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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 bassist, vocalist, composer, and music educator. For many years she was the bassist with the Grammy-nominated, Americana group Della Mae, which toured with legendary comics and actors Steve Martin and Martin Short and was named by Rolling Stone as one of “Ten New Artists You Need To Know.” She has toured in over 20 countries, busked in a pink gorilla costume in the New York subway, performed on CBS and the Grand Ole Opry, played upright bass on a moving white-water raft, and written and recorded two albums of her own material.
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.
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GETTING STARTED WITH THE BASS
THE BASIC I–V PATTERN 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 as well as the traditional song “Bury Beneath Me the Willow” in the key of D using D, G, and A chords.
FINDING NOTES 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. Zoe also shows you how to play “Hey, Good Lookin’” by fingering some of the notes of the chords.
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, and then a G major arpeggio, explaining that a major chord arpeggio is made up of the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale. 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, and get advice on shifting from one position to another when playing scales.
WALTZ TIME AND THE KEY OF B 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 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.
I FALL TO PIECES 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 what a walking bass is and shows you the triads for the I, IV, and V chords in Bb. Then she walks you through the bass line for the verse and chorus of “I Fall to Pieces” and gives you advice on pivoting your hand from position to position.
FEVER 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. And since the bass line for “Fever” is syncopated, it’s a good tune to practice with a metronome, so Zoe gives you advice on using a metronome.
STAND BY ME Learn the iconic bass line to “Stand By Me” from the original Ben E. King recording. Zoe breaks down the bass line, which includes syncopation and eighth notes, giving you advice on fingering as she goes. She also talks about the importance of note length in getting the right feel on “Stand By Me.”
LEAN ON ME The bass line to Bill Withers’s hit song “Lean on Me” follows the rhythm and shape of the melody. It’s also good practice for playing scales in the key of C. Zoe starts by playing the bass line and singing the melody of the verse to “Lean on Me.” The rhythm of the two is the same and the notes are sometimes the same and sometimes in harmony to each other. The chorus of “Lean on Me” has the same bass line but the melody is different and doesn’t follow the bass line as closely as the verse melody does.
LEARNING A NEW TUNE AT A JAM In this lesson, Zoe gives you advice on how to pick up new songs on the fly. Many people think that they can’t go to jams until they know dozens or hundreds of songs, but Zoe shows you how to learn new tunes quickly. The most important thing is to listen, of course, but Zoe gives you ideas on listening a while before you start playing, listening for the melody, and determining what key a song is in. She also shows you how to recognize common guitar chords, follow guitarists’ cues, and what it means when the guitarist you’re following is using a capo.
ACT NATURALLY The country song “Act Naturally” was written by Johnny Russell and first recorded by Buck Owens. The Beatles also recorded it, with Ringo singing, and performed it on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1965. In Buck Owens’s version of the song, the verse has a half-time 2/4 feel while the chorus goes to a double-time 4/4 feel with a walking bass. Zoe starts by showing you the verse feel, which has a standard I–V pattern in the key of G. Then she shows you how to play the walking bass part, which uses the 1, 3, 5, and 6 notes of the I, IV, V, and II chords in G (G, C, D, and A). This line requires shifting to a higher position, with your index finger playing a D on the G string close to the place where the neck meets the body of the bass. Zoe gives you advice on shifting and fingering: finding the notes up the neck and playing with relaxed hands.
NOBODY KNOWS WHAT YOU DO “Nobody Knows What You Do” comes from John Hartford and was recorded on his album of the same name. It has a chromatic chord progression that is common in a lot of tunes. It’s in the key of A and starts on a IV chord (D) followed by a IV# diminished chord (D#dim) and a V chord (E), before resolving to A. Zoe explains the D#dim and then shows you the basic bass line, a five measure part that repeats throughout the song. Then she shows you some different ways to play the bass line.