Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Devising Bass Lines for Jazz Standards

Last week my jazz group had a gig at the Slapface Coffee & Tea Cafe in Fremont, CA.  To prepare for the gig, I practiced the songs on my own (as well as with the band).  I record every practice and gig with my H5 Handy Recorder, then upload them to www.Soundcloud/gwaltrip for the band members to review.  Some of the songs are tight and others are not, particularly when we are playing new songs for the first time.

We have another gig this Sunday (July 22, 2018) at the Big Basin Cafe, on Big Basin Way in Saratoga.  There will be a car show on the street and we are expecting a good crowd. [Update:  gig was postponed due to a scheduling mixup.]

I am continuing my own approach to arpeggios and learning the songs:  I go through the sheet music and experiment with the chords, how best to play a minor 7th flat 5 while transitioning to the next chord, for example.  What sounds best?  What's the best way to play a major 7th chord?  This experimentation has yielded knowledge and new sounds from my fretboard.  It helps me remember  how to handle various chord arrangements during performance.

Various jazz musicians have said that memorizing the songs is the best approach.  You must know each song thoroughly, to play it through smoothly without mistakes, without getting lost.  Memorization is the way to do that.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Know Your Arpeggios! The Stuff of Which Great Bass Lines Are Made.

I have been using Crescendo music notation software for the past few days, to write out bass lines, to experiment with arranging the notes in the chords (arpeggios to us bassists), to gain understanding of what works and what doesn't.  To do this, I need to know what notes are in a particular chord, such as A-7, BbMaj7, B-7(b5), etc.  I have these notes partially memorized, but I am not completely there yet.  So I refer to arpeggio charts (that I made myself in Excel), to see what notes are available.

For example, here are the first two lines of Autumn Leaves, written out in Crescendo music notation software (which is very easy to use).  (Click in the image to see full size):

A free version of Crescendo Music Notation software is available for download,  and the licensed version for home use is a bargain at $35 ($50 for business use).  See this link.

To facilitate building the bass line, I put the chord notes just below each bar.  For example, the notes in A-7 (A minor 7) are A, C, E & G.  Then I put quarter notes in each bar that correspond to the chord notes, but arranged in an ascending or descending order, and using passing notes where needed.  (Note:  the notes below each bar show the notes in order, but the notes in the bar above are arranged differently).  For example, the first bar is A-7 and the notes in A-7 are A, C, E & G.  However, the notes written in the bar are A, B, C and E.  (The B is a passing note, not a chord note).  In the next bar we have D7 (D dominant 7) and the notes are D, F#, A and C, but the notes I used in the bar are D, E, F# and A.  The E is a passing note.

You may need a reference of arpeggios in order to create your own bass lines.  Here is a graphic I made of major 7 chords, dom 7 chords, minor 7 chords, and minor 7 flat 5 chords.  This chart may help you learn your arpeggios, as well as choose notes for each bar in your compositions.

Please report any errors you may see.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Building Great Bass Lines

If you want to be a great bass player, you need to understand chord structures and bass lines.  A great bass line is a string of notes that move smoothly from one chord to the next.  Generally the notes go up and then come down, a nice swing from low to high to low again.

I am really into studying bass and the composition of bass lines to jazz standards.

I am using my musical notation software to write walking bass lines to jazz standards.   This is giving me insights into jazz and chord structures.

My musical notation software allows me to write out a sheet of music, using the notes that I choose myself.  Then it lets me play the music back on my computer, so I can hear how the composition sounds.  If I don’t like the sound, I can change the notes to make it better.

I am studying something called “voice leading,” which means that when you play one chord (say Cm7 followed by F7), you move from the last note in C7 to the nearest note in F7, not necessarily to the root note, but to whatever note is closest.  It could be the 1st, 3rd, 5th or 7th of F7 in this example, but it can also be a passing note, a note in the respective scale that is not a note in the chord.

You could play Cm7 followed by F7 using chord notes in order:  C Eb G Bb  --  F A C Eb and it would work but sound dorky.  Using voice leading you could smooth out the bass line by playing the chords in this order:  C D Eb G, F G A C.  of course, D is not a note in Cm7 and G is not a note in F7, these are passing notes that smooth out the bass line and it sounds good.  The best use of passing notes are on the 2nd and 4th notes in the chord.

I am writing out a bass line to Autumn Leaves in G minor (Bb major) just to solidify my understanding.  I won’t do this for every song in my repertoire, but I will study each song separately to get the gist.

