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Creating movement / feeling?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Jeff Mills, Jan 19, 2012.

  1. Jeff Mills

    Jeff Mills

    May 12, 2011
    This is a little hard for me to explain but I will try my best. First a little background. I've been bass playing on and off since I was 12, I'm now 47 (no need for a calculator that 35 years :), I know I'm old already.

    I've played in lots of different rock bands over the years and even a few jazz bands. I've got a pretty good handle on chords and scales and a pretty decent ear. Spending enough time alone with head phones and my bass I can eventually pull out the bass lines to most songs, I've tried to learn. I rarely use tabs as I think a lot of them are whacked out and wrong.

    My problem is I'm in a band now where the other guys decided to to all originals and I have no freaking clue how to begin to create a solid bass line around chord changes that creates movement let alone feeling.

    I feel like a complete bone head while I'm standing there playing. So I mostly play along with the rhythm guitar and occasionally copy something I learned from a recording over the years to create some movement. My ideas for being original sadly consist of chromatic or pentatonic walk ups or walk downs in between chord changes ending on the root on the next chord, then it's something silly around the root, 3rd, 5th, 7th of the chord that's being played.

    I'm currently pretty disappointed in my playing. I have stopped playing for this exact reason several times before because "I just can't seem to connect the dots" (if you know what I mean) but this time around I have promised myself that I won't quit again.

    Can someone bird dog me in the right direction to help me get over this hump.

  2. tangentmusic

    tangentmusic A figment of our exaggeration

    Aug 17, 2007
    Well, it seems to me you've got plenty of tools in the toolbox.
    Even if your past musical ventures have been of the cover variety, you still have the capability to come up with lines for originals. Really, theres not much new under the sun.
    Take what you already know and apply it to your own stuff.
    For instance, i'm sure you're familiar with the cool basslines to Funk #49 or Ramble On.
    You can take something familiar and twist it around, re-arrange, or re-invent it to sound completely your own. We all have our influences. Use them to your advantage. Too, if the guys have some rough recordings of the originals, take 'em home and play around with lines in the comfort of your own room.
    Most important thing: Serve the Song...
  3. Jeff Mills

    Jeff Mills

    May 12, 2011
    I've been banging my head for weeks on this... I think my forehead is now flat:D Could you elaborate a little on serve the song?
  4. nysbob


    Sep 14, 2003
    Cincinnati OH
    You can teach someone how to physically play, but I'm not sure you can teach creativity.

    The fact is, there is almost an infinite number of correct ways to play any given song.

    That's where YOU come in.

    When I first started thinking about coming up with lines for tunes I or my band had written, I felt much the same way you do right now. There's really nothing wrong with just playing the changes - a lot of guys have earned a very good living doing that.

    You say you came from playing cover material? Great. Think about what you liked that other cats did, licks you copped or elements that really made the tune work. Whatever genre you're playing, there have to be some recognized and somewhat successful people playing it. Listen to what the bass is doing - it may not be notes or licks at all, it might be leaving some really cool space.

    There have to players you like - study on what they're doing. Assimilate, ruminate and then CREATE!
  5. Jeff Mills

    Jeff Mills

    May 12, 2011
    Well I really haven't thought about that before - I think what I'm hearing you guys say is run with the style and technique of those who influence you.

    I'm starting to see some light here... now it's making some sense. Am I that near sighted that I couldn't see the forest for the trees? I think I may have been :eek:

    I really like the way Bill Church played in the early 70's with sawbuck, van morrison and montrose. I don't think of Bill Church as an iconic figure but he sure can make a song move with groove and feeling.

    Both you guys are awesome - thanks for smacking me upside the head.
  6. ShoeManiac

    ShoeManiac Supporting Member

    Jan 19, 2006
    New Jersey
    There are SO MANY approaches to writing a bass part for a song. And that's because every song is different and needs to be handled individually. So what do you listen to in the band in order to come up with a bass part? The short answer: EVERYTHING.

    The bass is conceptually a link between harmony and rhythm. We bring together what the pitched instruments are doing along with the percussion. There are no hard and fast rules as to how you're going to do that, but keeping that broader philosophy in the back of your mind is a good way to get started.

    First, look at the chord changes. How are you going to represent those? Knowing your arpeggios for all of those changes is important, and those chord tones can help you form a bass part. But you don't always need to outline every chord tone of every chord in the progression. Another thing to keep in mind: what is happening with the melody? Some of the most fantastic basslines ever played have been inspired by or play off of the vocal melody.

    And then there's your rhythmic approach to consider. What is the driving rhythmic force in the drum part? Lots of people play off of the kick. But plenty of bass players are also playing off what's happening on the hi-hats or ride cymbal. And you can also look at what some of the other pitched instruments are doing rhythmically. You can also vary your rhythmic approach with muting and the basic duration of a single note. Muted notes can sound incredibly powerful when they're placed well.

