Online Bass Instruction with Rusty Springfield

Inevitably, I get students asking me about the concept of soloing. We bassists are at a bit of a disadvantage here, because 99% of the time, our sole function is to provide the foundation for the rest of the band. When the occasional finger is pointed at us saying "Take it!", we tend to either go blank or play everything we know as fast as we can within our allotted 8 bars of space.

(I can hear you saying, "This has happened to you, too?")

Neither of these choices evokes the desired response from ourselves or our audience. It is more important to make a musical statement than to attempt to dazzle 'em with a seemingly brilliant, but out of place, display of chops. Don't get me wrong, that rapid-fire triplet played with your teeth might be just the thing for a particular solo spot, but make sure that the song calls for it.

There is always one sure place to find a germ of inspiration for that perfect solo. Give up? It's called the melody. Even while you are soloing, try to hear the song's original melody in your head. Chances are good that your solo will sound a whole lot more relevant. This will also help you to "hear" your way through the changes (chord progression) of the tune. Try transcribing other peoples' solos, whatever their instrument, and you will learn how they "think." This concept was hammered home to me by one of the very best bass soloists of all time, Jaco Pastorius.

In 1976, I had the privilege of meeting Jaco for the first time. He was arguably at the peak of his abilities during that period, and was just gaining worldwide recognition. As a neophyte jazz student, I was in total awe of Jaco's soloing ability and was stumbling all over myself trying to ask him what he was thinking about when he was soloing. I remember asking him which modes he was using over this tune or that tune, trying to impress him with the little bit of knowledge that I had attained from my theory studies. After I had finished my plethora of questions, Jaco patiently replied, "I'm not doing any of that, I'm just playin' the melody." I felt like Moses, after God had just handed him the Ten Commandments. Of course! The little light bulb in my head went on. What was indeed the most obvious, and musical approach to soloing, seemed like a revelation at the time. What Jaco meant was to approach a solo as another melody, not an intellectual exercise, void of a musical statement.

Remember this: A solo is just a different melody being played over the same changes. If you sing what you are playing, whether out loud or silently, you will be expressing ideas that are the closest to your own "soul."

Can I hear an "Amen!" ?
Go to the next lesson: Required Listening