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Adam Nitti Technique Series – PRACTICING WITH CHORD TONES: ARPEGGIO INVERSIONS

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Meet Adam Nitti

A lot of bass players are intimidated by the idea of improvising over chord changes. Although it would be beyond the scope of a single installment to present a complete and comprehensive guide to improvisation, I wanted to try and shed some light on some simple concepts that you can work on to improve your soloing. In subsequent columns, I’ll elaborate on these some more and demonstrate more of their application.

For any improviser, it is essential to have a working knowledge of chords. Chords are the building blocks of harmony, and they essentially act as ‘signposts’ that help an improviser to navigate through a chart. Most of us who have experience playing improvised walking bass lines or solos probably have at the very least assembled and memorized a collection of scale forms or patterns that we have used to play over particular chord types. Scales can be useful in the creation of musical phrases, but for any improviser is very important to have a thorough and complete understanding of chord tones and how to find them on the fingerboard.

A true test of whether or not a player can improvise effectively is to see if they can outline the changes for the listener without having any accompaniment playing underneath them, whatsoever. If you can outline the changes and harmony of a tune using nothing but your bass, then you probably are on the right track to further developing your improvised voice. It is very difficult to do this relying on scales alone… Take for example, a common 4 bar ii-V-I progression. For this example, let’s use the key of F major:

G min7 – C 7 – F maj7 – F maj7

Using modal concepts, the easiest way to navigate through this entire 4 bar phrase would probably be to use a single F major scale (F Ionian). All of the notes included in the F major scale are compatible with each of the 3 chords (G min7, C 7, and F maj7), because all 3 of these chords come from the harmonization of the F major scale. If you were playing with a band, you could simply improvise using the F major scale while a keyboard player or guitar player was comping the changes and you would sound as if you were playing ‘in key’ over the entire progression. However, if you were to just improvise using that same F major scale without any accompaniment, to the listener it would sound as if you were just noodling using a major scale in a more static fashion. In other words, you would not be effectively outlining the changes, even though you might be ‘in key.’

Now, imagine if you were to use arpeggios instead of scales to improvise over this same ii-V-I. Arpeggios are just broken chords, so obviously they are going to be the structures that most accurately mirror the sound and color of the chords they are built from. This is because they are built using chord tones only. Following the order of each chord in the F major ii-V-I progression, you could use the following arpeggio forms to improvise over each chord change:

G min7 arpeggio – C 7 arpeggio – F maj7 arpeggio – F maj7 arpeggio

Since each arpeggio only includes notes that are found in each corresponding chord, you are effectively outlining the changes in the most literal way possible.

Now, obviously the great improvisers do not rely on arpeggios alone… You would never want to improvise on a gig using nothing but chord tones. That would sound quite unseasoned and amateur-like! If you listen to a great solo in which the improviser is outlining the changes effectively, you will notice a couple of things. For one, you will hear that in many cases, they will use a chord tone or other type of guide tone on the downbeat of a chord change. This signifies harmonic transition and creates a smooth connection between phrases as these chords pass beneath them. Another thing you will notice is that rarely will a great improviser play phrases that are exclusively made up of scale fragments or sequences. Quite often, he or she will build phrases that incorporate greater intervallic distances exhibiting contour and changes in direction. Usually these intervallic distances are based on movement among connected chord tones that imply a particular color or harmonic mood.

The value of mastering the application of chord tones in the practice shed cannot be overestimated. For this reason, I have spent a lot of time over the years working on chord tone exercises. In fact, I still practice in this way today, especially in cases in which I am learning to navigate through some challenging chord progressions for the first time.

For this installment, I want to present you with some basic arpeggio form exercises that you can work on that will help you navigate the fretboard more effectively. Many of you will already be familiar with various arpeggio forms that are played starting from the root, but I want to share with you some additional patterns that can be played from any chord tone included in the arpeggio. I call these arpeggio inversion exercises.

