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Advice on learning bass runs/fills

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Frusciante, May 31, 2011.

  1. Frusciante


    May 31, 2011
    Houston Texas
    So ive been practicing my bass for almost a year now and I can play scales and modes up and down the fretboard completely for the most part(Dont know how or when to apply modes but I knowem) and I wanted to start learning how to play some fills to add to my basslines and songs I play but when I attempt to play a fill it comes out horribly. I have been teaching myself from watching lessons and reading some tabs of songs but havent ever been able to play a good clear sounding fill and havent seen or read anything that can help fix my problem. Im not sure what im doing wrong, I figure its cause im not playing the run fast enough or there may be some secret to playing fills that I dont know of but any advice to help fix my problem would help alot. :help:
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    The obvious answer is, listen to songs you like and learn what the bass player is doing (both how to play it and the musical function it serves). Over time you will develop a "vocabulary" of fills to insert into your own playing.

    Another tip I can give you is: start by writing some one-note fills that sound good, then when you are confident, move on to two-note fills, three-note fills, etc.

    Also I strongly recommend private lessons with a good teacher. I am happy to help with advice but since I can't see or hear you play....
  3. Beginner Bass

    Beginner Bass

    Jul 8, 2009
    Round Rock, TX
    A&R, Soulless Corporation Records
    IT helps me to think about where I am and where I want to get. Then think about a scalar run, arpeggio, or whatever else can get me there. In my mind, fills usually come at the end of phrases or sections, so I try and make sure my fills get to where I need to get with smoothness (Or, when smooth isn't the goal, doesn't make the listeners grasp their ears in agony. Trust me, the player probably dpesn't feel much better. At least I didn't...).
  4. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Fills are all about a destination.
    90% of the runs/fills I play have 2 crucial qualities:
    1: they end on the 1 of the next measure
    2: they end on the root of the chord of the next measure.

    Note wise my fills are usually either pentatonic (either the key of the song or the key of the chord)and/or chromatic runs.

    Fills also need to be used with taste: listen to what else is happening in the music and make sure you aren't obscuring someone else's awesomeness with your own.
    It's actually very rare that I lead into a downbeat with a fill that uses more than 2 or three notes.
  5. Frusciante


    May 31, 2011
    Houston Texas
    Hah I would definately love to have private lessons but because of my schedule its become imposible for me to get regular private lessons.

    And I can play some simpler slow fills, but my main problem I come across is when I attempt to play a fast Jazz style fill I hear or something i cant quite play it even if its only a scalar run. I play the notes as fast as possible but it sounds nothing like what im aiming for im not sure if its time and practice I need more of or if im doing something wrong.

    Also for improvising for a bass solo or fill how should you go about choosing what scale and notes to play?
  6. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Playing notes you don't understand as fast as possible seldom sounds good. :)

    I'll repeat my suggestion: Practice one-note fills until you understand which notes sound good and which notes don't. For example, if the chord progression goes from G to C, what are some possible notes you can play to "fill" in the progression from G to C?

    Then graduate to two-note fills, for example if you chose B as a one-note fill from G to C, then what is a second note you can add to fill in from G to B?
  7. Yes!

    Mambo4's quote that I've put in bold hits it on the head.

    I'll speak to chromatic runs to the next chord.

    Simple C-F-G7-C chord progression.
    Your chromatic run from C to F can be 1, 2, 3 or 4 notes. But, simply you target the next chord's root (F) - miss it - and walk to it one fret at a time landing on the next root in time for the chord change.

    Now you can miss it by just 1 note, i.e. C-E-G- with F being your next root so walk back to F# then F.

    You have finished the bass line for the G7 chord and are on the G note and wanting to go to the C tonic..... walk back G-F-E-D then C on the 4th string.

    Target the next root - don't go there instead look up 4 frets (or 3 frets or 2 frets, whatever) start there and walk to your next root and be on your target root note in time for the chord change.

    The walk to it is easy just takes some timing and a lot of practice. Start with chromatic runs to get your timing going then think about pentatonic, etc.

