This week let’s look at 5 awesome bass riffs from the awesome Bob Marley and bass player Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett!
Before working through the riffs let’s quickly look at a few aspects of sound. For these riffs you’re going to want to get that stereotypical deep, bassy Aston Barret tone. Aston used Fender Jazz bass strung with Flatwound strings. Flatwound’s don’t have the zing you get with Roundwounds so they’re great for that pure, thumping low end.
Reduce Before Boosting
One thing many players do when they’re first trying to get this sound is boost the bass tone control on the amp. That’s fine but first try reducing the treble using the bass guitar tone control. I’ll always do this before boosting anything. Boosting frequencies is always going to set you on a journey towards distortion of overload. Reduce the treble if necessary and then increase overall volume. Then add bass with the tone controls if necessary, but add it sparingly.
Tone is in the Fingers
Next you want to focus on your hand position. Aston Barrett picks with his fingers up near the bass neck area. That’s really important when going for that deep sound. Near the bridge you’re going to find your tone is more nasal with a little less bottom end. That’s great for many other styles, but for reggae we’re going for that big tone.
Layback On That Beat
For reggae and other related styles you’re also going to have to focus on getting that laid back feel. That means playing behind the beat. If you have a listen to some dub music by guys like King Tubby, the bass is REALLY behind the beat, so much so that you can literally feel stoned just listening to it!
Now it can be really tricky to do this purposefully if you’re thinking of it from a rhythmically accurate standpoint. It’s much better and easier to feel it.
To do this there’s no better way than simply relaxing. Try to purposefully relax your body and let that relaxed vibe come through in the music. It’s the opposite of playing up on the beat like you might in a punk band. In that case, you want to be a little more hyper and actually feel that push. In reggae, you want to relax.
So just practice playing these lines and try to exaggerate the feel. You’re not slowing down, you’re just playing behind that beat.