A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Archive for May, 2015

Unsung Heroes of Bass Guitar: #2 James Jamerson

Here’s a fantastic write-up of the one-and-only James Jamerson from Cut me a notch at 125Hz. It goes over his history, technique and selected songs from the vast catalog of his work with other artists. I actually haven’t watched Standing in the Shadows of Motown yet. Its been on my list for a long time (at least 4 years), but I haven’t gone and ordered it yet.

The video for the bassline for “For Once in My Life” is interesting. It really shows just how busy Jamerson’s lines could be, especially considering the claw technique described in the original post. Its fun to see the brevity of his use of space when setting up chromatic runs or drops onscreen.

A lot has been said, posthumously, about Jamerson. For those who aren’t familiar with his work, here are some useful links:

Cut me a notch at 125Hz


As with the first in our series, Carol Kaye, you may not know the name of today’s subject, but you will certainly know their work. And what a body of work it is too.

James Jamerson played the bass on a huge amount of Motown’s hit records between 1959 and 1972 and his playing style has influenced generations of bass players since. From the classic opening to The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’ via Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ to ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ by The Supremes, Jamerson’s legacy is monumental in the pantheon of popular music. Like many artists touched by genius, his was a tortured soul and, tragically, it wasn’t until after he died a depressed alcoholic, having not worked for years at the age of 47 in 1983, that he gained widespread acclaim for his work.

James Lee Jamerson was born January 29 1936 in…

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HLBM 39: Notes on the D-String & Minor League

So I couldn’t sleep again, and I wasn’t able to practice with my guitarist friend, Ray, this week because it just got too busy. I ended up hitting the diner with him around 1 AM because he was up and answered my text. We were there longer than I anticipated (it was ridiculously packed – I think its graduation week for high schoolers). There were maybe 5 empty booths. Anyway, we ate, shot the breeze, and determined to get together later in the week. He doesn’t have his guitar right now. Its on loan to a friend, so I’ll bring him the righty-bass that’s been hiding in my living room for a few years and let him play with it. He had previously been writing some basslines with his guitar, so this should be a little more appropriate. It’ll drastically alter what we practice when I see him though.

When I got home I put in some practice from the Hal Leonard book. I went through the blues, to warm up, and then moved onto the D-string exercises (#38-39) and first 2 song snippets (#40 – Private Eye, #41 Minor League). 38 & 39 didn’t give me any problems. I took a run or two to get the timing right with 40, and 41 wasn’t so bad. I’m starting to get through that problem where I was calling the D-E-F notes on the D string E-F-G. It didn’t happen even once tonight. I’ll see if that continues with other exercises.

So far, so good. I hope I can get in from work tomorrow early enough to put in some more time with this. The baby also took a lot of our time on Friday and today. We took her to a new park. She loves it. She was on a big spiral slide for almost a 1/2 hour. Today, she spent the afternoon with me, my sister & a friend in the backyard… with a bucket of colored chalk. Everyone had to have baths by evening. I’ve started putting aside money to get her a drum kit at the end of August. Its got my interest piqued as well.

Anyhow. Here’s a pic of her from the park, and one of me, but bassed-up thanks to the miracle of modern technology.

Wow. I really bring the ugly.

HLBM 38: Notes on the D-String – Minor League

Got in a little practice tonight. Of course its after 2 AM, so look at when it happened. Anyway, I ran the first 2 exercises in Notes on the D-String from the HLBM. I can do them pretty well now, physically. I’m still thinking in terms of E-F-G on the second exercise, instead of D-E-F. Since this is happening only a page after those blues exercises, I can only assume I need some single-malt Irish whiskey to help me focus… luckily, the weekend is upon us. Unluckily, I don’t really get weekends, as I work six days a week, so I guess I’ll just have to practice and try and sleep sometime in the next day or two so I can regain a little focus.

With those under my belt, I ran exercise 40 (Private Eye) solo a few times and then with the backing track. I have it down too. I noticed that the last two “song” exercises got under my fingers pretty quickly. I’m sure these are the confidence builders and Ed Friedland is waiting at his hideout in Austin, rubbing his hands together in glee at the thought of me suddenly hitting a wall in the next few pages. Of course, he seems to take more glee in us climbing those walls with some effort, so there’s that too.

After Private Eye, I ran exercise 41 for the 1st time. Its called Minor League. This one uses the A & D strings (which is funny to me because I buy A&D cream to keep the baby’s butt moist and sore-free) and includes chords above each bar, so someone can play along. It also makes use of minor chords, hence the name. The exercise isn’t hard, but I’m screwing up a little on the 6th bar because of that EFG vs DEF thing. I also didn’t really care for this backing track either. Maybe I can have my guitarist friend cook something up with the chords Ed provided when I sit with him. It’ll be a brief creativity test, I think.

