Straight From Your Heart

by Frank Backes

Imagine you're in your practice room and your keyboard player is coming up with a new song she just wrote. The bass part isn't there yet and you have to deliver.

What to do?

There are several possibilities:

  1. Have a look at the chords and changes and play along

  2. Play along without looking at the chords and changes

  3. Put away your bass and just listen to the song
 My humble comments on that:
  1. We are talking about creativity and originality here. Obviously it's good to know the harmonic structure of everything you're playing. Otherwise, knowing too much of the song in advance can put your mind into confinement. This even gets enhanced by just playing along, when muscle memory is determining our musical output.

  2. If you approach a new song like that, the result would many times consist of familiar patterns played around or over the different root notes. A lot of adjectives come to my mind now, but I'll leave that up to you...

  3. I often experienced that some great and outstanding bass lines have been invented by people, who barely know how to play bass (there are countless examples of that in the history of rock and pop music; just turn your radio on). The reason for that is the freedom and unprejudiced way some newcomers approach bass playing. There's no theory to rely on and the ear becomes the determining factor. That means that sometimes it can be advantageous not to look at the chords (I don't mean that you should disrespect the chords, a good bassline always has a strong relation to the chord roots and your inner ear is leading you towards them anyway). Unfortunately, there's still muscle memory and that's hard to get rid of.

  4. By now you already know where I'm driving at. The best basslines come from your own heart and your inner ear. In order to be able to listen to them, certain parts of your brain have to shut up. It's that old right-brain vs. left-brain thing. Thus, put away your bass and first listen to the new song. Sing along in your mind or sing along loud, move your body, groove, groove...

  5. This does not always work and it depends heavily on your daily mood. If your inner ear is deaf, just stop. Maybe you find the ultimative bassline at half past four in the morning. Great! Sing it out and record it.

    There's been so much great music which has never left some peoples brains and was gone forever. What a loss!
OK, sounds easy, doesn't it? Like always, there's a little problem. This great little basspart has to be played on your bass, by yourself. I intentionally left out possibility #4: That means we need a direct connection between our mind and our bass. Here are my two cents on that: There's a lot of experience and practice required to become really good at this. I am still working on it, but I'm realizing a steady improvement.
copyright © 1997 Frank Backes

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