How to simplify difficult bass lines

I do realize that this question is very vague, but I’m curious if there are any general guidelines I could follow to simplify impossible bass lines, without butchering the groove and the song.

“Impossible” in my case usually means “too fast”. So let’s say there’s a song and you can play 98% of it fine, but there’s one or two beats somewhere with a bunch of 16th notes that are just too fast for your fretting fingers. How do you decide which notes to throw out?

I deliberately don’t want to give any specific examples, because it’s the thought process that I’m interested in.

I tend to leave the, what sounds to me like ‘ornamental’, notes out. Trying to play only the root, third or fifth note from the chord that I think I hear ( as I’m never sure what I hear, until I’ve used a bit of trail and error to my ears).

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I think it is difficult to impossible without a specific example, but - intuitively - I would say focus on notes that fall on the main beats of the groove, and/or notes that are chord tones (and thus skip or eliminate chromatic (passing) notes).

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it seems obvious to play the same thing with 8th notes and with a focus on root notes, but as @joergkutter says it’s hard to throw a general rule !

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Interesting! I think what Joerg recommends in the post after yours might be a better strategy - focus on picking the most important beats to play, rather than simpler subsets of the notes. Of course it’s situational too, though.


That is indeed the tricky part… what if what you are trying to simplify is played in parallel by the guitar or the keyboards? Then you’d have to be really careful what to take out or not…

And so on…

Sometimes, for what we try to do here (in learning bass), I would say that playing the entire piece at a reduced speed (say, at 80%) might be the overall more satisfying solution!?!

After all, there are oodles of “experts” continuously arguing at which speed to play most classical music :grin:


Focus on the root note, or just play the notes that fall on 1,2,3,4. It depends on song, but a lot of songs you can play whole notes on the one and still have the main concept…a lot of stuff that follows 1 tends to be flair…

Think 12 bar blues. You COULD just play sustained root notes. So In G…You’d play G on 1 for four measures, C on 1 for 2 measures, back to G for two, D for 1, C for 1, back to G and repeat. The bassline would be boring as all hell…but it would still work within the song.

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Tricky to answer this one, as each line will have it’s own answer. Like terb said, simplifying rhythm would be a good start:

This is a real strong point.
If you want to play Sir Duke, but are trying to simplify the unison part (where everyone plays that awesome instrumental melody together) it would be just not playing.
For some examples, the speed and dexterity IS the line.

Something like Teen Town or Dean Town - again, the bass is the melody and the rhythm and phrasing is the line.

My tool to attack all of this would be to play the same line with all the rhythms and articulations, but to just slow the whole thing down.

Simplifying the line to play it at tempo seems like a problem I’d attack only if I was forced to play a song live that I couldn’t play. Otherwise, as long as you have the control, it seems better to change the tempo of the original than the notes.

Although - if you still want a tool to simplify the lines you encounter, I think this thread has some real good suggestions.

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It’s really what you take out to simplify…so an example is how to make it more complex. Adding ghost notes, hammer ons, fills etc…if you take all that stuff out there are essential notes that are played at the the same timing intervals that make up the “meat” of the song. Often this is just the root note of the chord progression.

A practical example…look at Can’t Stop by chili peppers…play the bass line but don’t play the ghost notes. It is easier to play.

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