22nd August 2020
The ability to subdivide is an important and necessary skill for any musician, but particularly for rhythm section players, which includes us bass players.
If you don’t know how to divide the beat, there is no way you can groove properly or play accurately.
So in the context of rhythm, what does subdividing mean, and how do we do it?
Subdividing means to divide something into more parts. In 4/4 time for example, we have 4 quarter notes in every bar. We can subdivide the bar into eighth notes, which means we now have 8 notes in every bar. In this case, we are subdividing each quarter note into 2 eighth notes.
We can count all the eighth notes:
Counting like this is very useful when playing a groove where not all of the notes are on the beat.
If you look at the bass line below, from 'Best Of My Love' by The Emotions, you will notice that we are don’t play on beats 2 and 4 in Bars 1 and 3. Make sure you count correctly, so you don't play on the rests.
In Audio 2, I play the groove once with a quarter note click, then again with an eighth note click.
Use the clicks in Audio 3 & 4 to practise playing the 'Best Of My Love' bass line above. It is a simple groove, but try and focus on playing it accurately.
When playing to Audio 3, you will play the 2nd and 4th notes (in bars 1 & 3) in between clicks, so make sure you count the eighth notes.
TOP TIP - Try downloading either of the clicks above, and recording yourself playing the Best Of My Love groove to it. You may be surprised at what you hear!
Recording is a valuable part of practise, as in the moment you often don’t know if you are playing accurately.
If you want to find out more about recording directly into your computer then
In the following example we are subdividing each quarter note beat into 4 sixteenth notes. In 4/4 time, we end up with 16 sixteenth notes in every bar.
Sixteenth notes are generally to fast for us to count, so we still count the eighth notes as before:
I have notated the first 3 bars of the verse from the bass line of 'Kashmir' by Led Zeppelin. This is a really interesting bass line, as in the verse, there is a 3 beat pattern that is repeated. Because the song is in 4/4 time, this means that the pattern falls in different places in the bar. It start on beat 1, then starts on beat 4, then starts on beat 3, then starts on beat 2. So it takes three bars for the pattern to start on beat 1 again, in the 4th bar.
When you look at rhythms like this, you might realise that music can be very mathematical.
Counting becomes really important if you do not want to get lost!
Top Tip - Try and tap or clap the small 3 beat rhythmic pattern until you are comfortable with it. Then clap the whole 3 bars, and then try to play it.
The bass line just uses 2 notes in the verse - both of the notes are D's and they are an octave (8 notes) apart.
Try this last example, which is another sixteenth note groove.
It is a Jaco Pastorius bass line from 'River People' by Weather Report.
The bass line again uses octave patterns, and starts on Beat 2.
It is tricky to play accurately, and easy to 'stumble over your fingers' of your plucking hand. So I recommend playing the bass line slowly at first. Only play to full speed when you are comfortable with the notes.
In conclusion, I would advise that you start incorporating rhythm practise into your weekly routine.
The ability to subdivide is a necessary skill to have, both for practical purposes and for reading music.