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The Best Sight Reading Books for Bass

Bass Player’s Book Club Part 2: Sight Reading Have you ever wondered what the best sight reading books for bass are, or how to practise sight reading? Episode 2 of…

Bass Player’s Book Club Part 2: Sight Reading

Have you ever wondered what the best sight reading books for bass are, or how to practise sight reading? Episode 2 of the bass player’s book club focuses on some of my favourite books for developing your sight reading skills and some strategies for using them with maximum efficiency in order to improve your sight reading as quickly as possible.

This post is not meant to debate the relative merits of TAB vs. notation. It might seem odd for someone who runs a bass transcription website to say it, but I don’t actually believe that taking music in ‘by eye’ is the best way to do things. It is, however, very useful in a number of situations when you need to communicate musical ideas quickly. I also believe that being able to read is an integral part of being a well-rounded musician; people seem to be happy to nod along when someone trots out the very tired ‘music is a language’ analogy, but are often reluctant to actually do the work of learning how to read and write the language fluently.

Confessions of a Teen TAB-aholic

I took up the bass at the age of 14, largely because I was too scared to talk to girls and thought it would help (it didn’t). I started having lessons at school with a guitar teacher who played a bit of bass and straight away I was introduced to TAB – what a great system! It tells you exactly where to place your fingers and out comes Green Day… What could be better?

Eventually, I found myself arriving at music college at the age of 19 with plenty of technique but very little musical ability. I suddenly found myself confronted with notation and realised that I had to get my reading together quickly if I didn’t want to languish at the bottom of the class. Here are some strategies that helped me to get my act together – by the end of the first year, I had gone from zero reading ability to near the top of the class:

Five Tips for Better  Bass Sight Reading

1. Do it every day

If you don’t do it enough, then it won’t stick. Lectures didn’t start till 11am, so I’d get up at 7.30, make a big cup of green tea and get lots of notes in my face for an hour or so. You don’t have to put that much time in, but you have to do it regularly to have any hope of it becoming second nature (other hot beverages are also acceptable).

2. Separate Rhythm from Pitch

The two big variables that we’re dealing with are the pitch of the note and its duration, so when learning the fundamentals of reading notation it’s good to practise the two separately.

For pitch, I used to use Gary Willis’ Xtreme Sight Reading page on his website, which randomly generates rows of pitches for you to play through. The range of notes and the probability of accidentals can be adjusted depending on your pain threshold (EDIT: he’s now taken it down, if anyone can find it, then please get in touch):

For rhythm, I used Louis Bellson’s Modern Reading in 4/4 time (link further down the page), which focuses on reading syncopation. No pitch variation whatsoever, but it explores almost every rhythmic possibility from the simple to the vomit-inducing.

3. Read with a click

The main secret to sight reading is teaching your eyes to look ahead of where you are in the music; if you’re looking at the note that you’re playing, then there’s no way that you can prepare for what’s coming up. The only way that you can really develop this is by using a metronome when practising and not allowing yourself to go back and fix mistakes. This is good practice for ‘real world’ reading situations, where you can’t go slow down difficult passages or go back and fix the wrong notes you just played.

4. Be Well Read

In order to become a well-rounded reader, it’s important to expose yourself to a lot of different material; if you read classical studies all the time, then your rhythm reading skills might be lacking when it comes to read that Tower of Power chart.

5. Don’t Just Read Bass Music

Try to read any sheet music you can get your hands on: piano/vocal scores, violin sonatas, trombone etudes – doesn’t matter what it is – and work out how to fit it on your instrument. The sad reality is that nobody really cares about the bass player, so you have to stop expecting to show up at a gig and be given pristine bass clef charts that are nicely laid out. This is particularly true if you do any sort of musical theatre or cabaret engagement – they probably won’t have the budget to buy in ensemble parts or the resources to have them written out, so most of the time you have to work from the rehearsal piano score. The MD will probably say something really helpful to you like ‘well, the bass is just the left hand of the piano isn’t it?’

If you’ve ever been in a piano score situation, you’ll know that trying to construct your own part is an absolute nightmare – your survival depends on having a firm grasp on notes outside your range (super low left-hand octaves) and treble clef reading. In fact, treble clef reading is something that I’d recommend to everyone because most of the musical universe operates ‘above ground’ and you never know when you might get asked to take the melody on a tune you’ve never seen before. It’s also a very useful skill if you’re into taunting guitar players, which everybody should be.

