Blues for Willie Dixon
As a bassist, Dixon created many of the blues clichés we now consider standard fare. For example, he helped to define simple walking bass lines in jump-blues. One of the techniques he used on up-tempo songs was a right hand slapping approach. This gave the bass a percussive feel and a much louder tone. As you learn about Dixon's playing in the following etude, remember that he was an upright bassist. The upright bass, or bass violin, is considerably different from the electric bass guitar. Bass guitarists have long since appropriated Dixon's elegant yet aggressive bass style, so his playing should not be overlooked or deemphasized in your studies.
Figure 13-1, “Blues for Willie Dixon,” mimics the slow, down-home blues ballad style that was played in Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s. Here you will see swing eighth notes. As you know from previous chapters, this means that you should give the music a flowing triplet feel. Like the playing of Dixon, this piece uses both long and short notes. This creates a rhythmical contrast that gives the bass line needed forward momentum. For example, in the first full measure you will see a half note followed by a staccato quarter note. (Staccato is indicated by the small dot under the note head.) Be sure to clip the quarter note short when you see the staccato symbol. This technique will make your blues bass lines more expressive and dramatic.
In this etude, you will also see grace notes. These are the miniature notes that precede certain quarter and eighth notes. Grace notes are used constantly in the blues and other styles of music. Grace notes help to create a sliding or glissando affect. Sliding into notes is essential. If you don't use grace notes, your playing will sound stiff.
Also notice the use of major and minor pentatonics throughout the etude together with judicious chromatic movement. As you learned in Chapter 9, pentatonics, or five-note scales, form the basis for bass riffs and lines in many styles, especially in blues, jazz, and rock. Finally, the last two measures of the piece employ a clichéd blues ending. You should memorize this ending and use it when you create your own blues bass lines. Common blues endings, like this one, root your playing in the culture and history of the music. Remember, the blues is a mixture of fierce individualism and tried and true formulas.
Figure 13-1. “Blues for Willie Dixon”