Do fills matter?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by wulf, Sep 25, 2003.

  1. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Picking up on one of the themes in this thread, how important do you think it is to learn the fills that are part of a song?

    My take is this: at the moment I'm working on a lot of material in genres like soul and funk where the bass lines often have fills aplenty. When transcribing the tunes, I start with the general structure and foundational riffs and I might notate a few of the fills. However, in the context of my band, its the framework that is important - the fills are up to me and need to be appropriate to what the other instruments are doing as well.

    Particularly if there's a particular feel to some of the fills, I might spend some time working on them to get the right vibe going but I don't regard them as essential.

    As an example, over the last week I've spent some time on Love the One You're With (originally, AFAIK, Crosby, Stills and Nash, but we're learning from the cover by The Meters), which has plenty of juicy fills, courtesy of the groovesome George Porter.

    Essentially, there are two riffs that make up the song (plus a tag from the CSN version that the drummer taught us). At the rehearsal the other night I stuck to those as a foundation, throwing in a few fills based on the three I'd written down in the introduction and whatever else fell out from my fingers. That worked pretty well and, with a polish next week, it will be ready for our next gig on 3rd October (see my sig. below - all welcome :D ).

    If I'd tried to learn all the fills I reckon that:

    a) I wouldn't have got past the first verse in my transcribing

    b) I wouldn't have been able to lay down a solid foundation because I'd keep getting tangled up in the fills

    c) That would be one less new song we could confidently present at our next gig

    Therefore, my opinion is that, unless you're in a tribute band or you're learning a song for purely eductional purposes, the fills are secondary to learning the overall structure and you may never need to get round to learning them as your group takes the song in it's own direction.

    However, there was debate on the other thread, so let's have it out here (gently :) )

  2. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    OK, I think we're in complete agreeance here, although I'm loathed to admit it cause I love good barny ;)

    So, to paraphrase, of the songs I've learnt recently (like wulf, mostly funk: Stevie, and some The Meters tracks from the album Rejuvination, as it happens, and some of the Headhunters I've looked at briefly too), this is the root I'll take:

    1) Learn the changes. I'll basically figure out what the chords are, usually by playing the arpeggio/scale over the chord. I'll usually start with the bassline, unless I cant hear it and something else stands out more, keys, guitar or whatever?

    2) Learn the basic outline, the skeleton bassline or riff, including the feel, the groove of it - 16th feel, light touch, really digging in, swing, driving, one drop - whatever it may be - I'll approximate the feel to start with until it all comes together.

    3) Learn some of the fills that catch my ear. Usually they'll be one or two real juicy fills that just really do something for me and I feel I HAVE to know 'how they work' so I can incorporate that feel or style into my playing.

    4) I might also figure out what's going on melodically with the horns, vox or any other signeture parts of the tune - this just helps ME create my own fills and better understand how the different instruments interact

    In general, I think fills are a very good indicator, a sort of 'label', of a players style.
    I also think that by learning a few fills from a song you are better able interpret the feel of the song in your own style.

    After all, a fill is what we do when we find an appropriate space to put a little bit more of ourselves into the tune :)

    I think the grey area exists where there are fills that are integral to the song.

    Recently I learnt 18 blues tracks for a stand-in gig I did. Obvioulsy the form is pretty standard through a lot of blues tracks, so once you figure out the key and the changes that are out of the standard blues II-v-I, you're prtty much there, but...

    One of the tracks was Gary Moore's Still Got The Blues (a great minor blues progression, nice to play :) )
    There's a bass line/fill over the turnaround that's almost part of the melody IMO, and I don't think you could get away without playing it - even an approximation probably wouldn't work.

    I can honestly say that I dont think I'll ever every fill in a song, unless I fell in love with every single one!
    I certainly wouldnt just to do a cover.
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    The original is on Stephen Stills solo album and was not a CSN song - although I think they might have guested on backing vocals.
  4. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    THis is intersting. You should ALWAYS play your interpretation of bassline or song (unless in a tribute band of course), but I'm a firm believer in sticking to the original feel of the song. I like nothing more than a slightly odd fill, but in many cases it just sounds too jazzy, too dissonant.

    Sir Duke, is obvioulsy about that period of jazz that is really upbeat and joyful. And Stevie Wonder couldnt write a melancholy or even vaguely sad if he tried!! IMO, dissonance does not belong in that song!!
    So there's no way I'd take a fill outside of the scale tones and would usually stick strictly to the notes in the triad and maybe play 7ths, 4ths at a push!

    I think you have to play within the boundaries of the vibe of the song.
    You have to listen to what the song, as a whole, says to the listener and you shouldn't push it too far or you'll jusy ruin it.
    Some music is made for really pushing the boundaries, some isn't and every fill you do has to take into account the purpose of the music.

    waffle over :)
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I agree entirely and think that as you seem to be saying, that it is actually a waste of your time to learn every nuance of non-essential notes. OK - you may do this a few times to see what a particular player is doing, for educational purposes as you say...

