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Category: Groove of the Week

Groove Of The Week #52: Jamiroquai – ‘Manifest Destiny’

Stuart’s Second Helping We’ve already heard from Jamiroquai twice in this series (GOTW #8: ‘Whatever It Is, I Just Can’t Stop’ and GOTW #22: ‘Runaway’) and – as much as…

Stuart’s Second Helping

We’ve already heard from Jamiroquai twice in this series (GOTW #8: ‘Whatever It Is, I Just Can’t Stop’ and GOTW #22: ‘Runaway’) and – as much as I want this series to be as wide-ranging as possible – it’s fair to say that some bands have a disproportionate amount of ‘what was that?’ bass moments in their back catalogue. So, here we are with another piece of Stuart Zender’s bass legacy, taken from the band’s second album The Return of the Space Cowboy (1994).

‘Manifest Destiny’ might seem an odd choice for a Groove Of The Week post; it’s not really a groove in the traditional sense of the word, and there are plenty of other Jamiroquai tracks worth a look (‘Don’t Give Hate a Chance’, anyone?), but Stuart Zender’s bassline showcases a rare opportunity for us to present a melody in the upper register of the fretboard without venturing into bass solo territory – we’re still playing a set part and supporting the song.

The video lesson below walks through the melody and harmony of ‘Manifest Destiny’ bar-by-bar:

For those of us that spend 99% of our time below the seventh fret, where most day-to-day bass playing happens, being given a melodic spotlight moment can be daunting; the bass can feel very different in the higher register, and I find that the fretting hand has to be extra vigilant in order to sculpt every single note with the desired effect. ‘Manifest Destiny’ is also an excellent study in fretting hand articulation – the way that the notes are played holds equal importance as the notes themselves. Careful listening will help you to discern the subtle ways that Stuart Zender uses varied note lengths, slides, hammer-ons and vibrato to make the line really sing out.

The harmony of ‘Manifest Destiny’ is also a level above most pop songs; this is to be expected the clear influence of 1970s jazz-funk artists including Roy Ayers, Stevie Wonder, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Headhunters that shine through in Jamiroquai’s music. The main harmonic accompaniment to the bass melody comes from the piano, which keeps an almost consistent voicing in the right hand while the changing bass notes provide movement:

Approximated piano voicings for ‘Manifest Destiny’

The third chord voicing is worth a mention – the piano plays a chord which is essentially Bm7/E, which creates an Em11 tonality when taken into context with the G natural in the bass part at this point.

Diminishing Returns

The A# diminished 7 chord works in this context because it’s really functioning as a substitution for F#7, the dominant chord in the key of B minor. Thinking about the chord tones of A# diminished 7 in the context of F#7 gives us the major 3rd (A#), perfect 5th (C#), minor 7th (E) and flat 9th (G natural), implying an F#7b9 sound. Using this diminished substitution provides more the chord progression with more tension (and therefore more interest) than using a straightforward dominant 7th chord.

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Groove Of The Week #51: Ghost Note – ‘Swagism’

Ghost Note’s self-titled sophomore release was possibly the high point of 2018 for hipster musician-types; two members of Snarky Puppy and MonoNeon on the same record? It’s everything that the…

Ghost Note’s self-titled sophomore release was possibly the high point of 2018 for hipster musician-types; two members of Snarky Puppy and MonoNeon on the same record? It’s everything that the fusion world had been dreaming of.

For all of the band’s cutting-edge credentials, the album has a distinctly ‘retro’ feel; the cover art seems to channel Herbie Hancock’s 1970s output, with the music drawing heavily from the jazz-funk canon while adding influences from hip hop, Gospel, Latin, psychedelic and straight-ahead jazz. Regardless of the influences being showcased, there’s always one element at the forefront of the music: groove.

The album’s first instrumental track ‘Swagism’ is the perfect example of this musical melting pot; a balance between a simmering funk vamp and fiery, bebop-tinged unison lines.

