The bass is primarily responsible to provide anchor notes at certain points in the music. To put that in a nutshell, we are generally responsible to play a root in a low register when a harmony first occurs; doing that underscores to the band “this is the chord!” If we cover the basic areas of our responsibility as bass players – which involve “showing up” at definable points in the music with the right information – then we have considerable freedom in how we get to the next “signpost” or anchor point.
A “pivot” is similar to an anchor in that it communicates fundamental harmony at an expected time; however, it is most often not the root of the chord, and not at the beginning of the harmonic instance; the most common pivot is the fifth of the chord – but it can be any chord tone, depending on taste and circumstances; and its most common location in the rhythm is on the 3rd beat, assuming 4/4 – or, rather, halfway through the bar. There are many popular songs built around a specific bass line; in these songs, the pivot contained in the fixed line is part of the bassist’s responsibility, but development can still occur within these kinds of frameworks. We will explore this as the book progresses.
Lead-Ins are the connecting material… these are the bassist’s creative opportunity. Once the bassist has delivered an anchor, he can employ lead-ins of a wide variety to approach the next benchmark – the pivot – and then transition from the pivot to the next anchor. Lead-ins come in all shapes and sizes, rhythmic and melodic configurations, and they are the bassist’s playgound.
As is the case in every set of rules, rules are made to be broken. It is not always the case that the bass has to play an anchor on the first beat of every chord change. As development progresses, anchors and pivots can be rhythmically displaced. Sometimes, in walking bass lines, the distances between anchors can increase; lead-ins can occur on strong rhythmic beats, pivots can be used as anchors, and lead-ins can be extended. We will talk about all of these options as the book progresses.
We are also going to cover the subject of internal rhythmic dynamics, which we would define as dynamic variation within a particular musical phrase. Tension and release is as important in rhythm as it is in melody, and the foundation of rhythmic music of all kinds is accents, where they fall, and how much emphasis they get. Bassists need to know something about the traditions that exist here, which seem to have been largely overlooked in written pedagogy, but have been transmitted orally since the first strike of a drum.