Bass playing is all about keeping rhythm. Oh, the bassist can toss off some fancy lines that lead guitarists only dream of, but first and foremost, the bass is half of what’s called the rhythm section.
In the upcoming book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing Bass Guitar, I mention that there are two kinds of bass players – the “born” and the “converted.” “Born” bass players start out on the instrument, while “converts” come to the bass via guitar, piano or any number of other musical backgrounds.
Personally, I think that every guitarist should play bass. There’s a simple reason behind this thinking and it’s stated in the very first sentence of this lesson. Any guitarist who’s truly having trouble getting his or her rhythm in shape will find that concentrating on the bass (or at least the bass lines of a song) will help to improve their timing.
There’s actually another reason as well, but that’s for our next bass lesson…
Today we’re going to work on our timing and rhythm by trying something that, while easier than it looks, will require your attention. If you can count to seven, then come along with me!
Money, from Pink Floyd’s classic album Dark Side of the Moon, may seem to be a strange piece to pick for a “beginner’s” bass lesson, but it fits our needs on several levels. The fingering involved is very basic (almost all of it is in “open” position) and will be a good introduction to (or reminder of) the bass fingerboard for many of you. We’ll also get to examine the importance of “closed” patterns when playing bass lines and discuss the difference between swing eighths and straight eighths.
But mostly it’s about counting to seven. With the exception of the section that consists of a guitar solo and the very, very end of the song, Money is in 7/4 time. This will take a little getting used to, but (hopefully) you’ll find once you’re in the groove you won’t even think twice about it.
For the sake of not having to think about too many things at once, I’ll not worry about going over all the details of the theory. For now, know that Money is in the key of B minor, which is the relative minor of the key of D major. And most of the bass lines center around the B minor pentatonic scale:
Just as when playing guitar, you want to think of your scales as continuous, so let’s take a moment and extend this one across all four string in open position:
When using this extended scale as a warm-up, try to play any notes that occur on the second fret with your index finger and employ your ring finger or pinky for the notes that fall on the fourth fret. This is a textbook example of “the box,” which you can read all about in Dan Lasley’s Bass for Beginners column conveniently titled, The Box. Notice the lowest root note (B) is on the second fret of the A string. The octave (the next higher B note) is played at the fourth fret of the G string. That’s just like on the first four strings of the guitar. Note, too, that the fifths (F#) are on the same frets as the roots, but on the strings immediately lower (the D and E strings).
The main riff of Money kicks off with a root to octave to fifth and back to the root bass line before adding in more notes from the B minor pentatonic scale. You have two things to keep track of here: counting to seven and using “swing eighths.” You’ll hear why in just a moment:
Did you hear the difference between using swing eighths and straight eighths? It may seem like such a little detail but it’s quite striking, isn’t it? By the way, this main riff serves as the introduction to the song; it’s played until the vocal starts, signaling the beginning of the verse.
Take the time to practice this riff if for no other reason than once you’ve nailed it down you’ve got more than half the song covered. Start slowly and get it into fingers and head. Again, try to use your index finger for the notes on the second fret and either your ring finger or pinky for the notes on the fourth fret. You might find it easier if you slightly flatten the fourth fret finger, just as you might to play a power chord on your guitar. This is, not coincidentally, another one of the little things that a bass guitar can help you with. If you’re having trouble fretting power chords on your guitar, try fingering them on the bass for a week or so. When you switch back you’ll wonder what all your earlier problems could have been!
Another thing you might do, especially to assist going from the B note at the second fret of the A string to the F# at the second fret of the E, is to roll your fingertip onto the lower string. This is a handy technique to develop for both bass and guitar playing and takes only a little concentrated effort to get the hang of it.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to count out loud if you’re having troubles with the timing.. Don’t laugh! When faced with a tricky bit of rhythm or a timing they’ve not played in a while, most professional musicians (at least the ones I know) will count aloud in order to get it into their heads. It really does help. That’s the reason I do it on the MP3 and you should feel free to do it yourself.
Most tricky timings will break themselves down into ones you can handle if you let them. The “feel” of the 7/4 timing in Money is that of taking a measure of four beats and then adding one of three. So feel free to count it out that way (“…one, two, three, four, one two three, one, two, three, four, one, two, three…”), if it helps to do so.
When you have the main bass riff under wraps, the “secondary” bass riff will be a breeze:
With the “secondary” riff, try to keep the notes crisp and short, what’s called “staccato” in the musical world. Here the bass line is echoing the rhythm of the sung lyrics and playing staccato helps to punch out the rhythm in a tricky part of the song for the singer.
