Andrew Ford
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8 Keys to knowing the bass part

1. Play the track a few times, just listening, not playing. You are listening to the bass line, phrasing, note choices, note length, groove, dynamics, articulation, variations in repeated sections
1. Play the track a few times, just listening, not playing. You are listening to the bass line, phrasing, note choices, note length, groove, dynamics, articulation, variations in repeated sections, all those things that give a bass line its character, along with just getting a vibe for the song, the melody, chords, drum groove, etc.

2. Find as many versions of the same song as you can. That includes live versions as well as popular covers by other bands. You can always learn something from listening to another perspective, even if it is what not to play.

3. Sheet music can be a great tool, but it also can be crutch and a distraction. I use charts often, especially when playing songs I don’t know very well, or when I need music that I have not yet committed to memory to sound professional. Ideally though, depending on the music, you want to survey the chart if one is available, make sure you are not missing anything, then eventually play the song minus the chart until you know it. Now, sometimes time and circumstances do not allow for this type of in depth learning, but this is my preferred way of getting inside the song. If no chart is available then consider it a great opportunity to use and develop your ears.

4. The next step is playing with the existing full band track. Play along with the bass on the track, listening for any differences between your bass part and the one on the track and adjusting accordingly. Make sure your volume is low enough to hear the bass on the track as well as your own bass. This can be done with or without the chart.

5. Acquire a program that can slow down mp3’s. The one I use is called “Transcribe”. This is an invaluable tool, especially when you have a tricky part or notes that maybe hard to hear. Transcribe also has an equalizer function that can remove the bass frequencies of the track so you can simulate playing with the band on the track with no bass, awesome.

6. To help me really get inside of the song I like to learn the chords of the song either on piano or guitar, and play through them to digest the harmonic movement of the song. Understanding the harmony helps me as I eventually embellish the existing bass line. Don’t embellish before knowing what was played on the track, this can lead to your part sounding shallow, inappropriate and consequently ineffective.

7. I like preparing a track of my own, particularly a drum track, and playing along with it. This helps my understanding of the drum part, which is primarily what I will be locking in the groove with, it also removes the clutter of the other instruments that may prevent me from clearly hearing
the dynamic of the bass and drums. In addition, I often set my metronome to click on beats 2&4 while playing the bass part with only the metronome. This really separates the men from the boys, or the ladies from the girls. The goal is to try and create the songs groove with no other help but two clicks per bar from the metronome. No drums, no guitar, no nothing. This can be tough, but if you can do it you will be extremely confident when playing with the full band.

8. Record yourself playing with a bass-less track created by using the software mentioned above, or just a programmed drum track, listen to your feel, timing and note choices. This will allow you to hear your playing from an audience perspective, or hear what your fellow band members will be hearing. After listening make corrections as needed. Be critical.


Following these
8 steps may seem a bit methodical, and they can be adapted to fit the difficulty of the song, but be assured this is a musical process that works on your ear training, drum programming and knowledge, bass line development, piano skills, production abilities and more. But aside from all those by-products, this process will give you the assurance that you know the part, and furthermore equip you to embellish the bass line with your own personal touch while thoroughly understanding the intentions of the original bass player
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