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Guitarist-written Bass Lines

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by DarkAvianFind, Dec 17, 2018.

  1. I'm in a band that only recently started up, and we're on our third practice. So far we've just been working on one song, previously written by the guitarist, with this long form, post-rock, Explosions in the Sky kinda sound. We've discussed that we want the band to be more collaborative but because this is something the guitarist has already written he has a bass line already worked out for it.

    The problem is this: he "writes bass lines like a guitarist". It's very chord heavy, and while I've played around with double stops in the past, getting an even tone strumming all four strings has proven to be a challenge for me. A pick seems to be a necessity to play it, which I've also never really done before. After last practice he wrote out the tabs for me, so I'm making a little headway, but I feel I've been a bit of a drag on our rehearsals and honestly my poor technique sounds bad to my ears. I can easily play simplified versions of these lines, but it is his song and that's how he wants it to sound.

    So what would you do in this situation? Admit it's beyond my skill level and tap out? Just keep drilling it til I get it and push through some awkward rehearsals? Advocate for playing the simplified lines?

    Or are there any gear changes I could make to make this easier? I've had a little better luck with my Fender P with medium D'Addario Chromes, a thinner pick, and playing close to the fretboard, but I'm very much open to suggestions.
  2. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    Get him to record what he wants and and see if that helps. If not, tough it out from the tab.

    But frankly,unless he's got the pick of the best bassists on the planet, he's doing it wrong. A great musician I once saw interviewed indicated that you have to pick original songs you've written that match what the musicians can do. You really are constrained by the guys in your band and their strengths/weaknesses -- whether the music is covers or originals. This musician I'm quoting plays with some of the best musicians on the planet right now. Even they have limitations and strengths that constraint what goes on his CD's.

    I do that when picking songs for my groups. I have to pick songs that fit their current abilities and strengths. Sometimes I'll pick one that has them working in their areas of biggest strength or interest just so I get the most from them.

    It sounds like he's got you working in your areas of weakness (we all have those areas). So, he's not likely to be happy with the result unless you can learn what he wants on your own time.

    Good luck, I'd be interested in knowing how this plays out, as aligning musician abilities with songs is an area of interest for me personally.
    juggahnaught and Mr_Moo like this.
  3. I do have a recording of him playing it on a guitar, so I'm scrambling to catch up with that. But playing it on a guitar vs on a bass seems very different to me. I'll keep ya updated. We cancelled practice today due to inclement weather, so I've got some extra time to grind it.
    Mr_Moo likes this.
  4. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    Unless he's tuned all in fourths like you are, this may not be a valid exercise...
    Some shapes that make sense on an instrument tuned EADGBE don't translate well - especially in the first 5 frets.
    Arpeggios are your friend.
    DarkAvianFind likes this.
  5. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    Leave it in a window with the sun baking down on it?
  6. bearfoot


    Jan 27, 2005
    schenectady, ny
    Sounds like a baritone guitar part was written to be played on guitar or bass, but a Bass VI or baritone guitar would probably work best.

    First, establish that you are not going to play it as written. You need to make your own bass guitar arrangements. If that is a major problem, just quit now and save yourself the time and drama. This is a basic, essential band factor - having the freedom to arrange your parts.

    Since the songwriter has apparently never played this part on a bass guitar, it might not even be playable. If he's Frank Zappa, that's fine, but then he will be paying you for session & gig work, not collaborating on music. Choose one or the other, eliminate the grey area.

    Similarly, when you come up with a melody and lyrics / chord progression, and an idea of a guitar part, you don't have to dictate every note.

    It would help if you could post the tab for us, but IMO essentially what you are looking to do is create a functional summation of what is presented. Reduce the quadruple-stops to double-stops - generally root + functional note, be it 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th. You can also create arpeggiated bass figures out of the notes indicated, like if he has you playing Em7 across 4 strings, something like E B G D E etc. , and then maybe play the chord on the 1 or where the emphasis is.

    As I'm sure you're finding, chords turn to mud quickly on bass.
    Mr_Moo likes this.
  7. The Bass Clef

    The Bass Clef “the brian” Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2010
    Southern California
    Unless I’m getting paid very well, if a guitar player gave me a “bassline” he wrote in which I had to strum chords on all 4 strings on a bass, I would just stare at him in awkward silence until he asks me why I’m staring at him. And then I would let him know that’s not how a bass works and that I’ll be making up the basslines from here on out.
    Oddly, Andre678, gln1955 and 4 others like this.
  8. aside from the impossibility of me being up to being paid for the 4 string chording I am right there with you.
    EddiePlaysBass likes this.
  9. portpc


    May 31, 2011
    It'd your 3rd practice & the guitarist is giving the you the bassist parts to learn?.. Are you getting paid?..
    Has he written hit songs before?..

