Serious Question Regarding Playing Gigs

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Ichiban, Jun 28, 2020.

  1. Ichiban


    Oct 18, 2019
    Didn't know where else to put this, so I'm putting it in Techniques.
    So, I've been playing for about a year and a half (I think?). I don't post much on TalkBass, but I really love bass guitar and music in general. I play three other instruments besides bass, but I am better at playing bass.
    But basically, I've finally found a permanent band. The guys are all my age, same goals, same taste, same experience level. I've played a couple gigs before as a fill in and have been in bands that didn't gig but have never had a band where we iron out a tried and true set list and make plans to gig for the long haul.
    My question is pretty straightforward. The gist of it is, how acceptable is improvising basslines on a gig? The songs we plan to do are a bit more obscure and not all of them have tabs online, and a lot of them are blues rock oriented. Or at least utilize theory that is also found in blues. I have a fair amount of experience playing blues and jazz music (I go to a lot of blues jam sessions and occasionally cutting sessions) so I am familiar with improvisation. But, for example, a song such as...

    You can get the general idea, the chord progression is fairly simple, right? The dynamics pick up during the choruses, solos, and near the end. Hit the root and add approach notes and leading tones to the next chord, and John Cale will add a lot of bass fills at the end of each vocal line.
    If you've gotten this far, how acceptable is it to just improvise these approach notes, leading tones, and fills on a gig? If I practice improvising over the song repeatedly, shouldn't I be able to come up with lines that sound just as good as the original? I can get the general idea for what he's playing over the progression during the verses, choruses, solos, and ending but then make it my own, right? Cause picking out every single note that he adds or removes through each repetition of the song seems pretty unrealistic. Will audiences even be able to tell, especially on a more obscure song like this?
    Much thanks in advance. I would appreciate any advice gigging pros can give.
    Nashrakh likes this.
  2. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    My 2 Cents are the following: if you play music that leans heavily towards improvisation, chances are the songs are never played the same way twice in a live setting. Recorded versions are usually more of a snapshot of a particular moment in time that may never happen the same way again.

    So I think you're free to go all out.
    JRA, LBS-bass, equill and 3 others like this.
  3. Malcolm35

    Malcolm35 Supporting Member

    I always thought of it this way, they know I'm not the original artist and this is the way I do it. If they ask me back, I'm happy. So far they ask me back.
  4. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    There are no rules :) .

    My experience and opinion... it depends on how well you do it.

    Some songs, where the original bassist is improvising, its insanity to attempt to play them note for note. Its a lot of useless work that NOBODY will ever even notice. The song you posted is a good example.

    Other songs, well... its a good idea to get them as close to note for note as possible. If you're looking to make money. If you're looking just to have fun, then it doesn't matter.

    RE the first thing I said about depending on how well you do it - I think its important to listen really well to the rest of the band, and know one's place in the song. I've seen bassists take songs Sweet Nuthin and think the entire song is a bass solo. Other people have musical sense enough to sit in the pocket and be tasteful. I'll add too that if there's anything the bass player in the original tune is doing that really sticks out, I'll work at nailing those riffs. For both myself, and for people listening. I think its also super important to pay extra close attention to the beginning of such songs. Perfect example for me would be Emotional Rescue. If someone nails the first 30 seconds of that song, N4N, nobody is going to care what they do with the rest of it. I promise :) .

    JRA, Polish Thunder, LBS-bass and 4 others like this.
  5. sean_on_bass


    Dec 29, 2005
    For me, it is very acceptable and really even required to bring your own take to a song as long as it compliments what the rest of the band is playing and grooves. For others, they want to hear what is on the recording and may get a little anal about it if you take it too far out. You kind of have to feel out where your own group lands.

    If i were in your shoes and the plan was for the band to play that Velvet Underground tune, i would learn the harmony of the tune, understand the overall groove on the recording, but likely take some liberties from there.
  6. Malcolm35

    Malcolm35 Supporting Member

    They WERE once young. Thanks for posting.
  7. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Acceptable. Stay in the harmony. If there are aspects of the bass line that other players rely on for cues, make sure you're playing them.
    Ask yourself, as you listen to other bands, does it bother you if the keyboard player is not playing the part from the record? What about the drummer (assuming the style is correct)? What about bands that have a keyboard, but the song they're covering doesn't use a keyboard? What about a string section? Is it OK if the recorded sax solo is played on guitar? What if the solo isn't the same?
    What if you did a cover song as an instrumental? Would people in the audience know what the song was?
    It all depends on the band. IMHO as long as the style is close to the same, and harmony isn't too far off, and the lyrics are correct, I think the band is OK. That said, I was close to being fired from a band once because on a Do Wop song I played a ii7 chord instead of IV. (blame the jazz background).
    Most of the audience didn't show up to learn a bass line, they've other things on their minds. Be cool with the band members. Have a great time.
  8. pcake

    pcake Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2011
    Los Angeleez
    this is far from a straightforward question.

    some bands want the bass player to improvise - they want the bass to sort of hold the song down while the guitar noodles. some bands have too many variables for everyone to improvise or the songs fall apart. some bands will assign a part of the song for the guitar to improvise and another part for the bass to improvise.

    sometimes making a song "your own" may conflict live when the singer or guitar player suddenly have a moment of inspiration.

    and unless you have a niche audience that's a huge fan of the genre of the songs, obscure songs may not be familiar to them in the first place, so they'll have no idea whether the song is note for note or not.

    as a singer of many years, anyone who wants to whip out a complex solo while i'm singing would be wise to let me know in advance and to rehearse it that way so i can make sure i can hear my singing and so can the audience. if not, those solos and noodles go in the instrumental parts. if another singer and i are singing harmonies, that would most likely not be the best place for wandering off into a solo or new line. we'd definitely want to try it without an audience first.
    Eli_Kyiv likes this.
  9. Sascha Erni

    Sascha Erni Making things go whoomp, whoomp since 1994

    I’d say acceptable, too. Provided you don’t overdo it. In my practice den, I put up a KISS (keep it simple, stupid) poster because I tend to overplay or go “too out there” with improvising chord changes and the like.

