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Bluegrass Bass solo

Discussion in 'Bluegrass [DB]' started by Bass Doc, Feb 18, 2017.

  1. Bass Doc

    Bass Doc

    Dec 1, 2010
    Charleston SC
    I'm looking for ideas for a simple "go-to" bass solo that I can pull out of my hat when I'm playing at a jam on a song I'm not very familiar with and the leader turns to me and says "bass solo".

    It's only usually a few bars, but everyone stops and you are expected to play something! Does anyone have any sure fire ideas that I can go to in that panic mode that will pass for a "bass solo"?

    Bass Doc
  2. anightintunisia

    anightintunisia Supporting Member

    Playing the melody is a good place to start. Traditional bluegrass melodies are usually very diatonic, and fairly straight forward. You should practice every melody at home you can think of in every key. Nobody will ever fault you for playing the melody, and if they do, well shame on them. Melodies rule.
    johnny_bolt, jebmd, old spice and 2 others like this.
  3. jasonrp


    Feb 19, 2015
    Start slapping like a madman. I was playing with a bunch of guys who were going right around in a circle soloing, keeping time and letting them play, when they looked at me.....since I was caught totally off guard, I just banged out the bassline with a bunch of double slaps and a few triples. Luckily their other bass guy didn't play slaps at all so it was a different thing for them and, luckily for me, they were polite enough to act like it sounded halfway decent.

    Now I've got at least a simple run for almost every tune I know. A lot of times, I'll start to do a boogie line like Bill Black would during a guitar solo. Just adding snaps and slaps to that after root fiving the whole song will stand out quite a bit.
  4. Learn the melodies of the songs you are playing. The simplest and sometimes most effective solo in BG is to slap out a tasteful melody. It isn't distracting and it keeps the song rolling forward. Roy Husky Junior was a master of this as in this example here:
  5. Paul Kowert shares some good ideas here.

    Last edited: Feb 21, 2017
    jleguy and Jason Sypher like this.
  6. Paul's video is a lot about knowing what to leave out, for flow, interest and drive and also utilizing the bass for what sounds it does best. Drones and double stops might fall into that category. If you can integrate some tenths etc into your lines people always respond to those sounds. Paul mentions hammer-one but pull-offs can also be very effective.
    Max George likes this.
  7. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Nowadays I mostly walk a bass line, throwing in a few bits of open space and repeated (like eighths) notes.
    Jason Sypher and martinc like this.
  8. Re: going into "panic mode" to come up with a bass solo during a jam session......many times the person calling out for an unrehearsed bass solo has no clue about whether a bass solo will work in any particular song.
    That can certainly leave a bass player in an awkward spot. Some of these suggestions are quite helpful. But sometimes an impromptu bass solo is beyond the capabilities of a bass player in a jam. In these situations I would just shake my head and let someone on another instrument have a crack at it.
    However if you do a lot of jamming it would be good to have a bass solo in your pocket if you need it. Grandfather's Clock and Clinch Mountain Backstep are good tunes for a bass solo. There are lots of others. That way you can offer them a familiar tune as alternatives to someone's inappropriate idea about when a bass solo should happen.
    Learning a bass solo is a great way to practice and stay motivated.
    Jason Sypher likes this.
  9. It is often that people will ask you to solo over something that isn't the best tune for a bass solo. In those instances there is sometimes the option to take a walking bass solo. You already know the changes because you have been playing them over and over by the time someone asks you to solo. Walking changes up the sound but keeps the tune moving forward in a nice way. The other given is that people always want you to solo over fast tunes thinking that you will slap. This is fine I suppose but in truth I often prefer soloing on slower tunes that are more open sounding and give the bass a chance to revel it's distinctive warm voice. Waltzes can also be nice places for a bass solo though people often don't think of that on the stand. Try to work out a few tunes that you know you might be playing and when the tune starts tell the band leader that you'd like to take a break on this one. That way you prepared a bit on your own and won't be surprised when it's your turn to solo. You can get a lot more out of this type of experience than constantly being thrown in the water unexpectedly and have to fight your way out with a flailing slap solo.. And one more thing. We don't really need to play Grandfathers Clock anymore, be adventurous, find new tunes to become bass solo standards.
    AGCurry, viper4000 and james condino like this.

