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Study Piece – ‘Donna lee’ (L#75)

Donna Lee was recorded by legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius in 1978. It was at this point that the perceived role of the bass guitar was changed forever! And, when I first heard this groundbreaking recording my life was also changed forever!

Because the electric bass guitar is such a new instrument, as yet there aren't really any true 'study pieces' within the 'bass repertoire'. For this reason I love to get my students to use be-bop heads as study pieces. Because they were originally composed for horns such as saxophone and trumpet they can be challenging on so many different levels. Fingering position, speed, technical fluidity and dynamics all need to be taken into account.

Within this tutorial I discuss why we, as bass players need to use 'study pieces' within our practice time, and how they can have a huge affect on your overall technical ability and fluidity upon the bass.

Now grab your bass and get in the shed!

Scott :)

PS. I do completely live bi-weekly streamed workshops for the members of The Academy where I go through exercises just like this and tons of other juicy stuff that'll get your bass playing to the next level. If you haven't checked it out yet, go here.

Full tab/notation & workbook available to Academy members »

Want the tab and notation for this lesson?

Study Piece – ‘Donna lee’ (L#75) - Video Transcript

Hey guys, how’s it going? Scott Devine here from If
you haven’t checked out yet, there’s a link below
this video that you can go to, and there you will find nearly 100, if not
over 100 now, I’m not sure, HD video lessons ranging from beginner to
intermediate, right through to advanced ‘turn your brain into pumpkin
juice,’ because it was Halloween a few days ago. Today I’m going to be
talking about how to use study pieces within your practice time to really
get your technique together, and get your timing together as well. We’re
going to talk about that at the end of this lesson.

But first of all, what is a study piece? Well, a study piece is something
that’s used in classical music. It’s what musicians use within the
classical, what would you call it, the classical arena, we’ll call it. They
use it for building their technique. It’s something that they’ll study over
an extended period of time, and a lot of the time these pieces have been
written for a particular technique. For instance, something like a tremolo,
or string skipping thing. Whatever it may be. A lot of the time, the actual
piece is written for a particular technical exercise. What’s unfortunate
for us is in the world of bassdom, that doesn’t really exist. There’s no
study pieces. And that’s probably because the world of bassdom really has
only been around 50-60 years, or something like that. So, we haven’t caught
up yet. I’m sure in another 50 years, we’ll have lots of study pieces.
Hopefully we will. Maybe I should write some.

Anyway, what I like to get my students to use as study pieces are jazz
standard heads, or bop heads. Be-bop heads, or be-bop tunes. If you hear
the word ‘head’ sometimes, if somebody says, ‘Oh, let’s play the head’, it
just means, ‘Let’s play the tune.’ So I really like to use be-bop tunes for
my students to study. And it’s good because you kind of have to get over
the entire fingerboard to play these things. And normally they’re quite
fast, and it’s hard playing something that wasn’t originally written for
bass or guitar on a bass and guitar. Normally be-bop heads are written for
trumpet, or saxophone, or whatever, something like that.

The head, or the tune that we will be working on today is a tune called
Donna Lee. Now, this is written by Charlie Parker, the famous alto
saxophone player, but it was made famous for bass players because the bass
player Jaco Pastorius, who if you haven’t heard of, after this video, after
you’ve checked out my website, Scott’s Bass Lessons, go check out Jaco
Pastorius. Because on his first solo album, he played Donna Lee, and it was
frightening. Everybody was blown away, and it has gone down in history as
sort of like a seminal piece that he played. So, check that out after this

So, when you’re looking for a study piece, and hopefully you’ll use this
one, because it’s a great one, Donna Lee. First of all I should mention
that the notation and the tablature are available on my website, and that
means all the specific fingering I use, all that kind of thing, the tab and
the notation are available on the website. So, Donna Lee. What does it
sound like? Well, this is what it sounds like. I’ll play it to speed, and
then I’m going to break it down, and then I’m going to tell you why I’m
breaking it down. Okay, so this is it up to speed. One, two, one two three
four. Now, that’s the first half, and that’s the half that we’re going to
learn today. Or, we’re going to work on, should I say. I’m not going to
take you through the exact fingering and things like that, because we will
be here all week, or all month.

How do I approach something like this, and how do I tell my students to
approach it? What I do is I get them to break it down. You need to break it
down to be able to learn something like this. You can’t just go at it like
a bull in a china shop. You need to break it down into small, bite-sized
sections and phrases. Then, once you’ve mastered that phrase, you move on
to the next phrase. And this is what a lot of classical musicians do. They
don’t just open a piece of music, and then just go for it. Classical
musicians, they’ll take it bar-by-bar sometimes. Sometimes the piece will
be eight A4 sheets long. They take it bar-by-bar, working on each specific
thing, making sure their technique is really clean and the music’s coming
out correctly. There’s no point, you know, doing this kind of thing. You
know, it just sounds like crap. You need to take each specific phrase and
learn that and work your technique into it so it sounds great. Then you
move on to the next phrase. So, what do I mean by phrases? Well, you’ll be
able to hear them when I play. Once I show you, you’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah,
that’s a phrase.’

