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Writing continuous/rolling basslines

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by mrbell321, Oct 2, 2013.

  1. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    OK, I'm sure part of my problem here is vocabulary, but here's my current(one of many) issues: When I try to write a bassline(improv or sit down and work it out), they seem disjointed. I can come up w/ a cool sequence of notes, but there always seems to be something missing. It's at it's worst when you're "stuck" on one chord. So, say I've come up w/ a one bar pattern and I've got 4 bars to play it, it seems to sound like I"m jumping back to the start at the beginning of every measure. The one popular bassline I can think of that suffers from this is "Groove is in the Heart"/"Bring Down the Birds". It's got groove, but feels very boxed. The feeling I have is "Ok, that's that measure is over, let's start over".
    I had a song in mind when I started this post on what I'm looking for... but now I can't remember at all!

    Of course, a 4 bar pattern would remove the "internal box", but then it's less of a pattern... Also, when switching chords I get that same feeling too. Sort of an "OK that part of the song is over, let's do something else or just change the root". So the box is still there.

    Chromatic lead-ins also help, but really just add a tiny connector and covering more octaves makes it less obvious... I'm not even sure what the question is... maybe "Does anyone else ever feel this way?" or "Any other advice on breaking the box?" Or "Is there a better way to describe this?" or even "do you have a clue what I'm talking about?"

  2. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    It just occurred to me that a punk-style bassline of mostly roots wouldn't ever feel like you're jumping back to the root and therefore doesn't feel "boxed". But that also means the line doesn't have a lot of groove(no offense to punk fans, as I am one as well).
  3. First I very seldom play a song that keeps the same chord for four bars. If so I would say you have moved into modal music where a modal vamp of one to two chords are droning so a modal melody can sustain the modal sound. Or you are playing a dirt simple folk song that is happy with just two chords. But I do not think that is what you have in mind so.....

    I see two choices; Chord tones - which consist of the root, correct 3rd, five and the correct 7 with the generic 8 should you want to use that note. Then the chord's pentatonic as that will give you three of the chord's notes for harmonization and then two safe passing notes for color or flavor.

    How you play those notes is your choice. But, bear in mind if you have a chord lasting for four measures the melody line is happy with notes from that chord. Why do I say that? The chord is sharing enough notes with the melody for harmonization to take place, i.e. no need to introduce another chord into the mix. So if you compose a bass line from that chord's notes or pentatonic scale every body is going to be happy. Until the melody moves on to notes not found in the old chord. Then its time to use chord tones from the new chord.

    That also means that the bass line (bass clef) is in a supporting role. The melody line (treble clef) is carrying the song at this point. So fade into the woodwork and drone a R-3-5-8 for the melody to play over. Of course 3-5-8-R, or perhaps R-8-5-8 or any combination of those notes could be used.

    I know that is boring, but, part of our job is to harmonize and augment. Sometime less is more.

    Of course IMO.
  4. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    I don't think 4 bars of one chord is unusual. One song form (might be the most common form ever) that starts w/ 4 bars is the 12-bar blues. But even 2 bars of the same chords has the issue. and repeating the same pattern over different chords does this to my ear.

    I totally understand your point of the "fade into the woodwork", but let's take your example of sticking to a simple R-3-5-8. Play it like that and has an upward movement, and then suddenly drops back down. It doesn't flow(for me). Its got some groove, but the measures feel disjointed. Not just boring.

    I guess I'm trying to balance grooving with walking?
  5. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Learning to construct jazz walking bass lines is probably the cure for the 'boxing' you describe.

    [edit] looks like you know something about walking lines already.

    If you want an example of how the tonal variety of walking jazz can be applied to a more funky groove just study Jamerson.
  6. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    I am working on that... but I haven't yet come across good references that combine the two. Jazz traditionalists seem to say "you should walk", others say "groove". but no one says "You should walk with a deep groove"...
  7. What is a walk and what is a groove?

    Purchased Ed Friedland's Bass Grooves and was a little disappointed. There are 36 different grooves on the CD that comes with the book. What is the difference? Unless I'm missing his point it's the beat. IMO grooving is falling into the beat and letting the beat take over. The actual notes being played are secondary. IMO you can groove just using roots. When you head and body start moving to the beat your grooving.

    When you are walking you are using the chord's notes, i.e. walking is mechanical, but, grooving is another matter all together.

    I see the two as being related but separate issues. You could walk and not groove and you could groove and not walk.

    You are grooving when your head starts moving to the beat. If your head is not moving you have not reached grooving. And of course that and $1.56 will get you a cup of coffee in East Texas.
  8. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    That may be the million dollar question...
    I haven't read his book, but I think the notes can be really important to the groove. The "Groove is in the Heart"/"Bring Down the Birds" line I mentioned earlier wouldn't work if you reordered the notes(not the rhythm) went from low to high

    Usually, that's probably true, but you can walk "around" a chord too. 12-bar blues in a jazz context can show this.

  9. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    Here's another example of a song where the bass sounds "boxed", for the most part

    It certainly grooves and it harmonizes, but when all your songs sounds that way, it gets a little dull...
  10. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    I think I can see where you might have an issue. We are taught chords vertically - they have a root at the bottom an then some other notes above. However, music is an art form that exists in time; by the nature of being a sequence of events, music is more aptly recognized as a horizontal phenomenon.

