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Early funk grooves were based on eight notes syncopation and more traditional blues and R'n'B chord progressions.
Early funk grooves were based on eight notes syncopation and more traditional blues and R'n'B chord progressions.
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Bass Around the World #6: Early Funk Eight Notes Grooves

When you’re an aspiring bass player, sooner or later you'll come across the genre which defines ultimate bass playing: funk. And in this case, it's impossible not to mention The Godfather of Soul—the mighty James Brown who was a living meme and legend of funk music in the 1960s.

A bit of background

It was either James Brown or drummer Earl Palmer who also came up with the name "funk." In 1963, the first arguably funk hit album James Brown Live at the Apollo landed on the charts. Extensive syncopation, drum beats with distinctive grooves and breaks, horn punches, and prominence of the bass line in the mix characterized this newborn style. Being funky was hip. 

The early funk period lasted from the late 1950s until the early 1960s. Its main attributes were more traditional chord progressions in the style of R'n'B, eight notes phrasing, and mainly two-bar phrases where the second bar is often more syncopated than the first. Famous song examples of this period are "Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag," "I Feel Good," and "Night Train."       

And now... it's lesson time!

We’re gonna be playing in the style of "Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag," which is basically a twelve-bar blues played in a funk style. The chord progression is four bars E7, two bars A7, two bars E7, one bar B7, one bar stop on A7, one bar funky guitar strumming on E7, and landing on the second beat on B7 before coming back to the form.

James Brown was famous for his strict leadership and required his band to be aware of his moves and leadership. So any chord could have had to be played for a longer time with sudden stops or breakbeats. These elements were always a great surprise and kept musicians and audience on their toes. 

We’re using staccato eight notes phrases with some chromatic passing notes in a combination with the chord notes:

E7 = E, G#, B, D 

A7 = A, C#, E, G

B7 = B, D#, F#, A

The main thing in funk is the first beat, so make sure you land on that first note firmly and from there you’ll do your syncopations and variations. This very basic formula works... every time.  

Have fun & shake the house!

Source: Wikipedia & The Bassist’s Bible - Tim Boomer

Tagy Bass Around the World funk james brown r&b

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Marek Bero
Bass Gym 101 books, touring & session bass player, football tactics aficionado.