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Topic: HELP: Arranging for a Band: Piano & Bass Guitar

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  1. #1

    HELP: Arranging for a Band: Piano & Bass Guitar

    I've become frusterated lately, with trying to write music that involves a piano and bass guitar and I would appreciate it, if somebody could please explain to me what it is, that I am doing wrong...

    When I look at sheet-music for piano, I see that there are the following written out:
    -chords
    -melody
    piano (bass and treble clef)

    **What I would like to do is start working on re-arranging cover songs, that I pick up from piano sheet music or a fakebook, but everytime that I play the bass part with a piano patch, I also then play the same bass part a bass guitar patch, it sounds very muddy, and not at all the way how somebody would arrange for a band, in the sense of piano, bass, drums, keys, guitar...etc...**

    I'm also confused on what piano players do with their left hand, if they already have a bass player...like Elton John, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, Carole King, Burt Bacharach...etc...does the bass player play the same bass piano notes?

    Can somebody please tell me what it is that I am not doing correctly?
    Should the bass guitar be playing the same bass part as the piano's left hand/bass?

    Thank You So Much, and I'm Sorry for Asking So Many Questions Lately...
    -MitchM2006-

  2. #2

    Re: HELP: Arranging for a Band: Piano & Bass Guitar

    In some styles of music, the piano left hand does indeed double the bass. More often, however, it plays in a higher register. Think of a pianist with three hands: the bass guitar is the "left hand", and the left hand is the "middle hand".

    In other words, consider the bass guitar as being part of the piano, so that you needn't double it with other piano notes. How this works out will vary with the style. In many types of jazz, the bass plays a relatively regular, rhythmically straightforward line, while the piano plays a much more irregular part.

    The reason you're getting weird results when you try to work from piano music is that those arrangements are meant for use without a bass player, so the left hand already contains what the bass player would play.

    Am I making sense here? This is a fairly simple concept in my head, but I'm finding it surprisingly difficult to put into words.
    Marnen E. Laibow-Koser
    Composer / Web developer
    http://www.marnen.org

  3. #3

    Re: HELP: Arranging for a Band: Piano & Bass Guitar

    Thanks for replying back Marnen.
    It's kinda making sense...I guess what you are saying is its better to play a bass guitar one octave lower, and have the bass piano play one octave higher? So that both are not playing the same pitch/register/note... (example: A440)

    Now I'm having a hard time describe it...am I on the right track? for instance...bass guitar plays E3 while bass piano plays E4?
    What about the piano musicians who play in octaves using their thumb and pinkey? does the bass guitar player play the same exact note, or will it be an octave LOWER than the left hands pinkey?

  4. #4

    Re: HELP: Arranging for a Band: Piano & Bass Guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by MitchM2006
    Thanks for replying back Marnen.
    It's kinda making sense...I guess what you are saying is its better to play a bass guitar one octave lower, and have the bass piano play one octave higher?
    You're right as far as register goes, but the bass and piano generally won't be playing in parallel. Again, a lot depends on the style, but in many cases, the bass will be playing something completely different from the pianist's left hand. I'll return to the example I gave earlier of the bass playing a steady bass line (perhaps a walking figure), while the piano plays offbeat chords. The coupling between the bass and the piano can in fact range from very close indeed (parallel octaves as you describe) to almost completely independent (the offbeat-chord example). My best advice would be to listen to some music in the desired style and pay careful attention to what the bass and piano are doing.
    Marnen E. Laibow-Koser
    Composer / Web developer
    http://www.marnen.org

  5. #5
    Senior Member
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    Re: HELP: Arranging for a Band: Piano & Bass Guitar

    You could start by doing it the way an organist would. An organist takes a hymn, for example, and plays the treble part in the right hand and the bass cleff part they split and play the bottom note on the pedals an octave lower than written and the other notes above that in the left hand where written.

    I think the best option, if you can afford somewhere around $90 is to go to www.pgmusic.com and buy the cheapest copy of Band-In-A-Box. Then when you play back a song you can either watch the piano keys to see what is being played or you can open the piano score window and read the music to see what is being played, and then do the same thing for the bass part. You can do this for all the different styles.

    HTH,
    Tom

  6. #6

    Re: HELP: Arranging for a Band: Piano & Bass Guitar

    Bass players don't like it when the piano plays bass lines. They want creative freedom. You have to be careful with low notes intervals of thirds or sixths down too low get muddy real fast. If you keep the piano players left had within reach of middle c and just stay out of the bass area you'll be ok. Piano has a hudge range, but you don't have to use it all, all the time. Double the bass as an effect not as the norm. In pop think of the piano almost like an other guitar with part thats fit around and in between each other. These are just some ideas to think about. For every rule there is an exception

  7. #7

    Re: HELP: Arranging for a Band: Piano & Bass Guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by TomcatII
    You could start by doing it the way an organist would. An organist takes a hymn, for example, and plays the treble part in the right hand and the bass cleff part they split and play the bottom note on the pedals an octave lower than written and the other notes above that in the left hand where written.
    The bass cleff part as written in the piano book probably contains a mish-mash of bass and middle-register parts, or a compromise one-handed version of what'd be played on bass and piano. If you play it all on bass you might have a much more active bass part than is intended. Tom has an excellent suggestion.

