I hope this isn’t beneath you

Are you giving your “1-5” patterns everything you’ve got?

By Jon Liebman
Week of November 16, 2020

As you know, the job of a bass player very often requires playing a repetitive “1-5, 1-5” pattern.

Is that okay with you?

All too often, people minimize the importance of playing “root-fifth, root-fifth,” sometimes even scoffing at being relegated to playing some lame background part. “Oh, that’s no big deal,” they say. “It’s just 1-5, 1-5.”

Oh yeah?

Well “1-5” happens to be a big part of what we do as bass players, so anyone with that attitude had better straighten up right away.

I had a great conversation with Reed Jones, bassist with acclaimed bluegrass band Audie Blaylock and Redline. Reed had some important things to say about the subject in an interview we published this week on FBPO.

“In bluegrass,” Reed says, “there’s not a lot of room in the bass playing to be super fancy or to play really outside. It’s very much a roots vibe kind of a thing, with such an emphasis on feel, and time, and groove, and tone.”

The fact that “1-5” patterns might be more prevalent in bluegrass than in other styles of music is irrelevant. The “1-5” pattern is a major part of what every bass player must play well. As a bass player, you need to embrace it, love it, and give the song the absolute best “1-5, 1-5” you’ve got!

“When it comes to any bass player,” Reed continues, “whether it’s electric, or upright, or whatever, I’m not into the flash as much as I am people who really can lay down a serious groove, not be so interested in playing super flashy things.”

Don’t underestimate the importance of laying down a simple bass line that grooves, even if it’s “1-5, 1-5.” It’s vitally important to understand the role of the bass player and to know how to do your job. Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about the music. Even “1-5, 1-5” can be precise, tight, and groove-worthy. And yes, it can make the music feel good.

“Believe me, there’s always room for embellishment and things of that nature,” Reed says, “but I think that the bass’s role is, first and foremost, to be just extremely solid.”

How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out my interview with Reed here.

Comments on I hope this isn’t beneath you

  1. Rae Runge says:

    Excellent points!
    I do believe that the fundamental role of the bass is to provide the feel and the groove. It is not by nature, a lead instrument. In some situations it can be, and tasty licks are lovely, but not the primary role.

    If 1-5 is what is required, then do that with all of the skill and dedication that you can apply. You will have well served the basic purpose of the bass.

  2. John Evans says:

    When I started gigging in 1976, one song I knew I was going to play at least once a night, and often more than once was “Good Hearted Woman”, the Waylong and Willie song. It’s just 1-5 with a walk up from I to IV. It’s six notes, and nine if you do a key change. I hated it. But then I realized I could hate those four minutes of every gig or do something to like it. So I started using it as a fundamental exercise. Exactly where does each note belong with THIS drummer tonight, and THIS guitarist tonight? Exactly how long do I hold the note with the individuals I’m working with tonight? How do I change the feel for the verses vs the chorus for THIS singer without changing the notes? It became my favorite song to play.

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