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:
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.
I also use an E7 shape that looks like this:
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!
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:
Here is the basic tablature of the progression:
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.