60% Complete (#3 of 5)

An Introduction To Devices - The DNA Of ALL Bass Lines

In the second article in this series - The Five Types Of Approach Notes -  we talked about how using approach notes in your lines helps lead the listeners ear to the next target note in a bass line. By creating target notes and setting them up, a drive is created in a bass line so that each successive root note sounds logical.

In that article I mentioned that the best way to incorporate approach notes into your lines was to use a concept called 'devices' and to use a device that has an appropriate approach note built into it.

This lesson will introduce you to devices.

A metaphor I've sometimes used is that individual notes are the equivalent of learning letters. And devices are like learning words...so that you can create a meaningful bass line that makes musical sense from devices in the same way that you can create a meaningful sentence that communicates meaning out of words.

Let's jump straight in with an example. This is a simple 12 Bar A7 blues with a quarter note bass line created from putting different devices together. Note that for this lesson all the examples will be in quarter notes to make understanding what might be a new concept as simple as possible.

Here's the example:

If you cross reference with the second lesson, here are the approach notes built into this line:


Just so you're clear, here's the key for my annotations:

  • US = Upper Scalar Approach Note
  • UC = Upper Chromatic Approach Note
  • LC = Lower Chromatic Approach Note
  • UD = Upper Dominant Approach Note
  • Arp = Arpeggio Approach

When I created this line though, I created it by using devices. Here's the line again, but this time with the devices I used written over the top:


Some notes about devices:

  • Devices don't have to be played at a quarter note level. That will be explored more in the next lesson.
  • Most devices are four note groupings. The use of 'four' is so common in music that it's almost a musical law. E.g. 4:4 time. Four quarter notes to a bar. Sub-divide to 8th notes and you've got two groupings of four 8th notes in a bar. Sub-divide to 16th notes and you've got four groupings of four 16th notes to a bar. Most chord progressions are 8 or 12 or 16 bars long - all divisible by four.
  • If you want to play the sound of a chord linearly you'd use an arpeggio - for chords other than simple triad based chords that would be a four note grouping. The number four again.
  • Devices can be varied up using modifying devices or connecting devices - in bar 4 a connecting device is used on beat 4 to create a linear chromatic connection to the root note in bar 5.

When I first started actively looking for devices, how they were used and codifying them, I assumed that devices would make up a decent chunk of bass lines (maybe 60%) and the rest of the bass line would be material uniquely created by the origininal bass line.

That assumption was soon blown out of the water.

Most bass lines - and by bass lines I'm talking about the material used in songs that isn't a solo, and isn't a melody and isn't a unison riff played with other instruments - are almost entirely made up of devices. Or devices varied up with modifying devices or connecting devices.

Note that a complete 'scale' isn't a device in this conception of bass lines....I've analyzed over 1500 songs (probably more) and only ever come across six or seven examples of a complete scale used in a bass line. (Hello Goodbye by The Beatles is one such example...also there's a Led Zepp bass line that uses a lot of scales, forgotten the name though!)

Just to give you another example of devices, here's an 8 bar bass line with a quarter note country style walking line using simple devices (and you might recognize the chord progression):


In the next lesson we'll look at how you can take four note devices and make them more interesting rhythmically, plus you can play 4 note devices at different rhythmic levels too.

To check that out, click the blue CONTINUE button below.

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