    But I can't see any value in sitting at home and agonising over every little note - I think anybody's time would be much better spent getting out and playing as many tunes as they can with other people to make music.

    So I can see no point, in particular, in spending a lot of time recording a note-perfect version of what somebody else played at one particular time.

    Whereas, as you say - getting the basic structure down - the chords written out as a chart - and then playing that with a band or group of people, is much more valuable and useful.

    Finally - I think it is far more important to get an understanding of what somebody did and then apply that understanding to your own playing - rather than just playing what they did exactly "parrot fashion".

    So it is like somebody who doesn't speak English taking a recording of somebody else speaking English and copying that exactly - making their own recording - with every nuance and vocal inflection exactly the same!! Then saying I am now an English speaker - here is the proof!! Listen to this MP3!!

    So - putting up an MP3 of you playing something perfectly - says nothing - it is waste of everybody's time - although mostly your own! ;)
  6. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I completely agree.

    Hmm, I dont think that's a good analogy. You could mimic the words spoken without understanding what they mean.

    In learning a song notes for note you will gain a strong understanding of the song - no better than if you just learnt the form, but I'm just saying that the analogy doenst really work.

    That is absolutely right, and the key there is playing it in a group... you always learn more by playing with other people than with yourself... errr...
  7. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    It depends what you're doing with a song. Do you recall the discussion on changes for I Put a Spell on You? I'm currently listening to I Dig by the Intergalactic Contemporary Ensemble, which I downloaded from because it included that song. Their version is so different from any of the others I've heard (including no vocals) that it's barely recognisable as the same tune, but they've still produced a good piece of music. On my first listening through it's not as great as some of the other tracks (currently on the theme from "The Naked Gun" ;) ) but it's still good to listen to. Somehow, they've thrown out melody, harmony, rhythm and fills and still produced a valid interpretation of the original song!

    I would argue that if a fill is 'essential' it is, by definition, not really a fill but a key riff or motif. In my current band we often start with a roughly agreed framework (again, see the discussion about I Put a Spell on You :D !) and then take it in an entirely different direction - maybe not as far as the IGS, but certainly to the point where it's significantly different from the original (that's one of the reasons why I find recording rehearsals and performances so useful).

    The recording is the starting point - the goal is to 'own' the song for ourselves.

  8. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    "I think you have to play within the boundaries of the vibe of the song."

    Yes, agreed. I didnt really mean the original - I meant the version you're playing, so perhaps a refinement of that statement would be:

    "I think you have to play within the boundaries of the vibe of the moment"

    I'd that makes any sense whatsoever?! :rolleyes:

    Also, I agree that if it's integral to the songm, it's not really a fill, but you (well, I!) would still tend to call it a fill in some cases I guess.
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Well - no - say, if you learn a bass line from Tabs and listening very carefully to the recording. Then all you know is where to put your fingers on the neck to play the bassline - you haven't learnt anything else!!

    You don't necessarily even know what those notes are, how they relate to each other and certainly not how to apply that in anything else you do.

    You have not become a better musician in any way - you have just become a better "copier of what somebody else did on a bass guitar" - a completely useless skill!!
  10. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Learning stuff note for note and nuance for nuance is great for expanding your musical vocabularly - although it's no good until you've spent enough time working around it and understanding it to add to your bag of tricks.

    However that's self-education - a somewhat different aim from 'learning' songs to play in a group context. Maybe we're back at the catch-all answer, "it depends..." ;)

  11. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Isn't there a flat-5 in there?
    ...somewhere in the verse?

    Anyway, quickly, I'll add-
    Some fills are integral to the song(maybe the drums & bass doing 'something' together; maybe the band cues off a particular bass fill, etc).
    Some fills are 'feel' & improv'd...though they will usually occur at tasteful/proper moments within the song's structure/idiom.

    If one opts to learn, say, George Porter, Jr's fills note-for-note...good. Great!
    IMO, though, if played over & over & over on a nightly basis(if you're lucky to gig that much!)...they will become lifeless.
    Just one man's opinion.
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Well - what prompted this was in the other thread where I mentioned how there appears to be a trend on TB, where people post an MP3 either as proof of how good they are or ask for comments on their level of technique etc.

    I am just saying that this is a waste of time as it is quite possible to copy something pefectly without understanding it or being able to apply that to playing " for real" - that is, playing in a band with other people or creating your own bass lines for new things, etc etc.

    Spending a lot of time on producing an MP3 that is somehow a perfect reproduction of another player's line(s) is a futile exercise....:meh:

    I wasn't saying that Howard was doing this at all - just that it was something I had noticed. And the kind of thread that performs this "autopsy" of a dead bassline in minute detail - might be sending out the wrong message.

