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The Second Piece Of The Bass Line Creation Puzzle

In the previous article I told you how I discovered the first piece of the bass line creation process.  If you’ve not read that yet, you can find it here:


So the first piece of the puzzle was ideas that crop up over and over again in bass lines in every genres. I use the term "devices" for these ideas...and they are so prevalant that they make up 95% plus of most bass lines.

Sidebar: I'm talking about bass lines here NOT solos. If you want to learn about solos, that's not something I teach (long story).

Once I'd started to codify the commonly used devices in rock and pop (and reggae and soul and R&B and country and so on), I needed to work out how to actually use them in bass lines.  For example the R-3-4-Ch is a really commonly used (and great sounding) device in all genres...but if you play it going from a C chord to an Am chord it will sound horrible.

But if you play it from a C chord to G7...it sounds great!  (Seriously, try it, the R-3-4-Ch in C is C to E to F to F#).

There's a clue in that example.

But I might have missed it if I'd not learned to play walking bass.

In walking bass you can create bass lines by splitting the four beats of the bar into harmonically strong beats - beats 1 and 3 - on which you play a chord tone (or target tone) and the harmonically weak beats - beats 2 and 4 - on which you play an approach note that makes the target tone on beat 1 or 3 sound natural.

Without diving deep into that theory, the main three types of approach note are a dominant approach note, a scalar approach note and a chromatic approach note.

If you play the R-3-4-Ch from C to Am there's no 'approach' built into that device that leads the ear to A.  Whereas if you play that device from C to G7 there's a lower chromatic approach to G. And the linear sequence of E to F to F# that ends on G makes a triple chromatic approach that makes any dissonance resolve when the ear lands on the G.

I went back to the bass lines I'd analyzed to identify the library of commonly used devices initially,  and looked again to see if the way devices were being used by players like Jamerson and McCartney (and so on) incorporated approach notes when chords changed.


Now I could further refine device categorization by looking at what devices would work to get from say a C to an F chord, or a C to a G7 chord, or a C to an Am chord. And so on.  (Try playing the R-3-4-ch device going from C to Bb and see how that sounds.....NOT GOOD!)

So to recap: the first piece of the puzzle that we talked about previously is devices.

The second piece of puzzle was connecting these devices over multiple bars and multiple chords by understanding and using approach notes built into devices.

In the next email I’ll share how the third piece of the puzzle was unlocked via a songwriting lesson a "manager" arranged for the band I formed in the early 90s.

You’ll note I’ve put “manager” in inverted commas – that’s because this guy shot me with a firework!  If you’re interested in hearing that story as well as finding out the third piece of the bass line creation puzzle then hit the blue continue button below!

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




Previous Articles In The Series

#1 How I Got Sacked From The First Real Band I Was In - https://how-to-play-bass.com/sacked

#2 The First Piece Of The Bass Line Creation Puzzle - https://how-to-play-bass.com/first-piece-puzzle