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The Bass Pattern… Please Do Not Betray It!

This month’s article will address, which in my opinion, is probably the most important asset that we the bass players have when it comes to exercising our profession… it’s name? “The Bass Pattern”.

The Bass Pattern is a musical concept that has existed for centuries before the appearance of the Electric Bass. We would be able to say that the first “Bass Pattern” that looked really close to what we play today on our basses, showed up during the Baroque period, about 500 years ago. We can even identify the concept of “bass lines” centuries before the Baroque, but those are not really similar to what we would understand by a Bass Pattern nowadays.

A Bass Pattern is a short bass melody that 90% of the time doesn’t surpasses the 4 bar barrier, in fact they generally last just 2 bars. The main requisite for a Bass Pattern is that it has to be repetitive and keep steady throughout most of the song or the musical piece.

A Bass Pattern in my opinion is, “The essential Cell of Bass Playing,” and responds to the minimalistic essence of our instrument.

The Minimalism is an art movement that is about the age of our instrument (little younger), and that essentially proposes that the strength of the idea relays on the maximum simplicity and the reiteration of small units within it. You can apply this concept to every artistic expression like Painting, Acting, Dancing, Poetry and obviously to Music.

The wonderful thing here, is that for some “magical” reason the fact of reiterating a really simple idea (in any artistic expression), starts producing and generating an amazing energy boost, exactly like a “Mantra” does, so the person who is performing a minimalistic art expression creates and feels that energy himself and also is able to make the ones that are around him to experience that energy too…. does this sounds familiar?

As you can see, when you describe “What is Minimalism” you are describing “What is Bass Playing”, so in my opinion that’s the main reason why we, the Bass Players, like to play this instrument; we are crazy enough to be able to enjoy playing the very same notes, mostly in the same order, for about 5 minutes and sometimes for more than 15 minutes!

A Bass walking line for example, doesn’t comply totally with this requisite, but rhythmically fills it, because even though the notes always vary, it remains playing usually quarter notes all the time, so the audience at least will be able to identify a Bass Pattern on its rhythmic aspect (very simple though), so the Minimalism of the expression will be still present.

I have to say here that if for some reason you don’t feel that you enjoy this essential aspect of bass playing, in my opinion it is very probably that you chose the wrong instrument…. oops…. sorry about that, but don’t forget it’s just my opinion. Guitars, keyboards or saxophones are maybe waiting for you, and I sincerely think you might enjoy music even more than you are now should you make the switch.

So, “When you betray the Bass Pattern you are betraying the soul of this instrument…”

What are (in my opinion) the ways for avoiding betraying the Bass Pattern?

It’s very easy and very hard at the same time. If the musical piece has one, two or three specific patterns, keep playing them and if you want to get creative, I have a most challenging task for you….

Be creative enough so to make sufficient variations to be able to allow the audience and fellow musicians of your band to recognize your Bass Pattern all the time throughout each and every song or musical piece!

Keep always in mind that the word “variation” don’t necessarily means “adding notes” like everybody has the tendency to think in the first place, it also means omitting them! In fact, the word variation in this context mostly refers to those variations that haven’t any relation with an “amount of things” whatsoever.

For example, you can vary the dynamics of every single note or you can make subtle variations with the length of the notes and the rests too (which for me is the most rhythmical variation). You can also add subtle nuances without adding any notes, like bendings, vibratos and short slides. There are lots of variations, more that I can mention here really.

I want to stress the fact that there’s nothing wrong with adding notes, but please always keep in mind that this specific variation is probably the most “dangerous” to address.

As a good example in the singing context, and the respect to the melody line that the singers have to always consider. Please recall the yearly interpretation of the Star-Spangled Banner performed at the Super Bowl by a talented singer… has this made you think sometimes, “Where’s the melody?”

Finally, if you start making variations on your Bass Pattern that eventually make your pattern disappear, all the essence, spirit and soul of the Electric Bass speech will be betrayed, even more than with the Double Bass because of its mainly different stylistic origin and application. Think why you play bass and you’ll find that is not just because of the low frequency coolness, it’s mainly because of its’ role and its’ function within the given contexts…. Try always respecting that.

Obviously, you are free to just simply forget about considering what I’m proposing here. In that case, I humbly suggest you find the proper music style to fit in with your bass (probably 1% of the music styles available); finding the proper musicians to play with (like a guitar player who likes to play the bass part for example); and finding the proper audience to play for (there will be always somebody attending with the proper advertising)…. but believe me that complying with those three requisites will be harder than ending world hunger… But anyway, the most important thing by far is your being happy!

That’s it for this month my friends… see you in the next.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Kyle Nagel

    May 1, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Igor,

    Great article. I think this is an often overlooked aspect of bass playing. Ironic, since its the core of all things bass. I find that most tend to go through their “chops” phase, I know I did, but “playing the part” really is the most challenging and rewarding. I’ve been spending the last several years really getting “inside” of note values and omitting notes and has had a profound impact on my playing. Thanks for writing this article urging bassist to get back to the “bassics”.

  2. Igor Saavedra

    Igor Saavedra

    May 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks for your words Kyle…, I completely agree with you…, this is the very essence of the Electric Bass indeed…!!.., if this is not considered as the main thing to care about when it comes to perform, somehow we’ll be loosing and compromising the core of our role…..!!

    Cheers,

    Igor.

  3. Andreas Farmakalidis

    andreas farmakalidis

    May 10, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    This minimalist approach stressed by Igor can help any commercial bassist play simple but fresh and interesting bass lines. Minimalism is a form of music that stresses chordal or melodic repetiton and of course the famous less-is-more approach. By using very slight variation, music still evolves. In a modern context, dance/electronica, funk, and hip-hop have been greatly influenced by this reconception of what a melody or what a true bass line is.

    Great article igor- I agree and stress the ideas that you mentioned here.it’s important to become comfortable with, and inspired by, the mere simplicity. If bass player can really master that then this will lead to a true professionalism and essence of bass.

    Great Job my friend
    respect!

  4. Igor Saavedra

    Igor Saavedra

    May 10, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    That’s it Andreas…!!

    This is a phrase that I use very often in my clinics…, you can copy-paste it wherever you want.

    “Being able to make slight, refined, beautiful and musical variations on the Bass line, without betraying or compromising the integrity of the Bass Pattern, is probably the quintessence of Bass playing”.

    Cheers Andreas and thanks again for your support…!!

    Igor.

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