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When playing a cover song, do you try to copy the bass line note-for-note?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Busker, Jun 1, 2007.

  1. Busker


    Jan 22, 2007
    On a simple song, it's easy to play it note-for-note if you want to, I know.

    But on lots of other songs, the bass line is not all that simple. Tabs can be inaccurate or nonexistent, and/or it can be hard to hear all the notes distinctly on a recording.

    Is close enough, close enough? Take a little artistic license and maybe add a riff or two of your own? Perhaps even simplify it a bit. Or keep working on it until it's nailed note-for-note? I don't think the audience will be able to tell the difference either way, unless the audience is filled with anal retentive musicians.

    I'm currently working on "Listen To The Music" by the Doobie Bros. Learning this bass line note-for-note would take time. I could probably do it, with more work. But the somewhat simplified version I played last night seemed to satisfy my bandmates just fine.
  2. rllefebv


    Oct 17, 2000
    Newberg, Oregon
    If the bassline is totally married to the song, (My Girl, Brown Eyed Girl, Soul Man), then I try to stick reasonably close... Most times, I try to cop the feel of the tune then play in that vibe. I recently did a sub-gig for a buddy's band, and the band-leader was very much in the THIS IS THE BASSLINE camp... very restrictive, not a lot of fun... I only played the gig because the drummer is a close friend, but after seeing how he is treated, I know that I could never last... My mouth would get in the way :D

  3. Busker


    Jan 22, 2007

    LOL. One band I auditioned for a while back? One song had a descending bass line on part of it. I was using three strings to play the line. It was pretty much note-for-note. Sounded good, IMO. He suggested to me to play it on one string. Huh? Telling me which strings to use? Whatever.
  4. Jonny B

    Jonny B

    Nov 5, 2006
    If it's not integral to the song, and is hard to pick out of the mix, yeah, I'll fudge it.
  5. IMO, it's a good idea to learn it note-for-note, but then play what works best.

    It's pretty rare to play a cover song exactly like the recording and many times the band's instrumentation is different than the recording. So I usually end up adapting the bass line to fit our instrumentation, arrangement and how everyone else plays it. Some times, I play more. Sometimes, I play less. Whatever works best.

    Most importantly, get the feel of the song right and get the signature "hooks" right.
  6. Jeb


    Jul 22, 2001
    I play it like I hear it. I don't work on pop songs by trying to pick out each note, that would take considerable time. When I listen, I get the bass line in my head put it to a key and go with it. "Listen to the music" has a cool bass line, but its pretty predictable scalewise. I'm hearing it in my head right now and if I recall, the chorus has a 1-5 note part with an ascending scale quarter note walk over the typical three chords or something along those lines with a bit of tasty embellishment here and there? Its pretty repetitive. Try it.
  7. ric1312

    ric1312 Inactive

    Apr 16, 2006
    chicago, IL.
    Unless you are in a tribute band you don't really need to be exact. As long as you get the hooks and the feel right nobody knows the difference. Either sounds good or it doesn't. My band never plays songs real closely anyway, we always put some twist in them.
  8. Roundwound


    May 13, 2004
    Peoria, IL
    +1. Like some of the others said too, if the bass line is an integral part of the song (especially if it's popular), don't mess with it or shortchange it too much. My vote would be to hunker down and learn as many notes as possible for Listen to the Music.
  9. with less experience than anyone else who's posted (likely), I've wondered this question myself. The only pop bassists so far that i'd emulate note for note in practice, to learn wonderful phrasing, restraint, but occasionally letting loose, are the bassists for Elton John (!!). the bass transitions behind the composing of an amazingly diverse melodic/harmonic genius just keep impressing me. Currently working through Philadelphia Freedom (trying to - hoo boy). and there's sure no time for writing it down. i've nailed (in my mind) the precise bassline for sultans of swing (dire straights), but still am not technically quick enough for one specific but repeating lick. I wonder if I should set that aside for awhile. or keep at it daily?