    Do you hear a bass line that you can play & sounds good? Then tell the team this is what you wish to play.
    There's a great chance a simple bass line that works against the guitar can lead to other ideas and gee, before you know it you may be writing as a band?..
    it's fine that the guitarist brought in a song, A band however should be a collaboration & your input does matter.

    If he wants to direct it as he brought the song in well then, You are simply his backup band...
    Mr_Moo likes this.
  10. Dave W

    Dave W

    Mar 1, 2007
    White Plains
    You should be practicing on your own time so those rehearsals aren't awkward.

    I do agree with everyone about not wanting to play chords over all 4 strings. How about turning them into some arpeggios?
    DarkAvianFind likes this.
  11. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    one of the guitar cats i play with writes (and records) the basslines he wants/hears. i play those lines his way, as written. after hearing his lines for months he always encourages me to take liberties and embellish. :laugh:
    Mr_Moo likes this.
  12. 74hc


    Nov 19, 2015
    My view is that if he cannot play it on a bass but only on the guitar, he should have no expectations that you shall.
    Mr_Moo likes this.
  13. gln1955

    gln1955 Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2014
    Ohio, USA
    Four note chords will sound like crap unless you are above the 12th fret. Is this actually what he wants to play over?
  14. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Tough to say without hearing it, but maybe he/should record that part on guitar, and let you lay a bass line, incorporating the runs into your part.

    More importantly, I this the situation you want to be in - the guitarist comes up with the line, and you have to lay exactly what he did, with absolutely no input?
  15. juggahnaught


    Feb 11, 2018
    Not enough info to make a decision here.

    1. Are you providing chords while the other instruments are laying out or playing melodies, or are you all chording together?
    2. Are the chords set up as close voicings or are they more like power chords with a third on the top?
    3. Is there any harmony that you might break by changing the lines?
    4. Are you playing a four-string? Have you tried playing the bass like a classical guitar for the chord parts (thumb, index, middle, ring)?
    It's good that you're trying to learn the line. Before taking any actions (roots, arpeggios, the usual TB stuff) you need to sit down with the guitarist and determine what the vision is and what the song needs. If it's highly ambient, arpeggios won't work. Edit: typing on phone, submitted by accident.

    Depending on how the chords are structured, you may be able to play the important intervals (root, tenth) to simulate a similar effect. If that won't work, try the classical guitar technique. Definitely keep trying, though, but talk to your guitarist and figure out how to change the song to keep its identity and feel while making it playable for you.

    Post a recording or the tab if you can - that might help.
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2018
    Mr_Moo likes this.
  16. zontar


    Feb 19, 2014
    This is why it is good to have at east a basic working level of knowledge of the other instruments in your band--what can they do, what can't they do, what can they do that they shouldn't etc, etc, etc...

    As a guitarist & a bassist I have insight into both-I have primarily written songs on guitar--but in a band setting if I was the guitarist I would prefer the bass player have input into the bass part--whether they were a full member or a hired gun.
    If I had an idea of what I wanted the bass to do--I would be upfront about it--but it would be realistic-even if it was experimental.

    If I am the bass player & a guitarist has written a song I would definitely listen to their ideas, but if was a full member I would probably be more likely to do my own thing--based on their ideas.
    If I was a hired gun I would go with what the boss says, with whatever amount of freedom I am allowed.

    Some of this reminds me of playing bass in church.
    For the most part the leader gives us the songs & keys and I can pretty much play what I like most of the time.
    but if I play too much or to enough for the leader's tastes he will tell me and I will comply.
    If he wants me to play a specific part or to not play--again I will follow those instructions--he is the leader.
    But is easier to do that because most of the time I can pay what I think works best.
    Mr_Moo likes this.
  17. rizzin


    Oct 31, 2014
    Seoul, South Korea
    I play in an originals band, we are a three-piece. We play few of the songs our guitarist wrote. He wrote all the parts. They are quite technical and what you would expect from a conventional bassline, and it is generally above my skillset. But I enjoy working with these guys, plus we also play drummer's and mine songs too which are easier.

