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When to Play Busy Lines and When to Leave Space?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by danjl131, Sep 22, 2008.

  1. danjl131


    Jun 10, 2008
    When writing bass lines with a band, how does one know when there are too many notes are not enough notes? When should just roots be used and when should scale/chord tones be thrown into the bass part? And here's a specific situation following this question: if one guitar strums a chord and lets it ring, drummer hits bass and crash cymbal and lets it ring, and a second guitar is playing a melody with pedal tones, does the bass let the root of the 1st guitar's chord ring, or does it play a pedal note melody similar (but not exact) to the lead guitar? Might be a stupid question :bag: but kind responses would be appreciated. Thanks.
  2. DanielleMuscato


    Jun 19, 2004
    Columbia, Missouri, USA
    Endorsing Artist, Schroeder Cabinets
    When in doubt, leave space.

    There is no right or wrong answer to this question, and you have to look at it on a case-by-case basis. I can't think of any specific "rule" for when should play a fill or arpeggiate etc or when you should just let it ring. Sometimes, I "pace" the drummer; that is, I hit when he hits, in a percussive, muted, staccato fashion, pretty much bringing pitch to the drums: play an octave up with the snare, root with the kick, dead notes with the hi-hat, 7th with the high tom, 5th with the middle tom, 3rd with the low tom when he does rolls across them. That's when we're grooving, though.

    I think the best answer is just listen to the music and play what fits or what's missing. I know that doesn't help much, but there's no right or wrong way to do it, only ways that are done more often than others, and ways that aren't. They're all equally valid.
  3. It's music buddy, I think you are being way too mechanical about it. The answer to your question is : both would work and plenty of other options too.

    You are a musician, try to listen to the others playing, then you should ear what bassline you could play in your head and then play it on your instrument. Thinking about doing music in a mechanical way is not good.

    What style is it?

    You need to go with the general sound of the song and go in that direction. If you weren't playing in that band, think about what bassiline would you like to hear, what would work? a gazillion note bass solo or just a whole note that just supports the music and make everything sound good?
  4. E2daGGurl


    May 26, 2008
    This is where heart and soul come in - but basically, yeah, always err on the side of too few notes. THat's speaking more as an audience member, but also as a bass player - finding just those right few notes is often essential. All the advice you're receiving is great, though. Don't be afraid to cut loose if the session or piece calls for it! A lot of times a really dull song will be enlivened by more bass notes.

    But the way I look at it, the lower sounds in the orchestra/band are already weighty - take advantage of that and build beautiful (or raunchy or other) basslines around that. And keep thinking about it, as you're doing.
  5. Audiophage


    Jan 9, 2005
    When it sounds like you're playing too much or too little, you probably are.
  6. Thunderthumbs73


    May 5, 2008
    Not a stupid question, but so much of the answer depends on context. Some good one on one time with a teacher who can really get into this (as opposed to the rest of us enabled with just text and the written word on this forum), would be really beneficial.

    Good luck with it.
  7. MyUsernameHere

    MyUsernameHere ?????????????

    Nov 3, 2007
    Lexington KY
    All of this is good advise. Probably the best is "to bring pitch to the drums." There's a reason the drums and bass are considered part of the rhythm section. If you remember that most of your job (excluding soloing if that's your thing) is to act as the go-between for the drums and guitar/whatever other melody instrument is being used, you'll probably end up with something that works out ok. Whether that consists of you playing a lot of notes or a few, melodic lines or rhythmic, et all.
  8. I try to step back and think of if what I am doing is serving the music. If adding something isn't "adding" to the music, I won't do it. Record a practice with the band if you can, listen to what your playing. When I do this I can usually hit myself over the head with some times where I am overplaying just for the same of over playing.

    Serve the music before yourself =)
  9. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member


    There's an old saying for bass: there is no money above the 7th fret... something like that. Point being, we bassists love guys like Geddy, Marcus, and Jaco, but when it comes to passing an audition, it's almost always better to lay back and groove tightly than to blow fancy riffs.

    Obviously it depends on the situation. If you do the jam band thing, then some flash will be expected.