Okay, so the first phrase is here. Then there’s a natural pause. Okay. The
next one. Hear how it’s two different phrases. Again. So that’s the first
two phrases you should work on with this piece. And the next phrase. I
would say that’s one phrase there. And then. So there’s two phrases there,
as well. Next phrase. Yeah. Next phrase. Can you hear how there’s the
different phrases there? And that’s how you need to learn something like
this. You can’t just blast at it, you know.

The only reason I’ve got it this clean, how you can hear every single note,
is because I’ve taken single phrases, worked on them. Again, first phrase.
Second. Third. Fourth. Fifth. Sixth. Seventh. Eighth. Ninth. And there we
are halfway through the piece.

So, I’m going to play that really slowly first, and then we’ll take it up
to speed. And then I’m going to show you some great metronome exercises to
use with stuff like this. Okay, Slowly. One, two, three, four. Now a little
bit up. One, two, one two three four. Now maybe a bit up from there. One,
two, one two three four. Now there, the phrases weren’t so good. I was kind
of on the edge; I need to strip back maybe, come back a little bit in my
tempo and work on that, and then after a week or so, I’ll be able to nail
it at that tempo. So even I do this, I strip everything back.

So once you’ve got your technique down, you can play each phrase really
well and cleanly. There’s some great, great metronome exercises you can
also try out as well. Just to stop you kind of speeding up where you know
it, and then slowing down when you don’t, and speeding up. Everybody does
it, dont worry about it. So get the metronome on. We’re going to put it on
160. And that’s, One two three four, two two three four. Try to play it
really cleanly. Now there, I’m just trying to play it really cleanly.

After you can do it at that tempo, 160 bpm cleanly, okay, with the click on
every beat of the bar, One two three four, one two three four. Then, I want
you to halve it. So it’s on 80 BPM now. And instead of it being a one and
three, we’re going to put it on two and four. Okay, two three four, one two
three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, Now
once you can do that, it’s time to halve it again. We’re on 80 at the
minute, let’s try 40. Now at the minute, I want that click to be on beat
one. OK. So, one two three four, one two three four, one two, one two three

Now let’s put it on the two. Okay. two three four, one two three four, one
two three four, one two three four, one two. Now let’s put it on the three.
Three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one
two. And finally, we’re going to put it on the four. Four, Four, I’m stuck
on the three. Four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three
four, one two three four, one two three. So there you have it. There’s some
fantastic metronome exercises to use with study pieces.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this lesson. Don’t forget, go to Scott’s Bass
Lessons. Check all my stuff out. I’m really, really positive you’re going
to enjoy it. And don’t forget that all the metronome tempos, you can get
the MP3s right under this video on my website. Take it easy, and get in the

  • Jahmar Sparkes

    Once again Scott, tremendious lesson and something I was looking institute more, although with standards instead of classic pieces. Your tone is incredible. Kudos!!!

  • jim andrews

    love it thanks .

  • Scott you rule!!!! :)

  • Paul

    Awesome website man!

  • Emeo

    Man I like this piece… Have been wanting to learn this piece for quite some time. Now with your system of approach I believe it’ll work out for me.

  • Lionel Morrell

    Pure genius…thanks for resurrecting my interest in bass playing….cheers..

  • Jorge

    Great piece, thank you very much.

  • Johan

    Thanks Scott. You’re awesome!

  • Great playing Scott, you’ve really got it swinging. Great lesson too…

  • Pete

    very nice lesson…are you going to include the entire transcription for the “bebop tune”…Donna Lee!

  • Giorgio

    Great as usual…

  • Tino

    Gracias Maestro. Un gusto recibir sus clases. Saludo

  • I believe I wrote this tune..

  • Patrik

    Thank you Scott great lesson !

  • Scott, thank you very much for your work!

    You are truly unique musician and teacher.

    Really good ideas and positive makes you a fairy in my eyes.

    I was spellbounded too much, when I heard that you fly only one lesson to another country.
    I wanted to do so in respect of those perfect bass players:

    Your approach, Scott, a little close (to my delight!) to approach these “unrecognized geniuses.”

    It would be very interesting if you ever devote a couple of minutes, to shed light on techniques that use these talented musicians.

    Thank you for the wonderful lessons, humor and sincere “atmosphere” that you create.

  • As a donator from some time ago, let me first encourage everyone to chip in to Scott’s amazing bass school.

    I have done this with Bach cello pieces on the bass, which improved my playing immensely. For me the best part is that by breaking things down, I can practice playing with my eyes closed as well. I don’t know why this has been important for me, but doing so has improved my feel for the fretboard substantially.

