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Free Bass Transcriptions

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Category: Groove of the Week

Groove of The Week #48: Hiatus Kaiyote – ‘By Fire’

After an extended hiatus (geddit?) the lumbering juggernaut that is Groove of The Week is back (for those who are sick of, fear not – it’ll be over soon). High…

After an extended hiatus (geddit?) the lumbering juggernaut that is Groove of The Week is back (for those who are sick of, fear not – it’ll be over soon).

High Time For Some Odd Time

So far, all of the featured grooves have been relatively conventional single note, 4/4 affairs. Time to change all that.

How about playing a 5/4 groove that uses chordal techniques interspersed with single note 16th lines at 128bpm? Enter Hiatus Kaiyote’s ‘By Fire’:

I first encountered this tune as a commissioned transcription for a client (before you ask, I no longer undertake bespoke transcription work, sorry). Writing out the whole tune was challenging, to say the least. Here’s how the main groove looks on paper:

Hiatus Kaiyote - By Fire

Hiatus Kaiyote’s bass player Paul Bender casually matches the keyboard’s lines note for note for the entire song, throwing in double stops to provide a more detailed representation of the harmony (the double stops in question start off as major 7ths, with the last two bars using major 10ths to provide variation).

In order to properly execute this line and let the root note of the double stop ring out while articulating the melody we’re going to have to adopt free strokes with the plucking hand – this is where the fingers pluck upwards and away from the bass, as opposed to our normal rest strokes where the plucking fingers play into the bass and come to rest on a lower string.

Free, or not to free? That is the question

Normally, I avoid free strokes because they result in what I’d term as homeopathic bass playing – since most of the energy is directed away from the bass it’s hard to achieve a solid tone and things end up sounding a bit weedy. However, in situations where double stops are required, it’s almost impossible to achieve the correct sound with rest strokes – your thumb is plucking the root note using a free stroke, so trying to make your fingers perform a rest stroke at the same time is somewhat brain-scrambling. Each stroke also requires a slightly different hand position, so changing between the two is physically demanding to coordinate at fast tempos.

So, how best to tackle this difficult line? The answer is the same as this often cited (and rather bizarre) question:

‘How do you eat an elephant?’

 

The answer? One mouthful at a time – isolate small sections of the line and practise slower than you think you need to until they become second nature and you’re not consciously thinking about the technique or the notes.

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Groove of the Week #47: Chic – ‘Can’t Stand To Love You’

For many readers, the following scenario will ring true: in order to earn a living from being a musician you have to take on covers gigs and spend the majority…

For many readers, the following scenario will ring true: in order to earn a living from being a musician you have to take on covers gigs and spend the majority of your Friday and Saturday nights in pubs/bars/marquees/hotel function rooms persuading punters to stay on the dance floor.

Selecting the right repertoire to get revellers out of their seats is an art in itself, and it’s no surprise that there are certain tunes that seem to crop up on every set list. Many great artists have their extensive back catalogues reduced to a couple of numbers that are guaranteed to work; take Stevie Wonder for example – think about how many bands play ‘Superstition’ compared to how often ‘Part Time Lover’ or ‘Do I Do’ get an airing.

Regardless of which band I’m working with, there are some tunes that somehow manage to appear on the set list at almost every single gig:

Good times
Le freak
We are family 

But wait… don’t Chic (and Sister Sledge) have lots of other songs? It turns out that Bernard Edwards had some great grooves that don’t get churned out every weekend in wedding venues around the world. Here’s one of my personal favourites:

‘Can’t Stand To Love You’ is a masterclass in writing a busy, yet hook-laden bass line. The main chorus groove uses melodic sequencing, wide intervals and chromatic approach notes – a combination used frequently in bebop improvisation – within the context of a song designed to make people dance.

Whereas some artists have tried to inject aspects of jazz vocabulary into pop music and have ended up sounding too clever for their own good (I’m looking at you, Sting), Bernard & Co. managed to keep disco’s dance-friendly sensibility at the core of their music while adding a touch of harmonic invention.

 

A closer look at the phrase in bar in bar 2 reveals why the line works so well; each double chromatic approach lands on either a chord tone or an extension of the underlying Eb7 chord and is followed by a leap of a diatonic 6th. Once we’ve heard beats 1 and 2 our ears know exactly what should come next – there’s a sense of inevitability to the melodic line which is created by the symmetrical descending pattern.