‘Swagism’ Main Groove

The main bass groove is a straightforward four-bar pattern that outlines G#m (thinking of it this way rather than Ab saves us some enharmonic misery later on…). Notice the use of the tried-and-tested ‘question and answer’ compositional technique, seen here with two alternate endings:

As you might expect, articulation is integral to getting the bass line to, well, groove; it’s not just the notes themselves, it’s how you play them. My recommended tactic is to listen to the recording repeatedly in order to internalise where the accented notes are in the line and which notes are played using hammer-ons, as this has a huge impact on how the part sits with the other instruments.

THAT Unison Lick

The real reason for including ‘Swagism’ in this series is the monster unison lick that acts as musical ‘punctuation’ between the solos. Lines like this are an excellent resource for building your technique in a musical way; if you’ve spent any amount of time listening to (or even attempting to play) bebop heads and solos, then the language of this lick will feel familiar to you. Although on first listen you might feel like it’s just a barrage of random notes, analysing the line in the context of a familiar jazz chord progression allows us to see that it’s really just a series of chord tones, scale tones and chromatic approach notes, albeit played at high speed.

Here’s the notation for the line, along with my preferred fingering:

swagism unison lick

Cracking The Code

It’s important to break down lines like this into their most basic building blocks in order to help us understand them from a theoretical standpoint and to aid actually playing the damn things. Zooming out and seeing the ‘bigger picture’ shows us that we’re really just outlining three chords; not so bad after all, is it?

swagism chords

The harmony that I’ve used for this analysis is one of several possible interpretations, as there’s not much in the way of chordal support to give us context – there are other ways of breaking down the line and this may well not be how the composers think about it.

We start out by descending a B major 7 arpeggio; the rhythm is typical of figures played by jazz musicians from Charlie Parker onwards – this is something that I’ve also come across when transcribing solos from great improvisers like Bill Evans, Joe Henderson, Paul Desmond and Oscar Peterson. Using plucking-hand raking will make it much easier to get this opening phrase up to tempo. Chord tones are highlighted in blue, while scale tones are red:

From there, we move into outlining the next chord, G#m, via a series of approach notes:

Once we’ve ascended the G#m arpeggio, we’re able to resolve into the C#7 chord by using some chromatic approaches:

There is – of course – more than one way to play the line, and it’s worth experimenting in order to find the one that works best for you. Below is an alternative that keeps everything in one position on the fretboard:

This is the approach that I’d use if I were playing the entire saxophone lick; the last phrase is a good workout for your legato technique, as it will take some control to keep all of the notes at an equal volume:

Got A Favourite Groove?

If you know a groove that you feel deserves wider attention from the bass community then why not leave a comment below to tell everyone about it? Your suggestion might even make it into a future Groove Of The Week post!

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When to say ‘NO’ to gigs (Gigonomics 101)

The Agony of Choice In spite of advances in modern technology, it’s still not possible to be in two places at the same time. As a freelance musician — or…

The Agony of Choice

In spite of advances in modern technology, it’s still not possible to be in two places at the same time. As a freelance musician — or freelance anything, come to think of it —you have to constantly decide which gigs and projects to accept and which to decline. Sometimes, it can be difficult to make the right decision and it’s not always obvious which choice is the right one.

This is where a helpful tool called ‘The Gig Triangle’ comes in; this appeared in a column in Bass Player Magazine some years ago (I’ve searched for the original article, but to no avail) and has stuck with me ever since. It’s also proved to hold true on every gig I’ve ever been on.

What is the ‘Gig Triangle’?

Every gig or project on offer contains a balance of three areas; music, people, and money. Let’s take a closer look at each side:

1. The Music

This is a pretty basic thing, but is the music bearable? I’m not talking about whether or not you like the music that you have to play, because part of being a professional is being able to make it seem like everything you have to play is your favourite music in the whole world. Everyone also has notions of musical credibility until it’s time to pay their rent.