    Learning guitarist's difficult lines definitely served to improve my skill and appreciation of different approach to writing music.

    All in all, it really boils down to how you feel about this issue and to your relationship in the band. Instead of talking to a forum you should talk to the band. Guitarist may be okay with changing the line to a simpler one. If he isn't, he may be okay dropping the song and starting to work on something that suits you all. If he insists on the line, he may be okay that it may take you a while to learn it. If he isn't okay with any of that, then there's no way it can work out.

    Equipment-wise I have found that when I had to play lines faster than I was able to, a very heavy compression helped me. But I turned it off for the parts where I didn't need it. Basically, "compression as a crutch", yeah.

    >Four note chords will sound like crap unless you are above the 12th fret. Is this actually what he wants to play over?
    Just for the sake of nitpicking, not always. A simple example would be a 1133 chord. Basically, a doubled and tonally rich F5. Sounds ok, if the bass tone isn't boomy.
  18. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Philadelphia, PA
    That would be a Bb5, not an F5.
    rizzin likes this.
  19. @portpc We met online, so I don't know him well enough to know how he'd respond if I took a harder stance on the matter. I'd like to think he'd be accepting, but if he isn't my hope was to get feedback from this community on whether that should be a deal-breaker. Seems like the answer is yes. I have another band where I am basically a backing musician, which I'm fine with because that's been the expectation from the beginning. I don't want that to be the case with this band, but I'm a little insecure in my skill level to be quick to dismiss this guitarists ideas.

    @Dave W Absolutely, and now that he's tabbed the song out the way he wants it played I'm grinding it as best I can. But I suggested politely bowing out of the band as an option because I don't feel confident that I can master these techniques in the time I have to practice and I don't want to hinder the rest of the band.

    @gln1955 To my ear, double+ stops get a really nice reaction from my fuzz pedal, but it definitely becomes less articulate. In the context of this music though, it doesn't necessarily sound bad.

    @juggahnaught 1. No, the guitarist and the pianist are playing lead/melodies. We don't have a rhythm guitarist, so my lines are providing the foundation they play over. 2. More the latter, power chords with a third added, or a barre chord with another note added. 3. No, I think the simplified lines sound fine. Different, but not bad. 4. I initially started with my five string, but because we're playing in drop D for this song (the only one we've worked on so far) I've started practicing on my 4 string with a d-tuner. I'm not entirely clear on what you mean by the classical guitar technique? The song does have a strong ambient bent, which I think is why the guitarist is pushing for this approach. I have the tabs in the songs current form (which has already been simplified since I originally posted this) but they're in pdf format and I'm not sure what the most convenient way to post that would be. Please advise?

    A few people have had kinda strong reactions to this, and I wanna stress that the guitarist isn't being overbearing of this. I'm pretty insecure because this is the most complex music I've ever played in a band setting, the pianist is a music teacher and the guitarist has been playing professionally and opening for big names in his scene for over a decade while this is only my second band since high school, and I can't decide whether the situation is unreasonable or if I need to be trying harder. I have no reason to think I'd get the boot if I insisted on playing my interpretation of his lines.
    Mr_Moo and juggahnaught like this.
  20. juggahnaught


    Feb 11, 2018
    This is all good information.

    1. I asked this question because. as you realize, you may have to cover some sonic space for the genre you're playing. Many on here will have the knee-jerk reaction you've seen without considering the ensemble.
    2. Power chords with a third added could be reduced to the root and the third above (the tenth), which usually ends up as a two-note chord with a root on the low E string and the third on the G string, skipping two strings. That might work for your needs, as stated before.
    3. Fair enough - I can't form an opinion without hearing it, but if you guys can work something out, all the better!
    4. Classical technique - you mentioned attempting to strum the chords with a pick, which you hadn't done before. I'm suggesting using your thumb, index, middle, and ring finger to "pluck" a four-note chord (or fewer notes if necessary) on bass. Similar to playing double-stops, but with more fingers.
    You can upload a PDF and link to it, but based on what you've said, you might not need to. It sounds as though you're working on the material and already simplifying somewhat, and it sounds as though your band members are willing to work with you without cutting you out or vice versa.

    Talkbass is weird. Welcome. Some people are pretty opinionated due to their own experiences and you'll see that a lot here (fire the drummer, sack the guitarist, some other Type A personality scenarios). In the end, just use your best judgment and be true to who you are. Seems like you've got it well in hand; cheers.
    DarkAvianFind and Mr_Moo like this.

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