Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Q&A: Basslines

"The system" told me this comment was posted on my last post, but when I looked for it, it was gone.  I thought it was a great comment so I decided to Q&A it!

---

Hello JAW

Just wondering, how often do you stay true to the original bass line of a song while creating fingerstyle arrangements. If things get too hard, is it alright to simplify it as in leave a few bass notes here and there from the original bassline?

The importance of bass has really got to me the past few days. Great article.

Kris

--

Hey Kris, great comment.  No straightforward answer though, it comes down to "as much as you can be bothered with" :)  The likes of Tommy Emmanuel or Adam Rafferty will aim for pure perfection.  Every subtle nuance of a song (including the bassline) will be carefully planned, highly polished and presented.  It's brilliant stuff, but if you're like me then life is too short for that - I'd like to have 50 good arrangement than 5 perfect arrangements.  Don't tell Adam or Tommy I said that though, the world needs people who strive for absolute perfection!  Fingerstyle arranging is all about time, with skill permitting.  Maybe after 50 "good" arrangements we are already starting to come up with close to perfect arrangements anyway?

Anyway, the bassline should represent as much as possible, and within reason, the original bassline, even more so where the bassline is a prominent feature of the song.  An overriding factor is melody.  Melody is more important than bass.  I reckon it's better to trade more accurate melody for simpler bass.

For instance, one of my current works in progress "Howzat" has a very distinct bassline in the verse.  I had to get that right, with the melody.  It makes the left hand a finger twister, but it's worth it.  The chorus bassline is not so distinct, it has a slight 70's disco feel to it, so I kept it prominent where the melody was not busy, but once the melody got busy I simplified it to, as you say, a few bass notes here and there.  It keeps things easier (back to life is short) and casual listeners will hear the bassline when the melody is quiet, and not notice when the bassline is simple because their attention is turned to the busy melody.

Now that's all when you are staying true to the original.  There is no rule saying you need to; stylising a song your own way could mean a completely different bassline - for example, there are plenty of alternating bassline fingerstyle covers of songs.  I tend to stick true to the original firstly because I think people want to hear that, and secondly because I haven't developed a distinct style of my own, it's all just generic "fingerstyle" :)

Bass is indeed important and should be treated (almost) as carefully as melody.  As I go my basslines are getting more complicated; it's an evolution.  You start with simple arrangements, get the hang of it, and each arrangement gets a bit better as you build on skills.  I'm starting to think my arrangements are actually getting pretty cool these days :)  I've mentioned before, and will mention again, but step 1 of fingerstyle is to learn arrangements from tabs to build initial skills, step 2 is to transcribe your favourite arrangements by others where no tabs exist (eg Naudo or Iggy) - changing them slightly to suit your style and what you are capable of doing - and finally step 3 is building on the previous steps to tackle your own arrangements.

JAW

6 comments:

  1. You develop blogging skills too, very well written

    And I knew you would bring up Howzat when I read the title. That bassline is just epic

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ha, thanks. If you do something for long enough you should get better at it...I think :)

    Yeah, I had to bring that song up. But it all comes back to Naudo; watching his basslines got me thinking a few years back. I've continued to pay attention to bass - bass is groovy, man!
    JAW

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello JAW,

    I wasn't expecting an answer this big but it was well worth it. Thanks for the sweet reply.

    Just wondering, have you ever tried chord-melody or know anything about it? I've been reading some things about it and I think it might help me with arranging songs.

    Thanks,
    Kris

    ReplyDelete
  4. Kris, about chord-melody, I can give you my take on that.
    Chord-melody is playing chord shapes that include the melody note on top (highest string). It can be the regular chord if that note is already the one on top, or it can be a certain chord inversion, or if the note is not part of the chord it needs to be added, creating a different chord (named differently, but even without naming it formally it can be seen as just the actual chord + a certain note).

    Chord-melody is often used in solo jazz instrumental (think smooth jazz on electric guitar), normally plucking the strings rather than strumming. Taken to the extreme, every melody note is heard by playing a whole chord, never on its own.
    In my opinion, it is not very suitable for the type of fingerstyle we are interested in, because what we are trying to do is to emulate a whole band, with a bass, chord accompaniement (arpeggios, strummings...), plus a melody. And we like those elements to be independent from one another. When playing strictly chord-melody however, the rhythm part is almost absent, it is like playing only the melody, but with the richness of harmony added to those melody notes. But it does follow strictly the melody note divisions rather than a constant beat.
    It's not to say that in fingerstyle we never do chord-melody, especially on the first (and/or third) beat of a bar you can often pluck or strum a chord that incldes the melody note, but we prefer getting the melody right even if it means lots of single melody notes, and use the other strings for accompaniement notes(arpeggios, strums...) as a different layer with its own constant beat, and of course the bass line too.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hey Roman,

    Thanks for clearing up some confusions.

    Thanks,
    Kris

    ReplyDelete
  6. Lucky I've got Rom here, because I don't know much about chord-melody, but I do now!

    Thanks Roman,
    JAW

    ReplyDelete