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Creativity tips over chord progression

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by belzebass, Nov 29, 2012.

  1. belzebass


    Feb 21, 2012
    Hello, fellow bass-heads.

    A question I've been posing recently:
    To this moment I've been playing rock and pop-rock covers, with basslines that are mostly riff-like or straight-8th pumping. Son not a huge area for creativity. The thing I could play in the song was quite strictly defined.
    And recently I'm trying to tackle more of chord progression + groove kind of songs (think soul or Clapton's or Jacksons ballads) The bass there is very different: A general rhythmic pattern and chord progression. The bass is not playing the same thing all over again, but just outlines the progression, makes movement adding notes here and there, almost noodling stuff. A lot of freedom in playing bass how you want.
    How do you proceed usually to make basslines for these songs? You listen and you hum? you improvise directly?

    The basslines of, say, Nathan East or Bob Babbitt seem so spontanious. How do you work this out? Exercises maybe? Jamming to common chord progressions?
  2. Nev375


    Nov 2, 2010
    Music theory helps a lot with this.

    You need to know your scale intervals and what their role is in the chord/scale.

    You need to practice various arpeggios and learn how to groove along to almost any rhythm you can find. I usually get a drum machine and switch it to random patterns while I'm playing. I find this challenging as well as inspiring creatively.
  3. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    I follow the chord progression - there is some assuming here - and then let the song dictate the groove. It's basically root on 1, need more add the 5 on the 3rd beat. Need more the 8, or correct 3 & 7 fill in the 2nd and 4th beat. It's all chord tones the melody is handled by the vocalist and the lead break is handled by the pedal steel or lead electric.

    I play ole time Country covers which is pretty much root-five with chromatic runs to the next chord. The chromatic run timed correctly so it calls attention to the chord change is the fun part. Ole time Country is pretty cut and dried, anything else will get you fish eyes from the guys. Accent fills that echo the lyrics are welcomed if you do not step on some one else's accent fill. Folsom Prison is an example - there are established accent fills that are expected.
  4. My best advice to you- after years of throwing god-awful slap lines and 4 bar groove cliche's into pop-punk songs (some were cool, you'd have to hear it)- is to put the bass line in the song before you put it on your bass. This way you'll have a firm foundation and purpose for the bass line. You'll then be able to edit it freely with your ear during sessions without just blowing your load and making the session less enjoyable for everybody involved.

    Obvious but not least- pay attention to the accents. Not just the heavy down-beat one's, but the subtle rythmic cadences and melodic lines the vocals and other instruments are doing. If you're covering all the grounds of a solid backing (pocket?-hate that word) bass player, the groove should come naturally.

  5. belzebass


    Feb 21, 2012
    I came to really think about it when I started working "Old Love" by Eric Clapton with Nathan East on bass. The whole song seems to have that improvisational vibe. Quite slow too, simple chord progression, so lots of space to have fun, but it's easely overplayed :-\

    Is the 5th of a chord a good approach note? The 8th? The b3?
  6. belzebass


    Feb 21, 2012
    Great advice, I'll try it out.
  7. kevteop


    Feb 12, 2008
    York, UK
    On stuff like that it's (for me) about getting really familiar with the vocal, knowing all the lyrics and the phrasing and trying to use my part to harmonise or emphasise what the vocal is doing, or add sympathetic hooks where the vocal is doing nothing.

    The more theory you know the easier this is, but sure you have to experiment (ie: make mistakes) to get good at it.

    I don't think just humming ideas and replicating them on bass is necessarily the way to go. It's a useful facility to have I'm sure but if it's your only approach - as awful as this sounds - you're then stuck with only your imagination as a source of music.

    I'm sure we'd all love to have a boundless musical imagination but in reality I know I personally come up with a lot of ideas by getting stuff wrong. Either something good will just come out accidentally, or I'll find something interesting while bluffing my way back from disaster, or I'll record something and accidentally nudge the part out of time in my DAW and find that part of it is much more interesting as a result - that sort of thing. :D

    So yeah, I think the way to go is to swallow as much theory as you can, and reinforce that knowledge all the time by paying attention whenever you're playing, and if you end up in a situation where you can play every idea that comes into your head straight off then wow, well done, but in the mean time be adventurous and take risks because that's where all the gravy is. Sometimes you'll look stupid, but hey you probably look stupid when you're asleep and you sleep every day right?
  8. The basslines of Nathan East, Bob Babbitt, or just about anyone else who is at that level of performance seem spontaneous because those players have dedicated themselves to listening to and learning basslines from as many tunes and players as possible. This, combined with a little bit of theoretical understanding of basic chord construction and harmony, gives those players a wealth of musical possibilities over just about any given chord(s). They may be spontaneously creating basslines in their performances, but they're drawing on a deep well of experience - didn't Jaco once say "I know where I stole every lick I play"?

