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Creating bass lines for originals

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by SH69, May 10, 2010.

  1. SH69


    Jan 7, 2010
    I've hooked up with a newly formed band. The main guy plays rhythm guitar and is a prolific song writer and the lead guitarist also writes a lot of songs. Its hard to describe the band style but its kind of country/pop/swampy.

    Some of the rhythm guitarist's songs are recorded with his previous band but his new stuff and the lead guy's songs are not. Often they introduce new songs in rehearsal. I find it really fun to be part of the creative process and it is very rewarding mostly because they are great guys and we communicate well, throw ideas back and forth and no one has a big ego and everyone tries their best to offer ideas that could help the song.

    Now to my question: I was wondering how you other bassists in original bands go about creating bass lines when someone brings you an original song? What is the process? I always ask the guys to email me an mp3 of an acoustic version with vocals so i can practice it at home, so I do have the recordings. Do you sit at home, play the recording over and over, and imagine a groove and play that or do you find you get the best results while coming up with stuff on the spot in a band jamming situation?

    I have found myself in a bit of a rut (hence the post). Because the stuff has a country feel i'm finding root/5th always works and then some walking bass lines here and there. This all just feels a bit too safe. I'm looking for ways that you all get inspiration coming up with great lines for other peoples compositions?

  2. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    it varies. there's times i got demos, there's times i just jammed stuff with the band till it sounded good. how do i get inspiration? i don't know...it just happens. i have to play something so i'll figure it out. i generally start out playing it safe, then try to look for spots where i can do a little more. sometimes i find them, sometimes i don't. never minded playing easy parts if they work.
  3. In my band, it's either me or the guitarist initiating the originals. When my guitarist brings a new song to the table, it has a fairly well-defined chord structure. So, most of the time, for me it's about playing over the changes in a colorful, novel way. We sit down for our jam sessions, the guitarist plays the basic structure on his guitar and I try to play over it. If a proper bass part doesn't come up during that jam session, I go home and think up something.

    It's actually pretty much about what sounds good. Grooves, I find, are a nice way to overcome the root/5th block. They provide a way to freshen up bass parts, in addition to providing instantly likable seasonings to a song: something which would be considerably harder to achieve with a complicated bassline.
  4. bwoodman

    bwoodman Supporting Member

    I listen to the melody and sometimes play off of that and of course, the drums will have a lot to do with the groove, so see what's going on there too. Sometimes, a raw acoustic demo of a song will not help - better to have the full band playing together.
  5. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    This is where you come in. It is your take, your experience, your feelings, your understanding, its.... well you get the picture. Everything you ave learned up to this time will come in to play, a blend of your academic knowledge, your feel, your techniques and influences.

    Each song means a different thing to different people so there is always "trade offs" on ideas to reach the final take of a song.

    If you listen to only the music of a genre you will eventually come to a dead end or a rut as you have no new ways in your vocabulary to express new ideas to give it a new twist if you will.

    I find each song has a natural line in it, it is a line that supports the song with the drums so it has a rhythm to it. It also helps define the melody by helping to define chords and from this allows harmony to become a bit more obvious. From all this it is as i said at the top...you.

    Its about all the musical things that you have ever heard, its about letting them come to the fore. Sure you don't get it ever time, some songs are just bland or just groove so you are limited in your choices. Also you have to have respect for a genre, and make sure you stay within the confines of what defines that genre....but only just, LOL, a gentle push to expand just past its limitations is allowed so long as it does not change the nature of what you are doing.:)

    Finally, go with your instincts after all it is those you develop every time you get a chance to work on a new song, and evey experience you have in that process, good or bad with all make you better at trusting those instincts.:bassist:
  6. I'm Country and it is dirt simple. R-5 will always work. What I'm trying to add is echo melody, actually accent the melody - not competing with the melody, just adding runs, at specific times, that call attention to the melody and lyrics that are happening at that specific moment. Listen to the bass on some ole time Country.

    Hard to do. Every one has to know what the other members are doing so you do not step on each others toes. Two people taking off on a run one beat behind the other is noise.

    I'm not there yet - still working on it.
  7. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Malcolm i take my hat off to you, but i don't wear one.;)

    You have that choice of "is what i do staying faithful to my obligation to the music"? Some music need ensemble playing to make it all work together.. there is no "what about my part" in it. All parts might seem boring or pointless out on there own or out of context, but it takes a great player to just realise that and do the job......as part of an ensemble or group these players mean everything.:):)
  8. nysbob


    Sep 14, 2003
    Cincinnati OH
    Support, support, support.

    You don't have to re-invent the wheel - particularly in that genre. Make sure the groove is well-defined and every note has a purpose.

    Imagine how a pro would approach recording that tune, because that pro might turn out to be you. ;)
  9. Eminentbass


    Jun 7, 2006
    South Africa
    Endorsing Artist: Ashdown Amps and Sandberg Basses.
    One thing I like to do at a session is put my bass down and just listen to the song. That way I'm able to hear a line without my fingers going to familiar patterns or drawing on the stock licks I may have accumulated. Usually my bass lines are pretty traditional or typical rhythm section type lines but if I'm not hearing a fill in a specific part, I'll leave it out instead of doing something that may just be habit for me. The advantage with band originals rather than session work is that you'll get to jam and experiment and will end up feeding off of or being inspired by something you hear the other guys doing.
  10. raymondl3


    Dec 10, 2007
    You mentioned "Swampy, Country, Pop.
    Check out The Band, CCR, Dr. John, Little Feet, Delbert McClinton. You could maybe mix a little Country Rock like L.S. or Molly Hatchet, a little James Jamerson type lines, and maybe some Second Line type grooves.
  11. Jools4001

    Jools4001 Supporting Member

    I've played in bands that have needed an original bassline for the majority of my playing life. Trying to explain how I do it is a bit like trying to explain, in words, how I ride and keep balance on a bicycle.

