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Dan Le Gresley - A Songwriters Guide To Bass Part 2: Groove

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 58 **

Last time out we looked at how you need to adapt your playing when you approach the bass guitar. While the two share many mechanical similarities, ultimately they perform a different function in music. The Bass provides the deep rich undertone that drives a song, which, when coupled with the drums or a rhythm section forms the backbone of a track. Like building a house, music needs solid foundations on which complex chordal harmony and top-line melody can exist.  This is true of 99% of western music. Even if we consider the passionate fingerstyle playing of Tommy Emmanuel we find a serious bass player and drummer built into those hands.

The team and I were fortunate enough to interview Tommy last year and enjoy our own private gig, backstage at the Royal Festival Hall in London. He is a truly genuine and humble man and while I was watching him play I was struck by how incredibly rhythmical he was, you couldn't help but be moved by his playing, what was it I could hear?

Answer: The groove – and how it is rooted in the bass and rhythm of the music.

In our last instalment of the beginner's guide, we looked at serving the song, snapping to the grid, and taking the bass for a walk, we continue our journey together with Idea no 4

Idea 4: Keep Walking the Bass.

In the last lesson, we looked at some straightforward ideas of adding some chromaticism to basic lines to add movement and dissonance. This idea can be taken further,  'transition tones' allow for smooth and flowing bass lines and can include any combination of chord tones (arpeggios), scale tones that relate to the chords, or chromatic passing tones. We're going to look at two lines with alternative approaches.

Example 1 C7 - F7

This line uses mostly chord tones (the root, fifth and dominant seventh) with a brief chromatic run-up to the fifth.

Example 2 D - E

This line uses a Jazz style approach using chromatic passing notes to add colour and dissonance.

Remember the walking bassline concept isn't just for blues and jazz grooves it has been used to amazing effect David Bowie, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones to name but a few.

Idea 5: Use Chord Tones.

So as the spine of the song you've got to tread carefully with your lines. Chord tones are a great way to explore the music without veering too far off course. We know from the harmonic series that after the Root (Octave) the next most harmonically agreeable notes are the 5th, followed by the 4th, Major 3rd and then Minor 3rd. These are great tones to substitute for the root and when combined with great timing, can add interest whilst retaining the overall harmonic feel of the music.

Idea 6: The Tone is in the Fingers and Hands.

This idea could not be more apparent for bass playing. Plucking the strings hard and near the base of the fretboard like Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler makes them hit against it; plucking the strings at the bridge with just the ends of your fingers lets you get that Jaco Pastorius punch and attack. You can go from a muted thud to a sharp, funk punch by choosing where along the string you pick it and how hard you hit it. Add into that your pickup selector and tone controls, and you have a wide range of tone options before you even think about the signal chain.

I hope you enjoyed the ideas in this issues column, remember that when it comes to expanding your knowledge, whether on the bass guitar or on the trusty old 6 string; it is what you do with the concepts you learn that is important, take these ideas and make them live in your practise room, rehearsal space and studio. I'll see you next time when we venture into the world of substitutions and articulations.

Till then, go forth and groove.

Dan Le Gresley


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