Michael Jackson created some of the
most universally memorable — and downright
funky — music of the last century.
His hit “Billie Jean,” from the best-selling
album of all time, Thriller, makes great
use of synth bass and strings to lay down
a hard groove and mysterious vibe. Want
to learn the central bass riff and chordal
stabs that make the tune instantly recognizable?
If your axe allows it, split your
keyboard at middle C with a slightly
grungy, Minimoog-esque bass sound in
the lower register and a string sound
with a fast attack (such as a marcato
patch) in the upper register. Listen to the
track a few times, walk through the simplified
examples below, and play along, on
the floor, in the round. . . .
Click thumbnails for larger images.
Ex. 1. Here’s the first right-hand chord, just the root and fifth of F#min.
Ex. 2. Next, move both notes up a whole step to D# and G#.
Ex. 3. The third right-hand chord is the exact same shape, a half
step higher: E and A.
Ex. 4. Here’s how your left hand should lay on the keyboard in order to play the
signature “Billie Jean” bass line, which is transcribed in Example 5. Just play the
notes under your fingers in this order — 1, 4, 2, 1, 2, 4, 5, 4 — and you’ve got it.
Ex. 5. Here’s the bass line and right-hand part in traditional notation. Be sure to count along to time the right-hand
stabs just right, and don’t forget to line up those hits with the appropriate bass notes in the left hand.