    So where does this leave you? With a basic concept about building your own basslines. I've been playing in original bands for about 17 years, and it took me a while until I came up with some of my own bass lines that I thought were really good. It's totally a process of trial and error where you will try idea after idea until you find something that works. And when you do, you're going to know it. The thing is, you need to keep at it.
  7. Jeff Mills

    Jeff Mills

    May 12, 2011
    How about playing what you hear in your head - any tips here? Sometimes I'm successful, sometimes not so successful.
  8. Blue


    Jun 19, 2004
    Central NC
    My Opinion: Your job is not to standout but to mesh it all together.

    First and most critical: Listen first to the drummer, and define the rhythms. Even if it's all roots make make the combo work. Groove.

    Then listen to the melody, find notes that support the direction without stepping on it. While there, listen for the pain especially for the pain, make it happen.

    As others in the band adjust - consider what they are doing. Talk to band mates. Make sure your decisions support their visions. This is where tone comes into the picture,

    Finally & most important: Be critical of yourself (that's how we improve), but don't go ape. This is suppose to be FUN ... that'e why it's called PLAYING.
  9. Blue


    Jun 19, 2004
    Central NC
    Having typed
    , I finished reading the thread. Shoe Maniac said it very well.
  10. Take some 'role models' of players of a specific genre or style you are doing. Ape those, you won't sound exactly as them, anyway. At some point you will sound yourself.
  11. Rockin Mike

    Rockin Mike

    May 27, 2011
    Do what authors call "freewriting". Put on some cool tunes, sit down with the bass and just noodle around... no rules. Let your mind and your fingers wander and the cool riffs will come.
  12. tangentmusic

    tangentmusic A figment of our exaggeration

    Aug 17, 2007
    Jeff - To "serve the song" means to give it a bassline that supports the general vibe of the tune without overwhelming it.
    To do what's best for the song. Sometimes it's best to keep it very basic. Other times a busier line serves it best. It all depends on the song itself.
  13. ShoeManiac

    ShoeManiac Supporting Member

    Jan 19, 2006
    New Jersey
    Serve the song means that you need to listen to the songwriters intent. Where does the melody go? Where are the chord changes going? What is the feel? Is the song a rocker or a ballad? What is the overall tone of the song, and how can you accentuate that with your part?

    Every song is different, and you need to listen for those differences. How can you do that? Well, get to know your songwriter, first. Get a feel for what the song is about. Get a lyric sheet and write out your own chord chart on that lyric sheet. And ask the songwriter what they're going for. Is there a song by another artist that's the inspiration for their own song?

    Obviously doing all of this will take some time. So what can you do on your own? Study bass lines in some great songs. See how they work in the overall scope of the song. You're going to find with some bass players of great renown that there isn't always a one size fits all kind of approach to their work. You may find some common threads in how they approach songs, but you're also going to want to see how they change things up in order to adapt to ultimately, you guessed it, serve the song.
  14. chaosMK


    May 26, 2005
    Albuquerque, NM
    Hi-fi into an old tube amp
    I've only played in original bands. My bass history isn't as long as yours, just 15-16 years.

    I'd suggest just taking your time with it and work with your band. With originals you can spend hours jamming a single riff to get everyone up to their best on it. I don't think it's expected for a new cat to just jump in and be "plug & play." Collaboration is messy work and you need to speak up and interact with your buddies. If something cool (or crappy) is going on, stop the rehearsal, work it out. Don't be afraid to say- "let me and the drummer jam this for a minute, I think something is setting in." If you feel passionate about something that's going on, let the band know, see if you can make it happen (might mean other people change their parts).

    Don't be discouraged if it takes a dozen different best attempts at a line for one part before something locks in. If you guys don't have that kind of patience then you'll struggle to even be a mediocre original band. Your guide- the way you feel about it. If it's like "damn, that feels good" then maybe you've found something.

    With my last band I'd say we used 1/10th of the material we came up with. Imagine coming to the table a few times a week with the best stuff you've worked on (possibly ideas that people had for months or even years) and 9 out of 10 don't fly. What we were left with was very good though.

    For best bass results, show up with your own ideas. If you have a gnarley jam, have the band build around that (and don't take it personally if it doesn't fly, but you got to keep trying!). This is one of my secrets to looking like an awesome bassist.
  15. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    I think that the bass player has a unique opportunity and obligation to create movement to change up the feeling, but it has to be done judiciously for maximum effect. There are three primary ways you can create this movement:

    1. Change direction
    2. Change harmonic function
    3. Change rhythm

    You might use one, two or all of these at any given time. Here's an example from an orignal tune from my band. Simple verse chord progression:

    | Dmin | C | G/B | Dmin | Dmin |

    Let's say you do that four times. The first three times, I play a line based on this:

    | D | C | B | Bb A | G F | the fourth time, I want to signal upcoming change, perhaps to the chorus or, well, just something else, so I play a line based on this:

    | D | E | G A | Bb A | G F|

    So, I've changed both direction and the harmonic function of my notes (in other words, the 4th time, I play the 3rd of the C chord instead of the root and the root of the G/B chord instead of the 3rd). So the notes fit, but they sound different from what the ear has acclimated itself to at the beginning fo the verse. Your drummer should hear this and create some kind of "groundswell" as it were, an use the resulting energy that you created so that you and the drummer can propel the band into the next part of the tune.
  16. When I create a bass part for a friend's original tune I listen to him play through it and consider what other songs it reminds me of. He plays guitar so he usually previews his songs (changes and lyrics) on acoustic guitar. In doing so, he tends to imply a strong rhythmic structure - even bass lines - because when he's playing it alone, he's trying to compensate for all the other instruments that are missing.

