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Groove Secret #10: Think About Your Phrasing!

So what does this mysterious title mean? I guess the first time someone hears the word phrasing it is not clear right away… this article is meant to explain this concept and show you how it can help you grooving! ;)

Basically, just pay attention at everything you cannot tab. Say the tab shows you a slide from a G to a A. Does it mean your slide has to be powerful or subtle? Or maybe progressively strong? All these little variations are not written and it is up to you to play them… or not! And guess what? There is no way (yet?) to transcribe this so it is completely up to you to feel and play them! Obviously almost everything you play apart from notes (and sometimes rhythm) is not written so stuffs like intensity (the way you hit your strings) or intonation (how you make your notes live – very short or very long with a fade out for example) are for you to feel.

Since it deals with almost all your playing I am going to take some examples!

Let us start with this slide pattern I was talking about… If you listen to Jamiroquai’s Space Cowboy (I know I love that band… I swear next time I will choose another one! ^^) you will notice Stuart Zender, the bass player, plays very softly with loooads of subtleties here and there. For example at 0:18 off the following video he plays this:

Pay attention to the slide, it goes stronger and stronger until he hits the Eb, which is played very short and powerful. It may sound a bit maniacal to pay attention to all these little things but that will make your bass lines much more groovier and subtler, believe me! But let us go back to this slide thing… what made it special and well phrased? Do you remember my previous articles on playing with paradoxes? Now please take a look back at that slide pattern… do you get it? It is played very softly (the root then a gentle slide) followed by a more punchy note (the Eb) played much stronger. Now, start the video again and pay attention to all these variations… you will notice the bass line keeps switching from soft to strong every microsecond!

Now I am sure you understood how large this topic is. We could talk about that for hours finding examples everywhere but I am going to let you listen one last time to Space Cowboy but this time to Jay Kay’s singing. Notice how it switches from soft and nice parts to stronger ones. This is the same technic! :)

I am going to leave you with another bass line which is basically made around that same pattern (short note then long one). The RHCP’s If You Want Me to Stay:

I hope everything is clear! Anyway, I will post another article later to dig this concept! Stay tuned! ;)

Learn to Improvise (in a Band)

So this time it is going to be more music-oriented… However since it is pretty linked to grooving, it will (or at least should) be of great help!

Grooving is about playing together… tightly! VERY tightly! So next time you have a chance to play with anybody (a drummer, a guitar player, a pianist… or another bass player!) try to improvise. I know it sounds dull but how many of us are still afraid to just play, without saying anything before? I can assure you it will give your band some material to stick together whatever happens! You will play some of your favorite bass lines/riffs and the other musicians as well. Thus, you will get comfortable with the others’ styles and basic licks which is very important.

But let us go back to our main goal: improvising. It is always scary at first so here is a way to demystify it! (this is a blend of Wooten’s stuff and my former teacher)

1/ Choose a conductor

Any group of people needs a head. Choose someone in your band (anybody, really) and let him choose what I like to call a story. Here is an example: this is the story of an Indian guy. He is in a desert and he is struggling to keep walking since he had no water for long days now. Then, after long hours of pain and sun shining, he gets sunstroke and starts acting crazy, seeing lakes, then lions to finally falling on the ground, almost dead. After what it seems to be a decade, he wakes up in a comfy bed, not knowing where he is… (it can go on for a long time and since I do not have much writer skills, I am going to stop here, I am sure you got my point!)

So… from this tiny story the conductor will run the band. Anybody can feel the story and transcribe it in his own way but here is an example. Since it is about an Indian guy, let us choose an eastern key – say A minor with a major seventh, here is the basic scale:

Then, since the guy is in a desert struggling to walk because of the sun, you can play a first part to describe this: walking slow and heavy. After a while, the conductor chooses to move the music to another level: you can start to get high (musically speaking!) as the character is having sunstroke. A groovy and atmospheric part. Progressively get to the point where illusions appear regularly and quickly: the band will then have to transcribe the guy’s feelings, going from relief as he sees waterfalls to horror with lions very quickly. Of course, the conductor can explain all this to the band before playing… or not! ;) After that, get really crazy and fall of a sudden (as the guy actually falls on the ground). Just leave some random noises… do not hesitate to play for a long time, it has to look real! Eventually go for a smoother feeling to get him in his bed (finally!!) and end on a fade out.

Of course this is really long but you can write it down so that everyone sees it (and remember every step!). However, be sure that every musician accepts the fact that the conductor only will guide the music from step 1 to step X. (The conductor role can, and should, of course go to another band member next time!)

Since it is pretty heavy to understand on paper (as usual…) I invite you to visit my MySpace page to listen to Get High which is a jam I had with one of my former band following this exercise. I do not remember which story it was though… anyway it gives you an example! Be nice by the way, some of the musicians on this recording were beginners (especially the drummer who is not really tight… nevermind!)

