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The hardest thing for a bassist who can write.

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by BusyFingers, Dec 25, 2016.

  1. BusyFingers


    Nov 26, 2016
    Must be finding a guitarist willing and able to write to a song already written on bass.

    I think there are a number of factors at work. For one, it's not an easy task to do it well. Secondarily, most guitarists aren't interested in working off of someone else's stuff. Lastly, it just never seems to cross anyone's mind that songs can be written starting with the bass, even though the rock genre is literally filled with some of the most beloved songs that were written by the bassist.
  2. hondo4life


    Feb 29, 2016
    Pretty much. Yup.

    A song written from the bottom-up will have a chord progression and song structure according to the key and style of music. Any melody can be adpated to and played over this basic rhythm. And from there, adjustments can be made to make everything fit together. Makes sense.

    Or you can have a song written by a noodling guitar player that just wants to speed pick a d minor pentatonic for three minutes. "Hey bass player, just pound on the root note" Yeah, you don't even know what the root note is.

    And this is why I am no longer in a band. Or more correctly, a "band".
    Tennesseemick likes this.
  3. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Sounds like you need to grab a guitar and learn at least some open position chords. It is a LOT easier to write a bass line from a guitar or piano part than the other way around. Those beloved songs written by bass players probably involved their writing at least some of the guitar parts as well.
  4. tangentmusic

    tangentmusic A figment of our exaggeration

    Aug 17, 2007
    < 8 of the 10 songs on our album were "written" on bass.
    But since I'm also the guitar player, I can do whatever the hell I want.

    (link below if interested)
  5. hondo4life


    Feb 29, 2016
    I think the general bassline is implied if you are already strumming chords. A guitarist writing a song with real chords is doing a lot more than a guitarist that comes up with a "riff" and thinks it's a song already. Many guitar players don't know actual chords.
    brbadg likes this.
  6. BusyFingers


    Nov 26, 2016
    I agree, but that's my point. And I'm not so sure the majority of those great songs were written by bassists on guitar.

    Sting is a good example of this, and Andy Summers has to be one of the most adept at composing guitar work around already constructed basslines. If you check the songs, you can tell most of them started with the bassline.
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  7. NoiseNinja

    NoiseNinja Experimental-psychedelic-ambient-noise-drone Banned

    Feb 23, 2011
    I played in a band where I basically wrote the songs on bass and it took me like 1 month to find a guitarist and a drummer that was willing to jump into the project and add their parts, they even did a really good job (it was sort of experimental progressive rock in the harder end of the spectra).

    I might just have been lucky though.

    Well to finish the story, sadly the guitarist decided to move to Berlin in Germany (me and the drummer live in Denmark) after a year or so, and the band fell apart.

    I still jam with the drummer sometimes though.

    My point is that it is far from impossible to write useful stuff on bass and find people who are willing to play with your material.

    I have a feeling it is easier to make it work in a more experiemntal outfit though, where people would usually be more open for untraditional approaches, than say in a traditional pop or rock setting.
  8. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    I really REALLY believe that we create our own situations to correspond with our beliefs. I never thought that, and I never experienced it. In The Nerve, I came up with half our music on bass. And the guitarist/singer used to enjoy crafting songs around it. When I started out as a musician, I played guitar in a band where the songwriter and BL was a bassist. I also had to craft my parts around his playing, and I enjoyed it. Still do. Just about everything I write starts with a bass line. Then I find a beat that works, and start working the guitar around it. Me thinks you might just be finding lazy guitarists. Creative guitarists will jump at the opportunity to write around bass tracks. It's a challenge.

    I'm particularly proud of the guitar I wrote around my slap happy video below (FAIK). It took me a few days to come up with something that I felt really complimented the bass and vocals, while allowing the bass to lead the way.

    Ya know... if you like my guitar playing, I might be interested in coming up with tracks for you :). I really do enjoy doing it.
    neuman, Bunk McNulty, moles and 6 others like this.
  9. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I create rhythmn charts for the rest of the band. I use band and a box to get the feel and the sound of the chords together. Then I write the melody on piccolo bass -- it's only in my head, so I don't have to create a lead sheet. (this is purely instrumental music). And then the bassline -- that comes in rehearsal. It just comes to me when I have the song structure and rhythmn chart in place. It's normally simple beacuse I have the melody to worry about in piccolo.

    In terms of starting the writing process of the song -- I usually start with a progression that already exists. I don't feel bad about it because I see that so many songs in the jazz genre use similar progressions. I change the feel -- swing becomes bossa, bossa becomes swing, or bossa becomes smooth jazz. Then, I look at the progression to see how I might alter it to make it my own. Sometimes that means making majors minors, adding interesting turarounds, or using a chord that was meant as a passing course as a special approach to a different chord.

    From there, I normally start with a lick that I know from somewhere, but one that is buried in the middle of a song, or not recognizeable. That starts me off, and then I improvise over the song like made for as long as it takes for something catchy and memorable to emerge. Often the starting lick disappears entirely.