The real question is: can you do the gig without feeling like your soul is being eroded with every note that you play, or wishing for some apocalyptic event that would mean that the gig would be brought to a swift end? In a decade of freelance work, I’ve had this happen three times and it has never been worth it.

2. The People

Who’s on the gig? Are they going to be a pleasure to work with, or are you going to have to share a 4-hour journey to the gig with that creepy keyboard player who lacks any sense of personal hygiene?

So little of the time on a gig is spent actually playing that this is a serious issue and often has nothing to do with the musical skills of the people involved. The gig is not the music – a vast proportion of your time is spent travelling, loading in gear, setting up, and then hanging around waiting to play. You don’t want to spend all that non-playing time surrounded by people who drive you crazy, so if we assume that there’s a basic level of musicianship and everyone in the band can play then the main concern is what will the hang be like?

3. The Money

Obviously, this is why you’re doing the gig, because you need to earn a living and doing gigs sure beats working in Starbucks. But this side of the triangle is not always about how large or small the gig fee is; your time is a valuable, non-renewable resource, so you have to factor in how much prep work the gig requires and how much time you have to block out of your day in order to actually do the gig.

The Golden Rule of Gigging

So we have music, money and people on the gig triangle, and the golden rule is that there have to be two sides of the triangle in place for a gig to be worth saying yes to, which leaves us with these three scenarios:

Option 1

Gigs where there isn’t not really much money, but you enjoy the music and the people are great; this is basically every original band project ever.

Option 2

Gigs where there’s a decent fee and there’s a good hang, but the music isn’t your ideal choice; this is essentially most covers bands, unless you happen to really love playing ‘Wonderwall’ or ‘Valerie’ every week for the rest of your life (and there’s nothing wrong with that at all!).

Option 3

Gigs where the people are not enjoyable to work with, but you enjoy the music and there’s a good fee – this is probably the rarest scenario.

In most cases, you won’t need to go into this level of analysis, but it can help avoid situations where you make spur of the moment choices that make you resent the gig that you end up on. There’s nothing worse for the audience, the band, or the music itself than having someone on stage who really has somewhere better to be.

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MXR M288 Bass Octave Deluxe

What is it? The MXR M288 Bass Octave Deluxe is a dual-voice analogue octave pedal and some neat additions that give bass players an expanded take on the tried-and-tested octave…

What is it?

The MXR M288 Bass Octave Deluxe is a dual-voice analogue octave pedal and some neat additions that give bass players an expanded take on the tried-and-tested octave pedal format.

What Does It Do?

The pedal can be used to generate an additional signal one octave below that of your bass; you can control the levels of both the dry and effected signal in order to achieve your desired tone.

Why Would I Want One?

An octave pedal running 50/50 wet/dry signal adds thickness to lines played in the higher register of the bass, which is really useful if you play in a three- or four-piece band and want to fill more space. A 100% wet octave down signal will give you access to synth-like bass sounds, adding that extra element of authenticity when playing the bass line to any tune that was originally recorded on a keyboard (think ‘Ain’t Nobody’ or ‘Superstition’ or even bloody ‘Moves Like Jagger’).

Connections

Standard 1/4″ jack cable input and output

Power

Again, totally standard: 9V DC power supply or 9V battery accessed by removing the pedal’s rear plate.

Controls

The Bass Octave Deluxe has three main control knobs:

  • GROWL is the first of two independent, blendable sub-octave channels; MXR describes the voicing of the GROWL channel as a ‘throaty, mid-range sub-octave’
  • GIRTH is the second sub-octave voice designed to provide a ‘deep and smooth’ octave tone

The GROWL and GIRTH voices are completely separate from one another and can be individually soloed or blended together to create a variety of tonal options.

  • DRY controls the volume of your original bass signal

In addition to the three main controls, MXR has also added the very practical MID+ button, which gives users a boost of up to 14dB to their dry signal at either 400Hz or 850Hz; both the amount of boost and the frequency can be adjusted via an internal trim pot and slider underneath the pedal’s back panel.