2/ Just play

After a while you and your band member will be used to play with each other. Here is what my former teacher used to do: enter the rehearsal room, plug in, play. No word, nothing! Just play!

Once you have reached this point, you can be sure you will understand and maybe even think ahead of everyone. You will be able to feel them going to this particular pattern or break you have heard so many times…

I hope this helped! I personally had a lot of fun with the story thing… ;)

Groove Secret #9: Playing With Paradoxes… Going Deeper!

Ok guys!

I thought I could add something to my previous post about paradoxes, so here we go again! :)

Remember when I said you could play on/off the beat in the same bass line to make it groove? Well here is the same concept but this time you will play with the amount of notes. For example, say you are playing the first bar only on the beat and say it is a G. Then, what you can do is playing the opposite for the second bar – you have played only one note and strictly on the beat? Ok, play anything but one note and switch to the off beat as well, add ghost notes and rhythm!

I guess it is not necessarily easy to understand on paper so here we go with a really famous example:

Needless to give you the name of the band right? ;) Anyway, can you feel how grooovy this song is? And have you noticed the main riff is following the pattern explained before? first bar very basic, second one filled with ghost notes and more rhythm!

Of course, you do not have to be that extreme and play two completely different bars. Let us take another example: you can play very low then very high but staying on a fairly easy rhythm! Again, on paper it is hard to understand so have a look at the chorus bass line (from 0:26 to 0:34) of Two Door Cinema Club’s Something Good Can Work:

Notice how easy the rhythm pattern is… but it does groove!

I hope this little explanation will help some of you out there! :) Of course, feel free to ask or comment, it will be a pleasure to (try to) answer your questions! :D

Being a Bassist

Ok guys! This is a pretty special article… This is from a topic on a French bass forum, Slappyto, where Sam wrote a very long post on “how to behave like a bass player”. I know it may sound like it as nothing to do with grooving but I thought physical behaviour and musical playing are closer than one can think. Before you read his post, I have to add that he has been a professional bass player for like 30 years. Anyway, here we go:

I was asking for feedback on my very first gig…

… we went on talking about people who basically jump on stage and here is what he replied:

“To have style, being a bassist, one has to behave a certain way. However, you say it is your first gig? Honestly it is pretty good. Now, what I am talking about, it is being a professional (it is just a big word, take it easy! ;) ) Obviously my first gig was a bit more than 25 years ago and I was not as good as you are…

To me, a good bassist, it is a guy who is not noticed at first but, as time goes on, people cannot stop staring at him. Not because he is moving like a  crazy man but because he gives off serenity and he is recognized as the real boss in the band. He may not be the most handsome guy, the shiniest man but he does have charisma. I must add that this has been all my work for years now. Being here for the music and for other musicians, the man one can always rely on… They call this generosity and when you give, you receive! It is really dull written on a paper but it works… ;)

The best compliment I ever had was from a very famous singer (I do not want to show off, it is just to show you how satisfying being a bassist is) and while I was leaving the venue I just gigged at, the guy told me, in secrecy, “dude, you are a strong bass player“. It was not a long time ago and I can tell you, all the years of struggle, work, doubts… everything disappeared! It was so rewarding… Friends who tell you something like “you’re awesome!!” are nice but when you start messing with arrangements, structures, composing and that you are respected, people listen to you because you are right: you do not talk with your ego, you only try to improve the music… And believe me, that makes you fly, for real! ;)

Before, I gigged, under a huuuge amount of stress, and people were telling me “man you are so tight!” whereas I was so afraid at every break. However, people did not know anything about that. I made mistakes, and I still do but now, when I do so, I do not have my eyes wide open wondering what is going to happen to me. I had times when it made me laughing and people were loving it. I improved, my mistakes (although there are fewer I still make some here and there, unfortunately) are not seen (not too much at least) because my face is normal. In my head it is like “You’re such a jackass, you knew this part!!” but I slide, get back on time and there we go again! ;)

Behaving as a good bass player, to me it is having style. I am telling you all this because I lived it. I am only a tiny bass player among many many others. However, being a bassist, it is not nothing, one has to work for that: good at setting the gear up, not on drugs, friendly, not showing off but with real arrangement skills, he also has good and adapted technic (adapted is important here)… Believe me a bass player does work, even if it is not for a lot sometimes… he does not go out with every girl (hum that is not necessarily true… ^^) but he is often the conductor’s right hand man, even in a three-piece band. Actually, being a bassist is awesome because it is him who will be asked if a drummer or a guitarist is ok. You have the best role in a band ;) but you might not know it yet…

In my bands, we have known each other for more than 10 years. For some of them I never slapped… they do not know what I am doing aside, they do not know that I can be alone on stage for 2 hours. Why? Simply because it does not fit in with the music we play, you understand? “The right man in the right place”, that is what it is being a bass player. When it is heavy, be heavy, when is soft, be soft and play with delicacy. The only common thing is grooving. You can always groove, whether it is in a metal band or in pop one. Being a bassist, it is a set of mind. Being a bassist, it is a freedom of speech that a guitar, keyboard, sax player or even a singer will never have…

In short, being a bassist is AWESOME! Just enjoy it!