    So I pick up on the rhythm patterns from his strumming and listen to the voice movement in the changes and can usually tease out a bass part from those.

    I also listen to the main melody (usually sung) and that provides me with some more critical data - when NOT to play (much) and where my supporting melody (counter melody) is.

    My rule of thumb is all instruments should 'go low' when the vocals are in. They should provide a solid harmonic and rhythmic foundation for the melody and not 'draw the ear' away from it.

    When the vocals are out and the instruments can stand out more, I focus on making sure the 'anchor points' are solid (emphasizing the rhythmic strong beats with strong notes) and create motion using passing tones that help to color the overall phrase.

    Sometimes I just go by ear if the song 'speaks to me' quickly. Other times I'll take a more methodical approach and chart the progression and start with the basics - nail the roots - move effectively from one change to the next.

    When there is a drummer in the mix, we all listen to the acoustic and vocal presentation and start to feel our way in together. A lot of times hearing how the drummer wants to interpret the groove helps decide what path to take. Other times I'll come up with a good starting line that helps the drummer find a complimentary groove.

    "Less is more" is almost always a good rule to follow. Start dead simple - listen to what the song wants and deliver it.
  17. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    I know just what you need---come over to the blues shack with me. Well, what I mean is---I have found that whenever we jam I always eventually come up with something. At first I might not know what fits. Rather than analyze what everybody is doing, I just let the general feel of it sink in. I may start off with something shaky, but I always end up surprising myself when I land onto something unique that fits perfectly. Even the drummer often has to alter his pattern sometimes to fit what I came up with.

    Is it because I'm so good at doing this? Hell, no. It's just that I am relaxed about it. After all, we are just jamming, and it's all original. Now, maybe in your case, depending on the song, you might need to break the song down into shorter stretches so you can get something going for just that part (all our stuff has short phrasing, being blues and funky stuff). Maybe just get the verse part, or the bridge, individually. Your buds should be willing to help you with this by just jamming around on the song parts. Believe me, I didn't know I could do it until we started messing around like this.

    Some knowledge of basic theory wouldn't hurt either.
  18. JazzBassPilot


    Jun 19, 2007
    One small thing that works for me is... I start out playing basic changes/chords/bass lines, then I seem to get "bored" after a while. That's when I just let my mind wonder while playing and good things usually come out. Kind of like brain storming ideas. Then you just keep the ones you like and build on that. Before you know it, you are playing original lines.
  19. HeadyVan Halen

    HeadyVan Halen

    Jun 11, 2010
    Hum it first..This way it won't let your hands fall in their usual patterns..then just play until it sounds right. Sometimes it sounds better than expected sometimes worse..more times than not the problem is being 'too busy'.

    Augemented, slash, diminshed are great but play what you hear.
    Above all *LISTEN*
  20. ShoeManiac

    ShoeManiac Supporting Member

    Jan 19, 2006
    New Jersey
    Sometimes your instincts will serve you well. Part of musical training is getting to the point where you don't need to think about where a musical idea is going. If you hear a part in your head that you think is going to work in a tune, go for it. Sometimes those ideas will work.

    But don't fall in love with that idea so much that if it doesn't work in the context of the song that it gets axed from the arrangement. And be mindful that coming up with your part has to work in conjunction with what everyone else is doing. Everyone has to check their egos at the door (to some extent) and work together to accomplish something as a band.

    So what is a great example of a bassline that is propulsive, works in the context of the chord changes, and works with the vocals? Let's look at The Beatles and the first song that they played in their debut on American television: "All my loving".

    [ G+ = ]

    Close your eyes and I'll kiss you
    Tomorrow I'll miss you
    Remember I'll always be true
    And then while I'm away
    I'll write home every day
    And I'll send all my loving to you

    / Am D7 / G Em / C Am F D7 / 1st, 2nd / C D G - /

    I'll pretend that I'm kissing
    The lips I am missing
    And hope that my dreams will come true
    And then while I'm away
    I'll write home every day
    And I'll send all my loving to you

    All my loving I will send to you
    All my loving, darling I'll be true

    / Em G+ G - / Em G+ G - /

    {Repeat entire}

    Paul's part doesn't merely echo the chords that the guitar parts are filling out. They're taking care of filling out that chordal function. But the bass part is doing something very different. Paul is playing a descending walking figure through the changes that serves as a counter-melody to the vocal melody during the verses. And all the while the vocal melody is climbing. And all the while the bass part serves to propel the song rhythmically along with the drums.

    This is a great little bit of counterpoint going on in what appears at first glance to be a simple pop song from 1964. Things get a little more straightforward in the choruses, but the verse is a great study in what can be done with an interesting bass part in what may at first appear to be a simple song.

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