Posts Tagged ‘practice’

Lesson With Jeff Harshbarger

January 7, 2017

Jeff Harshbarger is my kind of bass player. His amazing playing reflects a lifelong study of the great masters. Jeff talks fondly of the opportunity to have lessons with heavyweights like Ray Brown and Francois Rabbath. But as a composer, bandleader and collaborator of some of the freshest new jazz around, he refuses to live in the past. The way he’s pushing music forward, it’s obvious how much thought and commitment goes into what he does. What can I say? I’m a fan. Check him out at



Jeff immediately latched onto my sound, like my nervous habit of going into classical-vibrato mode. “Your vibrato – how purposeful is it?” (i.e. do you use it consciously or unconsciously?). He suggested that I not use it because it doesn’t serve my ideas and that it’s not traditionally done in jazz.

He used some great imagery to get me to involve my whole body in sound production. “Use the full (right) arm – don’t just ‘reach’ with the fingers.” “What’s the strongest thing in your arm? Your bones.” “Weight equals sound… it’s the difference of 3 oz. vs. 20 lbs”

Jeff talked about pulling “all the way from your feet.” “When I’m activating my legs, when I’m thinking about the earth pushing back, up against my feet, I know my sound is bigger… I can feel it happen…” “I know Mingus did this, you see it in his hips, and Ray (Brown) clearly, did it. And Francois (Rabbath) does it. Even though he’s playing a small bass with thin strings and action half of mine, his tone is massive – earth-shattering.” To prove his point, Jeff and I played a duet, and, yes, he gets a monstrously huge sound.

“Rabbath’s strings are very low, same w/ Edgar Meyer, those strings are laying on the fingerboard. But his sound is massive because he’s doing the same thing with his hips. Especially when he pulls down on the low strings. (demonstrates – pushes forward from the R foot through the hip as he pulls the string.)”

He recommends the old-school approach, using the side of the RH index finger, with the 2nd finger supporting the first – even in fast walking, if possible. Ray Brown told him “first finger only.” But it “wasn’t just fingers – every muscle in his body was involved.”

But the left hand is also important for Jeff’s concept of sound: “‘Tone’ comes from your left hand – how you ‘seat’ the string into the fingerboard. That’s why Paul Chambers and Ray Brown sound different from Scott LaFaro and George Duvivier.“ Jeff recommends practicing with the bow to improve the left hand.

Bass Setup

Jeff keeps his string height between 6mm-9mm and 7mm-10mm – much higher than that of Rabbath.  We talked a lot about sounds that are too “electronic”, especially on recordings from the ‘70s by players who set their string height too low and rely on the amp – “there’s no ‘wood!’”

He suggested a different mic’ing technique: using a hypercardioid mic mirroring the soundpost an inch off the top. “I saw Patitucci do it – the best sound I’ve ever seen.”


Jeff stays mindful of his role in the ensemble. “I try to never walk above a (written) middle C … It’s called a ‘bass’ for a reason.”

He stays conscious of breathing to help phrasing. We discussed singing along with what you are playing. He likes it because it helps you play less and more tasty. Since we can’t play as fast as other instruments, “we have try to out-taste them.” One way is by being more literate: “Refer to the melody when you start your solo. Or refer to the previous solo.”

Practice Techniques

He recommends trying to make practice the first thing of the day. Whether he’s doing 30 minutes or three hours, Jeff splits his practice time into four equal parts,:

  1. Long tones, especially open “A.” This puts him in the frame of mind to concentrate; it “gets my brain quiet.”
  2. Technique – scales, arpeggios, etc. (see below)
  3. Repertoire – E.g. he assigns his student groups to learn an entire record (Sonny Rollins, e.g.). “The reason Sonny Rollins is so good is that he learned 10,000 melodies.”
  4. Goofing around” – Jeff says this is the most important part. He just plays what he feels like playing. It’s when “I remind myself why I play the bass, even if it’s 45 minutes on a Beatles tune”

Scales and Arpeggios


You can download this here: lesson-with-jeff-harshbarger

  • Scales and Thirds – do them ascending (Ex. 1) and descending (Ex. 2). Repeat the last note when you change directions .
  • “Twisties” (sequences of thirds with alternating directions) – do them in all keys, ascending (Ex. 3) and descending (Ex. 4). “These are great in the different minors” (e.g. Melodic, Harmonic, etc.) (Ex. 5). Do them modally as well (e.g. second mode of E harmonic minor). We talked about how a lot of cool soloing ideas can come from twisties: “Carol Kaye said that all great bebop solos were based on thirds.”
  • Modes – do them “hierarchically,” playing the same root and progressing through key signatures by taking away sharps or adding flats one at a time:  Lydian, Ionian, mixolydian, etc., to locrian. These are especially good to do on electric bass (Ex. 6).

He practices these using the “Metronome game.” e.g. put MM = 40 and displace the notes so that the click is on the “and” of 2 (Ex. 7)


Daily Jazz Scales and Arpeggios

January 5, 2017

I knew that if I was going to take lessons, I would have to be in shape. That means scales and arpeggios. So I made a rule that I would practice them an hour every day. Here’s how I did them:

I concentrated on one key a day, going around the circle of fifths, first with major, then with it’s relative minor: i.e. C major, A minor, F major, D minor, B flat major, G minor, etc. A metronome or drum machine was usually going – varied tempos – and I often used a reference tone for intonation.

Arpeggios – I did fifteen minutes each of tonic triads and dominant sevenths with straight (example 1) and mixed (examples 2 – 4) rhythms. Examples 3 and 4 are especially good to do with the bow. I also did progressions of diatonic triads and sevenths (examples 5 and 6).

