Jammers, Soloists & Improvisers!
I would appreciate if you could enlighten me on how you’re able to rock the bass during a jam/improv? When playing alongside my father once in awhile, he’ll play a lot of random songs that require me to just jump in and feel it out, (and spoiler: I usually don’t).
What sort of exercises can I do at home so that I can feel more comfortable in those kind of situations? If the song progression isn’t too unknown or random, I’ll usually just sit on the root and only play within the associated scale/mode (one octave) if I’m lucky.
I have a pretty decent understanding the of the fretboard: I can quickly locate notes, know the symmetrical patterns, but instantly become a deer in headlights when set in motion!
I’d love to be able to play around the fretboard and loosen up. What sort of aspects did you focus on to be able to jump into a song and work in and around it? Are there any resources and exercises you’d recommend? I’d like to not get lost or feel like I’m underplaying (…root, 5th, octave gets painfully boring).
Anyone without a LOT of experience will freeze up when thrown a new/unknown song. So, it’s a lot about experience.
One thing to remember, which could be helpful, is to remember that you don’t have to play gazillions of notes when you improvise. Less is most often more (and more tasteful) and try to focus more on feel than on quantity.
Make playing along with random songs part of your routine. Put on the radio station that he listens to and try to play along with a song or two. Do this regularly and it will get better
This is a nearly impossible task for a beginning or even intermediate player.
There is a certain amount of frustration I’ve built up over the years with guitar players who want us bassists to just sit in and, somehow, play an entire song without ever having heard it or played it before.
It is something that melody instruments can do, as they aren’t foundational and necessary to guide the harmony and can find inoffensive ways to contribute that don’t necessitate a deep knowledge of where the song is or where it’s going. Our role in a song presumes that we know it, can lead it, and can build the fundamental harmony.
Unjust I say!
There are ways.
I think @joergkutter 's suggestions are good, as are @Mikich 's.
When you know one thousand songs, you can much more easily predict where a song is going, or at least be familiar enough with song patterns that you won’t be thrown off so easily, and you’ll catch the repeated parts quicker.
It’s much easier to do with songs that are more simple and follow traditional chord progressions.
So, learn a million songs, and you’ll be ready.
The other trick I use when I have to play to something that I don’t know is - watch the guitar player’s hands. If you know what chord shapes look like as a bass player, they can be very useful crutches in these seat-of-the-pants moments.
The first and most enormous hurdle is just being able to feel comfortable with what the song is doing, where it’s going, and how it works.
That is primary.
Don’t try and do anything fancy, or improvise until you are comfortable with the song structure.
I’ll throw in a quick tip as I feel like I’m at a similar point: knowing enough to be dangerous but not enough to be confident.
In the off-chance you haven’t looked, Youtube has a metric buttload of backing tracks (and that’s a metric buttload which is…like…3 times as many as an Imperial buttload). Just do a search for “Bass backing track” or “bass jam along” and you will be greeted with a plethora of songs to practice with that is a bit closer to sitting in with a band. You can even throw in a genre if you would like “bass metal backing track”. I love them because it gives me a no-pressure way to experiment. Now if I could just get beyond the “bum ba-dum” plucking rhythm for everything I do I’d be set.
Here’s a couple of my favorites to get you started:
As has been discussed in other threads, learning and practicing arpeggios and being able to connect their chord tones is really helpful for jamming with others. But first, knowing the chord progression of a song at least gives you the base info you need to play root notes for those chords. Then playing roots, fifths, arpeggios, and approach notes follows.
This is much easier to say than to do…unless you make it a point to learn and practice the above. You’ve got to train your head, hands and ears to be able to recognize the chord progression and respond accordingly.
As a first step, playing root notes in time with a progression is key and perfectly acceptable.
Then alternate between root and fifths, above and below the root. Then try adding an octave to those patterns. Then experiment with playing arpeggios of the chord.
It takes time to learn and try this, but it does work with practice.
Gigging essential fills and in general is chromatic. This would not only helps connecting the two chords but provide directions as well. It’s simple enough to do just walking up to or down to the next root note.
Many pros do this and legends utilize this religiously, accompanying with some hammering, and double stops and bam! You got a hit basslines. Lol.
Check this out. It’s my favorite song from minute 3:00-5:00 there’s mostly chromatic fills tastefully placed for the most dramatic impact. Playing them is simple enough with practice but comings up with tasteful fills take years of experience.
That was fantastic @Al1885 … until you mentioned the “years” part
Well the good news is we can copy their hard work and stitch them together for our own enjoyment.
Using roots, fifths, and octaves will go a long way and you won’t sound bad. Once you can do that, throw in the occasional flourish with thirds, minor thirds and sevenths. Your ear will guide you as you improve. I play along to songs all the time. May not be perfect but it does not sound odd. Just get the timing right.
Above all, tell the other players that you want to listen to a part of the song from them. As in “Can you play the chorus/verse/intro/… for me?” Don’t play along right away, really just listen, then write down what happens (notes, chords, …), then ask either for the next part or to jam the part.
One thing that I find super helpful is lead sheets or chord sheets. If you don’t have those, try to make them, e.g. write down things like “C Am F C” for bars no. 1 to 4.
And if you can, listen to the original song to get an idea for the rhythm.
Disclaimer: I still don’t listen enough… And I could be more diligent in writing down stuff.
All of the other tips are great, too!
You can do it!
PS: If nothing works, just turn your volume down…
Check out this mini-lesson/demonstration of how to create a bass line for a tune you’ve just been introduced to.
It builds on all the suggestions I made in a previous post in this thread, plus the lesson includes a backing track you can play along with as you learn/practice each level of bass line construction. Have fun!
Absolutely amazing, guys! I really appreciate all of the insight. For lack of a better term, I’ve been an online/basement bassist since picking it up a few years back and it’s been nice to demystify the realities of playing with fellow bassists. I’ll definitely work on some play-along tracks and take notes on sections!
Wow, I was really encouraged by Gio’s comment! I continuously beat myself up for sucking at this (excuse my “French” but this is actually how I talk to myself ), and to learn this is in fact really difficult for even intermediate players was another level revelation! Thank you! I’m going to stop being so rude to myself, and work on the various suggestions. I also thought ear training exercises for intervals around the circle of fifths could help, especially singing the notes. And practice practice practice patterns for smooth moving between chords. If anyone has other suggestions or comments on these, I’ll be glad to hear!
And good luck being nicer to yourself. That process is the most difficult and rewarding!