How to practice with iReal Pro: a tutorial for bass players
Since when it was introduced, iReal Pro won over a large number of musicians, me included, for different reasons:
First, it always shows up at the gig, as long as you remember to bring your phone! Believe me, that’s already a big plus when you’re playing at wedding, corporate parties or any other gig and someone, after few drinks, requests at the last second his favorite pop tune. Great for “music emergencies” like the aforementioned!
It’s easy to navigate, which means less time spent to look for the song and more playing.
Over time the number of songs has reached the actual few thousands: it’s increasingly harder not to find your song.
It’s not geared exclusively toward jazz but open to different music styles.
It’s a great tool to practice at home any song in any key, tempo and style.
Last but not least, you can create your own chord progression and use that for gigs, home practice or both.
It’s time now to talk about this first bass tutorial, meant for the students who want to use the app for home practice.
In the app you can find Jazz, Latin, Pop and Blues as the four main music genres, and each of them has different music styles. This first article will be dedicated to the different jazz styles, the music charts being based on a II-V-I progression in C major (2 measures of Dmin7, 2 measures of G7 and 4 measures of Cmaj7).
To make things easier, I grouped the styles according to the different tempos, from slow to medium, medium up and a Jazz Latin section. Consider that from a rhythmic point of view, the following basslines can be used for any other chord progression.
Ballad, double time feel – 60bpm
Ballad, even – 60bpm
Ballad, melodic – 60bpm
Ballad swing – 60bpm
Long notes – 80bpm
Slow swing – 80bpm
Even 16ths – 90bpm
Medium swing – 100bpm
Even 8ths – 140bpm
Even 8ths, open – 140bpm
Guitar trio – 140bpm
Doo Doo Cats – 160bpm
Medium up tempos
Medium up swing – 160bpm
Medium up swing 2 – 160bpm
Gypsy Jazz – 180bpm
New Orleans swing – 180bpm
Second line – 180bpm
Swing two/four – 180bpm
Trad jazz – 200bpm
Double time swing – 240bpm
Up tempo swing – 240bpm
Up tempo swing 2 – 240bpm
Afro 12/8 - 110bpm
Blue note – 120bpm
Bossa nova – 140bpm
Latin – 180bpm
Latin/Swing – 180bpm
As I said already, all the previous bassline samples are based on a II-V-I progression in Cmajor, but the rhythmic patterns can be used in any other song with the same style.
Before leaving you to your daily practice, I have few more suggestions applicable to the previous examples:
Just like in life Τὰ πάντα ῥεῖ, nothing in music is static as well: in our case, once you’re confident with the basic rhythm patterns, feel free to mix them and create your own accompaniment style!
Don’t overdose your basslines with too many fills, remember that your playing should be solidly based on few rhythmic patterns, and the fills should be therefore an exception (as a general rule, specific rhythmic variations are best used at the end of sections).
As a bass player, you have the responsibility to play for the most part the triads (using the sevenths as an additional degree).
Have you ever wondered why? I’ll use some classical theory of harmony to explain it. In a regular 4 voices SATB ensemble (short for Soprano-Alto-Tenor-Bass), the 2 voices at the extremes are the ones mainly responsible for the melody and harmony.
Since the bass is at the low end of the frequency spectrum, it defines the harmony. That’s why, as bass players, we are required to play triads, being especially assertive on the tonic note.
Everyone in the ensemble (and everyone listening as well) refers to the bass player to know the tonic, and if you put excessive emphasis on other scale degrees, the new note will be perceived as the tonic of a new chord, creating therefore a clash with the other musicians.
Check the two examples below here.
In the above II-V-I progression in Cmaj, we used for the most part triad notes, creating a clear relation between the given chord and the bassline.
Same chord progression as the previous one, but in this case the triads have been mixed with scale notes.
In order to show you the difference between a clear and a blurred bassline, in the first example I used only the triads related to the given chord (except a VIImin in Dminor), and the movement of the bass clearly defines the II-V-I progression in Cmajor. In the second case I mixed chord and scale notes, creating voluntarily harmonic confusion (for example, in Dmin7 the IIImin-IV-V-VIImin can also be a Fmaj I-II-III-V).
So, what’s the solution to this harmonic confusion? Well, you know that you have a better chance to be understood when you enunciate the single words, so the same applies in music. In other words, be clear. As a general rule, always play the triad notes on the first and third beat (the strong ones), and use the scale degrees only the second and fourth beat (the weak ones).
When playing long notes at slow tempos, always prefer the tonic, unless you want to create a chromatic ascending or descending movement in the bass. Even in this case, the chromatic movement of the bass will rely mostly on the quadriad’s I, III, V or VII.
Follow these rules and you will be on a good path to become a solid bass player. Stay tuned for the next tutorial based on Latin music styles!
Have a good home practice and don’t forget to apply your knowledge at your gigs!