IN MY LAST TWO WOODSHED COLUMNS, WE LOOKED AT TYPICAL LINES
that a studio bassist should be able to sight-read. Working in a studio situation is rewarding, and
the necessary sight-reading skills can be practiced and learned. But even the most experienced
bassist feels a few drops of sweat beading on his forehead when confronted with dense rhythms,
tricky melodies, changing time signatures, and odd meters.
This month, let’s look at some challenging parts that have recently landed on my music stand
at studio jobs. Example 1 shows the last few bars of a samba chart. I often see parts filled with
chord changes, which are punctuated by occasional notated licks, lines, and fills. The challenge is
to play a groove over chord symbols, change gears, and transition seamlessly into the notated line.
Notice the five articulations that are used over certain notes in this passage. The symbol “≥”
over the note B in bar 3 indicates that the note is both accented and played legato for its full length.
This articulation is called a legato accent. On beat two in bar 3, the E is capped with a “^”. This
capped accent is accented and played short. The last note in bar 4 is played with an accent, indicated
by the > marking. Since this accent is tied to the next note in bar 5, there is no need to indicate
a legato accent (≥). The staccato marking, a dot over the note B in bar 6, indicates that the
note should be played short. The fermata or “bird’s eye” over the last note indicates that it should
be held out until the conductor, drummer, singer—or whoever is paying you!—gives a cutoff.
Example 2 never offers the luxury of a played downbeat, and is peppered with little landmines
and trapdoors in the form of eighth- and 16th-note rests. Practice tip: Tap your foot in quarter-notes
at a very slow tempo, and clap or sing the rhythms. Don’t try to play the line on the bass
until you can sing the rhythms in tempo. Be sure to count all the way through the last bar, and
nail the low E on the “and” of beat three. In the studio, there are few things worse than screwing
up the last note, because that’s what people remember.
Bass parts in mixed meters are found in all types of classical, jazz, and even pop music. Artists
like the Beatles (“All You Need Is Love,” and “Here Comes the Sun”), Adele (“Turning Tables”),
and composers like Burt Bacharach (“Promises, Promises,” and “I’ll Say a Little Prayer for You”)
sometimes use combinations of 4/4, 3/4, and 2/4 to create flowing melodic and harmonic progressions.
Example 3 shows a line mixing 4/4 and 5/4 meters. When I’m confronted with long
strings of notes in changing meters, I concentrate on keeping a flow and playing the note values
and rests precisely. If I think too much about the changing meters, I get hung up on the mathematics
of the notation. Practice tip: Tap your foot in quarter-notes, and sing or clap through the
line without thinking about where the meters change.
Sometimes I see bass parts and wonder why something isn’t written out differently—like
Ex. 4, which has a bar of 3/4 followed by a bar of 5/4. This passage could have easily been written
as two bars of 4/4. However, in the studio there usually isn’t time to question a composer’s intent.
Grilling the composer, arranger, or producer, and complaining about how something is written,
can make you come off like a know-it-all prima donna. Maybe you do know it all, but you don’t
have to act like it, especially in the studio when the producer is bleeding money. Just shut up,
play the part, and make it sound good.
In addition to mixed-meter bass parts, odd-meter charts also show up on the music stand, often for fusion, jazz, and world-music projects. Examples 5 and 6 are typical
grooves from Eastern Europe. These bass lines both follow a clave, or underlying
rhythmic pulse. The challenge when playing an odd-meter world-music groove
is to make it sound like you’re just as much at home in 11/8 as you are in 4/4. Practice
tip: Count the groupings of eighth-notes, and lock in the repeated figures. Feel
the pulse as combinations of groups of two or three eighth-notes.
How can you deal with so much written information at once, especially when
reading through a chart for the first time? Sight-reading
skills are honed through experience. If you
want to train yourself to read fly footprints at first
glance, then you should practice reading music every
day. Revisit the May and June ’14 issues for more sight-reading
tips. Until next time, keep your eyes glued to
the page and your ears wide open.
In July, John will
be teaching all
things bass on
two continents: at
both the Jamey
in Louisville, and
the Sligo Jazz
Workshop in Ireland.
Visit him on the web
for sound samples,
videos, and answers
to all of your bass-related