Learn to play upright bass from scratch with advice on right- and left-hand technique and in-depth lessons on playing bass patterns, scales, and melodies in most common keys. With bass lines from great roots music songs so you can play along.
Zoe Guigueno is a bass player, songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist, and music teacher based in New York City. Her Grammy-nominated, Americana group Della Mae has recently been touring with legendary comics and actors Steve Martin and Martin Short. Della Mae has also appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN; the Fillmore in San Francisco, CA; and the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. In 2015 they were named by Rolling Stone as one of “Ten New Artists You Need To Know.”
Zoe also is a member of the collective Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards, a singing string-quartet that tours internationally and has been described by PopMatters as “stunning” and “forward looking.” In the bluegrass world, apart from Della Mae, Zoe can often be found holding down the bass chair at the weekly Mona’s bluegrass jam in Manhattan, or sitting in with multiple bands at bluegrass festivals. She has toured with Jordan Tice, Jim Lauderdale, and Peghead Nation colleagues Scott Nygaard and Joe K. Walsh.
Originally from British Columbia, and for many years a local to Toronto where she studied jazz at Humber College, Zoe moved to the United States in 2013 to join fellow Peghead instructor Wes Corbett in the virtuosic, influential string band Joy Kills Sorrow. Together they toured the US and Europe and recorded the EP Wide Awake. They performed at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, CA, and for millions of listeners on Garrison Keillor’s show A Prairie Home Companion.
At home in NYC, Zoe has become a first-call bassist for some of the top klezmorim in the US. She is a regular member of the ensemble Tsibele, a group that performs material drawn from Yiddish poems, Romanian folk music, and Moldovan/Bessarabian influences. She also tours with clarinetist, composer and bandleader Michael Winograd, trombonist/composer Dan Blacksberg, and trumpet player/composer Frank London, and has performed at Klezkanada, Yiddish New York, and Ashkenaz Festival.
Zoe also works in the theatre. In 2017 she had an onstage role in the Dora Award-nominated production “Passing Strange” in Toronto. She has also worked for three consecutive years as bassist for the Hunts Point Alliance for Children’s Shakespeare productions, presented in collaboration with the New York Shakespeare Society.
As well as working as a recording and touring artist, Zoe has taught privately, as well as conducted masterclasses at Brooklyn College, Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, Ossippee Valley String Camp, Fiddleworks, Nashcamp, and KlezKanada. Through her extensive touring with Della Mae through the US State Department’s American Music Abroad program, she has also taught at universities and music schools in Russia, Jordan, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
In the fall of 2018 Zoe released her first solo recording, an EP simply titled Five Songs. Since then she has written and recorded a full-length album, again with producer Alec Spiegelman, which will be released in the spring of 2020.
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A subscription to Bass includes:
A step-by-step approach to learning upright bass from scratch
Essential right- and left-hand technique lessons
New lessons and tunes added every month
Chord-and-lyric sheets to all songs
High-quality video with multiple camera angles so you can see closeups of both hands in action
Play-Along Tracks so you can practice what you’ve learned
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GETTING STARTED WITH THE BASS
Getting Started with the Bass, Part 1: Posture In these introductory lessons, Zoe talks about how to stand with the bass and balance it with your body, how to tune it, how to pull the string, etc. In this video she shows you how to adjust the height of the bass to fit your body, and how to position it so that you can support it without using your hands. She also shows you a good position if you want to sit on a stool while playing.
Getting Started with the Bass, Part 2: Tuning Zoe gives you advice on tuning the bass, using an electronic tuner or by ear. She gives you a good basic way to tune the bass and also shows you a more advanced way to get in tune using a bow and harmonics.
Getting Started with the Bass, Part 3: Pulling the String Learn how to get a sound from the bass, by “pulling” the string with the side of your index finger, from the tip to the second knuckle. Zoe gives you advice on where to place your thumb against the side of the fingerboard, how to pull through the string and rest on the adjacent string, and getting different sounds out of the bass, depending on where you place your finger. She also shows you how to use your middle finger, both on its own and alternating with your index finger.
Getting Started with the Bass, Part 4: Muting the String Zoe talks about the importance of muting the string in getting a clear tone, and shows you how to mute or damp the string with your left or right hand.
Getting Started with the Bass, Part 5: Developing Stamina Zoe talks about the physical demands of the upright bass, and the importance of taking it easy when you’re starting. Your whole body is involved in getting a sound out of the bass, so stretching is important. She also talks about dealing with blisters, which are inevitable for bass players.
Getting Started with the Bass, Part 6: Setting Up Your Instrument Zoe talks about the importance of setting up your instrument so that it’s comfortable to play. She gives advice on adjusting the action (the distance between the string and fingerboard), which you can do yourself with bridge adjusters.
Buying a Bass and Bass Gear Zoe talks about buying and finding a bass and some of the accessories and gear you’ll want to consider, including strings, amplification, and a bow quiver. If you’re looking for a bass or information about basses, she recommends the website talkbass.com. She also shows you the bass she plays, especially when traveling, a Chadwick Folding Bass, and mentions the strings and pickup she uses.
THE BASIC I–V PATTERN
The Basic I–V Pattern, Part 1: Open Strings The I–V bass line is the backbone of roots music bass playing. Zoe explains what I–V means: I refers to the root (or first note) of the scale you’re in, and the V is the fifth note of the scale. Then she shows you how to play a I–V bass line for G, D, and A chords using only open strings. You’ll also learn how to play the first part of Hank Williams’s song “Hey, Good Lookin’” in the key of G using D, G, and A chords.