    Otherwise, i feel I haven't been pushing myself if I don't try to come up with somehting other than what i hear recorded. what I'll do in public - to be determined...
  10. If I like the line, or its an integral part of the song Ill learn it, but I like to make up my own stuff usually.
  11. Jeb


    Jul 22, 2001
    Philadelphia Freedom wouldn't follow my diatribe for the "typical" pop song. Tough one! Very cool bassline! Sultans is a cool tune too, but more predictable. I've never heard Philadelphia covered and would bet my Stingray that whoever played it then (or plays it now) for Elton didn't/doesn't hit it note for note live, nor plays it exactly the same town to town.
  12. Jeb - I don't intend to perform it (them). I just want to emulate it (them). points all taken. thanks. i've chosen those two, with Zeppelin's Ramble On, all on fretless, for this portion of practice for me, for now. :) But my Sonus is in the Zon shop for a re-setup and some fingerboard maintenance. don't get it back till Monday. three days forced on frets, as a result...
  13. doctorjazz


    Oct 22, 2006
    Wilmington, NC
    I played in more of a jam band that just happened to do covers (that we extended into 20-minute improvisations), so I would make up my own stuff. However, whenever we did "Hey Joe" or "Godzilla" I pretty much had to do the original bass line.
  14. rfclef


    Jan 19, 2007
    Gervais, Oregon
    Yes... this is a question I have... I want to find some guys to play with (I can't bring myself to say "band" yet), but being new to this, I don't know a lot of whatever it is they are gonna want to play, I'll bet... which is one reason I am still in the "I am going to look" instead of "I am looking" mode... There are a few lines I can play note for note (Lady Madonna, Walking on the Moon), but that is a pretty limited book. At church, I make up my own bass lines, which is moslty for me, lotsa roots with passing tones, leading tones, and runs tossed in when I feel all fancy like...
  15. Jeb


    Jul 22, 2001
    onewebfoot - Yes, point taken and understood! I guess I'm coming from the perspective of one who has been on stage when the leader calls a song I've never heard of before and neglects to even indicate a key sig starting point! I'm not saying that I'll accept sloppy play, but under that kind of pressure I've learned to take familiar, predictable tunes in stride as "gimmes?"
  16. thanks, Jeb. that's exactly what I aspire to - being able to do that, all night if needed. perhaps I can nail down three dozen established covers by (say) November, and general ability to fill in what I can't recall on the spot. that's where I'm at - way behind you. :)
  17. Jeb


    Jul 22, 2001
    Hahahaha!, you've misjudged me. And Jeb isn't my real name!

    Just kidding. You sound more experienced than you're willing to let out!

  18. Silas Martinez

    Silas Martinez

    Jan 17, 2007
    Denver, CO
    Interesting topic, and it applies to what I'm doing right now.

    My take is, look for the signature hooks, try to nail those - but more important is keep it in key and on time, and keep up the groove.

    If trying to play a particular part is going to make it sloppy, and as a result people stop moving, I guess my perspective would be to go for a 'close enough, in the right style'.
  19. IanStephenson

    IanStephenson UnRegistered User

    Apr 8, 2006
    As a guideline, I try to think "what would the original bass player play if they were playing it live at a gig"?

    That usually means not changing anything important, copying a few of the fills, but with some license to change things around. I'm not going to play every fill identical to the record, as the original guy couldn't do that.

    95% of our set is pretty easy and straight forwards. There's one hard/cool bassline, and its one of the tracks I had to play when I auditioned for the band. There old bass player was just following the chords - I learnt the original bass line more or less, and they were all blown away.

    Trouble is I listened to the original yesterday - compared to the original I'm missing SO MUCH STUFF. I'm playing more good stuff in that song than the rest of the set, but I'm missing as much...

    No right answers...

  20. I have found Tabs to be either really great or drive me insane because there will be upto five different interpretations and they can all be wrong. Its frustrating not being able to just run to the local music store and buy music for every band so I really appreciate that some bands have links to tabs so that you can learn there songs...like the Foo Fighters..cool guy's.
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