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Creative Bass Lines: Funking with the Dorian Mode and the Blues Scale

Welcome back to the third installment of Creative Bass Lines. Before we start, I’d like to take a moment to say a fond farewell to the amazing Victor Bailey who sadly left us way too soon a few days ago. Victor was an enormous influence on me, and his highly melodic yet super funky playing made an indelible impression on me.

In this month’s column, I want to look at a few 16th grooves that utilize vocabulary from both the Blues scale and Dorian mode. I like this approach because you get to see and hear the way the flattened fifth of the Blues Scale and the natural, non-flattened 6th degree of the Dorian sound when played in the same line.

They also can sound quite good over a Dominant 7th ♯9 or a minor 7th. The flat 3rd is the enharmonic (same pitch) equivalent to the ♯9th, and the E natural in the Dorian is the appropriate 6th (or 13th) we would play over the G7♯9. That same “E” can be found in the Half-Whole step diminished scale, which is actually the ideal diminished scale to use over the Dominant 7th Flat OR Sharp 9th chord.

Thus we get the “crunchiness” of the blues scale and some harmonic sophistication with the Dorian, thanks to the 6th degree of that particular minor mode (in the key of G, an “E” as in this case).

These lines can be played at various tempos, and although I suggest you practice them around say 105-115 BPM, you should definitely experiment with slower and faster. Slower, they, of course, have a “greasier” feel, but they are of course fun played faster, too. Try ‘em round 120-125 bpm for a serious workout of the plucking hand. That’s the tempo played in the video examples below.

There are 4 one-bar examples to work through, and finally example 5 is a two bar phrase (much better in my opinion) which uses both ideas from examples 3 & 4 and combines them. This makes the line more interesting to my ears, but start with the one bar examples first to get familiar with the concept I am illustrating here.

NOTE: Attention should be paid to use of open (O) strings where indicated. Also, note length is very important, so look where I have added a small dot by a note. Play those staccato!

In the video, I will be playing each of these, and some variations too…

Download the transcription and follow along with the video below.

Have fun with them. See you next time!

Rufus Philpot is a performer and educator living in Los Angeles who has performed and or recorded with everyone from Scott Henderson, Allan Holdsworth, Virgil Donati and Tony MacAlpine to Randy Brecker, Tom Scott, Gary Novak and Marvin "Smitty" Smith. For more, check out his website.

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