    Rules of thumb I try to adhere to:
    - keep as much to the “original” rhythm as feasible (say, if the original asks for stressing 1-3, don’t go all-in swingin’ or dubbing it up all the time)
    - stay in harmony
    - don't noodle around while the singer or lead instrument is upfront

    The last bit has been the most important thing for me to get to tighter playing with various bands. Even with bass-centric songs, singers and guitars tend to be “more important” for the audience. So I try not to bury them under note avalanches, no matter how tasteful and harmonically correct they may be. Adding a fill during a bridge is fine, but not if the singer spontaneously picks up on a verse or addresses the audience, or the guitarist starts leading into their solo. Listen to your band mates, in short.
  10. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Sometimes the original recording has an awesome part. Sometimes a band jamming around on the tune creates an awesome part. The latter typically take longer to manifest.

    Always strive to play the awesome part. Regardless of origin.
  11. Oddly


    Jan 17, 2014
    Dublin, Ireland.
    I'd just suggest discussing this with your band mates beforehand.
    If they're not expecting you to go full-on Jaco in the middle of a tune, they won't appreciate it.
    lfmn16, Sascha Erni and LBS-bass like this.
  12. JRA and Joe Nerve like this.
  13. I think your question has already been answered, but IMO.

    You are free to interpret things however you want. If your music is "deep cuts" you may find you have a challenge already in finding your audience, but again that's my opinion.

    As for improvising everything, if you're playing a recognizable song, say Crazy Little Thing Called Love, the audience the bass line to have that drive and groove that the original had. If you vary too far from that they find it confusing or "less" of a successful performance. I just picked that song off the top of my head btw, seems you indicated that would not be on your setlist.
  14. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Guest

    Nov 22, 2017
    For most songs like this, it's going to be fine if you stick with the long notes through the progression of the song and improvise your turnarounds, etc, as long as it doesn't change the vibe of the music. This is a simple little song with a chord progression that's hardly unique; no one's going to notice if you improvise under those changes a bit.

    But, in some songs, there might be an iconic little flourish, such as a specific turnaround that flows into a chorus in a certain way, that you really want to put in there just to pay homage to the original recording and to tie a sense of familiarity back to the song for your audience.

    Used to play this song back in the day. I play some of it very close to note for note, I improvise a little more under the guitar solo because that makes it fun, but that little bitty run in the last chorus (right where I've set this video to start) has to be there for me or the song isn't really polished up. Some people might not even notice that little bit, but the song, to me, isn't finished without it.

    Lots of songs have stuff like that in them. Just pick the parts that really make the original work stand out to you and play around with the rest.
    Oddly likes this.
  15. BrotherMister


    Nov 4, 2013
    PVG Membership
    I’m sure it’s been covered already but it’s usually all good if you are copping the same style and feel as the record. It’s always nice when you hear someone flirt a little bit with the original bass line and build off it, it tends to show they are aware and respect the original line but are able to do their thing on it. If you listen to Willie Weeks playing What’s Going On from Donny Hathaway - Live you instantly hear he knows the original record inside and out but it’s his thing he’s playing.

    If the bass line is integral to the song in that it’s part of the hook say Day Tripper or Good Times etc then you are pretty much locked into that line.
  16. Stumbo

    Stumbo Guest

    Feb 11, 2008
    I always worked hard to play every song note for note because that's how I improved (different teqniques) and didn't make every song end up sounding the same by trying to be me.

    After so many years I play the main bass lines note for note and if I don't exactly nail the other parts I keep the same feel to keep the song sounding familiar to the listener.
    LBS-bass likes this.
  17. lokikallas

    lokikallas Supporting Member

    Aug 15, 2010
    los angeles
    Grateful Dead made a career of it. I would echo the sentiment that the other band members might be listening for a certain bass lick to queue a turn-around or whatnot.
  18. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    i agree. ;)

    best advice: read and understand joe nerve's post (post #4). others are saying essentially the same, too, with additional, valuable advice. IME: learn the difference between lazy and stupid --- and don't play either way! you got this, good luck! :thumbsup:
    Oddly and JMacBass65 like this.
  19. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Guest

    Nov 22, 2017
    Learning note for note is a great way to become a better player because you are learning techniques that good players used. It's also good ear training if you're doing it by ear.

    I do it a lot as an exercise, but not always when I'm just trying to learn a performance piece, especially if it's a simple piece that has an easily duplicated feel to it and I have limited time.
    Stumbo likes this.
  20. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Inactive

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    This is one of the many things that should be discussed before you join a band. JUST MY OPINION, but I think you need to hit all of the signature licks correctly, play the correct chords, play the correct feel and nail the changes. I usually shoot for 80% of more as close to the original as possible. Trust me, no one wants to hear you wanking away, throwing in a lot of extra notes.
    Stumbo and LBS-bass like this.