How to reframe from playing so many notes and play just enough for the song?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Jalen Fuller, Jun 3, 2020.

  1. I created a thread on what to learn as an intermediate bassist and when looking back I do realize that I tend to over play sometimes. I usually come up with simple lines that are sometimes melodic with occasional licks that outline the vocal lines. However, sometimes I try to add in fills that are not needed and I realize it more when looking back at a video or recording. I was wondering could I get some tips on how to play without creating unnecessary fills?
  2. When doing a cover, start by learning the exact bass line. If you want to expand on that and add grooves and rhythms, that’s okay. If you want to add fills, just don’t step on anyone else—don’t fill when the singer is singing words, or the guitarist is doing a lead fill.
    red_rhino, Lava, soulstew and 4 others like this.
  3. Torrente Cro

    Torrente Cro

    Sep 5, 2013
    Interesting question, I often do the same thing. Maybe trying to pick only with the pinkie :)
    When I catch myself overplaying I try to concentrate to drums more and it goes away.
  4. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Yes. overplaying is thinking about only our part. Listening to the rest of the ensemble - to the music - is the path away from that narrow focus. Find cool ideas the other players are executing and create space for it.

    If it's typical 4/4 back beat music,
    a good starting place is to "leave space for the snare"
    stop your notes ringing the instant before the snare hits
    deliberately play the rests
    form the pocket around the snare hits

    beyond that, try concentrating on all the other elements of groove beyond pitch and rhythm.
    Articulation, dynamics, note length etc...

    When I need to create a bass line, my go-to approach is to find the minimum appropriate rhythm I can get away with and master that, so I can reach a point of being able to listen . Then I listen to the ensemble and assess how the whole song feels, and eventually opportunities for more interesting bass ideas become obvious - as well as opportunities to frame others' ideas.

    TLDR: listen
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2020
  5. mike57


    Feb 12, 2009
    Our Fair City, MA
    To paraphrase Miles Davis to John Coltrane -

    Try taking your fingers off the fretboard.

    In a spirit of trying to be more helpful -

    Lock in with the kick drum. Only play on top of the kick.
    Cutter8, soulstew, ahc and 3 others like this.
  6. bass12

    bass12 Have You Met Grace Jones?

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    This is not an uncommon issue I don’t think. In-the-moment listening (listening to yourself while playing) is not the same as listening back to a recording (at least it isn’t for me). This is part of the reason I think it’s so important to record yourself and listen back (I do this a lot to check on my time and consistency). One thing to keep in mind is that context is key. What constitutes overplaying in one context might be just right in another. Mix is also important. If you’re listening back to a recording and the bass is in the forefront mix-wise then you might be getting a distorted notion of how much space you’re taking up.

    I would strongly recommend transcribing bass parts (actually writing them down) and reading already written bass parts. The visual aspect of seeing the rests can be very helpful in aiding one’s concept of sonic space.
  7. Malcolm35

    Malcolm35 Supporting Member

    Fills, runs, etc. are OK'ed by the other band members at rehearsal.
    I got the fake chord from the director and then penciled in where a run or fill would fit.
    Question now is who will fill that void? That is worked out at rehearsal.

    There will be a few that you and the electric guitar will both do together...
    Jalen Fuller likes this.
  8. Samatza


    Apr 15, 2019
    I mostly remind myself that the vocal or melody is the focal part of the song. With that in mind how can I embelish this and make it sound nicer without distracting from the melody at all.

    After years of adopting that mindset I find that I play less but think more about creating tension and resolution without drawing attention to the bass line. I often discuss and practice with a guitarist/bassist friend who sometimes gigs with my band, we break songs down and try different voicing for the chords and find nice, supportive lines that adds interest in a very subtle way. This gives us both the opportunity to learn together and from each other, it's a continuous cycle and very enjoyable.
  9. dalkowski

    dalkowski It's "rout," not "route." Supporting Member

    May 20, 2009
    Massachusetts USofA
    Listen more to everyone else than to yourself, then govern yourself accordingly.

