Help me be a folk bassist.

June 11, 2012 1:16 PM

Bass Guitar Filter: Traditional\Irish\Folk\Etc songs. How to play along with some fiddles, etc.

I'm a pretty decent bassist in the funk\alt\rock type genres. I've been asked to play some bass on some folky type tunes with a fiddle to 3-4 other accompanying pieces. I'm always up to expanding myself and said sure, thinking this would be a pretty simple task.

They are playing songs like:
Cock of the North, Crested Hen, Maple Sugar, Molly in the Wood, Riding on a load of Hay, Tennesse Waltz, L'oiseau blue, La get the point.

Well, I've tried playing along to some of these tunes on youtube and it just seems like there is a total lack of rhythm. I have no idea how to even hold down a simple root on the chords and have it sound good. I didn't think this would be difficult since most of the songs seem to be structured around 2 chords with a verse\chorus pattern. I figured I would just keep it simple playing the root, fifth, with some lead notes and everyone would be happy. For some reason I haven't been able to =\ even though it's not close to having to perform covers of Stevie Wonder\RHCP\Primus\Dream Theater\Tool, haha.

Do you play these types of genres as a bassist? What do you try to do? Should I be looking up sheet music and learning the actual bass parts (when they exist)?

Have you had bassists play with you\your group? What did you like\what didn't you like?

I have an acoustic bass. I'm think about bringing that with a small amp as it would fit in the best in lieu of a Double Bass.
posted by zephyr_words (8 comments total)

The folk bassist who has always sounded most solid to me is Dave Reisch of the Holy Modal Rounders and Freak Mountain Ramblers (amongst others). Seek out his works, and listen.

[and actually, if you're desperate, I could dig out his contact details for you. He seems to be a very nice man.]
posted by scruss at 2:13 PM on June 11, 2012

first, "dead" notes, where you finger the note but don't actually press all the way down on the fret, can add to this style of music

second, to echo advice given to country bassists, you should think of the simplest bass parts you can - and then play half the notes

third, this is something you MUST master - the art of playing one note and making it sound good - it's quite possible that the best bass part you can play will be one note for each chord in the song - you must play that one note with all the meaning and musicianship you have

roots and fifths are good - forget the lead notes

acoustic bass is probably a great idea
posted by pyramid termite at 4:58 PM on June 11, 2012

The first problem is that these traditional songs don't have traditional bass parts, so whatever you play is going to be a new unusual sound, and a challenge. The next problem is that the fewer notes you play, the more precise the placement of those notes needs to be. If you're used to banging out 6 to 8 notes per measure, you can get away with sloppier rhythm (because the busy notes cover up the rhythmic imprecision). When you're only playing one or two notes every 4-5 seconds, you really have to place the notes perfectly. And it's not just about where the note begins -- you also have to be very deliberate about where the note ends. Your rests become real musical entities here, not just a consequence of moving your hands from one note to the next.
posted by grog at 8:34 PM on June 11, 2012

Thanks scruss, I'll check some of that stuff out.

The ghost notes are a good idea pyramid termite. Those are a big part of my playing style in funk and reggae. I'll look at incorporating that a bit more in these parts. Country is another area I have not listened or dabbled in at all.

I'm all about playing in the pocket grog! I think I'm just not hearing where the pocket is on these songs yet. I guess I shouldn't expect to just listen to what is basically a foreign genre to me and be jamming away in minutes. Sounds like a lot more listening and experimentation is in order.
Your rests become real musical entities here, not just a consequence of moving your hands from one note to the next.
I played tuba for 9 years. I know all about counting 64 measures of rest and really feeling it, haha.

Thanks for the advice so far, I appreciate it.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:30 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Root and fifth, root and fifth, root and fifth, and a walk back up to the root. You're not doing the same job for the most part in more laid back folk arrangements that you're doing as a rock or funk bassist; you're not so much driving the bus as you are beating the drum on the longboat. There's a lot of staying out of the way and watching for your moment, and your moment is probably going to add up to a slightly fancier walk at every other turnaround.
posted by cortex at 10:42 PM on June 12, 2012

Haha, that's a good analogy cortex. I played along to a lot of the songs yesterday and have a pretty good feel for it now. I was able to find some arrangements done on youtube that actually had a bass guitar and that helped quite a bit too.
posted by zephyr_words at 8:31 AM on June 13, 2012

Thanks for posting this - been playing bass with Scottish Ceilidh stuff for the last year or so myself, having never played anything like that before; all the advice posted so far seems like exactly what works and it's really good to be reminded of these things. Roots and fifths, you can't be too simple, you're a drum really, all that.

To which I'd add, if it's fiddle-led, you (and whatever else is also playing) are only there to make the fiddle sound good even better. Follow the fiddle. Listen to the fiddle. Obey the fiddle.
posted by motty at 7:43 PM on June 14, 2012

Lissen to Steeleye Span. Then lissen again.
posted by zaelic at 3:01 PM on June 21, 2012

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