My Top Sight Reading Books for Bass

Here are some of my favourite books that have helped me to develop my sight reading; I’ve grouped them roughly by ability level, so hopefully there’s something for everyone. Since editions of some books differ between countries I’ve included separate links for US and UK where appropriate; environmental considerations aside, I’d recommend AVOIDING Kindle versions of these books, because in my experience the formatting of musical notation is always horrible. Opt for physical copies instead.

Beginner Sight Reading Books

1. Simplified Sight Reading for Bass by Josquin Des Pres (UK | US)

Although I trashed one of his other books in episode 1, I really like this one because it separates out rhythm and pitch to start with.

2. M.I. Music Reading For Bass by Wendi Hreschovic (UK | US)

Another good general method which drip feeds in accidentals, key signatures and other notational devices.

3. Modern Reading in 4/4 Time by Louis Bellson (UK | US)

This is a staple of drum instructional material, and it offers all musicians a great way to get their rhythm reading together without having to worry about pitch. This book is focused on developing skills in reading syncopated rhythms, starting with very approachable studies and building to horrible 32nd note phrases intersected with triplets.

4. New Method for Double Bass by Franz Simandl (UK | US)

I seem to talk about this book in every single post or video, but that’s because it’s the book that has had the biggest impact on the way that I approach the instrument in terms of technique, fretboard positioning and articulation.

Intermediate Sight Reading Books

If you feel like you’ve got a handle on the basics of reading and want to push your skills further, then these are worth a look:

5. Standing in the Shadows of Motown (UK | US)

James Jamerson was basically the first electric bass virtuoso, and these transcriptions of his lines provide a great reading workout; tons of rhythmic activity, lots of 16th-note syncopation and plenty of chromaticism. A great source of vocabulary, too.

6. 113 Etudes for Cello by J.J.F. Dotzauer (UK | US)

This was suggested to me as a good alternative to the very popular Hanon Virtuoso Pianist book, which became very popular with bass players when Janek Gwizdala revealed that he’d used it to build his not-inconsiderable technique. These are a good stepping stone between Simandl and more intense classical studies, which we’ll get to later. Cello repertoire tends to be a great source of melodic reading material, but you’ll need to do some transposing unless you have a 5-string bass because the cello is written at sounding pitch, while the electric and upright bass are both octave transposing.

7. 6 Suites for Violoncello by J.S. Bach (UK | US)

I’ll put the Bach Cello Suites alongside this; tough to read and play and it seems like everyone just plays Prelude No.1 in G major, but Bach really knew a thing or two about thematic development so definitely worth a look – I’ve always approached them as long-term studies rather than everyday sight reading material.

Advanced Sight Reading Books

8 & 9. Finger Funk Workbooks 1 & 2 by Anthony Vitti

Anthony Vitti is a bass player who doesn’t get nearly enough time in the spotlight; he’s been teaching at The Berklee College of Music for decades and his books are some of the best around. His Finger Funk Workbooks are filled with demanding 16th-note lines, which can be a real challenge to both read and execute at tempo – studying these books is also a great way to develop your technique in a musical way.

10. Giovannini Bottesini Upright Bass Method (UK)

This is effectively a more advanced version of the Simandl book. Lots of technically demanding studies that contain plenty of position shifts and detailed phrase markings, which will really put your articulation skills to the test.

Extreme Sight Reading Books

If you’re a seasoned reader who’s feeling particularly masochistic, then here are 3 books to give you a real workout:

11. Odd Time Reading by Louis Bellson (UK | US)

Like the Modern Reading in 4/4 time, this takes a static pitch and moves it through almost every possible rhythmic permutation, except this time you have to do it in odd meters, and then the exercises start shifting between different odd meters. Horrible, but very nutritious.

12. 60 Melodic Etudes by John Patitucci (UK | US)

John Patitucci is one of a handful of players who is a true virtuoso on both upright and electric bass, so it’s no surprise to find that his books are challenging; the 60 melodic etudes are designed to get your ears used to the sound of the major scale modes over their diatonic chord types in all 12 keys. Practising these studies over a drone or a static chord also serves as a great ear training tool, as well as a hardcore reading and technique workout. As the book title suggests, the etudes aren’t that rhythmically taxing, but there’s a huge pitch range and – unless you’re playing a 6-string bass – you’ll need to do a lot of position shifts.

13. Sight Reading Funk Rhythms by Anthony Vitti

Anthony Vitti brings the pain with this collection of studies that combine syncopated 16th-note funk rhythms with plenty of unexpected pitch variations; his favourite trick is to build a central motif and, just as you think you’re getting the hang of it, he throws in subtle variations to trip you up. The sheer amount of rhythmic and melodic variation in these studies makes them difficult to memorise, making them ideal for sight reading practice.