    Short answer: there is no right answer. For now, take your best guesses and listen to constructive criticism from bandmates and friends. In time you will develop a style, and with that, a sixth sense about when to lay back and when to get busy. Have fun!
  10. E2daGGurl


    May 26, 2008
    I found this very helpful. Thanks.
  11. For me it's all about listening and picking your moments. I would some of the better moments for embellishing would be in response to a melodic phrase or a passing tone between chords. If you're in a band with people I would recommend trying to add more then take away as needed, just be open to criticism from your band mates it can be very educating.

    While I do believe "less is more" it only goes so far. Listen to jazz lines they are "walking" bass lines, usually a combination of chord, scale, and passing tones used to create a line that pushes the music forward. I think it's a very important part of music, and is sorely neglected today. But you must always keep in mind that your bass lines whether they be just roots, or slightly more complex must exhibit taste and serve the song.
  12. RiddimKing


    Dec 29, 2004
    Everyone's advice is solid on this. I'd only add that you might find your answer by trying different approaches to the same song, and recording the versions--then listening back critically. For myself, I find that I usually start simple--mostly rhythmic roots; as I learn a song, I will add fills or a perhaps create a busier line. Then I usually cut things back in the later versions. Sometimes the groovy little riff you play over an entire song ultimately works better when played once at a particular point in a song. Some of my favorite basslines from others are simple ones, but often with very slight modifications from verse to verse. I'm riffing here and not being systematic...but I think that's also the approach you have to take to finding the most appropriate line.
  13. You'll discover which is appropriate as your listening develops. Seems like a dumb answer, but it really is similar to a light-bulb moment.
  14. seanm

    seanm I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize!

    Feb 19, 2004
    Ottawa, Canada
    Some good answers. The band makeup also plays a role. Is there a rhythm guitar? If so you might need to play simpler, if no, a bit more busy. Are there drums? If no you really need to hold down the beat. If yes, you can play with the beat a bit more.

    But all of this is just broad generalizations. Really you have to work out what fits... hopefully at a practice... but mainly by really listening as Bass Mule mentions.
  15. +1000, its the way it will happen one day you wil just go "what if i..." and there you go :)

    another point, when writing start with a basic line i.e just roots then add in more musical parts it will give you a more solid direction as to what to do.
  16. Jared Lash

    Jared Lash Born under punches

    Aug 21, 2006
    Denver, CO
    Good advice so far, and I won't be one to tell you to ignore anything that's been said,

    But at the same time, you have to do whatever feels and sounds right to you. That may be pumping out eighth note roots, creating the primary melody (as is often the case in reggae), slapping away or whatever it is that you hear in your head to add to a song. When I'm playing bass to someone else's songs, I always ask them what they envision for the bassline and work from that. But if you are part of the creative process, then do whatever you think best suits the song.

    And while often less is more, I always remember that two of the greatest groove players ever, Rocco Prestia and James Jamerson, are/were two of the busiest as well. The bottom line is that if it sounds good, it is good.

    In fact, for younger/less experienced players, I think trying to play busier lines is a good idea. After all, it lets you hear what does and doesn't work, and you can always dial it back later.
  17. bassplayertom77


    Sep 24, 2008
    Whenever I'm presented with new material, I always make sure my bass is out of reach. It's like my 4th grade teacher said,"If you're talking, you're not listening".

    This is an excellent question man. Just being open to possibilities is a step in the right direction.
  18. detracti


    May 5, 2006
    Myself, I do or do not if/when it feels right. And its always good if you can get yourselves recorded, and play it back.. because you can pay attention to how what your playing is fitting into the mix.

    I'm in a trio.. so I'll usually try and change things up during the guitar lead/solo to add some dimension to the piece.. I find that holding down the regular line at those times, without rhythm guitar support, sounds too barren.
  19. thisSNsucks

    thisSNsucks I build Grosbeak Guitars and Basses Commercial User

    Dec 19, 2004
    Yonkers, NY
    Grosbeak Guitars
    You have to ask yourself the question: Does the song need a fancy bass part?

    I'm in a 6 piece band with 3 guitar players and a piano player so I constantly have to ask myself that question. There's alot of times that if I do a fill or get too technical, I end up stepping on toes.

    If you have cool band mates, just ask them if they dig your part.
  20. T-MOST

    T-MOST Supporting Member

    Dec 10, 2004
    NJ via NYC
    There is no rule or formula you can follow. It comes from experience, listening skills and musical instincts. The more musical situations you have the more experience you have to draw from.

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