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Backing a singer/songwriter

Discussion in 'Ask David Overthrow' started by abarson, Nov 26, 2010.

  1. abarson


    Nov 6, 2003
    Santa Cruz
    I've been encountering a number of singer/songwriters lately, kind of in the James Taylor/Jack Johnson genre. They're songs often include lots of chord changes, which they worked out while writing the songs.
    I'm looking for ideas to accompany this style of music, that will get me out of the ususal approach to creating a bassline, and still keep up with all the chord changes. Thoughts?
  2. I am not sure what you mean by the "usual approach and still keep up with the chord changes". In any genre that I create bass lines in the chord changes provide the road map. I would say that when playing with singer songwriters, think of the song in mind when creating a line. Don't take the focus away from the song itself but compliment it, usually with less notes.

    I recently performed with jazz great guitarist Pat Metheny and found that he is so lyrical in his playing that I played relatively simple behind his fantastic playing.

    Playing the chord changes, regardless of how simple or complex the line, is the job of the bassist so try to become familiar with the changes in any style of music or song you are playing. Try to compliment the music the best you can.

  3. When there is a busy top-line, it is less muddled to keep the bass line very basic.
    Like decor, a busily patterned wallpaper calls for a plain carpet and vice versa.
    If you are fortunate enough to be accompanying a virtuoso soloist as Pat Metheny, then basic bass lines will not detract from the guitar solos. You could suggest some creative bass riff to the songwriter though. As it happens, BBC Radio 2 just played the Foundations first big hit (1967), Baby, Now that I've Found You. There is a bass riff in the Intro which suited the song quite naturally - it recurs partially later in the song. The bassist was not quite as well known as his riffs. I got to know the bass player that replaced him though.
    As a bassist myself, as a songwriter, as a guitarist too, I can quite understand that a learner would be unsure of what the songwriter required for a bass line. Firstly, given that the songwriter is a guitarist or there is a guitarist get the drums straight first. Then the guitarist can play along to the drum sounds with guide vocals - rather like multi-track recording. Next time round; play root notes to the guitar chords.
    As you practice together, then you can develop the bass line appropriately. Hopefully, the songwriter will accept the proffering! All is well that ends well.
  4. Liam Wald

    Liam Wald Supporting Member

    May 17, 2011
    California Coast
    I have done a few CD's with singer/songwriters. My approach has always been to think melodic not groove.
    Mostly peddle tones with little arpeggios at the end of phrases.
    This tends to keep the James Taylor types happy.
    Also, If you can sing the third behind them on the chorus you get lots of extra bonus points.
  5. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    Don't think "what will get me out of the usual approach to create basslines".
    Think "what works for the song".
    I'd approach it one song at a time rather than in general terms.
  6. 4Mal

    4Mal Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2002
    Columbia River Gorge
    I do a lot of this. What I find most important is to know the story being told in the song. For the most part, playing straight, providing a solid pocket and being sure that your note harmonizes well with the melody is the place to be. It's the front person's gig so unless he or she calls me out, I'm going to do very little to call attention to the bass part.

    So simple and solid.

    Being able to easily catch the 3rd, 5th and 7th vocal harmony goes a long, long way...
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