ARPEGGIO INVERSIONS

Here are some forms you should memorize up and down the range of the neck. What’s great about them is that they allow you to play ideas that don’t always sound so ‘root-centric’. That is a big problem for many bass players starting to improvise. Because we bass players almost always have foundational roles in an ensemble, we have a tendency to want to build ideas from the root because that is what we do most. When you are improvising, you want to think more like a singer or sax player. Let go of the foundation and try to play ideas that are more rhythmically and melodically independent. Taking care to avoid using the root as a starting note for your phrases will help you to do this a little more effectively. Arpeggio inversions can help with that because they offer forms that start on the 3rd, 5th, and 7th, instead. Here are the forms for maj7, min7, and dominant 7 chords, along with example videos that demonstrate the fingerings:

CONTINUOUS 8TH NOTE EXERCISES

Using single static chords, practice playing non-stop swing 8th notes using only notes found in each arpeggio. This will feel very awkward at first, so it is imperative that you start these exercises VERY SLOWLY, taking care to only include chord tones and nothing else. Here is an example of how you might play this exercise over a C7 chord using only notes from the C7 arpeggio inversions up and down the fingerboard:

After you are able to do this at a variety of tempos for each chord, then it’s time to start practicing the same approach over more complex progressions, and then ultimately over complete tunes. Here is an example of me demonstrating how to practice continuous 8th notes using chord tones only over a ii-V-I progression in C major:

As you can see, this is a challenging way to practice over chord progressions and tunes. Be patient as you work on these. Learning how to target chord tones both with your ears and your eyes on the fingerboard will take some getting used to, but the payoff is immense. The key to becoming great at this is thinking and looking ahead as much as possible. Next time around, we’ll expand on chord tone practice strategy a little more. Until then, keep it bassy-

Adam Nitti

Bass Videos

Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

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Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

Ian Allison Bassist extreme

Most recently Ian has spent the last seven years touring nationally as part of Eric Hutchinson and The Believers, sharing stages with acts like Kelly Clarkson, Pentatonix, Rachel Platten, Matt Nathanson, Phillip Phillips, and Cory Wong playing venues such as Radio City Music Hall, The Staples Center and The Xcel Center in St. Paul, MN.

I had a chance to meet up with him at the Sellersville Theater in Eastern Pennsylvania to catch up on everything bass. Visit online at ianmartinallison.com/

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This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

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TOP 10 Basses of the week

Check out our top 10 favorite basses on Instagram this week…

Click to follow Bass Musician on Instagram @bassmusicianmag

FEATURED @officialspector @bqwbassguitar @brute_bass_guitars @phdbassguitars @ramabass.ok @tribe_guitars @woodguerilla_instruments @mikelullcustomguitars @jcrluthier @elegeecustom

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Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias

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Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias

Checking in with Bergantino Artist James Tobias

James Tobias, Bassist for psychedelic, Reggae-Rock titans Audic Empire shares his history as a musician and how he came to find Bergantino…

Interview by Holly Bergantino

James Tobias, a multi-talented musician and jack-of-all-trades shares his story of coming up as a musician in Texas, his journey with his band Audic Empire, and his approach to life and music. With a busy tour schedule each year, we were fortunate to catch up with him while he was out and about touring the US. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Dallas, Texas and lived in the Dallas area most of my life with the exception of 1 year in Colorado. I moved to the Austin area at age 18. 

What makes the bass so special to you particularly, and how did you gravitate to it?

I honestly started playing bass because we needed a bass player and I was the one with access to a bass amp and bass. I played rhythm guitar and sang up until I met Ronnie, who I would later start “Audic Empire” with. He also played rhythm guitar and sang and we didn’t know any bass players, so we had to figure something out. I still write most of my songs on guitar, but I’ve grown to love playing the bass. 

How did you learn to play, James?

I took guitar lessons growing up and spent a lot of time just learning tabs or playing by ear and kicked around as a frontman in a handful of bands playing at the local coffee shops or rec centers. Once I transitioned to bass, I really just tried to apply what I knew about guitar and stumbled through it till it sounded right. I’m still learning every time I pick it up, honestly. 

You are also a songwriter, recording engineer, and a fantastic singer, did you get formal training for this? 

Thank you, that means a lot!  I had a couple of voice lessons when I was in my early teens, but didn’t really like the instructor. I did however take a few lessons recently through ACC that I enjoyed and think really helped my technique (Shout out to Adam Roberts!) I was not a naturally gifted singer, which is a nice way of saying I was pretty awful, but I just kept at it. 

As far as recording and producing, I just watched a lot of YouTube videos and asked people who know more than me when I had a question. Whenever I feel like I’m not progressing, I just pull up tracks from a couple of years ago, cringe, and feel better about where I’m at but I’ve got a long way to go. Fortunately, we’ve got some amazing producers I can pass everything over to once I get the songs as close to finalized as I can. 

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that can be improved on the bass.