Where Does It Go In My Chain?

Some octave pedals have difficulty tracking in certain parts of the fretboard or during faster passages of playing, so my preference is to put them near the start of the signal chain in order to get the best input signal possible. I also find that putting the octave before an envelope filter produces the best result when using both effects simultaneously.

How Much Does It Cost?

New: £139.00/$149.99

Used: £75-90/$85-100

Pros

  • Rugged Construction in a relatively small enclosure
  • Two blendable octave voices give a range of tones
  • MID+ boost gives the pedal added tonal flexibility
  • Blue LEDs are classy as hell

Cons

  • Some players might feel that the two octave channels are too similar in their voicings

What Are The Alternatives?

Nearly every major bass pedal manufacturer offers some sort of octave pedal, so there are lots of options: MXR also offers the M280 Vintage Bass Octave, which offers similar functionality to the legendary Boss OC-2 in a much smaller package; Boss offers the OC-3; Aguilar has the Octamizer; EHX has a variety of octaves in a range of sizes, with the Nano POG being one of the most popular.

For a round-up of five analogue octave pedals be sure to check out this comparison test: The Quest For The Brown Note – Can Anything Match The OC-2?

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Is the Boss OC-2 still the best analogue octave pedal?

Why would you want to use an octave pedal with your bass? If you want to be able to keep up with synths without having to go anywhere near a…

Why would you want to use an octave pedal with your bass? If you want to be able to keep up with synths without having to go anywhere near a keyboard, or you want to access lower notes without switching to a 5-string or detuning, then an octave pedal is the way to go.

Introduced in the early 1980s, the Boss OC-2 is still widely touted to be the best analogue octave out there; famous players like Pino Palladino, Tim Lefebvre, Juan Alderete, Jonathan Davis and Janek Gwizdala have all helped to maintain the popularity of this pedal long after it was discontinued and replaced by the more refined and much less enjoyable OC-3. In fact, many players swear that the ‘glitchy’ and imperfect nature of the OC-2 is the very reason that they love it so much.

Ever since the Boss OC-2 was released, other manufacturers have been trying to steal its crown. Some have added additional features to their pedals, while others opt for a no-frills emulation of the classic octave pedal sound.

Analogue Octave Pedal Shootout

This video gives an overview of 5 different analogue octave pedals to see if anything comes close to the classic sound of the OC-2. Although each unit is capable of producing multiple tones, this octave pedal comparison focuses on the 1-octave down 100% wet signal sound that the OC-2 excels at:

  • Boss OC-2
  • MXR M288 Bass Octave Deluxe
  • EBS Octabass
  • 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre
  • Iron Ether Subterranea

Tone is in the ear of the beholder, and every viewer will have their opinion on which octave pedal sounds best. For the curious, my go-to octave pedal for gigs is the 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre; it does a great impression of the OC-2 while adding some useful features, particularly the ability to switch between a blended dry/wet sound and a solo’d sub bass octave with a simple tap of a footswitch (you can hear a practical demo of multiple pedal settings within the same song here).

Although I still keep my 1986 Boss OC-2 in the studio for recording (and nostalgia) purposes, it isn’t robust enough for live use and has a habit of falling apart on gigs.

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“No Need for 5-Strings if You’re Good Enough.”

Occasionally, I see things on the Internet that are so insanely idiotic that I feel compelled to set the record straight. Here’s a Facebook comment on a fellow bassist’s page…

Occasionally, I see things on the Internet that are so insanely idiotic that I feel compelled to set the record straight. Here’s a Facebook comment on a fellow bassist’s page that made me despair for the future of humanity:

The reason that this incensed me so much – aside from the lack of grammatical awareness displayed by the author – is that it represents a narrow-minded point of view and attempts to draw a correlation between the type of instrument being played and the ability level of the person playing it, which is completely misguided.

Should I Switch to a 5-String Bass?

Here’s how to work out how many strings are right for you:

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