Often as bassists we become so concerned with notes, rhythm, and locking in with our drummer that we forget the other important aspects of groove that can impact the listener equally as much. Articulation contributes greatly to groove and expression and can be employed to create contrast, add texture, and propel a song forward. I chose the example of Scotty Edwards’s bass line to “Rich Girl” by Hall & Oates where articulation and note-length play an important role in shaping the groove of the song.
Edwards enters on two strong staccato accents on beat 4 of bar 9 before dropping down into the florid verse section after the soft opening. Accents are often used to bring attention to important notes within a phrase but in this case, he uses staccato accents to achieve a more “punchy” effect to grab the listener by the throat before taking them on a beastly groove voyage.
The verse section is mostly arpeggio based with some decorative passing tones for forward motion, at the end of which we get three more staccato accents followed by an eighth rest to give the listener a quick “gasp” of air before going turning around back to the B? chord.
The tenuto, long-notes in bar 17 are particularly effective because up until this point the bass line has been fairly tight and arpeggiated. The tenuto marking in this bar contrasts the previous 7 bars of the verse and gives the impression the song is widening, or culminating into the chorus. Its good songwriting practice to attempt to create a feeling of anticipation for the chorus of a song, and the long notes Edwards employs here achieve that effect nicely, making the arrival of the chorus much more impactful. Little details like this might often go unnoticed but if you were to play those quarter notes staccato for example you would be undermining the impact of the biggest selling point of the song.
In the chorus, Edwards’s “dut daa” short-long articulations of the eighth notes on the 1st and 3rd beats puts slight accent on the upbeats which gives this bass line its signature “bounce”. This simple articulation contrast contributes greatly to the catchiness of the chorus and makes the bass line that much more memorable. If you don’t believe it try playing both eighth notes tenuto, staccato, or tenuto/staccato and you’ll find that the groove just does not have the same upbeat “toe-tapping” effect as the original.
As bassists, we have to consider what we must do to enhance the sound of the full band at all times. A mastery of articulation will go a long way in making us standout not only as bassists, but as musicians as well. Despite that, most people will never notice exactly what you are doing but your bandmates will appreciate the extra level of detail you are bringing to the overall sound. Try to experiment with articulation in your own practice and pay attention to how even slight changes of attack and note-length can enhance or alter the groove.
Follow along with the video and the transcription file.