Bass lines

Blues Guitar Lessons

A vastly underestimated way of accompanying is a very simple and effective one: play what the bass player plays! This is especially powerful at the beginning of a song and leaves enough space for a singer's first chorus or a soloist's opening riff.

Depending on the type of feel, you could use one of these examples. If you want to avoid a beating with the neck of the bass, listen to the bass player before you get in his way.

Here is a simple major pentatonic one. This 'walking bass' can be used in Chicago blues and swing blues. There are a thousand different ways of playing up and down this scale. The feel can be altered by playing each note staccato (damp the note quickly after it's been played) or legato (glue the notes together by keeping the time between notes as short as possible).

B.B. King's backup guitarist might use something like this on "Caledonia".

Bass line Ex 1 - CD 1   (mp3 click here : )

TAB Bass lines Example 1

In bars 5 and 6 you'll see that the bass line starts with the root of the IV chord C and that it uses the notes of a C major pentatonic scale! Whenever you use major pentatonics you've got to follow the chords. G major pentatonics over G7, D major pentatonic over D7, etc.

Notice how bars 4 and 5 glide into each other chromatically, a feature used a lot by bass players. This way of playing chromatically through the chord is also being used in bars 11 and 12. Instead of using just the major pentatonic scale, you walk through the changes and hit the root of the V chord D at the beginning of bar 12.

Bass line Ex 2 - CD 2   (mp3 click here : )

TAB Bas slines Example 2

Example 2 uses the technique of doubling the bass notes. You can do this even when your bass player plays only one note per beat. In Rock & Roll and Jump music, you'll often use this in a straight time feel, i.e. every note gets an equal amount of time. In Swing you'll play this accompaniment in a shuffle feel (see Timing). Instead of using just the major pentatonic scale, you can add the minor third to the bass line. This becomes a guiding tone to the major third of the scale and sounds great in blues. Bars 1, 3, 5 and 11 add the Bb to the G7 bass line and in bar 5 the Eb is added to the C7 bassline.

Note: Alternate progression

In this example, the bass line in bars 9-11 uses a different chord progression that often substitutes for the V-IV-I progression. Here you play a so-called II-V-I progression instead.

The II chord is actually a minor chord (see Chords/Scales). It works as a guiding chord to the V.

When you get to the V, you can add two other notes to the bassline. You add the third and seventh of the chord to the tonic and form a full dominant seventh chord. In this case you precede the D7 with a C#7, a guiding chord from below. In bar 12 you approach the D7 from above with an Eb7.

Bass line Ex 3 - CD 3

TAB Bass lines Example 3

This is a one-bar pattern that also works when there's a second guitarist playing fills or chords.

Bass line Ex 4 - CD 4

TAB Bass lines Example 4

A syncopated bass line: you play the tonic on the off-beat. Fasten your seat belt at high speeds!

 

 

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