I hope that these words (humble words because a bassist is humble… however on stage he is a killer ;) ) will help you… As for me, I am going to continue, it is just too good!

If I am telling you all this, it is because it is worth it. Take what you want but think about it from time to time…


Groove Secret #8: Breath Along Your Bass Line (Victor Wooten’s Idea)

Here is a very very good tip: try to play just like if you were breathing! It sounds weird, I know, but it really helps!! Most of music players (me included) tend to overplay when they should be in the back… especially bass players! Look at Flea: he is a wonderful player, he sure knows how to groove and I bet he is one of the best slap players ever but… really don’t you think he is a bit overplaying?

So the cure for this common disease is to breath. Record your bass line and breath in when notes are being played. Breath out when there is a rest. Do so, I am waiting…

See? It is hard to breath along your bass line if it has a lot of notes too quickly played! Now, stop the music and start grooving just by breathing in and out. Do not sing, just breath and try to groove. I am waiting…

So? I am sure you felt surprised to groove pretty well right? How come you groove better when you use a “tool” (your mouth) you never use usually and not as much when it comes to bass, the instrument you have been practicing for… well more than just 10 seconds? I do not know why but what I have understood is that it works! Look at JK from Jamiroquai, at 2:58:

Can you hear how he holds his breath, how tense it gets and then how he rests? Obviously you can find better examples here and there but I cannot think of any other at the moment. If you listen to the bass line of this same song, it is made exactly of the same pattern: tense and dense followed by rest and cool.

Obviously, not every groove fits in with this concept but it can help! If it is not perfectly clear, here is another example! It is a Coldplay cover I made recently… pay attention at the verse bass line and breath with it… Can you feel the groove while breathing?

If you do not feel the groove with this technic, do not give up. It is a pretty tough technic to get so take your time, it should be fun anyway so… ;)

Well, I hope this helped some of you people out there! Keep practicing grooving while breathing and try incorporating these patterns to your playing. And oh, by the way, if you want a decent lesson on this, listen to what Victor Wooten has to say about that in his DVD “Groove Workshop”.

Groove Secret #7: The Root Octave Pattern (Disco Funk Riff)

Hey guys!!!

Here is another riff you can hear everywhere! Again, it is very simple but it has some tricky parts! It is about playing the root, then the octave and start all over again! Pretty easy right? ;) It goes like this:

As you can see, you have to play the root on the beat (or at least with the bass drum) and the octave on the off beat. Moreover you have to pay attention to their length: root notes need to be let ring (in blue) and octaves need to be very short (in orange). It may look easy at first glance but you really have to be careful with this pattern otherwise it will just sound dull! But I am sure you would like some more tips right? :P Remember the last lesson on ghost notes? Where do we have to play them? Come ooooon… nobody? Ok you in the bottom of the classroom? ^^ That’s right! Just before the note! Of course too many ghost notes would kill the ghost note so my advice would be to do it this way:

As an example, check Jamiroquai’s Alright! It is the verse pattern (from 0:39 to 0:48)!

You can also hear this very clearly on my cover of When You Gonna Learn (during the chorus, from 0:58 to 1:07), switch the balance the right and you will only hear my bass line.

See how grooovy this pattern is? Can’t get enough of this! :D Of course, depending on the song you play, you can add some variation. Here is a common one, doubling the octave:

The most important in this kind of riff is to feel it! So be sure to be comfortable with these three basic patterns before going any further. Anyway, to finish this article, here is a tiny variation of mine. Imagine the drummer playing a basic riff, bass drum on times 1&3, and snare drum on 2&4.

Again, blue notes are long ones and orange notes are very short ones. Hope you guys have fun!! ;)

Groove Secret #6: What Scale(s) Should You Focus On?

