How to Blend a Bass Guitar Line - dummies

By Patrick Pfeiffer

Blending a bass line means choosing the notes you play so they support the song perfectly without being overly noticeable. It’s almost like the hidden beams in the ceiling of a modern house — you don’t see them, but if they weren’t there, the roof would collapse.

A bold groove, on the other hand, has a much more obvious role in a tune. It’s more akin to the exposed beams of an old colonial house. They, too, serve to hold up the roof, but they’re obvious and also ornamental; they’re a major part of the aesthetics.

Grooves that blend and grooves that are bold both have their proper place in music, and both are equally respected when they’re used appropriately. Here’s the lowdown on when to use each of them:

  • Blending grooves: You use a blending groove when you’re playing a supportive role in a song, when you’re trying to stay out of the way of the vocals or a melody instrument, or when you’re just not all that familiar with the particular song (or musicians you’re playing with).

    Think of the song “Soul Man.” The bassist plays a perfectly complex yet unobtrusive groove. It blends so well that it’s kind of difficult to think of what exactly the bass is doing.

  • Bold grooves: Playing a bold groove thrusts you into a leadership position; you’re leading the song, and your bass part has a much more authoritative and unyielding quality. This means, of course, that you have to be very familiar with the song.

    The Beatles’ “Come Together” is a perfect example of a bass line that really sticks out, creating a secondary melody to the song. It doesn’t blend in at all.

Check this out to see both blending and bold grooves.

Blending bass grooves

A blending bass groove is a favorite device of session bassists, who may play in hundreds of recording sessions per year. After all, this type of groove is the perfect vehicle to support a song without diverting attention from the melody and words.

You can achieve the desired blending effect as a bass player by keeping your notes low. This means keeping the notes you use to flesh out the groove below the root of the groove skeleton. In other words, after you establish the groove skeleton, play the follow-up notes lower than the root.

See how the notes for the blending groove are positioned. The root of the chord is the highest note and then the groove dips, only to emerge again at the root for the beginning of the next round of the groove.


How to create a bold groove

When you want to capture the ear of your audience, create a bold groove by choosing a sequence of notes that rise. Let your notes soar upward. After you establish the groove skeleton, play the follow-up notes higher than the root (instead of lower).

When you choose to create a bold groove, it’s usually a good idea to settle on a firm, repetitive groove and to pick notes that complement the melody. Your upper notes are much closer to the range of the melody and can easily clash if they aren’t related to the same chord.

Notice that the notes after the groove skeleton are higher. Listen to hear the impact of this groove.


Blend by genre

The choice of using a blending groove versus a bold groove falls squarely on your shoulders as the bass player. You’re the one to choose which kind of groove to go for, but you don’t want to use a groove arbitrarily. You need to follow certain broad guidelines, and as you gain experience, you develop an ear for what’s needed. Both types of grooves work in all genres.

Rock, for example, may call for a blending or a bold groove, depending on the particular style of the tune. For example, a pop style (singer-songwriter) usually needs a blending groove, because the words need to be understood. A progressive rock tune, on the other hand, is much more likely to sport a bold groove. Both styles are part of the rock genre but call for very different groove types.

In other cases, the choice between using a blending versus a bold groove is even more subjective. Take R & B/Soul, for example. Some songs have a busy but blending bass groove, while others have an equally busy but bold groove. As you gain more experience in playing bass, the choice between whether to use a blending or a bold groove becomes easier.

Sign off with a flourish

Putting your own stamp on a groove is just like writing a letter. In a letter, you take care of all the important points you need to cover and then sign it at the end. It’s the same with bass grooves.

A sign-off is usually in contrast to the rest of the grooves in a phrase and signals that a large four- or eight-bar phrase is about to be completed. Some musicians refer to this as a turnaround. This is your flourish, your personal signature. You use this element to alert the other players and the listeners that you’re about to start a new phrase.

You can sometimes tell who the bass player is by listening to his or her signature at the end of a phrase. Jaco Pastorius, for example, signs off very differently than Paul McCartney, and Donald “Duck” Dunn does it quite differently than Pino Palladino.

Go ahead and take some liberties at the end of a phrase; after all, it’s your signature. Just make sure you’re back in time for the beginning of the next phrase.

Listen to some cool sign-offs and or watch sign-offs being implemented at the end of each four-bar phrase. You may also think of the ornamental flourish of your sign-off as a very fancy groove tail.