    I tested the songs on a jazz veteran. Asked him if he'd ever heard the songs before -- he said "nope", but I recognize parts of the progressions. But he couldn't connect the songs to anything he'd ever heard.

    I do have a few songs where the progression is entirely my own. Nothing special usually, but combined with the feel, the bassline, and the melody they have become the better songs in our repertoire, judging by audience cheers and applause. I remember the first time we performed the 10 or so songs publicly -- it was like an adrenaline rush when the crowd hooted and hollered after we played the stuff I had written. I didn't know I could do this in my 50's....it's never to late to try new stuff...
  10. catcauphonic

    catcauphonic High Freak of the Low Frequencies Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2012
    Seattle WA
    Luckily, the band i currently create music with is very respectful of the role and power of the bass. We take turns starting the groove (or whatever you want to call it) and build off of whoever has an idea that jumps out ... it's almost always the rythym guitar or bass, sometimes drums, that starts it.

    But getting strangers on board a finished song would probably be more difficult.
    tangentmusic likes this.
  11. BusyFingers


    Nov 26, 2016
    Nice video. What was the make of that bass you were playing?
  12. bearfoot


    Jan 27, 2005
    Chittenango, NY
    Idk, maybe they are tablature-bound or something. I presume you are providing a lead sheet for your songs, at least, and asking them to generate a part from that like any fake book situation.
  13. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I see this as part and parcel of the problems I face with singers. They come to rehearsal expecting the entire band to figure out what key they need their song to be in. They resist learning how to read charts for structure to speed rehearsal. In short they haven't paid their dues in terms of making themselves ready to participate in a band without using other people's time unwisely.

    if I were you, I would sit down and learn some basic piano or guitar skills so you can tell them what chords to play over your bass lines. That would be considerate to everyone's time, would increase acceptance of your musical ideas, and would get the music out there.

    With this structure in place, the other instrumentalists can embellish the work and put their own style on it. But at least you can give them a credible foundation for their creations.

    If that is too tall an order, I would sit down with one member of the group outside of rehearsal - a guitarist or a keyboard player -- and nail down the harmonic/chordal structure of the song, and put it down on paper in some format everyone can read. Then bring the song to rehearsal.
  14. brbadg


    Nov 10, 2006

    Sting is a multi instrumentalist.There is no doubt that he can explain the chords he wants,and even demonstrate them.
  15. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Sting actually wrote a lot of the guitar parts, too, and wrote a lot of the songs you may think he wrote on bass on guitar.
  16. bolophonic


    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    Never had this problem.
    StayLow and 10cc like this.
  17. Agreed. It will make you a better bass player.
    pbass2 likes this.
  18. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Can't say that's been my experience. However, not every songwriter is good at collaborating with another songwriter despite the fact songwriting duos tend to write a large percentage of the most enduring and best loved music out there.

    One potential issue is how well a guitarist really knows guitar. Because there's four basic ways most songs begin to be written:

    • start with a feeling you want to convey
    • start with a rhythmic pattern
    • start with a melody or melodic theme
    • start with a chord progression - then try force a melody out of the chords
    When i'm writing, I almost always start with the melody. Because for me, that's where the originality in a song is mainly to be found. But that's probably just me.

    Most guitarists prefer to start with a chord progression. Or so it seems to me. And if they're not good at fitting chords or chord voicings to already written melody lines, they're going to have their work cut out for them. Because it's fairly easy for most musicians to force some sort of melody out of a chord progression. But it's much harder, or maybe just requires a different kind of musicianship, to listen to a melody and where it wants to go in a song, and then select the exact right guitar chords, voicings, and fills to harmonize with and help get it there.

    Listen to the first minute of the Toto song Rosanna to hear how a careful selection of chords and chord voicings really opens up what would have otherwise been a fairly predictable (i.e. boring) beginning and makes you sit up and take notice. That's what I mean by a different level of musicianship - even when it comes to writing a piece of commercial pop like Toto does.

    tl:dr - (a) If a guitarist really knows how to play guitar, you shouldn't have that problem. (b) some musicians - not just guitarists - aren't good at writing music as a team.
  19. somegeezer


    Oct 1, 2009
    With the comments of "bassists that wrote songs", I imagine most of those bassists probably started writing on guitar or piano, or some other more chordal instrument. Starting with a chord sequence is probably the easiest way to expand from. For me, I love a good bit of orchestral strings to start me off in the writing. I usually move on to rhythm after that, and start developing some sort of beat. Bass is actually usually the last thing I put into the instrumental side of things, before going on to vocals [if applicable].
  20. Anglerfish


    Dec 1, 2015
    When I write a song it means that I compose lyrics, vocal melody, chord progression and guitar riffs. Others are allowed to add or change anything. But if I want to call it my song then most significant parts of it should be created by me.

    If I only bring a bass line it'll mean that I just made an idea for arrangement and want others to compose a song over it. This may work too but it is not gonna be my song anymore.
    Passinwind likes this.

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