I honestly don’t know what my style would be considered. We’ve got so many styles that we play and fuse together that I just try to do what works song by song.  I don’t have too many tricks in the bag and just keep it simple and focus on what’s going to sound good in the overall mix. I think my strength lies in thinking about the song as a whole and what each instrument is doing, so I can compliment everything else that’s going on. What could be improved is absolutely everything, but that’s the great thing about music (and kind of anything really). 

Who were your influencers in terms of other musicians earlier on or now that have made a difference and inspired you?

My dad exposed me to a lot of music early. I was playing a toy guitar while watching a VHS of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble live at SXSW on repeat at 4 years old saying I wanted to “do that” when I grew up. I was the only kid in daycare that had his own CDs that weren’t kid’s songs. I was listening to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and The Doors when I could barely talk. I would make up songs and sing them into my Panasonic slimline tape recorder and take it to my preschool to show my friends. As I got older went through a bunch of music phases. Metal, grunge, rock, punk, hip hop, reggae, ska, etc. Whatever I heard that I connected to I’d dive in and learn as much as I could about it. I was always in bands and I think I kept picking up different styles along the way and kept combining my different elements and I think that’s evident in Audic’s diverse sound. 

Tell me about Audic Empire and your new release Take Over! Can you share some of the highlights you and the band are most proud of?

Takeover was an interesting one. I basically built that song on keyboard and drum loops and wrote and tracked all my vocals in one long session in my bedroom studio kind of in a stream-of-consciousness type of approach. I kind of thought nothing would come of it and I’d toss it out, but we slowly went back and tracked over everything with instruments and made it our own sound. I got it as far as I could with production and handed it off to Chad Wrong to work his magic and really bring it to life. Once I got Snow Owl Media involved and we started brainstorming about a music video, it quickly turned into a considerably larger production than anything we’ve done before and it was such a cool experience. I’m really excited about the final product, especially considering I initially thought it was a throwaway track.

Describe the music style of Audic Empire for us. 

It’s all over the place… we advertise it as “blues, rock, reggae.” Blues because of our lead guitarist, Travis Brown’s playing style, rock because I think at the heart we’re a rock band, and reggae because we flavor everything with a little (or a lot) of reggae or ska. 

How did you find Bergantino Audio Systems?

Well, my Ampeg SVT7 caught fire at a show… We were playing Stubbs in Austin and everyone kept saying they smelled something burning, and I looked back in time to see my head, perched on top of its 8×10 cab, begin billowing smoke. We had a tour coming up, so I started researching and pricing everything to try and find a new amp. I was also fronting a metal band at the time, and my bass player’s dad was a big-time country bass player and said he had this really high-end bass amp just sitting in a closet he’d sell me. I was apprehensive since I really didn’t know much about it and “just a little 4×10” probably wasn’t going to cut it compared to my previous setup. He said I could come over and give it a test drive, but he said he knew I was going to buy it. He was right. I immediately fell in love. I couldn’t believe the power it put out compared to this heavy head and cumbersome cab I had been breaking my back hauling all over the country and up countless staircases.  

Tell us about your experience with the forte D amp and the AE 410 Speaker cabinet. 

It’s been a game-changer in every sense. It’s lightweight and compact. Amazing tone. And LOUD. It’s just a fantastic amp. Not to mention the customer service being top-notch! You’ll be hard-pressed to find another product that, if you have an issue, you can get in touch with the owner, himself. How cool is that? 

Tell us about some of your favorite basses.

I was always broke and usually working part-time delivering pizzas, so I just played what I could get my hands on. I went through a few pawn shop basses, swapped in new pickups, and fought with the action on them constantly. I played them through an Ampeg be115 combo amp. All the electronics in it had fried at some point, so I gutted it out and turned it into a cab that I powered with a rusted-up little head I bought off someone for a hundred bucks. My gear was often DIY’d and held together by electrical tape and usually had a few coats of spray paint to attempt to hide the wear and tear. I never really fell in love with any piece of gear I had till I had a supporter of our band give me an Ibanez Premium Series SDGR. I absolutely love that bass and still travel with it. I’ve since gotten another Ibanez Premium Series, but went with the 5-string BTB.  It’s a fantastic-sounding bass, my only complaint is it’s pretty heavy. 

Love your new video Take Over! Let us know what you’re currently working on (studio, tour, side projects, etc.)

