“Crazy Train” by bassist Gheorghe Postoronca was right at the top of my list of pieces to transcribe this month. In fact, regular readers of my column might have noticed an absence of transcriptions recently, and this is purely because this piece took so long to get written down! It’s a solo bass piece that is heavy on technique, but it’s also a great composition and a fantastic showcase for what can be done with the humble bass guitar. When performing this it helps to use some delay and reverb as Gheorge has on the recording.
I believe that the key to learning this piece well lies in mastering the groove part in the first two bars. When playing this line, be aware that the notes marked with “t” for thumb are not slapped as such, but plucked. On beats two and four you’ll need to “pat” the strings to create the backbeat (think snare drum). This can be done by lifting the fingers of the picking hand slightly and then patting the strings with them – do this quite aggressively. At the end of the second bar you’ll play a hammer-on from B to D, followed by a pat. You’ll then pluck the E-string with the thumb and play two harmonics on the D and G-strings with the first and second fingers. This sequence of pat, thumb and two plucks is then repeated, although the harmonics move up to the ninth fret. These harmonics should be allowed to ring into the next bar as you begin the riff again. If you struggle to get the harmonics to ring out long enough, I recommend fretting them just before the ninth fret rather than right over it. Reverb will also help here.
At letter A, the main theme begins and features a very difficult stretch. You’ll need to fret the B at the seventh fret of the E-string with the edge of the thumb, whilst stretching up to play the slide from G# to A with the first finger. This is very challenging. It seems a little odd that Gheorghe performs this piece on a 5-string bass, but opts not to use the much easier to reach B at the twelfth fret of the B-string. Indeed, the B-string is not used in this piece at all! As the piece continues, you will need to attempt to keep playing the backbeat on beats two and four as Gheorghe does. This keeps the groove going in the background while you are performing the melody and a bass part. Tough stuff.
This is a long piece and I could write extensively about each section and the myriad techniques required. Suffice to say, a high standard of slap technique is required throughout this piece and you’ll need to be comfortable with double thumbing, strumming, the open-hammer-pluck technique and two handed tapping as well. There’s a lot here to get your teeth into and many months/years worth of study lie ahead if you want to master it. Have fun!
Follow along with the video and the transcription (standard notation and tab).