Learning An 80-20 Bass Device From 1st Principles

Practicing The 8-b7-6-5 Device – Step 1

(Please Note: that these examples are framed in the style of blues rock shuffle…but you should get the idea….)

For this lesson we're going to look at learning the device we covered in the previous lesson - the 8-b7-6-5 device - from first principles.

In the key of A –a great rock blues key to get started with – the device would be made up of A, G F# and E (the 8-b7-6-5).

Now you can either play this at frets 5,3,2 and open string on the E String (which sometimes I’ll refer to as E5, E3, E2 and E0) or you could play this an octave up and play this at the 7th, 5th and 4th frets of the D string and the 7th fret of the A string (so that would be D7, D5, D4 and A7).

We’ll start out using the latter fret locations to play this device – and here’s how you could play it in quarter notes:

Although we’re aiming to play in a constant shuffle 8th note kind of rhythm, you can start out playing quarter notes to familiarise your fretting hand fingers with the sound of this device. It also helps your ear to be practicing this with some kind of backing track with chordal material as soon as possible.

I refer to this secondary benefit as subliminal ear training – although you are practicing primarily to get the ‘feel’ of a device under your fingers because you are using chordal material in your backing track your ear is hearing both the sound of this device AND the chord that you’re playing it on. Over time your brain will start to become familiar with the sound of devices and will learn that sound.

It’s a really cool day when you’re listening to a song and you hear what the bass player is doing and you hear a device that you are familiar with and you know what he’s playing! When that happens I recommend making a note of it somewhere and when you next get to your practice space double checking that song with your bass in hand.

So we can take the same pattern and play it in D7:

And of course we’ll need to play the same pattern in E7 too:

Now you’ll notice in the video examples that I’m playing this device over the chords with a backing track with chordal material.

Tip: If you need to familiarise with how to play a specific device, play it a few times out of tempo. But then play it as simply as you can with a practice track as soon as you can.


Practicing The 8-b7-6-5 Device – Step 2

Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the device for the three chords present in the blues in the key of A then you should put these patterns into the complete 12 Bar form of the blues.

Here’s how that could look:

Depending on your ability level, start out at 80 BPM:

Then move upwards to 100 BPM:

And then move to 120 BPM:

When you can play this at 120 BPM then move onto Step 3…

Practicing The 8-b7-6-5 Device – Step 3

For this step we’re going to go back to 80 BPM and play this device in pairs of shuffled 8th notes:

Once we’ve played through this a few times at 80 BPM and have become comfortable then we can repeat this but at 100 BPM:

And once we’re comfortable at 100 BPM then we can move forward and play at 120 BPM:


In this lesson we’ve looked at a method you can use to familiarise yourself with a new device reasonably quickly.

That ‘familiarisation routine’ can be summarised as follows (though note this is for a specific chord progression and when you need to use this outline the chord progression(s) you’re using may be different):

  • play the device slowly and out of tempo at first – preferably in quarter notes and starting out just on A7. Move to practice with a backing track at 80 BPM as soon as you are able
  • now play the device with the backing track for D7 at 80 BPM
  • now play the device with the backing track for E7 at 80 BPM
  • now you can play it through the 12 Bar blues in A7 at 80 BPM
  • repeat at 100 BPM
  • repeat at 120 BPM
  • now go back to 80 BPM but this time play in pairs of shuffled 8th notes
  • now repeat at 100 BPM
  • now repeat at 120 BPM

By the time you get to the last step in this process you should be pretty comfortable with how the device feels under your fingers and how it sounds.

All of these steps are played out in the Lesson itself.

From this point you could either repeat the process with the blues in another key.  To ensure that you play all 12 key centres you would need to repeat this process in at least 6 strategically chosen key centres.

Or there's an exercise you can use where you practice in all 12 key centres.

That's the subject of the next lesson.

Click the blue CONTINUE button below to check that out.

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