Touching Bass (Part 7)
Jazz-funk in the basement
Part 7 of our series finds Simon Trask getting into a jazzy funk thang - synthbass rules!
Noticed anything different about this month's examples? Yep, some of them consist of several musical parts, not just a bassline in isolation. In fact, the examples which do quote only a bassline can be used in conjunction with some of these other instrumental parts, too - in particular the drum and percussion parts.
With the focus once again being on funk basslines, it seemed like a good time to show the bassline interacting rhythmically with other musical parts. Of course, you're free to pick and choose as you want - you can record all the parts into a sequencer, or you can play the basslines by themselves or with just the drum and percussion parts for accompaniment. The choice is yours. Incidentally, tempo this month should be 96 bpm.
Of necessity, the multi-part examples include a clef which we haven't touched on yet in this series - though if you've been reading up on music theory since the start of the series you'll have come across it. Yes, I'm talking about the treble clef (used for the Space Voice pad part in Example 1 and for the strings and electric piano parts in Example 3(b)).
When you see a treble clef on a stave, the lines of the stave from bottom to top read: E, G, B, D and F, while the spaces in between read: F, A, C and E. Put them together and you've got the note series: E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E and F. As with the bass clef, you can indicate notes above and below the stave by using leger lines as an extension of the stave. Incidentally, the E on the bottom line of the stave is the E immediately above middle C.
In last month's examples the common rhythmic factor was syncopation across beat 3 in the bar. This month, the feature which unites all the basslines is syncopation across beat 2 - more specifically, an offbeat note on the 4th semiquaver of beat 1. If you look at the snare part on the drum stave, you'll notice that it too plays this offbeat note, rather than the standard snare backbeat on beat 2; not surprisingly, this has the effect of reinforcing the offbeat note played in the bassline. The classic example of this syncopation is provided by Herbie Hancock's classic jazz-funk track 'Chameleon', from his 1973 album Headhunters, where the bassline and the snare part both hit on the 4th semiquaver offbeat.
Example 1 is a typical jazz funk-style bassline. In addition to the 16th-note syncopation across beat 2, there are milder 8th-note syncopations within the 2nd and 3rd beats, and another 16th-note syncopation in the 4th beat which propels the bassline forward to the downbeat of the next bar. The busy clavinet part acts as a rhythmic counterpoint to the bassline, and should be played in a staccato, 'clipped' style. The pad part is included to add an atmospheric quality to the music; harmonically it's a bit strange in relation to the bass and clav parts, but that's part and parcel of its effect.
The three parts of Example 2 could be considered as basslines for different sections of the same track: 2(a) gets thing rolling, 2(b) hypes up the action, and 2(c) is best suited to a breakdown section ie. where the music breaks down to just bass, drums and percussion. As for other instrumental parts for 2(a) and 2(b), you could use the pad and the clav, or the strings, electric piano and clav. The electric piano and strings parts are actually intended for 3(b) - but what the hell!
In Example 3(a) there are 16th-note syncopations across beats 2 and 3, giving the bassline a strong sense of forward motion; the instrumental parts to use with this Example are as for Example 3(b).
In Example 3(b), a change of harmony from G to C is basically created by transposing bar 1 up a 4th. See 'Instrumental Parts' box-out for a list of the instruments used in this Example's ensemble.
Example 4(a) shows how you can get a chord change into a single bar in this style. Example 4(b) is a 'mutation' of 4(a) which goes somewhat atonal, and in the process acquires an 'acidic' quality (TB303s to the ready!). In fact, this bassline is two notes short of being a 12-tone row. Perhaps if Arnold Schoenberg were alive today he'd be creating acid 12-tone music. Or perhaps not.
While the pitch sequence of 4(b)'s bassline suggests acid, its rhythmic aspect and the rhythm of the drum track are, well, funky. Acid funk, perhaps - or acid jazz funk. If you're feeling adventurous, you could drop in 3(b)'s electric piano part over the bass and drums!
That's your lot for this month. Keep those basslines booming...
Feature by Simon Trask
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