Every bassist learns to play a few funk songs at some point in
his life, for obvious reasons. Funk is a lot of fun to play because
of its interesting rhythms and the prominent role that the bass
plays in it. But the really fun part of funk music, as in many kinds
of music, is being able to improvise to it, to do your own thing
while jamming to an old favorite. This lesson will hopefully
teach you the theory behind funk music and give you a starting
point from which to start improvising.
The two songs that I'll have you jamming to are both from Parliament's
Mothership Connection. They are, Unfunky UFO and Give Up the
Funk. We'll start with Give Up the Funk, which is in the key of
E Dominant. For those of you with a little bit of music theory
already under your belt, you should know that this means that
while jamming to this song, you can play over the E Dominant scale,
which looks something like this:
And you should also know that the first, third, fifth, and seventh
notes in that scale are the chord tones.
So, to begin, we can put on the song and try to improvise some over
the E Dominant scale, sticking to mostly chord tones ( the first
3rd 5th and 7th notes ). Make sure that at first you keep things
simple. Feel that funky rhythm, always play on the first beat
of each measure and add on from there. Always make things interesting
rhythmically before you try to make them interesting note—wise.
Jam to that for a while.
After you've become comfortable jamming like this we can move
on and start to learn another way to jam over funk songs. Because
Give Up the Funk is in E Dominant we can jam to it not only in the
E Dominant Scale, but in the E Blues Scale, which looks a bit like
This is true when you are in any dominant key. Both the dominant
scale and the blues scale will work. So now try jamming to Give
Up the Funk with the blues scale. Remember all those same things
that you used when jamming with the dominant scale, but just
play over the Blues.
Once you're comfortable jamming in both the blues scale and
the dominant scale with funk, you can switch it up in the middle
of a song. And when you're really into it you can visualize these
scales past where the finger patterns end (another finger pattern
begins where the first one ends, in case you didn't know that
You can use all of these same ideas when jamming to Unfunky UFO
(in A Dominant), or any of the songs on Mothership Connection
actually, once you've figured out what key they're in. Like
I said before, almost all funk music is in a dominant key and you
can jam over it in either the dominant or the blues scale as I have
shown above. Just remember to focus on rhythm first and foremost,
relax and feel the funk.
Note: I would also advise you not to look up the tabs to a song before
you jam to it, as I find that knowing the real bass line hinders
me when I'm trying to be creative. I sometimes get stuck in a rut
playing what's on the cd instead of improvising.