The verses end with a four measure sequence that reorganizes two measures of 7/4 into one of 8/4 and one of 6/4 before going back to two measures of the main riff:
Again, I can’t stress enough the need to use swing eighths here. Hang onto the first F# (fourth fret of the D string) for two beats before playing the “descending power chord” formation. Lift off whatever finger you’re using to play the fourth fret to sound the open A string and then place it back to get the C# and F# (fourth fret of the A and D strings, respectively). You’ll find that your middle finger is free to get the F natural on the third fret of the D string, which sets you up to play the E note that starts the second measure with your index finger. That same middle finger can be used to play the G note (third fret of the E string).
And again, I can’t stress enough the importance of counting aloud if you’re having trouble. With a little bit of practice and effort, you’ll be able to handle a whole verse:
Money, as noted earlier, starts out with the introduction (repeated playing of the main riff), followed by two verses. The second verse is followed by a sax solo, also played in 7/4 time. It will be much like playing the verses, with the main riff getting the lion’s share of the solo. But at one point, the main riff is played in E minor for four measures instead of B minor. On the bass, such a transition is easily accomplished. First we want to take our main riff and turn it into a “closed” position riff. This means eliminating the use of any open strings. So, replacing the A of the open A string with the A note found at the fifth fret of the E and playing the D note at the fifth fret of the A string (instead of playing the open D string), our “closed” riff will look like this:
You can see there’s a bit of a stretch involved here, but I don’t want you to worry about that just yet. Instead, let’s relocate our riff up to the seventh fret, where you’ll find an E note on the A string. Now we can play our “main riff” as our new “Em7 bass riff (sax solo section)” in the following manner:
Because you’re much further up the neck, you should be able to use the suggested fingering in this example. “i” is “index finger, “r” is ring finger and “p” is pinky. With a little bit of practice, you should find this riff as easy to play as the main riff. Better yet, you only have to play this one four times the entire song.
After returning to the main riff, the sax solo section winds up with a playing of the “v – iv” riff follows by a switch to 4/4 time, ushered in by two measures containing nothing but triplets:
This may seem like a piece of cake, but it’s easy to let it take you by surprise Practice this transition slowly. It’s important for the bass player to be able to articulate these triplets cleanly and clearly, propelling the song forward from the “sax solo” section on to the “guitar solo” section.
And now that we’ve covered said “sax solo” section, let’s take a look and a listen to the sax solo section in its entirety:
Besides being in 4/4 time, the “guitar solo” section involves some cool sounding walking bass lines, complete with descending chromatic (half step) tones. After what you’ve been through, this won’t be hard. But it is important to play this section with staccato firmly in mind and to remember your swing eighth feel:
The guitar solo section, while in 4/4 time, uses the same count of measures as the sax solo section, broken up in pretty much the same way. It starts out with eight measures of the “Bm bass line.” Notice that the first measure is different from the other seven in that it starts out with a quarter note of B while the remaining measure use two eighth notes, played as swing eighths. You can get a nice effect by hammering on to the first B of the second (and following) measures from the open A string.
After our eight measures of the “Bm bass line,” we get four measures of the “Em bass line” followed by another four of the “Bm bass line.” Again, the first measure of the Bm will be different from the three after it.
The staccato feel is especially important in the final four measures of the “guitar solo section.” I like to occasionally change the fourth quarter note of the first measure (E at the second fret of the D string) to an eighth note of that E followed by an eighth note of the open E string, giving me a chance to hammer on the F# at the start of the second measure. That’s strictly artistic license.
The final descending line of the last two measures (the notes of which are played by the band in unison) leads to the “turnaround,” which is a repeated playing of four measures of the Bm bass line from earlier. This leads to two repetitions of the guitar solo section. The last time through this section, skip the “turnaround” and go right back to 7/4 time and the “main riff,” repeating it until the vocals start the last verse.
At the end of the third verse, Money returns once again to 4/4 time, with the bass simply repeating the B (second fret of the A string) and the note of the open D string over and over again while the song fades out. It’s almost anticlimactic after all the timing skills you’ve demonstrated up ’til that point.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this excursion into bass playing and that this lesson has helped you get a handle on your timing. Working through a difficult timing such as 7/4 can give you the confidence to tackle some of the more “workaday” rhythms you’ll encounter in most other songs. And switching from timing to timing, as you have here in Money is good practice whether you’re a beginner or intermediate player.
And, as always, please feel free to write in with any questions, comments and/or concerns. And if you’d like more bass lessons, let me know about that as well. I’m hoping to do two or three more in the next couple of months. You can either drop off a note at the Guitar Forums or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until our next lesson…