What Makes For a Good "Jamming" Bassist?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by tastybasslines, Jul 7, 2013.

  1. tastybasslines

    tastybasslines Inactive

    May 9, 2010
    Los Angeles, CA
    Last weekend, I played with some new guys who are looking for a bassist. Drummer, rhythm and lead guitars. I dig the music - it's blues/rock with some punk mixed in. I practiced some of their music a couple of weeks before - and knew about 4 of the songs. Pretty easy stuff. We all met at a rehearsal studio and got right to it, except that they didn't want to play any of the songs, they just wanted to jam and see what happened. Cool, no problem. 1st hour went great - they liked my playing and I can keep time generally pretty well. They complimented me on my playing.

    The second hour didn't go as well. We were struggling to come up with decent jams and were "trying too hard". The first hour I played my "go to" jams - my better stuff, and then I kinda ran out. I had writers block I guess. It got painful. They were looking exclusively to me the whole time to get something going which leads me to my first question - is the bass player the one most looked to or responsible for starting each new jam? It seems to be this way every time I jam with new people.

    Later in the day, I jammed with another guitarist and a drummer, totally impromptu, at someone's house. A guy was playing a guitar, and waddya know - I already had my bass in my car. It went awesome for 2 hours...no struggle to come up with anything. Perhaps it was the formal environment earlier that happened to me?

    So I have been thinking about what it takes to jam well with new players you don't know and jam well in general.

    Now, I'll be the first to admit, that I am not the most creative bassist on the fly. I don't know much theory. Most of the good lines that I've come up with started with something small and I worked to create a line I was proud of. I can learn most songs and play them fine, but feel I could improve when jamming with people.

    When I do jam with new people, I am conscious to stay in the pocket and not try too hard, just play the root notes or an octave and wait for something to develop. Once I hear a pattern, I'll play notes on a corresponding scale and basically run up and down or find notes that work well with the rhythm. This is what I did the second part of the day, when it went better. I tend to not try too hard (less is more) but end up feeling "not creative" and that my play is "uninspired". Some guys can step in and make it sound more like a song with a developed bassline on the fly, which I don't do. Know what I mean? I wish I could play more fluidly for the first time with new people and when I jam in general.

    Any tips, tricks, ideas, opinions etc...on what it takes to be a good, bass playing jam partner? I'd really like to up my game. Learning and playing existing songs is one thing, jamming is another.
  2. It's different with every different group of folks. I also find sometimes I have it, I just come up with some resonably happening hook that locks a groove right up but leaves lots of harmonic space, and sometimes, well, it just doesn't happen. If the other players are good you can "pass the ball" and just pedal a note, or play a high double-stop sort of "wash" and see if anyone else can pull up a groove. It doesn't always have to be the bassist's responsibility.

    Jammed last night after a good trio set at a little invite-only music fest with a bunch of younger gents. It was fun. That honest harmonic ambiguity that comes from a naive approach can be so fun, and so ellusive to us now after 30 years of playing. It was like the old days, it made me feel like I was 18 again. Grooves came, grooves went, things sped up - nothing slowed down, lol - and anyone could and did play anything. I was fortunate to hit a bunch of cool things very organically and two hours just flew by, and everyone was complimentary of my playing and stoked about how the jam went. But it just can't always happen, not even the Dead could always cook up something great on the spot. That's why they eventually wrote all those cool tunes which provided launching pads for the jams.
  3. jmattbassplaya

    jmattbassplaya Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2008
    Like all things - practice :)

    My last band had a pretty good reputation on our local scene for our jamming ability; mostly because our audiences rarely knew when we were jamming! They just thought we were playing stuff we had already written when in reality we were making it up on the spot. We were just that in tune with each others' abilities.

    Some things that have helped me as an individual are:

    1. Learning theory. Working on arpeggios, chord creation, chord inversion, etc...
    2. Learning my neck and where all those notes, chords, and arpeggios 'sat'
    3. Working on my ear and learning how to hear notes, chords, degrees, etc...
    4. Practicing my ability to hear something and play it back or, at a minimum, play something back that was in key and made musical sense to the prior lick
    5. Creating chord progressions on a loop station and then soloing over them, practicing modes over them, and layering different chords on top of the existing ones
    6. Transcribing hundreds or licks and lines from all the top guys

    Some things that have helped me as an ensemble player are:

    1. Learning how to not step on others toes and how to find my 'place' in a jam
    2. Learning when to lead and when to follow in a jam
    3. Learning the most common 'go to' progressions that people use in jams (and most modern pop music)
    4. Learning how to use space to my advantage and not overplay, but also know when to step out and cover someone else who might be lost
    5. Learning how to memorize things literally on the fly so that you can always go back to the established 'head'
    6. Learning how to read people and what certain signals (hand or otherwise) mean

    Those are just the things that I can think of. Again, most of it comes from practice and simply having a lot of experience, but it's important to remember that jams will almost always be limited by the involved players' abilities. Unless everyone has the ability to improvise (something you just have to practice to be good at) things probably won't sound great or can turn stale quick. Good luck!
  4. My first thought was that you were in two totally different situations. In the first, it seems the band was out of ideas and were auditioning you as some sort of muse to stimulate new sounds for them. In the second you were responding to what the other two guys were already doing.

    Ask me to fill in on two hours of songs I have heard before and am familiar with the style and I have no problem, even if I have never played them.

    Ask me to make up 2 hours of originals to lead a group of strangers I have never met. Kinda tough.
  5. ggunn


    Aug 30, 2006
    Austin, TX
    Well, did they ask you back?
  6. tastybasslines

    tastybasslines Inactive

    May 9, 2010
    Los Angeles, CA
    Lots of good advice, thanks. I know I have alot of theory to learn...
  7. tastybasslines

    tastybasslines Inactive

    May 9, 2010
    Los Angeles, CA
    Not yet. One guy told me that he's not ready yet to practice regularly and gig out but he wants to do it again.
  8. tastybasslines

    tastybasslines Inactive

    May 9, 2010
    Los Angeles, CA
    In the second situation, it was both, me and them. Sometimes he was showing me what he wanted to play and I'd do the best I could, and other times, I was just noodling and he would say, "keep doing that." and even if it was just 3 notes, he liked the rhythm of it, and those 3 notes would turn into more.

    Glad you mentioned about 2 hours of originals being tough...I guess I feel I should be able to do it all.
  9. I've jammed with some young guys who obviously have spent a lot of time learning metal stuff on their guitars, but have no idea what a 12-bar blues is, even though probably half of rock is based on it, and almost all early rock. It's hard to jam with someone who doesn't know the most basic of chord progressions.

    Back when I was taking lessons at age 16 or so, my teacher was showing me how to walk bass lines around a chord chart. At the time I didn't know why I had to bother with that jazz-type stuff, but I paid attention, and years later it paid off.

    When I jam with someone now, I pay attention to the chords he's playing, figure out the key (as best as possible), and the type of rythm, and then I'm off and running. Practicing bass improvisation in jazz has made me an immensely better rock bassist.
  10. ShotBaker

    ShotBaker Inactive

    Jul 8, 2013
    Was there alcohol at that first jam you mentioned? That'll mess up that second hour, with some folks...

    Try to stay out of the way...keep your ears open, and expect changes. Feel the pulse of the kick. If they're a good jam band...they'll have a commercial-pop music instinct. If you feel a change in key coming, it's gonna happen, that is if they've got all that together.
  11. tastybasslines

    tastybasslines Inactive

    May 9, 2010
    Los Angeles, CA
    Nah, no alcohol.