A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown


Broken 3rds scale exercise from Bass Guitar Scales group

Here are two versions of a fun exercise I just saw on the Bass Guitar Scales FB group. They have us ascend the major scale in 3rds using two of the more common major scale patterns. I just tried it out using the minor scale, and like it a lot. There’s a nice, consonant sound to the exercise.

If you’re new to scales, what they have us do is play a note in the scale and then play a note a third higher, so, play scale degree 1 and then scale degree 3. Then play scale degree 2 followed by 4, then 3 followed by 5, 4 followed by 6, etc. We can do the same thing going down as well.

Here are both versions. If you’re on FB, go like their page!


Lead Sheet Navigation for Bass Players – Scott’s Bass Lessons

Here’s a fantastic intro to reading lead sheets from Scott Devine. He goes over what he looks at immediately upon getting a lead sheet so that he understands the overall structure of the piece he’s playing. His four main points are:

  1. Time signature
  2. Key signature
  3. Common chordal movements
  4. Form of the piece

Lead Sheet Navigation for Bass Players /// Scotts Bass Lessons


A different way to visualize rhythm – John Varney

I just took a short break from practicing and watched the most interesting Ted Ed Talk video about rhythm, focusing on beats which play out in a circle, like a clock face, instead of linearly, like on a musical staff. It shows how many genres across the globe base their rhythms on a 2-beat sequence (the strong beat and weak beat) and then layers concentric circles with other beats on top of it to represent other beats and instruments – and shows their commonalities over different styles.

What really caught my eye is the idea that you can see the relationships of layered rhythms like this. Its more visually decipherable than reading notation or tablature – and its interesting to see how spinning a wheel affects rhythm in relation to other wheels or circles.

Take a look, its a thought-provoking, eye-opening 5 mins:

A different way to visualize rhythm – John Varney

Adam Neely did videos with Ben Levin and they’re awesome!

I’ve been a fan of Adam Neely since this blog started in 2011. Some of my first posts are about his early videos – particularly his videos about proper right and left hand technique. I just discovered Ben Levin a few months ago and have been watching his theory vids (as his alter-ego, Fake Dr. Levin) a bit. Well, apparently, they’re friends and went to Berklee together – and I just discovered some collaborative videos from the two of them in which they demonstrate creative songwriting exercises for guitar and bass.

I liked the counterpoint one, in particular, because I’m a fan of counterpoint (listen to the bass on Opeth’s 2nd album!). They also got into an exercise from Mick Goodrich‘s “The Advancing Guitarist“. I read some of that after discovering it through Tom Kenrick‘s blog a while ago. They demonstrated an exercise from the 1st chapter, which was about playing on a single string. All 3 videos have interesting creative applications, so grab a snack and enjoy!

Democratic Chord Writing – Music Games with Adam Neely and Ben Levin


The music theory of mashups

Here’s a fun video from Adam Neely about mashups, or as 13th century composers called them, quodlibets. He goes into some music theory about them, initially, highlighting that its their tempos that really allow them to work together. He also speaks about the I-V-VI-IV chord progression, which is used in a lot of pop music, as illustrated by that old Axis of Awesome video that mashed up about 500 songs to demonstrate it. 😉

Some compositional attributes that allow a lot of this music to be melded together include their overall use of notes from the major scale, which – if I understand this correctly – allows them to be more readily transposed to the same key; 4-bar phrase lengths, which allows them to fit passages of the same length together; and cyclic chord progressions that repeat without a strong sense of resolution, so they can keep going without end. Enjoy!

The music theory of mashups

Reading the fretboard & notation as intervallic shapes


Its not a bass, but its still Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, my fellow beastly Americans! We just pre-gamed lunch at my place and are heading out to my sister-in-law’s shortly for round 2. In the meantime, I was reading the Talkbass forums instead of actually practicing on my bass and found a thread from quindecima, a pianist-turned-bass player. He can read music and has no problem finding notes on the piano, but is having a hard time translating that to bass, because the fretboard isn’t laid out in precisely the same manner as the piano keyboard. He asked for advice about learning the notes on the fretboard.

JTE, a long-time member who has given me really good advice in the past, had more of the same for quin:

Here’s what helped me most with learning to read. Instead of thinking of a note (e.g. that the third line is “D”), I started thinking of intervals. Find the first note of the phrase, and read the interval from there. So if the first note is the third line, and the next note is the fourth line, it’s a third; major or minor depends on the key and accidentals. 

To get there though, you need to spend time working through the fingerboard. So start with just grabbing notes and naming them. Learn a few key patterns- e.g. the octave is two frets up and two strings across, a perfect fifth is two frets up on the next string, minor 3rd is three frets on same string, etc. Find all the Es on the neck, then the Bs, etc. through the circle. 

And this is where real dedicated practice of the diatonic major scale comes into play. Don’t just run the scale, but name each note as you play it- For example, instead of just wiggling your fingers through a C major scale do this: Say “one, C” and play it. Then say “two D” and play it. It reallyt helps to “sing” the note and you want to do that BEFORE you play it. That fixes the sound of the intervals into your head and your mind coordinates that with the fingerings- helping you play by ear too. 

But I think it’s really important to get away from thinking “second line is third string at 2nd fret” thinking and get to hearing the music from the score.


Chord tones over 2 octaves

So, last night, instead of working through the Hal Leonard book, I experimented with chord tones. What I wanted to do was find all of the chord tones over a 2-octave range and see what kinds of sounds they bring forth. I ended up really liking minor chord tones over 2 octaves. There are some really nice, melancholic sounds available when you have a low root and travel up to a higher octave’s 3rd and 5th.

I limited myself to 4 strings and tried not to change position too much, so I didn’t have a way to easily incorporate a higher 7th chord tone, but the first octave’s 7 plus the second octave’s chord tones provided a lot of fun sounds to experiment with. 7ths didn’t get used very much though. I know they’re used more in jazzy lines, and my guess is that at this stage, my ear is drawn to more rock or pop lines & tones. I also found that, in general, when traveling upward, I was able to stick mostly to chord tones, but when traveling back down, I’d add in a passing tone from the scale.

Here are moveable fretboard patterns for major and minor chords over 2 octaves:


2-octave major chords


2-octave major chords expanded


2-octave minor chords


2-octave minor chords expanded