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Playing melodic bass lines.

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Malcolm35, Jul 28, 2019.

  1. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    I mostly play chord tone bass lines. How do you play a melodic bass line? I've never been melodic. Would like to see what I've been missing.

    I understand there are a zillion ways we could go about this, I'm interested in what you do when you want to go melodic. Where do you draw your notes from?
    • The melody?
    • The tonic scale?
    • The tonic pentatonic?
    • Each chord's pentatonic?
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2019
    Ellery, zon6c-f and jamro217 like this.
  2. Samatza


    Apr 15, 2019
    I try and practice melodies to tunes, this sort of gives you some phrases you can use.
    If I’m making something up I try to think in terms of chord extensions or substitutions so it doesn’t sound like I’m just playing chord tones.
  3. pacojas

    pacojas "FYYA BUN"

    Oct 11, 2009
    try stacking modes, scales, and intervals. get out of the box
    dbsfgyd1, lowplaces, 40Hz and 2 others like this.
  4. jamro217

    jamro217 Supporting Member

    I create a melodic bassline in my head then play it in the easiest fingering position possible. I don't look at music from the perspective of one particular instrument, but rather as a whole and what the solos are saying. If it's a sad ballad the bass may be fretless with a mournful line full of longer notes. No slapping. If it's a rocker, whatever works for that. By understanding that music is a language and the various instruments are just that: instruments used for bringing the music to life, you tend to look at it from the perspective more of a writer than performer. Think of what you want to say, then say it. That may sound odd, but it works.
  5. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Make a list of all the melodies you can sing all the way through. Find a start note on the bass, and play the song. Find another starting note (not an octave), on a different string, play the song. Repeat until you've run out of time.
    If the question you posted was, "how do I play repeated rhythms", you'd know what to suggest. You want to think of melodies, play melodies.
    eJake, mikewalker and Ggaa like this.
  6. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    OK, but, always that " but' locking with the drummer and falling into a groove - like I have been doing - seems like another animal while doing melodies. My concern in playing melodies seem that I am walking away from harmony and the rhythm section.

    Is that the case?

    I do understand the post about adding the 9, 11 and 13th notes to get a melodic sound. But, this is still thinking in chord tones...

    Little help please - on my thinking that melodic playing leaves the harmony to someone else. And how do you combine melody with harmony? In 30 words or less. :)
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2019
  7. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Hi Malcolm, I seem to recall in another thread that you've never done much transcription? (i.e. listen to a song and write out the sheet music for what you hear.) Even if you consider yourself to have a "tin ear" (you have trouble identifying pitch) you can still learn a lot about melodic playing by transcribing the rhythm, dynamics, articulation, etc. of famous melodies. For example, you can listen to which notes the singer sings legato vs. staccato (long vs. short articulation) and then try to apply those concepts of legato vs. staccato to your bass playing, to create more melodic phrasing.
    eJake likes this.
  8. Malcolm35


    Aug 7, 2018
    Thanks, phrasing is the word I was looking for, i.e. instead of generic R-5-8-5 look for four to eight note melodic phrases. Hanging out around the key.

    Yes you are correct 99% of what I do is from fake chord or Nashville numbers. The othe 1% is jamming and that is follow the chords I think are active and play chord tones.
  9. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    So for example, let's look at the famous song "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," which words are sung legato and which are staccato?

    Every performer sings it a bit differently, of course, but personally I would sing the bolded words as legato (sustained for their full duration) and the non-bolded words more staccato or "clipped" sounding:

    Old MacDonald had a farm
    - I - E - I - O

    Forcing yourself to take a very familiar tune, and really do some detailed critical listening, is an excellent exercise.

    Now try to play "Old MacDonald" on the bass, and apply the same legato vs. staccato phrasing, as if you were singing with your voice. :)
  10. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    For me, going from this angle would hinder any melodic creation. Not saying that's true for everyone. I think however that the best melodies come from our heart, soul, spirit or whatever you want to call it. Not our minds.