    The best and most time-honored way to get to this point is simply to take recordings that you want to learn and try to figure out the basslines as best you can by ear, note-for-note if possible. Often, you end up realizing that there's no "secret" or "special" licks or note combinations that makes pro player's basslines sound "better." Someone mentioned "Old Love" - if I remember correctly from the 24 Nights version, most of the time Nathan East is just playing basic chord tones, but it's the rhythmic placement that makes the bassline work so well and strongly.

    Another example that I've been working on lately is the Beatle's "Something." McCartney's bassline is so great because, although he's pretty much playing chord tones with a few passing and neighboring notes thrown in, he adds rhythmic and melodic variations just enough to not overtake the song, but to strengthen the bassline and make it "pop" just enough.
  9. wrench45us


    Aug 26, 2011
    a couple of good walking bass books may seem like taking off in a different direction, but if you do the homework, you'll know how scalar and chord tones follow/lead progressions and possibly develop an ear for how any bassline works and be able to construct them 'on the fly'

    That's my hope re: taking this approach.

    There's also a clever book of groove a day for bass, that may be a more direct approach for you, but I can't find a link to that book
  10. Another thing that's somewhat related, is that all of those basslines that people learn and go crazy over are just what got recorded once the engineer hit the record button. If they had waited an hour or even 30 seconds, the notes whould probably have been something different, but the sentiment or groove probably would have been the same.

    I guess I'm saying, that in my opinion the notes don't matter nearly as much as the basic feel or the sentiment you want to express.
  11. Study the artists you mentioned - as well as good old James Jamerson - and Paul McCartney.

    I've found that Jamerson is a MASTER at the amazingly effective, understated, yet iconic bassline. Simple, simply elegant, not a lot of notes or tricks - just tasty, well played lines that clearly are aware of the melody as well as the chords.

    McCartney is another master at the above mentioned, simply-stated, elegant line. Most Beatles tunes could have easily gotten away with very rudimentary bass parts and most people wouldn't notice the difference. Sir Paul was able to take the bass parts to a new, very elegant level without getting in the way of the song - although I believe in the latter years of the Beatles existence, John and George would have loudly disagreed. But as brilliant as they were, they would have been wrong to do so.
  12. scottfeldstein

    scottfeldstein Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2011
    West Bend, Wisconsin
  13. Nathan East gets around the Little Wing changes pretty nicely here:

  14. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    You've already Identified players you wish to emulate.
    Learn their bass lines:
    -learn to play it
    -learn the chord progression it supports
    -learn the theory behind it: how the note and rhythm choices support the harmony and frame the melody
    -apply the same approach in similar theoretical situations.

    in other words: steal ideas from everyone whose playing you like. Eventually, the sum of what you steal becomes your own voice.
  15. belzebass


    Feb 21, 2012
    Actually, I recorded me playing over these songs and, it didn't sound that bad :)

    I found that Babbitt's lines are easier to emulate (not technique-wise) since they are very prominent and ballsy.

    For Nathan East, evn though his style is easely recognizable, it's hard to emulate. When I play over the songs, it sounds just different. Guess it sounds more like me :) I found myself even playing drop-one in a slow blues :eyebrow:
  16. hgiles


    Nov 8, 2012
    1 play roots
    2 play chord tones
    3 play non diatonic chord tones when possible
  17. lkbass22


    Apr 21, 2009
    New York City
    I thinks it's been said but for me the way I learned to create interesting basslines was just from listening and copying players I like. Eventually the type of stuff they do just works it's way into your playing.
  18. Jhengsman


    Oct 17, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    And the rest of the band are pro's in Little Wing or most anything Babbitt or Jamerson did with the Funk Brothers there is space for the bassline to pop out to our ears. You can't be Jaco if everyone else in the band is hanging in your territory