Welcome to the latest installment of the Worship Bassist’s Toolkit series! We have been investigating the tools that worship bassists must have available, maintained, and ready to use in order to create passionate, musical worship. Thus far, we have looked at Fretboard knowledge, Technique Awareness, and Transcription. There are many other tools to explore in the Worship Bassist’s Toolkit; however, I am going to close this series for a bit to explore other topics in this column. Before doing that, one more tool should be included in the initial set: transposition
Simply put, transposition is taking music in one key and moving it to another key. There can be a number of reasons to need a song in another key. Quite often this will happen in the worship setting to accommodate vocal ranges, instrumentation, or set programming. In order to provide a seamless worship experience, it is important to become skilled at transposition.
Let’s look at transposition through an example: “Run” by Hillsong. For these illustrations, I will use the version from the live album “This Is Our God”. Figure 1 shows the bass line for the song’s intro in the original key, F#
Now, let’s transpose the line down a whole step, to E. This is shown in Figure 2.
As you can see, the line was moved, in its entirety, to the new key. In this example, the shift of a whole step is easy to figure out and convenient to see on the fretboard: D# becomes C#, B becomes A, F# becomes E, and G# becomes F#.
Now let’s change again, this time transposing the original line up a major 3rd. We could stay in sharp keys, making this the key of A#; however, to aid in writing and reading I’m going to use the enharmonic key of Bb. (Note: “enharmonic” indicates keys that are equivalent, but “spelled” differently. In this example, A# and Bb are the same keys, but spelled differently.) Figure 3 shows the intro line transposed into Bb.
If we stopped here, the basics of transposition would have been covered; however, as bass musicians, we should explore this further.
Figure 4 shows the intro again and then shows the beginning of the 1st verse, in the original key (F#).
Note that the beginning of the first verse moves to the next octave D# to begin, moving the entire line up. On the recording, this is an effective device for separating the 1st verse into two halves – the first half is shown here, the second half moves down an octave.
If we maintain a strict “transpose up” rule, we get Figure 5 when we move to Bb:
In this transposition, we go much higher in the bass sonic space. This may be fine, depending on your worship team and where other players move on their instruments. However, it is possible for guitars and keyboards to rearrange in such a way that your line will be lost in the mix and the entire experience will sound “thin”. The beginning of the 1st verse, now starting on the high G, is particularly susceptible to instrument clash.
What options do we have? Figure 6 shows 3 options for both the intro and 1st verse figure. Option A for each is the “transposed up” line, Option B is the entire line transposed down, and Option C is a hybrid of A and B.
Here is the fun part (and a major point!) of this column: I can’t tell you which options and combinations might work best for you! In fact, there are other options that may fit your situation. The only way to determine what to play is to keep your ears wide open when playing with your worship team. In addition, the remainder of the song may have movement or changes that will influence your choices. It is important that you don’t destroy the feel and general movement of the line, but rearranging may be necessary when key changes are made. Your real concern is to play the lines that best allow passionate worship to happen. Each of these options might do that, in the right situation! By understanding transposition, practicing it regularly, and then using your ears to make wise choices in rehearsal and performance, you will find the right line for your worship.
Transposition is a tool that all worship bassists should have available, maintained, and ready for use. I would love to hear about your experiences transposing – leave a comment below!
Until next time, I hope that your bass playing is blessed and that you can bless others through your bass playing!