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Groove of The Week #46: Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – ‘Genuine Pt. 1’

Before we get into the groove, so to speak, I want you to make the following promise to yourself: “I will set aside 104 minutes of my life to watch ‘Miss…

Before we get into the groove, so to speak, I want you to make the following promise to yourself: “I will set aside 104 minutes of my life to watch ‘Miss Sharon Jones!‘”

(It’s even on Netflix; it’ll make a nice change from binge-watching Mad Men.)

 

Gabe Roth’s rock-solid groove on ‘Genuine Pt. 1’ is one of my favourite lines in this series; he somehow manages to weave together chromatic movement, wide interval jumps and head-nodding syncopated rhythms to form an instantly hummable bass part that had me immediately thinking ‘what was that?’.

From the video you can see that the line doesn’t exactly sit in one position or fit under the fingers particularly comfortably – I tried all of the logical fingering options (and even a few illogical ones) until I arrived at the following approach, which I feel is the best compromise between consistency of tone and ease of playing:

 

May The 4ths Be With You

 

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.

The first interval in the repeated section of the line is a perfect 4th (Eb to Bb and back again), which is one of the most common and most awkward things to do on a stringed instrument tuned in 4ths – you’re transitioning between the different strings but staying on the same fret, so there are three sensible options when it comes to the left hand:

  1. Use two different fingers (as per the above example). This allows maximum control over the note lengths, so is the most preferable approach, although it might not be practical in other contexts.
  2. ‘Roll’ between the two notes using the same finger. This is handy when option 1 isn’t possible, but it’s easy to let the notes ‘bleed’ into one another or to pull on the string while rolling, making the second note slightly sharp.
  3. Jump between the two notes using a single finger. This avoids the over-ringing and intonation issues of option 2, but it takes considerable practice to be able to maintain full note lengths while doing this and jump strings without an audible gap.

In an ideal world, we’d spend equal amounts of time working on each approach, but that’s not particularly realistic. Thankfully, the more music you encounter the easier it becomes to intuitively know which approach is best for the line that you’re playing.

Other instruments have a much easier time when it comes to playing 4ths – beware of saxophonists and keyboard players who thrive on writing hellish, 4th-ridden melodies like ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’:

 

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Groove Of The Week #45: Michael Jackson – ‘Get On The Floor’

Michael After Motown Michael Jackson’s 1979 masterpiece Off The Wall proved to be a pivotal point in the King of Pop’s remarkable career. Although it was 21-year old MJ’s 19th…

Michael After Motown

Michael Jackson’s 1979 masterpiece Off The Wall proved to be a pivotal point in the King of Pop’s remarkable career. Although it was 21-year old MJ’s 19th album and 5th record as a solo artist, the record was hugely significant in that it marked Michael’s departure from Motown records and the beginning of a working relationship with Quincy Jones which would last for over 30 years and result in some of the most iconic pop records ever produced.

What makes Off The Wall an absolutely essential album for bass players is Louis ‘Thunderthumbs’ Johnson commanding, propulsive sense of groove that anchors 9 of the 10 tracks (Bobby Watson of Rufus provided bass for ‘Rock With You’, every other track is LJ). Louis’ funk sensibilities and instinct for crafting grooving, hummable bass lines mean that all of the uptempo tracks on the album are filled to the brim with bass hooks; ‘Get On The Floor’ is no exception.

We’ve already heard from Louis Johnson in the Groove Of The Week series, examining his fingerstyle funk groove on Michael McDonald’s ‘I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)’, but it wouldn’t be fair to let his contributions to the world of slap bass go unrecognised. ‘Get On The Floor’ showcases Louis’ consummate thumb work, opening with a rapid-fire line that requires a high level of right hand control to execute cleanly at tempo:

 

The key to nailing this groove is getting a consistent slap tone on the D string, which can take some time and effort – the normal convention is to allocate the thumb to the E and A strings and pop everything on the D and G strings, but Louis Johnson and other slap champions including Marcus Miller rely heavily on the thumb to articulate notes on every string and produce lines that would be unplayable with popped notes. Here’s how the intro groove – which also serves as the chorus part – looks in notation:

While writing out the dots for the main groove I got carried away and ended up writing the whole tune out, note for note; the entire tune is a masterclass in how to play plenty of notes without taking anything away from the vocal and the verse line will present a challenge to even the most hardened slap veterans out there.

Michael Jackson – ‘Get On The Floor’ full bass transcription

More of LJ and MJ on the way soon – this album lives in my glovebox and is always the right thing to listen to when driving to or from a gig.

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