Over the years I have witnessed many musicians in the reggae community wear a badge of honor because of the fact that they only play reggae ” we just listen to di ting and play”. Nothing wrong with this form of thinking but if you have plans on climbing the competitive ladder then you will need some form of “edge” to seperate yourself from the other millions of bass players or whatever instrument you choose.
Reggae bass can be relatively easy to pick up without any form of musical training and most of my hero’s have no theoretical training at all. These special few who were around at the birth of reggae were still searching and creating from something which hadn’t yet been created. A totally different concept from us who have to recreate what the legends have already done. sometimes taking on the personalities of all your favourite players in one night.
I don’t ever draw for any theory concept when creating basslines, but when I have to play for an artist or more than one artist and each one is performing 6+ songs each then I personally need a lot more than just my memory to survive the night in one piece.
A typical situation I remember was back in 2003 i was fortunate enough to get a call to play for black Uhuru. The passing of music over the internet hadn’t yet been embraced by the reggae world and communication has never been great when trying to get set lists from artists overseas.
I know Black Uhuru’s catalogue from my reggae upbringing. so I made sure i was clued up on the classics, General Penitentiary, Plastic Smile, Shine Eye etc. I had to meet Ducky Simpson and the rest of the band at Schipol Airport in Netherlands on the day of the first show with no rehearsal. After the initial meet and greet, Duckie cracks a smile (he doesn’t smile too much) and says to me “you look less worried than me”. As far as i was concerned, I Know these Robbie Shakespeare basslines inside out so whats the problem.
We mount the tour bus and Duckie calls me to the back where he was sitting and passes me two C.D’S. ” Michael Rose is touring at the same time so we nah do none of the regular tunes tonight”. I have 2 hours to learn a whole new set with a few of the classics in tact.
Did I sweat, NO, I pulled out a pen and some manuscript paper and wrote out the basslines. To cut a long story short. The show went well, a couple of dodgy endings but no big problems by show 2 everything was perfect.
Knowing Your Scales, Arpeggios, intervals, music reading, can help you get out of the most stickiest situations.
Music theory is not the be all and end all but can help you go a long way.