Scales – fifteen minutes each of tonic and dominant.

To make it relevant to jazz soloing, I decided to concentrate on eighth-note bebop scales, (examples 7 and 8). But instead of starting and ending on beats (square), I added notes – a chromatic leading note at the beginning and an extra chord tone at the end – so that each phrase starts and ends on off-beats (hip). I did these beginning on each chord tone (examples 9 and 10).

Yes, I did this every day, going between upright (bowed and pizz) and electric, starting slowly (for tone and intonation) and not getting really fast until the end of the session.

Since we’re on the topic of daily practice, I’m also continuing the rule of recording myself every day without fail. This has been the most helpful feedback ever! Do this!



You can download this as a .pdf here: jazz-scales-and-arps-for-blog

KMEA Jazz Bass Audition Tutorial

August 28, 2016

Hey, all,

This is for Kansas High School bass players. Just stopping by to upload a video I made. Check it out if you’re auditioning for District or State Jazz Band:



February 10, 2009

Do you sometimes have a hard time getting motivated to practice? Let’s look at what motivates you.

There are two types of motivation: extrinsic (from without) and intrinsic (from within). Both are important, but sometimes extrinsic motivations (your teacher, an upcoming audition, competition, a practice goal, your mom) can be associated with pain, fear, and self-loathing (What if I lose? What if I fail? Will my mom still be proud of me? etc…).

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is completely painless; it comes only from the love of doing. The great thing is that we all have it to begin with and it is always there deep within us. Intrinsic motivation is associated with our personal identity. So, listen to that quiet inner voice saying things such as: I like being a bass player. I love it when I feel the low notes go through my body. The music that I make is unique and totally mine. I like the challenge of working out the details of how to play. Being in a band is cool.

Have a happy practice…

String Crossing Exercise

January 8, 2009

This one is for string crossings. Jeff Bradetich teaches this down in Texas. The more you use the finger and hand joints, the less you have to rely on slower big arm motion. Therefore, do this one FAST!


A Meditation on Tone

December 13, 2008

Pizz an open D string and let it ring. Listen. This is the sound of the bass in its naked state. The string is vibrating naturally – you aren’t imposing any stress on the system. Your body, too, is probably in a relaxed state – you are occupied with listening, no stress is needed.

Now, play the open D with the bow. Try to replicate the relaxed feeling and open tone that the plucked note had. It is interesting how little you have to work to get a good tone if the ear is in command. Tension gets in the way of good tone. You probably noticed that you didn’t have to push to get the string to move – just allow and listen.

Play a scale of long notes just like this. Pizz first, then arco the same note. You can alternate up and down strokes.


A quick warm-up

December 10, 2008

Here’s a quick warm-up that Lawrence Hurst taught me at Indiana. Its great for working the bow arm and getting you to feel comfortable at the extremities of the bow.

We’ll do a scale again. Put the bow on the string at the frog as though you are going to play the first note down-bow, but instead play up-bow. You’ll only have the space to play a very short note, and you won’t have to use anything except your fingers to engage the string. While the first note is still ringing, move the bow to the tip as though you are going to play the second note up-bow, but instead play down-bow. Again, it’ll be just a short pop from the fingers.


You are teaching yourself to gracefully move your arm between frog and tip, while also using the fingers to engage the note.

The Shifting Exercise

December 6, 2008

This one is for the left hand. It’ll make you more accurate and secure in your shifts. The goal is Balance and Timing. When you shift positions, keep the hand-shape stable. Move the hand as a unit; stretched fingers or a dragging thumb would distort the hand and intruduce tension. KEEP THE STRING DOWN into the fingerboard as you shift, otherwise you’ll have to expend extra energy and time putting the string back down. This means that the finger which played the previous note is the one that presses the string down during the slide. J.B. vanDemark taught us this at The Eastman School.

This exercise can be used to practice shifts between every possible position. We’ll use positions 1 and 3 on the D string as an example.

The Shifting Exercise

Go through every combination of fingers: 1 to 4, 1 to 2, 1 to 1, 2 to 4, 2 to 2, 2 to 1, 4 to 4, 4 to 2, and 4 to 1. Make an audible portamento to keep the shift slow and controlled. Slide on the previous finger; this means that sometimes you shift to an audible intermediate note before the next finger goes down (grace notes). Keep the thumb behind the second finger at all times. Repeat each combination at least four times or until you feel secure and balanced in the shift.

Happy shifting!


December 3, 2008

What is your feedback system?

We can get feedback on our playing through our ears, our eyes, and our touch.

The ears are probably the best way, but the eyes and the touch can help, too. Try this: memorize a passage you want to improve, then practice using each way.

1. Play it in front of the mirror. You can watch for straight bow, good posture, even shoulders, etc.

2. Play again, checking how it feels. Be sensitive to tension, balance, etc.

3. Play again, listening with your eyes closed. Is the tone good? Is the rhythm good? Are the notes clear?

You have nailed the passage when it looks right, feels right, and sounds right.

The Bow Speed Exercise

December 2, 2008

Here’s the bow speed counterpart to the Mozart tone exercise. Again, we are dividing the bow into two equal parts, but now we are going fast-slow. For the first half of the stroke, move as fast (and loud) as possible without leaving the string. At the mid-point, suddenly change to a slow (soft) speed for the remainder of the whole-note, thusly:

Fast bow for first half/Slow bow for second half

Fast bow for first half/Slow bow for second half

Doing this every day will give you amazing control over bow speed. It’ll also help you keep the bow straight and with good contact.