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Touching Bass (Part 9)

Article from Music Technology, October 1993

MT's bass-o-matic goes into automated ninth spin

Part 9 of our series enters rapid-fire mode with a selection of fast 'n' furious 16th-note fusion basslines - shooting straight from the hip... Text and examples by Simon Trask.

First things first: apologies for any confusion, frustration or trauma inadvertently caused by the omission last month of Examples 2(c), (d) and (e) - you'll find them reproduced below. The culprit, rest assured, has not gone unpunished!




This month's examples grew out of Example 1 from Part 8. You may recall me mentioning that you could get a fusion groove by bumping up the tempo from the indicated 86bpm. Well, this month I've set a tempo of 120bpm, extended last month's drum part over four bars, provided a suitably angular, off-the-wall chordal accompaniment part, and pursued the fast 16th-note style characteristic of fusion bass playing. And I do mean playing.

I've tried to approach this month's examples more from the perspective of a bass guitarist than a keyboard player, keeping in mind the sort of figurations which fall naturally under a bass player's fingers. Fast repeated notes, for instance, are easier to play on a bass guitar than on a keyboard. Ascending and descending fifth and octave sequences (as, for instance, in Example 2) are also well suited to bass guitar playing - the intervals fall naturally under the fingers of the left hand, and the sequences only require that the left hand shift up or down the fretboard a fret at a time.

The flourish of notes in bar 4 of Example 6(a) introduces another element in the well-equipped bass guitarist's armoury of techniques, namely the run - a gesture of performance bravado which might seem alien to the world of programmed rather than played basslines. Finally, this month's examples adhere to the strictures of bass guitar playing in the simplest way possible: they don't go lower than the lowest note in standard bass tuning ie. the E below the (octave lower) bass clef.

As I mentioned earlier, these examples are all based on 16th-note playing. Stylistically they use syncopations and/or streams of 16th notes, with the emphasis being on creating a strong sense of forward motion. You might also notice a certain lack of restraint - this is not a style known for its economy! The same combination of 'busyness' and syncopation is evident in the drums, where busy closed hi-hat and kick drum parts are mixed with snare and open hi-hat syncopations. The chordal part, too, makes much use of syncopation to achieve its rhythmic 'angularity', while harmonically speaking its chordal stabs are intended more as colouring than as a literal statement of a harmony or harmonic progression - like a painter flinging paint onto a canvas to achieve an abstract effect rather than a figurative depiction.

All the basslines outline a G tonality, though some push the harmonic boundaries more than others. In Examples 2 and 4 it's unclear whether the tonality is major (B natural and F#) or minor (Bb and F natural); this uncertainty is aided by the use of chromatic fifths in each example (bar 4 of Example 2, beats 3 and 4 of each bar in Example 4). 'Chromatic' means 'outside the key' - or, more literally, a 'colouring' of the key through the use of notes which are not part of it. As you can see, the chromatic sequences progress in semitone steps rather than in the order of intervals defined by any particular key.


The bassline in Example 1 makes forceful use of falling 16th-note syncopations in the first half of each bar; beat 3 then tumbles downwards, while beat 4 clambers back up to the root note. Bar 2 introduces a slight variation, in the form of 16th-note fifths on beat 4. This is the sort of subtle change which a bass player might throw in naturally; it doesn't disturb the shape or feel of the riff, yet it helps to make the unfolding bassline flow onward.

Like the preceding bars, bar 4 uses syncopation. However, its rising note sequence 'answers' the falling sequences of those bars; consequently, it turns the bassline into a 4-bar phrase rather than a repeating 1-bar riff. Example 2, Example 5 and Example 6(a) follow the same pattern of smaller difference in bar 2 and bigger difference in bar 4.


In Example 3, meanwhile, beat 4 of bar 4 answers the same beat in bar 2. Example 3 can be seen as an almost unbroken stream of 16th notes. However, it can also be thought of as two interlocking rhythmic lines, one consisting of the low G and the other of the high F and G; try playing each line separately and you'll see what I mean.


In Example 6(b), which builds on the ideas in 6(a), bar 2 with its falling syncopated line answers bar 1, while the syncopated run in bar 4 caps the 4-bar phrase. Of this month's examples, this one and Example 5 have the most variation in them, yet they also have enough similarity and consistency to hang together as unified phrases. If you're trying to develop basslines which are more than just a simple repeated riff, it can be useful to think in these terms. Try to isolate the characteristic elements stated at the outset - the pitch sequence, the rhythm, and any pitch or rhythmic motifs - and then play around with them. Of course, ideally you want to be able to come up with effective basslines intuitively, but a conscious exploration of the underlying elements will help you to develop that intuition.





General MIDI/GS Format compatibility

This month's musical examples were created using sounds from a Roland JV30 synth, which is a GS Format instrument. Consequently, if you own a GS instrument you can recreate them using the same sounds. Specifically, these are: patch 86 (Solo Vox) for the chordal stabs, patch 34 (Fingered Bass) for the bassline, and the Standard Kit for the drum part. Reading from top to bottom of the drums stave, the rhythm sounds you should use are: open hi-hat, closed hi-hat, snare drum 2 and kick drum 2.

If possible, you should alter the filter-cutoff setting of the Fingered Bass sound to -39; this gives the sound a taut, hard quality well suited to the fast, clean articulation needed for this month's examples. In bass guitar terms, this sort of sound would be got by playing towards the bridge of the instrument.

Owners of General MIDI instruments can use the patch numbers and drum sounds indicated above, though of course these won't provide literally the same sounds.

Series - "Touching Bass"

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 (Viewing) | Part 10 | Part 11

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Publisher: Music Technology - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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Music Technology - Oct 1993

Donated by: Ian Sanderson


Tuition / Technique

Music Theory


Touching Bass

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 (Viewing) | Part 10 | Part 11

Feature by Simon Trask

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