If you have a favourite sight reading book that I’ve left out of this list then let me know in the comments below.

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Groove Of The Week #56: Don Blackman – ‘Yabba Dabba Doo’

Don Blackman’s debut album (1982’s Don Blackman) is one of a handful of discs that falls into the category of ‘Records I Wish I’d Discovered 10 Years Earlier’, along with…

Don Blackman’s debut album (1982’s Don Blackman) is one of a handful of discs that falls into the category of ‘Records I Wish I’d Discovered 10 Years Earlier’, along with Donny Hathaway’s Extension of a Man, Pleasure’s Future Now, and Chaka Khan’s Naughty.

Not only does Don Blackman feature forward-looking, genre-hopping compositions, a roll-call of first rate session musicians (that’s a young Dennis Chambers behind the kit) and consistently head-nodding bass playing but many of the tracks are laced with a sense of humour that seems to be sorely lacking in many artists’ work.

The majority of the bass on the record is delivered with considerable style by Queens native Barry Johnson, who has worked with a number of artists, including Lenny White’s Twennynine and Bernard Wright, but many readers will know him as the guy who stepped up to the challenge of touring with CHIC after Bernard Edwards’ death. Not a high pressure bass gig by any means…

Check out Barry’s incredible groove playing on Bernard Wright’s ‘Firebolt Hustle’:

Having waxed lyrical about Barry’s playing, it’s worth noting that he’s not actually responsible for this week’s groove – the bass line on ‘Yabba Dabba Doo’ comes courtesy of Don Blackman on synth bass.

Synth bass? Sounds like an excuse to dust off some pedals and break out the fretless:

For the gear-curious among you, here’s what I used to record this episode:

  • Bass: Ibanez GWB35 – usually these come in an attractive shade of ‘none more black’, but a previous owner had it stripped so it now resembles the more expensive Willis basses. I added a Nordstrand Big Blades pickup and an Aguilar OBP-2 preamp.
  • Octave Pedal: 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre MK1 set to solo the sub signal.
  • Fuzz Pedal: Way Huge Pork Loin

Here’s how the A section groove looks written out:

The first thing to clock is the all-important time-feel instruction: swing 16ths.

Also known as ‘swung semiquavers’ (if you’re British and live in the 1950s) or ‘swunk’ (if you’re stuck in a 1980s fusion timewarp), swing 16ths is a fairly common groove scenario that all bassists should be prepared for, as it can be challenging to make anything swing on a fretted string instrument.

The key lies in how you feel the underlying subdivision.

How to swing your 16th-notes

Although swing 16th-notes are still written like this:

The swing comes from a 16th-note triplet subdivision, which looks like this:

Or, this:

The secret to playing these rhythms correctly is to always have the physical feeling of the subdivision in your body regardless of what you’re playing; I’ve heard musicians like Pat Metheny and Bob Reynolds talk about having a ‘constant, churning wheel of triplets’ inside them when they play swing 8ths, while Joe Dart talks about maintaining a ‘militant’ 16th-note subdivision when playing funk.

How do you develop this? Start slowly. Vocalise the subdivision along with a metronome, then clap it out. Next, try hearing it internally

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Boss BF-2 Flanger Bass Demo

What is it? It’s a flanger. It, well, flanges things, you know? Flangers belong to the same family of modulation effects as chorus and phaser. The Boss BF-2 was produced…

What is it?

It’s a flanger. It, well, flanges things, you know? Flangers belong to the same family of modulation effects as chorus and phaser. The Boss BF-2 was produced by the company between 1981 and 2002, after which it was replaced by the BF-3 pedal which is still in production today.

What Does It Do?

The BF-2 creates the flanger effect by combining your original dry signal with a time-delayed copy of the signal, which is modulated by a low frequency oscillator (LFO for short). If that’s too technical, then the BF-2 is your ticket to a wonderful world of swirling, aeroplane-like sounds.

Famous bass lines that use a flanger which might serve as useful reference points include:

  • Tool – ‘Forty Six & 2’
  • Yes – ‘Tempus Fugit’
  • The Cure – ‘The Holy Hour’
  • Joe Bonamassa – ‘Had To Cry Today’

Why Would I Want One?

Because you’re in a Cure tribute band, or you grew up listening to grunge and can’t quite get that swirly guitar sound out of your head. Seriously, though, a flanger is a useful sonic colour to have at your disposal for those times when chorus is too tame and a phaser is too funky.


