Play Guitar Hits bass teacher Phil Elter has selected 10 bass lines that will help you improve your technique. Learn 10 extracts from songs of legendary bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and many more.
Bonus: play the song “Inferno” specially composed by Phil Elter to make you learn useful right and left-hand techniques.
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These 10 bass riffs have been ranked from the easiest to the most difficult, they all present technical interest and are coming from famous songs available in the Play Guitar Hits application. These bass lines will help you learn new techniques and play famous songs at the same time
Comment below and tell us what riffs helped you improve your skills.
Riff 1 – Your Really Got Me – The Kinks
There’s nothing like a good old retro riff to get you started!
For this first extract, the right hand is placed on the low mic to have a lower and rounder sound, the thumb is placed on the mic.
Attack the string with the pulp of the fingers, with the inside of the finger and not the extremity.
Left-hand: as we are at the beginning of the neck and the frets are wider there, it’s better to use the first and fourth fingers.
Then you have to place the fingers next to the frets because if you place them in the middle of the fret you might get an unpleasant sound.
Please note that it’s also possible to play this song without using a pick.
Riff 2 – Reptilia – The Strokes
It’s best to play this song with downward pick strokes to get a nice rock sound.
The position of the pick must be parallel to the string because if you place it askew the sound of the string will be scrapped.
The difficulty of this song is to be regular, except with the syncopated rhythm of the beginning of course.
The notes are played around the 12th fret on the E and A strings to create a rich and round bass sound. All this is to complete the special sound produced by the pick.
For the second half of the extract, we replaced the eighth rests with notes to give this part some punch, to create a dynamic effect.
I recommend you to use the index and the ring fingers to help you learn and remember the positions and to play slides.
Riff 3 – I Was Made For Loving You – Kiss
This extract is ideal for working on octave playing.
When the octaves are situated between the A and G strings, I advise you to put your thumb on the E string to avoid any sounding of it.
It’s better to put the thumb on the high mic, or even on the low mic to get a more dynamic and punchier sound.
The index releases the pressure while remaining in contact with the string.
And the 2 notes should not be heard simultaneously, because that could crush the dynamism of the octave playing, making it less funky.
Riff 4 – Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
You’ll have to play a lot of hammer-ons and slides with this song.
Here is some advice: be careful not to speed up when playing an effect, it’s a common mistake to speed up when playing a hammer-on for instance.
To keep the sound used at that time, play with your thumb on the low pickup and select the low pickup if you can. Remember to put your thumb down on the E string to avoid unwanted resonance of the low E string.
Riff 5 – Can’t Stop – Red Hot Chili Peppers
This bass line that almost everyone knows has some little-known subtleties.
Left-hand: we have the same technique used in the Kiss song. It’s necessary to move the hand, not the fingers. The fingers keep the same position but the hand moves.
Some dead notes can be replaced by “real” notes, for example on the note located on the second beat of the first bar. We can indeed replace it with a 7 on the G string. Of course, the opposite works and notes can be replaced by dead notes.
My advice for playing slap
The thumb should hit the string close to the neck, or even on the last fret, to five maximum punch. As soon as the string is struck, the thumb must be removed from the string immediately to avoid bouncing or to obtain notes that do not sound well.
How to play the pop?
The “Pop” or “popped” should be played with the index finger without forcing it too much because the “pop” is heard more easily than the “slap”. The notes must be rhythmically short to sound funky.
I advise you to mix the 2 mics and add a lot of bass and treble. And for the setting of the amp, you can choose a V-shaped equalization, that is to say: much bass and not too much medium, and a lot of trebles too.
Riff 6 – The River – Bruce Springsteen
It’s important to carefully watch the fingering used in the video and try to respect it. The choice and the repetition of the fingering allow the brain to memorize it to get used to certain sequences of notes, and make progress more quickly.
There are many possibilities here, you can play closer to the bridge, but you have to play it as you feel it. You can play this riff with a pick.
Riff 7 – Tom Sawyer – Rush
This riff is not particularly difficult, we are dealing with a succession of positions but it’s necessary to choose a good fingering to interpret it well.