Thank you!! We’ve got a LOT of stuff we’re working on right now actually. Having 2 writers in the band means we never have a shortage of material. It’s more about getting everything tracked and ready for release and all that goes into that. We just got through filming videos for 2 new unreleased tracks with Snow Owl Media, who did the videos for both Love Hate and Pain and Takeover. Both of these songs have surprise features which I’m really excited about since these will be the first singles since our last album we have other artists on. We’ve also got a lot of shows coming up and I’ve also just launched my solo project as well. The debut single, “Raisin’ Hell” is available now everywhere. You can go here to find all the links distrokid.com/hyperfollow/jamestobias/raisin-hell

What else do you do besides music?

For work, I own a handyman service here in Austin doing a lot of drywall, painting, etc. I have a lot of hobbies and side hustles as well. I make custom guitar straps and other leather work. I do a lot of artwork and have done most of our merch designs and a lot of our cover art. I’m really into (and borderline obsessed) with health, fitness, and sober living.  I have a hard time sitting still, but fortunately, there’s always a lot to do when you’re self-employed and running a band!

Follow James Tobias:

jamestobiasmusic.com
Facebook.com/james.tobias1
Instagram.com/ru4badfish2
TikTok.com/@jamestobiasmusic
audicempire.com 

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Bass CDs

New Album: Avery Sharpe, I Am My Neighbors Keeper

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A new recording will be released on JKNM Records by internationally renowned bassist/composer Avery Sharpe, “I Am My Neighbors Keeper”

Avery Sharpe and his Double Quartet to release, I Am My Neighbors Keeper

A new recording will be released on JKNM Records by internationally renowned bassist/composer Avery Sharpe, “I Am My Neighbors Keeper” is scheduled for release in June 2024.

Sharpe has composed a new work that highlights our commitment to one another. Avery initiated the project as a response to the political and racial division that has grown over the past seven years in the country. “The U.S political climate has drastically changed in the past 40-plus years, especially during the last seven of those years. In this age of greed, which Sharpe refers to as “IGM,” I Got Mine, basic human compassion has been eroded. Racial, economic and social strides are being turned back.

“We have food insecurity, the unhoused, pandemics, school shootings, domestic violence, and an opioid problem, just to name some. There is a need to remind people that each of us is here on this planet for a very short period of time. It doesn’t matter if one has a religious approach or a secular approach, it all comes down to concern and compassion for each other. Through these compositions and recordings, Avery’s mission as an artist is to remind us that we all are interconnected and that ‘We Are Our Neighbor’s Keeper.’ When we help to uplift one, we uplift everyone,” Sharpe said.

Each movement in the piece describes the values we should strive for to help one another for this multi-media (video slide show during performance) and multi-discipline performance.

Many of Sharpe’s projects and recordings have been about “standing on the shoulders of ancestors, heroes and sheroes.” Among his recordings and projects, include “Running Man” (celebrating the athlete Jesse Owens), “Ain’t I A Woman” (about Sojourner Truth), and his most recent project “400: An African American Musical Portrait” (marking the 400 years from 1619 to 2019).

Avery Sharpe has recorded and performed with many jazz greats from Dizzy Gillespie to Yusef Lateef. He had an illustrious run of 20 plus years with the legendary Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, of which he recorded more than 25 records with Mr. Tyner and performed countless worldwide concerts.

Visit online at averysharpe.com/

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Bass Videos

New Gear: Spector Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II

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New Gear: Spector Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II

Spector Launches Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II…

Spector Musical Instruments expands their celebrated Woodstock Custom Collection with the Volume II series – a breathtaking series of 12 handcrafted, one-of-a-kind bass guitars, each one masterfully designed by members of the Spector team. Crafted in the Spector USA Custom Shop in Woodstock, New York, these works of art go beyond musical instruments and expand the boundaries of Spector Bass design.

Spector’s iconic design lays the foundation for the Volume II collection. Each bass showcases a unique vision, including the selection of tonewoods, electronics, captivating finishes, and intricate design details. The collection highlights Spector’s commitment to craftsmanship and artistry and the individual people and stories that make up the team.

“The Woodstock Custom Collection was such a huge success, and we had so much fun with it that we couldn’t wait to do it again,” said John Stippell, Director – Korg Bass Division. “With Volume II, we’re expanding on everything we learned from the first collection, as well as pushing our design and Custom Shop team even further. These basses are a testament to the inspiring talent, creativity, and skill of every person on the Spector team. I’m excited for all of these basses and love how they tell the unique stories of all involved.”

Visit online at spectorbass.com/

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