• Who else wants to play bass lines like Ray Charles?

    in Blues music

    ray-charles-big.jpgWhen I was a kid, one of the first things I learned how to do was play bass lines.

    Blues bass lines, in fact.

    You know those ones you’d hear Ray Charles rumbling on his left hand?

    Heck, those bass lines were what gave me the confidence to keep going because I could actually play something that sounded like something… hehe.

    And I was the type to show off when family came over so it got addicting. :)

    My grandma and her brothers (I never had immediate uncles but I had tons of great uncles) would say “that boy is bad” because those bluesy bass lines were right up their alley. Play something from Disney and you immediately lost their attention. Oh yeah… “bad” is good as in “he can play!”

    And now I’m going to share with you some of the concepts I used over 18 years ago to play some of my favorite blues bass lines.

    (My experienced players will most likely already know this. My up-and-comers… pay a lot of attention):

    Using major triads to learn bass lines

    My first bass lines came from regular major chords.

    For example, the “C major” chord is: C+E+G

    But if you arpeggiate the chord (that means to break it up so that you’re only playing one note at a time), you can turn it into a bass line.

    C > E > G > E > C > E >G > E > C

    Add some flavor and play the C twice (really quickly)…

    C > C > E > G > E > C > C > E >G > E > C

    Just take any major chord, break up the notes, and play them going up and back down the chord. Now, play it in rhythm! Don’t be stiff!

    Using dominant seventh chords to play bass lines

    The C dominant 7 chord (aka “C7“) is: C+E+G+Bb

    (Note the flatted 7th tone up top… the Bb).

    So, apply the same strategy but what we’ll do is add a note to make it sound better.

    We’ll add “A,” which happens to be the sixth tone of the scale.

    So it looks like this

    C > E > G > A > Bb
    1 > 3 > 5 > 6 > b7

    (I’ve put the numbers below the notes so that you can apply this to any major key, as long as you know your scales and what numbers correspond to which tones of the scale).

    So play that bass run up the chord and then back down…

    C > E > G > A > Bb > A > G > E > C

    You can even play C twice to add some more flavor (but you’ll need to do it much quicker than the rest of the notes and slightly off beat)

    C > C > E > G > A > Bb > A > G > E > C

    Adding flavor

    Now it’s time to apply some “Ray Charles” to your bass line.

    (The bass line I’m talking about starts at about 1:45 so fast forward until you see Ray Charles showing Jamie Foxx how to play it. Jamie picks it up right away).

    It’s the same bass line created from the dominant seventh chord I just showed you… it’s just in the key of Ab major instead of C.

    Ray does this little thing in the beginning (it’s just Eb coming down to Bb using the notes of the Ab major scale… Eb > Db > C > Bb… then leading back up to Ab using Gb > G > Ab).

    Then it’s the main bass line

    Ab > C > Eb > F > Gb > F > Eb > C > Ab

    But you’ll have to double up on your bass line by playing a lower Ab with your pinky and a higher Ab with your thumb, then the same pattern for each of the notes.

    Low Ab, then high Ab — Low C, then high C — Low Eb, then high Eb… so on and so forth

    Once you master the speed, you’ll sound just like Ray Charles and Jamie Foxx!

    How long did it take you to figure out?

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 10 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 cheryl

    I’m the biggest jamie fan so when I scanned this post and saw his name, I had to read it all. not that i dont read it any way jermaine. this is a great post. i never knew how to play bass lines that good and this definitely gets me started


    2 jon

    this smooth. i like i like


    3 ms faye

    this is awesome. i love your teachings tyle


    4 Malcolm

    wow! wow! wow! Jermaine ur the boss!!!…this is really interestin’ first time ever seeing that video…it was really helpful!!!!!


    5 BS

    Thanks for the great tips!!


    6 avon cornelius

    do you have any instructions or dvd’s showing left handed bass player using a right handed bass playing up side down on a right handed bass


    7 Graphic Design Belfast

    enlightening Here’s a link for your observation


    8 DoDo Juice

    I considered leaving this pingback wonderful gadget


    9 Charlie.

    Hi Jermaine, I am not a musician, but I grew up listening to Ray Charles. My son wants to learn Bass Guitar, and we were discussing the guitar style in Ray Charles’ song “What’d I Say”. My question is ; “Was the bass line used in this song an example of the “Running Bass” style or something else?”
    Thank You Very Much For Your Time, Charlie


    10 me

    heres how the bass in this song was originally played.


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