Standard 1/4″ jack cable input and output sockets


This depends on the year of manufacture; older Boss pedals were designed to run off a 12V supply (referred to as ‘ACA’), while the newer models run off a standard 9V supply (referred to as ‘PSA’). Check the information on the pedal’s back plate to be sure – some older pedals will also have a small sticker on the top of the pedal next to the power input informing you of the need for a 12V supply. As with other Boss pedals, there’s a 9V battery compartment accessible underneath the footswitch.


The Boss BF-2 has four control knobs:

  • MANUAL controls the centre frequency of the flanger’s sweep; this is most noticeable when the RES knob is turned all the way up. MANUAL also acts as a fine-tuning knob, as some of the overtones produced by the pedal might not always sit nicely with the key of whatever you happen to be playing.
  • DEPTH affects the depth of the sweep
  • RATE controls how fast or slow the sweep occurs
  • RES is the level of resonance or feedback

It’s worth noting that the BF-2’s controls allow it to produce a wide variety of tones; reducing the resonsance and bosoting depth can result in subtle, chorus-like tones, while maxing out the resonance can generate a distinctive ring modulator sound.

Where Does It Go In My Chain?

Modulation effects traditionally sit towards the end of a pedal chain, after octaves, envelope filters and fuzz/distortion. However, there are few hard and fast rules about pedalboard sequencing, so let your ears be your guide.

How Much Does It Cost?

As with many Boss pedals, the price that you pay will vary depending on the age of the pedal and the location where it was built; older MIJ pedals will command the highest price tags, but it’s worth mentioning that the internal components of the pedal didn’t change much during it’s production lifespan, so older doesn’t always mean better (or even different).

Broadly speaking, there are two main varieties of BF-2:

1980-1990 black knobs, made in Japan
1990 – 2001 white knobs, made in Taiwan

New: N/A

Used: £40-£75


  • Familiar, rugged Boss enclosure
  • Simple, intuitive controls
  • Wide range of tonal possibilities
  • Finished in an attractive shade of mixed berry


  • A flanger might not be top of your tonal priorities, so this is probably one for dedicated modulation enthusiasts

What Are The Alternatives?

There are a range of flanger pedals on the market to suit most budgets:

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How Joe Dart Got His Groove

Imagine my excitement in discovering Joe Dart’s Berklee College of Music bass clinic on YouTube; over 100 minutes of potential wisdom and grooves to steal! Now, imagine my disappointment in…

Imagine my excitement in discovering Joe Dart’s Berklee College of Music bass clinic on YouTube; over 100 minutes of potential wisdom and grooves to steal!

Now, imagine my disappointment in discovering that the whole thing had been mixed by the drummer’s right foot. But fear not, funk bass fans, for poor audio fidelity will not stand in the way of finding out just how Joe Dart got to be so damn groovy; I sifted through Joe’s lengthy conversation with Danny Mo Morris in order to try and tease out what he did to work on his playing and what he does now to keep growing as a musician.

What follows are eight essential elements of the Joe Dart puzzle; the Tao of Dart, if you will:

DISCLAIMER: The following post contains Amazon Affiliate links; if you end up buying the product through my link, then I get a small percentage (typically 2-5% of the product price) at no extra cost to you. It’s not much, but it does afford me some new plectrums once a year…

Eight Take-Aways From Joe Dart’s Berklee Clinic

  1. He Studied Music From A Young Age

Joe’s musical journey began early on in the form of ‘forced’ piano lessons and 5th Grade trombone playing, but the lure of the bass proved too much:

I was about 8 when I remember the bass being present. The opportunity to play a lot was there from a young age…

Music was very much a part of family life; Joe’s Grandfather – renowned session violinist Israel Baker (who, in addition to numerous other film credits, was one of the shrieking violins in Hitchcock’s famous Psycho shower scene) – would call him and test his aural skills over the phone:

I remember even as a young kid – I don’t know how old I was, maybe 7 or 8 – my grandfather used to call me and quiz me… he’d call me and be like ‘Are you near the piano?’ And he would go to his piano and play me an interval and say ‘What is that?’ and then he’d play a chord and say ‘and what’s that?’

Can you imagine what family ear training from the age of seven does for your musical development? In addition to encouragement at home, Joe studied the bass formally with teachers put him onto ‘the good stuff’ from the start and encouraged learning by ear:

I was lucky when I was a kid to meet some really great bass teachers… [who] fostered an interest in funk bass playing years before I would have found these amazing bass players that I now really consider inspirations, like James Jamerson, Verdine White, Rocco Prestia, Stevie Wonder’s left hand bass stuff… I was hearing it when I was 10 years old, 11 years old, taking lessons because [my teachers] considered that to be the definitive bass music… they sent me home with that stuff.

