Here are 5 great bass riffs from the disco era. There are some obvious notable exceptions (like Blame It On The Boogie) but I’ve tried to use riffs that aren’t doubled with another instrument. These riffs are just pure bass!!

Good Times – Chic

This classic Bernard Edwards riff is probably the most well-known on this list – you may recognise it from the cover ‘Rapper’s Delight‘ by the Sugarhill Gang.

Song tips:

  • The riff is in E minor but is based on an E Dorian scale
  • Pay attention to note length – the staccato notes give the song its funky feel
  • The first beat of bar 4 is pushed, so it comes a semiquaver (16th note) before beat 1.
  • The second beat of bar 4 is a semiquaver after beat 1. To get these syncopated notes in time, try tapping your foot to the pulse – it should land directly between the two notes.

And The Beat Goes On – The Whispers

This bassline from The Whispers is a good place to start when learning to improvise around a groove. The basic backbone of the riff is shown below, but this can be altered to include different fills and extras.

Song tips:

  • Based on the B minor scale
  • The syncopation in the semiquavers can be a bit tricky to work out at first, but breaking it down into subdivisions can help you see where the beats land.

Here is the riff broken down into subdivions (the pulse is shown in red and the bass notes are bracketed):

(1) e + a 2 (e) (+) (a) (3) (e) (+) a 4 e (+) (a)

(1) e + (a) 2 e (+) a 3 e (+) (a) 4 (e) (+) a

Stomp! – The Brothers Johnson

Song tips:

  • G minor
  • The riff contains an open E that is used in replacement of a ghost note. This works because it is more accessible than a ghost note and playing it quickly means you don’t have time to hear that it is out of key.
  • A good starting tempo is 90 bpm.
  • Start slow and gradually work your way up to 120 bpm.

I Need Your Loving – Teena Marie

Song tips:

  • B minor
  • Listening to this song over and over can help you get the groove in your head before you even pick up the bass.
  • Again, the rhythm can be a little tricky so try writing down the subdivisions first.

(1) e (+) a (2) e (+) a (3) e (+) (a) 4 (e) + (a)

1 (e) (+) a (2) e + (a) (3) e + a 4 e + (a)

Boogie Oogie Oogie – A Taste Of Honey

Song tips:

  • D minor
  • There are loads of octaves in this riff – a really common technique often used in disco and funk bass.
  • Chromatic notes are used to add interest when moving between chord tones.
  • Make sure you keep your thumb firmly in the centre of the neck so your hand has access to the full movement needed to make the stretches.

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