    @Jalen Fuller you always come correct with great, meaningful questions. Thanks.
    RolandMHall, soulstew, MVE and 4 others like this.
  10. Low Down Brown

    Low Down Brown Supporting Member

    Jan 8, 2018
    You beat the hardest part which was realizing that you tend to overplay ;)

    Took me a while to grasp that :banghead:

    Recording practices and listening back to them helped me dial it down.
    Now I try to pay less attention to what I'm playing and just listen to everyone else. For me, not focusing on the bass line helps me play less...and because I'm listening to the song, I tend to move with it naturally rather than forcing fills and excess notes in places where they distract from the the story, vocals, instrumental solo, etc.
  11. Peteyboy


    Apr 2, 2018
    Los Angeles
    I've seen footage of James Jamerson playing using solely the index finger. A self-imposed limitation that might help keep one from overplaying.
  12. dalkowski

    dalkowski It's "rout," not "route." Supporting Member

    May 20, 2009
    Massachusetts USofA
    ^^^ the essence, right there. Care more about the song than about yourself.
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2020
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  13. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    I think it is all in context. Depends on the style and the other musicians in your mix.
    Record and listen to yourself and the other players. If the piece works with a busy bass that's cool. But if the piece has some air, in my opinion I'd fill a little but wouldn't try to plug every hole with extra bass notes because at some point they aren't fills.
    soulstew, Ggaa, LostJohnny and 2 others like this.
  14. LeFunk Machine

    LeFunk Machine

    Sep 12, 2014
    Is your lines as melodic as James Jamerson? Yes? then you're not overplaying :D
  15. stigbeve


    Sep 24, 2014
    If the BL gives you a nod and a grin after a fill then it's not overplaying. If you get a scowl and a "no" headshake then it's overplaying. :)
    StyleOverShow likes this.
  16. Jeremy Darrow

    Jeremy Darrow

    Apr 6, 2007
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Fishman Transducers, Aguilar Amplifiers, Ear Trumpet Labs
    Try playing along with something you know well and REALLY try to overdo it. Way beyond the bounds of good taste, then steadily try pulling it back until you're just playing the things that make it your part while still grooving and supporting singers and soloists. Recording it isn't a bad idea. I've found that once you've really exaggerated, it's much clearer where you need to use restraint.
  17. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    There isn’t a simple answer that covers the whole topic. Singing bass in a choir did, however, give me on tip:

    If you’re playing more notes than the singer is singing, you’re probably overplaying. Your part generally shouldn’t be more complex than the melody - typically, it should be simpler.
  18. grinx


    Mar 24, 2003
    Raleighwood, NC
    1 - don't be all-selfish and 'look at what *I* can do!'
    2 - serve the song, not yourself
    3 - see 1 and 2
  19. 75Ric

    75Ric Supporting Member

    Feb 13, 2019
    Try writing out your bass lines, either in tab or standard notation, if you know it. Write out the chords first. Then, write out the notes in the rhythm you want to play with your bass in hand. Strive to make good connections from one chord to the next with dominate (fifth), octave, chromatic or scalar connections. Think in terms of supporting the harmony (the chords) with a good rhythym, as this is part of our jobs as bass players. Writing it all out like this is kinda hard work and requires thought, but it will keep you from overplaying riffs and fills where they don't belong. More importantly, you'll get some solid lines. You can still find spots to stretch out, for example in horn sections or solos. This can help raise the level in these sections. Then come back down into the groove. Your band mates will notice. Someone you might want to listen to in this regard is Willie Weeks on the Donny Hathaway Live album, especially The Ghetto and Everything is Everything. There are plently of other examples, but he is a master.
  20. grimjim


    Jan 26, 2014
    Chicago, Illinois
    Endorsing artist;DNA Amplification, GHS strings
    I've gone through this as well. Learn to play to the song. Experience is something we all have to develop. Keep practicing and it will become clearer to you when to overplay and when not to. Space out your fills more, don't do it during guitar solos or really busy vocal parts. Use it tastefully.

    I really notice this with drummers. When they are less experienced, they will overplay all the time. As time goes on they learn to play to the song instead of making everything a drum solo.
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