Creative Bass Lines: Beat Displacement

Note: Follow along with this transcription (PDF).

Here we have the second installment of the Creative Bass Lines, and this month, it’s “Bass Gruv”.

For this we’re looking at a Headhunters-esque bass groove I wrote. This would fit the harmony of an E dominant 7th chord, or for a crunchier sound, try setting up a vamp with an E7?9, too.

I wanted to introduce some of you to the idea of taking a bass line and starting with a simple two bar groove, then by the end expanding it to a four bar groove, incorporating a one beat displacement in the basic line.

The first example at Letter A demonstrates the core line. At Letter B the groove becomes just a two beat phrase starting on Beat four of the first bar of the two bar phrase, which creates a breakdown for a possible intro.

Make sure you refer to the video too for some notes on interpretation this line and how to execute it.

At Letter C, we see another variation, where I chose to leave beats two and 3 clear in the first bar of the phrase.

Now here comes the interesting part: I took the original core two bar line, at Letter A, and at Letter D, turned it into a longer FOUR bar phrase…

If you notice at the end of the second bar of Letter D, the original phrase starts again on beat four of bar two as opposed to Beat ONE of bar three.

This creates an interesting moment of “Wha….!?” before the groove comes back around. I also snuck a little modified quote from the Headhunters version of “Watermelon Man” at the end of the fourth bar of Letter D.

This can work well when the drummer keeps a straight groove and doesn’t follow the bass, or you could try it with the drummer accenting that displaced idea too!

I put in repeat marks, but you can just dive right in on the example at Letter D if you prefer, and see what you think!

Over the coming months we’re going to look at ways to pull some great concepts from classic bass parts, borrowing rhythmic ideas, use of chromaticism, repetition, and use of different playing techniques to get the most out of each bass part.

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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  1. Rick Abraham

    Rufus this was amazing. Concepts explained succinctly and with great clarity. Six minutes of well invested time watching this. The sound quality was exceptional BTW.