First, as always, let’s work through that riff. It’s in E minor and originally played at 110 beats per minute:
Those pesky 16th notes!
One of the most important aspects you need to nail in this riff is the rhythm. Most of the riff is actually pretty straightforward. To begin, we’ve got simple hits on the beat and then we’ve got straight 8th notes on the climb up through the scale. But we’ve also got some little syncopated 16th notes acting as anticipations for bars 2, 3 and 4.
The gaps preceding those 16th notes can cause the line to be sloppy and that can result in a rhythm section lacking that ‘tight’ feel.
The key to dealing with those gaps and the 16th notes is to subdivide. You can count 1 e and a 2 e and a etc. or you can use your own vocalisations (as demonstrated in the video). Either way, you need to be counting along through that space. Yes, you might be able to simply feel it OK without any counting and subdividing but if you want to be accurate, subdividing is always the key!
Chord Tones? But I Thought It Was A Scale!
In terms of the notes and all the harmony breakdown we need to take a look at the chord progression. I always say (with any riff or bass line) “Learn the chord progression” because pretty much every bass line and riff is based around outlining a chord progression in some way.
So, for the chords, we basically have an Em7 to A7 progression. There are some suspensions in there at times in the guitar part but the basic tonality is Em7 to A7.
Now, it’s important to know it’s actually in E minor. I say this because it’s very common for people to see a sequence like this and instantly think II V progression. It’s easy to see why. We have movement by fourth and a minor 7 to a dominant 7 chord. That’s all VERY ii-V. But a II-V progression would imply we’re in the key of D major. We’re definitely not in D. The tonic note is E.
In cases like this, it’s worth using your ear. Listen for the tonic, the root of the key. Listen for that feeling of home. Play through the riff and you’ll hear that feeling of resolution as we land back on the E. So, in effect, this tune is actually working around a Dorian modality.
Breakdown Of The Line
First we need to know the chord tones for each of the chords (Em7 and A7). Below I’ve written them out spread in such a way that we can see how the bass line relates:
E Minor 7 Arpeggio:
Using these arpeggios you can see how the line ascends through the chord tones over the Em7 and then works around the root, 6th and 7th over the A7.
The major 6th to minor 7th move is VERY popular in funk riffs so it’s worth paying special attention if you’re looking to get your groove on!