How do you remember songs fast Bass Guitar Lesson

Learning basslines, easy guide to remembering songs fast

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It’s a Wednesday night, you hear the noise of your phone vibrating against your desk. You check the screen. The display tells you it’s Tom, that great drummer you met at a jam session a few weeks ago! “I need your help. Can you sit in with us on a gig this Saturday? Our bass player had to cancel today. I’m looking for someone to play two sets of cover songs with us”.

Seeing Tom is a busy session player and is known for getting everyone gigs, of course you agree. Once you receive the setlist though, you realize you only know four songs of the twenty song repertoire. Yikes, that means learning 16 songs in three days and you also have you favorite aunt’s birthday on Friday.

Substitute bass player

There will be times when you have to learn a lot of repertoire in a short time. For example when you are subbing for another bass player. Sometimes opportunities come up at the last moment and frequently they come up at a time which isn’t particularly convenient.

In this article I give you my method of learning a lot of repertoire in a short time. Of course you can also apply this method to just learning one song.

How do you remember songs fast?

Well as a disclaimer before I explain my method, you should first of all realize there are two types of gigs. Gigs where you are expected to play every arrangement note for note, and gigs where you are allowed to be creative and play more freely as long as you are grooving and making everyone in the band sound amazing. Of course some bass parts are essential to learn note for note like unison riffs or iconic bass riffs that everyone knows. You can’t fake yourself through the theme of “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder and just root notes will probably not amuse the rest of the band when you are playing  “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson.

Always make sure to check what is expected of you when you are asked to sub for someone. Some band leaders allow you to take more freedom than others.

Seeing as we are talking about a cover band gig, and Tom is a chill guy, he just wants you to groove and make everybody at the party dance their booties off. That certainly makes things a lot easier!  

Tom Just Wants You to Groove Meme

What is the chord progression of the song?

We have the tendency of focusing on details and specific notes that are being played. But you have to realize that these notes are played because of the context of the song. Instead of trying to figure out every nuance, focus on hearing what root notes are being played when a chord changes. When you know what the roots are, you can figure out if chords are minor or major by listening to them, or by just trying your triads/arpeggios on them. A song might have hundreds of notes in them but usually only a handful of chords. Remember that in most songs a chord sequence of 4 to 8 chords is just repeated a couple of times to form a section.

Tip: If the setting allows it and you are comfortable with reading chord charts, it might be a good idea to make charts for yourself.

If you want to learn more about triads and how chords are constructed also check out my lesson about chords by clicking here.

What are the modes in a song?

When you know which chord is where in the song, the next step is figuring out which mode works on every chord. You don’t have to play fancy lines over every chord of course, but it’s good to at least have the knowledge of which mode works where. In case the music demands you to add in something extra.

Aren’t you sure about which mode to use? Don’t worry about it. Focus on grooving, locking in with the drummer and just making it feel good. Also, you can get inspiration from the original bass part. The thing to not do, is trying to play something flashy when the chances of it sounding horrible is extremely high. If it helps you, you can write down the name of the mode after the root on your chord chart.

Don’t know how modes work? Read my lesson about modes and you will!

How can I lock in with the drummer?

A big part of why a bass part sounds good, is how it interacts with the drum part. If you listen to a recording, you will find that most of the times the bass and the kick drum are at least for a big part in unison. Doubling the kick drum usually will add energy and also give the music a heavier or funkier feel.

Be aware of note length. Playing whole notes instead of playing short notes that copy the kick drum pattern will add room and can make a groove less heavy or harsh.

When remembering a song it’s a good idea to determine what the function of the bass is in a section on the song. You can add a little (mental) note that says “Verse, play long notes (open sound). Chorus, accent kick drum pattern (tight and funky)”.

In a live situation a drummer may play a different kick pattern. If this is the case, figure out what he’s doing and adapt your playing. Or wait a bit and see if he changes the pattern. Your goal is to groove so if your part is not working change it. Even if it’s exactly like the bass part on the recording.

Simplify and condense the information

In improvisational music (like jazz or blues) you will find that there are many variations on a part of riff. For example: If you have a blues, the bass player may start off with a fixed pattern. But throughout the song add notes, use chromatic notes to walk to the next chord, etc.

In situations like this it’s a good idea to learn the main riff in it’s most essential form. This means, a version that grooves and has the function the bass part needs in the context of the song. Also, when a part is too complicated, simplify it. Your goal is to be a solid bass player and fulfill your role of keeping the rhythm locked in. Only when you succeed in doing this you should think about adding your own flavor and creativity.

You don’t have to play every bass part the way it’s been recorded. Music is about expressing and creating. You are a musician not a copy machine.

What parts should I be specific about?

Like I already mentioned earlier in this article, there are some parts that you have to play like the recording. If a bass line is as iconic as the bass part of Donnie Hathaway’s “The Ghetto” or “Good Times” by Chic, you definitely have to put in the work. This also counts for parts you play in unison like the theme Cory Wong and Joe Dart play in unison on Vulfpeck’s “Dean Town”.

Figure out which parts of a song are in unison. Figure out which parts are so specific that you really have to learn them. The crowd and your band members will certainly thank you for this.

Should I learn the form of a song?

Yes you do! One of the things that is most overlooked when learning songs is knowing the form. Know how long a verse is, when the bridge starts, how the song ends, etc. Also, if there are breaks in the song, know where you stop playing. Do you play an accented short note on the 1st beat, or is it long? Do you just make sure your note stops ringing before the first beat of the next bar?

Knowing the form and when to start and stop playing is really the icing on the cake. Keep in mind live this can vary depending on the band. If they like to jam it out and have someone who leads the band while playing, you are good; Just keep eye contact so you know what’s going on. It could happen that there is a solo which wasn’t on the recording or they skip over the bridge.

Good musicians may even make up an ending on the go. Because yeah, you need to handle the fade-outs on records differently in real life.

How do I learn songs fast?

So to sum it up these are the 6 things you should know about a song either in your head or written down in your sheet music:

  • What is the progression of the song and what root notes/scales can I use?
  • What is the drummer playing? Especially with his kick drum.
  • What is the essence of the bass part? Or, what is the basic/simplified version of the main riff?
  • What parts require me to play them exactly like they are recorded?
  • What is the form of a song and when should or shouldn’t I play.
  • Where does the bass start in the song and how does the song end?

I hope you found this article helpful! Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are and if you have any questions or suggestions.

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