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Where can I learn to play like James Jamerson?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by nextcliffburton, May 11, 2010.

  1. Hello everybody! I've always been a big fan of Robert Deleo (Stone Temple Pilots Bass Player) and I read that he pretty much is playing alot of James Jamerson stuff. Well I went and looked him up and heard some of his bass player and was BLOWN AWAY. Does anybody know where or how I could learn his style? I've been looking around and I'm having trouble trying to get his bass lines or his techniques. Any help would be appreciated. Thank You!!


  2. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather

    Check out the Standing In The Shadows Of Motown dvd and cd's or any Motown compilation. It'll be full of James Jamerson. JJ had a inate sense of melody and jazz chops which helped mold his way of approaching songs and also a lot of those basslines were written that way (of course he added his touch to them). You definitely DO NOT want to learn how to play the way he played. He pretty much played with one finger!
  3. Well ya I heard about that, I'm more trying to figure out the fills and runs he would do. I use three fingers anyways so going to one would be a little difficult. Hmm.. So maybe If I like his playing I should get into Motown bass playing?
  4. Short answer... you can't.

    With someone like Jamerson... there's so much feeling and emotion involved, it goes FAR beyond what can be taught.

    Sure, you can learn motown runs and fills... but there were plenty of bassists back then that could technically perform the way he did. It was the stuff that couldn't be learned that set James far and above his contemporaries.

    My advice would be... play along with motown in general because it's a BLAST... but after you get a hang, worry about puting your own swing on it and not about playing note-for note.

    Good luck man... out of any bassist you could emulate... James is one of the best you could pick.

    *also, thread PROBABLY belongs in a different section.
  5. Uhh... Jamerson's playing IS Motown bass playing. He played on most of the important Motown sessions.
  6. Double Agent

    Double Agent

    Mar 10, 2006
    Lakeland, FL
    That is what I would do. There is lots of info on the tracks he played on in Bassists sub-forum. If you are looking for real simple stuff, some of the tracks he played on with the Temptations and the Supremes are really tasty (My Girl, You Can't Hurry Love, etc.). If you want the more complex stuff, check out What's Goin' On? by Marvin Gaye, Bernadette by the Four Tops. My personal favorite, and one of the most intricate basslines he did, was Darling Dear by the Jackson 5.

    Just remember that what made Jamerson great was knowing what to do AND when to do it. You can learn just as much from his simple parts as the complex parts, so make sure not to overlook the simple things just because they are "easy". And learning as much of the Motown stuff as possible (Bob Babbitt and Wilton Felder are pretty awesome bassists, too) will make you a better, more well-rounded bass player IMO.
  7. Some of the Motown stuff is Bob Babbitt who is killer as well. The Standing in the Shadows DVD is well worth watching and has Babbitt channelling Jamerson on a lot of it. Some of it is him playing stuff he played on.
  8. mccartneyman


    Dec 22, 2006
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Managing Editor, Bass Guitars Editor, MusicGearReview.com
    Well, if James' one finger worked, why not? Actually, I find myself using my index finger alone quite a bit, and I've been doing it for 45 years. But I do use index and middle for faster licks, too.

    As for learning his licks, you can buy the "Standing in The Shadows of Motown" book, but you'll need to be able to read music. Same for "Motown Bass Classics," which also has tab. If you have good ear, you may be able to pick up a lot from listening to Motown recordings -- that's how I and many others figured 'em out. Technique -- probably two fingers, but there are pick players who can nail James's technique.

    But what made James special was his ear -- the ability to come up with non-standard bass lines that complimented the melody and, while sometimes "busy," but didn't get in the way. That's something that is not easily taught. It helps to know chord structure and to have a good ear for what fits the music. You certainly don't need to limit your lines to roots & fifths only.

    It may also help to take lessons from a bassist -- not a guitar guy who teaches bass. Almost any professional bass player -- certainly anyone older than 40 -- has been influenced by James.
  9. Thanks guys I appreciate it. I'll forsure look into getting bass lessons from an older professional bass player, now just gotta find the cash to do it hahaha
  10. mikeswals

    mikeswals Supporting Member

    Nov 18, 2002
    Seattle / Tacoma
    There's a million of us trying to play JJ stuff, and don't quite get it. Just when you think you nail one, another song comes along and puts you back to square one. It's just in incredible sense of melody and timing. Take a listen to Gladys Knight's version of 'Heard it Throught the Grape Vine', and you can hear how he brought the feel of the upright on 'My Guy' to what he did on electric bass.
    I like DeLeo, but I don't hear it in his playing.
  11. lowB_2277


    Aug 18, 2005
    Contact Steve Kim, (get his # from the guys at Bass NW, 206 622 2277). He is an excellent instructor, great guy, great player with a large supply of charts and lines for the very thing that you are inquiring about. I started with him for the same thing that you are looking for and ended up working with him for about 7 years, (off and on). He made me a better player.
  12. spywebco

    spywebco Supporting Member

    May 14, 2009
    North Ft. Myers, FL
    I play in a Motown, Soul & Funk band, and have had to re-teach myself a lot of his stuff. One of the things that always blows me away isn't what he plays but the timing, syncopation, and phrasing of what he doesn't play. It's like someone speaking and using a pause or dead air to make a point. Everything he played was "just right" it always keeps the song moving and when I have to start picking it apart phrase by phrase, it is even more amazing. Play a JJ bass part (just one phrase) with no accompaniment. Play it over a few times 'till you own it. Then listen to it with the rest of the recording. It's like custom tailored to fit. When you hear that same part of the song again, he changes it up, and it's a little different. Just amazing control of the little things that make JJ the standard by which a lot of guys measure themselves. FWIW a couple months back there was a great article in BP magazine, lots of history and totally cool. He played electric all day and upright all night in Jazz Clubs... I would LOVE to get my hands on a recording of that!! Talk about bein' schooled.
  13. Lichtaffen


    Sep 29, 2008
    Rhode Island
    I second the recommendation for "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" book. I sat down and learned to read with that book and have been absorbing it ever since. You'll never be done with it. There are people on this forum who have admitted to working with that book for 10 years and more. It's not that you'll become like Jamerson, but rather it will accelerate your abilities much more than studying anyone else. In the end, you will still be you, not James, but you'll be a much better you because of his teachings.

    One thing you need to realize about that book is this: don't read it for the note selection only. His sense of rhythm and syncopation is remarkable. This is why I'm glad it's NOT in tab because tab can't teach you rhythm, only standard notation can.
  14. +1
    Quoted for truth.
    Arion likes this.
  15. wideyes


    May 9, 2007
    Eugene, OR
    Using some kind of reissue Fender p-bass with flats and a nice vintage-ey pickup will help you get there equipment-wise. Then, just jam along with what you can and really groove.
  16. Listen to this bass line

    I guess one of my main questions are what scales is he using? I know about feeling the music its just I dont know too many scales, I mean I got my Major, Minor and Pentatonic scale but some of the notes he hits are so cool sounding.
  17. cloclo


    Dec 13, 2009
    Antwerp, Belgium
  18. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather

    That tune is a clinic in groove, melody and timing!
  19. wideyes


    May 9, 2007
    Eugene, OR
    Actually, I always thought that tune was a bit busy on the bassline. An excellent display of skill, but IMO not his most tasteful stuff.

    I DO, though, really like this clip:

    My favorite version of the song, and an impeccable performance by Jamerson.
  20. Don't forget to set the action unplayably high (to build your left hand muscles), run it through a vintage Portaflex and never, ever clean the fingerboard. Only change strings when they break.

    Also, another vote for "Standing in the Shadows of Motown."

    Good luck!

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