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Bassline Breakdown


Released in June 1976, The album "School Days" by Stanley Clarke has long since been regarded as a bass guitar "breakthrough" album. Stanley firmly stamped his style on the world of music with creative melodies, harmonic voicing and exquisite chord phrasings.

In this edition of "BreakDown!", we will look at the title track of that album, and break down the constituent parts of the main bass line to "School Days". At the end, we'll piece all the parts together to play a condensed version of the main line. Thereafter, you can have fun with the line!

First Part - Strummed 2-Note Chords

Stanley sat down to write this piece on his original Alembic "Brown Bass". He decided to use a mixture of styles in "School Days" - the first phrase to be strummed using 2-note major 5th chords.

Using his playing hand in a "pinced" position, he strummed using his thumb, middle finger and index finger.

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The chord progression for the first phrase is as follows:

  • A-maj (fretted D at 7th fret, fretted G at 9th fret)

  • F#-maj (fretted A at 9th fret, fretted D at 11th fret)

  • E-maj (fretted A at 7th fret, fretted D at 9th fret)

  • D-maj (fretted A at 5th fret, fretted D at 7th fret)

  • F#-maj (fretted A at 9th fret, fretted D at 11th fret)

  • E-maj (fretted A at 7th fret, fretted D at 9th fret)

  • D-maj (fretted A at 5th fret, fretted D at 7th fret)

  • E-maj (fretted A at 7th fret, fretted D at 9th fret) slide to F#-maj (fretted A at 9th fret, fretted D at 11th fret) slide to E-maj (fretted A at 7th fret, fretted D at 9th fret)

  • C-maj (fretted A at 3rd fret, fretted D at 5th fret)

  • A-maj (Open A, fretted D at 2nd fret)

  • This open phrase is played a number of times, backing up an electric lead guitar solo piece. How many times you play this phrase depends really on feel, since the overall piece has a very distinct "improvisational" feel to it.

    Second Part - Slow Slap Progression

    The second part of the main bass line to "School Days" is a slow slap style progression, with emphasis on sustained and vibrato "popped" notes.

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    The progression runs as follows:

  • Open E, popped D fretted at 2nd fret (octave)

  • Open E hammer-on E fretted at 2nd fret, popped D fretted at 4th fret (octave)

  • E fretted at 2nd fret slide to 3rd fret, popped D fretted at 5th fret (octave)

  • Two dead-notes on E fretted at 5th fret, two popped D's, the first fretted at the 7th fret, hammer-on to the 9th fret, the second popped D fretted at the 7th fret.

  • Slapped open A followed by a slapped E fretted at 2nd fret (F#) then repeated.

  • Third Part - Slow Finger Style Piece

    After another round of playing the first part, Stanley then played a beautiful, slow finger / slap style piece to take the whole song into the finger-bass solo (covered in a later edition of "Breakdown!"). This piece heavily influenced the great Mark King (listen to pieces of "Dune Tune" by Level 42 for confirmation).

    This piece is kind of hard and unwieldy to describe in written words, therefore please refer to the video clip and tablature on the right to interpret this part. It describes the part much better than words can!

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    Stanley used string bending and harmonic techniques to get the exact feel he wanted here. I guess this is where playing light-gauge strings comes in handy!


    Now that the major pieces of the main bass line have been covered in tab, notation and video format, its time to play a few bars of the three techniques all strung together!

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    Play the piece slow to start with and then build up speed. Remember, this piece should not be played too fast, or the overall feel gets lost in the commotion!

    I hope you enjoyed this first "Breakdown!" article! I'll be back soon with another bass line!

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