It wasn’t just what Joe’s teachers were making him study, but how they went about it that helped him develop. On being asked how he gained an understanding of harmony, Joe’s first response is:

…really great ear training, which was my teachers sending me home to learn stuff on my own and come back and see if I had gotten [sic] it or not…

Personal experience has taught me that learning music by ear rather than taking it in from the page results in much deeper learning – things might take longer to learn, but I remember them in more detail and their influence has a way of showing up in my playing much more readily than music that I’ve learned through notation.

Joe’s formal education continued when he studied music at The University of Michigan, where he’d meet the other members of Vulfpeck. Dart’s take on the value of music college stresses that who you know is just as important as what you know:

People will ask me ‘how important is it to go to music school? Is this the key to being a successful musician or a professional musician?’ And I don’t know whether it is or it isn’t, but I can say that for me personally it was, even if it wasn’t the degree it was a chance meeting of all of these people that went on to be my bandmates and best friends; if I hadn’t gone to University of Michigan Music School at this particular time I wouldn’t have met any of them and that made all the difference, you know, so I really do value that when I think about going to music school, going to a place like Berklee. It’s as much – if not more – about the people you meet there, the people you play with there, the connections you make than anything else; that to me is the real power of it.

  1. Play Music, Not Exercises

The act of playing music, rather than practising exercises, seems to be at the core of Joe Dart’s musical philosophy. When asked how he warms up to play, his answer is by playing:

…Vulfpeck played some festivals this fall where it was freezing and it was very early on in the set where we played ‘It Gets Funkier’ and a few of these 16th-note, it’s-not-a-warmup type of tune, but that’s where I’ve discovered is the best way to warm up.

Playing a lot and gigging a lot seems to also be the answer as to how he maintains his level of facility on the bass:

I try to play as much as I can with as many people as I can.

Playing with good drummers helps to keep my strength and stamina up.

  1. Great Time Comes From Strong Subdivisions

The importance of having a great sense of time comes up again and again during the clinic; more specifically, the idea of always subdividing the beat when playing is central to Joe’s concept of groove:

I do really believe in a sense of time, a sense of groove; some constant, militant subdivision. I really do consider that to be what really separates something from sounding good and really feeling good…

The drummers that I love are truly militant about the subdivision.

This belief in the power of the ‘militant subdivision’ extends to his philosophy about music education:

As a bass player [timing] is somewhat overlooked and should be more the focus of bass lessons as a kid: developing great time, subdividing and never letting fills or anything get in the way of keeping time and keeping it feeling really good, keeping it locked in with the kick drum.

  1. Practise Grooves In Context

It transpires that Joe spent his teenage years working on his sense of time in context by always having a reference to the pulse in the form of a metronome or drum machine:

Before I had a long list of great drummers to play with, I played with a drum machine; [first] with a metronome, but – as soon as I had one that worked at all – a drum machine and a looper pedal.

I had this instructional DVD just called ‘Slap Bass’… I already had one instructional DVD that I adored, which was Flea’s with Chad, such a classic. This guy named Ed Friedland had an instructional DVD… I sort of learned to slap and learned the power of the sampler – the looper pedal – and the drum machine from Ed because he was just in a studio, just him and his bass and this little drum machine thing and this little looper pedal and he would just lay down these grooves and then solo on top of them

For reference, the DVD in question is Ed Friedland’s Slap Bass – The Ultimate Guide.

This method of practising seems to have given Joe a solid sense of time and groove that has helped him stay strong on stage:

When I was playing all those hours with a drum machine and then looping myself to find some cool basslines to solo on top of, I was able to develop pretty good time and groove that would serve me later when I would be playing with drummers, or when I would be playing sections of the Vulf tunes where the band drops out… If I didn’t have good time it would just fall apart.

Again, the emphasis – even when practising – is to always be making music:

I can definitely recommend spending some quality time with a drum machine as well as a great drummer if possible.

Don’t have a dedicated drum machine? There are plenty of apps available, ranging from the ‘Drummer’ function in Garageband to dedicated drum loop apps, including:

If you don’t happen to have the contact details of a host of top session drummers, then there’s also no need to despair – you can jam along with greats like Bernard Purdie and Mike Clarke for free on Spotify. I even collected everything together into one playlist available here:

  1. Limiting Gear Makes You Focus On Your Playing

Being restricted in his options as far as gear went in the early years forced Joe to refine his playing so that he could get a halfway-decent sound out of an uncooperative instrument:

The first [bass] was a very cheap Samick bass that had extremely high action and was just extremely un-ergonomic. It was terribly difficult to play, but I think [that] helped me develop finger strength and, in a way, if I could play anything relatively musical on that then when I got to a bass that actually felt good I sounded like I could play the bass.

