Free Bass Transcriptions

Free Bass Transcriptions

Here come the dots

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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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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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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Double Bass Technique on the Electric Bass

Is it possible to use double bass fingerings on the bass guitar? Actually, forget possible, is it even useful? The short answer is yes. The long answer is that including…

Is it possible to use double bass fingerings on the bass guitar? Actually, forget possible, is it even useful? The short answer is yes.

The long answer is that including left hand principles from double bass method books resulted in the most significant improvements to my playing in many years: better tone, more consistency and less fatigue, especially on longer gigs.

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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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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