Metal is one genre of music that most people don’t associate with the word ‘groove’, but this series of posts is designed to explore the low end from a variety of sources and expose readers to bassists, basslines and techniques that they might not have encountered before.
‘Forty Six & 2’ is anchored by Justin Chancellor’s hypnotic bassline, which is played with a plectrum and features a pedal point provided by the open D string combined with hammer-ons and pull-offs:
If you’re not used to playing with a pick (or simply reluctant to use one) then this a good introduction to plectrum technique. The key to executing this line smoothly is strict alternation of down and upstrokes with the pick (every note on the D string is a downstroke, every picked note on the G string is an upstroke).
It’s worth noting that plectrums are not solely reserved for metal, punk or rock playing – it’s entirely possible to play funk with a pick (as we’ve seen in a previous post featuring Anthony Jackson).
I’m still amazed by many bassists’ resistance to using a pick and the prevalence of ‘pick vs fingers’ discussions on bass forums – the choice of fingers or plectrum should be determined by the tone that you want from your bass rather than what your technique obligates you to do. Neither is superior, it purely depends on which is more appropriate for the music that you’re playing.
If you’re in the anti-plectrum camp then I strongly urge you to spend a week listening to Bobby Vega play and then see if your opinion hasn’t changed:
On first listening, the main groove on ‘Treasure’ sounds as if it’s slapped throughout, but closer inspection reveals that it falls into the less common category of what I’d term ‘half-slap’, where the lower notes are played fingerstyle and any octaves are popped:
The constant transition between fingerstyle and slap techniques can feel awkward at first, as the angle of the wrist needs to change in order to cleanly execute either technique. As with anything new, start slowly and let the technique come to you through practice rather than trying to force the tempo up before you’re ready.
Another great example of ‘half-slap’ is the main groove from Jocelyn Brown’s ‘Somebody Else’s Guy’, which requires similar alternation between fingerstyle and slap playing:
Thinking Outside The Box
It’s hard to see on the video, but the sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I play the first octave ‘backwards’, starting on the little finger and reaching across all 4 strings to reach the high Ab with the index finger. While this isn’t an everyday occurrence, certain lines sit better with this approach, as it reduces the amount of left hand position shifting and makes the part easier to execute at tempo (for me, at least).
All bass players are guilty of falling into pattern-based thinking from time to time, relying on familiar shapes rather than concentrating on the actual notes being played. When we’re required to play an octave, our muscle memory defaults to the standard ‘box’ pattern that works 90% of the time – in this instance it’s worth thinking ‘outside the box’ in order to achieve the best result for the music, not just the bass player.
Apologies for the serious time lag between posts – the last fortnight involved moving house and a series of gigs that included learning an entire set of Wayne Shorter tunes at short notice.
Anyway, time to clear the Groove Of The Week backlog. This one comes courtesy of British soul singer Omar (who also played most of the instruments on the track, including the standout bass line). ‘There’s Nothing Like This’ remains the best example that I’ve ever heard of how to convert something as mundane as a major 7 arpeggio into a musical idea that really grooves.
Louis Johnson’s stellar bass work as part of The Brothers Johnson and also as a sideman (his numerous credits include Michael Jackson, George Benson, Grover Washington Jr and George Benson) has cemented his position as one of the most celebrated funk bassists of the 70s and 80s.
Although many of his most famous lines involve hefty doses of slap bass, earning him the nickname ‘Thunder-Thumbs’, Louis’ line on Michael McDonald’s hit ‘I Keep Forgettin’ sees him staying safely in fingerstyle territory. The main groove, which was famously sampled on Warren G’s classic ‘Regulate’, features heavy semiquaver syncopation and requires real attention to detail when it comes to achieving the correct note lengths:
This week’s groove comes courtesy of the great British bassist John Paul Jones, whose part on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Ramble On’ provides a masterclass in writing a part that manages to be melodic without diverting attention away from the rest of the band:
JPJ’s high register line sits firmly in the key of E major, using slides and ghost notes to embellish his part. He varies the part slightly on each repetition, but the basic groove is shown here:
You can check out the original isolated bass part of ‘Ramble On’ below – hearing JPJ’s playing in isolation really demonstrates the huge influence of Motown and Stax recordings:
His tone is very Jamerson-esque, and the verse groove to ‘Ramble On’ reminds me of pioneering soul bassist Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn’s part on Eddie Floyd’s ‘Knock On Wood’, which was recorded 3 years before ‘Ramble On’:
Wherever JPJ got the inspiration, his bass work on ‘Ramble On’ (and many other Led Zep songs) gives us a wealth of material for study when it comes to supportive yet melodic bass playing.
Deee-Lite’s one and only hit ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ was propelled by the infectious bassline provided by none other than William ‘Bootsy’ Collins who, thanks to his time with James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic, has no shortage of experience in laying down a consistent, propulsive groove.
The line sits nicely in position, using chord tones and the odd chromatic approach to outline the Ab7-Db7 harmony (the classic chord I to chord IV move found in countless funk, rock, soul and pop tunes):
This week’s laid back swung 16th groove comes courtesy of one of my teenage bass heroes, Dirk Lance. Incubus first caught my attention when I heard Make Yourself and totally freaked out – at the age of 15 I’d never heard anything quite like it before. The follow-up album, Morning View, remains one of my favourites – recently I’ve been spent a lot of time in the car driving to and from gigs and I’ve been working my way through Incubus’ back catalogue, one of the grooves that stuck out was Dirk’s part on ‘Are You In?’: