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Bass Fills – The Scenic Routes

Have you ever wanted to find a different, more scenic route to a location?  No matter where you go, there are usually a number of different ways to get there.  However, when we get bored with the same old route we might begin to look for a different route to take.  Chances are you wanted to find a different route to make the trip more interesting, or to break up the minutia.  Many times we do the same with our music as we journey from chord to chord.

The most direct “route” from one chord to another, let’s say C to G, is simply to move your finger from one to the other.  Most of the time, that route works best.  However, there are times when we want to create a more interesting “route” to the G, so we seek out some options.  That will be our bass fill.  Perhaps we’ll play a sequence like C, E, F, then G, or D, E, A, G.  How do we know which routes (note sequences) we can take?  We must follow the rules of the road, or in music, the key.

Thinking Within the Key

The key of the song will determine which routes we can safely take.  Please note that I’m keeping this explanation within the chord structures that apply to most contemporary worship songs and pop songs.  For instance, if we’re in the key of C, then we want to use the notes that are part of the C Major scale, C,E,F,G,A,B.  So, E would work, but Eb would have a “Road Closed” sign as it’s not a suitable note for our fill (notes outside the key can be used as passing tones, but that will have to be discussed in another post).

Keep It Short

If I take a route too far out of the way on my way to the grocery store, I’m likely to forget where I was going.  If I’m in unfamiliar territory I can also get lost.  Both of these situations relate well to our bass playing.  We can start a fill in an unfamiliar part of our neck and get lost, or we can create such a long route to our next chord that the fill itself becomes a distraction and we, our band, and even the listeners can forget where you were headed!  Therefore, work only in the familiar parts of your fretboard when adding a fill, you can explore other routes when you practice.  Finally, keep your fills short and sweet.  Remember, the journey through a song is not one you’re taking alone. You are taking other musicians and listeners with you. The routes, or fills you choose are, ultimately, for the sake of enhancing the song.  Choose your fills with these things in mind, and remember to practice them first:-).