The Core Functions Of A Good Bass Line - And The Secret Language The Pros Don't Want You To Know!
In yesterday’s email (linked in the PS) I told you that playing good songs with good musicians in front of a good audience is just about the most fun you can have that’s legal.
In this email I want to talk about the ‘playing’ part of that equation - and the bass player’s role in the band.
I sometimes illustrate how I view this with an equal angle triangle with drums (rhythm) in the bottom right corner, harmony (guitars and keys) in the bottom left corner and melody on top:
To me the bass is the glue that holds this all together - which is why the bass is pictured in the central part of the musical triangle. Our lines have to tie together the rhythm (drums) and the harmony (guitars and keyboards).
That’s done by playing a rhythm that is complementary to what the drummer is playing AND choosing notes with that rhythm that both complement the harmony that the guitars and keyboards are playing. Additionally - something I learned from walking bass - we need to lead the listener’s ear through the chord changes of a song.
Now in walking bass this is done by playing chord tones on the harmonically strong beats (beats 1 and 3) and playing approach notes on the weak beats (beats 2 and 4).
Playing bass lines in rock and pop is a little different though.
You don’t have a consistent quarter note pulse (though it’s present in some songs and some bass lines). And as a generalization, rock and pop bass lines are more consonant than jazz bass lines (I.e. The percentage of dissonant and/or chromatic notes is much smaller).
Which raises the question of how do you put together a line that fulfills the demands that I outlined above?
The answer - as with a lot of bass questions - can be found by going back to the source. For rock and pop (and soul and blues rock) bass players, the “source” is the two most influential bass players of the 60s (and beyond).
That’s Paul McCartney and James Jamerson.
In studying these guys I found out something interesting and shocking: there’s a “secret language” of bass that the Pros don’t want you to know.
That might sound dramatic - but it’s the only explanation that makes any sense.
Because if you start analyzing bass lines not in terms of individual notes, but in terms of groupings of notes that slot together like puzzle pieces, suddenly you’ll start to see these groupings of notes in the bass lines of just about every bass player.
Not just Jamerson and McCartney. But John Paul Jones. Geddy Lee. John Entwistle. Jerry Jemmott. Tommy Shannon. Gary Tallent. John Deacon. The list goes on. And on. And on.
I call these groupings of notes ‘devices.’
The reason I think that the “Pros” don’t want you to know about these devices is that they all use them.
But nobody teaches them.
It’s like a secret that they keep to themselves.
And these devices are not just the key to creating good bass lines…they are also the key to efficient practice on the bass.
Click the blue CONTINUE button for the next article in the series when we'll talk about the multiple benefits you get from isolating and practicing devices.