Bass technique: Kevin Sanders

According to a recent poll, John Myung is the greatest bass player of all time. Really? In that case, we’d better do him an I Want To Play Like… column, sharpish.

I suppose it depends on your criteria, but if you were to use musicality and stunning technique as your measures, you may well have a point. There’s no doubt that Myung is an awesome bass player, somehow managing to make complicated and technically challenging rock sound almost effortless.

He’s best known as one of the founding members of the prog-metal band Dream Theater. He, drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist John Petrucci met at Berkeley college in 1985 and formed the band Majesty, which shortly after became Dream Theater. In many ways John personifies the perceived norm for the rock bassist: quiet, rarely giving interviews, tall and good-looking. He probably owns the PA and drives the van too.

After looking at John’s distinctive tapping style, I want to start by outlining basic chords – major, minor and diminished – using that inimitable technique.

John Myung’s style

One of Myung’s favourite bass styles is tapping. As well as playing a Chapman Stick on the Falling Into Infinity album, he’s also used this technique on his normal basses to great effect, perhaps nowhere more so than on one of Dream Theater’s best-known songs, ‘Metropolis’, where his tapping solo outlines the harmony (a series of ascending series +11 chords) as well as providing a strong rhythmic structure to the solo. First up, let’s look at tapping some simple chords that will enable us to solo over any chord sequence. There’s only one basic pattern to learn for major and one for minor, and these can be moved around the fretboard to cover all 12 keys. Once confident with these, it’s a fairly simple process to change the 5th degree to make the triad diminished or augmented, or even change 7ths or add extensions like 9ths. When practising, make sure each note rings out as loud as the others and sustains for as long as you need it to. As always, start slowly and build up the tempo only when you can do so without quality or accuracy being affected. Ultimately, you’re looking for a tapped chord that sounds almost as if it were played on a keyboard, without any difference in volume or time between individual notes. Once this is achieved, dynamics can be added as you wish.

Exercise 1

Major chord in E (E string, 12th fret).

sanders exercise 1


Exercise 2

These minor chords have just one note different from the major ones above. Start by practising this from E (E string, 12th fret).

sanders exercise 2

Now that you have the basic major and minor chords, let’s learn one more – diminished – which will then enable us to play over an entire major key.

sanders exercise 2.5

Exercise 3

Now play through this diatonic series in E major, then try three other keys.

sanders exercise 3

Exercise 4

Here’s an eight-bar bass solo in the style of ‘Metropolis’. We’ll use the same technique and fingering as the man himself, and apply these to a simple chord structure, an ascending pattern of +11 chords in the key of G. All the notes are tapped, so pay special attention to the left hand (LH) and right hand (RH) fingering, as shown.

sanders exercise 4

John Myung’s gear

Just like his idols Chris Squire and Geddy Lee, John Myung started his career playing a Fender Jazz, but early on switched to a modified Stingray, preferring its brighter, more powerful sound. He was one of the first bassists to realise the potential of the six-string bass and after many years using Tung and Yamaha basses, he’s now come full circle and uses MusicMan basses once more, MusicMan Bongos to be precise. His are six-string basses but with a narrower, five-string neck. These he strings with Ernie Ball Slinkys, 32s to 130s, preferring a fairly high action. His bass signal goes into a Shure UHF-R wireless for live performance, and then through a splitter, with one signal to his monitor mix (through to a Demeter compressor, preamp and power amp) and another on through a Fractal multi-FX and MFC floor controller. He’s also been known to crack out Moog Taurus III bass pedals, as any self-respecting prog bassist should. He tends not to use back-line stacks, preferring instead to hear his bass back through on- stage monitors.

Essential John Myung tracks

‘Metropolis’, Images And Words. Brilliant tapping solo, perhaps Myung’s magnum opus and definitely his best-known solo.

‘The Dance Of Eternity’, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory. An instrumental that ticks every prog-rock box, including a squillion-notes-a- second bass solo.

‘Panic Attack’, Octavarian. Check out the arpeggiated chord bass solo intro.

‘The Spirit Carries On’, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory. Proving that proggers have a sensitive side too! Beautiful 12/8 ballad with sensitive and supportive playing from Myung.

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