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Using Open Strings For A Funkier Bass Solo

1969 Fender Jazz

We bassists have a handy device at our disposal with the “open string”. Incorporating unfretted notes in our bass lines and solos can create interesting passing tones, give a phrase more rhythmic interest, and provide the ability to make long interval jumps from one end of the fretboard to the other.

Perhaps the champion of open string passing tones on electric bass is James Jamerson – the celebrated bassist for Motown. Jamerson’s use of open string passing tones weren’t always harmonically correct but it didn’t matter. The chromaticism of his open string passing tones gave his lines a complexity and a character that, in my humble opinion, were essential to the great success of Motown. Most of all, they give it the funk!

Upright bassists, particularly in jazz, have always been liberal with their use of open strings. My first big exposure to this came through a recording by pianist Hazel Scott on her album Hazel Scott Trio – After Hours (Tioch Digital Records). This recording is long out of print but, you can find the LP online. Some thirty years ago, I transcribed George Duvivier’s bass solo from a tune by Scott called Moving Day. I was struck by George D.’s frequent (and musical) use of open strings in his solo and the concept was planted in my bass playing DNA forever!

Fast forward to 2016. I needed to record a bass solo for a tune of mine called Sunday Meeting from the EP 15/16. The song has a 60’s to early 70’s funk kind of vibe that was, in my mind, Cannonball and Nat Adderly meets Sanford & Son. I recorded my ’69 Jazz Bass with a sock under the strings by the bridge to dampen the old round-wound strings.

For the solo, I found myself calling upon the Duvivier and Jamerson influences – almost like a jazz upright player picking up a Fender Bass (which is what Jamerson did after all). The main goal here? Make it funky! And I must say that I couldn’t have done it nearly as well without the use of open strings!

I've transcribed my solo from Sunday Meeting here for you. I'm not going to provide a detailed analysis but the tablature is included. Listen to the recording and use the tab because the point of this lesson is the use of open strings and where on the fretboard the notes are played.

I hope this solo will have some stickiness and serve you for years to come, just like Georgy D's did for me!



 Sunday Meeting Bass Solo 1

 Sunday Meeting Bass Solo 2


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