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PJ-Bassist

A Cry For Help - Improvising Bass Lines on the Fly

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I had a simply awful rehearsal last night. 

Singer we were due to audition for our casual covers band dropped out last minute. Band agreed to get together and just jam - unfortunately this is a particular weakness of mine. 

Guitarists start busting out riffs and songs .. drummer gets into it and they are all going and sounding great. I'm left there thinking 'ummmm' ..  after watching the 1 x guitarists finger board for a bit I'm able to start figuring out the chord progression and playing along (until a transition to a new section at least).  Problem is my playing along is just sitting on the root note for said chord playing quarter notes, any variation I try and put in just sounds crap - be it me trying some syncopated rhythms or a fill.  I just lacked ideas / creativity and anything I tried just wasn't executed well.

 

It's frustrating to me that when they do this there's no discussion on what chord progressions are but that's never going to happen with this lot as they don't need it, they seem to quickly figure out what is going on.I left feeling utterly depressed and a bit humiliated - I'm on the verge of just quitting and telling them to find a better bassist.

That being said - being able to just jam, no preparation and sound good is my playing ambition - 2019 is the year I'm going to achieve this, I'm determined.

My cry for help is how do I go about acheiving that.  I would love some advice from more seasoned / confident players on approach.

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A couple of basic tips would be:

1. Learn (ear training) what the 1-4-5 progression sounds like. A lot of music just uses these, in some variation; and with some extras here and there.

2. Learn the pentatonic scales: major and minor. The minor is also known as "the blues box". Eventually you need to learn how to get out of "the blues box", but for now it will be a reasonable starting point.

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I'm been thinking on this through the evening.  This is the approach I think I'll take...

Get super confident with the following scales / arpeggios:

  • Ionian & Aeolian Modes – (Master the 1st and 2nd finger positions)
  • Major, Minor and Dom7 Chord Tones – (Master the 1st and 2nd finger positions)
  • Major, Minor Pentatonic Sclaes – (Master the 1st and 2nd finger positions)

Get comfortable with common chord progressions

  • Analyse common chord progressions in music similar to that we play in Jam sessions
  • Source / create backing tracks with these chord progressions for Jam practice

Transcribe and analyse existing music

  • Transcribe 1-4 bar bass lines i find interesting / inspirational (limited to 4/4 time for now)
  • Analyse transcriptions to understand their harmonic properties
  • Transcribe fills I hear and like, create a personal lick library to build ideas from

Practice Jamming

  • Use aforementioned backing tracks and knowledge to jam with

 

Would love to hear other ideas...

Edited by PJ-Bassist
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I find that it works best if I just stop thinking and go with the flow. Only problem is if someone wants to do it all the same way again!

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1 minute ago, Reggaebass said:

Out of interest pj  what type of music do you play 

With the band, rock.

However, my personal love these days is Funk (just can't get the others on board with it)

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1 hour ago, PJ-Bassist said:

It's frustrating to me that when they do this there's no discussion on what chord progressions are but that's never going to happen with this lot as they don't need it, they seem to quickly figure out what is going on.I left feeling utterly depressed and a bit humiliated - I'm on the verge of just quitting and telling them to find a better bassist.

The guitarist will know what they're playing....why not ask them ? It's what I would do ! It's not supposed to be a guessing game :)

A few pointers like "We'll start with E then up to etc etc" will get you going and you'll not be so nervous of playing the wrong thing.

Keep at it - you have to learn how to jam and it can feel like everyone else knows what they're doing, but it's often not the case.

 

Edited by ahpook

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Thanks for this thread.  I find myself in a similar position at times, I play in bands with several music teachers......

At a recent session, I just started playing the melody, and the rest joined in, with I suppose 'variations' rather than jamming, but there was more predictability.

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I've played for nearly 20 years (even though I'm now in my mid-50s) and have never learned to improvise. It's also a small matter of frustration. 

But it's just stuff... I can't slap or play with a pick either but I'm pretty confident that I could learn if I really had to. There are are only so many hours in the day. 

My day job is the same. I work in IT. People ask me to look at their home computers. No chance. I haven't a clue about Windows. I work with big servers and Unix stuff all the time and have no great need or desire to branch out. 

Edited by thepurpleblob
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I had the same experience and agree it's very frustrating, however.......

It's a learnable skill, what has been working for me is loads of ear training and working on audiation. It's sounds stupid (and obvious) now when I think about it and it took me years to figure out that playing any instrument well enough to improvise comes from being musical within.

I now believe that to make the most of your practice you should spend at least as much time working on your musicianship as working bass in hand.

Just learning your intervals can pay huge dividends, if you know them well you'll keep up enough in a jam.

Get comfortable with singing and sing everything, scales, bass lines, melodies everything!

 

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I think that learning triads/chord tones is more important than scales (initially at least). Jamming along to the radio / Spotify playlist and seeing what you can come up with using root, third and fifth will give you loads of scope, especially if also use inversions of the triads.

