This month I would like to carry on where we left off last month with 16th-note rhythms and grooves. These next examples are all similar to the bass parts on a track called ‘The Chicken’ by Weather Report, featuring Jaco Pastorius.
All of these examples are in the key of Bb major. I have written these with accidentals (flats), but the key signature would be two flats, Bb and Eb. The purpose of any key signature is to let the musician know what particular key to play the song in and whether the notes within the song are sharpened or flattened. The trick is to remember whenever you see these particular notes, in this instance Bb and Eb, you adjust the notes B and E accordingly within the piece of music.
Always start out with a slow tempo: for this one I would recommend 80BPM. The first note is a dotted eighth leading to a 16th: try to check the actual audio of the song and that should help with working out the rhythm of the line. Midway through the bar we have a tied 16th-note Eb, this is the same value as an eighth note. You should be able to work out a nice pattern for this one that sits well under the fingers. Try using your second finger on your fretting hand to start the line on Bb, followed by your first finger playing the major third, which will be the note D.
This next example is where we change up a gear within the song and start to develop the bass-line. Again watch out for the tied Eb and the tricky jump from the note C to G which starts with the note F (eighth fret on the A string) and ends on the high Bb (eighth fret on the D string). This will take a bit of work to get it sounding just right. Don’t be tempted to rush, otherwise it will just sound messy. Set this one at 65BPM initially and build it up slowly day by day. Remember to use one finger per fret to avoid your fingers getting tied in knots. This means that the last note of the bassline (Bb eighth D string) should be played with your little finger on you fretting hand.
This next phrase will take a bit of work. After the first note Bb we have a dead note (a percussive attack) on the octave of the Bb played on the G string. Two more dead notes occur on the A string in the last grouping of notes. These need to be played with your fretting hand dampened over the strings and your picking hand playing the string that the dead note is on. Really dig in with your picking hand to get a nice-sounding dead note. This is all about how your fretting hand lies over the strings and the amount of attack you use with your picking hand. If your hand is too heavy it will create a broken-sounding note, and if it is too light you may get a harmonic overtone. Practice will ensure you get the right sound. Top tip: really dig in with your plucking hand to project the note.
Examples 4 and 5
Now let’s go back to example one and try to play this over the chord progression. You will see that all of the chords in the piece are dominant seventh chords. The interval breakdown is root, major third, perfect fifth and minor seventh. Just move your fretting hand around the roots of the chords playing the sequence and pattern. You will find it fits the changes quite nicely. The very last bar of the progression ends with what is essentially a ‘pentatonic’ five-note scale fill. Watch out for the 16th-note rests and the single eighth note at the end of the bar on Ab. Once you become more confident with the line, try to incorporate parts of examples two and three within the progression to make it sound funky.
When you listen to the track itself you will understand why Jaco changed the face of bass playing forever. His sense of phrasing, rhythm, groove and musicality are awe-inspiring. Enjoy, and see you next month for part three.