Ok I thought you guys might feel like I am talking a lot about rhythm and not enough about melody. First, let me explain why. As I said in a earlier post, bass is a lot about “banging” with the drummer – since its frequency range is sooo low, it is very rhythm oriented. However, it is also about playing notes (E, D, G…) like a guitar or a piano and any bass player has to play a melody just like a guitarist… Wait?! Did I say “just like”?? Well it is not true. Why? Because bass lines are not listened to as mush as guitar riffs and solos (again because of the low frequencies) but they sure are felt. So what does this mess mean? It means that you have to play notes thinking more about rhythm than melody. Moreover, again because of the low frequencies, if you play something odd on top of a chord, it may sound weird…

So which note(s) should you use? and which scale(s)? Here are some general tips:

Chord notes. (say Em)

It means that you play the root (E), the third (G) and the fifth (B). If you want to, you can add the seventh, which would be a D for a Em7. Why these notes more than others? Because they are pretty weak in terms of emotion but pretty powerful when it comes to power. For example, they call a power chord one which is composed of the root (E), the fifth (B) and the octave (E), that is two notes only (E & B). If you play this chord on any instrument you will realise it has not a lot of emotion in it. Since we, as bass players, need to be more rhythm-oriented, this reminder is really handy.

Pentatonic scale.

It means that you play the root (E), the third (G), the fourth (A), the fifth (B) and the seventh (D). Again, here is a way to play a bass line with not a lot of emotion in it.

Chromatic scale.

It means that you play every note out of the twelve existing ones (E, F, F# or Gb, G, G# or Ab, A, A# or Bb, B, C, C# or Db, D, D# or Eb). Indeed, if you play every single note, it will not sound like a melody at all!

Personally, I tend to use a lot the chord notes and the pentatonic scale. I also add some chromatisms here and there. Of course, when I can put some nice melody down, I use other notes! But most of the time, bass lines are about grooving and as I said earlier in this blog, groove is EA-SY! Go rhythm guys!! ;) Anyway, to end this post, here is a pretty good example out of Jamiroquai’s Whatever it is I Just Can’t Stop:

Here is the rough tab of the bass line:

Red notes are the chord notes, green (and red) ones are from the pentatonic scale and blue ones are chromatisms. As you see (and hear), it is not such a great melody… but hell it groooooves hard!!! And hey, have you noticed the overall picture is… red? ;)

Any question? anything you have not understood? or maybe you disagree? feel free to add a comment! :)

Groove Secret #5: The Ghost Note

This is a very very important part of your bass playing!! Be careful, you must not neglect this tiny sound that almost nobody hear!!! And you know why? It is because people do not listen to bass sounds most of the time… however they sure feel it! And this tiny sound that is the ghost note will be felt!

So let us go for concrete examples! One of my most-used pattern when I want to groove is a ghost note just before playing regular notes. It goes like this:

This is just a random example, but it is meant to show you how to place those “notes”. Notice that it is right before the actual note. Now let us move on to a real song – Jamiroquai’s Love Foolosophy:

Notice how full of ghost notes the bass line is! here is a rough tab of the very beginning:

Ok ok ok, do not run away!! Come back!! I know it looks scary but it is not!! Really!! ^^ You do not have to learn this tab by heart to make this groove, this is only the way I do it (for the first three bars). This song is all about improvising so do not freak out, this is just to show you how I use ghost notes: they are either right before the actual note or in between two notes.

So from now on, try to insert some ghost notes here and there and quickly it will become natural and you will place them without even thinking about it! ;)

Groove Secret #4: Playing with paradoxes… (sounds exciting huh? ^^)

Ok, next groove secret is… wait for it… very simple! AGAIN?? Yes I know I say this every article! Cannot do a thing about that! And you know why? It is because grooving goes with simplicity 90% of the time! Listen to these slap-crazy guys on YouTube… do they groove? 90% of them do not! But simple does not mean easy, you have to be careful, especially with ghost notes… but we will come back to this later! :p

So this time you are going to play with opposite patterns in the same bass line! For example, if you are playing on the beat (ex.1) at the beginning, you can switch to the off beat for the second part (ex.2) or you can mix these two patterns! (ex.3)

Here is a concrete example with the XX’s Crystalised:

Notice how the bass player switches from the on-beat to the off-beat during the verse. It is very clear from 0:42 to 0:50. That is what makes the song grooving! ;) These guys are ace!!

Another variation of on and off beats is M’s Machistador main bass line:

Everything is clear? If not, feel free to ask! ;)

Groove Secret #3: The Magical Riff!

Ok I thought you guys may want some practical stuff rather than theory! No problem! Here we go!! This is a basic funk groove that you will hear almost everywhere once you are aware of it! It is ace… ;)

As you are going to see, it is pretty easy. However, you have to be really tight! Moreover, make the ghost note sound clear, it is very important. That is the thing that makes the bass line “jumpy”…

Again, you do not have to play a lot of notes!! Grooving does not need more than a few notes!! An example on one of my covers (from 0:54 to 1:03):

As you can see, I play the basic pattern plus a tiny variation every time. However the basic pattern stands really well on its own if you want to! By the way, notice that from 0:54 to 1:03 (and several other times) I am not playing anything but an E. Everything is in the rhythm and the ghost notes! No need to play 100 notes, leave that to soloists! ;)

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