    I come up with melodic lines in a few different ways. The one I use most often is jamming along to the song while recording, then go back and grab the things that sounded best. I just open my mind up as much as possible and let go. Unexpected things usually wind up happening.

    I've also listened to half written songs without a bass in hand and had basslines just jump into my head. I then grab a bass, and put the notes behind what I was hearing. There's a song I did with The Nerve a while back that my guitarist wrote. I didn't like it when he played it for me acoustically (it was just strummed chords and lyrics), and then this bass line popped into my head...

    Lastly, I'd listen to and learn a lot of Paul McCartney, and get ready for this odd suggestion...

    Joe Schermie.

    3 Dog Night. I just started REALLY listening to his bass parts this past year, and they always put a smile on my face. He's not the typical 8th note chugger, for sure. Not the most melodic player, but certainly thinks and plays outside the box.
    Novarocker, Tad, dbsfgyd1 and 3 others like this.
  11. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    It doesn’t have to be.

    Listen to some walking bass lines in jazz. Or a lot of the bass work in old school prog rock. Or Bach’s compositions.

    You can keep a solid groove going and and still be musically inventive.

    Some examples:

  12. jgroh


    Sep 14, 2007
    I didnt read all the replies so if what I say has already been said...dont listen to them, listen to me =)

    Just kidding. Ive always been a more melodic player. For me in the most basic terms, I try to "connect" the chords of the song by playing "approach notes" to the next chord. Similar to walking bass lines. So if a songs chords in the chorus are D / A / C / G, I will play some notes that connect the D to the A, etc etc. Then I will embellish from there.
    juancaminos and bolophonic like this.
  13. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    It depends on the context of 'going melodic'.
    If it's for a bass solo, then it's entirely up to you to find something that fits. It might be a restatement of a vocal line or something more idiomatic, such as a series of blues licks.
    If it's more for the bass part generally, then something that creates tension and movement with suspensions (9ths and 4ths) and 7ths in the second and 4th beats to decorate chord tones played on 1 and 3 can be a useful strategy. Lines that follow the rhythm of the vocal/soloist, or that use space between vocal phrases to answer or repeat the vocal phrase can also sound good. Don't be afraid to syncopate your phrases, or create interplay between your bass line and the vocal, e.g. as a "round' or canon, with or without variations.

    You don't have to hit root on every '1' or even play anything on 1. You don't need to lock in all of the time. Let the drummer carry the load for a bit. Some of the most interesting melodies meander around the changes with longer notes that cross bar lines, or place accents on one or more of the '&' within the bar.

    If you want a masterclass in solid melodic playing, try Joe Osborn with The Capenters. J.S.Bach has already been mentioned as a master of the melodic bass line. Alternatively, find some time to listen to some Mozart chamber music (oboe quartet or clarinet quintet), or 'Andante Festivo' by Jean Sebelius. Keep your ears on the 'celli as the tunes float over your head.
    jamro217, Wasnex and MVE like this.
  14. Lesfunk

    Lesfunk Supporting Member

    Learn the melody to all your favorite songs on your bass as well as the bass line.
    It’s an easy, organic way of training yourself to think melodically without getting mired down in too much theoretical analysis.
    It pays dividends in a very short time.
  15. Seashore


    Jun 2, 2019
    In The Canal
    I like joining up with guitar melodies in spots, whether it's a lower octave or a harmony. I also like finding complementary places, where the guitar's phrase might come to an end and leave me with the space to play a similar pattern, almost like "trading licks". We play pretty busy material in general, so I'm not in danger of sticking out like a sore thumb if I go for broke here and there. Most of my melodic ideas start off as vocal melodies - I'll listen to the tune for places where I think a little embellishment might be appropriate, and hum along to find phrases for those spots. Usually some variation on a scale run. Record yourself if possible, don't be afraid to leave the chord behind for a second, and don't be afraid to overdo it - you can always dial it back later if you hear something that doesn't work.
    Impermanence likes this.
  16. The late Joe Schermie (along with the brilliant Floyd Snead on drums) was a terrific player indeed, and similar to a lot of my favorite 60's bassists in that they held the groove, yet used subtle fills or re-arranging their riffs in spots that added just the right amount of salt and pepper to make it just right.

