The Luther Vandross groove you SHOULD have been playing all these years: GOTW #24

You know that Luther Vandross song that has the great bassline by Marcus Miller on it?

No, not that one. This one:

‘Never Too Much’ is one of the most famous examples of bass deity Marcus Miller’s extensive session work, with heavily syncopated slap lines that jump out of the mix and demand our attention. But there’s another less famous Miller/Vandross collaboration that once again sees Marcus’ thumb in full flight, providing tight staccato slap grooves peppered with high register fills.

The verse groove of ‘She’s A Super Lady’ alternates between a sparse ascending figure (a contraction of the main chorus groove) and more active fills outlining E minor:

The flurry of notes half way through the verse is one of those fills that sounds harder than it actually is – pay close attention to the thumb/pop markings in the transcription and let your left hand do the bulk of the work. The real key to making fills like this work is having a strong thumb sound on the D string,which is a key component of Marcus’ sound and often overlooked.

A full transcription of ‘She’s A Super Lady’ can be downloaded HERE

A Tribute to Dave Brubeck (and a rant about Marcus Miller)

As a little tribute to the late Dave Brubeck here’s a transcription of Paul Desmond’s sax solo on ‘Take Five’.

Transcription here: Take Five solo (concert)

This was actually my first proper non-bass transcription, given to me as an assignment during a lesson with the great arranger/producer/guitarist/educator Richard Niles. If you haven’t heard of Richard then seek out his work – he not only possesses a terrifying amount of musical knowledge but also has a wonderful sense of humour.

Transcribing material that wasn’t originally played on your own instrument is a great way of expanding your musical horizons and often helps to generate fresh ideas for improvisation. When playing through this transcription, you might find that certain notes are outside of the range of your instrument and therefore certain phrases need to be octave transposed.

This process of arranging music played by non-bass instruments on a bass is valuable in a number of ways:

  • Phrases that are easily played on a saxophone (or piano/trumpet/guitar etc.) might not fit comfortably under your fingers on the bass. This helps to not only develop your technique but helps you stop reverting back to the same old licks when the time comes for you to solo.
  • While dissecting the solo, certain phrases might jump out at you. Use these to build new vocabulary for the bass. Work out a few different fingerings for the phrase and play it through all keys (you may want to alter the rhythmic content and retain the melody, or vice versa).
  • Examining improvisations from other instruments gives a unique insight into how different players approach improvising over chord changes. Using material that comes from a ‘non-bass’ perspective is hugely beneficial in developing your own personal voice on your instrument (a horribly clich├ęd phrase, but true nonetheless).

Why bother transcribing other instruments? Why not just focus on bass?

I spent a lot of time during my teens learning licks and solos from Marcus Miller – I remember hearing listening to his M2 album and instantly being drawn towards his tone and phrasing. I wanted to sound exactly like him. During my first year at music college I got hold of a transcription of Marcus’ intro solo and slap line on David Sanborn’s Run For Cover:

I proceeded to spend my Christmas holiday that year shedding it like crazy. I loved playing it. Soon enough everything I played was beginning to sound like a budget version of Marcus. Classmates started to nickname me ‘mini-Marcus’. I’d listen back to recordings from gigs and cringe at what I’d played (important note: this never stops…). Having spent so long trying to get his ideas into my playing I’d lost sight of working on what I sounded like.

So I entered slap-bass rehab: I banned myself from listening to Marcus for a few years and tried to eliminate all traces of him from my playing. I went on a crusade to transcribe as many solos as I could with only one rule in mind: I couldn’t transcribe bass solos. Transcribing solos from other instruments helped to open my ears to all sorts of things I’d never thought of playing on a bass before, all of which suddenly seemed more interesting than chasing after another bassist’s sound.

This post is not meant as a slight towards Marcus Miller or anyone that wants to emulate any part of his playing (or that of any other bassist). For me the act of focusing all of my attention on one particular bassist had a detrimental effect on my musical development.

(Confession time: I listened to Marcus for the first time in years while writing this post and I loved it. He’s a monster. Still won’t be getting my thumb out on any gigs in the near future though…)

Greetings & Grooves

So I’ve been using this blog for about 6 months as a means of hosting my bass transcriptions and some odd bits of info, but not really getting into the whole blogging thing. So, as the rest of cyberspace is Twittering away to each other I’m finally moving onto (hopefully) regular blogging – at this rate you can expect to hear my first podcast by about 2015…

The aim of this blog is to share musical insights, experiences and observations. Hopefully I’ll get at least one update a week in with a new transcription for people to feast their eyes, ears and fingers on.

This week’s transcription is of Me’Shell Ndegeocello’s ‘Shoot’n Up and Gett’n High’ from the album Plantation Lullabies. I’ve been a huge fan of Me’Shell’s playing (and writing, and producing…) ever since I heard her groove on Joshua Redman’s track Greasy G and have recently started making an effort to transcribe and absorb as much of her playing as possible.

Me'Shell Ndegeocello - Shoot'n and Gett'n High p1

Me'Shell Ndegeocello - Shoot'n and Gett'n High p1

Me'Shell Ndegeocello - Shoot'n and Gett'n High p2

Me'Shell Ndegeocello - Shoot'n and Gett'n High p2

The intro and chorus parts are played on a synth, but it’s possible to emulate the tone/phrasing on an electric bass with a little bit of experimentation. Other than that, it’s all technically straightforward – the magic comes from getting it to feel as good as Me’Shell does…

until next time,