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Rock Bass Idioms

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by edgewise, Oct 2, 2009.

  1. edgewise


    Feb 23, 2007
    It seems like there are tons of books on jazz bass. It is easy to see why, what with the breadth of the subject. I own a book on reggae bass and one on country bass. But I don't own a single book on rock.

    It seems like there is very little in the way of respectable rock bass books. There are a number of play-along books that teach you a few songs and there are some really thin beginner books, e.g, Beginner to Pro type garbage.

    There is no Rock Theory book by Mark Levine. There is Ed Friedland's Building Rock Bass Lines, and it is not bad. But it struck me as a bit thin and basically more of a rewrite of his Walking bass book.

    Anyhow, I'm not inclined to dismiss the subject as self evident or simplistic. There is so much good rock out there that argues against that kind of close mindedness.

    So I thought I would ask the TB community if they had any rock bass idioms, revelations, or observations about rock bass.

    A lot of you have played rock bass. Some of you teach it. What are the things that you point to and say, "this is real common in rock" ???
  2. M0ses


    Sep 11, 2009
    Los Angeles
    I dunno. I learn by listening and copying. Then using those ideas. Most of the rockers I know are home-brew self-taught tab-reading and by-ear rcokrs, as am I.
  3. BobaFret


    Jan 22, 2008
    Pentatonic scales?
  4. DeluxeRed


    Jun 2, 2009
    There are no books because most rock bassists can't read! (Ba-dum-pa!)

    Rock is an amalgamation of all of those other styles. A lot of the linage is the Blues, though it also takes from Jazz, Country, Bluegrass, Soul/R&B, Classical and Pop.

    But mainly, Rock is about YOU. It is an expression of your self, your sound, your style. You can't learn that in a book. You just have to want it, feel it, crank it, and pound it.
  5. edgewise


    Feb 23, 2007
    I partially disagree with the notion that rock is learned by doing and that is why we don't have any good books on it.

    This same thing was said about Jazz, and indeed was the only way to learn jazz for a very long time. Nowadays there are some very fine jazz books, that help you to understand what it is you are *trying* to do.

    I say I partially disagree, because you still learn a lot by getting out there and playing. That is for sure.

    But I think we can come together and at least make some general observations and learn a thing or two.
  6. DeluxeRed


    Jun 2, 2009
    But studying Jazz from a book only tells you where it's been. It gives you no clue as to where to go next.

    Rock was a catalyst for and a child of Recording. THAT's the book.

    That said, Rock Is:

    More agressive. More on the beat.
    More about tone (and attitude as expressed in tone) than notes. The heaviest Rock parts often have the fewest notes (see Wheels of Confusion).
    Fairly versatile. Almost any emotion, except passivity, can be expressed. Vacuous works (unfortunately).
    Rock used to mean something. Not so much any more. But GOOD rock should.

    You have to be ready to punch. The guitars and drums, etc, can try to steal the song and drown you in the mix.

    For the most part, bass is a supporting player. You have to be there for the guitar/vox/keys so that they can go off. You hold it together. You keep the time when the drummer is filling. There are exceptions, but that's the general case. That makes the Root (on 1) very important. If you keep that, you've done your job.

  7. edgewise


    Feb 23, 2007
    Sure, but studying where we've been can be useful and instructive. We all stand on the shoulders of those that came before us.
  8. DeluxeRed


    Jun 2, 2009
    No doubt. I'm buried in "Standing in the Shadows..." right now, even though I don't get to play much Motown outside of my practice space.

    I learned rock by locking myself in a room and thinking "I want to do what they're doing", then doing that. Oh, and cranking it up...:bassist:
  9. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Rock Bass Idioms

    My favorite Rock idiom ... "Close enough for Rock n Roll"
  10. chimpbass


    Jan 16, 2008
    Denver, CO
    Led Zeppelin II is pretty much a treatise on numerous rock bass idioms and their (extremely skillful) application.

    Listening to that album 10 times in a row is better than any book...
  11. bowlachilli


    Aug 7, 2009
    Los Angeles
    I've always had a hard time reading about other peoples experiences with music. I think it effects everyone in a different way, I tend to try and stay away from books to keep my style as far from stock as possible. its just a matter of figuring it out... especially rock. SO many ways to rip it!
  12. bass player 48

    bass player 48

    Nov 17, 2008
    I agree with much of what's been posted - but I think it's legit discussion and I'll throw one or two out there. Feel free to agree or disagree.

    Pumping 8th notes and sticking to the root note of the chord - just change with the chord changes and keep pumping 8th's. That can be a very rock and roll approach and works in certain rock tunes.

    In certain types of rock bass lines, big dramatic swoopy slides can be quite effective.

    Any variation of "root-5th-octave riffs" set to the rythm layed out by the drummer. That's worked for me in some types of rock.
  13. Ten Four One

    Ten Four One

    Dec 5, 2006
    Flat sevens, pentatonic & diatonic scales with occasional chromatic runs. Relatively little in the way of voice leading. Lots of root notes, fills & locking in with the kick. 8th notes. As Deluxe Red said, hit the root on the 1.
  14. phxlbrmpf


    Dec 27, 2002
    Another very "rock" thing: riffing in unison with the guitar player. Lots of bass players seem to hate "following the guitar" but it's still a pretty integral part of rock music. It's also harder than many people think, a single wrong or misplaced note can lead to horrific-sounding results.
  15. supermonkey


    Mar 15, 2004
    Atlanta, GA
    Some of my faves:
    - "Descending root on bass defines chord progression"
    - "Pump the palm-muted 8th notes"
    - "Ostinato Root/5th/Octave will work the whole time"
    - "Pleading the Root-5th"
    - "Bass riff = arrangement"
    - "Arpeggiate dominant 7th with ascending and descending quarter notes"
  16. Ten Four One

    Ten Four One

    Dec 5, 2006
    Yeah, it's fun when you see an otherwise busy chord progression & you can sort of "dumb it down" into something straightforward & descending. You can almost hear the guitar player going "but... all those carefully crafted chords" but it works.

    I enjoy doing the "response" part of a call & response with the singer - the guitar players are usually too busy playing chords or out & out soling to pick up on it, so I have a little fun throwing in some melodies as counterpoint to what the vocals are doing.

    What I mostly do now is try to inject some movement into an otherwise stagnant chord progression by forcing some inversions in there. "It was E, B, E, B, but now it's E, B, E/G#, B." It's great when it works & something I'd like to actively practice more.

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