Friday, November 21, 2008


When you are composing a song on the fly, you don't get the chance to practice with the players. Whether they are good singers/musicians or not, they have to follow the lead you're setting, and hopefully hit notes that are compatible with the chord progressions you're playing. If you're sitting in a 12-bar blues, or some pre-defined progression, it's a piece of cake. What happens when you are creating something from scratch? How do you get the actors to follow your lead?

Easily the best tool at your disposal is the walking bass line. Say you're playing a country song, sitting on C major, with the bass line bouncing between C and G. At some point you decide to move on up to an F major chord. If you go in straight away, the singer doesn't have much warning, and may get temporarily lost. If you give them a nice C-D-Eb-E-F run before hitting your F-major, the singers will intuit where you're going, and follow you. If you're moving from C-major to G-major, you could hit them with a C-E-F-F#-G bassline, and that's pretty obvious too.

Even actors that are less musically inclined will respond well to cues that come from a bass line.  It just seems to be instinctive.

Somewhere along the line I fell in to the habit of playing a merged melody+chord structure with my right hand, and running a bass line with my left hand, playing the octave with my pinkie and thumb. The bass line becomes a pretty dominant part of the music. I think playing in that range complements where people's voices sit, and provides a nice platform for them to work from.

The character and tempo of bass line you play is going to vary with the musical style, of course.

I certainly do find that more experienced actor/singers cope just fine without a lovely bass line warning them of an impending change. I think these are the singers that are really creating a melody, and can invent good transitions for themselves to fit your chord progressions even after you've changed.

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