Free Bass Transcriptions

Free Bass Transcriptions

Here come the dots

Author: Tom Kenrick

10 Years to Learn a Lick?

Confession time: I’m a terrible student. March 2019 marked an entire decade since I took a lesson with the great Dr Richard Niles, a guitarist/producer/composer/arranger who studied under Pat Metheny…

Confession time: I’m a terrible student.

March 2019 marked an entire decade since I took a lesson with the great Dr Richard Niles, a guitarist/producer/composer/arranger who studied under Pat Metheny at Berklee in the 1970s and has subsequently worked with Paul McCartney, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, James Brown and a host of others.

I met Richard while studying for my degree at The Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, and shortly after graduating I began to realise that in spite of having a music degree I still didn’t know enough about harmony and improvisation to feel comfortable as a freelance musician, particularly as I was starting to develop an unhealthy interest in The Dark Arts of Jazz.

It turned out that I had a lot to learn (and still do). Reviewing the dictaphone recording of the lesson is hilarious and humiliating in equal measures as Richard begins to ascertain the extent of my ignorance. In order to get my rather malnourished sense of harmony on track, he gave me a set of exercises that involved voice leading through a split-bar ii-V-I progression using arpeggios.

Wait, what?

Here’s a basic ii-V-I in the key of F major (7th chords on bass are almost always better with the 5th omitted):

 

Voice leading is an expensive-sounding term for finding the path of least resistance between chords – in this case, we’re looking for semitone resolution from one chord to the next.

The b7 of the Gm7 chord (F) falls by a semitone to become the major 3rd of the C7 chord. This process is repeated for the resolution from V to I: the b7 of the C7 chord (Bb) falls by a semitone to become the major 3rd of the F chord (A):

Playing just these notes (known as ‘guide tones’, because they guide your ear to the sound of each chord) provides us with the essential outline of the ii-V-I progression:

Building an 8th-note line that includes these semitone movements can be done using a simple combination of ascending and descending arpeggios:

Why is that a useful thing to practise? Even if you’re not looking to become a fully fledged jazzer then it’s still a very nutritious exercise. My perspective is that although I don’t want to make playing jazz standards my main thing, I definitely don’t want to have to shut myself off to that area of music because I haven’t done my homework and put the hours in; improvising over a set of chords changes with confidence and musicality is the hardest thing I can think of to do on the bass.

Playing these sorts of exercises will benefit your playing in four different ways:

A greater understanding of harmony: this sort of harmony is not limited to jazz, and understanding the way in which chords move can help to improve your playing regardless of the areas that you operate in.
Voice leading: as bass players, we spend our lives moving from root to root and are often guilty of not thinking about the rest of the notes in the chord. Developing an intuitive sense of voice leading helps to strengthen the melodic content of both your solos and your basslines.
Technique: this is a great example of an exercise that falls into the ‘music, not chops’ category – everything here is derived from a musical concept, and working out how these patterns fit on the fretboard in every possible way will definitely present your fingers with a variety of technical issues to solve.
Vocabulary: This is the main reason why I was prescribed these exercises: even though I understood the concept on paper I definitely couldn’t conjure up an improvised line that fulfilled the criteria of using arpeggios to voice lead a melodic line through a split-bar ii-V-I. Developing fluency in improvisation in jazz or any other style of music first requires that you amass a collection of small fragments that can easily be recalled whenever you get into trouble and don’t know what to play, and these sorts of lines are a great starting point.

A full run-down of possible fingerings for this exercise on 4- and 5-string basses can be found here:

ii-V-I Licks I Ought to Have Learned by Now

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Taking the Sting out of Odd-Meter Playing

For many of us, the very phrase ‘odd-meter’ brings us out in a cold sweat. Chances are that unless you’ve had a very eclectic musical upbringing then you’re most comfortable…

For many of us, the very phrase ‘odd-meter’ brings us out in a cold sweat. Chances are that unless you’ve had a very eclectic musical upbringing then you’re most comfortable in 4/4 time and anything that involves stuffing more beats into a bar is rather stressful. The matter is complicated by the fact that opportunities to practise your odd-meter groove skills are heavily biased towards prog rock, technical metal and modern jazz; not the most accessible genres by a long way.

But there are bright spots to be found in far more commercial territory: Sting’s 10 million-selling, triple Grammy-winning Ten Summoner’s Tales (1993) shows the former Police frontman stretching his songwriting skills to incorporate advanced harmonic and rhythmic concepts within the confines of a mainstream pop record and includes a number of odd-meter excursions.

Here are a few of my favourite moments that will provide plenty of practice material for odd-time playing that isn’t ‘Take Five’:

Seven Days

Further proof that Sting is actually a massive nerd: this song is in 5/4, happens to be track 6 on the album and is titled ‘Seven Days’. Who doesn’t love a number-based in-joke?

This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest songs ever written; a song in 5/4 that features extensive non-diatonic harmony, uses diminished passing chords in the chorus, contains a brief flirtation with the harmonic major scale and still sounds like a great pop song.

The verse groove provides a great training ground for 5/4 playing. The bass part consists of a simple, ascending root – 5th pattern throughout the verse, leaving plenty of space for you to count (and feel) the meter without having to play anything too complicated.

