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How to simplify a complicated bass line?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Lux, Nov 27, 2020.

  1. Lux


    Dec 21, 2019
    Hi! I'm joining to a new group, and we'll start to practice Son of a preacher man. A great song, but obviously too complicated for me to play with a band, it wouldn't sound good. I think I'll try and develop a simplified version, with hopefully the essential rhythmical elements, but less of 'flying high' :-D I'd love to hear some tips of how you would do that? How to start, what to consider?
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Can you explain this statement, why you think this song is "obviously" too complicated? How many days/weeks do you have to learn the song, before the next gig? What is your current skill set? What was the expectation when you joined this band? Who chooses the songs the band plays, and why did they pick a song that's "obviously" too hard for the bassist? What do the other musicians in the band bring to the table (the original part, a simplified part, improv)? What is an example of a song that would be "easy" for you to learn? How do you learn songs? (by ear, sheet music, TAB, chord charts, youtube videos, etc.) If I said to you, "play the roots on 1," or "lock with the drummer," do you have those skills?

    We're a pretty encouraging bunch! If you can explain what's holding you back from learning this song, maybe we can help you smash through that roadblock. :)
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2020
  3. Simplifying this bass line...

    Hit to root note of the chord on the 1st beat of that bar.

    Add the 5th and 7th each chord for some flavour.

    Practice playing syncopated notes in the middle of each bar for extra groove.
    MVE, noeinstein, dcbluesbass and 6 others like this.
  4. Lux


    Dec 21, 2019
    Good questions! Well, I guess that it is the fast high notes that sound difficult to me - and that it they may not sound good, if not played accurately. Of course, I can give it a try! The group is under a community college and plays just to learn and to have fun, so it's not a question of performing well on a gig. We'll have a teacher and the songs will be arranged to suit each player's abilities. I'd just like to learn the basics of the song in advance and maybe develop it further during the spring.

    Mostly I learn songs from sheet music and use other methods unless I find them. Recently I've been learning older funk like James Brown, The Meters, etc. So yes, I have the skills that you mentioned. But to develop speed, means a lot work (which work I do, of couse, and also like it :) )

  5. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Cool, so I think maybe I can give a little advice on this challenge specifically:
    1. Re-listening to the song, it sounds like he does get more "busy" and add variations as the song goes along, especially towards the very end. My thought is that, you can play the simpler version of the bass line that he plays at the start of the song, you don't have to play the complex variations from the last verse. For example a big part of the song is just getting from E to A. If you know a simple way to get from E to A that sounds good, you can play that same simple thing, every time E goes to A.
    2. Left-hand technique, you can play most of the song in the area between frets 5-10. This is a tough area of the fretboard for a lot of people. I know I myself, had a tough time learning the notes. A trick that helped me, is to think of the 5th fret as a "nut" or "open string" and then re-calibrate the patterns I already know from frets 0-5. The E string starting at fret 5 is the same notes at the A string, the A string starting at fret 5 is the D string, and the D string starting at the 5th fret is same as the G string.
    3. Right-hand technique, normally I would say "study the original artist's technique" but unfortunately I couldn't find any video of Tommy Cogbill. But I did find some very nice playalong videos on YouTube, of different bassists giving their best. You can study their right hands, and maybe through them, some of that Tommy Cogbill magic will filter down to you. He was one of the greats, and had super-groovy right-hand technique! The bottom line though: This bass line is mostly 16th notes, and that's kind of a "binary" thing in my opinion: either you can play 16th notes or you can't, and if you can't, this isn't the song for you (in my opinion; I disagree with the folks saying to simplify this to an 8th or 4tr note groove). But of course, you are a student, and if you think about it, a student's job is to not know everything (otherwise why would you go to school, if you did know everything).
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2020
    dbsfgyd1, the baint, bassb66 and 6 others like this.
  6. DirtDog


    Jun 7, 2002
    The Deep North
    Pretty much any tune can be reduced to playing eighth or quarter note roots (in rock, anyways).

    Will that sound good/right? Not always but depending on your interpretation it could work for that tune. Keep in mind though, doing so changes THIS particular song from a funky, soul, R&B feel to a rock song.

    If how that tune was recorded is too tough for you to lay down, then that makes it a great masterclass for you in terms of groove, syncopation, arpeggiation - to start with at least.

    I often simplify bass lines to learn the form of the song, and then work in all the tasty bits as I play it again and again.

    Hell, I think I’m going to fire that tune up tonight and learn it.
  7. CallMeAl


    Dec 2, 2016
    Ithaca Ny
    -Focus on roots and fifths
    -ghost or drop 16th notes. Figure out which note causes you trouble. If 4 16th count “1 e & a” it’s usually the “ e” or “a”
    -tie notes together
    -if a note gives the line some harmonic character, try and retain in. Maybe a 6th or b7th (C# or D in key of E) will be notes I would want to preserve.

    good luck, have fun! :)
    Lux likes this.
  8. Spidey2112


    Aug 3, 2016
    Not sure of your abilities, but you can slow this down and pause as needed, until you get up to speed.

