Absolutist or Interpretative?

When trying to learn the bass line to a song, to you think you have to nail, absolutely and perfectly, what you hear on the track, or can you interpret (add or omit pieces)?

Two examples:

  1. I have pretty much learnt the bass line to Duran Duran’s The Wild Boys, but cannot nail the two 16ths hammer ons that precededs parts of the main root note riff, so I am ignoring them! To the fair, when you listen to live recordings of the song, JT frequently ignores them too…oh, and live the song is also transposed down from the studio recording, I assume to allow SLB to hit those high notes!

  2. I am also learning the live, fast version of Queen’s We Will Rock You. It’s a bloody fantastic, high energy tune, but JDs bass is not consistent throughout, ie while many of the riffs are similar, they are not exactly the same as one moves through the song. My interpretation here is that he was playing live, playing a freakin’ amazing groove and wasn’t too concerned with hitting the exact same notes with the exact same rhythm each time.

So does it matter that I don’t try to emulate exactly what I hear? My view is no, plug in, turn it up to 11 and just have fun!! What are your thoughts?



Seems you’ve answered your own question: an interpretation of a bass line is just as valid as an exact replication of the original. In fact, I’d argue that interpreting a bass line is a fantastic way to really get into the bones of a bass line: what’s essential to the spirit of the bass line and what’s embellishment.

Whether your audience will appreciate your interpretation is a completely different question…


Being as close as possible to the original (record or live) might be important if you’re playing in a tribute band. Not only notes but also tone and overall “feeling”.
Otherwise, the standard answer is: it depends :laughing:
Does it matter to you? Does it matter to the people you’re playing with?
I’m mostly on the “play it as you like it” side of things, partly because I’m lazy and partly because it doesn’t matter to my bandmates. They are actually less worried than me :smile:


Two excellent answers already, which pretty much sum up the main important condiserations.

If what you play “serves the music”, it is all good (in my book) :smile:

Exceptions could be a) iconic lines (which everybody expects to hear as heard on the record); b) training and learning purposes; or c) if you are indeed in a full monty tribute band (with costumes, hairdo and everything)

You could also ask yourself this: since I can’t get those hammer-ons right, will I never be “allowed to” play Wild Boys?? I guess you know the answer :wink:

And, yes, not even the originators of some of these iconic lines always play them in the same way - so, why should you? Just remember: calling it an “interpretation” is not a free pass to recklessly “butcher” a tune either :joy:


I agree @sunDOG, I too don’t play exactly what I hear. I’m 66, and not a perfectionist. I play only for myself at home and if I’m close, that works fine for me.
BTW, Queen recorded a studio version of the fast version of We will Rock you, It’s on YT someplace if you want to maybe hear how JD approached it in the studio.


I try to play as close as possible…until I hit a spot in the song that I get too frustrated with or just don’t feel like mastering. Then it becomes my “interpretation” of the bass line and I make a mental note to come back to that part later when my skills improve.


You have definately answered your own question


Recording bassists are not usually the performing artist so they would play a little different right off the bat.

If it’s the same artist very few stick with the same bass lines as original recordings don’t forget things get better with time and at the time of the recording that song is as fresh as it comes. It would get much better as it gets played.

So use your judgement there no wrong answer here well very few exceptions of the iconic bass lines like dean town, come on come over, etc.




Every once in a while the bassist reverts to Howlin Wolf’s line at the turnaround.

It’s basically the same groove but applying Josh’s shapes. I play my own a lot