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annoying isn't it? easy for drummers they don't have play the right notes, I've played with guitarists like this, they know the song so they expect you too, but if you start playing something they haven't got a clue, but the least information you want is "what key is it in" but then, some guitarists don't even know this

Edited by PaulWarning
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When they're about to start, it could be interesting to announce to the band, "OK, let's make this a 1-4-5 12 bar blues starting on G", and see what their response is.

It's not impossible that the guitarist is simply rolling out his riffs he plays at home and hasn't a clue what he's playing really...  but then again, I might be wrong?

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One thing i do when jamming is ask, particularly the interval structure like: 2, 5, 1 lately it's been 1, 6, 4, 5. After a while you realise most songs sit in the same interval structure.

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11 minutes ago, rmcki said:

One thing i do when jamming is ask, particularly the interval structure like: 2, 5, 1 lately it's been 1, 6, 4, 5. After a while you realise most songs sit in the same interval structure.

This may well help @PJ-Bassist, but if the guitarist is exclusively a tabs player, discussing the chord changes might not mean anything to the guitarist. 
I got ditched from a band a while back. I think what did it was my response to a guitarists question. He asked another Richard in the band, "Richard, how do you play a Diminished chord?" I, being a Richard, answered, "same as Major, but with a flattened 7th."  He didn't mean that.  He simply played by knowing his finger shapes.  Whoops!!

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If the piece stops, to start off again just shout out "okay let's take it from the modulation to the subdominant". You'll probably get silence for maybe 45 secs-1 minute, perhaps more. Then some tumbleweed will blow past. Then the band will start normally, from the start.

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I used to get this in an old band, usually "just play twelve bar blues" yeah thanks but when you're just blaring out a solo I don't know where you're going next to support it. Or it would be the farking Status Quo medley. I know it's only three chords but which three... Oh you're now in a new song, great.

It's demoralising and not a constructive use of time if you're not bringing everyone along. Maybe you suggest that either you jam around a structure so everyone can competently join in, and solo, or you don't bother with unstructured jams. It may be the height of guitar-god look how great I am wankery but if they can't explain the structure they're just bluffing. If they're not willing to then they're not good band band mates. 

Maybe you need to say words to the effect "I can't support your self indulgent ego build exercise without the most basic instruction so you can either look like a tit with a full band behind you or look like a selfish tit who excludes their bandmates, your choice"

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Guest bassman7755
On 04/12/2018 at 22:07, PJ-Bassist said:

I'm been thinking on this through the evening.  This is the approach I think I'll take...

Get super confident with the following scales / arpeggios:

  • Ionian & Aeolian Modes – (Master the 1st and 2nd finger positions)
  • Major, Minor and Dom7 Chord Tones – (Master the 1st and 2nd finger positions)
  • Major, Minor Pentatonic Sclaes – (Master the 1st and 2nd finger positions)

Get comfortable with common chord progressions

  • Analyse common chord progressions in music similar to that we play in Jam sessions
  • Source / create backing tracks with these chord progressions for Jam practice

Transcribe and analyse existing music

  • Transcribe 1-4 bar bass lines i find interesting / inspirational (limited to 4/4 time for now)
  • Analyse transcriptions to understand their harmonic properties
  • Transcribe fills I hear and like, create a personal lick library to build ideas from

Practice Jamming

  • Use aforementioned backing tracks and knowledge to jam with

 

Would love to hear other ideas...

The fact that you had to resort to looking at the guitarists hands means that you have some severe deficiencies in your listening skills. This is probably because like me, you are by nature an analytical person and so your response to a problem is more analysis.

The most elementary listening skill is to be able hear a song / riff/ whatever and determine the key centre (not to name it necessarily but to be able to play that note on your bass).

The next "level" is to be able to work out the root notes of the chords in a progression.

Knowledge of scales modes etc etc is only going to help you in a jam when you can do these things to at least some degree.

I would suggest playing along with a spotify channel trying to work out song key then some chord roots. Also if you want to punish yourself (in a good way) with more formal ear training then look at bruce arnolds "one note" and "sight singing" courses.

 

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Posted (edited)
14 minutes ago, bassman7755 said:

The fact that you had to resort to looking at the guitarists hands means that you have some severe deficiencies in your listening skills. This is probably because like me, you are by nature an analytical person and so your response to a problem is more analysis.

I would suggest playing along with a spotify channel trying to work out song key then some chord roots. Also if you want to punish yourself (in a good way) with more formal ear training then look at bruce arnolds "one note" and "sight singing" courses.

I believe this is 100% the issue, both in my listening skills and being analytical in approach to resolving problems. 

I will definitely take this advice on-board - seems like an excellent thing to practice identifying song key centre and their associated chord progressions :)

Edited by PJ-Bassist

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It's easy to over think this and I really don't agree you need all those modal scales and three position arpeggios n all.  I have (had) much the same problem. You mention you play rock and funk:

Point 1:  A very recent issue for me (this week in fact) is that bass is the most important insturment in funk. Funk is about being right on the groove but also needing to know well defined and sometimes complex bass lines that the audience will expect. That's hard and a bit of a mission in some cases.  OTOH, most rock and blues, unless you're doing covers, just requires building a melodic bridge between drums and everything else.  You'd be surprised how few notes you need providing you're right in the pocket and work intelligently with the drums, something I learned from Scott Devine.  Even just root  and 5th can sound great if augmented by the occasional octave root, ghost note and approach notes.  

