Expanding Your Voice on Bass: Inflections and Articulations

Inflections and articulations

Q: I notice bassists adding what I would call a “slur”, but I think the correct term would be trill at the end of lines and phrases. I really dig the effect, but my hands and mind are not naturally inclined to do this. What would you recommend to help me work on this?

A: As with any technique, the best way to practice it is slowly and with intention. I recommend combining melodic exercises with technical ones so you can a) get more bang for your buck with your practice time and b) get used to using the technique in a musical context.

My experience with this started with exploring different ways to articulate notes because, although I always preferred the feel of an electric bass, I’ve always thought that acoustic basses had more “life” contained in each note. To overcome my sense of inadequacy of feeling in the life of a note, I explored what could be done with a note by virtue of simply paying attention to how I played each note and what I did with it while it was ringing. I’ve always said that a single note has a full life span (i.e.: a beginning, a middle and an end). Exploring that life span can really bring a new level of “feeling” to your playing.

While slurs always came fairly naturally to me, the trills took a bit more effort.

Try this: begin practicing various scales and melodic patterns slowly, and adding a trill (quick fingering back and forth of a half-step) to every note. Practice trilling notes at various rhythmic groupings as well (8th notes, triplets, as fast as possible, and so on). You’ll likely discover that every method had a different sound or effect.

In addition to experimenting with various rhythms, focus on expanding your intervalic leaps (trying not just semi-tone trills but whole steps, minor 3rds…)

As you go, remember:

  1. Start slowly and develop your abilities with intention and control.
  2. Explore every possible variation you can think of in this exercise.

This simple two-part methodology applied to anything that you may want to practice will most certainly lead to a development of your abilities as well as your understanding of various musical contexts. Good luck!

Readers, as always, I welcome your excellent feedback. Have a trick you want to share on this topic? Let us here from you. Post your suggestions/experiences in the comments.

Photo by Raúl!

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. What do you mean by “slurs”?

  2. Ah, yet another useful lesson found on NoTreble. If I may, I’d love to stress a concept out to anyone looking into to techniques in general. I have to point out how important it is in the text of this article when it says: get used to using the technique in a musical context.
    Technique is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, and I myself was a bit of an obsessive technical player. Just remember that if you can’t use it in your music, it’s practically worthless. Yes, I spent the time learning how to tap across the fingerboard ‘Building the Church’ style , but if I didn’t apply to the technique in my own music, I might as well not have spent the hours training my forearm tendons. Hahaha Just remember, learning technique can be inspiring and make you a better player over all, but the key to making it useful is application.
    Peace out!

  3. I’ve been using this “slur” from time to time though I do it in a place where I found it would have the max effect. Lately, I’ve found the slur combined with an MXR Phase 90 at the right time with different sweeps produced some serious effects. It really does come down to looking at the music and then browsing your own library of tricks and tips. Try them all. What effect are you trying to achieve? Most importantly, what do you want to say? Three notes with the right technique will leave much more of a lasting effect than lightning fast runs. Remember the legendary bass runs of the 70s and 80s? Not too many notes but they said something. Jaco was fast and very melodic and innovative and when you hear his work with Al DiMeola on Golden Dawn Suite, they supported what Al and Alphonse Mouzon were doing. I love this site because I’ve learned so much!

  4. A slur is just another name for legato. Trombonists use this word a lot.

  5. Great lesson Damian! This was actually a response to a question that I asked last week. Thanks for getting on that so quickly! If anyone is confused what I was refering to was when I watch Damian, and tons of others play, I notice that at the end of a line they “tag it” with a really quick slide. Usually starting on the last note of the phrase, going down a 1/2 step, the back to the last note of the phrase. It seems to me like a excamation point, or some type of infection. Similar to someone talking and getting excited at the end of a sentence.
    I may have been using the terms slurs and trills incorrectly. sorry for any confusion in the question.
    and again thanks Damian! U the man!

  6. Here is a link to one of Damiens solos. this is the one that got me thinking and obvi. can explain what I meant better that I can.
    check out :39, 1:29, 1:32.