The Open Road – Bass for Beginners # 14
Recently, David wrote about Riders on the Storm. In this column, I will present that song as well as another bass classic Radar Love. Both of these are road songs (well sort of) that depend on the bass providing the foundation for the song. Both basslines employ a lot of open strings, which I have encouraged you to avoid. However, these songs are good examples to show you what to watch out for, and how to use the open strings to your advantage. There are very few notes (3 and 5), but the timing and drive needed make these songs challenging. While there are many similarities, there are also several differences.
Note: these charts are the author’s own work, and are for teaching purposes only. Also, only portions of these songs are transcribed for teaching points.
As shown below, both of these songs are played very low, mostly between the low E and A. However, the tone settings are very different. “Riders” is a low rumble meant to sound like distant thunder. The tone controls are turned way down and the notes blur together, even though they still sustain the drive for the song. On the other hand, “Radar” has a brighter, snappier sound, with each note separated. Here you will turn up both the low and the high, and possibly turn down the mid-EQ. You might even play it with a pick, but then you’d have a tough time with the muting.
Both songs have a constant pulse of bass notes played at a similar rate, but in reality, “Riders” has a written tempo half the speed of “Radar”. This is because “Radar” is played with quarter notes, while “Riders” is written with eighth notes. Listen for the back-beat. When does the snare hit? On “Radar”, the snare is every other note, and you can even hear a little shuffle on the high-hat playing twice as fast (eighths), but “Riders” is every 4th note. I have marked the charts with a ‘v’ where the snare hits.
Warning, both of these songs play the main theme for very long stretches. It requires a good deal of concentration to play these lines consistently with the right amount of energy and dynamics (or lack of dynamics in “Riders”). And of course, you can’t get so locked-in that you forget the changes.
Riders on the Storm
I searched the web for the TAB for this song, and found the transcription shown in the first line. So I sat down to play it as written and I found that the open A string was driving me crazy as it would ring when I returned from the A to the E. Also, my internal rhythm was out of sync as my fretting hand didn’t have to play every note. So I looked at the notes, and I thought about what I needed to do. I need to play all the notes at the same level, continuously “blurring” them together (called legato in music terms), but I couldn’t let any open strings ring. Hmm, no muting, but no ringing…
Well, since I don’t have a 5-string bass with a low-B, I couldn’t shift down a string and play everything from the 5th fret. But I could play the A on E-5. (See second TAB line) So by moving this one note, I was able to make a fretting pattern that solved everything. Now the first note in each 4-note sequence is the open E, and the remaining 3 notes use the same fingering pattern. I just move my fingers up and back 2 frets for each phrase. Plus, since I never have two open notes in a row, I don’t have to worry about muting – I automatically get legato and muting at the same time.
And if you look, there is a little magic in the pattern, as the G-to-B is the same interval as the A-to-C#. Looking back to David’s column on intervals (The Power of Three), I remembered that a minor chord is made up of a minor 3rd and a major 3rd, while a major chord is a major 3rd and a minor 3rd, and the bassline alternates between E-minor and A-major.
This is one of my favorite songs, but it requires a lot of attention to play it just right. Each of the F# notes must be distinct and clear, yet the timing must be tight and driving. Usually, you pluck succeeding notes by alternating between your index and middle fingers. As you do this, the “next” finger must rest on the string a little earlier than normal, to give a short mute between the notes. Then you have to play the eighth notes from the F# to the A. Next you have to mute the A before you play the quick E leading back to the F# (using a hammer-on). If you have trouble muting the A string with your plucking hand, try using your fretting hand, as it has nothing to do until you get back to the next F#.
In the second phrase, the transition from the F# to E is done without plucking the first E, just lift your finger off the F# and let the E ring (this is called a pull-off), then pluck it again on the beat. Then hit the grace note again leading up to the F#.
One comment about grace notes: technically, they take up no time, but obviously they must have some nanoseconds to be heard. In this case, you want to pluck the open E just before the beat, and then hammer the F# directly on the beat.
This is a lot of work for 3 simple notes in 4/4 time. I have practiced this for several long sessions, and I must say that it is a lot tougher than it looks. The subtle timing for the E in the second phrase, both leading in and leading out, is tricky. You want to make it sound like you are stretching the note, while at the same time you want to stay with the driving tempo.
As noted in earlier columns, the ability to play these types of basslines with confidence and the proper energy is what determines whether you are a serious bassist. Your performance isn’t measured by the number of notes you can play, or how quickly you play them, but by finding the right notes and playing them at the right time. If you can find the groove and lock in, then you are well on your way to outgrowing the “beginner” handle.
Let me know if there are any other songs you’d like me to discuss.
Get out there and play!
On February 11, 2010 we received a letter from lawyers representing the NMPA and the MPA instructing us to remove guitar tab and lyrics from this page. You can read more about their complaint here. Alternatively, you can still find this complete article with tab and lyrics archived here.