    Good luck.
    Keith Burford likes this.
  8. Already In Use

    Already In Use

    Jan 3, 2010
    I'm pretty new at this also. I find playing both above and below your root note adds nice flavor. I find when approaching the next 1 note or root note you can drop one half step when appropriate..like if you're moving from a c major chord to a g major chord..play the C, E and the F#...to move to the G major..Like I said I am new and this stuff is probably elementary for the seasoned player.
  9. Frusciante


    May 31, 2011
    Houston Texas
    All very good advice but I guess I wasnt being clear enough in my first post.

    I can play fills and runs and know about approach notes into the next root of the Chord proggresion. What I have had a problem with is playing fills that sound like this the run Jaco plays in the intro just seems to go completely over my head. Not that I expect myself to play like Jaco but using it as a example of the fills I have been having trouble with learning to play.

    Also my question on what notes to play when improvising was for more on what modes I should play. Ive read a lot of post on modes, for instance if I were playing a C7 ii-V progression ive read to solo from the Dorian mode on the ii chord. What confuses me I guess is that its only a 2 note difference from the major scale so it feels like im forced to play the b3 and b7 which are pretty far intervalicly on top of that if i dont play the b3 and b7 then I wouldnt even get the effect of playing the mode which makes it feel like a complete waste :rollno: thus making me feel even more limited in playing something melodically. Im not sure if I am the only person who feels this way and I am just missing something I should be understanding.

    Again any advice is much appreciated.
  10. BillyIVbass


    Sep 24, 2008
    Gear Reviews Guitar World Online
    Don't feel obligated to play the b3 and the b7 of the dorian mode. The b7 is a very out there tone. It either needs to go up to the root or down to the 6th to relax.

    So if it's C7, you can do a very basic fill of sliding D to E than G to A.
  11. Your Jaco example uses B minor pentatonic/blues scale (F-F#-A-F#-E-D-B-A-F#). Try to sing it, play it slowly and gradually increase the tempo. I think it's not an easy fill if you only have been playing for a year...
    Be patient, your playing will get better with time and practice. A good exercise is to sing a phrase (imagine a fill and sing it) and then play it with your bass (maybe you'll need to slow down what you've singed).

    Good luck! (and sorry for my English, it's my third language...)
    odarellmc likes this.
  12. oldcatfish


    Jan 8, 2011
    I don't play jazz music, so take my advice with that in mind.

    For most players problems with fills come down to two things.

    1) Timing...this doesn't mean that you can't keep time, but rather that you lose your place when dropping in/out for a fill. Practicing with a drum machine (not a metronome) helps. Play a groove, repeat it 3 times, then on the 4th time add your fill. Then return to the groove on the next measure. Try to come up with a different fill each time the 4th measure comes up.
    2) Not knowing what fill to play...Since you know scales, I'd recommend learning more fills from songs note for note. Then adapt them and practice using the first technique.
  13. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    To reiterate my advice above, this is really something a teacher (specialized in jazz/improv) can help you with, if not lessons in person then transcribe your favorite albums and learn from the great players. In particular listen to the melody (head) of the tune, for example a lot of Charlie Parker melodies are just 1-chorus solos frozen in time. I think you will find there is a lot more to it than just running up and down the dorian mode... for example I know you are a Jaco fan, study the melody of "Donna Lee."

    There is no way I can possibly explain it in one forum post, but my really, really simplistic answer to "what are the safe notes to choose from?" would be the notes of the melody of the tune and the chord tones of the progression (start with 1-3-5-7 and work your way up to the "extensions" like the 9th, #11th, etc once you learn to hear them).
  14. Frusciante


    May 31, 2011
    Houston Texas
    About spot on helps me with my confusion on modes.

    All this helps alot I definatly need to slow it down and slowly practice executing these fills and strengthen my melodic "vocabulary" and learn to hear when to use the "Chord tones" in my scales/modes. Specially studying other jazz players approach to using there scales. I figured a good choice for me to do was buy Mark Levines Jazz theory book ive read that alot of bass players have loved it but im not sure if this would be the best option of books for me since it is not bass specific or if I should buy a book with a Bass approach to learning jazz. I think Marks book will help me with alot of my confusions on Theory. So I would like to ask what some of you hear at TB think would be the most effective way to move forward with my learning of bass and music in general keeping in mind ive never had a formal bass teacher only friends to jam with.