Point  2. Practice a lot to songs you know well.  Keep playing until your fingers figure out for themselves what works, having regard to point 1 above.

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1 minute ago, lownote12 said:

It's easy to over think this and I really don't agree you need all those modal scales and three position arpeggios n all.  I have (had) much the same problem. You mention you play rock and funk:

Point 1:  A very recent issue for me (this week in fact) is that bass is the most important insturment in funk. Funk is about being right on the groove but also needing to know well defined and sometimes complex bass lines that the audience will expect. That's hard and a bit of a mission in some cases.  OTOH, most rock and blues, unless you're doing covers, just requires building a melodic bridge between drums and everything else.  You'd be surprised how few notes you need providing you're right in the pocket and work intelligently with the drums, something I learned from Scott Devine.  Even just root  and 5th can sound great if augmented by the occasional octave root, ghost note and approach notes.  

Point  2. Practice a lot to songs you know well.  Keep playing until your fingers figure out for themselves what works, having regard to point 1 above.

bass is the most important insturment  in all music😎

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21 minutes ago, lownote12 said:

It's easy to over think this and I really don't agree you need all those modal scales and three position arpeggios n all.  I have (had) much the same problem. You mention you play rock and funk:

Point 1:  A very recent issue for me (this week in fact) is that bass is the most important insturment in funk. Funk is about being right on the groove but also needing to know well defined and sometimes complex bass lines that the audience will expect. That's hard and a bit of a mission in some cases.  OTOH, most rock and blues, unless you're doing covers, just requires building a melodic bridge between drums and everything else.  You'd be surprised how few notes you need providing you're right in the pocket and work intelligently with the drums, something I learned from Scott Devine.  Even just root  and 5th can sound great if augmented by the occasional octave root, ghost note and approach notes.  

Point  2. Practice a lot to songs you know well.  Keep playing until your fingers figure out for themselves what works, having regard to point 1 above.

Thanks for this.  Sticking to roots and fifths and working with drums is also good advice :).

 

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Posted (edited)

The important point is not to give up and walk away, playing with ‘better’ players than you will challenge you for sure but it will be a really good way to improve the skills you feel you lack. There is one exception to this of course, you have to be able to discuss the structure of the music with the other players, if they won’t stop and help out, give you pointers and stuff then fvck ‘em. I’ve played with some brilliant players who expected you to be as brilliant them right off the bat without the slightest help or advice, I find these kind of players fall into a general wider category, that of cnuts. Inside musical circles or outside I try to avoid cnuts at all costs. Play with more advanced musicians for sure, no better way to improve, but don’t think you have to tollerate cnuts. Musicians who sneer at those not as advanced or are intolerant of other's abilities or just plain unwilling to help are to be avoided.

Edited by Frank Blank
Cno reason cwhatsoever
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On 04/12/2018 at 22:07, PJ-Bassist said:

I'm been thinking on this through the evening.  This is the approach I think I'll take...

Get super confident with the following scales / arpeggios:

  • Ionian & Aeolian Modes – (Master the 1st and 2nd finger positions)
  • Major, Minor and Dom7 Chord Tones – (Master the 1st and 2nd finger positions)
  • Major, Minor Pentatonic Sclaes – (Master the 1st and 2nd finger positions)

Get comfortable with common chord progressions

  • Analyse common chord progressions in music similar to that we play in Jam sessions
  • Source / create backing tracks with these chord progressions for Jam practice

Transcribe and analyse existing music

  • Transcribe 1-4 bar bass lines i find interesting / inspirational (limited to 4/4 time for now)
  • Analyse transcriptions to understand their harmonic properties
  • Transcribe fills I hear and like, create a personal lick library to build ideas from

Practice Jamming

  • Use aforementioned backing tracks and knowledge to jam with

 

Would love to hear other ideas...

This is a great plan mate! Excellent structure and you have given yourself clear goals that you can measure! I need to do the same thing for myself!

The other suggestion I would have for you is stick the radio on, or a Spotify playlist of the genre of music you like and just try to play along. Listen for a few bars then just try to play. It’s really hard at first but stick with it and you will be surprised with how quickly your ear improves.

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22 minutes ago, Crawford13 said:

The other suggestion I would have for you is stick the radio on, or a Spotify playlist of the genre of music you like and just try to play along. Listen for a few bars then just try to play. It’s really hard at first but stick with it and you will be surprised with how quickly your ear improves.

This is what I'm really working on right now.

For about 30 mins a day I've got a playlist of some super simple rock songs and I'm playing along, trying to figure out the key center and chord progression as quickly as I can.

Then I start to play along and just improvising.  Really simple for now, just roots and fifths but I'm just starting to play with some pentatonics for fills.

Edited by PJ-Bassist
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