Ok. I’m going to run off and see if I can pass out. If I don’t, I’ll probably end back up here.

Strange Bass Gallery 4

Sometimes, when something follows a kid home and Mommy gets asked if they can keep it, she says “No”.

Here are the bottom dwellers that haunted my sleep since last time. This is why I’m awake at these odd hours. Other fine specimens are indexed here: Strange Bass Gallery

I don’t think its over yet…


Unsung Heroes of Bass Guitar: #1 Carol Kaye

Here’s a great piece on Carol Kaye from Cut me a notch at 125Hz. It gives a brief history and some highlights of her long-running career. I’m looking forward to more in this series of unsung bass heroes. 😉

For a little more info about Carol, have a look at these two posts as well. I used to refer back to the interview from Bass Player all the time. It still really holds me.

Cut me a notch at 125Hz


There are a handful of bass players, unknown to the majority of the general public, who were hugely influential in the world of pop, rock, blues and soul. They played on literally thousands of hit records from the 1950’s onwards.

This is the first in a series of blogs where I aim to shed some light on some of these players and show some examples of their top notch work.

I thought that the best place to start would be with one of the most prolific session musicians of the past fifty years, Carol Kaye.

Born in 1935 in Everett, Washington USA, Kaye was born into a family of musicians. When her parents divorced, Kaye and her mother relocated to California. Her mother bought her a guitar aged 11, and by the age of 14 she was playing jazz gigs semi-professionally and helping her guitar tutor teach some of his…

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HLBM 37: Notes on the D-String – Private Eye

So I warmed up with both 12-bar blues exercises this AM and then moved on to the Notes on the D String exercises. I’m definitely getting better with them. Exercise 38 went by with no problem. I can play 39 through with only 1-2 mistakes when I anticipate a D instead of an E. I also keep naming the wrong note in my head, even when I play the right one, for that exercise. Training my head to think D-E-F instead of E-F-G is somehow difficult.

On that note, I saw an article about building new neural pathways in your brain and releasing others. I didn’t get to read it yet, but it might tie into learning to read notation, along with pretty much learning anything cognitive and repetitive, so I might post about it later, once I remember where I saw it and revisit it (I was on my phone answering client emails at like 6 AM).

Since I can play those exercises without a lot of trouble, I did what I was advised to on Talkbass and turned the page. The next exercise is 40: Private Eye. Its 8 bars and fairly repetitive and straightforward. I can make it through at a slow speed, but what caught me was when I played the CD track after running the exercise a few times. The guitar and bass overlap frequencies a bit, which made me think that Ed was doubling up on some notes until I listened to it like 4 times, following along with the notation and with my bass out of my hands and on the couch behind me. It was confusing, at first, to have their chocolate in my peanut butter, but hopefully, I’ll get used to the taste before long. Also, I was playing it at a slightly quicker tempo than what’s on the CD track. I’ll work that out as well.

Blues Scales

Its been a while since I outlined any chords or scales. With my practicing the 12-bar blues and a 12-bar blues variant in the Hal Leonard book, it’s a good time to tie the reading in with some theory. Back in 2011, the first theory post I ever wrote was about the blues scale. I’ve since come to learn that there are two variants: the Major blues scale and the Minor blues scale.

I’ve discovered that information about variant blues scales difficult to find online – especially for bass. Most sites show one that I’ve come to learn is the Minor version. There’s little-to-no information about the major one, especially for beginners. So, here’s what I learned when going through actual printed books from my shelf:

The following is from a great book called Stuff! Good Bass Players Should Know by Glenn Letsch. 


If you want to play the blues (and you’d better be able to), its much easier if you already know the basic scales employed by the great blues musicians. A generation ago, every aspiring player wanted to learn the blues. The main reason was that we loved that genre. It sounded cool. 

Sadly, many young musicians these days do not know how important the blues is to almost all their favorite styles of music. Some don’t even like the blues, which is difficult for me to fathom. Blues is the universal language of musicians. If you found yourself in a room with a bunch of musicians and nobody knew the same songs, you could always say, “Let’s play a blues in G.” A rocker can play the blues. A country player can play the blues. A jazzer can play the blues. Even a classical musician can probably play the blues. 

The blues is arguably the easiest genre to play on a rudimentary level. Once you learn the basic 12-bar format and a few bass licks, you can jam with most anyone. Here are several basic scales that make it easier to play the blues.

The book then details the construction of the Major blues scale, Minor blues scale and an altered form of each. Its actually more info than I was able to find in my usual go-to books: Bass Guitar for Dummies and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bass Guitar.

Here are the formulas and some diagrams. For scale degrees, chromatic notes (notes from outside of the scale) are marked with “chr”. The Minor blues scale is the same one that I originally posted back in 2011. I think it’s the one people have in mind when they think blues scale: