Part 6: Syncopated Double Bass…the Easy Way
by Aaron Edgar
When I began working on double bass, I was inspired by drummers like Gene Hoglan, Raymond Herrera, and Thomas Lang, all of whom seemed to have a never-ending supply of creative parts. I’d spend every waking moment figuring out their ideas and working them into my playing. From this, I stumbled on a simple concept that can be applied to even the most basic 8th-note rock grooves to turn them into heavy, syncopated double bass patterns.
We’re going to use a two-step process. First, we’ll take a basic 8th-note rock groove (Exercise 1) and add “e” and “a” with the left foot (Exercise 2). The bass drum notes from the basic groove will fill the spaces between the hi-hat notes, and the result will be a syncopated double bass groove, as shown in Exercise 3.
The first step toward mastering this concept is focusing on the left-foot placement. We can do this by playing the right hand on the floor tom instead of the hi-hats. You’ll end up with a 16th-note roll that goes back and forth between the floor tom and bass drum. To further solidify this, try turning the pattern into a groove by placing the snare on beats 2 and 4. In Exercise 4, the right foot plays on beat 1 and the “&” of beats 2, 3, and 4. Try this concept with some of your own 8th-note rock grooves for extra practice before moving on.
In Exercise 5, there’s a 32nd-note double figure with the bass drum. Be sure to phrase this strictly as 32nd notes. If you get lazy, it can start sounding like a triplet.
Exercise 6 demonstrates playing doubles with the left foot as well.
Here’s where things get interesting. Let’s see what happens when we apply this concept to a 7/8 time signature. Be careful not to flam the snare at the end of the pattern, as it lines up with the left foot.
Exercise 8 is in a 9/8 feel. Pay special attention to your left hand, as both buzzes and ghost notes line up with the left foot. Watch your dynamics!
Next we’re going to move the right-hand pattern from Exercise 8 to every third 16th note. Make sure you’ve got the previous exercise completely internalized before trying this. Keep in mind that the left foot is still playing consistent offbeat 16th notes. Focusing on playing the left foot smoothly can help you even out the entire pattern.
When you play an odd time signature based on 16th notes, your leading foot will switch naturally every bar. This means you’ll need to learn to play offbeat notes with the right foot as well. Let’s take a stab at 15/16 using this concept. You might want to isolate the second bar before trying the whole example.
For Exercise 10, I like to switch my hands, as well as my feet, every bar. If that’s too challenging, you can continue leading with whichever hand is easiest in both bars. Crashing loudly on beat 1 of each bar can help you feel how the pattern repeats to solidify the transition.
Since fifteen is divisible by three, we can again replace our 8th-note hi-hat pattern with every third 16th note—except this time it will fit evenly into each bar, which will make the transition sound less choppy.
While we’re diving further down the rhythmic rabbit hole, let’s channel the quintuplets we spent so much time on last month and modulate Exercises 10 and 11 into quintuplets.
The next exercise places quarter notes on the hi-hat while phrasing the previous kick-and-snare pattern as quintuplets. There are a lot of empty partials here. Be sure to count (“ta, ka, din, ah, gah”), and try to play accurately. It will be helpful to program quintuplets into your metronome.
Last but certainly not least, the right hand is going to play a five-over-three polyrhythm across the previous kick-and-snare pattern.
Make sure to practice Exercises 12 and 13 into and out of more ordinary 3/4 grooves, to ensure you’re able to play them in context. It’s easy to lose sight of how these patterns fit musically when they’re isolated.
This lesson is a prime example of how I write grooves and parts. I never take something I enjoy playing at face value, and I find it inspiring to dig deeper into the rhythms that excite me. I always say, “Modify, modify, modify.” You’ll usually come up with something you like just as much, if not more.