Riff Raff – Bass for Beginners # 5

For this lesson, let’s take a break from some of the more “theoretical” discussions and review some of the fun bass riffs found in rock & roll.

I am going to focus on the two classes of riffs that I call “walking-riffs” and “octave-riffs”. This will leave out some of the classic bass lines, such as Riders on the Storm, Another One Bites the Dust, and Peter Gunn.

Note: Everything (almost) is charted in the key of A. This is so that you can easily see the similarities and differences. Besides, I’ve long forgotten what key they are in on the albums, which may or may not have been the key I played them in.

Disclaimer: The following charts are the work of the author and are intended solely for teaching purposes. Which means I sure hope I got them right!

Walking Riffs

Note: As previously discussed, chords are noted in Roman numerals (I-IV-V), but the notes within a chord are noted by the ordinal number (1st, 3rd, 5th). So C# is the 3rd of the A-major chord. And C is the 3rd of the A-minor chord. This is always true, whether the A is the I (root-chord), or the IV in a song in the key of E.

These riffs are all based on the 1-3-5-6-7 bass walk, either scrambled or syncopated. The 7th is the dominant-7 (G) typical in rock and roll (remember to play the major-7 (G#) if the chord explicitly asks for it). Note that you should start this A-scale walk on the 5th fret of the E-String. You could play it from the bridge, but then you wouldn’t learn the patterns and be able to play it for any and every chord. The fingering pattern looks like this:

|    |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|    |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|    |     |     |     |     |     |     |

Refer to my earlier article (The Box) for a description of how to play a standard walk. That one was written in the key of G, but you know by now that the key doesn’t really matter, so just slide your hand up two frets and try out these riffs:

Same Old Song and Dance
Day Tripper

Octave Riffs

These riffs all start off with an octave jump, (in this case from a low A to a high A) and then work their way back down to the root. There are many variations of the blues walk that do this as well. My example is Steve Miller’s Swingtown intro, which isn’t really a bass-line, but it’s a good one to know anyway.

Swingtown line 1
Swingtown line 2

If you are old enough to remember disco, you may recall that the only good thing about it was the wonderful bass lines, many of which involved the use of octave jumps. I have included one here. Note that this is in the key of ‘D’, so you can still play it on the 5th fret.

Get Down Boogie
Get Down Boogie continued

So after you’ve practiced these for a while, you should be able to add them to your set of tools and use them for all sorts of songs that need a fun walk. After a while, you may get good enough to hear the intervals clearly and come up with some really funky walks that play with the 5-6-7-8 sequences. It’s fun!

Dan’s Favorite Low End Riff

When evaluating a new guitar, most people focus on how it sounds up above the 7th fret. So they play a bunch of quick riffs and scales up high and comment on how clear the tone is, or how fast the neck is. All of this is fine, but what about the low end? This is a bass guitar after all. I have found that the bass riff from the outro in Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain is great for determining how well your bass and/or amplifier will respond to the very low end. In this case, you play it on the zeroth fret, so the ‘E’ and the ‘A’ are open. The progression from ‘A’ up to ‘C’ and back down to ‘G’ should be fast and clear, without sounding muddy. When you land on the bottom ‘E’, you should be very happy with the growl, and it should be sustained. When you slide up from the ‘E’ to the ‘A’ (5th fret E-string), it should sound powerful without being boomy. Then you play the open ‘A’, which deadens the E-string. This is also a good test for experimenting with different tone settings on your guitar.

The Chain

Next time, I will go into much of the practical and theoretical aspects of the tones that you can get from your bass. Until then, feel free to email me with any questions or requests to dissect a particular song.

Also, David has started a songwriting series (Putting Things Together), in which he asks readers to submit melodies to go with a chord sequence he has provided. In the coming weeks, I will be asking you bass players to create bass lines for these songs.