Transcribing and learning other compositions is a crucial cornerstone to any aspiring musician’s practice routine. By learning the works of other musicians, you exponentially increase your musical vocabulary. But figuring out which songs to learn to better your playing can be an overwhelming task, given the immense amount of music on hand for practice and study. We’ve compiled a list of 10 songs that bassists can use to expand their skill set to remedy this issue.
These songs are arranged in order of difficulty, ranging from beginner level to expert and explorative.
Jack White’s timeless stadium anthem features one of the most recognizable riffs in history. The best part about the main hook in this song is that it can all be performed on the top string of the bass and is a reasonably simple progression. This combination makes it ideal for beginner players to practice while getting comfortable on the bass. You can also choose to learn the main riff using traditional fingerstyle or with a plectrum (which gives the song its signature sound). Learning the song is quite simple; perfecting it takes a bit more time and effort.
This laid-back soft rock classic comes with a two-chord progression that barely waivers throughout the arrangement. The essence of this song lies in the pocket, the important notes that are played in time with the kick drum. Novice bassists can take advantage of the simple structure to better their timing and dynamics. There are also some great ghost and passing notes to explore in this piece to up your skill level.
Tame Impala is renowned for having brought the psych-rock genre to mainstream popularity. This dreamy indie-disco love song is a nod to the original psych players of the ’60s and 70’s era like The Who, Deep Purple, and the later work of The Beatles. The basslines from this time were mostly played with a plectrum, and this track features a cheeky, deceptively tricky bassline that seems to cheat the laws of rhythm and melody. The bassline of this track is the focal element, so be sure to have it well practiced if you wish to throw it out in a jam session or performance.
James Jamerson is responsible for a dizzying amount of Motown classics. With over 60 Top 10 US hits to his name alone, it’s quite hard to pick the best Jamerson bassline to add to this list. One of his longest-standing hits came in service to R&B Boy-Band The Four Tops with Reach Out. The bass in this song makes up the initial riff and then proceeds to drive harder and harder as the song proceeds, which fits well with its uplifting sonic aesthetic. Fingerstyle is ideal for playing this song, and Jamerson garnered a notorious reputation for tracking some of his best bass lines with his index finger or lying on the floor.
Some music purists might roll their eyes when coming across these pop legends on this list. However, this track, in particular, is a beautiful case study for turning your passing notes into a cohesive riff. The progression is a bouncy pentatonic pattern that gives players the platform to flex their double-time playing. The basic groove is also in the style of a marching-band rudiment but has a beastly effect when coupled with the song’s EDM backbeat. It’s important to note that the pocket of this song does not lie in the two and four of each bar (a familiar feeling for most pop anthem basslines) but rather on every eighth note.
The bassline in this track is a rework from the disco classic “Good Times” by the band Chic. The riff has also been redone and tributed in the late Mac Miller’s song What’s The Use (featuring bass icon Thundercat). Any bassist looking to get into funk and disco should learn some variation of this bassline and try to form versions of their own. The ghost notes and specific articulations in each one offer a masterclass on writing bass lines that are classy combinations of tasteful and expressive. Extra points if you’re able to do the rap verses while playing the bass line.
You simply cannot have a top 10 bass list without including Michael’ Flea’ Balzary. Around The World is one of the most memorable examples of his incredible creativity. The song starts with an explosive bass riff, which is backed by a roaring rhythm. The verse quickly switches over to a cheeky funk bass riff that exhibits Flea’s ability to blend genres effortlessly and make them sound natural. The chorus is accompanied by a solemn, more relaxed bass part, which gives players the chance to breathe before throwing down an intensely dreamy outro section.
Much like Flea, Thundercat has made it cool to play the bass. The colorful musician fronts his band and composes many of his arrangements, with the bass as the most prominent element. Them Changes has a densely modern nu-funk sound, and the bassline acts as a counter-melody that intertwines with Thundercat’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics. More experienced bass players should learn live versions of Thundercat’s work as he pushes his playing in live situations.
Marcus Miller is to jazz- bassists what Michael Jordan is to the NBA. The legendary musician is a firm fixture in most jazz festivals and music conferences. Miller is also famed for being one of the first bassists to popularize the slap technique, which he fully indulges in his masterpiece Run For Cover. Be warned; this song is not for the faint-hearted. There are specific music rules that Miller bends in this track, and he also uses various right-hand techniques across the arrangement.
Jaco Pistorius is considered a god amongst most accomplished bass players and truly pushed every boundary possible with his explorative bass playing. Portrait Of Tracy is one of his most revered compositions and opens up with a stunning series of pinch and tap harmonics. The song is just two and a half minutes in length and is a solo bass piece that effortlessly transcends the limitations of conventional bass playing. Learning this song takes some patience and an open-minded approach to composition and music theory.
Some of the basslines listed have shaped a lot of how we still write and perform music today. Even if you don’t make it through every song on this list, you should be able to find something that will challenge your ability or at least give you a few wholesome hours of jamming. Thanks for reading through our list of 10 Songs That Bassists Should Have In Their Repertoire.