The Basic I–V Pattern, Part 2: “Bury Beneath Me the Willow” Learn to play the I–V bass line on the traditional song “Bury Beneath Me the Willow” in the key of D using D, G, and A chords. Zoe sings and plays the chorus once and then walks you through the bass part, showing you how long to stay on each chord.
The Basic I–V Pattern, Part 3: “Bury Beneath Me the Willow” Play-Along Track Use this video to play along with Zoe as she sings and plays “Bury Beneath Me the Willow” with guitarist Scott Nygaard.
Finding Notes, Part 1: Left-Hand Technique Zoe shows you her method for finding notes on the bass as well as her basic left-hand technique for closing the notes on the fingerboard. She gives you advice on using the pad of your finger on the string, finding the right amount of pressure to use, and where to put your thumb on the back of the neck. To start finding notes on the bass, she recommends marking the side of the fingerboard with tape, and she shows you how to find the right place to put the markers on your bass.
Finding Notes, Part 2: “Hey, Good Lookin’” Now that you know how to find notes on the bass, Zoe shows you how to play “Hey, Good Lookin’” by fingering some of the notes of the chords. You learned the first part of the song in a previous lesson, but you’ll learn the whole song in this one. Zoe starts by showing you how to play the I–V pattern for the G and A chords in a couple different places, and then shows you the second part of “Hey, Good Lookin’,” which includes a C chord.
Finding Notes, Part 3: “Hey, Good Lookin’” Play-Along Track Use this video to play along with Zoe as she sings and plays “Hey, Good Lookin’” with guitarist Scott Nygaard.
MAJOR SCALES AND ARPEGGIOS
Major Scales and Arpeggios In this lesson, you’ll learn the major scale and major chord arpeggios, which will help you create bass lines. Zoe starts by showing you the G major scale, recommending that you say the names of the notes as you play them (G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G) as well as the numbers of the scale degrees. Then she shows you a G major arpeggio, explaining that a major chord arpeggio is made up of the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale (G, B, and D for the G major chord arpeggio). Zoe also shows you a “walkup” bass line that you can use in “Hey, Good Lookin’.” You’ll also learn the D major scale and C major scale.
Major Scales and Arpeggios, Part 2: Shifting Zoe gives you advice on shifting from one position to another when playing scales like the D major or C major scales.
Major Scales and Arpeggios, Part 3: Playing in G Zoe explains why when you’re playing in G you’ll use the G major scale to play scalar bass lines, even when the underlying chord is C or D, or when you’re playing bass runs from the C or D chord back to G.
Major Scales and Arpeggios, Part 4: “Hey, Good Lookin’” Play-Along Track with Walkups Zoe sings and plays “Hey, Good Lookin’” using the walkups you’ve learned.
WALTZ TIME AND THE KEY OF B
Waltz Time and the Key of B, Part 1: “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” In this lesson, you’ll learn to play in waltz time (3/4) and the key of B, using the Neil Young song “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” Waltz time has three beats per measure, instead of four, and often the bass just plays one note on the downbeat. In the key of B, the I, IV, and V chords are B, E, and F#, and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” also uses the ii and iii chords—minor chords on the second and third steps of the scale, which, in B, are C#m and D#m. Zoe starts by showing you the bass line she plays on the first half of the song (the verse), beginning with a walk up from F# to B. Then she shows you the bass line on the chorus, which descends through E, D#m, C#m, and F# chords.
Waltz Time and the Key of B, Part 2: Waltz Feel Zoe talks about how long to let the notes ring out in waltz time, gives you advice about shifting between some of the tricky positions in B, and talks about feeling the three beats of waltz time.
Waltz Time and the Key of B, Part 3: “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” Play-Along Track Use this video to play along with Zoe as she sings and plays “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” with guitarist Scott Nygaard.
I FALL TO PIECES
I Fall to Pieces, Part 1: Walking Bass The Patsy Cline song “I Fall to Pieces” has a great walking bass line using the triads of the I, IV, and V chords. You’ll learn it in Bb. Zoe starts by explaining that a walking bass is played with notes on every quarter note in 4/4 time. Then she shows you the triads for the I, IV, and V chords in Bb: Bb, Eb, and F, using the I–V position, with open strings between the I and V. You’ll learn the bass line to the chorus of “I Fall to Pieces” in this video.
I Fall to Pieces, Part 2: Verse The verse of “I Fall to Pieces” uses the same chords and bass line for each chord, but with a different chord progression. Zoe walks you through the verse bass line, and gives you advice on pivoting your hand from position to position in this video.
I Fall to Pieces, Part 3: Chorus Variation In this video, Zoe shows you a variation on the chorus bass line that uses a chromatic passing tone and a version of the F bass line on the higher strings.
I Fall to Pieces, Part 4: Play-Along Track Use this video to play along with Zoe as she sings and plays “I Fall to Pieces” with guitarist Scott Nygaard.
Fever, Part 1: Bass Line The minor-key, swing-blues song “Fever” was made popular through Peggy Lee’s 1958 recording. It’s in the key of A minor and has a cool, syncopated repetitive bass line. Zoe starts by singing and playing a verse, and then breaks down the bass line for you, explaining the syncopations and talking about how the length of each note is important to get the right feel.
Fever, Part 2: Practicing with a Metronome Since the bass line for “Fever” is syncopated, it’s a good tune to practice with a metronome. Zoe gives you advice on practicing with a metronome in this video.
Fever, Part 3: Play-Along Track Use this video to play along with Zoe as she sings and plays “Fever” with guitarist Scott Nygaard.