breaking down bass lines

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by phaneo, Jul 21, 2009.

  1. phaneo


    Mar 14, 2001
    Fort Worth TX
    So how do you guys break down bass line? I'm referring to how the lines work with the chords of the song. For example I know a ton of bass lines, great does me some good in certain applications. When it comes to originals I struggle writing good lines. Good lines that really pull out the essence of the melody. I've got the groove down, just not the knowledge to know what notes will really make it work without being too basic. So lately I've started looking at the lines I know or ones I'm learning and trying to figure out what the bassist is doing in relation to the guitar or keys etc. So how should I be looking at this in order to grow as a player.
  2. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Know chords. Then look at the bass notes in the context of the chords. For example, dig the crunching intro riff Jack Bruce came up with for "Badge". Then see how it's based on the Amin arpeggio.

  3. EricF

    EricF Habitual User

    Sep 26, 2005
    Pasadena, CA

    When you understand how chords are built, you'll know what your options are - not only for the current chord, but how to set up the next one. Knowledge is power.
  4. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    start with the basic major and minor arpeggios, and keep it simple to begin with. Then start incorporating transition notes between chord changes. Learn how to play a I-IV-V turnaround, and use that to practice improvising bass lines, even if you never play blues, it is valuable because it teaches you how to change chords in an improvised line. Just sit down and jam out on the I-IV-V for a while, and work on incorporating the 3rds, 5th's and octaves, both above and below your root, and you will quickly master the basic arpeggios.

    Then you can work on the next batch of common chords, like 7th's, sus, and add's. These still use the normal major/minor arpeggio's, but you will have very different flavor notes to add in.

    For example, if you are playing a line under a major chord, you could drop down a half step from root to hit the major 7th, but if playing under a 7th chord, you would want to drop a whole step from the root to hit a minor 7th. But, the building block of ALL chords is the root, 3rd, and 5th, then they get augmented, minored, or add 7th's, 9th's, and everything else from there.

    Just my 2.
  5. OmegaBass16


    Jul 15, 2008
    Hookus, thank-you for that clear, understanding explanation about chord construction. I
    have been struggling with this for some time now(less than nine month, mid fifties, trying
    to teach self bass student). But after reading your post, I had one of those...okkkk, I un-
    derstand now moments!! Got to go practice right now, thanks again!
  6. phaneo


    Mar 14, 2001
    Fort Worth TX
    Unfortunately it's hard to know what chords are being played on a song you're not involved in writing. I even run into the guitar player who doesn't know what chord they are playing just that it's an A but have no idea if it's an A7 etc. So does this mean that not only do I have to know scales, but also how most guitar chords are built or am I missing something?
  7. J. Crawford

    J. Crawford Supporting Member

    Feb 15, 2008
    Its great to know how guitar chords are built, just as good of a skill as being a moderate pianist.

    If he is playing in A, and doesnt know what to play, you might want to run from the guitarist.. Seeing that A and A7 are two different guitar chords, IIRC, he might be missing some screws. ;)

    But I may be wrong.
  8. Greevus


    Apr 15, 2009
    Experiment! Try fooling around with various notes in the underlying chords and just go nuts. Ascend, descend, double, move up, down, play more notes, less notes, etc. Not trying to be sarcastic, I'm truly serious. Listen to your fave players and mimic their ideas. You will hear it done by them if you listen to their influences. I like the motto 'if it sounds GOOD, PLAY IT'. rules are meant to be broken, but it helps to know them first. Just don't limit yourself. You don't always have to play brilliant lines. A simple riff/line can add a LOT to a tune.
  9. SanDiegoHarry

    SanDiegoHarry Inactive Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2008
    San Diego, CA
    Big +1

    Another thing that took me *years* to sort out is try to put yourself in the shoes of the guy who originally played the piece. As you are sorting a line out, if the fingering seems awkward or overly difficult, you probably have it wrong - - Players don't write pieces that are unreasonably hard to play, particularly on bass where repetition and groove are part of the act. I've repeatedly found that almost all challenging sounding lines are actually quite easy once you envision how it was originally played...

