The main role of the bass guitar is to provide a musical foundation for the rhythm section, and together with the drums in particular, to play an interesting groove which drives the band along. In order to keep the audience involved, the bass line must often be fairly varied.
Consequently, whether you use a walking bass line, riffs, improvisation, or even a simple pattern, the fundamental purpose of the bass guitar is to play more or less repetitive phrases, solidly and with a good sense of time.
Learning an instrument can be like learning a language. The first step is usually to become familiar with short phrases aurally. You then learn to speak these as accurately as possible. As you learn more phrases, your vocabulary becomes increasingly varied and sophisticated. Reading usually comes later. Enthusiasm can be dulled by getting bogged down by too much theory too early. This book is designed like a dictionary of musical phrases, which can be opened at the point that interests you. Therefore, in putting this book together, I have worked on the premise that if you learn a whole series of musical phrases, riffs, rhythms and patterns, it provides the basic language to be able to perform within a group. I have avoided excessively repetitive exercises because they can be boring, and practising being bored is dangerous if you are learning to entertain people. There are more interesting and practical phrases which will keep your attention and be of use in providing a good, solid, fluent technique.
Once you have absorbed a whole series of phrases in a certain style, alternatives will then come to mind. This is where it becomes really fascinating. Only after experiencing many alternatives can you invent your own original ideas. Convincing improvisation follows on from learning sufficient, basic phrases. What I have tried to do with each section is to capture the essence of what the style is about. It is by no means complete or definitive. It is merely the beginning, or a springboard from which to start.
In many cases I have included the ideas which got me interested in the first place. They may be simple or complex, but they all work, and have each formed the basis of a whole new series of my own ideas.
The book can be used in various ways. If you are interested in slap bass playing, open the book at that point. You will find beginners' phrases and more advanced ones. You will also find that many slap ideas are based on old boogie lines, which are to be found in the chapter before. Studying walking bass lines will lead you to examine certain scales and arpeggios which are related. In this way you can explore your own interests and expand your own horizons.
Many bass players play by ear and do not read, so with them in mind, I have recorded the CDs which accompany this book. Even so, I suggest that non-readers do look at the appropriate phrase they are listening to, as eventually they will learn to recognise it. We read by pattern recognition. For instance, we do not read the individual letters of a word, but the group of letters as a whole.
Manuscript is a useful way of storing ideas. When you learn to read, you have access to a whole new world of music, information and experiences which the non-reader does not share. It is all about enthusiasm and effort.
Finally, I must explain that I did not set out to write a book at all. It evolved as a way of helping my pupils, whom I discovered were desperately short of ideas and ways of expressing themselves musically. Each pupil has his own set of problems. Only when I had amassed a pile of musical examples did I realise that I had actually developed a system which could help others too. My aim was therefore to provide each student with a sort of armoury of phrases; an arsenal of musical weapons.
In this fashion, you can be prepared for most eventualities. Your vocabulary will be expanded enough so that you are able to express yourself better in the language of music.
P.S. The publishers have at times used a new and modified version of music notation. I am reliably informed that it is widely used and makes reading easier in certain circumstances.