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Kevin Woods Guin

Bass Edu

Dead Notes – Put Some Life Into Your Bass Playing

Dead Notes – Put Some Life Into Your Bass Playing

It’s a funny contradiction to say so, but when you work to put dead notes into your bass lines you can add quite a bit of life to your playing.

With a little bit of consistent practice these dead notes, phantoms of the bass world, will bring finesse to your approach as well as added skill for articulating the more difficult rhythms. 

Ghost notes, dead notes, choke notes, muted notes – whatever you want to call them, I think that most players will remember that “wow” feeling when they first heard their favorite bassist tossing off a complex volley of phrases peppered with various degrees of muted funkiness. 

It can become an obsession to get some of that dead-note sophistication into your own playing. Good times!! 

The purpose of the lesson today is to give seeking bass players a solid start on getting these rhythmic muted gems into your playing and to also give some ideas on how to put these things into a musical context. 

LESSON: Dead Notes – Put Some Life Into Your Bass Playing

Before getting started, please click the orange button below to sign up for the download materials. There is a nice cache of mp3 audio play-along files and pdf charts of exercises and bass lines from the video lesson.

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First of all, let me say that I believe when a bassist reaches a certain level of skill there must be a conscious effort put into the further development of musical expression – bass expression. 

It might be claimed that musical expression can be taught in one course for all instruments, but there a number of instrument specific things that can be done to smartly widen bass expression and that is what this lesson represents if only because these things do slot out on the bass guitar in a particular way. 

On the one hand, if you are listening to James Jamerson or Monk Montgomery you won’t ever go wrong with that.

But there are also the subtle aspects of musical expression that you don’t necessarily assimilate unless you drill down on the exact materials and methods. And the particular forms of expression that have always been difficult for bass guitar players are the dynamics and the sneaky articulations called dead or ghost notes. 

Aside from all of the harmonic materials that you can and should be studying, one of the best things that you can do for your playing is to subject any of your bass lines or solo materials to a solid regimen of dynamics: crescendos, decrescendos, natural dynamics, reverse-natural dynamics and my favorite: accent exercises. 

In the video lesson I demonstrate two related exercises that you can take straight to the bank if you really want to transform your expression-level on the bass. When you want to add some serious snap to your playing, nothing will get you the bang for your buck like accent exercises. 

A simple introduction to accent exercises is always the best way forward.

In the video lesson, I play a G major scale from the third fret, root up to the ninth and back. It slots out in the measure perfectly and will help you maintain concentration on the dynamics alone. Now all you need to do is start adding some accents. 

But the first thing to do every time you start this accent exercise is to play up and back a couple of times with the lowest dynamic level that you can muster while still retaining your technique. 

That’s what I call “benchmarking” your dynamics.

Play it flat, legato and pianissimo. Now, when you are ready for some fun then start banging out accents. Oh, glory day – this is where the rubber meets the road!! 

You will probably want to tear your hair out when you start for the first time, but most people will be able to gain a palpable measure of success even in the first couple of practice sessions. No worries, these exercises deliver incredible results. Just make sure that when you accent a note to take great care to “feather” the note after it. This way you will be able to develop great dynamics and an easy authority in your playing. 

When a bassist works to play lines with widely varying accents it really makes the line pop.

It is such an interesting and gratifying area of study. It is challenging but it is also a very straightforward proposition for getting excellent results fast. Again, it won’t take you more than a few short weeks to start getting results. 

For the dead-note exercise in the video lesson I simply play up and down the aforementioned G major scale with each note choked down as far as I could – that’s all. I concentrate specifically on muting the note with the next available finger. 

For you three-finger fanatics – I am with you, but in this study, I only use index and middle fingers.

And it is an added measure of difficulty if you can alternate index-middle with middle-index to practice that little bit of extra flexibility in your muting technique. 

One of the angles to take on these studies is that for the bass guitar specifically, the accent itself is a kind of obverse ghost note. They aren’t necessarily mirror images. They are related to each other in the world of dynamics and articulation and in the greater world of musical expression. 

My resolute claim is that if you work on accent studies then your abilities with playing dead-notes will increase dramatically. 

And take note that in the video lesson I also mention something that I consider a great secret: that the accent studies bring forward the crucial skill of getting your hands to work together so that you can truly “cut the string”. But that’s another story. 

I hope that all of you fellow bass people have enjoyed the lesson today. It is part of my own long journey to self-expression as a musician and I offer it up to you with a sincere desire to help in broadening your own approach to playing. 

Happy practicing and best of luck to all of you. 

Thanks for stopping in. 

Kevin 
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