    Also if anyone knows some songs to practice transcribing perferably jazz but anything is cool and I will try playing it. My ear recognition is without a doubt my weakest musical point.

    Thanks again Mush and the rest for your input its truely invaluable for me.
  15. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    This. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for a good teacher who can listen and critique your playing.

    Also many conservatories/colleges have community jazz ensembles, your instructor might not be a bass player but could give you valuable overall musical advice.
  16. Frusciante


    May 31, 2011
    Houston Texas
    I know there will be no substitute for a teacher my question was geared more towards recomendations of books that has helped others and could help me.
  17. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    I highly recommend "The Real Book" (and similar "fake books"). Once you know the melody and chord changes to a song, it will make your transcription a lot easier. Just be aware that the chord changes in The Real Book do not always 100% match any given recording, always trust your ear.

    Personally I find that if it's completely up to me, I tend to practice the things I'm GOOD at; a good teacher critiques my playing and forces me to practice the things I'm BAD at! By your own admission, your ear is your weakest musical point; you need to tackle this problem head-on by listening and learning songs in the style you want to play. Reading a book will not exercise this skill. If I were your teacher this is what I would tell you. :)
  18. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Some advice that you will find echoed throughout this forums: if you don't yet understand harmony, forget about modes for the moment.
    Specifically you need to understand how to harmonize the major scale and and what all that I -ii -iii -IV-V-vi-vii(dim) stuff means, and have a good command of the intervalic structure of individual chords.

    Jazz players -at least the old school ones - generally "think" in chord tones, not scales, when soloing.
    Note: this doesn't mean they played only chord tones : but the guiding reference points in their improvisation were harmonic, not scalar.
    Academics came along later and described what was being done as modes and scales, leading to the generic "play Mode X over chord Y" formulas.

    As I posted in another thread (specifically bass lines not solos):
    I always think of navigating chord progressions in three layers:
    1.) Roots: the absolute most important thing is traveling from the root of one chord to the root of the next chord, in a rhythm that is appropriate for the song.
    If I can do that using roots alone, the band/audinece is usually quite happy and everything else is gravy.

    for gravy I use:
    2.) Chord tones : as you already understand, just 1-3-5-7 of the harmony.


    3.) Other tones as dictated by my ear.
    Some may try to convince you that exploring modes will help, others that exploring chromatics tones will help, but studying these will not reveal any 'tricks' to a good bass line:
    I feel that if you have a solid grasp of 1&2, your ear will quickly and efficiently lead you to tasteful choices for your"other notes"

    As always, the best resource is to listen and learn from the great bass lines of the past.
  19. HeadyVan Halen

    HeadyVan Halen

    Jun 11, 2010
    1.) Pick song with good fills..have remote for stero close by.
    2.) Listen and try to play
    3.) Rewind
    4.) Listen and try to play
    5.) Rewind, actually hitting disc skip button.Get pissed, wait 2 minutes to find CD, track, and section you were in.
    6.) Listen and try to play
    7.) Rewind
    8.) Listen and try to play
    9.) Rewind, accidentally hitting 'tuner' function. Throwing remote.
    10.) Grab beer. Watch SportsCenter.
    odarellmc likes this.
  20. BillyIVbass


    Sep 24, 2008
    Gear Reviews Guitar World Online
    My best advice is to strengthen your ear. Try some ear training, there are some free ear trainers online. Hearing is half of it. Then you need to get it in your brain and sing it back. I have a terrible voice, but humming out a melody or bassline is a great way to double check my work.

    Start slow. Jazz is complex. I would say listen to jazz for enjoyment, but ear basic ear training start with easier songs you've listened to forever.

    Take breaks. I started with 5 min. a day of ear training. Recognize any type of progress. I remember being psyched when I figured out the theme to The Office or a stupid car commercial.

    Besides ear training learning other songs by sight reading feeds you other melodic ideas. I learned a ton about melodies from reading through a basic book of Christmas Carols.

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