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Bass Bit 7: Interval: Prime – Fingering, Rockgrooves, Tips (BB#7)

Bass Bit 7: Interval: Prime – Fingering, Rockgrooves, Tips (BB#7)

Not prime ribs… Prime tips!

This blog post contains the highlights of the interval that is called the prime. It sheds light on the question what a unison is, how to finger primes and how to play a few cool rock grooves built on primes. Check them out in my book, Music Theory for the Bass Player, too. Lots more exercises there as well, also using your voice!
Many rock grooves are basically pumping eighth notes in the interval of the prime. To execute them evenly so they really groove is not as easy as it may look. Check out a few tips for clean and groovy eighth note grooves.
Grab your bass and let’s play!

The First Interval: The Prime!


Clarifying terminology:
The prime is the same note on the same instrument.
The unison is when two instruments play the same note. As a bass player I can play a unison with myself.
I use Marleaux Basses and Dean Markley Strings. TC ElectronicsPedals, cabs and amps! Fretwrap byGruvgear.
(Ariane Cap is an official endorser for all these fine companies.)
Thanks to Wolftrackaudio.com for audio post production.


[Intro playing: 0.00 to 0.10]

Cheers! Hello, this is Bass Bit #7 and this is Ariane. Today, we’re gonna be talking about the first of the intervals. We’re now knee deep into music theory. Intervals – the smallest building blocks that are at the root of all chords, scales, what have you – all musical structures! So we do well to know how they’re built on the bass, what fingerings to use, what they sound like, and what to do with them.

So here we go.

The first interval we’re going to talk about is the prime or the unison. The prime or the unison is basically the same note. Now, every single interval can be played either harmonically or melodically. Harmonically means that I’m playing the two notes that make up the interval at the same time. So, I’ll give you an example, for example, the major third (we will get to it soon). So, just as an example, I’m playing the major third harmonically, meaning at the same time [playing: 1.03 to 1.04] and if I play the same interval melodically, it means I’m playing it one note [playing 1.08 to 1.10] after the other just like [playing 1.11 to 1.12]  a melody. Right?

If I play one and the same note at the same time, I cannot do that on all instruments. On the piano I can’t do that. There I have one key for one and the same note. I would need two pianos in order to play that same note as a unison. On the bass however, because I have the same note in different locations, I can very well do that. For example, I will be demonstrating that with this C2 [playing 1.39 to 1.41] and this one I tap right here. Or, I can even stretch [playing 1.43 to 1.47] my hand to play that G in unison for example. If I wanna play it as a prime [playing 1.53 to 1.55], then I would be playing it one note at a time.

And that is at the heart of a lot of grooves. Keep in mind, the prime is not the octave; they are related. We’ll talk about that later. Two C’s [playing 2.05 to 2.06] like that, that would  be two different Cs – [playing 2.09] that’s C2 and [playing 2.10] that’s C3. But if I’m playing the same – [playing 2.13 to 2.16] – that’s in unison. Okay?

The prime is one of those intervals that do not occur as major or minor. They occur as perfect or pure. Now, of course, I can make everything that’s perfect or pure bigger by a half step and if I name it correctly, it’s still gonna be a prime even though it doesn’t sound like the same pitch. So what I mean by that is this is: [playing 2.38 to 2.39] prime C, right? [playing 2.41 to 2.42] I’m playing the same note twice, C – C . It’s a prime.

Now I’m gonna play an augmented prime: [playing 2.46 to 2.48] C – C#. Okay? Sounds like a minor second but in order for it to be a minor second, I would have to call it [playing 2.54 to 2.56] C to D flat because: C – D – that’s two! If I call it C to C#, then it’s just C that I have in the name. Okay? So I talked about that last time a little bit, too.

And then we have [playing 3.08 to 3.10] C to C flat – which of course would be the diminished prime. Not very practical but again one of those things that if you understand it, wrap your mind around it, then it helps you gain an understanding of how music works and how the bass works.

How do you finger the prime? Well you can play [playing 3.24 to 3.43] that same note with each finger that is the illustration on page 22 and I’m just demonstrating here. You can play that note with every single fret and I would encourage you to do that. You know, I’m just moving around to see what that feels like.

There are a few examples of grooves in the book and I will play them for you right now – [playing 3.51 4.08]. I want you to see just the written note part of the groove example as I’m doing it on the fret board. So – [playing 4.14 to 4.24].

Okay? So that would be the prime rock groove [playing 4.27 to 4.32]. And then there’s the prime horse groove which sort of has this rhythm of the running horse hence the name. That “HO” there in the beginning is a hammer on [playing 4.42]

[playing 4.44] Tone production happens with the left hand [playing 4.46]. [playing 4.47 to 4.57] A lot can be said about the groove of the prime because a lot of rock grooves are played with pumping eighth notes. To play pumping eighth notes really well is actually not an easy task. We’re talking about this more when we get to the technique chapter. What I’ll tell you – how to get eighth notes [playing 5.19 to 5.27]  in a row to sound a little more steady. So here are a few tricks of the trade that you can use.

One for example is – the goal of pumping eighth notes like you have them in a lot of rock grooves [playing 3.32 to 3.36]. It’s a really powerful thing but they have to be even in order to be grooving.

There are a couple of tricks. One is you want to be aware of how long the notes are – [playing 5.44 to 5.54] So if you have a click, right now I’m cutting the note off right in the middle – 1, 1 and 2, and 1 and 2, and 1 and 2, and 1 and 2.

Right, [playing 5.54 to 6.01]. I’m playing it legato. You know – like this. Or cut off in the middle and I can mute either with my left hand by lifting [playing 6.02 to 6.05] it slightly or I can do the stopping [playing 6.07 to 6.15] with my right hand and keep the left down.

And then the other thing I wanna do in order to make these notes sound as clean as possible – You see, those two fingers have different lengths, right? So if I just bring the string to them, I’m gonna make an indent then I can show you. You see where the indentation is, right?

On this finger – it will just grab a little bit of flesh, and on this finger – it will grab much more flesh. No wonder, then, that [playing 6.46 to 6.51] if I just come in like this, one will be sounding much louder because there’s more mass there. In order to combat that, a neat trick is to tilt those two fingers a little bit this way – [playing 6.59 to 7.02] – and that way I get about the same amount of flesh hitting the string.

Another trick is – [playing 7.07 to 7.15]. I wanna see to stay as close to the same spot as possible. So that creates a little bit of this [playing 7.18 to 7.23] almost a Figure 8.

And then another thing I do a lot – especially on the studio – if I wanna get it real clean [playing 7.29 to 7.35] – I’ll just play with one finger. Usually I don’t like doing that and I trained myself not to, so I have this automated process going on so I don’t have to decide which finger I’m gonna use. But [playing 7.42 to 7.52] in terms of if there are eighth note grooves, then I might do that and just stay on one finger. Depending on if I don’t want a legato, I might mute it [playing 7.54 to 7.56] then with my left hand.

So, just thought I’d mention that because to play eighth notes cleanly, it’s time worth spent to record yourself, listen to it. You can even see it in the wave form – if one is smaller and the other one is bigger you can clearly see that you’re dynamics aren’t even.

And that’s the prime and the unison. A few more exercises in the book you can check out. And as bass players we do really well to put some time into steady eighth note grooves so I very much recommend that – prime and unison.


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6 Replies to “Bass Bit 7: Interval: Prime – Fingering, Rockgrooves, Tips (BB#7)”

  1. Hi Ari. Slightly off-topic, I guess, but could you suggest fingering for the section starting with the second HO in the Prime Horse Groove please? My rhythm breaks down at that point, and I feel like my fingers are tripping over themselves. Should I be raking, or sticking rigidly to IMIM? Many thanks in advance.

    1. Cheers Keith, I say sticking to IMIM strictly. It probably means you have to slow way down for a minute, but it really pays off. Make sure you don’t do anything with the right hand during the HO. It is probably the addition of the HO that makes that spot really wicked in that regard. Let me know how you are getting on and I make you a video if needed. The good news is, you iron out a detail like that, it pays off everywhere else. Once your fingers got the hang of it, you are off to the races.

  2. Well, after closely analysing my alternation….it turns out I’m not always strictly alternating! I’m ok on a single string, but when I cross strings it sometimes goes awry. I have work to do.

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