    So - I just imagine all these kids sitting in their bedrooms with bass and computer - spending every waking hour not at school on copying their heroes' bassline(s) and getting it down on an MP3 to "show the world" how good a bassplayer they are!!

    I would much rather be saying to them - don't bother with that - get out there and play!! :)
  13. re. the "Do like you" thread, the phrase "preaching to the converted" springs to mind, considering most of the people in the thread (including me) are in gigging original bands;)

    re. learning fills in songs when covering them live, I learn all the fills I particularly like, and substitute my own for ones I don't, or where I feel fills should be added.
  14. Davehenning


    Aug 9, 2001
    Los Angeles

    For another point of reference, you should check out Aretha Franklin's live version of "Love the one your with."

    It has Jerry Jermott and Bernard Purdy in the band. Smokin' stuff.
  15. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Well, yes that could well be the case I suppose.

    But, for example, I couldnt tell you note for note the bassline in Sir Duke, but I do have better understanding of the song in terms of the relative notes (in this case chord tones) the bassline uses to get 'that sound', the scales, the changes etc.
    But of course all this is based on any prior knowledge of theory that I have.. if I didnt know what chord tones were, for example, I would just be repeating it parrot fashion and it would be worthless because I couldnt apply it to any other situation.
    That's the sheer beauty of theory I guess :)

    So I guess in learning someone elses lines I get a better understanding of how the bassline functions in the song, but you're right, it aint neccessarily so.

    JimK said
    What is this "flat-5" you speak of? ;)

    TNaah, there are still a few holes in my understanding of the song from where I left it last night. I have a bit more work to do when I get home :)

    Bruce is just jealous cause he cant play it!
    Stop lashing out Bruce it's OK, we don't think anything less of you. ;)


    It is a waste of time I guess, but the thread itself, and in some ways MTRs mp3 - it made me think "that's cool! ...and I could play that myself!" ...inspuired me to learn the song and I've bl~~dy enjoyed learning it as far as I have and I've definitley learnt from it, so it cant be all bad can it?
    On the other hand recording yourself play is definitley a good thing. And MTR is right it is a daunting thing to post it on here.
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    That's right - that's all I was saying - it's not a waste of time if you are getting some kind of understanding - but as you say that is dependent on you already having worked on theory - that is the important part - not whether you could play note-for note rendition of it!

    So - I was just saying that theads which concentrate on the minutiae of how to reproduce something exactly may give the wrong impression, because the paricipants already presume a certain knowledge of theory - but anybody reading that thread may get the wrong idea and focus on the wrong part - so I wanted to stress that the important part is the theory and how you expand your knowledge of this - not re-creating something exactly.
  17. Atshen


    Mar 13, 2003
    Grim Cold Québec
    I don't see the point in playing cover songs note for note, except, as Wulf said, for ear training/technique/learning value. I play lots of cover songs in different bands and almost every song has something different than the original, while keeping the vibe of it. It's much more interesting to play then. I'll keep the main feel and crucial fills, but I'll edit some or add some.
  18. Because time can be wasted perfecting minituae doesn't mean that it always is!

    I think for someone with a solid understanding of a particular tune, listening to all the tricky little things a great player can bring to the tune can be immensely valuable. By no means is this a replacement for knowing the changes and having the ability to get the basics right, but it can be worthwhile in other ways.

    For example, I recently picked up a copy of A Meeting By The River, a disc of slide guitar by Ry Cooder and VM Bhatt. The foundations are quite basic, but the tricky details of the phrasing - Bhatt's in particular - are complicated and fascinating. If I were to spend hours and hours learning every little twist and crevice of the musical landscape, I would improve my slide playing no end! In fact, I'm trying to do just that.

    To successfully parrott anything Bhatt played on that disc would require much practice, focus on intonation and tecnique and an improved ear. How could you call that a futile exercise? Even if I didn't fully understand every note perfectly, particularly the subtleties of intonation which characterise the Hindustani music tradition, I would still be fifty times the slide guitarist I am now.

    Also, what about classical music? Do you suppose that all those note-for-note Beethoven recordings made by droves of pianists (what's the plural noun for pianists?) are a "futile exercise" and that they should chuck the whole thing and go and start playing pubs?

    I think what you bring to a piece of music depends on what you are trying to achieve. Whether you want to have every ghost-note 32nd and chromatic run down cold depends on whether you need them - it's a different story if you're jamming in a blues club or practicing for a Pagannini recital. After all, what would you think of a competetive violinist who ditched all the tricky stuff because it "wasn't him" and made up his arrangements on the spot? Or a blues soloist who insisted on playing the same thing every night?
  19. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Just had to say, VERY good point! :)
  20. haha! classical music-
    *Family Fortunes "winning answer" sound effect*

    my brother sent me that CD, and also VM Bhatt's solo CD "gathering rain clouds".
    I'll have to give them another listen.
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