 

The chorus contains a rhythmic development of the verse part. Here, the bass uses a simple root-octave pattern to clearly outline the 5/4 meter’s 3+2 subdivision:

St. Augustine in Hell

This brooding, organ-driven tune is built on a repetitive bass figure in 7/4, which can be thought of as alternating bars of 4/4 and 3/4. Notice how the rhythm of the initial idea is displaced and contracted to achieve the odd meter:

Love is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)

Sting allegedly wanted to write a song in 7/4 and sought appropriate numerical lyrical inspiration from the 1960s Western film The Magnificent Seven (itself a cowboy twist on Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai), which also helps to explain the song’s country-influenced chorus. The verse groove is built on a bluesy idea that hints at A7, while Sting’s vamp under the piano solo (starting at around 4’11” on the track) features some more chromatic playing:

 

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5 Wonder-ful Pentatonic Unisons

Five of Stevie’s 5-note lines Stevie Wonder’s vast body of work is rightly revered by musicians (and, indeed, non-musicians…) for its harmonic and melodic invention; Stevie has managed to seamlessly…

Five of Stevie’s 5-note lines

Stevie Wonder’s vast body of work is rightly revered by musicians (and, indeed, non-musicians…) for its harmonic and melodic invention; Stevie has managed to seamlessly weave jazz-based ideas, such as chromaticism, extended chords, and tritone substitution into his tunes and still sell vast numbers of records.

One of his definitive compositional devices is the use of pentatonic unison lines, which have provided instrumental hooks for some of his biggest hits. While some are deceptively simple, others might have you breaking into a sweat on a gig. Let’s look at some of Stevie’s best pentatonic lines, the musical concepts he uses to construct them and how to play them:

‘Isn’t She Lovely’

This is the shortest (and easiest) of Stevie’s pentatonic ideas, but the rhythmic placement of the line transforms a straightforward ascending E major pentatonic scale into a memorable hook. For an extra challenge, think about how many different fingerings could you come up with to play this:

‘Superstition’

I can almost hear readers groaning at the sight of this: “Surely he’s not going to try and teach us how to play ‘Superstition’?!”

Although this is one of the most-gigged songs ever, I doubt that many people faithfully reproduce every nuance of the original synth bass line (I know I don’t…). Nailing all of the legato phrasing and grace notes requires deft fretting hand articulation, as many moves that come naturally on a keyboard are rather awkward on a fretted instrument tuned in fourths. My preferred approach is (unsurprisingly) to use an octave pedal with 100% wet signal to maximise the ‘synthy’ quality of the part:

 

‘Master Blaster (Jammin’)’

The underlying concept here is C minor pentatonic sequenced in 3-note groupings, which will be nothing new if you’ve ever sought out pentatonic scale exercises. The potential difficulty in this line is getting the position shifts right; I’ve marked in the fingerings that I use, but you might have another alternative that you prefer to use:

‘Sir Duke’

A fairly demanding exercise in playing the B major pentatonic scale (with frequent additions of the minor 3rd as a passing note) all over the fretboard, ‘Sir Duke’ is a classic example of what I’d term ‘bass Chinese Whispers’, where gigging a song for many years without referencing the original recording results in some considerable approximations of the actual part. I find myself playing the 8va section of the line in the lower octave and putting in hammer-ons wherever possible:

I also tend to mutate the last line somewhat, playing it more like the horn line on the Natural Wonder live version (my ears can’t decide if Nate Watts does this, too). Attempting to write this out resulted in the following triplet horror, which is easy to hear but a nightmare to read:

‘Do I Do’

This one still causes me to panic somewhat, because 16th-note pentatonic sequences at 114bpm are near my upper limit and this one sounds very vague on a gig unless I’ve been practising it regularly. This line is a great example of how rhythmic displacement of a simple pentatonic sequence (B major pentatonic in 4-note groupings) can have great results:

 

 

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Upright Approaches for the Electric Bass

Long-term followers of this site will be well acquainted with my frequent touting of the Simandl double bass method book; I wrote about its virtues at some length in the…

Long-term followers of this site will be well acquainted with my frequent touting of the Simandl double bass method book; I wrote about its virtues at some length in the original 2015 Unorthodox Instructionals book review series. Imagine my surprise when I received an email from John Goldsby informing me that said blog post was getting a shout-out in Bass Player magazine (clang!) – I’m very flattered to think that anybody reads the things that I hurl at the Internet, let alone people who write bass magazine columns.

Enough bragging and back to the point… The last two Bass Player’s Book Club episodes led to lots of people asking questions about how and why I use Simandl on the electric bass, so here goes:

What Did I Get From Simandl?

The main reason that I found Simandl to be so beneficial for my electric bass playing is that it made me rethink what technique actually is. For many players, saying that they are “working on technique” or “getting their technique together” simply means that they’re concentrating on being able to wiggle their fingers more quickly: technique is about much more than speed.

The focus here is on quality rather than quantity – does every note sound as good as it possibly can? If not, what can you do to fix it?

Practising the Simandl etudes gave me insight into alternative (and unusual) ways of playing major scale ideas – which, let’s face it, form the bulk of the material that we’re required to play on mainstream gigs – that are never introduced by bass guitar method books. Single string shifting is just one of the areas that electric bassists tend to neglect, but those who pursue it will find that it does wonders for fretting hand technique.

Simandl is not without its detractors; many accuse the etudes of being too boring and repetitive. To them, I say: “What did you expect?!” It’s a bass method book, and those expecting white-knuckle excitement will be disappointed; those of us who understand the virtues of taking the path of most resistance will get years of enjoyment.

You can find the Simandl book here:

Franz Simandl: New Method for the Double Bass Book 1

 

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