    Melody = Horizontal
    Harmony = Vertical

    Our music does have a vertical aspect to it, so we need to acknowledge that, but I think you have enough harmony and not enough melody for the moment. Melody and harmony can be reconciled with an understanding of voice leading. It's a potentially complicated subject (most college programs spend at least one year covering voice leading), but the idea is fairly simple: when moving from one chord to the next, each note has a perceived drive to go to another note in the next chord. For example, let's work with the progression Gm C7 F. As you pointed out, doing R 3 5 (7) R on all of those sounds disjointed and has no overall flow. Let's try to make a more directional melodic line using only one chord tone per chord.

    B♭ G F is one possible combination.
    B♭ G A ends on the third of the tonic chord, and kind of dances around the final note.
    G E F is sinilar to the previous one, but surrounding the tonic.

    An ascending one: D E F
    A descending one: D E C
    One with common tones: B♭ B♭ A
    One with different common tones: G G F
    Different common tones: D C C
    Getting to the same C's from the other direction: B♭ C C
    Without stepwise motion: G E A

    I could do this forever, just one note to each chord for just those three chords. You can imagine that the possibilities are endless once you put more stuff in. Here are some with two chord tones each:

    D B♭, E C, F A

    This one has two separate lines in it: D E F and B♭ C A. In general, it has an upward trajectory toward the tonic chord, but it breaks away from being too samey by having the C lead down to the A. You might not like the low A there. Try a low F for a more cadential sound.

    You can also use non-chord tones to create more stepwise motion with your chord tones. Here is a variation on the above line:

    D C B, E D C, F C F (That's 8 5 1 on the last chord.)

    NCT's (non-chord tones) are underlined in the above. You can hear that these extra tones make the line seem more like a melody, and really give a sequential character to the thing. They won't sound out of place, because they are flanked by chord tones. Chord tones are your anchor.

    I realize that the melodic ideas I'm listing sound like Mary Poppins, mostly because there is no context or rhythm for this stuff and I need something short and straightforward as an example. I'm hoping that you realize through this that chord tones have a life of their own and that you don't always need to play a root or robotically arpeggiate the chord every measure. Bass, in most modern popular styles, plays single note lines at any given time. It is a melodic instrument. You are a melodist. Let the guitarists play cookie cutter bar chords - that's their role as a harmonic instrument. Let chords serve as a statement of horizontal possibilities rather than vertical fact.
  11. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    Thanks for writing this out. Its going to take me a little to understand what you're saying, but I didn't want you to think I'm ignoring you... I'm just thinking... and that is an arduous process :)
  12. topo morto

    topo morto

    Mar 22, 2010
    The examples you linked to (Herbie Hancock and Corduroy) are typical pop / dance basslines that consist of a repeating phrase that is itself a strong melodic idea. The repitition is a key element of that type of groove - you can get into it and dance to it because you know what's coming.

    This is why in pop, techno, house, etc, timbral changes and the addition and subtraction of layers coming in and out are very important, as we want to keep importnt notes of each part repeating and familiar while still providing something happening in the track. Small changes might be OK, but big ones would just knock the groove off. Different example : imagine what would happen if you changed the melody of a song's chorus each time? You wouldn't be able to sing along and get into it.

    Likewise with these types of bassline - Once you have a strong bass hook and have it looping round, big variation in the bassline would likely weaken, rather than strengthen, the track...

    ...but you can still have different sections of the track, with different basslines. Here's a track based around two different basslines: . Another favourite is 'last night a DJ saved my life'. Chic 'good times has two bass motifs, one of which is a simpler version of the other.

    So, don't worry about your boxed bassline - it's fine - but maybe have more than one box per song!
  13. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    topo. I understand repetition is important. I used those as examples because they were fresh in my mind. There are other pop/dance basslines that are simple, repetitive and don't feel like you're starting over every time(even tho you are). "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson is coming to mind right now...
  14. topo morto

    topo morto

    Mar 22, 2010
    I'm wondering if the way Billie Jean can be subdivided mentally into chunks smaller than the 8 repeating notes makes it more 'rolling'. Still, I'm not quite hearing the distinction you're describing when it comes to the basslines themselves. I wonder if some of it is a question of how other parts of the track interact with the bassline.

    What about this one?
  15. mrbell321


    Mar 26, 2012
    N. Colorado
    Wow... I haven't heard that song in probably 15 years!
    Anyway, that bassline does sort of have the wash, rinse, repeat thing but in that case it seems to be entirely rhythmic rather than melodic. Is it sounds like just a flurry of two alternating notes? punctuated by a rest, then repeat.

    BTW, I should mention that I could be entirely making this problem up in my head...
  16. topo morto

    topo morto

    Mar 22, 2010
    ^ I make it something like this....


    You may be hearing things differently to me, but that doesn't mean you're making it up! There's a real art to making a short repeating bassline / beat / combination thereof that grooves in a compelling way rather than being repetitive and dull.

    When producing, often the slightest things can be significant - a small timbral change on some notes, a barely audible ghost note here and there, a slapback delay on one drum beat... these kind of differences can make the difference between a repeating pattern that moves forward purposefully and one that just goes round in circles...

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