And eventually, after two or three years of that Samick bass, I got a Fender Jazz used in a local music shop; Mexican made, basically not an expensive Fender Jazz bass, but it was a real Fender and it was my total go-to axe, it was the only one I owned for many years. Really only in the past two or three years have I acquired a couple more basses…

Even the Musicman Joe Dart signature bass is a bare-bones, ‘single-speed funk machine’ which was modelled on Jack Stratton’s rather cheap Carlo Robelli bass (Sam Ash’s entry-level house brand of instruments) that Joe had used on earlier Vulf sessions:

[The Musicman bass] was designed after it… his Carlo Robelli bass, which had flatwound strings on it. I would mess around on it and ended up playing it on a few of the kind of disco/funk tracks of Vulf, including the first ‘It Gets Funkier’ and ‘Daddy Got a Tesla’, among others.

Jack Stratton’s Carlo Robelli Bass

So, between a handful of the basses Jack owns we started going ‘Oh, this is the cool bass for this tune, this is a cool bass for this kind of tune’and then I really fell in love with that Robelli bass that he had and eventually when Jack and I started to meet more people in the manufacturing side of the industry we met the guys at Musicman, and we said if we were ever going to design an instrument, then it would be designed after this Robelli bass that we envisioned as the ultimate funk bass, the ultimate Bernard Edwards Musicman-ish kind of thing: The ‘single-speed’ funk bass.

  1. Don’t Overthink Your Playing, Be ‘In The Moment’

When playing – and, in particular, when improvising fills or solos – Dart is a fan of being in what he terms a ‘reactive zone’ rather than a ‘planning zone’:

If I think about it in the studio or live and I think ‘Ok, here comes this moment’ and I’ve got this fill, which I’ll catch myself doing sometimes, I’ll be playing and I think ‘I’ve got this idea’, then 100% of the time I miss it and it ends up feeling totally disjunctive, because it’s planned and you don’t nail the actual thing you were hearing… So, I do appreciate trying to get yourself in a real, true improvisational state rather than planning something… Hopefully, over time the muscle memory gets you to a place where you can react in real time.

This seems like a sensible strategy, given the band’s writing and recording process, which seems to hinge around (Vulfpeck bandleader) Jack Stratton giving musicians minimal information in advance of the sessions. Discussing the recording of ‘Hero Town’, which featured ex-Prince drummer Michael Bland, Joe said that:

I don’t think we did more than two takes… He didn’t know what we were going to play, of course, because that’s the Stratton way; keeping musicians in the dark about what’s about to happen is what Stratton does best.

Years of relentless practice and playing have prepared him for new, unfamiliar (and often daunting) musical experiences:

The reason that it can be fun and the reason that it’s magical to have these experiences where no-one knows what’s going to happen is because everyone has been preparing basically for that moment forever.

When asked about the process for learning bass-heavy tunes like ‘Dean Town’, it seems that the man isn’t afraid of a challenge:

Dean Town was by far and away the most challenging Vulf session that I’ve ever done. Woody sent me that bassline [in] MIDI… he thought ‘we haven’t done a bass feature in a couple of albums, we had done ‘Beastly’, but then we hadn’t done a bass feature in a little while. I remember spending all night the night before shedding that for the session the next day because I wanted to be able to nail it, I didn’t want to have to do a bunch of takes…

It was incredibly challenging and now playing it live with the band is as much an audience participation moment as anything… it keeps me limber.”

There’s a transcription of the bass part to ‘Dean Town’ right here should you feel strong enough: Vulfpeck – ‘Dean Town’ Bass Transcription

  1. Always Play For The Song

Fielding a question about how he alters his playing approach for recording vocal-led and instrumental tunes, Joe’s answer shows that he thinks song first, bass second:

I’m always trying to really serve the song and so that’s why when there actually is a singer live it’s much easier to do that; it’s so much easier to serve the song, because you get the arc of it and you see where they’re singing, where they’re not singing, and you see where their phrases are and you can bounce off of that and respond…

Harder to do are the songs where I think it’s an instrumental and the whole time Jack [Stratton] knows it’s not going to be an instrumental, we’re going to add lyrics later but he doesn’t tell me. So with ‘Christmas in LA’, that was just an instrumental track and then later Theo [Katzman] wrote and added vocals, and so hopefully I’m not playing out in sections where it’s a tender vocal moment. But I think when it’s an instrumental song we all can sort of see where the focal point would be… and, either way, I try to always ‘arc’ the tune. And if there’s going to be a little bass moment – a little fill, a little lick – where I step outside the hook of the bassline it’s usually that last chorus, at the very end, which I always loved when bass players would do that on pop songs…

Even when he’s soloing, he’s thinking compositionally:

[I approach writing basslines by] building something that their ear can grab and then playing off that and stepping outside of that, but you can’t really step outside without first building this fundamental song, and that’s even how I think about soloing – when I’m playing a solo a lot of the time I’m keeping time, whether the drums are there or not – you know, ghost notes, really keeping time and really building on building a figure slowly and then playing off that, playing against that.

