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Question on HOW to study a song..

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Pfautz, Jan 29, 2014.

  1. Pfautz


    Dec 28, 2013
    I have been playing bass since Christmas. I am learning on my own because I currently do not have the schedule to have a teacher (though I hope to down the road). I have taught myself to play the 7 different modes up and down the next in different keys. I also know my major and minor and dim chord shapes to go along with them. I am also feeling pretty good at being able to quickly get to any note on any string of the fretboard. I know there is a lot more work still to be done with scales (blues scale, penatonics.. so on), cords, arpeggios and I will work towards getting more familiar to those and adding those to my arsenal.

    I have received the advice of taking time during practice to work on songs (while doing these other things). I obviously can figure out how to pick-up tab and figure out how to PLAY the song, but I am assuming I should also be reading into the song and studying it to learn more about how the song was created and why it sounds good. I guess what I am trying to say is study what the "method to the madness" was. Can anyone walk me through about a good way of doing this and what I should be taking away from each song I learn? As always, thank you very much for your knowledge, advice, and support!
  2. Good question!

    The "old fashioned" way is by listening. For example you could listen to a song on loop while you drive, then go home and try to play the song from memory. If that is too hard, then try something like "Happy Birthday" that you already know quite well. Xmas carols, nursery rhymes, national anthems, TV/movie theme songs, etc.

    Good luck! :)
  3. Art Araya

    Art Araya

    May 29, 2006
    Palm Coast, FL
    The things you are working on are good but make sure you also play.music and exercise your ears. Put music on and learn the bass part. When u have that figure out the chord progression. Then learn the melody. Then listen closely to all of the other instruments and play their parts too.

    Ears are key and the only way to grow your musical ears is to listen lots and copy it on your bass.
  4. There's a lot of different answers/methods people will suggest, but here's my quick thoughts:

    If you are talking about this just from the perspective of the bassline: learn the line note-for-note as much as you can (if you can't memorize it, write it out with notation), or even just the sections you find interesting. If you can figure them out accurately as well, write out the harmony over your bassline. Try singing your bassline - give yourself the starting note on your bass, then see how far you can go just singing. Now take a look at the bassline - is the bassist just playing root notes? If not, what other notes do they play? Which ones are chord tones and which ones are not? How are the non chord-tones used - do they lead from one chord tone to the other, are they used to leave and return to the same tone? How are they placed rhythmically? How does the bassist lead from one harmony to the next? If the song has sections that repeat (such as: Verse - Chorus - Verse) does the bassline repeat as well? If not, what variations does the bassist play?

    In addition to singing the bassline, try singing, then playing, your own variations on the line. Take what the original bassist played as a starting point, and see if you can come up with something different. And a huge +1 to learning the melody.
  5. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Going to give you a paper on how to write a song. I think that may give you what you are asking about. After reading the following then look to the chord progression the song writer decided to use and play the notes of those chords,. Why? Because the song writer put them where they are in the song to harmonize the melody. If we too play the notes of those chords - yep, we harmonize with the melody. When we do that good things happen.

    Have fun.
    Look to the chord progression and the key the song is in. Then base your bass line around those chord tones.

    Is there more? Of course.
  6. lyla1953


    Jul 18, 2012
    I needed a path and structure;

    Get Ed Friedland's 3 method books/CD's. He's the author of many Hal Leonard books. It's a general foundation and certainly a well regarded beginner course. Along with these books you can also acquire a separate set of Hal Leonard books containing pop songs intended to reinforce the lessons you'll learn in Ed's books.

    Another great starter is Roy Vogt's TMBG ( a book pdf and dvd series). I would say as a practical matter Roy's series is probably one of the most comprehensive content delivery formats I've seen - The next best thing to having an instructor and being in a band. Even has a few "perks" that you'll find nowhere else!
    With that said it gets advanced pretty rapidly. I first got Roy's series but took a few months before I got an instructor..The instructor wanted to use the 3 method books first and then go back to Roy's stuff. In hindsight my instructor called it right.

