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More than just roots

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by mpderksen, Mar 11, 2014.

  1. mpderksen


    Oct 10, 2011
    It's a big question, but I am bored with the way I play, but am stuck how to improve.
    I started in a cover band, so I would learn the tabs for the classic rock songs we did. Then, when that stopped, I started playing for our church. They give us sheets with just the chord changes.
    I have a strong keyboard background (classical major in college) so I know theory and how to read. I've practiced scales on the bass, and it's coming along. I can add notes when moving from on chord to the next by using those patterns.
    BUT, that's where I'm stuck. I know I'm not the lead, but when I watch proficient bass players, they add a lot more color. Tonight, I was working on a song in B. 4 bars of that, then walk up to E for 4 bars. Years of playing only what is written left me with a weak ear. And tabs are just memorization that rarely gives me ideas for other songs. I've moved to the mid-neck to give me more room for octaves, but I'm still stuck.
    I love blues and jazz, so should I spend some time learning those styles? Will they give me more ideas that I can use in my church music? (Which I play mostly as a service, not out of a particular love for that musical style).
    I have a book, Building Walking Basslines, but never opened it. Copying riffs from better players doesn't seem to help me learn to create my own.

    Thoughts on how to practice that will make me better would be appreciated.


  2. WeeTee


    Apr 24, 2005
    There's your answer. Crack that book open and spend some quality time with it. You're bound to pick up lots of ideas from it.
  3. mandohack


    May 6, 2011
    MI, USA
    You're already on your way with the scale tones. Other things to consider:

    1. Use chord tones, 1-3-5, 1-3-5-7, etc. while playing and to get you to the next chord. After getting used to that, you can add enharmonic notes to add flavor.
    2. Chromatic walk to the root of the next chord. Start three chromatic steps away and get to the next root on the beat.
    3. Intervals. Practice and use movement in thirds and fourths. Rather than walk chromatically or chord tone wise alternate by thirds or fourths, root, 3rd, 2nd, fourth, 3rd, 5th, etc.
    4. Intervals II. Root-octave movement is very common. Experiment with going beyond that, 10ths, 11ths ...

    Good luck, enjoy the journey!
  4. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Yes to chord tones R-5 with the correct 3 and 7 (b3 or b7) and the 8 or 6 for some color will give you what you need.

    I use the major scale box pattern and move the pattern around the neck to give me what I need. Song in A, I'll place the box's R note on the 4th string 5th fret and play from there. Song in C, I'll place the box's R on the 4th string 8th fret and play from there. Should mention I transpose the A, B, C to Nashville numbers 1, 2, 3. If you use the box it just makes things easier. Once you have gone to Nashville numbers its generic and should you need to change the key for a new vocalist, not a big deal, just move the box's R over the new tonic note.

    Using the box -- from the root where is the 3? Up a string and back one fret. Where is the 5? Up a string and over two frets. The 7 is up two strings and over one fret. Always, i.e. the scale degrees within the box are always in the same spot of your fretboard. Thus there are chord tones repeated all over your fretboard. But, yes as you say there is more that can be done.

    Yes to Ed's Building Walking Bass Lines also, BUT, I too play Praise from fake chord sheet music and find that root on one is mostly what I end up using.

    I have started calling up sheet music that has the bass clef shown and I then see where they have added a run or fill and then I take that over to my sheet music. Some time it fits in and other times it does not.

    Most of praise is root on one. With one or two chromatic/diatonic runs per song. Sometime just one root per measure is correct and fits best. This became clear from looking at the published bass clef sheet music. So we do not need a lot, but, yes we can flesh out our bass lines a little.

    I'm relying on sheet music with the bass line shown to help. Understand I still play from the fake chord the band director handed me and feel this is the correct thing to do, i.e. make my additions on the fake chord he gave me.

    I'd point you to standard notation bass lines and see if you could flesh out you bass lines from there. Amazon can find real books for you. Be careful always look inside to make sure the bass clef is shown. A lot are in lead sheet format, which has no bass clef.