    I've always felt that 3 Dog Night were hugely under-rated. The idea of a really hot four-piece band, fronted by three big yet complimentary singers coupled with great production and a wealth of superior songs from the best of the day is something of a model that has since been emulated in parts ever since. In their day, they were denigrated for being 'pop' or not heavy enough, etc., but the work has stood the test of time, and it was all them, no session players or tons and tons of post production. They were that good in a day when you had to bring it, you had to sing and play in tune and on time to tape. What a world . . . . .
  17. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Don't want to derail this thread, but their songs are embedded into my (and many other people's) bones. I think their songs are a part of many of us who lived during the 70s. I know, I just said the same thing twice :) . Its not until recently that I realized the creative genius behind that band, as well as the talent. They're moving quickly up my list of top 10 favorite bands.
  18. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    My suggestion might be a bit unorthodox. Having sung in a couple of choirs, I have sung melodic bass lines before - the bass line is usually the second most melodic part in 4 part harmony. Sopranos get the most melodic part, basses the next, altos get a bone now and then, and tenors get the shaft - the absolute worst parts in choir arrangements are the tenor parts.

    Anyway, that experience has ingrained the concept of melodic (but still tied to the roots) bass lines into my brain - the one advantage that guys have over girls in playing bass is, if you have a bass voice, and have sung in a choir, your brain already has an idea of what to play - you just have to practice until your ear is good enough that melodic stuff starts coming out of you.

    Plus I listen to a fair amount of David Gilmour. As strange as it seems, he's an influence on my bass playing. No, I don't play parts that really sound like him, but he's one of the best guitarists (my opinion) in terms of melodic note choice. He never sounds like he's noodling or shredding, even when he's playing relatively fast, and that has had an influence on how and what I play. He makes every note count, and I try to do the same as much as I can.
    juancaminos, Mike Sorr and Seashore like this.
  19. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    I listened to a lot of ELP in my youth. Your example of "From the Beginning" is interesting, in that 90 percent of that tune is just Greg Lake harmonizing with..himself. Vocals, acoustics, electric, and bass; all that is him. The story I heard is that Emerson's keyboard part at the end was just something they threw in at the last minute at the studio - it wasn't an original part of the composition. If you listen to it, that makes sense - it does appear to be somewhat of an afterthought.
  20. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    I was fortunate to work with a KB who wrote great songs and liked that I was a very melodic player. I'm a hack by real standards, but he insisted that my melodic tendencies really made his stuff work. It was very instinctual for me (lifetime of music study) so not really sure how I developed this bass personality - probably unconsciously aping a lot of stuff that I'd heard throughout my life. I always started a new song, by just covering arpeggio tones in a basic rhythm. As the song progressed, I'd pick up on what the drummer was doing rhythmically and eventually found melodic ways to connect the tones and build a groove - when it was appropriate. Sometimes, a basic root/5 line is all that is called for. I always liked to focus on developing counter melodies to play under the melody or solo.

    I've never been good at improv, so any solos I had to take were extremely developed and rehearsed. I almost always just started noodling around on scales - even though I hate scaly sounding solos - until some theme would emerge and then I'd try to develop noodling around variations of that theme. I often found that I was using up a lot of my solo ideas in my bass line counter melodies.

    Working in a genre where melodic lines fit will help you hear it better. Rock, country, funk as a rule don't really fit well with melodic basslines - the bass is truly part of the rhythm section in these genres in a very high percentage of the time. Paul McCartney is a huge exception that comes to mind, but unless you get the opportunity to be the last to formulate your line, it's very hard to make your lines very melodic in rock. Listen to a lot of jazz and latin and as others have mentioned work on learning the melodies. Doesn't matter if it's a sax or piano or guitar or vocals. Then try to play a variation of the melody. Keep fiddling with it until you can work it down until it sounds like a bass line. Developing unique lines is about spending time exploring your instrument - the more you poke around and try things, the easier it becomes to be melodic.

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