Last month I spoke (or rather wrote) on finding inspiration in other styles. Here I’ll outline a specific example where I not only took an idea from another genre, but from a different instrument as well.
I’ve played in quite a few ska bands, and have always loved that music. The stereotypical ska drum beat is shown in example 1. This was the basis for my slap line on “Shadow Voice”, from Coincidence Machine’s debut Upside Out.
The first thing that many notice (and some have trouble with) about the ska beat is that the high hat, usually playing all the eighth notes, in this case only plays the off-beat eighths. This makes the beat highly syncopated, and as I hinted at before makes it difficult for some folk to find the downbeat. This became the foundation for the “Shadow Voice” line, with the open G string snapped on every upbeat (shown in example 2).
The next aspect of the ska beat is the rim click w/ accompanying bass drum on the backbeat (the 2nd and 4th beats). To incorporate this into the bassline, I thumbed an F# on the D string, bent up to the same G pitch as the open G (actually, just close to it, like those blues guitar bends. Another example of cross-pollination). Example 3 shows the line with this note added.
This line could’ve been hip just like that, but my ear told me it needed some funk. So to make it heavier, I put a low F-G hammer-on on the downbeat (example 4). Try playing example 3 and then example 4 and notice how just the addition of that downbeat hammer-on adds a kind of punch to the line.
This is (I believe) an important, possibly the most important thing to realize about composition: trust your intuition. After I added that heavy downbeat, my inner ear started hearing fills in the third beat of the second measure, one of the main ones shown in example 5. Add all this together, and the line may no longer bear much resemblance to the ska beat that was it’s initial inspiration.
A video lesson demonstrating the above can be found here.