    And along those lines - don't get stuck thinking the root note is to be played with your index or middle fingers - - that can really limit you. Think of it this way: There's a line in the key of A that you like but your not getting it when you start with the most "natural" fingering - with your middle finger (major) or index finger (minor) on 5th fret of the E string. Maybe the cat led off with his pinky on the 5th fret of the E string? That opens up a whole bunch of fingerings you might not have considered...

    And don't forget open strings - seems to me that many players back in the day came from the upright world where open strings were more central to playing - so many great motown parts had lots of open strings played - - If you're not used to using open strings, this can throw you when you're looking for the correct fingering...

    good luck
  10. Turock


    Apr 30, 2000
    Play what you hear in your head.
  11. Sparkdog


    Sep 18, 2006
    Burbank, CA
    There are different schools of thought about the best ways to teach and learn bass, but I agree with the approach of learning chord structure. Chords are the basis of all songwriting and the better you know them the better you can outline the chords and support them harmonically.

    Learing some guitar or piano is a great thing for a bassist. You don't have to be particularly good at it to get a lot of benefit. Being able to sit down and play an A minor 7 chord and see the fretboard positions at the same time you're hearing it can really help your understanding of how it all fits together.

    Like a lot of guys, I picked up bits and pieces of theory as I went along (I am entirely self-taught) but as I began to play with better and better musicians it became apparent that my lack of knowledge was holding me back from doing all I could with the basslines.

    I was fortunate enough to hook up with a guitarist who is a theory hound and has taught for years, and he is showing me how to connect the dots and fill in the missing links in my knowledge...VERY powerful stuff to have in your pocket!
  12. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    Exactly. This is the answer to not being able to recognize the sound of a chord. EVERY bass player should be able to play a common chord on guitar or piano. I am not saying that you should be able to play particularly well, but you should be able to finger a chord at least. Then take a moment and really listen to the difference between, say, an open G, and a G barre chord. I think you will notice a difference right away. Same with a major and a seventh chord. All chords have their place, for example, a 7th chord creates a tension that the human ear wants to hear resolved. Pick up a guitar and try it, you will see what I mean. A suspended chord is called suspended because it sounds, well, suspended. It is actually easier than you might think to hear a difference between different chords based on the same note, if you put forth a small amount of effort, and just open your ears.

    The second reason that every bassist should learn guitar or piano, is that those are the king of songwriting instruments. On a bass, you write music typically based on playing single notes, even if you have a melody, or fill, or whatever, the VAST majority of bass lines don't use chords. Writing a song on guitar, you don't have to play a single note, maybe the song really needs a minor chord, maybe an augmented, maybe a diminished 7th. The point is, a bass player could just chug along with the root note on each of those and be fine, but is the interplay between notes in a chord, and careful selection of a chord, that defines superior songwriting.

    Want to be just an average bassist? Or do you want to be a superior musician. Learning another more songwriting-freindly instrument, and putting a bit of effort into music theory will take you a long way in that direction.

  13. bubinga5


    Jun 6, 2006
    Great notes with chords are very important..but just as important are the way you play them....a well placed note can carry a song...Just look at Meshell Ndegeocello's playing..

    Very simple lines such as root, passing note, to root note can sound awsome if you have it in you to give them the right feel and touch...
  14. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    You can hear that style in some Norah Jones songs. Then it becomes even MORE important to select the right note! A bad transition or passing note will derail a song in a heartbeat.
  15. bubinga5


    Jun 6, 2006
    I agree Hookus...lots of space in that style..its gonna long as you have a basic command of your fret board you shouldnt play any note that dont fit...Unless you dont know the song, or your your improvising and out of your depth...:help:

    you were talking about my post??:help:
  16. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    To elaborate on Hookus and Bubinga's posts

    It is important to know all of the chord tones for all the changes in a song.. When playing root, 3rd, 5th & 7th (if applicable) it's a pretty safe bet the note choice will sound good.

    But later, do experiment with other notes as well, inside and outside of the chord. Even a "wrong" note can make for an interesting line. It's all in how you resolve it - whether staying in the same chord or transitioning to the next chord.

    Also, the use of space, not playing a note on a certain beat, is very effective. Bass is also a rhythmic instrument as well as a melodic one.
  17. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
  18. bubinga5


    Jun 6, 2006

    I always thought that leaving space gives the next note that is played much more power...Dont spoil the audience with your notes