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Ska Bass playing

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by bassmasta94, Apr 19, 2010.

  1. bassmasta94


    Jul 21, 2009
    Hey guys, i dont know if im putting this post in the right place, but, i have recently been listening to ska music, and i really like it. I am a pretty experienced bassist, but have never really experimented with creating, and playing my own ska bass lines. If you guys have any tips, or suggestions on what i can do to improve my ska chops, it would be greatly appreciated.
  2. JackANSI


    Sep 12, 2006
    Only thing I can say is to put the beat first and notes second.. But everyone you ask will have something else to say so its probably best to just do it your way (and figure that out over time with a band).
  3. adube810


    Mar 6, 2008
    Brooklyn, NY
    8th note walks with 16th note flourishes?
  4. sublimestylee


    Aug 26, 2007
    Seattle, Wa
    Triads are a huge part of ska bass
  5. Bouncy walking bass lines work great. Horace Panter with the Specials also got great mileage out of octave disco-like lines, not slapped, but finger-style disco octaves. Original ska bass (ska from Jamaica pre-dates reggae- reggae came from ska) was usually upright double-bass and the bands were modest-sized jazz 'big band' format bands, mostly horn players. So the walking bass lines are old-school authentic. Check out some old Skatalites. Also try just pounding out triads, straight-up 1-3-5 (but maybe inversions will work too? non-inverted seems most 'authentic' but creativity is so boss in music ;-) on each chord change. I'd steer clear of one-drops, that is, play on every downbeat. Mind you these are just suggestions, every rule is meant to be broken in music. Ska is awesome, just about some of the best pockets to get into and playing bass on ska tunes is a blast. Enjoy!
  6. travep

    travep Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2010
    Austin, TX
    I hear a lot of what was said above...bouncy, arpeggio-laden...another thing. Lots of space and avoid the tendency I have to fall into the upbeat with the guitar/keyboard. Maybe some of you more experienced low-enders are beyond that but I always start feeling the "and" & sometimes am emphasising in the wrong place. Also, it's very repetitive...not much improve in the pre-reggae ska stuff.
  7. Well I empathize, sometimes it's lonely out on the downbeat in a ska groove. One trick is to double up, so instead of quarter note walking you're playing eighth notes, which lets you play along with the off-beat skanking. Think of the bass line to "Mirror in the Bathroom", the great English Beat tune. Also using some pick-up notes here and there that hit with the skank can help thread the needle, so to speak.

    One of the hardest things for me is to come in on the downbeat when the off-beat rhythm is in full swing if the drummer isn't emphasizing the downbeats for me. If I'm warmed up and really locked in it's cool, but sometimes I still blow that. Like coming in on the Violent Femmes classic "Please Do Not Go" (not really a ska tune, but it's ska-influenced) where it starts with just the off-beat guitar.

    But I think it's good to really feel the skank and actually play it, but then also drop in the downbeats. That's what I always feel is the best ska pocket. I also feel that the downbeats should bounce more than be totally fat, like say a funk "one" can be. In that way ska can be kind of like swing jazz (something I am a total newb at) where you walk on all 4 beats but emphasize the 2 and 4, ska is somewhat analogous to that aspect of swing. I guess that makes some sense because ska started out as a marriage of swing and Jamaican folk rhythm.
  8. Oh re: repetitive- yes, it is. It's all about groove, pocket, and trancing out on deep repetition. If you want to shake it up, try just dropping out. Then instead of coming back in full-force, play just one note on the downbeat, then two, then come back in with the full line. I think you could probably also step out on some simple slap patterns as a brief solo/extended fill, or try and put a little melodic horn-type line up high, but it's really about groove- those kinds of things would be to build tension that you then release by dropping back in to the pocket. So yeah, prog-rock or psychedelic improv it certainly is not.
  9. Just listen to a couple of Prince Buster's earliest albums. The bass is nice and easy to hear. The basics are all there and are pretty simple to get. Once you are familiar with the style enough to play it well, you are 95% there.
  10. travep

    travep Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2010
    Austin, TX
    HolmeBass...good advice, all.

    One other thing with regard to tone...and I guess this really depends on whether "ska" to the original poster is pre-reggae/dancehall stuff from the island or a modern rock version (say, M.M. Bostones). I would say that the tone for early ska sounds to me like more of a motown sound...not the big fat low-end dub-like stuff you hear in modern reggae. The rock-ska tends to be a rounder tone (not dub, certainly...more pop-rock). Does this all sound accurate?
  11. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    listen to the late great desmond dekker, toots and the maytals, and the skatellites. they were the first great ska acts. love the specials, the selecter, fishbone, and even some early no doubt, but i always liked going right to the source.

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