Yesterday I I posted the story of how I got sacked from the first real band I was in…and how it led me to the first piece of the puzzle in understanding how to create bass lines – and ultimately teach that.
If you’ve not read that email yet, you can also find it by clicking the link below. Please read that before continuing – here’s the link:
Ok, so the first piece of the puzzle was something that was shown to me by a guitarist friend of mine who had played bass for a hard working band on the UK’s country and western circuit in the late 70s/early 80s.
My buddy Eamonn called that first piece of the puzzle ‘transposable riffs.’ These are essentially simple scalar and chordal patterns like Root-Third-Fifth-Third or Octave-flat seven-sixth-fifth that you can use in simple chord progressions by playing the appropriate chord and scale degrees with the chord of the moment.
Now this approach works well for some chord progressions – but less well for others.
One of my dissatisfactions with creating bass lines using ‘transposable riffs’ were those chord progressions (and specific riffs) where the patterns worked well enough on their own for each chord or bar but where there was no logical sounding connection when moving from one chord to another.
Only at that time I couldn’t articulate that dissatisfaction quite that clearly.
I found the answer to this problem – and the second piece of the puzzle – a few years later when I had to learn to play walking bass lines to pay my rent.
Without going off topic too much, the story runs like this.
My then business partner Jon and I had started our own band as our previous band had come to the end of its business life. And we had no gigs. One day – without telling me – he recorded a ‘demo’ and shopped it round to restaurants and pizza joints in North London and Central London. Within two days he’d secured us a residency playing jazz background music at not one, not two and not three different venues.
But four different restaurants.
And each venue was going to pay us £25 to £30 each. And provide us a meal.
For starving musicians trying to get another project off the ground, this was a lifeline.
There was one problem though.
I had no idea how to play walking bass lines. None whatsoever.
Now in a few weeks I’ll tell this story in more detail. But for now what you need to know is that I woodshedded how to play walking bass lines for around 100 hours in 10 days. And in the process one of the things I learned was the concept of approach notes.
A few months later when things had settled down and playing four background jazz gigs a week was the norm and not stressful, I was on a gig where I had to create some bass lines to chord progressions in a rock context.
It was only AFTER the gig where I realized that I’d combined the concept of ‘transposable riffs’ with approach notes as a result of the cross-pollination of the walking bass line training I’d done.
I went back to the woodshed and generated some chord progressions with the then primitive (and Midi only) version of Band In A Box (on an Atari ST!) to test this out. And refine it.
And I realized that not only had I added in approach notes to my concept – but also understood much more clearly about where and when to use chord tones in bass lines.
As a result bass lines that I’d created took a significant step forward.
So to recap: the first piece of the puzzle that we talked about previously was to use ‘transposable riffs’ or patterns.
The second piece of puzzle was connecting these up using approach notes. Plus knowing more about chord tones and where to place them in a bar.
Tomorrow I’ll come back and share how the band I was in were trying to write original songs and how a lesson our “manager” arranged for us to learn songwriting unlocked a third piece of the puzzle. 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 check out the next installment here: