Sing and Play
I recently got invited to participate in a fundraiser for NextDoor, a domestic violence shelter that one of my bands, Girls Got The Blues (Lara Price) has been working with for a long time. We played this fundraiser live for many years until the pandemic put the brakes on that. However, Lara doesn’t take no for an answer when it comes to supporting those who need it, so we moved the concert online. I was determined to do something live this year rather than submit a video, so I worked up a tune that I like to sing, it’s called Cry if You Want to, written by Casey Scott, made famous by Holy Cole on her album Don’t Smoke in Bed.
It is a good exercise to arrange a song for just voice and bass!
For one, singing while playing is a bit of a challenge in itself, so I had to carefully work up how vocals and the bass line intersect with each other (more on that at another time!)
The other consideration is the fact that it’s only voice and bass, so the bass had better do something interesting to keep listeners engaged.
Here are some of the devices I used:
I kept things simple for the most part, but to add variety and texture, I used harmonics, tapping, plucking and chords.
The song consists essentially of mostly repeating A sections comprised of 2 or 3 chords and a bridge.
I approached each verse by varying the technique I used, from just simply playing roots to chords, tapping, harmonics, and more. I enjoyed working up a harmony with the bass for some short sections to add interest. Each verse and the bridge had their main flavor in that regard which underscore the story.
Inspired by the Holly Cole version, I wanted to have a driving ostinato-type rhythm as the basic idea. I mostly stuck to the original simple chords, however, I took the liberty to change the A major to an A7 (for a little bluesy nod) and I re-harmonized a few sections. The A7 adds a touch of a bluesy flavor.
The lyrics of the song are quite story-like, so some bass lines practically wrote themselves…
- When the lyric says “go down with the ship” I let the bass line descend. (caveat: too much of this can sound comical. I felt this was just a nod to the lyrics and hence fitting)
- Where the words talk about the advice not to have fun I re-harmonized the chord to sound a bit gloomy (to underscore the “no fun” line).
- Where the lyric talks about “showing things and throwing things” I went into a double time tapping frenzy to express the internal turmoil…
It’s a great exercise to create arrangements with melody and bass only. In this song, simple definitely does it. What are your favorite songs to do with just bass and voice?
Hope you enjoy this one…