up a 5th (which is like going down a 4th) or down a 5th (like going up a 4th). This exercise uses the latter. All you have to do, is go around the cycle one note at a time. Once you’ve played 12 notes, you’ve played every note in the octave.

Cycle of Fifths Exercise - 6-String Bass
Cycle of Fifths Exercise – 6-String Bass

The idea is that you keep going, to find where all the notes are all over the fretboard. It’s a great way of learning your fretboard, and it’s also a great technical exercise. Also, playing lines using 4th and 5th intervals is very popular in modern jazz vocabulary, so this exercise will also help you to play those kind of lines.

I’ve written the exercise out over three octaves to get you started. However, I would recommend taking the idea and trying to play continuously all over the fretboard. Start slow and speed up. You don’t have to follow the notes that I’ve written out. No matter what note you’ve just played, you always have the option to either go a 4th up or a 5th down. Good luck!

6-String Bass Exercise – Major Triads in 12 Keys – Bass Practice Diary 128

6-String Bass Exercise – Major Triads in 12 Keys – Bass Practice Diary – 6th October 2020

Last week I featured three exercises for 5-string bass, this week I’ve got an exercise for 6-string bass. In this exercise, I’m playing major arpeggios. It’s fairly typical, when practicing exercises like this, to go through 12 keys. However, I wanted to make this exercise a bit more interesting than just playing twelve major triads one after the other.

The Exercise

6-String Bass Exercise - Major Triads in 12 Keys
6-String Bass Exercise – Major Triads in 12 Keys

I’ve added an extra element by playing the triads as a five note grouping. Rather than playing root, 3rd, 5th, root, I’m playing 3rd, root, 3rd, 5th, root. The five note grouping adds a timing element, causing the chord changes to alternate between happening on and off the beat.

The triads move in fifths, but in the opposite direction to the conventional cycle of fifths. Rather than going from C to F, I’m going from C to G, up a fifth rather than down a fifth. The reason for this is that I’m playing the major 7th note at the end of each arpeggio, but that major 7th note is then being treated as the major 3rd of the next arpeggio. This leads to the sequence of fifths that you see in the exercise.

Black Nylon Tape Wound Strings on Three Basses – Bass Practice Diary 126

Black Nylon Tape Wound Strings on 3 Basses – La Bella 7710N & Warwick Black Nylon – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd September 2020

This week I’ve been experimenting with putting black nylon tape wound bass strings on my basses. I’ve tried playing black nylon strings on bass guitars before, but I’ve never tried putting them on my own bass guitars. And this is my first time trying tapes on an upright bass. In the video, the double bass is strung up with La Bella Jazz Strings and both the fretless and acoustic bass guitar are using Warwick Black Nylon Tapewounds.

The advantages and disadvantages of tape wounds?

The advantages of using nylon tapewound strings over roundwound strings include, lower tension and less friction. The lower tension can be advantageous for your left hand, because it doesn’t need to press the strings down as hard. And the lower friction (the strings are very smooth to the touch) means that you potentially get less unwanted noise than you would get from round wound strings.

I have to say that my opinion was divided when it came to bass guitar vs double bass. The strings really give you surprisingly good sustain considering the lower tension. On the upright, I loved the lower tension and the greater sustain. However, I felt that on bass guitar, with the shorter scale length, the tension was too low. I’ve never liked the sound of loose strings on bass guitar, which is why I don’t own a short scale bass.

A significant disadvantage of changing your bass strings from steel strings to nylon, is that it will significantly change the setup on your bass. The neck will be under much less tension with nylon strings. So, if your bass guitar is set up for roundwound strings, then the action will completely change under the lower tension. The strings will almost certainly rattle an buzz and you’ll need to setup your bass properly for tape wounds before you can use them. This wasn’t a huge issue for me with the electric bass, because it’s easy to setup. But acoustic instruments don’t usually have adjustable bridges, which makes it more of a problem.

My Conclusions

I really liked the tapes on my upright and I’ll be keeping them on for the foreseeable future. I’ve made another video demoing these strings on this bass. You can find it here.

I quite liked them on the fretless electric bass. The lack of friction is really nice when sliding between notes. However, I miss the brightness and the added string tension of roundwound strings.

Nylon tapes are very popular on acoustic bass guitars, but I have to be honest, that I didn’t like them on mine. I’m sure it would help if I got the bass professionally setup with them. But I don’t like them enough to justify doing that. I’m going to go back to using either bronze round wound strings or half rounds on my acoustic bass guitar.

Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage Fretless – Bass Practice Diary 125

Sire Marcus Miller V7 Vintage Fretless – Bass Practice Diary – 15th September 2020

I’ve been wanting to feature my Sire V7 Vintage fretless bass in a video for a while. I’ve featured Sire basses in my videos before, but never this one. And this is probably my favourite of all of the Sire Marcus Miller basses I’ve played. This is the only Sire bass that I’ve played that I didn’t need to do any setting up when it came out of the box. It played perfectly from the outset and the setup has remained very stable ever since.

Sire V7 vs V7 Vintage

So, what’s the difference between this Sire V7 Vintage and the regular V7’s that I featured in this video. This bass has a body made from Ash and the fretted V7’s both had Alder bodies. However, all of the V7 models come in both ash and alder versions. This bass has a maple fingerboard, my fretted V7’s have ebony fretboards, but once again, both models come with both options.

To find the differences between the models you have to look a bit more closely, and the differences are small. The position of the bridge pickup is different. It’s closer to the bridge on the Vintage model and further away on the standard V7’s. This does give the Vintage model a slightly tighter sound on the back pickup. The Vintage models have a gloss finish on the neck, the standard V7 neck has a really nice matt feel. I slightly prefer the matt feel of the standard V7 neck, but it doesn’t make much difference to me.

I think those are the important differences. There are cosmetic differences, like the scratch plate looks different and the bridge on the Vintage model has vintage style saddles. But I’m not interested in that stuff. I’m only interested in how it plays and how it sounds.

Why I like the Sire V7 Vintage Fretless

I said that this is probably my favourite Sire bass that I’ve played. The setup is really good, but honestly that’s probably just luck with this particular bass. Sire basses are set up with a low action, which can be great but it can also go wrong, and this particular one came out well.

So, that’s not the reason I like it. The reason I like it is because it gives me something that I never thought I’d have, for a very low price. I grew up listening to legendary bass players like Jaco Pastorius and Marcus Miller playing vintage Fender Jazz basses. But it’s never been my thing to try and recreate a vintage sound. I’ve always looked forward and tried to create a modern bass sound. Investing in a proper vintage Fender Jazz bass, even a reissue, would be very expensive. And it’s not an investment that I’m willing to make when it’s not the sound I’m aspiring to make.

This Sire bass gives me a vintage style passive J style fretless bass for a price that I can justify buying it and keeping it just to have fun with. Honestly, I hardly ever play the bass with the preamp switched on. Not because the preamp isn’t good (it’s really good). But because I just want it to be a vintage Fender Jazz Bass. The fact that it has this preamp on it, which makes it capable of functioning as a modern active fretless bass, is just a bonus. It really adds to the versatility of the instrument.

I’ve even kept the flat wound strings on it, and I never play flats on my fretless basses. To be honest, the bass has the wrong name on the headstock. I know that Marcus Miller is an under rated fretless player. But every time I pick up this bass I just end up playing Jaco lines for hours. I spent years learning Jaco’s catalogue and playing it on basses that sounded nothing like his bass. Now I have the right tool for the job and I love it.

Triplet Timing Exercises for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary 123

Triplet Timing Exercises for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 1st September 2020

This is my third video of timing exercises for bass guitar. The previous two videos both involved playing odd number note groupings as 16th notes in 4/4. In this video, I’m changing the subdivision and I’m playing four and five note groupings as triplets in 4/4. All of these triplet timing exercises are written with 8th note triplets. However, if you want to take the exercises a step further, you can make them harder by using quarter note triplets or 16th note triplets.

The Exercises

The first exercise involves playing four note groupings. I’m using two arpeggios in the key of C major, a Dm7 arpeggio and a Cmaj7 arpeggio. You can use any four note grouping to do this. Four note groupings played as continuous triplets in 4/4 will arrive back on beat one after two bars. So, I’ve put the note C on beat one of bar three to complete the exercise. You can loop the exercise as many times as you want to.

Timing Exercise - Triplets in Groups of Four
Timing Exercise – Triplets in Groups of Four

Another way to play four note groupings would be to play a scale, four notes at a time. This is a C major scale played descending from G, the fifth.

Playing five note groupings as triplets is harder. The next exercise lands back on beat one at the beginning of bar 6.

Timing Exercise - Triplets in Groups of Five
Timing Exercise – Triplets in Groups of Five

Finally, this last exercise combines the four and five note groupings. It’s actually a bit more straight forward than playing just the five note groupings, because four and five makes nine. So, this is effectively a grouping of nine. And because nine is divisible by three, it fits into triplet rhythms quite nicely.

Timing Exercise - Triplets in Groups of Four and Five
Timing Exercise – Triplets in Groups of Four and Five

Naima Chords on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary 117

Naima by John Coltrane: Chords on 6-String Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 21st July 2020

Naima is one of my favourite jazz compositions (I have a lot of favourite jazz compositions). I know that a lot of other musicians feel the same way about Naima, because it has an incredibly beautiful and unusual chord progression. It comes from the John Coltrane’s Giant Steps album, which I’ve featured before in my Bass Practice Diary. It was recorded in 1959, the same year as Kind of Blue, and it stands alongside that album as one of the iconic jazz albums of the 20th century.

However, Naima is not the type of composition that most people would associate with that album. Giant Steps tends to be remembered for it’s burning fast bop tunes with furiously fast key changes like the title track and Countdown. Naima is a slow ballad that Coltrane played many times, and I think many people forget that it originally featured on the Giant Steps album. However, Naima does have something in common with those other tunes I mentioned, it has an incredibly innovative chord progression.

Naima Chords

A long time ago I set myself the challenge of arranging these incredible chords on my 6-string bass. I quickly realised that I needed to change the key to get the chords in the B section to work well. The reason being, that there’s a chord in the B section with the melody note Db. The highest fretted note on a 24 fret 6-string bass is C, one semi-tone too low. So, to voice the chord accurately, you need to play the top note way down on the 13th fret of the 1st string. It isn’t wrong to do that, but it just doesn’t sound very good.

So, to make it sound better, I transposed everything down a semi-tone. I played that top note as a C on the 24th fret of the first string. An extra advantage of transposing was that I could use the open A string as the bass note, instead of the Bb in the original key. When I play Naima I also tune my E-string down to a D. I use the open string to play the peddled bass note in the A section. If you want to transpose my arrangement into the original key, then you could tune your bass up a semi-tone.

When you see Naima written in books, you normally see the chord progression in the A section written something like this.

||: Bm7/Eb | Em7 | Amaj7+5/Eb – Gmaj7+5/Eb | Abmaj7/Eb :||

Then the B section is usually written like this.

Bmaj7/Bb | Bb7b9 | Bmaj7/Bb | Bb7b9 |

Bm maj7/Bb | Bmaj7/Bb | Abmaj7/Bb | Emaj7#11/Bb

Changes similar to these feature in the jazz Real Books and the Coltrane Omnibook. I even found them on Naima’s wikipedia page (which I thought was unusual!)

The Major 7th Chords Trick

I’ve never found these Real Book chords helpful. I worked out by ear that you could create the sound of Naima by moving major 7th chords around over the pedalled bass notes. I do understand that when you change the bass note, you change the chord. So, a lot of these chords don’t function as major 7th chords. I gave the example in the video that when you play an Fmaj7 chord over a D bass note, you get the sound of Dm9.

Recently, I was playing Naima with a Saxophonist, and we were using the Real Book chord changes. I mentioned to him that I’ve always thought of the tune as being entirely made up of major 7th chords over pedalled bass notes. He told me that a scrap of paper had been discovered with John Coltrane’s handwritten chords for Naima. They were written out for Tommy Flanagan, the pianist on the original recording. Coltrane had written every chord as a major seventh chord.

I wasn’t sure I believed that this piece of paper really existed. I wanted to believe it, because it tied my way of thinking about the tune to Coltrane’s way of thinking about the tune. But, if such a piece of paper existed, then why do all the books and publications still stick with this unnecessarily complicated way of writing out the harmony? So, today I did some research to see if there was any legitimacy to the story. This is what I found.

John Coltrane's Handwritten Naima Chords
John Coltrane’s Handwritten Naima Chords

It just goes to show the power that the jazz Real Books have had in defining how we think about jazz standards. Once a tune is written in the Real Book. The Real Book chord changes become the definitive chord changes that everyone uses. But often, the changes in the Real Books are very different to actual chord changes.

How I Play the Chords on 6-String Bass

This is how I’ve arranged the chords on my 6-string bass. I can’t pretend that this is 100% like either the Real Book changes or the Coltrane changes. It’s simply the best way that I’ve found to recreate the sound of Naima on a bass guitar.

Naima Chords – A section
Naima Chords – B Section