Groove Of The Week #22 & #23: ‘Borrowing’ From The Best, Understanding Tradition and ‘Bass Player Maths’

It seems like there’s been a spate of cases in recent months concerning pop artists being accused of plagiarising existing songs:

The cliché goes that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when does being influenced by an artist become ripping them off? And, more importantly, what does this have to do with this series of blog posts on bass grooves?

Take a listen to these two grooves – ‘Runaway’ by Jamiroquai and ‘Running Away’ by Roy Ayers:

Sound similar? I certainly think so. If the titles weren’t enough of a giveaway both lines sit at similar tempos and outline their first chord by using root – 10th – descending scale line:

Roy Ayers - Running Away copy

'Runaway' Main Groove

‘Runaway’ Main Groove

A full transcription of ‘Runaway’ is available here

So, it’s pretty clear that Paul Turner & co had been listening to a lot of 70s acid jazz, and this should come as no surprise to any of us. Just as nutritionists will tell us that you are what you eat, for musicians it’s a case of you are what you listen to (and what you practise).

If you’ve grown up listening to Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayers and other similar artists then it’s no wonder that the music that you write sounds a certain way – what continues to amaze me is that many of the people that I teach have little or no awareness of ‘tradition’ (understanding who inspired the players that inspire them) and don’t make the connection between what they put in (listening and practise) and what they get out (their playing).

I’ll hold up my hand and admit to being ignorant of many musical things and having wasted lots of time ‘barking up the wrong tree’ in the practice room, but I DO make a concerted effort to understand where the music that means the most to me has come from. This act of delving deeper into the history of the music I love helps to broaden my horizons and provides me with a context in which to view all of the players that inspire me.

What do I mean by all of this? Simply put, you can’t know for certain if you’re being original if you don’t know what came before you. Having a deep knowledge of bass playing ‘traditions’ can help you to identify which traits in your own playing are stolen from external sources and highlight any areas of originality.

Here’s some food for thought which also doubles as a good exercise for anyone who’s asked “How Do I Sound?” or “How Do I Want To Sound?”. Think of it as ‘Bass Player Maths’:

  • I find it hard to hear Me’Shell N’degeocello without simultaneously hearing Paul Jackson and Jaco Pastorius
  • Listen to Laurence Cottle, then some Pat Metheny (preferably with Michael Brecker). Now listen to Janek Gwizdala. See what I’m getting at?
  • Two seemingly opposite influences can produce great results: combine James Jamerson’s chromaticism with Jack Cassidy’s tone and you’re on the way to understanding how Anthony Jackson arrived at some of his concepts.

So go forth and rejoice in becoming a total geek about the music and the bassists that inspire you – I’m willing to bet that your own personal detective work gives you inspiration and insight into what has gone before you and what lies ahead for you.

Updated ‘Graceland’ Transcription + Play Along

Bakithi Kumalo’s propulsive part on Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ is one of the most popular transcriptions in the archive. I did the original transcription some years ago, and as I was recording the play along video I noticed a few areas that could be improved upon to help convey some of the nuances that are vitally important to making the groove sit correctly.

The improved transcription can be found here:

UPDATED GRACELAND TRANSCRIPTION

One of the main changes concerns the ghost notes that feature through out the verse sections – I feel that they work best using the open E string throughout, using horizontal position shifting when the harmony changes. The staccato markings (indicated by a dot above the note head) are achieved by left hand muting – again, this is a small detail that helps to give Bakithi’s line its signature ‘bounce’. The play along video shows how I’m using my fretting hand to regulate the note lengths throughout the track:







And yes, I’m aware that I really should have played a fretless on this. Regular readers might have already seen this post on my fretless history and my reasons for not owning one…

Groove Of The Week #8: Jamiroquai – ‘Whatever It Is, I Just Can’t Stop’

This week’s groove comes courtesy of Stuart Zender on Jamiroquai’s ‘Whatever It Is, I Just Can’t Stop’.

The verse hook sits in an E7 tonality and features a number of funk bass staples including semiquaver syncopation, chromatic approaches into chord tones, grace notes and the classic ‘shake’ between the major and minor 3rd in bar 3.

jamiroquai- Whatever It Is I Just Can t Stop

Take a listen to the original and you can hear that it’s not the cleanest bass tone – there’s plenty of string and fret noise and you can really hear Stuart digging in with his right hand.

Got A Groove Request? Let Me Know!

If there’s a bass line that you love but have never got round to learning then let me know by commenting on this post – it could be a classic groove or a song that you feel deserves wider recognition from the bass playing world.

Unorthodox Instructionals Part 4: Change The Way You Hear Music

So far we’ve looked at unorthodox methods for bass players to sharpen their grasp of harmony, develop a more secure technique and master written rhythms. This post deals with an aspect of playing (and practising) that many bass players often neglect: ear training.

Whereas previous posts in this series have focused on a single book, this installment deals with two excellent books on the art of aural perception that I feel have helped me get my ears in shape.

How I Learned To Transcribe

In 2009 I began to have problems with tendonitis In my left elbow which meant that I had to scale back my playing and practice time dramatically. I was determined not to let my musicianship take a hit and so looked for ways that I could improve my playing without using my bass – transcription seemed like the obvious choice.

For roughly 18 months the vast majority of my practising revolved around ear training exercises and transcriptions. I was just about able to make it through a gig, but practising with the bass had to be severely reduced until my arm recovered.

