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Rant .. need advice .. "I dont want to be a rhythm guitar player"

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by lopxtc, Sep 5, 2008.

  1. lopxtc


    Jan 18, 2007
    St. Louis, MO
    Hey all ... Rant first, and the advice question second ...

    Recently I started playing with what would my first band. Good guys, good music, get along great with them and they were willing to take on a beginner like myself. Songs are all pretty simple, mostly rock/metal with most of the songs being two or three patterns repeated. Nothing to complicated ...

    However that is now where I am having a problem. Neither guitar player (lead or rhythm) reads music, and both of them have to think about what the note is that they are playing if I ask them what notes they are playing in a section (usually when trying to work through a song they already now and have been doing for some time), and neither of them could even guess what the chord is that they are playing or the time value of any note (whole, quarter, eighth, etc). Now the previous bass player would just play note for note the same thing as the rhythm guitar player, and I do mean literally note for note. In recordings they made when he was around its almost impossible to hear the bass player because of this, and the fact that the rhythm player jacks the volume up on his amp.

    So the problem I am running into is that when trying to learn the songs, since Im still working on my ear, I usually end up asking them what they are playing and working from that. So talking with the guys last night and telling them that the reason I ask them what they playing during sections of the song (I understand now that this annoys the rhythm player since he cant read music, and knows nothing about theory) is so I can try to find a common note if you will in the section, or identify a chord structure, so that I can then put down backbeat to their guitars and the drum. Well the R.G. guy tells me well here's the notes just play what Im playing thats what the last bass guy did.

    Ugh thats what Im trying to avoid .. you couldnt hear the last bass player and his just copying note for note got him lost in the mix of the other guitars and he could have stopped playing and no one would notice ...

    So maybe my rant isnt all that fair I dont know, maybe Im just being out of place thinking that the bass shouldnt just copy the guitar 100% of the time in 100% of the songs ...

    Okay so here is the part where I seek advice ... given that these guys dont know chords, or theory and that I dont want to copy the guitar ... is this the right way to go about this;

    I look at what notes I have, and listen to the recordings and try to find a common note in the groupings in the sections and work with the drum to put down a bass line.

    For example ... one section of our song they are playing

    D D# D (short) C (long) D D# F (short) D# (long) (x2)

    So what I tried was to play a 1/8th note run of D#, with an accent on the C when they hit the C and then finishing with D# through the rest. I think it sounds good with the rest of the playing and provides a sense of motion through the riff.

    However I get comments from the RG guy like "why arent you playing the same notes Im playing? You should be playing with me and following me." .....

    So I could use some advice here from others that have been in this situation also.

    Thanks ...
  2. Jeff Roller

    Jeff Roller Jeff Roller Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 24, 2007
    Maryville, TN
    My first impulse is to tell you to find another band, but since this is your first band, I would do the following:

    Tough it out as long as you can. Use this as a learning experience. I've gained invaluable knowledge and skills working with all the bands in my career, both the good ones and the bad ones. The good bands IME consisted of extremely skilled players with smaller egos, and any suggestions given were tastefully done and valuable.

    The "bad" bands IME usually consist of marginally skilled players with HUGE egos, and typically want to direct other players note for note. Trust me, hang out long enough and it will collapse in on itself. But you will learn a lot about human pyschology, and someday in the future you will have the ability to determine whether or not you want to play with someone in a five minute phone conversation.

    Good luck!
  3. RG and BASS playing the same thing=my definition of the typical garage band sound.

    If you/they are to move beyond this typical mindset your thinking must prevail. Good luck.
  4. lunker


    May 27, 2008

    As a general rule, I would try to avoid working with musicians that you won't learn anything from and especially ones that will make you learn bad things. With great caution, you could use this as a learning experience, but personally, I see a many ways this could be detrimental to your development as a bassist.

    Also, +1 to rollerberg2000's thought about gaining psychological insight.
  5. CerealKiller


    Jul 29, 2008
    Norfolk, VA
    Hoping someone else with more knowledge steps in here but....

    If they are giving you the notes to play, go ahead and write up a bassline of your own that works closely around it. Mess around until you find something that sounds good and is fun to play. Throw it into a bar during the chorus or something.

    Rip it out during practice and see what kind of reaction you get. You shouldn't let a bunch of yahoos limit your growth as a player. If they continue to do so, you should definitely look at jamming with some other people.....
  6. BassScum


    May 1, 2008
    So Cal
  7. ::::BASSIST::::

    ::::BASSIST:::: Progress Not Perfection.

    Sep 2, 2004
    Vancouver, BC Canada
    I sometimes play note for note, but certainly not on every song. If you know the base 3 notes of a chord (root 3rd and 5th) you can play any of those notes and will sound good.

    If these guys cant tell you what note they are playing they are VERY inexperienced or just have no clue.

    I use the root as the anchor but often embelish within the scale (but not too many notes!) to give variety to the sound of the songs and not get bored to death.

    Its usually best to keep things simple on bass IMO, but not too simple.
  8. lopxtc


    Jan 18, 2007
    St. Louis, MO
    And that is what I am going for ... now its probably my fault for spending a lot of time learning on printed music and reading various theory and method books and not just trying to copy directly from a song on the radio. But when I decided I wanted to learn to play bass I said I want to know what I am playing and why, and not just copy someone off the radio. So when I stepped in with them I understood root, 3rd, 5th, and octave and other basics like I, V, IV rock .. and I, IV, V blues ... etc. So I wanted to know the notes or chords so that I had an idea of what was going on in the song so that I could then come up with the bass line.

    Example if the riff is a fast driving riff, then I would probably look at laying down a steady 1/8th or 1/16th note root run with maybe an accent note hear or there during the chord change. If the section was a slower not driving section then I would stick to working off the drummer and playing within the notes that they are playing.

  9. In this situation I'd keep an eye on his fingers. Do that, and you'll probably know better than he does what notes he is playing.
  10. ::::BASSIST::::

    ::::BASSIST:::: Progress Not Perfection.

    Sep 2, 2004
    Vancouver, BC Canada
    You're doing exactly as you should be IMO. When its straight 8ths etc I like to do "transition runs" like in that ZZ Top song Tush. It really adds to the music IMO.
  11. I have been in the same situation several times before. First I would ask the guitarist what the chord progression was. If your still getting a blank stare, Ask him to play the last note /chord in the song. 9 times out of 10 times this will lead you to the key the song is in. You can play root 5 or pentatonic scales over those chords to get a feel for the song

    In your case, you have some notes. " D D# D (short) C (long) D D# F (short) D# (long) (x2)"

    I would start with Eb major and play through the chords in that Key as they play the song. Soon You will find the progression

    When you figure it out, let the rest of the band in on what chords they are playing. I guarantee you they will have more respect for you.
  12. A number of time I've been reminded to try to play with a group who are more skilled. It sounds like you may have outgrown them before you started. Ditto on the last post though, maybe it will encourage them to realize they made need to start study.

    Else the other posts may have pretty strong points, you simply may be better off with a far more thoery/prac skilled group to move forward with.
  13. MyUsernameHere

    MyUsernameHere ?????????????

    Nov 3, 2007
    Lexington KY
    I don't know why you need them to spell everything out for you? If the music is as simple as you implied in your original post, get them to give you a simple recording of their parts, take it home, play it over and over again if you have to and use it to write something. If you can't do that without having them write out sheet music for the song, maybe you should quit worrying about their lack of knowledge and start working on your own skills at composing. Luckily, the best way to deal with that is to sit down and work at it.

    Now if you end up writing stuff you think sounds good and they won't let you play it, I say ditch them and find some players you mesh with better.
  14. tswd


    Jun 20, 2007
    I'd vote for the find another band option. If you're not very creative and want everything spelled out for you, then you should stick with it. But that's not what it sounds like. Also, these guys don't sound like they really know what they're doing. Having the bass break away from the rhythm guitar to walk in/out of sections and stuff like that gives the music a sense of motion that just isn't there otherwise. That's part of what the bass does. It sounds like you're doing the right thing and they're just too clueless to realize it.
  15. stflbn


    May 10, 2007
    I almost always try to work with musicians who I feel are more accomplished then myself. Mainly because I learn things from them, and I'm more than capable enough to hold my own playing wise.

    I'm suspecting here that they're just doing what they know and have little intent to improve or change.

    I'd suggest staying where you are because you 'know' what that is, but seriously start looking for something else that will challenge and motivate you... and those new people are looking for 'more'.
  16. ibnzneksrul


    Feb 2, 2007
    So Cal
    +2, Watch what the RG's left hand is doing on the fingerboard, and you'll learn what the various chords look like and sound like on the guitar. Over time your ears will learn to recognize the sounds of the chords being played, and you'll find the root on the bass without seeing what he's doing. Learn your major and minor chords and scales backwards and forwards. It's OK to mostly 'follow along' on the chord roots for now, as you get better you'll find it becomes natural to create lines based on your knowledge of chords and scales.

    In time if you're progressing beyond your bandmates abilities, you'll find yourself looking for a more challenging situation.
  17. XtreO


    Jan 2, 2008
    What I do when figuring basslines is to sit down with either guitarplayer, and have them play what the rythm/lead plays then makes something suitable to this. You must do this, because neither guitarplayer knows what they are playing. How else to figure, if you dont sit down and have them play it?

    I try to use the bass as a link between rythm and lead. But I also think that you shouldn't overdo it. It doesn't sound cool in metal. Sometimes it's cool to play the root of the rythm, because it fits the big picture better than making up something fancy.
  18. Try this if you wanna make the band work:
    If you got a couple extra bux get yourself a small recorder like an H2 Zoom and place it in the room closer to their amps, turn down your amp (You said it gets lost in the mix anyway) then take the recording home and figure it out by ear. It willl take some work but if you have any creativity and half an ear it will comne to you. Then when you got it nailed play your new bass lines with them while recording. Make a cd with both versions and show them what a little work will do.
    IT's amazing how much hearing yourself suck inspires you to work harder.
  19. E2daGGurl


    May 26, 2008
    Someone may have already said this, but in similar situations, this is what I've done ( I love playing with others, I'm not a pro, not likely to ever become one, I love jamming and playing in pick-up bands, etc.):

    Remember that the four bottom strings of your bass are the same as their guitars. And their top string is the same as your bottom string. Figure out the chords yourself. I cant play with anyone unless I can understand the functional harmony of what they're doing, myself (or I just ape them, which is what you're complaining about - that's a good first start, I guess - but you have to then write down the notes).

    So the guitar player is playing something with some notes in it - it's up to you to figure out what the chords are (and what the root is). One way to do this is to think about what notes the guitarist is playing (say, per bar or measure) and figure out a chord that has most of those notes. Eventually, you'll hit on the right chord (there aren't that many choices). Yes, you do have to learn guitar chords for this - but it's not that hard.

    Another thing to do - and this is something I've seen some really excellent bass players do to great effect - is just assume its in the key of E (probably is). IMPOSE the key of E on them and see what happens. If you decide E is the root of the first chord, then the IV and V chords are A and B. What I've seen people do (and I've done it myself) is just play E in eighth note patterns, with accent, emphasis, maybe octave it - and see what happens. Which parts of the song now sound like they need a different note?

    It's possible - if they're making up their own songs - that these songs don't follow any typical pattern, which is cool. But they have to be in SOME key, by definition. If E doesn't work, try another note nearby (who was it who said a bass player only has to be one note away from a good note at all times? You'll hit it eventually - but once you do, be sure to write it down and then figure out the rest of the chords from there).

    Personally, I find that guitar players often go back to E (as a key), often G, sometimes F#, B, A or D - rarely C. But remember - whatever YOU play as the root will become the root of the chord. If they're playing a D, and you play an E, it's going to make their note sound like a 7th. They may not care. They may like it. If they're playing chords - and they play a D chord and you play an E, similarly, it's going to have seventh-like sounds (I guess that's notated D/E - it's a perfectly valid thing to do).

    Led Zeppelin contains a lot of the "rules" for this. JPJ often plays exactly what Jimmy is playing, then, as the song advances, JPJ gets it down (and Page takes off) and they both have their own structures in mind - JPJ working on holding down the chord changes and roots, and Page doing his magic and theremin or whatever. I personally find that Zeppelin (and a lot of successful rock bands) are really playing blues changes - maybe not so tightly 12 bar-ish, but still in that ballpark.

    The advice you got about 8ths and ZZ Top is excellent advice - it'll sound really cool. There are several 1-chord/1 root ZZ Top bass riffs that work with practically any song (you may have to fool with the key, but the riffs work) - and it's like magic.

    Sounds to me, from your posts, that you really get it, that your ear is pretty good - and not everyone learns from the radio! Bass players DO need to know that theory stuff - it's about to kick in and you're about to be a very good bass player in that band - you just don't know it yet.
  20. lopxtc


    Jan 18, 2007
    St. Louis, MO
    Hey all ... just wanted to update this.

    Honestly I had to myself take a step away from even my own view on this and look at it from all angles.

    And to be fair I have to say that I am myself part to blame for this also. I am not by any means a professional or even amateur bass player, and unfortunately I think I found myself falling prey to the idea of living and playing solely by theory alone and not practical application. I am in my daily life a computer geek and tend to live, work, and breathe by the idea that things operate in a to b to c way and unfortunately spending so much time trying to grasp musical theory that I became entrenched in the idea that my music also needs to operate a to b to c. I wasnt just letting myself getting into the feel of the music and going with the flow.

    This is my fault.

    When I decided that I wanted to play bass I told myself I didnt want to just learn where I put my fingers to play a song (aka Guitar Hero method, no offense to any GH fans), I wanted to learn why my fingers are there and why I am now moving my fingers to another spot on the neck.

    So this last practice I decided to just leave my notes behind and come in and just feel it ... which I had to say really worked much better than I expected. Yeah I wasnt always hitting the best sounding notes, but everything just seemed to flow better. I was able to concentrate more on the lines I wanted to play and establish those and then work on getting them to sound correctly. Made for a much better practice and I think more productive for me than previous ones.


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