    Good luck!
    DeltaTango, DaDo625, Clipped and 9 others like this.
  9. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    I would suggest having a listen to a few versions other than the well-known Dusty Springfield one that seems to inform most cover efforts...


    Joss Stone:

    Katie Sagal and The Forest Rangers:

    Sarah Connor:
  10. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    too many notes2.jpg
  11. DrThumpenstein

    DrThumpenstein Living for the groove Supporting Member

    Feb 8, 2015
    St Louis, MO
    Fun song! I think the part that has you a bit flummoxed is the end where he gets busy. Whether too busy is subject to opinion, but there's nothing wrong with just maintaining the groove there and skipping a lot of those fast runs. There's plenty of sweet groove earlier in the song, so I would echo @Mushroo to stick with nailing the groove with the simpler lines, then add some of the variations he plays later in the song as your skills and practice time allow.

    I'm guessing that the other musicians are working on the original Dusty version as well, but I definitely second @SteveCS's suggestion to listen to other versions for ideas that might match/expand your skill set while still keeping the groove.

    As long as you keep the groove, you are doing your most important job as bassist. Adding flavor is good, tasteful fills and runs can enhance a song, but underplaying is nearly always better than overplaying.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2020
  12. Whole notes, or just lessen your divisions.
    So if the part is all 8th's bring it down to quarter notes.

    I'll throw out the classic statement, Less is More.
    Spidey2112, RocknRay, Lux and 2 others like this.
  13. Gearhead17

    Gearhead17 Supporting Member

    May 4, 2006
    Mount Prospect, IL
    Lots of good information here! For me, I focus on three things when learning a new song:

    1. Start practicing the easiest/most comfortable parts of a song.
    This gives you confidence and starts getting certain parts of the song in your head. You will then recognize patterns from these parts that translate to other more challenging parts of the song.

    2. Get the most accurate TAB and/or Sheet music you can find.
    This is typically the hardest part because you have learn the song while judging how good the TAB/Sheet music actually is. I have found bad versions of both of these - way too often! Typically, I rewrite the tab I found and/or makes notes within my printed our sheet music.

    3. Watch someone play it on YouTube
    This will demystify the entire song and give you an idea of what it really takes to play it. There will likely be a lot of videos to sort through, but you should be able to figure out which player is a doing a good job and what player is taking several shortcuts.

    Good Luck!
  14. pbassnut

    pbassnut Supporting Member

    Sep 27, 2004
    Falls Church, VA
    One thing you can do is start out with playing just the root notes of the chord changes in time with the bass drum and then gradually add stuff to your bassline that stays within the pocket up to the complexity limit of what you can pull off consistently.
    Malcolm35 and Lux like this.
  15. Lux


    Dec 21, 2019
    Wow, thank you! Lots of good ideas how to approach the task! And yes, I'll have fun :)
  16. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    if you listen to the various versions in https://www.talkbass.com/members/stevecs.270182/ 's post you can see/hear that no two versions are alike and yet they all 'say' about the same thing, sometimes more, sometimes less. i think you have all the license you'd ever need (especially on that tune!) to play it the way you feel it...in the context of your ensemble and the abilities/contributions of the other players. chord changes + attitude will get you there! i'm sure you'll have some fun with it. good luck! :thumbsup:

    https://www.talkbass.com/members/lfmn16.202464/ also makes the point: don't try to play so many notes! it's really about the groove/attitude!
    SteveCS, Lux, StayLow and 3 others like this.
  17. Get a basic chord chart, and just let the root note hang until the chord change. Do this while listening to the song.

    Then start hitting the root at the beginning of each measure.

    Then move to a two feel, by playing the root and the fifth (either up or down) on the 1 & 3.

    Then occasionally play around with the flat 7th whenever there’s a dominant 7th chord.

    Then vary the rhythm, maybe play a quick 16th note before hitting the 1.


    Well, the point here is to start stupidly simple and then keep layering in elements. The most important part is that you really should be listening to the song when you do this, because if you use your ears, you’ll hear what works and what doesn’t. If you are layering in your own embellishments, it will be infinitely easier because it’ll be what comes naturally to you.
    Lux and instrumentalist like this.
  18. Cool cover version. Try a few ideas from here.

    Lux, DeltaTango and Lupob6 like this.
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  20. TrevorR


    Oct 3, 2015
    Near London, UK
    Definitely, always preferred the bass lines on Aretha's version. Dusty's is just a bit too noodly for my personal tastes (amazing playing but Aretha's is funkier!).

    [Edit] ..and listening through to the bottom three versions all seemed to draw more inspiration from Aretha than from Dusty (despite the irony that Joss Stone's performance was a tribute to Dusty!)
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2020
    Lux, DrThumpenstein and SteveCS like this.
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