Create Your Own Bass Lines (Part 4)
How We Got Here
In Part 1 of this mini series we learned the following:
- 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 R-3-4-Ch/8-3-4-Ch device was demonstrated with a small number of real world examples (I could have included plenty more).
- 4. If you analyse hundreds of bass lines looking for common devices, you'll find a reasonably small set of ideas that all professional bass players use and forms the vocabulary of the bass guitar.
- 5. No-one teaches this vocabulary. It's the key to playing authentic sounding bass lines.
In Part 2 I introduced a concept called 'a two chord matrix.' The two chord matrix allows you to create a bass line by choosing devices from the matrix appropriate for the two chord movement present in each bar. A 12 Bar C7 blues was featured in the first part of that article:
And a 60s, rock style progression featured in the second part of that article:
I included downloadable MP3 files and PDFs for both progressions - if you've not yet created your own line to either of these progressions using the appropriate two chord matrix....I suggest you go back and do that.
It's just about impossible to create a 'bad' bass line provided you follow the process as I set out in those two lessons.
In Part 3 we learned the three things that a bass line has to do:
- Play a sympathetic rhythm to that of the drummer.
- Play notes that support the harmony in each bar
- Also create melodic drive within the bass line that guides the listener's ear through the root notes/target notes of the song.
The key to doing these three things: the judicious selection of devices. To refresh, Part 3 is here:
In this final lesson in this series I'm going to talk about why I think it is that no-one else teaches creating bass lines from the perspective of its vocabulary, the devices that occur and re-occur throughout rock and pop and blues and soul and country and so on.
Why Does No Other Bass Instructor Teach Creating Bass Lines From The Perspective Of Devices?
Let's start with something a bass student called Pete shared with me in an email: "I can’t see learning bass now without this information about 'devices' ..I’ve been asking other teachers about “devices” which I find foundational , and they don’t seem to know what I’m talking about!"
This is something that has always confused me. Once you've analysed the bass lines to enough songs - at least 50 - the vocabulary starts to swim into focus. Initially I thought this was something that all the Pros knew, but didn't want to teach the rest of us.
In the last year or so, I've changed that perspective and now I believe the main reason that no-one teaches creating bass lines from the explicit perspective is down to hearing.
Let me explain what I think is happening:
- The pros hear bass lines. Their hearing is better than players with ‘ordinary’ hearing, like you and me.
- They ‘hear’ a device, hear what two chords it connects and can use that device when they are playing on songs that feature that same two chord movement.
- They don’t need to hear the specific pitches, because what they are hearing is notes in relation to harmony. So is the note a root note? Or a fifth? Or a major third. Or a seventh? And so on.
Here’s an analogy that I use to explain it to my students. Here's a test for you - can you see the number in the image?
That’s because I’m red-green colour blind and this image is part of a test used to diagnose that.
(My son tells me it’s 27).
It’s similar with hearing bass lines. If you have great hearing you can hear notes in groups. And how they relate to each other. And how they relate to the harmony. If you don’t have great hearing, that information is equivalent to a random collection of different coloured dots.
So the Pros don’t teach this stuff….because they don’t know that we can’t hear it! Plus they don’t understand it in a way that they can explain to those of us who can’t hear that. (Follow the metaphor…imagine that you’re explaining how you can see the numbers in the image on the online version of this section…and write a paragraph to explain that to me so I can see it.)
So when you ask these players about creating bass lines they’ll say stuff like:
- Play what you feel.
- Play something funky. Or bluesy. Or genre authentic.
- Play something that suits the chords.
Because they don’t know what we don’t know, their instructions are meaningless.
There's hope if you don’t have great relative (or perfect) pitch.
Because you can learn the language of bass from the analytical side of the equation. And practicing the vocabulary of the bass guitar will subliminally improve your hearing of devices.
I stumbled upon the secret vocabulary of the bass guitar by accident back in 2012/2013.
Some students had asked me to teach some ideas based on the playing of James Jamerson. I expected to teach some of Jamerson’s riffs and so on. But as I analysed some of his bass lines, I started noticing ideas that repeated in multiple lines.
The root and fifth are the most common and obvious of those patterns.
Identifying that leads you to noticing that Jamerson used root, fifth and octave and its inverse in lines. And that led to seeing how Jamerson used chromatic notes in his lines.
Going beyond Jamerson’s work, I discovered ideas I’d found in Jamerson’s bass lines in the bass lines of other bass players. This happened too frequently to be coincidental.S o I set out to try and codify all of these ideas.
As I mentioned in one of the earlier articles in this series, you can build a career knowing 15 to 20 devices.
The next obvious question would be: which devices should I learn?
There are three ways to go about this....and those three ways are detailed on the next page. If you want to hit the ground running with your bass learning in 2024, and start learning the fundamentals that will allow you to create your own authentic bass lines from scratch, then click the blue CONTINUE button to find out more.
1.The 'Pros' don't teach creating bass lines from the (analytical) perspective of devices. Because that's not how they experience devices.
2. Instead they have great hearing and their learning of devices is done from an auditory perspective.
3. If you don't have great hearing you've either got to invest thousands of ears doing ear training. Or learn using a method that isolates devices and where the practice of those isolated devices will improve your hearing subliminally.