This month’s transcription is a piece I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time: Bobby Vega’s “Gosh”. This piece was originally featured on Bass The World’s YouTube channel last year. Grab the transcription, read the notes below and follow along:
Although a master of all techniques, Bobby Vega is probably best known for his plectrum work. Combining impeccable feel and a total mastery of the groove, Bobby bases his technique on a sixteenth note-based feel similar to that used by funk rhythm guitar players such as Nile Rodgers and Jimmy Nolan. When playing in this style, Bobby often plays ghost notes on any sixteenth note subdivisions that do not have a pitched note. He also accents each downbeat – with an emphasis on beats two and four, “the backbeat” – to create a sound that sounds almost like a complete rhythm section on its own. This busy approach works particularly well for funk as you’ll see from the video.
Bobby combines this sixteenth note-based approach with a palm muting technique that allows him to lightly muffle the pitched notes that he is playing, creating a sound similar to that which might be achieved by inserting a foam sponge under the strings. Of course, the benefit of being able to mute in this way using just the palm is that it can be applied with varying degrees throughout a song (or not), something that is not possible using foam.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time working on the techniques described above and along the way have learnt to break Bobby’s style down into smaller components. The following exercise, which is based on one of the main grooves from “Gosh” is something that I recommend using in order to work on both sixteenth note picking and palm muting.
When working on this exercise I believe that you should initially focus on the rhythm. Your picking hand should continuously move through a down-up-down-up rhythm, with all downbeats played with downstrokes. This is shown in the picking guide between the staves. Be aware that the majority of the ghost notes are performed on the D-string, but some – such as those on beat four of each bar are on the G-string. String crossing is very important when building up rhythmic parts such as this, and utilising it will help you to mimic a kick-snare dynamic. Try to accent each downbeat as you play, two and four in particular.
Once you are comfortable playing this, try to incorporate some palm muting. You’ll need to experiment in order to find the right amount of pressure to apply in order to just lightly muffle the notes, without preventing them from ringing all together. I personally find this very challenging to do!
“Gosh” consists of three main grooves. Here’s a brief breakdown of each one:
Groove #1 (Bars 1 – 4)
At the beginning of the first and third bars you will need to play a tenth interval on the E and G-strings as shown in the TAB. The note on the E-string will be plucked with the pick, while the top note on the G-string can be plucked with a finger of the picking hand – I find the third finger the easiest to use here. Be sure to watch the video to see how Bobby does this. The remainder of this groove consists of sixteenth note percussive parts with occasional pitched notes speaking through. If you’ve played through the exercise above, you should have a good idea how to approach this. Remember that your picking hand should be moving through a continuous down-up-down-up sequence.
Groove #2 (Bars 9 – 12)
This second groove is also built on continuous sixteenth notes. There are more pitched notes to include this time and the string crossing is more difficult as you’ll be jumping from the A-string to the G-string. I’ve taken a lot of time to write the ghost notes on the strings that Bobby plays them on as much as possible, so take care to follow this as much as you can. Remember that jumping from lower strings to higher ones really helps to mimic the kick-snare feel.
Groove #3 (Bars 17 – 20)
The third groove begins with a ghost note directly on beat one, followed by a power chord on the second sixteenth note subdivision of the beat – just after the downbeat essentially. This chord should be un-muted and should be played with a heavy accent. This part is followed by a simple funk figure A-B-A-C, which is interspersed amongst more muted picking. A challenging octave picking part is played in the second bar of the sequence and a more complex part based around tenths is played in the fourth bar. Remember to keep to the correct picking sequence! Note that when Bobby plays the latter part, he uses the thumb of the fretting hand to play the low notes on the E-string. I always give my students a hard time for using their thumb in this way, but I’m sure not going to say the same to Bobby!
The remainder of the piece consists of a little more grooving around the implied D7 chord followed by a descending D minor pentatonic lick and a free time outro section using tenths and harmonics.
Have fun learning this piece. There’s a lot to digest here and it should keep you busy for some time. It’s certainly been keeping me busy for the last couple of months and I still have a long way to go before I’ll have nailed this.
Until next time…
Download the transcription (standard notation and tab).