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Create Your Own Bass Lines (Part 1)

Before We Get Started....

Full transparency...at the end of this series of articles there will be a unique offer that will help you kick off 2024 with the kind of education you need if you want to create your own bass lines.

Even if you've no intention ofn enrolling on anything...which is totally cool btw....I'm going to make this mini series of articles worth your attention if creating your own bass lines is one of your bass goals.

The process of doing this is actually pretty simple and follows a series of guidelines that are easy to understand and relatively easy to use to create your own lines. The difficulty comes in doing that at performance tempo!

So let's dive in.

 

A Bass Line From A Student (Just Like You)

Here's a simple, quarter note bass line for a C7 blues that was composed not by me, but by one of my students (GC). I've played it at 160 BPM with a rockabilly style backing band:

 

A couple of things to note straight away:

  • This line was composed from a simple two chord matrix (more about that later in the series)
  • I've annotated a few bars with either R-3-4-Ch or 8-3-4-Ch under the notes. More on that in a moment.

If you listened to the video you'll hear this line sounds OK as a bass line. Check out what happens if we slow the tempo down to 130 BPM, make the band sound that I'm playing along with a little bit rockier, and then turn each quarter note into a pair of swing 8th notes:

Here's the combination of elements that makes this line sound OK:

  • Each bar uses a discrete piece of vocabulary from the language of rock and pop. I call those discrete pieces of vocabulary 'devices.'
  • The rhythms used in the bass line - while being straightforward (either quarter notes or pairs of swing 8th notes)  - are complimentary to the rhythm provided by the drums in both examples.
  • The pieces of vocabulary used - the devices - are not only authentic pieces of vocabulary that every professional bass player uses, they were also purposefully chosen to lead the listener's ear through the root notes of the chord progression.
  • The pieces of vocabulary used in each bar also help support the harmony in each bar (the chords being played by the rhythm section).

 

More About Devices

There is a finite number of devices used in bass lines. And they can be varied up with rhythm and disguised by using modifying devices. If you have a solid vocabulary of 15 to 20 devices you can create not only a good bass line, but also a career. E.g. Duck Dunn, Tommy Shannon, Sting and dozens of other bass players who have relatively small vocabularies.

In the first example on this page I annotated R-3-4-Ch and 8-3-4-Ch under some of the bars. This is a common device in the language of bass...if you've not come across my annotation system before it's pretty simple:

  • R=Root
  • 3= third (major) of the chord
  • 4= fourth note of the scale that goes with the chord
  • 'ch' = the chromatic note between the note to the left and the note to the right
  • 8 = root note played ABOVE the next note

This device is great because it pushes the listener's ear to a target note either a perfect fifth above the first root note (if you use R-3-4-Ch) or a perfect fourth below the the first root note (if you use 8-3-4-Ch).

To show you that these devices are ubiquitous across bass lines, here's the verse from Fortunate Son by Creedence with the R-3-4-Ch device annotated out:

 

 

One of the best examples of this device being used is in Hey Joe - there's a two bar section where the 8-3-4-Ch and R-3-4-Ch section are each demonstrated:

 

Here's another example with both the R-3-4-Ch and the 8-3-4-Ch version of this device being used - and note the different rhythmic usages. This is the chorus of Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison:

 

Here's another example with both the R-3-4-Ch and the 8-3-4-Ch version of this device being used - note the different rhythmic usage and different genre. This is part of the verse from I Wish by Stevie:

 

Here's the final example with both the R-3-4-Ch and the 8-3-4-Ch version of this device being used - this is from Duck's bass line on Sweet Home Chicago:

 

I could go on with examples where this device is used - e.g. Suspicious Minds by Elvis, The Lemon Song by Zeppelin, Grapevine by Gladys Knight, And Your Bird Can Sing by the Beatles and more.

The R-3-4-Ch/8-3-4-Ch device is just one of the devices in the vocabulary of the bass guitar. Learn more of them and, more importantly, learn how to use them to navigate chord progressions and you’ll develop the skill to create and play authentic sounding bass lines.

No-One Teaches The Vocabulary Of Rock And Pop

What's weird when you start analyzing bass lines across genres is that these devices are found everywhere. But no-one teaches them.

I've seen a couple of videos from different bass guys recently with big audiences where this device was obliquely mentioned, but was referred to as a triple chromatic approach, and the 3-4-Ch part of the device was not cross referenced with the root note (or octave).

Sadly this is just wrong.

The R-3-4-Ch device isn't just a staple of rock and pop, it comes to us either from jazz or blues. The root is an integral part of the device: the root and third communicate the sound of the chord. Then tension is created by going the 4th. That tension is heightened by going to the chromatic note - and then the tension is released when the line goes to the target note (effectively a 5th above the original root note).

The 8-3-4-Ch version of this device contains all the same ingredients with the addition of the drop from the octave to the third, which is contrasted by the linear chromatic run.

If you analyse all the other devices used in the bass line that my student GC composed, you'll find a bunch of other foundational devices from the vocabulary of rock and pop. In the next lesson I'll show you the two chord matrix that GC used to compose this line....and ask YOU to compose a line  based on this to show you how easy it is to create a great sounding line provided you know your devices, and you know how to use them (rhythmically and harmonically).

I think I know why no-one teaches the vocabulary in this fashion, and that will be touched upon in the next lesson too.

The Next Lesson

In the next lesson I'm going to ask you to create a bass line to a 12 bar blues. And give you a framework that you can use to create that bass line.

Although the blues is one of the easiest tunes to work with harmonically, the concepts that we'll look at in the next lesson work for rock and pop with other chord progressions too. If I get time, I'll set up a second exercise for you to do to create a rock bass line to another (well known) chord progression.

I'll also detail why I believe no-one teaches the breakdown (and reconstruction) of bass lines using 'devices.' If you've got perfect pitch, or great relative pitch, this mini-series of lessons probably won't do much for you. If you don't however...you should check out the next lesson by clicking the blue CONTINUE button below (when it's enabled).

 

Recap

1. Rock and pop bass lines are made up of discrete units of vocabulary. I call these devices.

2. There are a finite amount of devices...you can create a career knowing just 15 to 20 devices (and knowing how to use them).

3. The main device introduced in this lesson is the R-3-4-Ch/8-3-4-Ch device. Note that the three chromatic notes (3-4-Ch) have to be connected to the root note. The combination of Root and Third tells the ear what kind of chord is being played.

4. If you analyse hundreds of bass lines looking for common devices, you'll find a reasonably small set of ideas that everyone from Jamerson to McCartney to Geddy Lee to Tommy Shannon to Duck Dunn to Dee Murray to Randy Meisner to Rob De Leon to Bruce Thomas to Jerry Jemmott have used.

5. No-one teaches this vocabulary. It's the key to playing authentic sounding bass lines.