    I think it can also help for people like myself who need to look active on the stage. Concentrating without concentrating. Or something like that.

    And so:

    Thanks, Scott!

  • Fred

    Aww man, Great lesson Scott. At first it sounded kinda difficult, but once u broke it down for us i understood it a lot better… Thanx! Fred….

  • Carl

    scott, you`re the best…thanx for all !!!

  • daz

    is this the Jaco or Charlie Parker version (or are they identical ?)

  • Hugo

    Thanks Scott. This is where I want to be: Jaco! Will you be doing a lesson on Continium as well?

  • Paolo

    great lesson! anyone know the name of the song at the beginning and end of these videos? i’m assuming the playing is done by Scott? awesome sound.

  • Eugene

    Scott! A Bass Player’s bass player – Magical !!!

  • Ben

    Great lesson….God bless you Scott

  • Ido

    Hey Scott,
    Great Lesson!!
    Nailed Donna Lee going at 180 bpm and rising.
    Got any more recommendations of some cool study pieces?

    • scott

      Teen Town lol! ;)))… I’m having a Jaco month ;)

  • 456sixstringbass

    wow man,i just don’t know where to begin,but love this stuff,i’ll keep trying

  • Arjan

    Hey Scott, I am very, very, very curious as to how you get that nice rich, deep tone. The real Jaco-tone! Is te secret in your bass, strings, amp, besides the technique ofcourse?

    • scott

      Mmmm… not sure man… I just set everything pretty much flat… it’s an active bass too – but I do back off the tone a little. Glad you like it man! Scott ;)

  • rommel

    Thanks Scott i like this piece, and i want to learn the whole thing

  • felipe

    this is the best site I’ve ever seen in my life!!
    but my computer for some reason cant open the PDF file /:
    i still love this site and i am really greatful for your teachings (:

    • scott

      Hey Felipe… try opening it through a different browser… firefox/chrome/safari etc… sometimes that does the trick! ;))) Scott

  • Ryan

    Hi Scott. This piece has really inspired me thanks. Did you start recording the bass directly? It seems that I can hear it clearer and I think it was a good move to play on the regular ole’ 4 banger for simplicity’s sake. Are these observations correct?

  • Tak

    Thanks for this great lesson, Scott. I do need the tab and notation. I cannot find it on your website. Please let me know where to find and print it. Thanks so much.

  • Fantastic work man I have been trying to get lessons to do certain things I hear and you are the first one to finally give me wht i’VE BEEN TRYING TO GET. Will be sending money soon. thanks agan. Dok

  • Jordan B. Lombardo


    I always looked at Teen Town as a big “study piece”.. Like every bass player can learn from it. I’m gonna try Donna Lee after I learn Teen Town the rest of the way.

  • Tim E

    In line with the previous lesson, can you recommend some good slap study pieces?

  • Kuba states, that Miles wrote it, although “authorship is often credited to saxophonist Charlie Parker”.


  • erwin

    Great stuff here Scott !

  • lallasman

    Awesome man ….tks!!

  • ross

    Hi Scott.
    In the video you mentioned that as well as tab/notation on your website you provide details on the exact fingering you use etc. I found the notation but nothing on correct fingering?

  • Josh

    Why, Scott, does everyone give such undue credit to Jaco for ‘revolutionizing the role of bass’. He wrote great basslines, don’t get me wrong (my tune up song is Portrait of Tracy), but many came before him that pioneered the style who are given little credit. To list as few:

    -Ralphe Armstrong: auditioned for Weather Report before Jaco, ’71?, using a fretless P bass, and got the initial job because he played fretless and Jaco then copied him. Went on to play for Mahavishnu Orch. and Jean luc Ponty.

    -Percy Jones: started Brand X in late 1973, played mostly a P bass and early fretless Wal basses, used a very distinctive bass style utilizing harmonics, double and triple stop slides, and fretless technique.

    -Jeff Berlin: recorded alongside many early progressive rock and fusion bands, recorded with Patrick Moraz and Bill Bruford in the 1975-79 period. He often shows much distaste toward Jaco fans due to their constant comparison of his melodic playing style to Pastorius, developed before Jaco even became popular.

    I know it’s not a hipster contest when accrediting bassists, but it’s gone too far with Jaco fans.

  • Pedro

    Great lesson! nice approach to bebop. I would enjoy watching you improvise to this tune!
    can’t avoid asking what happened to the end of the tune???? i expected to hear you play it throughl! especially because the last few phrases are chromatically beautiful!

  • Julz

    Hi scott,

    I got the same question as pedro : where is the end of the theme? Why did you choice not to write it in the part?
    Another question : i’ve got the feeling that you don’t use the same fingers as written on the tab…
    Can you tell us why?

    thx !

  • Paulo Cesar Rodriguez

    Scott…could you send the donna lee backing track ???

  • Benny BE

    Another great bass version for this is by the great bassist Alain Caron: