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Rhythm methods for solo bass

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by Widener, Jun 14, 2005.

  1. Widener


    Nov 21, 2004
    Aptos, CA
    Hi everyone...

    This is a question for Steve, Michael, and all the posters. How do you keep a solo bass piece moving? I think it's the little rhythmic methods that propel a piece quietly along, that don't neccessarily even contain any real pitch--just pure meter--that can make a piece sound less like noodling and more like a structured song. I remember what Copeland's treatise said about rhythm being the most primal and fundamental quality of music, and I think there is some sort of truth in it...that rhythm is a sort of musical glue, or a vehicle. So I've been toying around with some different methods, all of which have been around since the first solo bassist started experimenting.

    1. Slapped harmonic chords. Provides a sort of rhythmic crecendo. Great for big downbeats.
    2. If there isn't much pitch information coming from the low string, I'll strike a harmonic, usually somewhere between the 15th and 24th frets, with my finger, usually where a snare hit would be, on the upbeat.
    3. Muting the low string by placing my index finger on the 36th fret and plucking it with the same hand pinky so that a hiccup sound occurs. This is total Manring and beautifully demonstrated on "The Enormous Room."

    Are there other techniques that you guys do? Just wondering about this.

    I recorded this last night on my Hyperbass.


    Mind you, it's not very practiced, and the intonation is somewhat of a nightmare (you'll cringe in a few places)--still getting used to this beast--but you get the idea. I'm messing around with those three techniques above, but it's a bit hard to do while retuning the piece and trying to keep it all straight in my head.

    And if you couldn't tell...I'm a huge Manring fan. Thanks for the years of inspiration, Mike.
  2. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Very nice!
  3. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    There are lots of ways of making something work rhythmically. Some of them are percussive, as you say - Michael is amazing at propelling a tune along via those kinds of percussive hits, scrapes, slaps and noises.

    You can also do it with the arrangement - having the notes themselves form the rhythmic contour, without any need for more rhythmic indications - this requires you to have the rhythm pretty settled in your head, and for you to be able to focus on where the rhythm is going, even when you're not playing on that beat. It's often easier to exernalise that and put in the percussive stuff than it is to imply it with a rest, but both have different end results.

    With looped-based tunes, I'm a firm believer in maintaining a fair amount of rhythmic ebb and flow, a rhythmic ambiguity - if your initial loop is too easy for the audience to 'read', they'll have it sussed by the third time round, and by the end of the tune, it's got monotonous. If it goes through a series of rhythmic tensions and resolutions, the way harmony goes through tensions and resolutions, then there's more for them to get their teeth into, and more for you to play off as the piece progresses, and you add more layers...

  4. Widener


    Nov 21, 2004
    Aptos, CA

    Very interesting, Steve. It's almost...zen-like. Sometimes a rest can say more.
  5. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Yup, deep thought is the name of the game. The fun thing about solo bass is there's very little been done with it, so each of us gets to take our time carving out our own little sound world, finding out where the ideas and sounds in our heads intersect with the possibilities of this most marvellous of instruments. It's not one to be taken lightly, or you just end up looking like some kind of circus act. :)

  6. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Thanks for the compliments!

    I agree with Steve - we're all just getting started with this solo bass thing so experiment, have fun and listen carefully to what happens. You may find new ways to make percussive sounds on the bass. Sometimes even “mistakes” can turn out to be blessings in disguise!
  7. Burg


    Nov 29, 2001
    I've listened to a couple of the recordings you've posted on here recently and you are awesome!
    Please record a solo album, I would definitley buy it based on the samples i've heard.
  8. Widener


    Nov 21, 2004
    Aptos, CA
    If that's directed at me, Burg, I don't know what to say...thanks! I have much more work to do before I think about something like that. I'm still having too much fun playing heavy metal right now. Hahaha! I do highly recommend everyone look into buying or at least trying out a Hyperbass. The tuning possibilities have made me think about the instrument in a totally different way. Like night and day.
  9. Bassist4Life


    Dec 17, 2004
    Buffalo, NY
    I really enjoyed listening to your mp3. Was that recorded on front of a live audience? I thought I heard some cheering right at the end. How much time did you spend working on this piece before you felt comfortable enough to record it?