So we play a minor third, a major third, and a minor third again. The right hand is not much used here. The middle finger slides successively on 2 strings and the index finger slides successively on 2 strings and the index finger does the same. This is called a “sweep” effect, this technique is also used by guitarists.
The riff can be more dynamic by placing the thumb on the high pickup and then on the second cycle of the riff on the low pickup.
This song is in 7/8 and 13/16:
In 7/8: you need 7 eighth notes to fill a bar.
In 13/16: you need 13 sixteenth notes to fill a bar.
But I advise you to focus on the melody rather than the rhythm of this song.
Riff 8 – Ace of Spades – Motörhead
We need to tune the bass in E flat, 1 semitone lower. That allows us to play with softer strings and obtain a lower tone. This extract can be played with a pick. It’s necessary to have a very flexible right hand and to play using the wrist and the forearm which should not move a lot.
As the pick is swung strongly over the strings, you should pay attention to all the strings with the left hand, to avoid ringing and resonating the other strings. The thumb should block the E string, and the middle finger can also help block the strings. The D and G strings are blocked by the index finger, which does press to avoid creating other notes.
Bar 5 can be interchanged with bar 1. If we respect the cycle, bar 13 should have been identical to bar 5 but we can add or remove notes without compromising the bass line because the sound created by the action of the pick is powerful and regular.
With this song, you can simply play what is written on the score or go for subtleties and add notes.
Finally, it’s necessary to use a distortion pedal to recreate the sound in this song.
Riff 9 – Californication – Red Hot Chili Peppers
We propose 2 different scores for the same song: a simplified version and a more difficult one with more notes.
You can play the same “simplified” riff for that part of the song from beginning to end or enrich your playing by playing the nuances and subtleties of Flea’s very improvisational and instantaneous playing.
When the bass takes a leading role, don’t hesitate to add vibratos on the notes. Watch the hand movement in the video to see how to do that.
Californication version 1
Californication version 2
Riff 10 – The Trooper – Iron Maiden
Be careful, this song is very fast! You’ll need to practice it slowly first and then speed up to play it right. The difficulty comes more from the right hand because you have to be able to play the eighth and sixteenth notes until the end of the song and that’s not an easy task!
Don’t use a pick on this one. In the intro, the pull-offs rest on the right hand, but it doesn’t last. To get closer to the sound of Steve Harris, you can select the bass pickup. Add some treble on the amp. I suggest you play this bass line with your thumb on the low pickup. Hit the strings with your index and middle fingers to get a snappy sound like Steve.
Bonus : Inferno – Phil Elter
For his composition, Phil chose an Open Tuning: D, A, D, F.
“I compose exclusively from the notes I hear, without thinking about scales, so I can detach myself from what the scales dictate. This allows me to use open strings to bring in a more open sound, and to add pull-offs, hammer-ons, to have a different harmonic usage than what we know too.”
Here are some tips on the slap technique:
“The movement is minimized to gain speed of execution. To be comfortable in games like this, I recommend using thin, “extra light” strings with a low draw.
Many bassists play with lighter strings, like Mark King from Level 42 for example, who uses 30-90 strings. He actually plays with a set of strings named after him with this particular, ultra-light tension. This implies having a good bass to accept these weak strings of course.” Phil Elter.
Phil plays a beautiful Spector bass: Spector Euro 4 LX Poplar Burl Gloss and uses an EBS head and amp.
The EBS Proline 410 amp perfectly reproduces the bassist’s playing: “For a player like mine, it is important to have all the particularities of the bassist. This amp does a good job of capturing the bass player’s playing.”
Phil uses Savarez strings: Savarez B70XL4 Hexagonal Explosion Extralight 40-95.
Bass teacher in several music conservatories in the north of France, Phil Elter played in the metal band “Scarve” with the current drummer of Megadeth. He also shared the stage with La Grande Sophie.
Many artists contributed to his first solo album entitled “Travel”, such as Morgan Ågren on drums, Derek Sherinian on the keyboard, Dominique De Piazza, Jeff Watson, and Jean-Luc Fillon.
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