    Both are full of great songs to study in conjunction with the course materials that are fun and challenging.

    Lastly, ED and Roy are frequent TB members and are very responsive.
  7. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    My approach to studying a song (once you learn to play it)

    Using staff paper, write a chord chart for the song.
    For every bar note what chord or chords are used.
    Mark the verses/ choruses etc to understand the overall structure

    Identify the key of the song (and / or current sub section )

    Break the bass line into small riffs (maybe 1 or 2 bars), and for each riff:
    Identify the chord or chords being supported and how they relate to the key (is this the I, the IV, V7? ect)
    Identify each note as an interval realtive to the song key
    Identify each note as an interval realtive to the root of the current chord
    Examine which notes are chord tones, and which are not.
    Examine which notes appear to be outside of the key or chord: why do they work?
    Try to notate the rhythm exactly
    Try to transpose the chord's riff to a different root note, same chord flavor
    Try to transpose the chord's riff 'too high' or 'too low' so that it forces you to swap octaves on certain notes.

    The most crucial thing to understand is how the bass line supports the motion of the chords.
    Most music starts on the I, moves away form it, through a bunch of chords, and then resolves back to the I.
    The bass line is outlining this journey mostly via root notes.
    Instead of thinking of a riff as a map of string / fret locations, or as a linear series of pitches, you want to see it as "supporting a I-iv-ii-V"
    or "I-IV-I-V"

    It might sound meticulous (and it is at first : my old copy of Standing in the
    Shadows of mowton has tons of little numerals pencilled under the notation, identifying intervals) but after a while the patterns become ingrained and you can more quickly learn what is going on "under the hood" of a bass line.

    (If you don't understand those roman numerals, see page 11 of the Eowyn's Theory Basics PDF link in my signature)
  8. bassinplace


    Dec 1, 2008
    "What Duck Done" is also an excellent book to learn from. Also work on ear training, as others here have said. Just pick out a song and start picking out the bassline by ear. It requires listening to a little bit of the song, picking out the bassline on your bass, memorizing it, and then go to the next chunk of the song. Repeat until you have the song learned. It takes repetition and patience, but you'll develop your ear and learn a lot more than you would from tab.
  9. wrench45us


    Aug 26, 2011
    as many above I focus on the chord progression and how the bass supports that progression. Songs tend toward 'standard' chord progressions, so one approach is to learn a lot of ways to get from I to IV or ii V I or iii vi ii V I

    and then certain of those patterns tend to support not just the chord progression but also the melodic structure by the choices made.

    and then like mambo I tend to mark up my music books with interval numbers for the current key chord combination. It's become 2nd nature to play off of those intervals numbers. A lot of patterns of those intervals get re-used -- it separates the interval sequence from the notes of a particular key -- similar -- maybe identical to how a fretboard pattern is independent of where you start.
  10. tfedorchik


    Feb 2, 2014
    For what it's worth, if you want to examine the whole, I would suggest first examining the parts. For each instrument, see if you can transcribe what exactly is going on (in whatever notation you are comfortable with, I find standard notation to be easiest for analysis). When analyzing each individual part, take note of 5 things:

    1. Form -- where repetition occurs, not just of individual notes, but of passages and sections.
    2. Line -- the nature of the "countour" of each independent voice, what the range thoughout the song is, what shape each passage takes (try playing connect-the-dots with a squiggly line over the noteheads). Also note the use of melodic "cells" or motives
    3. Harmony -- analyze the chords involved or implied, in type and quality (eg A Major, Bb minor). I use roman numerals mostly because it allows me to see relationships between the different chords, cadences, sequences, etc.
    4. Rhythm -- when are the rhythms consistent and when is there variation?
    5. Timbre/Orchestration -- what sort of "tone" or "sound" different instruments in different octaves/registers have when paired together in various combinations.

    Hope this helps, good luck! I love analysis and find it to be rewarding as a composer. :)