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How Do You 'work out' a Bass Line?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by sebpayne, Sep 25, 2008.

  1. This is a very novice question but I've come the point in my playing that I've got a bass and setup I love and I can play most stuff thrown at me but one thing I need to get is how you work out a bass line for a song when covering it?

    The temptation is used to tabs, but more often than not, they are not available. For example, I'm trying to do look at Life During Wartime by Talking Heads. I believe the chords are Am, C and E - where does one go from here? How do you know what to play (I'm sure this is a music theory question :help: )

    Sorry for such a newbee thing, I'm sure that it has been asked many times before! :)
  2. timmbass


    Oct 4, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    Do you mean: "how do I learn a bass line note for note just like the recorded bass line to an existing song?"

    Or do you mean: "how do I create my own original bass line to an existing song?"
  3. Both actually! As I said, I'm pretty rubbish on the theory side and am just working out this sort of thing. What do most bassists tend to do? Something similar yet subtly different the original?
  4. timmbass


    Oct 4, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    If you mean, how do I learn the bass part, note for note, of an existing song, just as the original bass player played it, you are talking about transcribing.

    We had a long discussion here about if when someone says transcribing a song, do they mean only learning it by ear note for note, or do they mean learning it AND writing it out.

    I think that most rock players consider transcribing as learning the parts note for note only, and most jazz students consider transcribing as working out he notes and then writing them down on music paper.
  5. timmbass


    Oct 4, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    I think most bass players learn it note for note at first and then after playing it the same way for a while start to throw in a few differences. Some believe that you have to play it always exactly the way it was recorded, with the same type of bass and the same type of effects, but those guys are wound a little tight for me.

    If leaning an existing part note for note, search talkbass for the word transcribe.

    If learning original bass lines, search talk bass for the words bass line.

    You need to also look into diatonic harmony, which describes why chords in a key are major and minor, and where the major and minor chords always are, regardless of the key. And you need to learn how to apply the notes of a minor triad or arpeggio to measures with minor chords, and apply the notes of a major triad or arpeggio to measures with major chords, and then move to minor and major pentatonic scale notes, and then move to minor and major scale notes. But you can get a lot done with simple major and minor triads or arpeggios.
  6. The sort thing I mean is - say we decide to play a song and I've never played it before. Listening to the original, how can you work out what to play basically? I think transcribing is right, but I'm not bothered about writing it down - just to know how to play it :smug:
  7. timmbass


    Oct 4, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    Me to. I might write out the letters of the chords for each measure, but not all the bass line notes.
  8. timmbass


    Oct 4, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    Ok, I get the MP3 for the song, start up software named Trascribe!, some people use The Amazing Slowdowner, and I open up the song in that software, actually I drag and drop it, then I click on a start point, an end point, I go to the EQ settings and pull down the higher frequencies and turn up the lower frequencies, then I slow it down to like 60 percent speed, and then loop a short segment of the song and play along until I get it. Sometimes there is one note that is difficult to get, so then I just play that one small millisecond where that note is until I get it. And after I learn a short segment, I move on to the next one. Doing this on my computer with headphones is really helpful. Search for headphone practice amp to learn about devices to help with that. The Cafe Walker is a wonderful device because it does not hide your bad playing, it really gives into your ear what you play on your strings. A real bass amp is far more forgiving.

    I can learn most simple songs in a day, but it takes the rest of the week to practice it up to speed and memorize it.

    Oh, and you can get lots of songs now on Rhapsody for 99 cents without any digital rights management crap.
  9. What I do,
    when making my own bass line for a song,
    is I have a very hollow bass line,
    the basics for the rest of the band to go off of,
    then, that night or the next few days I really meat it up and add my flair in there.
  10. Youngspanion

    Youngspanion Supporting Member

    Jun 16, 2003
    Staten Island, NY
    Try to work it out just one note at a time. Get the first note down and then the second. From there just keep following. You have to focus and not get too distracted. One note at a time. Believe me. Thats all I do.

    This is for covering songs. Making your own line is a different story.
  11. Thanks for the replies - this may sound stupid but *how* do you know which note by note to play? Does knowing the chords for the song help you with this?

    I'll take a look at those pieces of software - thanks!
  12. timmbass


    Oct 4, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    You listen to the note, then you start playing any note anywhere on the bass, and listen if that note is higher or lower than the note you want to match. It is not too difficult, and you will get better at it quickly. Lots and lots of bass players are learning parts to existing songs and making up parts to original songs who do not know the names of the notes they are playing, they are just matching what they hear in their head to where that note is on the bass neck.

    After a while you will figure out where the original bass player was playing on the neck, because there is usually a place where you play several notes with your hand in the same location on the neck. If you hand is constantly shifting around, you need to look for one place you can play all those notes.

    While you watch TV, have your bass or a guitar with you, and when you hear a music note, try to play that note. They always play some sort of music into or out of a commercial, or even during movies. Pick out one note and try to match it on the bass or guitar neck. It is like a game. You just get better at it by doing it.
  13. Youngspanion

    Youngspanion Supporting Member

    Jun 16, 2003
    Staten Island, NY
    Just dig around your fretboard. Remember. You just want to get the first note. Listen to it a few times. Shut it off and see if you can find it. Just the first note. When you play it over the song you may hear it faster.
  14. StyleOverShow

    StyleOverShow Still Playing After All These Years Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2008
    Pitch is the tone, each fret being a half step away from the next. You match the tone to the segment you are learning by hunting around on the fretboard.

    Timing is the length of time the note (see pitch above) is played.

    Figuring out where to play it on the fretboard is finding a place where most of the notes are fairly accessible.

    Your ear gets better at learning the pitches and the intervals over time, it just takes practice.
  15. High Elbows

    High Elbows

    Feb 13, 2008
    Philly 'burbs
    Exactly what I do. I have an mp3 recorder that I use during writing sessions. Play a basic line, and take it home. Then I write a busier, or more fitting line depending on the song , and take it to the next band practice.

    Oh, and just a recommendation to everyone, the ZOOM H2 digital recorder is a GREAT recorder for the price. If you're looking for a recorder, check this thing out!
  16. Knowing the chords can help immensely as you will have an idea of what notes you could expect to play. But, you don't have to know the chords to learn a bassline: you need to have your bass in your hands as you are listening to the music. You will be able to match the notes from the recording to the notes you play your bass by ear. Do it in small stages (a few seconds at a time), just to be sure you are hitting the right notes. When you are sure that you have got the first bit right, go on to the next few seconds and build on what you have learnt.

    When you are more experinced with working out songs by ear it will be an infinitely quicker and easier process.
  17. If I know the chords being played, I can start hunting notes by using basic scales/arpeggios for each chord. I'll usually hear the right notes in there somewhere...then it's just a matter of practice.
  18. sevenyearsdown

    sevenyearsdown Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    A little bit of theory can go a long way when it comes to figuring stuff out. I always recommend studybass.com for the self teaching. If you learn the basics/patterns of root-fifth-octave, major scale, minor scale, and 12-bar playing - you will be able to get close to figuring out most popular music (especially rock) just by knowing the guitar chords. That has been my experience.

    oh and what Whiteknuckles said too.
  19. Disraeli Gears

    Disraeli Gears

    May 29, 2007
    for me, if I'm learning a baseline note for note I'll transcribe it even of there are already taabs for it. I find that the physical act of listening to a song, figuring out the bass,and writing it out myself gives mr a far better foundation for how the line is supposed to be
    played, especially in the context of playing it with the rest of the song.
  20. JFace


    Apr 17, 2008
    Columbus, OH
    Confidence and muscle memory. A good ear helps, too. It all comes with practice.

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