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:
My humble comments on that:
Have a look at the chords and changes and play along
Play along without looking at the chords and changes
Put away your bass and just listen to the song
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
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.
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...
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.
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...
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!
That means we need a direct connection
between our mind and our bass. Here are my two cents on that:
Have a look at the chord changes,
pick up your bass and play what comes to your mind!
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.
Pick up your bass as often as
possible and try to play a familiar melody like a children's song, or the
title melody of Star Trek, or the national anthem of Ethiopia, or 'Good
Bye England's Rose', or Beethoven's Fifth.
Does it come easy? Keep on trying and you'll quickly realize a progress.
I think that this method makes you more familiar with your bass than any
schematic interval excercises and ear training methods. And it can be fun!
Next, invent a melody of your
own and try to play it instantly.
Close your eyes, pick a melody
and just imagine how this would be played on the bass. Then play it!
Try to apply all that at a band's
rehearsal. Be cautious first and try to improve.
Jam as often as you can and listen
to the other players and to your own heart. I think that each band rehearsal
should contain at least one extended jam (I guess those guitar players,
who learned all those popular songs by heart will definitely like it).
1997 Frank Backes
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