Picture this: You got the gig and you’re excited about the music. You get to your first rehearsal and the bandleader wants you to play “bass” on a couple of things. You panic because you’ve never had to be the bass player and cover your keyboard parts at the same time. I’ve been fortunate to play with some of the baddest bass players on the planet, and all of them have asked me to play bass at one time or another. To help be your own bassist, here are a few examples that will strengthen your hand independence as well as add some spice to your left hand. Always remember that as a keyboardist, you already use your left hand more than you know.
1. Pop Bass
Ex. 1 has a Pop feel to it. The C major chord is syncopated and falls right before beat 1 of measures 2 and 4, but there’s a lot of space in the bass part, which should make things easy. Embrace the simplicity and concentrate on making it feel good. You can practice all the examples in this article by setting up a simple “two and four” backbeat drum pattern to play over.
2. Rock Bass
Ex. 2 follows the same pattern as in Ex. 1 but now we’re adding a straight eighths rock feel on measures 2 and 4. Notice how this helps propel the rhythm forward.
3. R&B Bass
Ex. 3 is another variation on the same pattern. The busier bass line here is beginning to imply a more R&B or funk kind of groove. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but notice how the more syncopated the pattern becomes, the easier it is to play.
4. Syncopated Bass
Ex. 4 introduces more syncopation to the mix. Here, both hands play the first two beats of measures 1 and 3 simultaneously. Make sure to respect the staccato markings to maximize the funk factor.
5. Funk Bass
Ex. 5 is full-fledged funk. The right hand is syncopated in the style of Roger Troutman’s guitar on Zapp’s classic track “More Bounce to the Ounce.” Notice how the bass line plays “in the cracks” of the groove, which is the key to making this pattern feel good.
6. Contemporary Jazz Bass
To practice Ex. 6 effectively, take it at a slightly slower tempo and switch up the drum pattern. All of the chords fall on beat 1 except for the last measure. If you have trouble, slow down the last bar so you can feel the displacement of the chord right after the left hand lands on beat 1.
“Skill at left-hand keyboard bass can help you break stylistic barriers at the drop of a hat, as changing up the bass part can shift the entire feel of the song” says keyboardist, composer, and producer Federico Gonzalez Peña. Peña has worked with Me’Shell N’DegeOcello, Maxwell, Chaka Kahn, Marcus Miller, and many others. He currently co-leads a band called Gaia, in which his left hand is the bass player.