    Amy

  8. #8
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    Re: HELP: Arranging for a Band: Piano & Bass Guitar

    Your arranging for piano and bass will depend on the style of music. Billy Joel/Elton John type of playing usually has a lot of octaves in the left hand that almost play the same thing as the bass guitar. Some pianists have heavy left hands which restrict the bassist to work around. I usually try to limit the playing and volume of my left hand to free up my bass parts as I do both in my recordings. In jazz type of music, the pianist usually does chords that can be stretched between both hands without playing much in the way of bass parts.

    I write quite a bit of prog type music which doesn't always have pianos. The parts are mixtures of piano, organ, synth pads, mellotron and lead synth type parts. It's very rare to play left hand bass parts as the left hand may do a multitude of things such as playing a synth bass part, chords for pads, doubling the right hand parts, etc.

    Writing the parts is like a jig-saw puzzle in that it has to fit around what everything else is doing. Too much playing in the same frequency range as another instrument usually muddies up the playing. Each instrument has to fit in it's own audio frequency space.

    Jim

  9. #9

    Re: HELP: Arranging for a Band: Piano & Bass Guitar

    I like the jig saw analogy!!!

    This is one more person's approach, and may not fit your music, but here goes...

    If I am writing something in pop, rock, or jazz that uses both piano and bass I immediately start to sweat, it's tricky business, and I get the best results by bringing in a band and letting them play<G>, but that is not always practical.

    So when I have to write out the parts I start by focusing on the bass and drums. They need to fit together perfectly to sound realistic, or typical, or whatever word you want to substitute.

    I usually start by just writing roots and fifths in the bass part, coordinating the bass with the snare and bass drum. This won't sound interesting in most genres, but it gets the notes placed.

    Then I add the piano and rythm guitar parts. (The piano is almost always going to have a conflict with both the bass and the rythm guitar parts, that's where a really creative and inventive piano player comes in handy!)

    At this point I have the drum part, and the bass and left hand of the piano playing really boring roots and fifths togehter, and the guitar and right hand of the piano playing the chords.

    UGH!!!!!

    Time to start creating that puzzle. I start with the guitar and bass, mostly because I am not a great keyboard player. The guitar is pretty easy really, I just change the voicings around until I get something interesting.

    For the bass I start picking alternate chord notes, and lots and lots of passing notes, again until I get something that sounds at least a little interesting.

    Now I mute the piano... if the bass, guitar, and drums can carry the song I'm done, if they can't then I keep tweaking, but I always tweak with the piano playing the really dull parts.

    Once I'm happy with the guitar and bass I attack the piano. If the bass is playing a 3rd instead of a root then the piano will play the root, at least one octave up, and often as an octave, or even a ninth or tenth. If the bass is playing the root then the piano is going to do something more interesting.

    The right hand part depends on whether the song has a lead line somewhere else. If the piano is responsible for the melody then I'm pretty much done, otherwise I'll find little counter melodies to drop in with the right hand, as well as other voicings of the chords.

    The real key, at least for me and my tastes, is not to double parts unless that is the effect I am after (and it is legit to do that as an effect!) So I might even let the left hand rest for a bit and let the bass player do all the work, and then in the next chorus the bass player might sit on the roots while the keyboards have some fun.

    Here's the really wierd part for me - I spent countless years playing in bands with two guitars, bass, keys, and most of the time a three piece horn section, yet somehow we managed to stay out of eachother's ways most of the time. It wasn't a concious thing, no one ever said "stay off the root for eight bars" or anything like that. We just "knew" what to do.


    One thing I've found very helpful is to use alternate piano-like instruments. For some reason, since I'm not Billy Joel or Elton John, acoustic piano is danged difficult for me to arrange in a pop setting, unless I'm apeing one of them<G>! Most of the time I'll use an electric piano sound, but I also love the Clav and the B3.

    So that's one person's analytical approach to arranging for a pop, rock, or jazz combo (and when you add the horns the poor piano player comes under even heavier assault!)

    I wasn't kidding, BTW, about getting experienced live players to sit in and contribute. I reach a point, as an arranger, where I am just out of my depth. As a guitarist I can always find interesting things to do. As a bass player, keyboard player, and especially a drummer I am still learning, and always grateful to get some help. So I'll write out the changes, the melody, and any harmonies I think might be really nice, and then let them do their thing.

    Hope this helps.

  10. #10

    Re: HELP: Arranging for a Band: Piano & Bass Guitar

    What a question. this is so dependent on the style of music.
    "Music is a manifestation of the human spirit similar to a language. If we do not want such things to remain dead treasures, we must do our utmost to make the greatest number of people understand their secrets" -- Zoltan Kodaly

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