Be A Musical Magpie – Learning From Different Musical Styles

LEVEL: This post has some beginner elements to it including the general message of ‘listen to lots of different types of music’. Some of the examples require advanced technique (especially the prog one…).

I always thought that it was unfair to label magpies as thieves. Where did they get that reputation from??

Whether they do steal or not, we as musicians can definitely benefit from borrowing musical ideas. I hesitate to say steal musical ideas because it doesn’t work like that…

The way we learn to talk is by imitating our parents and then our friends and teachers. When we were children we were like sponges and we mopped everything up fast. Ultimately what emerged after a period of time was a unique individual with their own voice and not a carbon copy of any one influence.

There’s no difference when learning a musical instrument. We really are the product of what we listen to.

You have no idea how long that stick man took me.

As bass players we’re really lucky that our instrument plays a pivotal role in nearly all styles of contemporary music making. This makes it really easy to be interested in a wide sonic palette because there’s just so much good bass playing in so many different genres.

Personally my taste in music has always been like my taste in food – I love it all. Or if not all, then a lot. I’ve never really understood how people can only like one type of music (or people who don’t like donuts for that matter). But each to their own.

Listen to what moves you.

There are so many important and cool lessons to be absorbed from different styles of music.

Here are 7 examples of what you might find:

Latin

 

Takeaway

Latin music is all about the rhythm. If you’ve never played latin music before then these rhythms will present a great challenge. It’s brilliant for your sense of time and for incorporating syncopation into your playing (that just means rhythms that are not predominantly on the beat). Pay attention to the time signature. That C symbol with a line through it means ‘cut time’ and it’s basically 2/2 (2 half notes per bar) and – in this context – is similar to feeling 4/4 but double the speed.

This line uses the natural minor scale (aeolian mode) over 2 chords: Am7 and Fmaj7.

 

Backing Track + Bass

 

Backing Track – Download and loop in your DAW (Half Note = 105BPM *)

*You can set the metronome to 4/4 105BPM but just make sure you play the notes in the music above double the time of 4/4. That’s kind of what ‘cut time’ is. A ‘DAW’ is a Digital Audio Workstation (Logic, Cubase, Pro Tools etc.).

Further Listening 

Michel Camilo: One More Once

 

 

Book

This is a great book with loads of great lines that will keep you busy. 

 

Prog

Takeaway

Prog (Progressive Rock) can sometimes seem like the place where music meets maths. I don’t have a problem with that at all and you need serious technique for this example. Prog musicians love an odd time signature and an interesting sounding scale. My example below uses the phrygian mode, a whole tone scale and 2 bars of 7/16 because why not? The track is 150BPM. That means it’s fingerstyle technique at warp speed.

Backing Track + Bass

Backing Track – Download and loop in your DAW (150BPM)

 

 

Further Listening 

Dream Theater: Metropolis, Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory.

 

Jazz

Takeaway

Jazz is a rich art form from which you can mine so many musical ideas. The use of modes, swing feel, chord progressions and melody as well as the sheer range of styles within the genre make it extremely rewarding. It’s not always the easiest road to take but it’s definitely worth it. This example uses the ii V progression going down a tone, finishing on a ii V I in the key of Bb Major. So bars 1 to 2 is ii V in the key of D Major then a tone down so ii V in the key of C Major (bars 3 and 4). Then the last 4 bars is that ii V I in the key of Bb Major. This post isn’t going to explain all that but, trust me. It’s really not that difficult at all once you grasp a couple of concepts.

The bass line walks down a dorian mode each time. 

 

Backing Track + Bass

Backing Track – Download and loop in your DAW (140BPM)

Further Listening 

 

Miles Davis: Kind Of Blue.

 

Funk

Takeaway

Groove. The life blood of music. Scale wise, there is not much to funk. Hypnotic, syncopated rhythms designed to get you moving are the order of the day here. A bass player playing with great time and groove is pretty much what all other musicians want in their bands. The listener may not know it but it’s what they need to hear too. Funk is the gateway to groove.

Backing Track + Bass

Backing Track – Download and loop in your DAW (111BPM)

Further Listening 

James Brown: Sex Machine

 

Blues

Takeaway

Blues was the precursor to jazz and the bedrock of so many styles of popular music from the 50s onwards. The 12 Bar Blues is an essential thing to learn for any musician. Not only because you can easily learn hundreds of songs from it but you can also jam with other musicians easily. Blues works because of the feel and the emotion and along with rhythm, harmony and melody those are all the building blocks of music. The following example is taken from my free course that you can sign up to here

Backing Track – Download and loop in your DAW (112BPM)

 

Further Listening 

BB King: Live At The Regal

 

Pop

Takeaway

Pop music may seem to be the simplest to play especially when compared to some styles of rock and jazz but there is a real art to good pop. The bass often has the opportunity to provide a melody and interest of its own: often called a ‘hook’.

Backing Track + Bass

Backing Track – Download and loop in your DAW (110BPM)

Further Listening 

Michael Jackson: Off The Wall.

 

Rock

Takeaway

It’s difficult to distill any genre down into a few points. Like the other genres above, rock comes in many forms (prog being one of them). A few things I’ve taken from it are the use of the minor pentatonic and blues scales, repeating patterns (riffs), the presence of monstrous overdriven bass tones and the sometimes aggressive attitude you need to play a line authentically.

 

Backing Track + Bass

Backing Track – Download and loop in your DAW (80BPM)

 

Further Listening 

Muse: Absolution.

 

This is such a tiny slice of the musical pie. What I want you to to get from this post is that there is something in every style of music that you can learn from. It might be a cool new technique, a new pedal to create a monster rock tone or it might be that you need to learn what a dorian mode is and how to use it.

You will find that working on your ear will give you the most important musical tool you need to be able to extract all these ideas.

Let me know in the comments what tune/album/genre has influenced you and how….