If you’re looking for a fun and easy way to improve your bass playing skills, learn how to create pentatonic fills and rip across the fretboard then this funk riff is for you! This riff is perfect practice for bass players of all styles, particularly Gospel and Rock. All those virtuoso Gospel Bass players like Andrew Gouche, Sharay Reed and Daric Bennett use Pentatonic licks A LOT! You’ll also see rock players like Geddy Lee using these pentatonic licks for fills and solos.
Now, before we begin it’s worth pointing out that the feel of this riff is shuffled 16th note. So be sure to swing them when counting out 1 e & a, 2 e & a etc. In the two bars of the riff, we play an A on beats: 1 e and the & a of beat 2 as shown on the stave below.
At the end of bar 1 we have a set of 16th notes triplets, be careful of your timing here as these are quite nifty swung 16th’s. The second bar is rhythmically identical, but we are playing different notes in a descending line.
Major Pentatonic Scale
This riff is based on a simple A Major pentatonic scale which you can see on the stave and TAB below. These scales are called pentatonic as they only contain 5 notes (the last note is just an octave above and therefore a repeated note). This is the same as a Major scale except we only play the root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 8ve.
The video shows only one example of how you can play this scale, there are many variations on the fingering so explore this across the fretboard. Pentatonic’s are invaluable for creating lines and fills as they fit great under the fingers and hit all the important notes and chord tones, they can also be played over two strings which is great for playing fast licks!
In terms of technique, it’s quite straight forward as you use just two fingers in your fretting hand. In terms of finger picking however, you do need to be a little more careful. You should lead with the middle finger of your picking hand as you ascend, and come back down with your index finger leading. Try to alternate all the way through to develop good technique and start as slow as you need.
You can also incorporate raking into these descending patterns, but we are mainly sticking to alternate picking in this example. The reason for this is that there is quite a big length difference between the middle and index fingers, the index finger is shorter while the middle finger is longer. This means that the index is better for descending, while the middle is better for ascending.
Expanding The Exercise
This riff and scale is extendable and movable, you can play it in different keys and play it elsewhere on the neck. You can even go beyond the octave as shown on the stave and TAB below. Experiment with the Major pentatonic and try to play it beyond one octave and see what fills and lines you can create!
Once you have the riff under your fingers, then try practicing along to these drum tracks at different tempo’s. Always start with the slowest first and gradually build up the tempo.
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Mark, my picking hand wants to do the exact opposite to what you’re suggesting (ie. leading 1st going up, leading w/ middle coming down). Is this a question of just doing what feels natural, or is it essential to force it the other way, so as not to learn bad habits or find more dificulty when I get more advanced?