In this internet age you can find nearly anything you want to learn. On one hand this is a great resource as it opens musicians up to learning things that they may not have otherwise had access to. On the other hand it’s creating a generation of musicians that may have some great chops, but when it comes down to simply grooving, they find it more complex than it needs to be. So, how can we simply groove?
A lot of times, bassists think that in order to groove, you need to play a lot of notes. And there are plenty of examples out there of bassists doing exactly that; grooving while playing a huge wall of notes. But on the other end of the spectrum there are those times when you really need to lay back, play as few notes as possible to allow the entire song to breathe and move on its own pace.
So, why is laying back and playing something as simple as half notes and whole notes something you would want to consider trying?
• It Serves the Song, Not the Musician: The best compliment you can get as a musician is that “the band was awesome!” over hearing specific praise. Remember, as part of the band, it is everyone’s job to ensure that the song is the best it can be. And if that means playing as few notes as possible, then DO IT.
• It Allows the Natural Ebb/Flow: Having the ability to dial back your playing speed and notes to bare essentials gives you some place to build from. If the verse is simply whole notes, adding a quarter note here and there during the bridge moves the song into a new space. And by adding more into the chorus, you’re building that energy even more. And once the verse kicks in again? Drop back to whole notes, completing the ebb and flow of the music and the song.
• Space: This is part of the natural ebb/flow, but needs to be stated. Playing less can give the song a lot of space, and make the arrangement seem bigger than it might be. It’s that whole “less is more” adage, but many musicians seem to forget that, cramming ten pounds of notes into that proverbial five pound sack.
• It Requires Discipline and Taste: When you’re playing a fast, note heavy bassline, you can play whatever you want, because you’re not sitting on one chord tone for very long. However, when you’re playing just whole notes, suddenly the note you’re choosing to play has to be right. If it’s not, well… In order to ensure that you’re hitting the “right” notes, it requires discipline in knowing your bass and enough theory to understand what notes you have available, and the taste to decide what tones and color you are going to add with your selection at that given moment.
The preceding track takes into account the three points we just mentioned. The first variation has a note heavy groove over the entire form, whereas the second variation (about halfway through the track) utilizes space, note choice, duration and other things to give a different feel to the song. Which one do you prefer?
So, nNow that the benefits have been explained and played, how can you start on this minimalist path to grooving?
Sure, a metronome is the tried and true source, but let’s have a little more fun. Most of us have some sort of recording software on our computers, that give us access to a drum machine. Find a groove that you like, and play a simple 1-4-5-1 pattern, focusing on one note per measure. Once you get comfortable with that, double it up to half notes (two notes per measure). Repeat this, continuing to quarter and eighth notes and then bring it back down to whole notes.
Simply grooving is not complex, but it is a sure way to refocus and prioritize what notes you pick when playing, as well as bring a different dimension to the song when coupled with other, faster choices. And who knows? You might actually get a couple compliments on your restraint and musical tact. What are some ways that you can incorporate simple whole notes into your playing and what does it add to the music?