  1. Study The Greats, But Maintain Your Voice

One particularly insightful remark concerned the importance of acknowledging your influences, but not at the expense of developing your own sound on the bass:

Finding your voice on an instrument is something you can’t force… it’s not something you can decide to do one day. It happens very slowly and is something that hopefully, if you’re listening to enough different stuff and you find what really speaks to you hopefully it starts coming back into your playing, but not in a way that you’re just constantly quoting or copying – it’s hopefully going to blend into something which eventually becomes your voice…

Over the years, I’ve taken something from each of these bass players that really influenced me from a young age like Rocco, Verdine [White], Pino, Flea, but trying to figure out ‘what do I have to say? What really speaks to me about each of those players?’

It’s also important to dig deeply into the history of the music that you’re inspired by in order to discover who influenced your influences:

You find your own voice through learning what other voices sound like and where they’re coming from and then you check out the influences that they were checking out; that’s where Jamerson comes into things for me, because I didn’t actually realise that the people I was looking up to were looking up to Jamerson. I didn’t hear Flea and think ‘Oh, he’s doing a Jamerson thing’, I also didn’t know who Jamerson was until Flea hipped me to him, so checking out other people who have a voice and then checking out who they were checking out.

It’s not just bass players that Joe Dart took influence from when finding his voice:

And even non-bassists, I think I do really look to guitarists’ solo phrasing or saxophone or, like I said, Stevie Wonder’s playing. I think you can find inspiration for how to speak on an instrument even through many other instruments.”

Still dying for more Dart? You can check out these posts for even more head-bobbing bass action:

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Groove Of The Week #55: Incognito – ‘Colibri’

If there was one album that irreversibly changed the course of my bass playing at a pivotal point in my development, then it was Incognito’s Tribes, Scribes and Vibes (1992)….

If there was one album that irreversibly changed the course of my bass playing at a pivotal point in my development, then it was Incognito’s Tribes, Scribes and Vibes (1992). My first term at music college was something of a rude awakening in that I started to realise the sheer volume of things I didn’t know but really needed to; I had arrived at college unable to read, deficient in repertoire and with ears that barely functioned. In short, I had my work cut out.

One of my tutors put me on to Incognito (among other things) in order to broaden my musical horizons and I was immediately hooked. Admittedly, some of the vocal stuff was – and still is – a bit too ‘smooth’ for my tastes, but I certainly couldn’t fault the bass playing. I dutifully set about trying to steal as much as possible from every tune on the Tribes, Scribes and Vibes album, including ‘Colibri’:

‘Colibri’ is something of a homage to the humble double chromatic approach (approaching a chord tone from two consecutive semitones above or below). In fact, the root note of almost every chord is approached in this way:

There some awkward elements to the ‘Colibri’ groove (the D to F leap in bar 2 and the final trill) which bugged me for years until I learned about how the bass was recorded – or, more accurately – programmed. I had assumed that the low end had been taken care of by the very talented Randy Hope-Taylor; I knew he was great, but I couldn’t figure out how he managed to get certain intervallic jumps to sound absolutely seamless. The answer came from a Talkbass thread that confirmed that the bulk of the basslines on the album had been played on keyboards by multi-instrumentalist Richard Bull, who was able to divulge details of how he got the bass sound:

…from memory, it comes from the Bob Clearmountain Percussion & Bass Library, (a 5 string Music Man bass) specifically, the D.I. samples but only 5 of the available set; F1, C2, F2, C3 & F3. They were sampled into an Akai S950, and at the time, I was using Steinberg’s Cubase on an Atari Falcon computer. The bass was not ‘performed’ via Midi keyboard but programmed manually by mouse. Unlike today’s bass libraries, trills weren’t available, so they had to be mimicked using Pitch bend!

So, we’re hoping to imitate a keyboard that’s trying to sound like a bass. Strange, no?

