Tag: Monotonic bass

Country Blues Basics Part 13: Me and the Devil Blues

Aside from a driving feel, monotonic bass can also give a simplistic drum like beat to your music. It can create space in a way that alternating bass cannot.

Again, these bass techniques are a way of creating a fabric that you can adorn.

Robert Johnson was a master of creating space. He played a similar accompaniment to many of his most well known songs– it featured simple A position chords in a 12 bar Blues format. Johnson would alter the tempo and placement of the notes in each, giving them a different feel. 

A good example of this is in his song Kind Hearted Woman. We are lucky enough to have two takes of this song. One features a slow tempo, the other with a quicker one. Although the notes he plays are similar, the space he creates using the bass creates a much different feel. 

Here are his performances of Kind Hearted Woman:

In order to give you an exercise to practice the monotonic bass, let’s take a look at his song Me and the Devil Blues. The chords used are identical to Kind Hearted Woman, Phonograph Blues, 32-20 Blues, and Dead Shrimp Blues. By learning this song you are actually learning 5 songs. Sounds like a good deal to me!

Here is my performance of Me and the Devil Blues:

The chords I use is are an D7 shape moved up to the 9th fret to be A7. It looks like this:

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 6.27.49 PM

I use a D7 shape with my thumb hooked over the neck to catch the F# note. This shape is important for monotonic bass so you can get a really low sounding note.

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 6.28.13 PM

I also use an E7 shape that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 6.27.40 PM

During the second A section in the progression I use a A flat 7 chord. This is essentially a D chord shape moved up one string, and up to the 5th fret. It gives the song a sinister lonesome feel. Robert Johnson got this chord from Scrapper Blackwell. It sounds awesome!

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 6.32.23 PM

Finally, during the turnaround I utilize the A7 shape from the previous lesson and walk down in the bass. The turnaround riff looks like this:

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 6.41.58 PM

Here is the basic tablature of the progression:

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 6.57.40 PM

One thing to pay attention to is how the pulse of the bass effects the feel. At some times I place the note right on the beat, with 4 pulses a measure. Sometimes, I double up on the beat and give each measure 8 pulses.

How you create the fabric is up to you. 

Once you have mastered the Robert Johnson A blues progression, add other licks, or sing over it! I learned to play this years ago and still play it almost everyday because it’s such an awesome template. 

We will take a look at Sam Chatmon’s That’s Alright to demonstrate how we can weave the two bass techniques together to create a cohesive fabric.

Country Blues Basics Part 12: What is monotonic Bass?

Monotonic bass literally means single tone. In practice, it is the technique of playing a single note over a song’s melody. It gives songs a driving, down home feel as opposed to the bouncy feel of an alternating bass. 

Alternating bass is much better to learn first so you can really free up the thumb and begin to understand which bass notes are appropriate to play over a chord.

The end goal of these lessons is to truly free up the thumb and allow you to switch between alternating and monotonic bass to create the foundation YOU want to create while you play country blues music. 

You will hear monotonic bass a lot in Texas blues— check out Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin Hopkins to hear this technique in practice.

To demonstrate the monotonic bass, I will be playing Hey Hey by Big Bill Broonzy. Pay attention to the switching of what note is played depending on what chord I am playing. 

Hey Hey is in the key of E. I play the open low E string over the E sections (I chord), the open A string over the A sections (IV chord), and I play F# over the B section (V chord).

The B chord I use is the A chord shape below, moved up two frets. 

Screen Shot 2018-08-15 at 7.22.58 PM

Here is the demonstration:

Notice how I play single notes in the bass over the melody. I do not switch between the 1st and 3rd strings as I would while using the alternating bass technique.

Learning how to play this type of bass should be relatively straight forward. You will be using the same chord shapes, and in many respects, the thumb movement is simpler. 

In the next lesson we will be applying this technique to Robert Johnson’s blues standard Me and the Devil Blues.