Prelude by Bach, a Bass Transcription by Rhayn Jooste… The piece for this month is the Prelude from Cello Suite II. This is of course by the master himself J.S. Bach (1685 – 1750). The key is F major; however beginning with D minor (a favorite key of Bach’s to describe tragedy and passion) it also means we are in Aeolian mode. The technique you are aiming for is creating and understanding the interpretation and phrasing of a truly great work from the Baroque era where form and structure were placed at the forefront of art. Your goal is to master the composition and then slowly work up to understanding the melodic elaboration in the chord progression and patterns within patterns that make up the piece. This arrangement follows on from Theory and Technique (One & Two), which outline the basics of patterns and scales and will help with learning this work. This piece will require a 4 string bass guitar.
The main riff (bars 1 – 3) is an arpeggio followed by a series of linear patterns that make up the principal theme. This repeats through out the piece in various inversions and variations. The chord changes are implied through excellent part writing and solid note choice. This style of writing will aid you if you want to learn how to play walking bass lines. A prelude is described as a flourish and served as an aural and physical warm up of fingers and key before the main movements in a suite.
Written around or after 1720 (there are discrepancies due to no original manuscript being found) this work is based on the technique of implied polyphony and hence is in essence self-accompanied.
Download Bass Transcription, Prelude by Bach
The piece has an A B structure that contains scales, fragments and arpeggios that in some cases are as familiar as a D minor chord in the opening and as unfamiliar as the chord inversions in the ending. What you are aiming for is intelligent interpretation. This means being aware of the construction of lines, how to approach them and ultimately how to phrase them. The use of crescendo, rallantando, dynamics, note attack or small pauses is going to play a large part in clarifying the implied harmony. Passing notes, chromaticism and approach tones half step above or below are employed to move into and out of the changes.
Arpeggios figure heavily and are to be found in not only root but also 1st, 2nd and 3rd versions. Bach was a past master of part writing and here we have the aural illusion of more than one voice being implied through the use of linear scale patterns and intervals greater than a third. The first task to do is sketch out the harmonic progression especially take note of the V’s and i/I ‘s. Next observe the patterns that repeat in successive 3rd ‘s, 4th’s or different keys. A good example of this is bars (44 – 47). This will help allow the music to take shape. Your interpretation should be one, which helps the piece take on life and ideally is based on knowledge of its harmony and figures.
That aside this technique will not sound authentic without the right sound. You are aiming for clear tone with notes that have clean attack. So weight the eq in favor of the treble, warm mids and some low end. Make sure that notes do not ring over one another too much. The chords do not need to be frozen (as they are written) but should be rolled (or arpeggiated). For further listening check out Pablo Casals or Yo Yo Ma’s recordings of these master works.
This arrangement utilizes open strings as much (and where appropriate) as possible to facilitate the vast movement on the fretboard. I have included notes so that the comparison can be made as to where changes in octaves have occurred or if you have a 6 string bass the ability to get to a low Eb. Some fingering is supplied as guide lines to achieving what might seem difficult passages or stretches. The aural illusion that Bach (and great jazz bass players) exploit is achieved with linear patterns, intervals and arpeggios. So when working out the melody you will often find the voice leading exact and in key parts the harmony unlike modern progressions. Unfortunately due to the constraints of the 4 string bass this rule has been violated somewhat especially leading up to the last chords. After all that this piece should be a good work out of fingers, mind and music and could be an awesome solo spot on any stage.