The first book that I worked from during that time is Ron Gorow’s Hearing And Writing Music, a weighty tome that provides musicians with a progressive method for converting the sounds that they hear onto manuscript paper without going via an instrument.
 

How Will It Benefit My Playing?


The first part of the book (and the section that helped me the most) focuses on developing mastery over the intervals of the major scale through a series of singing and visualisation exercises. Strengthening the relationship between your ear and your voice is the first step on the road to being able to play what you hear in your head on the bass. A number of renowned musicians (George Benson, Richard Bona, Esperanza Spalding, Janek Gwizdala and Oteil Burbridge to name but a few) vocalise their solos as they improvise, and the consensus is that it forces them to be more melodic and to pay close attention to their phrasing.

Readers who cringe at the thought of scatting along with their bass playing can still benefit from developing their inner ear through singing. Having a firm grasp of how different intervals sound gives you an invaluable set of tools for unlocking the music that you hear, whatever your musical goals happen to be:

Interested in transcription? Being able to hear different intervals clearly will not only dramatically reduce the time it take you to analyse any music that you’re trying to transcribe but also improve the accuracy of your transcriptions.

Do you write music? Having a well developed ‘inner ear’ allows you to accurately reproduce the sounds that you hear in your head, which will speed up the compositional process and eliminate time wasted on searching for the ‘right’ note or chord.

Want to improve your soloing abilities? Being able to ‘pre-hear’ an idea before you play it is an essential skill for becoming an improvising musician. Mastering basic interval sounds also strengthens your ability to interact with other musicians on the gig.

 

Joining The Dots

The second book that I want to recommend came to my attention much more recently and serves as an ideal follow-on from Hearing And Writing Music. Ran Blake’s Primacy Of The Ear completely altered the way that I approach both listening to and transcribing music.

Primacy Of The Ear

Whereas Ron Gorow’s book gave me the tools I needed to unlock and analyse the music I was hearing, Primacy Of The Ear provided me with a clear methodology for what to do with the material that I’d transcribed.

Being able to transcribe music is a hugely beneficial skill to possess, but its value is limited unless you know what to do with all those notes that you’ve written down. The notes on the page mean nothing until you put them on your instrument – the biggest mistake I made in the past was to not learn all of the material that I had transcribed. Because of my tendonitis I wasn’t able to spend time working out how the music I had written down could be adapted for the bass and absorbed into my playing.

Does this mean that I’d wasted all of those hours that I’d spent painstakingly notating hundreds of pieces of music? Not at all. The process of accurately notating a passage of music in the clearest way possible is an art form that takes years to master, and the time I invested over that period definitely helped to improve the speed and accuracy of my transcribing.

The reason that Primacy Of The Ear is one of the best instructional books I’ve ever read is that Ran Blake provides a clear process with which to take the music that inspires you and assimilate it into your own playing style. A great deal of the book is devoted to developing your musical memory, which is something that I’ve struggled with in the past – once I switched from learning solos ‘by eye’ to by ear I found that things tended to stick in my brain and my fingers for far longer.
 

Interested? Try This Experiment:

Here’s a challenge for you: For the next week, completely ignore your regular practice routine. Stop practising scales, bin the technique building exercises and cease the sight reading. The only thing you’re allowed to do is listen to music that inspires you and then figure out how it fits on your instrument.

It doesn’t matter if you choose Mozart, Meshuggah or Miley Cyrus – the only rule is that it has to be something that excites you. Listen to it repeatedly, sing it, internalise it and then get it under your fingers and play it to death. Then play it some more.

You might only get 4 bars together in a week, but I’m willing to bet that this process will allow you to discover something new about the music, even if it’s something that you’ve been listening to for years. You’ll also learn something about how you play your instrument, which is an invaluable insight that nobody else can teach you.
 

6 Words That Changed Everything

I once received this nugget of wisdom from a guitarist who’d worked extensively with Pat Metheny and been given the following advice by the man himself:

“Go after the sound that you love.”

This statement has stuck with me and remains the guiding principle if I ever get stuck on what to work on or transcribe next.

Groove Of The Week #4 – Beyoncé ‘Deja Vu’

This edition of Groove Of The Week is a double post because this pop gem contains not one but TWO great grooves to get your fingers around.

The verse groove implies G minor and involves semiquaver syncopation, ghost notes and chromatic approaches. Each section ends with an ear-grabbing high register fill which is a good workout for your trills:

 

The bass line in the chorus outlines two major add9 chords a semitone apart, using slides and vibrato to give the part a more legato feel which contrasts the staccato verse groove:

 

 

There’s a full transcription of the tune here: Deja Vu Transcription

Groove Of The Week #3 – Curtis Mayfield ‘Move On Up’

This week’s groove is all about one of the essential tenets of bass playing: consistency

Want a challenge? Try playing the syncopated,hypnotic bass line from Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’ for 5 minutes straight whilst maintaining consistent articulation, note length and dynamic level. Harder than it sounds, right?

Curtis Mayfield - Move On Up

Groove Of The Week #2: James Brown ‘Licking Stick’

Tim Drummond’s relentless, unwavering groove provides the rock-solid foundation for James Brown’s ‘Licking Stick’. The part neatly outlines all the chord tones of Eb7, making it a perfect example of how to actually make music using an arpeggio.

James Brown - Licking Stick

Although it might seem like a simple line, the challenge lies in playing it consistently – make sure you pay close attention to the note length in each part of the phrase as this has a huge impact on how the line feels.