    I usually hear a bassline inside my head, then it's down to all those years of practise to make sure that what I'm hearing is translated into what I'm playing.

    What I try to avoid is playing scales over changes, because although that might actually be the foundation of the little bassline going on inside my head it is all too easy to sound like somebody robotically playing scales over changes. I also make a conscious effort to make sure that I don't force fit my favourite little licks and tricks into a song or tune.

    Can't tell you what process is at work that enables me to hear a crucial bassline inside my head, but I suspect that I'm able to internalise this process because I used to listen to tunes and sing a bassline to it for years when I was a kid. You might try that too, because even if you can't sing for toffee, you can usually work out something that will fit perfectly more intuitively than you can with a bass in your hand. Then once you're armed with your vocal sketches you can transfer them to your bass - either by transcribing what you're singing or learning it by rote.

    What I usually do when I've got that 'inner voice' bassline down is embellish the hell out of it until I can overplay on every part of it, then get very self critical and strip all the embellishments back to just one or two little bits of added spice.

    Another thing that helps develop your ear, is take your iTunes, stick it on random play and then try and improvise a bassline to whatever is playing. Stuff that doesn't have a bassline to start with is especially good for that but you can also do it by making up alternative basslines to other songs - I've found myself trying to play a bassline to various classical sonatas that pop up on random play amongst the indy, rock, metal, world and fusion stuff...it's sometimes a train wreck, but keep playing and it'll start to happen
  12. itswac


    Nov 24, 2009
    Boston, MA
    Endorsing Artist/Product Line Manager: Source Audio Effects
    Many may disagree with this method, but I have always found that my best original bass lines come when I listen to the song and pay no deliberate attention to what the chord progression is...the idea being to play what my ears want to hear.
  13. jpTron


    Apr 19, 2010
    Sometimes it's best to keep it simple, other times you venture out. It'll take me a few listens to come up with something other than the basic following the root. Sometimes that's just enough and other times you pull from your influences and come up with something different. Don't get a complex about it though.
    I'm in a metal-ish band right now and there's this one part I was coming up with a bass line for. At first I was going to kind of follow the guitar but still do my own thing over it. But in my head I kept hearing this Salsa bass part (I'm a big salsa fan) and hummed it out. Tabbed it in Guitar Pro because I wasn't near my bass at the time and worked out the kinks. Then I played it over the song and it fit perfect. My bandmates loved it too.
  14. SH69


    Jan 7, 2010
    Some really great advice here!! Thanks a lot, i think this has been very helpful.
  15. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass Supporting Member

    May 10, 2006
    Great thread!

    I'm in the same spot you are. Got a new project and the songwriter/guitarist is prolific at generating lots of good songs. We're a power trio so my job is to invent basslines that also support the role of a rhythm guitar. One thing that fuels my creativity is playing the changes of each song against a drum machine. My Boss DR-770 has about 400 presets, so I find one that's close to the spirit of the song and play the changes at different tempos. Start with simple rhythmic root movement and gradually add options with arpeggios, etc., and movement between the chords. This process cements the form of the song while letting you compare ideas to see what works best. I usually record the best options (bass+drum machine) and send the writer MP3s for comment. Hope this helps!
  16. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I do bass for originals as well.
    +1 to putting your bass down and listening & imagining without your physical habits limiting you. If possible sing what you come up with and record it, then reverse engineer it on your instrument.

    If the rhythmic style is well defined, that will point you in a particular direction. The more you can study the big names in your genre's traditionm, the better.

    One of my primary concerns is what the other musicians are doing, especially the drummer and the vocalist, and how can I "frame "their parts ..usually by leaving space for them...

    When I get "writers block" I usually mimic the kick drum and leave space for the snare on 2 and 4 , which has a 95% chance of being totally solid.
  17. RiddimKing


    Dec 29, 2004
    One thing I noticed with my band (now defunct, alas...I am in CL hell again...) was that some of the best basslines developed over time. Lots of time. Sometimes we'd been playing the same tune in rehearsal/live for a few months before I heard something (a counter melody, groove, etc.) that really worked. So, my advice is to be patient. Get a utility groove going that's adequate for the song, and after playing the crap out of it, the muse will eventually come to visit.
  18. elzeder


    Mar 19, 2010

    +1 to all who listen to the tune, don t pay TOO much attention to the chords and just try to hear a natural bassline in their head.

    Listening carefully and figuring out a line without noodling around in common patterns helps you find lines that fit the best at least your taste :D even if sometimes part of these lines are very common patterns, but hey if it works...

    At least thats what I do, I let the others start and join them when I figured how to play what I hear in my head.

    Of course if the chords change all the time and it feels impossible to figure out a steady line, it takes more time
  19. martinmichael


    Jan 20, 2008
    I imagine what a cellist would play in some parts believe it or not, works for me!
  20. superiorpine

    superiorpine Superiorpine Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 31, 2007
    Milwaukee WI
    Lots of good suggestions here. I also play in an all originals band, and do lots of R-5. Yes it is safe and it works, but, like you, I don't want everything to sound the same. Like RiddimKing said, my best parts resolve over time. Something that works when I am in a rut is to play the song back with the standard R-5 bass part in, and then improvise over top of it. Ascending or descending runs that are not part of the R-5 progression can be simple and groove oriented, and give an understated dramatic touch, particularly if not over used.

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