If you know Jaco Pastorius you’ve probably listened to Donna Lee. 

If you’ve ever looked for bass videos on Youtube, you surely know Jeff Berlin’s Tears In Heaven.

What’s connecting these songs?
They’ve both been written by other artists (Charlie Parker in the first case, Eric Clapton in the second) and other instruments (trumpet, guitar), and these artists arranged them for bass.

As I said in the week two chapter: how to learn a song, this is a job for your ears: listen, find the notes, play. But! You can imagine how different can be to learn a bass line instead of music that was originally written for another instrument. The main question is: is it possible to play this kind of music with the bass and make it sound the same? The answer is, obviously, no.

So, why should you develop this technique?

Every instrument has its language, that depends by its structure, material and even its tradition. When you play their music you discover a whole world of possibilities that you couldn’t imagine before, exactly like you’re travelling in a far country and you eat the foreign food for the first time. You can improve your playing by absorbing this language and create something original for your instrument.

That’s especially true for solos! You can take a lot of ideas from, for example, brass solos, because their language is pretty comfortable to play for us and the result is often very nice to hear.

Also, not all musicians want to trespass this limit for the same reason, some want to test their technique in a different way, maybe transcribing a sax solo, some want to arrange their favorite song with the bass, others are just curious.

Your goal, anyway, has not to be imitating note by note, but instead to create something new that’s as good to hear as the original, even with some adjustments.

Every musical instrument has its particularities that make it peculiar. Most of work is about to recognise what we can play similarly and what we can’t. It depends first by the nature of the instrument itself. As you know, in fact, there are many kind of instruments: plucked strings, bowed strings, wind instruments, percussions and so on. Any of these has its way to produce the sound and it cannot be easily reproduced. The more it’s different and the more you’ll have to arrange the part.

For example, large intervals like octaves are easy on the bass but they’re pretty challenging on woodwinds. For them, instead, legatos are simple figures that we often can’t play at all. When you find a part that was expressly written for that instrument, try to replace it with something yours, so you’ll create your own bass arrangement and you won’t risk to play a bad imitation that’s gonna sound bad for sure.

Obviously not all music can be played with every instrument. Some things are pretty impossible, others just sound bad. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth the effort.

Now, let’s see together some points you have to considerate before to start.

Fingering. Composers often write music in a comfortable way for the instrument that has to play it, and they use different intervals depending on that. In this case you have to be a little creative with your fingering to make it flowing on the bass. Don’t be discouraged if it seems hard and try to figure out how to make it sound. Change octave and position, use open strings if you need, try new chords positions and anything you have in mind.

Speed. Some instruments, like bagpipes, usually play upper than 130 bpm. In this case you may write notes down and start playing the song slowly. Pay particular attention to the fingering to be correct since the beginning, because some passages that seem easy at a low-speed can become tricky when it gets faster and it’s hard to correct them later.

Dynamics. Some instruments have a huge range of dynamics that is hard to mimic with the bass. If you’ve ever listened to classic music you probably noticed how the orchestra jumps up and down in the volume level, to give a sweet or dramatic impact to the music. It could be quite interesting trying to do this. Dynamics are all in your right hand, and this is a perfect exercise!

Notes duration. On bass, the time taken by the note to expire is called sustain. The more it takes, the more is sustain. Even if you’re bass has a good sustain, you cannot play a never-ending note like, for example, the violin. It means that if you want to play a violin part you have to arrange it in a way your note attacks sound good and natural, or you can use tools, pedals or softwares to create a sound that works. The E-bow, for example, is a tool that permits you to create an infinite sustain on bass and guitar.

Playing range. A classic four string electric bass has a range that goes from E1 to E4 at the 21th fret of the first string. It’s the lowest range except for the double bass, that’s the same. Sometimes changing the position on the neck it’s enough to play an higher instrument’s line, but sometimes you won’t have the notes and you’ll be forced to play it lower. If you’re thinking about a solo transcription you can just choose the position you’re most comfortable being indifferent to the octave. If you want to do a bass arrangement, and you’re supposed to have multiple sounds at the same moment, you need a smaller sound. You can try to make it with your right hand or a software, so your line will sound clear and not swollen of low frequencies.

Hope I’ve been helpful, and welcome to the bass arrangements world! See you next week,