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Learning the Melody on Bass?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by lyla1953, Mar 29, 2014.

  1. lyla1953


    Jul 18, 2012
    On occasion I see/hear - that in order to learn/play a songs bass line
    very well, I should also learn the melody of the song. I've seen and heard this discussed occasionally but I'm not understanding the logic.
    Also, is this learning tactic suited for the beginner or intermediate player?
    Lastly, I can't say I've ever seen a discussion about learning the harmony of a song to reinforce the bass lines - what is missing from harmony that melody offers?
  2. eee


    Jan 17, 2009
    I think learning the melody is more of a jazz thing than a pop/rock/metal/etc thing. It's a way to work on phrasing and playing melodically, plus it makes you more familiar with whatever it is you're improvising over.
  3. FunkHead

    FunkHead Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2007
    Stewartsville, NJ
    At first I would worry more about how the Bass & Drums lock in together. Listen to the song first and then jam to it. Then listen to it again. Repeat as necessary.
  4. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
  5. Matthew_84


    Nov 7, 2010
    It is definitely recommended for jazz, but I like it for other genres as well. If you're learning a song by ear, the melody is usually the first thing that gets stuck in your head and that you can sing. Therefore, the melody is the easiest thing to start with.

    Once you have the melody down, you can learn the chords and progression pretty quickly, and then the bassline will be very easy after that, especially if you want to embellish it a bit.
  6. derrico1

    derrico1 Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    Charlottesville, VA
    If you write or improvise your own lines, knowing the melody lets you create bass lines that better support it. For that reason (even in rock and pop), it's handy to learn not only the vocal melody, but also any signature riffs given to the other instruments.
  7. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Also, and this is pretty much from a jazz perspective as well, the harmony can change. When people talk about re harmonizing a tune, that's what they are doing, changing the harmonic progression under the melody.
  8. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
    You certainly should know the melodies to tunes, in your head at least, or be able to hum them if you can't sing them.
    But keep this in mind, in the old days, one of the worst comments a bass player could get was:

    "Aww, he just plays melody."

    It's often more difficult to hear and play the harmony than it is to play the melody.

    But one more thing, for jazz players especially, the greatest bass lines are usually a mixture of melody and harmony-- counterpoint.
  9. FunkHead

    FunkHead Supporting Member

    Mar 10, 2007
    Stewartsville, NJ
    I like to learn the Bass line note for note. Then I add my own very subtle fills into the song. A mixture of Melodic and Percussive. Just about every instrument is percussive IMO.
  10. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    It's the difference between being a bassist and being a musician.

    Make a habit of it as early as possible.

    Chords are what bassists are about. The role of the bass is a harmonic one. Bass melodies tend to jump around more than soprano melodies, precisely because we are playing the harmony. Learn to play the chord tones.
  11. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Our bass lines are the harmony. When we follow the chord progression and play notes of the chord we are providing harmony for the tune being sung or played as an instrumental. Music is made from melody, harmony and rhythm. We take care of the harmony, And when we lock in with the kick drum we also provide rhythm. The melody is provided by whom ever is playing the tune. Give this some thought what other instrument besides the piano plays melody, harmony and rhythm all at the same time?

    The songwriter will place chords in specific spots so the chord's notes will harmonize the melody being played over that specific spot. If we play the notes of that chord -- yep, we too harmonize with the melody being played. That is why we are told to follow the chords.

    Your question asked about the role of melody and harmony.

    Melody of course is the song's tune, that thing you whistle.
    Harmony is that thing that pulls together the chords and solo notes.
    Interesting thing about harmony. Harmony, the chord progression, is not protected by copyright law. The melody is. Chord progressions are not.

    Chords do two things; 1) the chord progression moves the verse along from I rest to IV tension to V7 climax and then back to I for resolution or rest so the next verse can bring up another thought or another part of the story being told. The chord progression moves the story along - as one of it's tasks.

    Then 2) for the melody line and the chord line to fit together and harmonize they must share some like notes. How many like notes? One per measure is enough, two are better, three or four just add gravy, if you like gravy, spoon it on. Read that again. The keyboard's right hand is playing melody and left hand is playing chords that have some of the melody notes in their make-up - when that happens we get harmonization - the two lines sound good together. That kinda explains how music thinks. To harmonize we need to play some like notes. Do a Google on how to harmonize a tune.

    So when you get a lead break what would you play. Melody or harmony? Melody is expected. You can gather your melody notes from the chord's pentatonic scale or the notes in the chord. Probably will not sound like the tune -- probably will sound life someone improvising the tune. Some do it well, I normally sound like a scale exercise. So to play a melody that the audience will recognize and fits with what the vocalists have been singing we should play SOME OF THE SONG'S TUNE as our lead solo. Here is what Hal has to say about letting the melody be your guide. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NehOx1JsuT4

    Perhaps take the lead playing the melody and in the middle mess around with some improv and then give the lead back playing the melody. This does a couple of things 1) when the band hears you come back into the melody they know you are getting ready to give the lead back to someone else. And then 2) you have the song back on track with the melody so the vocalists can flow right back into the lyrics.

    So, if you can not play the song's tune, IMO, pass the lead to one of the solo instruments. And stay in the shed till you can. Of course that is my opinion and it and $1.67 will get you a cup of coffee in East Texas.
  12. I wouldn't say learning the melody of the song is always key. Sure, it's impressive and will help you with your ears. Doing what fits the song is what I'd say is the most important thing. The rhythm of the melody is quite important. You need to decide whether to support it by locking in and giving it something to fall back on or if you want to write a counterpoint, which in this instance is a melody line (see Paul McCartney).

    Doubling up on the melody can be important and is something which is featured in a lot of music. But remember, when the time is right to do is the key. As bassists we wanna be heard and effect the song write? Your playing can be both melodic and supportive.

    Just remember, melody doesn't have to come from what is seen as a lead instrument (guitar, keys) so don't be put down by that. You can be melodic within your lines without being the LEAD melody (again, Paul Macca).
  13. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    Yes, without question.
  14. I like to learn the melody for the chords it implies and use that to build my bass around it.

    This is a technique for the beginner to the advanced, but for different reasons.

    For the beginner, you learn to recognize patterns in a good melody as well as explore playing your bass in a different way.

    For intermediate to more advanced, knowing the melody and the harmony/chord choices allows you to identify key parts that you can enhance with your bass. Sometimes it's as simple as knowing when to throw in a fifth to compliment where the melody is headed. Really is great for writing.
  15. lyla1953


    Jul 18, 2012
    Great feedback - and thank you very much. Can you lead me to a few tunes where Sir Paul does this?
  16. ydnac robert

    ydnac robert Banned

    Mar 29, 2014
    My teacher told me to learn or at least notice not only song's bassline and melody, but also the chord, the lyric, the sound, the beat/drumpart, the solo instrument and other instruments in it, the whole arrangement of it and even how to play it with other instrument than bass (guitar/piano). It helps me a lot since my new days on bass until now.
  17. Kmonk


    Oct 18, 2012
    South Shore, Massachusetts
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, Spector, Ampeg, Curt Mangan Strings
    Sometimes the bass follows the melody and sometimes it doesn't. I focus on the bass line, locking in with the drummer and how it fits in with the melody.
  18. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    It's essential in jazz but important in pop/rock too if you tend to improvize over songs.
    You can create very musical moments with basic counterpoints to the guitar solo or the singer. It's impossible to do if you don't know the melody.
    It's important too to fill blanks on accidents like strings breaking, PA issues, you can keep the song going by introducing elements from the melody in your playing.

  19. Sure mate. If you're looking for songs with the bass as the lead melody or as a melodic piece which is very prominent then look at Rain, Taxman, Paperback Writer and With a Little Help From My Friends. Songs which have lines that are a solid foundation for the song but are also melodic be that with the song or counter melodic, Something, I'm Only Sleeping, The Word, All My Loving and Lovely Rita.
  20. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member