1. Fretting the note with the index finger while
muting softly with the remaining fingers will
give you the short, staccato “Rolling in the
Deep” eighth-note feel. 2. When very even eighth-notes are required, playing
with one finger and your thumb steadily anchored
is a good way to go. It will give you the
evenness of pick playing, but with finger tone.
A renowned guitarist friend of mine once
asked me, “If a guitarist spends 90
percent of his time on a gig playing rhythm
and 10 percent of his time playing lead,
why does he spend 90 percent of his practice
time playing solos?” That question was
an eye-opener for me. But I was young at
the time, and though I completely understood
his point in theory, I still went home
and practiced flashy bass licks. Later in
life, however, his words would serve as my
mantra while practicing and cultivating my
growing infatuation with eighth-notes.
Some 15 years ago while in school studying
bass, one of my teachers told me that
the ’80s was a dark decade for rock bass
because most guys were playing eighthnotes
on the root, and not exploring the
possibilities of the instrument. I actually
had the opposite opinion and reaction to
this statement. In fact, my love and fascination
for playing eighth-notes on the
root has grown exponentially since then.
I dare say I have built a large part of my
career doing so. And, for any bassist with
the ambition of sounding professional and
solid, I believe the single most important
piece of advice is to obsess over playing
While teaching private lessons, I’ve had
students with plenty of theory knowledge
and soloing chops who have graduated from
some of the nation’s top universities and
music departments. To my surprise, these
students had been given no information
whatsoever about note-value choices and
techniques that make up the foundation
for every popular music genre: eighth-notes!
It’s like teaching someone woodworking
skills without giving them a hammer and
nails. So, here are some essential tips in the
science of eighth-notes for bass … the true
tools of the trade.
The static eighth-note feel. This sound
dates back to older soul and rock songs.
One of the biggest songs of the past couple
of years, “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele,
is a shining example of this feel. The feel is
static and the notes are so short they almost
turn into a round, warm-sounding version
of a click or a metronome. If you are using
a two-finger alteration, you can get a short
note value by laying the next picking finger
on the string immediately following the
note. I achieve this sound by actually lifting
my left hand off the fretboard between
every note. I also enhance the muting effect
by fretting notes with my first finger when
possible, and letting the other three fingers
rest loosely on the string to provide additional
muting. This feel is generally used in
more up-tempo scenarios and you can even
play slightly on top of the click to make the
song feel more eager.
The bouncy eighth-note feel. This
feel is my favorite one to play. You simply
play short downbeats and long upbeats to
execute the technique properly. The origins
of this approach can be found in “Everyday
People” by Sly and the Family Stone, and
you can hear it in many varying styles. It
drives a song like a locomotive, providing
a “self-propelling motor” to the groove.
And because it grooves so hard on its own,
it can even eliminate the need for a drummer!
Modern-country star Keith Urban
has several big hits based on this feel with
“Somebody Like You” being a great example.
The ’90s rock classic “One Headlight”
by the Wallflowers employs this groove
beautifully, with a galloping single-string
rhythm guitar enhancing it. And Al Green’s
“Love and Happiness” is another equally
great tune that showcases the bounce. I use
this in most recording sessions.
The rhythm guitar approach. When
using a plectrum, you can mute the strings
with the palm of your right hand and play
with gentle, even downstrokes—much like
you would when playing rhythm guitar in
a rock song. I find myself employing this
technique when recording mid-tempo,
fairly mellow pop songs. Listen to L.A.
session great Lee Sklar’s playing on Don
Henley classics like “The Last Worthless
Evening” and “The Heart of the Matter.”
The tone is mellow, but relentlessly even,
which is key for nailing this feel. Placing
your notes slightly behind the beat does
wonders in this scenario.
The legato chorus driver. Everyone from
12-year-old punk rockers to seasoned professionals
use this technique daily. For total
evenness, playing with a plectrum or with
one finger works the best. All the notes ring
out legato style and provide a flying carpet for
everyone else to take a ride on. Though you
probably often use this approach throughout
a song, it will shine if you save it for choruses!
This is the simplest and most common way
to play eighth-notes on the root.
Eighth-notes as an arrangement tool.
I focus on how the drummer plays the hihat.
The duration of the notes should, in
most cases, match the duration of yours. In
a verse, you might be playing short notes.
In the pre-chorus, try increasing the note
value ever so slightly, and then right before
the chorus, play a little harder. Finally,
when the chorus hits, you play long notes
to match the open hi-hat. This approach
will make the chorus feel like a car pulling
off the entrance ramp onto the freeway. By
simply changing your note value and attack
slightly, you’re able to give the song dramatic
dynamics and direction for the other players
to build on. You are playing bass like a producer—
building each section independently
while giving the song invaluable structure.
U2, Coldplay, Kings of Leon, and
countless other acts have enjoyed enormous
success, partly because the bassist put his
ego aside and provided a wall of eighthnotes.
Lastly, I would like to nominate Cliff
Williams of AC/DC for president of the
eighth-note states. Listen to the first 30
seconds of “Shot Down in Flames” and you
just might join the campaign.
Nashville bassist and producer Victor
Brodén has toured and recorded with more
than 25 major-label artists, including LeAnn
Rimes, Richard Marx, Casting Crowns,
and Randy Houser. His credits also include
Grammy-winning albums and numerous
television specials on CMT and GAC, as well as performances
on The Tonight Show and The Ellen DeGeneres
Show. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org