Building reggae bass lines

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by JeffC, Jun 24, 2008.

  1. JeffC


    Mar 8, 2007
    I've recently written new some lyrics for my band that very much have a ska/reggae feel to them. I feel the sound will blend well with our other 5 originals we have so far, which have a pop/punk/rock/funk feel going on.

    I've been listening to a lot of Bob, sublime, flatliners, Bedouin Soundclash and Ill Scarlett lately and I'm loving those smooth reggae style basslines.

    I've just started picking up some of them on my bass but don't know enough songs to pull from to have a solid understanding of how thy are built.

    Can anyone point me in the right direction? Many seem like walking basslines, am I far off?

  2. MrBorisSpider

    MrBorisSpider Inactive

    May 8, 2008
    Ska uses a lot of walking lines.

    If you're looking for a good primer, get Ed Friendland's Reggae bass book. A couple pointers are:
    -Relax. Even the 16th notes are relaxed, not tight, almost frantically fast Jaco 16ths.
    -Get used to playing off the snare, not the kick. You play on what traditionally is the backbeat (snare hits).
    -One of the really common riddims is the 'one-drop'. You don't play on the first note of a bar. You play on the second. It's a syncopation (see: Trenchtown Rock for an example).
    -Learn to play right on the neck and with a thumb and palm-mute along with fingers.
    -Roll off all your highs and only play with your neck pickup if you have a Jazz-style bass. Really fatten up the bottom and kill the treble.
    -Don't play a ton of notes because it kills the relaxed feel.
    -Use a ton of root-third-fifth as well as root-fifth-octave. Aston 'Family Man' Barret does a ton of that.
    -Study some common Motown chord progressions and methods of playing. 'Fams' learned to play by listening to the old R&B players and you'll notice many Bob songs have a 1-6-4-5 chord progression which is classic Motown.
  3. like motown, I find the best reggae lines are melody driven, meaning you can almost sing the bass line.
  4. I've always felt like a fish out of water with reggae, but that doesn't stop me from trying at each jam session.

    One little technique trick I fell into at a recent jam was using my thumb like Sting. But even going a step further (I think, I am not really 100% how Sting uses his thumb) - but I put my hand in the same playing position as you see Sting do and I use my thumb in a back and forth motion.

    Since my normal playing style is typical finger style, doing it this way almost automatically forced me into a more laid back style.

    Also, since there was less power in this style, I turned up more, but played lighter - this really opened up the reggae sound. Very little effort - very big sound.
  5. JeffC


    Mar 8, 2007
    Very cool suggestions guys. Thanks!

    I'm gonna give them a go tonight.
  6. MrBorisSpider

    MrBorisSpider Inactive

    May 8, 2008
    Big +1 to the thumb-style suggestion. It really does make you play slower and more well thought-out lines...simple is often best.
  7. pbass2

    pbass2 Supporting Member

    Jan 25, 2007
    Los Angeles
    Aside from all the other great suggestions, when you're thinking melodically--the bass IS typically one of the main melodies in a reggae song---try to break free from always trying to get the roots of the chord changes in there--you can walk/move around the roots--you don't need to play them all the time--your melodic reggae bass line may only need to visit the root at the beginning or end of the chord progression. Try to think of things that feel "circular" in how they move around the chord progression.
  8. This may be obvious - but sometimes the obvious answer is the best one - AND you've already alluded to it - the real key is to immerse yourself in the style by listening and playing it a lot.

    What I do to immerse myself in music is listen to it when driving, going for a long bike ride or run, or mowing the lawn. So fill up an MP3 player with tons of Bob, Ziggy, Peter Tosh, Sublime, Mighty Mighty Bostones, Police, and spent the next month taking long rides. Pretty soon your brain will be filled with all sorts of reference points.
  9. JeffC


    Mar 8, 2007
    Cool, I'm heading up to the cottage for the long weekend but I think it's supposed to rain a lot. If that is the case, I'll bring my bass, laptop and usb interface and just jam all weekend.
  10. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    +1 to all that's been said. Here's another simple suggestion that I admit can be easily overused. Avoid playing on one.

    Doing that will cause your line to interplay with the snare more than the kick, and will help lend to a relaxed feel.

    Reggae is sort of the anti-funk. Funk is extremely one-based, reggae tends to deemphasize it.

    Another cool trick - consider Juan Nelson's line in Ben Harper's "With My Own Two Hands". In that tune, he does an arpeggiated figure leading down from the root, beginning on one, but when he reaches the root on the low end, he alternatingly waits a sixteenth to hit that note. I really like it. Check it out here.
  11. 1-3-5 on the i, iv, and v. the toasters' "dancin'" and "i wasn't going to call you anyway" are good example of this...just slow it down A LOT for reggae :)

    obviously there are a ton of interesting lines out there but that's a pretty common one in ska and reggae