WHILE WE SPEND MUCH OF OUR TIME
working to develop a strong sense of melody
and harmonic depth, it’s worth remembering
the oft-overlooked champion of that
which helps us develop a strong phrase, an
epic solo, or the perfect bass line: rhythm!
All the right notes in the world wouldn’t
amount to anything without a strong pocket
or robust rhythmic phraseology.
When it comes to being a well-rounded
musician, rhythmic mastery is just as important
(and elusive) as harmonic mastery. Because of
this, it’s important to improve our rhythmic
vocabulary and challenge our own internal
clocks. Let’s first dig into a few exercises to
develop your ability to feel various subdivisions.
I strongly encourage the use of a metronome
here—preferably, one that allows you
to play the various rhythmic subdivisions.
Example 1 is a fun little exercise that helps
us focus on any side of a 16th-note subdivision.
With four 16ths per beat and four beats
per bar, this first exercise simply has us shift
our notes by one 16th-note each bar. Here,
we use a C major scale starting on a low E
and traveling up two octaves (Remember:
C major starting on E is also known as the
Phrygian mode.) Example 2 takes the same
concept and applies it to eighth-note triplets
by simply adding a rest every other triplet.
The result is an alternating pattern of playing
the first and third beats of the triplet and
then the second. This is the C major scale.
Example 3 is where things start to get
tricky! I’m a big fan of taking a subdivision
(here, eighth-note triplets with beats subdivided
into three parts), and playing them in
another grouping. In this case, I’m taking
a three-stroke subdivision, but alternating
them into groups of six and four strokes per
note. This is a great way to explore the various
ways in which you can accent a beat,
and will have you placing notes in freshly
unfamiliar ways. Example 4 is simply Ex. 3
with every alternating third and fourth note
removed. Any time I can think of a way to
make something just a little more challenging
when practicing, I do.
Next time, we’ll take a look at how to
approach subdividing “odd” meters such
as 5/4 and 15/8.
Portland, Oregon-based bassist and educator
Damian Erskine has toured and recorded with
a long list of greats, from Gino Vanelli and the
Peter Erskine New Trio to the Jaco Pastorius
Big Band. Visit him at damianerskine.com.