Vocabulary Examples From The Language Of The Bass Guitar

In 80-20 Bass Notation!

In the previous article we looked at how McCartney learned to play bass.

Initially the 'how to play part' (i.e. how to fret notes, how to pluck strings) came from his playing of the guitar. The 'what to play' part of the equation initially came from playing cover songs and applying the kind of ideas he used in those lines to Beatles original songs.

That's how the language of the bass guitar was developed in the 60s - players heard ideas in songs or learned them to play with bands, and applied those ideas to other songs.

But no-one has ever categorized that language or codified it. (I started doing this in 2010 and I'm still finding new ideas even after analyzing over 1500 bass lines to songs!)

In this article I want to share some examples of this a small fraction of this vocabulary in action.  Let's just jump straight in....here's the first 8 bars of All My Loving presented in a notation I developed called 80-20 Bass Notation and the video clip I shared in the previous article follows that:

The 80-20 Notation is pretty simple to read:

  • The chords are presented in roman numerals. So if this was the key of C - the I chord - then the iim chord is Dm, the V chord is G, the vim chord is Am and so on.
  • The rhythm of the bass line can be clearly seen in the rhythm in the 80-20 Notation.
  • The notes in this bass line are designated by function against the chord.  So if the first chord was a iim chord in the key of C then the '8' or octave is D, the b7 is C, the 6 is B and the 5 is A.

The reason for developing this system was that it reduced the clutter on scores (by removing notes and tab) and presented the essential information.

Plus if you know your devices and someone asked you to play this in any key you'll be able to quickly play an authentic sounding line in a totally different key.


Let's Look At Some Other Examples...And Look For The Devices Being Used

The next example is in the style of the verse of Midnight Hour....the first 12 bars are shown followed by the video:


Looking at the analysis of what's being played....that's just roots, 3rds and 5ths. Major Triads in other words. On a simple I-IV and V progression.

Let's check out a more complex sounding example...here's the first 8 bars or so of 80-20 Bass Analysis of a line in the style of Hotel California:


As you can see from the analysis, the majority of the bass line is made up of combinations of Root, 5th and octave. Much simpler than it sounds in the video!

The final example for this article is the first few bars in the style of The Who's Pinball Wizard:



The point of "inventing" a new style of notation is to focus on what's being played, not from the actual notes being played (e.g. A or C# or E), but how the notes being played relate to the chord being played. So A, C# and E on a major chord would be the major triad.

Once you start analyzing bass lines from this perspective...the common ideas (which make up over 95% of bass line vocabulary) start jumping out!

Remember: this vocabulary was discovered by empirical analysis of over a thousand bass lines! It's not anything that I've just made up.

In the next article I want to show you a blues rock style bass line that was created (composed) using  simple devices that I've codified as part of my analysis..

The twist: I created a document for the blues called a '2 Chord Matrix,' added some devices to that document, gave them numbers. AND THEN MY SON CALLED OUT NUMBERS AT RANDOM AND I CREATED THE BASS LINE BASED ON THAT!


Click he blue CONTINUE button below to check that out.



Paul Wolfe/www.how-to-play-bass.com




Previous Article In This Series

1. How Paul McCartney Learned To Play Bass: https://how-to-play-bass.com/mccartney-bass