    Good luck.
  5. lyla1953


    Jul 18, 2012
    I'm about 2/3 through the Walking Bass Lines Book. Very Jazz and Blues focused. I'm doing it with an instructor which has helped quite a bit. It's been is a pretty fast study so far. You'll need to have a intermediate ability to read notation as there is no TAB..
    It will help you.
  6. mpderksen


    Oct 10, 2011
    Thanks all. While I can sight read on a keyboard, I have to do a translation step to the fretboard. It's a bit like a language. When I see a cat, I think "cat". I know the Spanish word is Gato, but if I'm saying it I have think the "the word for cat is gato" and then say it. In this case, if you asked me to play a C, I could do it, and I know which note in the music is a C, but I have to think"C" and then play it. The note itself doesn't jump my finger to the right place. Does that make sense? Time with written music, instead of tabs, would be good practice. I have a Rock Bass Bible that has both, so I could use that as well.
    I think my true question of how to improve, first and foremost, involves intelligent and regular practice. I can see a typical evening like this:
    - warm up with a few scales, M, Min., blues etc. and some arpeggios.
    - work in Ed's Bassline book to work on creativity
    - read some lines from "real" music
    - practice the songs that are coming up for the next Sunday, and try to add only one or two elements, while not over-playing it
    - close by jamming to a song or two I love to play, like Petty's Breakdown

    Even if I only do a small amount of each, I think my proficiency would improve over time. I can pack a lot into 30-45 min if I'm focused. I bet I would enjoy it too once I start seeing growth. It's really no different from when I learned piano as a child, but I tried to skip the basics, thinking that I didn't need fundamentals.

    There's a local Thursday night Jazz jam that I eventually would love to be able sit in with. Jazz is, to me, the coolest expression of music. Not as exciting as rock, or even blues, but there's something really appealing about the way those lines move.
  7. bluesdogblues


    Nov 13, 2007
    #"I love blues and jazz, so should I spend some time learning those styles? Will they give me more ideas that I can use in my church music?"
    yes and yes (in all type of your music).

    #Listen to Paul McCartney. IMHO He's the best in making uncommon, unboring, unorthodox, unpredictable beautiful basslines in any chord progression/melody/song given.
  8. lyla1953


    Jul 18, 2012
    I have Mr Jamerson high on my list as well.
  9. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Looks like a plan.

    What helps me is to call up a video of the song being played by the original artist and then armed with the fake chord I got from our director. Listen to the video first, i.e. don't try to play with it right now. Listen and look at the fake chord that was given to me. Get an idea of what bass line is going to work. How much room will I have for this chord and how much duration (sustain) this chord needs. I have some notations that I add to the fake chord that help me with note durations, and things like that. I use a diamond notation to indicate that this chords will ring out (sustain) and a Q notation indicates I need to move quickly to the next chord. Some time I'll need to omit a chord as there is just not enough time to use it. I make notes in the margins like "wait on it", etc. Here is a detailed Nashville number chart showing the diamond and several other notations that can be used. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMigJlVLsdw Should mention that my Nashville numbers also have the lyrics as I sing the lyrics under my breath to know when the chord changes are coming. I'm expected to hit the chord changes on the lyric syllable, i.e. dead on, not before and of course not after the fact. I'm listening and reading the fake chord and playing notes on my belly.

    After that I get my instrument and play-a-long with the video adding any other notations that will help.

    I have just lately added one more step and that is to compare what I've got for a bass line with some real book sheet music. Being able to see a bass line of standard notation reinforces the root or root five flow that is on my fake chord bass line. Like you indicated there may be some runs or fills that may add value. Runs and fills work if you are not stepping on someone else's run. You work this all out at rehearsal. Two of you taking off on a run at the same time gets muddy.

    To the jazz jamming session; yes go and be a sponge, soak up all you can. Carry your instrument with you - you may not want to carry it in the first time, but, have it handy just in case. Take notes on how people are invited into the circle, how are the songs called; does the caller pass the song around or does he start and finish the song. Just get an idea of how this specific jamming session is run. Some time you need to be invited (nodded) into the circle and other places you just drag up a chair. Be a sponge get a feel for what happens at this circle.

    What you have outlined is a good plan.

    Have fun.
  10. jeff5311


    Jan 27, 2008
    Atlanta, GA
    Major pentatonic is your friend for P&W (and R&B).

    But how can 5 notes help me create interesting bass lines? Actually the possibilities are endless.

    In particular, learn the major pentatonic with a sliding box. For instance in the key of G, go:


    Slide between the 5-7 and slide again the octave up between the 7-9.

    Now go back down. Now create your own permutations, timing, rhythm, patterns. Go crazy.

    You'll find you can use the major pentatonic on any chord in the key and can be used to connect the chords.

    And... You'll soon be over-playing like the rest of us. I always get accused of playing "lead bass," so I find spots to throw in creative pentatonic runs. Usually I "tow the line" during verse and choruses, but the bridge is all mine. ;)
    kesmit likes this.
  11. Boom762

    Boom762 I AM the one who Booms! Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2013
    Lubbock, TX
    My advice to get better would be to play by yourself every day and try to write songs on your own. Dont write guitar parts or bass parts. Write and play the song like its a solo. Make it full. chords, melodies, and everything your church band doesnt expect you to place. Overtime you will write beautiful music and can use that in church. Most churches expect a slapbass or a slow quarter note backer for their music, but if you can add a whole extra layer of melody to it, your really being a new level of praise sir.

    This is the kind of stuff I write most of the time unless Im asked to write something for a certain genre. Its a 4 minute song and for some reason the site clipped it to like 1:50 and cut out ALL the solos in the end but, give it a listen and see what I mean about write a song without basslines or guitar lines. Look outside the box.
  12. vbchaos


    Sep 5, 2011
    Groningen, The Netherlands
    Uncompensated endorsing user: fEARful
    The hands do what the brain hears

    That's about the best advice I have ever had from my teacher! It works for me! I am not all about techniques and theory, but my hands can play what my brain thinks should be played. If I hear a song or play a song, my brain sort-of "fills" gaps and walks on scales. The theory behind it? Don't know, but my brain says "it should sound like this" and my fingers play it.

    It demands a lot of rehearsal and practive, though. Your fingers must be trained to do/play what your brain gives you. That's a kind of instinct you develop.
  13. A big tip for classically trained players that move across to bass..... Make a concentrated effort to develop your ear.

    Transcribe a couple of hundred bass lines from various styles. Learn the bass lines to a song in its entirety. This will really help to ingrain that bass players' mindset & approach (not just their licks).

    Study players that are simpler to start with. I'd put Jamerson on hold, maybe start with Duck Dunn on the Blues Brothers soundtrack. Maybe Mark Deacon from Queen, etc.
  14. Webskipper


    Dec 2, 2013
    I just joined a Uke group and their chord letter song sheets are online. Never heard these songs before and the ones I find on utube are all Uke.

    Are you guys saying to play the chord root then walk a bit to the next chord root? Or play the root then the other notes in the chord in a box style?

    Island Style

  15. kesmit


    Feb 16, 2011
    I've played bass in a praise and worship team for the past four years and the sliding pentatonic is a great place to start with adding some spice. I use it all the time, probably too much just as Jeff mentioned. You can also check out some of the videos at http://www.scottsbasslessons.com/. I've picked up lots of little extras from there.

  16. Yes! Learn Blues and Jazz!

    From now on...try to use your ears to learn songs...lose the tabs!
    Use your ears for everything! Jam over songs and use your ears to figure out any fills or parts you hear in your head!

    You are a Key player.....start thinking about music in terms of Chords! What Chord are you playing over? What notes comprise those chords? What are the Triads?

    Also...learn your scales in more than on position!

    Search Pac Man's sure fire Scale Method in the General Instruction Forum! This will help you a ton!!
  17. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Yes, depends on the song which one you do, but, that pretty well sums up what we do.
    For example print this; http://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/d/darlene_zschech/air_i_breathe_crd.htm

    Now with the fake chord in hand listen to this video; http://search.tb.ask.com/search/vid...47CB81871F&tpr=hpsb&si=314029&vid=K-0EgzOWkvc

    OK armed with the chord chart and listening to the song you are now ready to build the bass line you think will work for this song.

    I play this song following the vocalist and hit roots only - dead on the chord change. The song does not leave room for the "other" notes. The keys are taking care of the beat, in fact not leaving a lot of room for the bass. I'm accenting the chord changes which accent the lyric word which helps with the message the song is telling. With Country and Praise the reason for the song is the message or story being told. Don't interfere with that message, instead augment the message.

    Sometime R-R-R-R works; other times R-3-5-7 works and then sometime that chromatic walk to the next chord is called for. Sometime grooving the tonic pentatonic scale with the drummer works. Sometime not. That's what makes this interesting and I seldom get bored.

    Want a fail safe cookie cutter bass line?
    • Country - roots and fives with chromatic walks to the next chord.
    • Praise - roots to the beat with a couple of chromatic/diatonic runs at specific places. Most Praise songs will leave you a little room for one or two runs if the run does not interfere with the message, i.e. get in the way of the lyric flow.
    Offered for what it is worth.

    Have fun.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2014
  18. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Don't simply copy Their bass lines: reverse engineer them.
    Chances are they were handed a chord chart just like you.
    Learn the bassline, find the chords for the song, pick apart each measure.
    for each chord identify chord tones, scale tones, chromatic tones the player chose.
    Mushroo and repoman like this.
  19. Marcury

    Marcury High and Low

    Aug 19, 2007
    Mid Hudson Valley, NY
    It's been said a few times already, but...

    Arpeggios, Arpeggios, Arpeggios.

    Will train your ear to hear the key and the colors.