Gospel music is a genre that allows bass players to experiment with musical genres as far ranging as blues, funk, R&B and even rock. While gospel music is spiritual in nature, it encompasses these genres to deliver a big sound that makes a perfect musical palette for gospel bassists. Although gospel takes on many musical personalities, the fundamentals of playing it remain simple. By learning basic patterns and playing techniques, you can play gospel bass lines that will provide a rich, spiritual rhythm foundation to the gospel music you enjoy.
Listen to as much gospel music as you can. Listen to the choir at your church, listen to gospel CDs, and go to gospel performances. One of the best ways to get ideas for gospel bass lines is to hear and see them in practice. Immerse yourself in all the various sounds that gospel can encompass, then experiment to find your own sound. Listening to gospel before you attempt to play it is essential to helping you develop the feeling that goes along with playing.
Familiarize yourself with the 1-4-5 progression. These numbers indicate chord positions within a key of music. Gospel is played in all of the major keys. The fundamental gospel bass line is built around the chords built on the first, fourth, and fifth notes of a given scale. In the key of C (C-D-E-F-G-A-B), C, F and G are the first, fourth and fifth notes of the scale. The basic major chords built on these notes are C major, F major and G major. These are the chords you will use to build your fundamental bass lines.
Break down the notes in each chord. Any major triad (three note chord) uses the first, third and fifth notes of the scale with the same name. A C major chord, for instance, uses the first, third and fifth notes of a C major scale. These notes would be C-E-G. These are the three notes you might use over a C major chord. An F major chord is made up of the first, third and fifth notes of the F major scale (F-A-C). These notes work over an F major. There are twelve major keys, so keeping a major key chart handy as you memorize all the notes in every key can help you structure a chord at a glance.
Practice playing arpeggios on a 1-4-5 progression in C. An arpeggio is a broken chord, which means you'll play the notes of a chord separately. The chords you should be working with are C-F-G. The individual arpeggios in each of these chords are: C major chord=C-E-G; F major chord=F-A-C; G major chord=G-B-D. This gives you seven different notes you can choose from to play a basic gospel bass line over this chord progression.
Play these notes on your bass in a walking pattern. Walking bass lines are popular in gospel music. A walking bass line is simply playing a series of notes in a steady pattern, with each note being held for the same time value, which creates a walking feel. Play the notes above, counting one for each note. When you can play this pattern comfortably, you're playing a simple bass line for any gospel piece in the key of C.
Experiment with different notes of the scale to extend the sound. If you add the seventh note of a major scale to your progression, you can change the sound of a major chord to a seventh chord. For instance, in C (C-D-E-F-G-A-B), adding the seventh note, B, over a C major chord will make the C major sound like a C major seventh. These seventh chords are fundamental in gospel music.
To become an accomplished musician, whether you play gospel bass or any instrument, consider pursuing the study of reading and writing music, developing your ear to hear tones and an understanding of complex music theory that can help you better understand chord construction. There are countless playing techniques as well, which can be learned over years of practice. You may even consider a teacher at the beginning of your studies.
Carl Hose is the author of the anthology "Dead Horizon" and the the zombie novella "Dead Rising." His work has appeared in "Cold Storage," "Butcher Knives and Body Counts," "Writer's Journal," and "Lighthouse Digest.". He is editor of the "Dark Light" anthology to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.