What’s the coolest bass line ever played for a Christmas song? Well, I don’t know about the best, but I definitely know my favourite! It’s the Motown classic Santa Claus Is Coming To Town by the Jackson 5 with that amazing James Jamerson style line played by the legendary Wilton Felder.

This is a perfect example of how to weave a simple but melodic bass line through some chord changes with that typical Motown syncopated bounce. In this lesson I’ll break down a few essential lines from the tune and show you how they can influence your own lines in any style.

The Greatest Christmas Bass Line Ever!!

Chorus Riff

This brilliant intro and chorus moves around the chords of C Major and F Major, using a very funky push on the root of E with plenty of chromatic runs throughout. This style is very reminiscent of James Jamerson with all the groovy syncopations and chromatic approach notes, which run towards the high F and then again under the root note of C. There’s a very cool syncopation on the and of beat two in the second bar, where you play A before another chromatic run. To nail these quirks in the bass line, it really helps to count in eight’s as you play e.g. 1 &, 2 &, 3 &…

There are a few ways of fingering this bass line, but my suggested fingering as shown below in the TAB is quite comfortable to play. It also makes sense as you are hitting the Major 3rd interval of the C Major chord at the start of the line, and then using the open string of A to run chromatically back up to C. As you are moving around on the fretboard a little here, be sure to watch your fretting hand positioning. You want to keep relaxed so you can move fluidly around the neck.

Verse Riff

Once you have the intro and Chorus under your belt, it’s time to get stuck in to the very funky verse riff. It’s all 8th notes with a cheeky syncopated line on the and of beat three in the first bar. Bar one plays around the C Major triad arpeggio, while bar two highlights the F major tonality as you alternate between the E and F, before resolving back up the the Perfect 5th of G. You can learn more about arpeggios in my video here.

You can also look at this as the C Major scale as we are in the key of C Major. In that case, the intervals played in bar one are: Root, Major 3rd and Perfect 5th. In bar two, we see the intervals used here are: The Major 3rd, Perfect 4th and Perfect 5th. You can see and hear how important chord tones are to creating melodic bass lines like this one, in fact I’ve got a whole course on the subject!

Chorus Ending

For the chorus ending, we have a very Motown inspired line which uses plenty of chromaticism’s and open strings. It’s very funky sounding, but it’s got roots in Jazz with it’s chord progression of: I, VI, II, V.  As with the chorus riff, there are a number of ways to play this on the fretboard, my TAB below is just one suggestion so feel free to experiment!

Turnaround

Just after the end of the chorus, we hear this groovy C Major to F Major turnaround. What’s a turnaround I hear you ask? A turnaround is a passage at the end of a section of a piece of music which leads into another section.

Again we come across some syncopation in bar one with the C played on the and of beat three. In bar two, we have a slightly tricky combination of an eight note on the down beat of beat one, followed by a quarter note on the and of beat one on a Bb. This then moves as a chromatic passing note to B natural, which is an eight note tied to another eight note. This is played like a quarter note, but the reason it’s tied on the stave is just to make it easier when sight reading.

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