If you’re unfamiliar with Randy Hope-Taylor, who did contribute a stunning bass solo on the track ‘Magnetic Ocean’ and was the subject of a previous Groove Of The Week (GOTW #39: Talkin’ Loud), you can see and hear him below talking about preamps and explaining how he wants to ‘bust some kidneys’:

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Groove Of The Week #54: Snarky Puppy – ‘Quarter Master’

The bass groove that serves as the introduction to ‘Quarter Master’ grabbed my attention the first time I heard it way back in 2012 and it’s been on my transcription…

The bass groove that serves as the introduction to ‘Quarter Master’ grabbed my attention the first time I heard it way back in 2012 and it’s been on my transcription to-do list ever since; the uptempo, New Orleans-flavoured track serves as the final cut on the band’s groundUP album that followed up on the online buzz generated by Tell Your Friends (2010) and began to propel the group into the mainstream. Well, as mainstream as fusion can be…

We’re beginning in classic funk one-chord vamp territory, with the entire opening bassline outlining a Dm7 chord. As with almost every groove in this series, the bass part is built on a ‘question and answer’ format of two contrasting phrases. In this case, one descends and the other ascends, with variations being added on each repetition:

Before we get too bogged down in the nuts and bolts of the notes that Michael League plays, let’s deal with the most important aspect of this groove: the feel. We’re in swung 16th-note territory, which can be hard to detect given the bright tempo of 124bpm; it’s important to practise the line at a slow tempo and make sure that the feeling of the swung 16th-note subdivision is firmly embedded in your playing before bringing the speed up.

The opening phrase of the line is standard bass vocabulary, and fits neatly within the well-trodden minor pentatonic box pattern that we’re all too familiar with, while the ascending ‘answer’ phrase includes the addition of the flat 5 to give the line a blues scale flavour (notation conventions regarding enharmonics mean that I’ve written the pitch as G# rather than the ‘true’ flat 5, Ab).

The second iteration of the groove provides us with a Paul Jackson-esque lick that requires some precise fretting hand control – fitting this lick in cleanly and then returning to the main groove without rushing or dragging may take some practice.

From bar 7 onwards, we’re given a new take on the opening theme, beginning on the 11th of the chord (G) and giving us an unexpected melodic contour.

The Long And The Short Of It

One important – yet subtle – detail that’s visible in the transcription from bars 7-14 is the variation of note lengths on each repetition of the bassline. In particular, the G# is alternately played short and long – this tiny detail has been planned in advance (or so it seems) as the guitar also doubles this phrasing at points in the line.

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Groove Of The Week #53: Q-Tip – ‘WeFight/WeLove’

Raphael Saadiq might not be a household name in the bass community, but the bass has been at the heart of the singer and multi-instrumentalist’s diverse career from the very…

Raphael Saadiq might not be a household name in the bass community, but the bass has been at the heart of the singer and multi-instrumentalist’s diverse career from the very beginning. At the age of 18, Saadiq successfully auditioned to play bass in Sheila E’s backing band and subsequently spent two years touring with Prince; not a bad way to learn about all things groove-related.

In addition to his solo career, Raphael Saadiq has notched up an impressive resumé of production and co-writing credits with a host of big-name R&B and pop artists including D’Angelo, Whitney Houston, The Bee Gees, Erykah Badu and even Marcus Miller. His eight-bar bass contribution to Q-Tip’s ‘WeFight/WeLove’ is the subject of this week’s groove exploration:

Q-Tip WeFight/WeLove Bass Raphael Saadiq

This groove exemplifies our number one job description as bass players: being able to play the same thing over and over for four minutes while keeping everything – volume, note length, articulation, attack – consistent and making it feel good. Simple, right? I beg to differ.

Playing even a relatively straightforward line such as this with machine-like consistency and precision requires a great amount of concentration, attention to detail and, well… practice.

The ‘WeFight/WeLove’ groove is also a great opportunity to work on your pick playing, which is an unusual element to find in a hip hop bassline. Although it’s hard to say for certain, it sounds to me like the bass on the recording uses a plectrum; listen to the breakdown section of the track starting around 3:22 and notice the attack of the notes.

If you’re averse to playing with a pick because of genre-based snobbery, then I strongly urge you to spend some time with Anthony Jackson (learn ‘For The Love Of Money’ here), Bobby Vega (learn ‘I Get High On You’ here) or Steve Swallow (his melodic work on ‘Sea Journey’ and ‘Midwestern Night’s Dream’ from the Gary Burton Quintet album Passengers are good starting points).

Some readers might feel like this groove is strangely familiar – the line seems to be heavily influenced by The Jacksons’ ‘This Place Hotel’. The bass part on the recording was played by none other than Nathan Watts:

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