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Chording and playing bass lines while doing melodies

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by riscado, Feb 25, 2007.

  1. riscado

    riscado TDPRI Member

    Feb 25, 2007
    portugal, setúbal
    My first question is about playing bass lines while you do other stuff (kind of like dead thumb) keeping the rythm of the song while you do chords or lines...

    I've seen players like danny gatton, scotty anderson, chet atkins, etc, do it... What I would like to know is what is the best way of praticing it? I can't seem to be able to coordinate the finger(s) that do the bass line and the ones that are doing other stuff, how do those players manage to make those two parts so independent? It looks like something that requires lots of coordination, any help or tips you guys can give me to practice?

    The other thing I meant to ask is about chords. I know a good variety of them, but I always seem to find myself wondering what to do with all those chords. How do I put them together, I don't know a whole lot about chord progressions, do I try to follow a melody or music line and translate it into chords? Any help here too?

    thank you guys for your help
  2. blacklinefish

    blacklinefish Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 19, 2006
    Northwest Missouri
    Here's a good intro to jazz basslines, not sure if that helps, though:

    Youtube link

  3. Leon Grizzard

    Leon Grizzard Friend of Leo's

    Mar 8, 2006
    Austin, Texas
    In a recent Guitar Player, there was a lesson in Travis style picking by his son, Tom Bresh. He said start with a first position E chord, and practice alternating bass notes on each beat, and plucking two strings on the "and" of each beat, ie Bass-Pluck Bass-Pluck etc. (He plucked three strings since he wears a thumbpick.) Alternate between the open E string and B note on the A string for the bass notes. Pluck any two higher strings you like. When you have the bass notes more or less automatic, start rolling the upper strings instead of plucking them. The idea is to make the bass notes automatic, which will you let you think about the upper lines. When you start moving bass lines, you are basically playing lines in the key or scale you are using. Mute the bass strings with the heel of your right hand.

    In regard to your second question, it is true that the right chord is usually the right chord because it matches important melody notes. But you can cut the work down by knowing the basic chords in each of keys you play in, starting with the I, IV and V chord, ie C, F, and G in the key of C.
  4. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    Nov 28, 2006
    Los Angeles, Ca
    Check out the 'lessons' section and the 'forums' section.
    Info is kind of all over the place but there's some great stuff there.
  5. Chris S.

    Chris S. Asst. Admin

    Mar 26, 2005
    Near TELE-Town (Wash. DC)
    All great stuff so far, thanks guys. :) Ted Greene was one indeed of the best I've ever heard at the technique. At times, he really sounds like two people. :eek: I've also always loved players like Merle Travis and Chet Atkins, and wish I could do more of that stuff. Wow. =:-O

    I've picked up a few things from listening to Joe Pass, who was also very good at it. :) In my experience, once you get a bassline started, that pretty much dictates what happens next. If you have to leave an occasional chord or two out, or sacrifice a few other notes, as long as you keep the bassline going, it will still sound pretty "smooth."

    In a jazz context, I've found that playing two-note "chords" (usually consisting of the 3rd and 7th of whatever chord is happening at that point) helps a lot. And if you put those 3rds and 7ths on the middle two strings, it leaves the two low stings free or your bass line, and the two top strings for melodies and/or other stuff, like single lines or upper chord tones.

    Here's an example (but this is one of those where TAB can be a problem – you should let the top notes ring while the bass continues to "walk")

    --7------------- 6--5---------------4---3---3

    What you're playing through there is E7 - A7 - D7 - G7 - Cma7 to C6, approaching each root from 1/2 step (one fret) above. Also, in terms of the left hand fingering: until you get to the C, all the top notes are played with your middle finger and pinky, the "bass line" is fretted with your ring and index fingers. Oh, and the last two chords are held as half notes – the bass lines are all quarter notes. (I tried to use the little TAB function, but I couldn't figure it out, sorry. :oops: And Leon, it hope this is short enough that it doesn't "wrap." Let me know.)

    Just FWIW. Hope it helps, CS :)
  6. riscado

    riscado TDPRI Member

    Feb 25, 2007
    portugal, setúbal
    As far as chords, I sort of know the basic changes I-IV-V and ii-V-I, but that's about it, any other stuff I have to make up, like for example if I'm jamming along with someone and they're doing some other progression I will be totally lost...