More about this later.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Networking With Other Musicians; When to Walk Away

I read an ad on Craigslist for a jazz bassist and jazz drummer for a gig in Santa Cruz, California.  So I alerted my favorite drummer Stan and we proceeded to the practice.  The man who was organizing the gig is a very nice guy but clearly not ready for a serious gig, so we politely demurred and proceeded to the nearest Santa Cruz coffee shop, Coffeetopia.  I recommend it.  The coffee was, for me anyway, better than Starbucks. 

To be a working musician, you need to create as large a circle of musical associates as you can.  However, before doing that, you must be ready to gig.  Working on your own talent with practice and ongoing study is essential, plus practicing with a band, however early in its development.

However, the coffee was good and Stan and I had a pleasant chat.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Names for Western Bands

I am always seeking names for bands among the daily barrage of broadcasts, news and media.  Yesterday I was listening to the Blues Brothers sing "Soul Man."  The opening line starts off "I'm comin' atcha on a dusty road...good lovin' I've got a truck load."

See the band name hiding there?  It's "Dusty Road."  I think that would be a good name for a country and western band.

A good band name, I think, is two words that create a mental image that ties in with the band's genre.  The two words are a noun and an adjective.  You can also use one word, usually a noun.

It's a fun exercise.  Some examples off the top of my head:

Side Saddle - a real name of a western girl band
Hellbent for Leather
Ghost Riders (name of a famous song)
Cinco Amigos -- A Mexican music quintet
Starlit Night
Campfire Cousins

My Bass Line for "Autumn Leaves"

My band had a practice yesterday.  "Autumn Leaves" was particularly good, even though our singer was a bit hoarse, and the instrumentation was quite good, I think.

I believe a credible bass line is emerging from my ministrations.  Have a listen:

Monday, January 15, 2018

Minor 7th Arpeggios

To change a major 7th into a minor 7th arpeggio, you flat the third and the seventh notes.  See chart below.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Major 7th Arpeggios

I just enrolled in Geoff Chalmers course, "Double Bass Arpeggios:  the Play Along Collection," at  The first arpeggios to learn are the major 7th chords, and here is a chart of the major 7th chords that I previously created in Excel.  Bass players are advised to know the notes in each key, and know them cold.  Here are those notes:

Geoff's course provides recordings of each arpeggio, played on a piano, to familiarize students with the sound of each.  He also provides staffs of notes for each as well, with notation on which string and finger to use.  This is very helpful.  You can't learn the proper way to play these arpeggios just by looking at the chart above -- you need to use the proper fingers and the proper strings.  Check out for courses and prices.

I am not proficient in using a bow, but I have a French bow and plan to learn. If you are not playing in an orchestra, you may not have much use for a bow.  However, using the bow for practice is highly advisable, as it emphasizes the sound of each note and arpeggio.  I ordered some Pop's Double Bass Rosin from Amazon, and should have it tomorrow.  Geoff's website also has a course in the use of the French bow, and I plan to take that course in a few more weeks.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Taking Another Crack at Double Bass

The Double Bass

I have two underused double basses.  When I got them, I imagined that it would be fairly easy to move from bass guitar to double bass.  I was wrong.  Double bass (aka acoustic bass, stand-up bass) is a very different instrument.  A double bass requires more precision in setting it up, and more technique to master.  Your left hand fingers have to be just right, creating a "handshake" on the strings.  You need to learn to use a bow, not for playing necessarily, but to practice arpeggios and exercises, because you can hear the sound better that way.

Further, getting a pickup attached so you can increase volume is important, and they are expensive, and you need one that helps stop feedback.

There is no easy or fast way to learn double bass.  I have learned the hard way, that you cannot just ignore the experts and use whatever fingering and plucking you like.  If you don't do it right, your hands will get very tired and you won't make it through a gig.

This week I realized that I do indeed want to be proficient on double bass, and that I need to stop fooling myself and learn all the proper techniques.  You must be patient and take it one practice at a time.  You need to pay careful attention to your intonation -- when playing anything, do it over again until you get the rich bass tones you need.  You need to replace the "thunk thunk thunk" sound with a nice "boom boom boom."

Want to learn double bass?  Do it right, and do it slow until you get it.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Christmas Gig

I was offered a charity gig in Salinas for elderly and disabled citizens.  My regular bandmates either couldn't or wouldn't make it due to work and family obligations.  So I invited a piano player and teacher who lives here in Hollister, one Wendy Starke. Wendy accepted, and so she and I played as a duet for the Christmas party of December 22nd.  It went well, and we were happy and gratified to have made around 100 seniors happy and merry.

We played mostly Christmas songs, but threw in two or three non-Christmas tunes as well.  I recorded the whole performance and posted it at SoundCloud.  It is here if you are interested in listening:

If you don't want to listen to the whole performance, you can just listen to "The Christmas Song 12222017" to get the flavor of the gig.