How to Use the Countermelody Method on the Bass Guitar
Luckily for the bass world, Paul McCartney was one of the lead vocalists in The Beatles, and he learned to take the entire song — melody, lyrics, and all — into consideration. Most people want to hear the melody and lyrics of a song; they don’t want the bass in the way. Sir Paul developed an uncanny feel for when to get busy on bass and when to just support the vocals.
The countermelody method for accompanying a song sounds immensely complex, but it’s really very straightforward: Play a simple line when the melody is busy, and get busy when the melody is simple (or even pauses entirely). This method creates a beautiful and effective balance between the high and the low register of the song.
A prime example of the perfect interplay between the melody and bass, with the bass as a countermelody, is The Beatles’ song “Something.” (And don’t get into arguing with your bandmates “Hey, let’s play ‘Something.’” “Okay, but what?” Many hours of valuable rehearsal time have been lost on this one.) Listen to the song carefully, and you hear how the bass kicks in when the vocals take a breather.
The same holds true for McCartney’s bass parts in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Hello, Goodbye.” Other examples are Paul Young’s version of “Every Time You Go Away” (with Pino Palladino laying down an amazing bass part) and Jaco Pastorius’s soaring bass line on Joni Mitchell’s version of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.”
Playing the countermelody on bass is a highly individualized approach to accompanying a tune.
Everyone has a unique way of embellishing a melody, so don’t be shy — get busy, just not when the melody is.