    As far as the bass lines thanks for the tips I'll try to practice and see what I get.
  7. RelicStrat

    RelicStrat Tele-Meister

    Apr 29, 2003
    Laguna Hills, SoCal
    Here is the online lesson from Thom Bresh with audio and tabs. It teaches you the basics of Travis picking, and also some real advanced fancy stuff. This stuff doesn't come over night as it takes lots of practice to develop a brain for the thumb and a separate brain for the fingers. Thom is Merle Travis son and is a master at Travis picking and fingerstyle in general.

    The Secrets of Travis Picking: by Thom Bresh
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2007
  8. OrovilleTim

    OrovilleTim Tele-Holic

    Apr 1, 2005
    Leslie, AR
    Lightnin' Hopkins is an excellent example of someone who does this with acoustic blues. There was also something about this in the Taylor mag before last, which you can probably find on their website in PDF format.
  9. wbm68

    wbm68 Tele-Meister

    Nov 13, 2006
    Los Angeles, CA
    I have two tips for you.

    1. Walking Bass Lines
    When I started playing many many years ago at the tender age of 12, my teacher taught us fingerpicking, or ragtime guitar playing.
    It took a few years to get really good, but the key was learning songs that had walking basslines, and practicing those slowly. In the beginning guitar playing is all about getting your muscles building up and getting used to automating the coordination. The BEST way is to practice a few songs SLOWLY. Start with easy ones.

    2. Playing over just about any chord
    I attended GIT in Hollywood and one of my teachers was Steve Trovato. He really pushed me to learn major, minor and dominant Arpeggios in all positions, backwards, forwards, in threes, quater notes, triples etc.
    Do that for a few month and you'll know all root notes for any chord you'll ever encounter. Once you know that, you will always sound "right" over any chord. Maybe not musical or good, but you'll know where to hit the correct notes. You'll find, that no matter which note you'll play, you are ALWAYS only a half step away from a correct not. If you hit a wrong one, slide up or down and make it sound on purpose.
    Another exercise was to play in steady eighth notes without stopping over a chord progression. That forces you to a) slow down, and b) to think.

    Hope this helps.

  10. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 17, 2003
    Atlanta/Rome, Georgia, US
    Travis-picked figures with alternating bass and syncopated melodies, and walking the bass and comping chord jabs in a swing or a jazz tune, are entirely separate disciplines. Yet another discipline is a tune like Jerry Reed's "Bluefinger", which combines a distinct bass line, a contrapuntal melody, alternating bass, and chords. Some approaches are more taxing physically, while some are tougher on the mental files (meaning that it's difficult to apply them other than in parrot fashion, unless you understand the harmony and theory).

    I started out by working through some tunes in the Real Book (jazz and swing), about the same time I was getting into the Travis approach, so it sorta coincided for me.

    Like Chris's example, I started with the venerable I-VI-II-V (-I) approach. Worth noting is that in walking the bass, approaching the target tones from either a half step above or below them, is viable. The following example works for a two measure I-VI-II-V figure in the key of C, with the last note falling on the downbeat of a third measure (resolution back to C). The passing tones here are a half step above the targets:


    From time to time, I hear (actual) bassists walking lines, and their note choice is good, use of target and passing tones is good, meter is solid, and yet, something's missing... often, this is the judicious use of well placed notes on the offbeats; this has much to do what gives swing its "bounce". For the guitarist walking lines and comping chords, variety is the order of the day - try placing the chord stabs both on the downbeats and on the offbeats.

    The following example contains the same bass line as above, but with the somewhat exaggerated use of chords on the offbeats. I should say also that the voicings differ from strict I-VI-II-V harmony in the key of C major (C major 7 - A minor 7 - D minor 7 - G7); this passage contains altered secondary dominant chords, such as might be found in the turnaround of a jazz blues:


    For a two measure phrase over a minor chord, I often call on the 9th interval as my spice of choice. The following suggests an A minor add 9 chord, but I use this sort of approach over straight up minor triads in harmonically simple tunes all the time:


    The following example expounds upon the previous line by adding chord jabs, as well as notes placed on the offbeats:


    The following bit is designed to emulate the barrellhouse/stride piano figures that pervade boogie woogie and honky tonk, New Orleans music, Jerry Lee Lewis, and whatnot:


    In creating bass lines, interval recognition as combined with an informed understanding of the style at hand, is key. For instance, within the realm of western swing (which is ripe with 6th chords), I'm prone to favor (you guessed it) the major 6th, over the flat seventh that is so mandantory and prerequisite within the blues.
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