80% Complete (#4 of 5)

Devices And Rhythm

In the first article in this series - The Three Things Every Bass Line Has To Do - we talked about the three things every bass line has to do to make a song sound good. They are: (i) complement the rhythm the drummer is playing; (ii) complement the harmony that the keyboards and/or guitars are playing; (iii) add musical logic to the line by setting up target notes

In the second article in this series - The Five Types Of Approach Notes -  we talked about how to use approach notes to add that musical logic to the line.

In the third article in this series I introduced the concept of devices - these are 'musical units' that are the DNA of bass lines. And devices work best when approach notes are built into them as demonstrated in that article.

In this article I want to explore the rhythmic execution of devices so you can see how flexible they are and how they can be used with different rhythmic applications so that your lines get that powerful combination of:

  • Complementing the rhythm the drummer is playing
  • Complementing the harmony being played by keyboards and/or guitars
  • Adding musical logic to the line to give it flow and drive by using approach notes (preferably built into devices)

There's a lot of ground to cover...so let's get started.

First here's an 8 bar rock style chord progression (which I'm sure you'll recognize) with a simple quarter note bass line to start with:

That quarter note line - although technically it works - doesn't really match the rhythmic feel of the practice track. So to make the line align rhythmically, I'm going to use rhythmic replacement and replace each quarter note device note with two 8th notes.

The important thing to note: the devices in each bar are still being played out at a quarter note level - but the rhythm is a constant 8th note level.  Here's what this looks like:

Now I'm going to do something more advanced.

Up to now the devices chosen have targeted the first beat of each bar. But each bar can be split into the front end of the bar (beats 1 and 2) and the back end of the bar (beats 3 and 4). In the next example I'm going to play a complete four note device on the back end of the bar and a two note device (root and 5th) on the front end of the bar.

Things to note:

  • The two notes in the two note device on the front end of the bar are not given the same rhythmic weighting. The note on beat 1 - still an important target note - is played for a full quarter note. The second note serves as an approach note to the first note of the four note device that starts on the back end of the bar. Which is beat 3.
  • The device on the back end of each bar is now being executed at an 8th note level.
  • Although less notes are being played in each bar in this example than the previous example, there's more 'bass line drive' because there's a target note/approach note concept being used twice in each bar (target notes are betas 1 and 3) and the complete device at an 8th note level has more harmonic movement in a shorter period of time.

Here's the example:

If the style of the practice track is changed to be more reminiscent of classic soul and R&B , the previous example can be varied further to show a more advanced use of devices.

In this example I'm going to play a complete device on both front end and back end of each bars.


The last note of the device on the front end of the bar and the first note of the device on the back end of the bar are the same pitches...so I'm going to tie those notes together. This is a concept called 'overlapping.' I'm sure you'll be familiar with the effect (and the rhythm) that this creates:

There's still more rhythmic levels to check out though.

In the next example the chord progression has been changed to one bar of C7 and one bar of F7.

In the first two bars is a line based on 8th notes. In bars 3 and 4 the devices used are still being 'executed' at an 8th note level, but rhythmic replacement is used (swapping 8th notes for 16th notes) to turn this into a line with a funky, 16th note feel:

There are further layers available beyond this....you can use 16th note modifying devices (to give Stage 2 16th Note Lines) or use devices at a 16th note level (which are Stage 3 16th Note lines).

Few bass players se the latter and most 16th note lines tend to be either Stage 1 (like the example above) or Stage 2.

In all of this we've not had the scope to really talk about modifying devices and how they play a part. But this series has hopefully helped you understand how bass lines can be put together.

What's strange is that these devices and concepts are used by all Pro bass players...and yet I've never seen them talked about, let alone codified.

If you're interested in creating your own lines (as well as getting better at playing the lines of other players) then my program %) SONGS LEVEL 1 will take you there, taking years off the learning curve in the process.

Click the blue CONTINUE button below to check that out.

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




Previous Articles In The Series

#1 The Three Things Every Bass Line Has To Do - To Make The Band Sound Good https://how-to-play-bass.com/the-three-things

#2 The Five Types Of Approach Notes - https://how-to-play-bass.com/five-types-approach-notes

#3 An Introduction To Devices - The DNA Of Bass Lines - https://how-to-play-bass.com/introduction-to-devices