  10. Jason: I agree with everything you said.....but the OP was concerned about being thrown in the deep end during a bluegrass jam session. Rehearsed solo's did not seem to me like an option. Also Grandfather's Clock was the first solo I ever learned. I can't remember the last time I played it but it gave me the confidence to take off on my first solo...one that I created myself. I have come to the conclusion though that in bluegrass music, other than for pro's like Edgar Meyer and some other jazz-trained bluegrass bass players, a bass solo really doesn't add a lot..... other than an occasional walk or slap attack. Others may disagree.
    Jason Sypher likes this.
  11. I see. Sorry, I lost sight of the OP. But soloing over tunes you like at home will help you prepare for the sudden "bass takes a break" moment. Also as stated before learn melodies, as many as possible. That's what jazz players do and I think it's a great practice for all music. I'm not a dyed in the wool BG guy though I play an awful lot of it at times. I've never understood the fascination with Grandfathers Clock, ha! IMHO there are so many better tunes to solo over, but perhaps I'm alone in that thought. Cheers!
    james condino likes this.
  12. Here's a little tune called Train On The Island that I learned from Greg Hooven of Galax. It's rough, and I'm rougher but it shows some of the things I'm talking about: playing the melody, using slaps, hammer-ons, pull-offs etc to embellish the melody and keep the flow going.

    [​IMG]Movie on 2-22-17 at 12.08 PM by mingusbeat, on Flickr
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2017
    kwd, BassJuju, Jason Hollar and 2 others like this.
  13. anightintunisia

    anightintunisia Supporting Member

    I still think playing the melody to your best degree is your top two options for an on the fly bass solo. Being able to play East Virginia Blues, On and On, Your Love Is Like A Flower, etc on the spot, in any key, any tempo, should really only take a little bit of practice time at home to get your head in the right spot. If you already sing and know the melodies then you're already in the ballpark.
    Jason Sypher likes this.
  14. This is pretty much my philosophy. I don't necessarily like to just play a walking solo but if its fast and/or twisty, that's the best option. I'd really rather take a break on a slow tune like like Flatt Lonesome or something that swings like Watson's Blues. You've got some room to explore there.

    And Jason, I REALLY like the stuff you are doing with Rhiannon Giddens.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2017
    marcox and Jason Sypher like this.
  15. Super Iridium

    Super Iridium

    Jan 21, 2013
    How about some advice for playing a solo when you DON'T know the melody but just the chord progression? For the group that I play with, there are sheets showing the words of each song and then the pattern of chords, but no melody. So the advice to play a bass solo based on the melody doesn't quite help there. Thanks!
    MR PC and Rlowry like this.
  16. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    I'd love to see some bowed bluegrass solo's as well. Doesn't that make the most sense in bluegrass anyway? Do what the fiddle player does, albeit with less agility. Any bluegrass players that take this sort of approach?
    Akawa341 likes this.
  17. anightintunisia

    anightintunisia Supporting Member

    If you can't remember a traditional bluegrass melody after hearing it two times through the form but can play the chord changes from memory, make your own simple melody using the chord tones.
    Super Iridium likes this.
  18. anightintunisia

    anightintunisia Supporting Member

    Or another idea is if you can't remember or don't know the exact melodic movement of the melody, at least try and get the rhythmic ideas of the melody and incorporate that into your solo.
    Super Iridium and marcox like this.
  19. JW_Manhattan

    JW_Manhattan Banned

    Feb 8, 2017
    Around 30:30 might give you what you are looking for:

  20. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    Playing the upright bass in a bluegrass band is often a constant exercise in frustration. See what happens to the fiddle player or guitar player if the entire band stops playing when it is their turn to solo. I feel it is a necessity whenever some clueless guitar player calls out a bass solo in the most inappropriate time to call them on that $#!@; many of them are clueless egomaniacs who don't seem to get it. NOBODY needs to hear a bass solo on a balad or a waltz, EVER!!!!!!

    As stated above, the best thing you can do for a solo is learn the melody. Not only does it work great for your solo time, but it is even better when the other slackers don't learn it properly and you take the solo from them and play it correct! When I listen back to the historic record and the iconic players form the 40s and 50s, being a bluegrass bass player was fantastic, there was complexity and walking lines and solos and all sorts of interesting additions to the music and these days it seems to have been dulled down to the worst musician in the band; you could get a foot pedal to cover 90% of what I hear happening today. Time for bluegrass bass players to stand up and take it back and STOP being just a root five b!tch!!!!!!!!

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