Bass Improvisation (Everyday)

By Bass Levite
The purpose of this post is to teach some improvisation techniques for bass. For this purpose, I have recorded the familiar song, "Everyday", with improvised verse, chorus and bridge. "Everyday" is an acoustic guitar driven song, so the bass can afford to deviate away from the normal role of providing background tempo.

The following is a list of ways to add colour and variation to the bass line.

A chord is a combination of notes played together. On a bass, you rarely play chords (except in punk and funk music), but instead, play the notes that make up that chord individually; arpeggio.

There are two types of chords; a major and a minor. Major chords sound "happy" and "uplifting" while minor chords sound "sad" and "sentimental".

For example, the chord C major is made up of the notes C, E and G. C, E and G notes are the root, third and fifth notes respectively.

C D E F G A B C*
do re mi fah so lah ti do
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

So, the major chords would sound "do mi so". The name of the chord is named after the first root note.

To create a minor chord, simply fletten the 3rd note. For example, the chord C minor is made up of the notes C, Eb and G.

[Kenny: I will have a dedicated post on chords some time in the future]

On the bass, the C major arpeggio is

On the other hand, a C minor arpeggio is

The chords for "Everyday" are repetitive. The chords in brackets are the ones where I have added arpeggio style of playing.

Verse: | E | (B) | G#m | (F#) |
Chorus:| B | (E) | G#m | (F#) |

From the video, you would notice that I did not use arpeggio skills all the way, and only reserved them for the 2nd and 4th chords. This allows the bass lines to "breathe". Sometimes overusage of improvisation is as bad as not using them at all.

Another important usage of arpeggio style of playing is in lively folk-type and minor songs. For example, the song "Jehovah Jireh" (verse),

|Em |Am |C D |Em |

Here, the 3rd note of the arpeggio is not played at all, and the 5th note is the low 5th.

Note also that the last 4 notes are played at half beats each, and sounds "ascending". This is one example of "bass walking", as shown below.

Bass Walking
No, this does not mean walking around on stage while playing bass!

What this means is that you play extra notes in between chords to make the transition smooth. Hence, the bass notes "walk" around. This skill is used a lot in blues music.

Firstly, you need to be very familiar with the notes on the fretboard and the scales. You need to know what notes to play in between for transitions.

For example, transition from the chord F# to B.

Without walking

With walking

Note that the notes G# and A# are used to bridge F# and B.

In the video, I have included a bass walk for transition between verse and chorus (in going from F# to B).

Hillsong bass lines use a lot of these. One noteable one is "King of Majesty". The audio of the video might not be clear enough to pick it out, but I have included a hammer-on skill in the chorus.

In the 8th bar of the chorus, instead of playing the F# arpeggio, I hammered out the F# and then added a G# on the E string.


Octaves and Pentatonic Scale
Kenny has already mentioned this under music theory, so I don't need to repeat what he's already covered. Octaves and pentatonic scales form the foundation for more advanced improvisation. In the video, I have played the bridge in both the low and high octaves.

Note that the initial part of the bridge is not too heavy in terms of improvisation. This is because the vocals for the bridge should stand out and not be drowned out by too much music ("It's You I live for everyday"). Hence, improvising also requires blending in with other instruments and
vocals so that you complement one another.

During the last few bars of the bridge, I did not follow the normal chords of the song. Instead, I haved played the notes of the pentatonic scale randomly to funk it up.Because this skill deviates away from the normal chord progression, it would stand out from other instruments.

Therefore, the most important thing to keep in mind when doing this skill is to hit the next chord at the right time. (in this case, it is the B chord of the chorus). If done correctly, the bass can build up the atmosphere. If done improperly, it can be disastrous. Hence, this skill is the double edged sword of a bassist.

"It's time to get out of the root note comfort zone!"


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this. As a bass player I've been stuck in a rut for the past two years--not having any money for formal lessons and not having anyone to turn to for guidance. I can't wait to experiment more!!

BaSS_LeViTE said...

I'm happy that you've learnt a lot from this post. I myself didn't undergo any formal lessons either... can't afford it.

Over 3+ years, I learnt on my own, picking up bits and pieces from christian songs, some books which i bought, and also requires that special touch of God's annointing I guess.

Perhaps in addition to learning these, you can ask God for a special annointing. After all, He is the Master Musician, since He created the universe (and hence music)!

Anonymous said...

What are you playing towards the end of the video on the part where they sing "It's You I live for everyday, It's You I live for everyday, It's You I live for everyday"?

BaSS_LeViTE said...

For most parts of the song, I just played the chord... alternating high and normal octave B. The last part is just playing pentatonic notes at random.


Anonymous said...

hey man.

i've tried to learn how to arpeggios, but how would play it timing wise? i'm not sure when to play the chord. do you pick the base note then cram the chord notes in between beats?

Anonymous said...

i dont get it
i can play up to
Verse: | E | (B) | G#m | (F#) |
but i dont get how to play

Chorus:| B | (E) | G#m | (F#) |
like E Arpprigo.
how do you play (E)??

dtfitch said...

Can you post the whole sequence of the video into tab form. I'm just a beginner in playing the bass. God Bless!

Cees said...

Very nice, but could you give me the exact tabs??


Edgar said...

yes i desperately need the tabs aslo since I am also a beginner...or if you have the original

waveofthinking said...

guys, having the author tab everything out isn't really going to help you advance as a bass player. He's simply directing you on concepts and techniques you can use. The best thing would be for you to learn the major scale until you get sick of it. And even then continue to practice it everyday followed by the arpeggios the author has mentioned.


do re mi fah so lah ti do

and backwards as well.