The Untold Secret to Melodic Bass Playing

Anchors, Pivots and Lead-Ins

 The secret to confidence in playing the bass – or in anything, for that matter – is knowing what you’re doing. When you’re playing the bass, having knowledge of the harmony – the chord changes – is not only vital, it’s inescapable. You have to know the chord changes. This book assumes that you know the changes, or have developed the ability to figure them out quickly. Learning chord changes, and tunes, is a great subject, worthy of a whole other book, but this book is about what to play on them… how to create bass lines, melodies, or patterns – in any style, how to think like a composer of bass lines – how to plan ahead, and make choices that are appropriate to the style of the song.

Most music we’ll play has an underlying structure – a “form,” whether it’s a 12-bar Blues, a 32-bar  standard in AABA form (or 16&16), or whatever else it might be, depending on what the composer wrote. Within that form, the harmony progresses with its “harmonic rhythm,” which is another way of saying that the chords happen at certain times, every time we play through the form of the song. The underlying rhythm is very important to the choices that we make as well; the rhythmic environment determines the “style,” whether it’s swing, 2-beat, cha-cha, bossa, samba, meringue, waltz, shuffle, or any of countless variants that fall under the heading of “contemporary,” whether it’s rock, funk, hip-hop, house, new age, alternative, or what have you.

So, what notes do we play? How do we make interesting, melodic lines, enhance the music, yet at the same time “follow the rules” – which basically means play for the music, make what we play fit the music and serve the music and our fellow players – and still be able to “make a statement,” put our stamp on the music? How can we assert a musical identity, be creative, and yet “take care of business” at the same time?

 By using the hidden power of the structure of harmony and rhythm!

There are signposts, touchstones, benchmarks, and bases to cover in the rhythmic and harmonic structure. We are going to define these as “anchors” and “pivots.”  Once we cover these points of responsibility, we are free to create and embellish, using “lead-ins.”  (more in the next post – and, examples to come!)

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