Free Bass Transcriptions

Free Bass Transcriptions

Here come the dots

Category: Lessons

100 Albums In A Year?

In spite of the fact that it’s 2020 and we’re in the era of being able to instantly stream almost all of the world’s recorded music from a mobile device, I’m still scouring charity shops and Amazon for second-hand CDs to fill out my collection.

In spite of the fact that it’s 2020 and we’re in the era of being able to instantly stream almost all of the world’s recorded music from a mobile device, I’m still scouring charity shops and Amazon for second-hand CDs to fill out my collection. Why am I taking the path of most resistance when technology makes it easier to fulfil any and all of my listening desires?

I’ll cut straight to the point: this year, I’m challenging myself to learn 100 albums by ear. When I say ‘learn’, I don’t mean that I’m actually going to sit down and transcribe every single note of those 100 albums; that would be incredible for my musicianship, but it would also take an insane amount of time and effort. I mean that I want to get to the point where every album is in my musical memory and I know each tune inside out from a listening perspective – we all have our ‘go-to’ records where we know exactly which note or lyric comes next.

The Listening Diet for 2020

My new prescription is this: take two contrasting artists at a time and listen through their entire discographies from start to finish. One album a week from each artist, listened to in its entirety every day. Why? Because musicians that I respect including Michael League, Jacob Collier and Bob Reynolds have all been saying things that made me realise that my current listening habits are giving me a broad but shallow understanding of music.

We now live in the age of information, where you can access almost anything within a couple of minutes – the problem is learning how to handle all of that information in a meaningful way. Don’t get me wrong, streaming services are an amazing invention, especially when it comes to making playlists of tunes that I have to learn for gigs or digging up obscure albums, but having access to anything and everything at all times isn’t always such a good thing – I increasingly find that I don’t know what to listen to because there’s too much choice.

Something that Michael League from Snarky Puppy said in an interview on the great Bass Lessons Melbourne YouTube channel really stuck with me:

“We’re kind of incapable of creating sound that isn’t directly related to a sound that we’ve heard before”

He then followed with this absolute gem:

“When we play music, we play our record collection. When we write music, we write our record collection.”

But who still has a record collection any more? The downside of having the musical equivalent of an all-you-can-eat-buffet in your pocket is that it devalues music (in every sense of the word) and makes it easy to have a broad but shallow understanding of things. I went to a Bob Reynolds saxophone masterclass last year, where he was said that as a teenager he would get really into one album at a time – because that was all that he could afford – and that process of quality over quantity helped him to get a deeper understanding of the music that inspired him. This definitely rings true for me; as a teenager, I would listen to certain albums incessantly because they were the only music I had access to and those records have all definitely had a lasting impact on the way that I hear music and play the bass.

Under The Influence

But how does listening to 100 albums a year help you as a bassist? The answer is ear training; not the sort of ‘academic’ ear training of interval recognition, but stylistic ear training – carefully managing your listening habits to help you develop a personal voice on your instrument.

There’s a great book on this called Primacy of the Ear by Ran Blake which is the only place where I’ve come across the idea of targeted listening to develop a personal style. The earlier strategy of taking two contrasting artists and to listen to their recorded output in chronological order comes directly from Blake. Taking in the entire discography in order gives you get a sense how the artists’ playing and writing developed over the arc of their career. It also gives you a historical context for everything that you’re hearing, allowing you to ‘join the dots’ and see where your influences sit within the bigger picture of musical history. This understanding of where things come from is often what’s missing when we take an ADHD approach to streaming and simply put on whatever’s on our mind at that particular moment.

I’m starting out with two of my favourite improvisers: Bill Evans and Pat Metheny. One album from each per week, in chronological order. I’m in my third week and already I’ve learned a ton of stuff that I was ignorant of before.

Ready for the #100albumchallenge?

If you’re up for the challenge then it’s really easy to do without starting a CD collection; you can simply use your preferred streaming service (technology is a wonderful thing when we control it, not the other way round). Pick two artists that you love; it definitely doesn’t have to be jazz, it can be anything at all – I did this with The Beatles last year because I didn’t really ‘get’ them when I was younger and it worked wonders for my appreciation of their music. A brief visit to Wikipedia or Allmusic.com will give you access to an artist’s discography so you can map out their career and put albums in order. All you have to do then is make time to listen to each album once a day for a week.

I’m really curious to know what other people choose for this challenge, so if you’re willing to give it a try then leave a comment to let me know who you’re listening to.

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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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The Bass Player’s Book Club #2: 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…

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 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 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 demading 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 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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