Sting Bass Guitar Techniques

author: bass1991guitar date: 10/07/2008 category: guitar techniques
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  • Intro
  • Practical Technique
  • Writing Technique So, Sting's career has spanned decades, both with the Police and his solo career. But what makes Sting's playing so special? In my opinion it is the simplicity of his bass lines.

    Practical Technique

    Sting is a fingerstyle bassist. He 'plucks' his strings. His main bass is a custom made Fender Passive Bass with a single coil Telecaster style pick-up. Sting often places his thumb on his bass pickup and he plucks with his index and middle fingers up towards his thumb. This, however is not vital as by now you are probably developing your own style of playing if you have not done so already. Play how it is comfortable for you.

    Writing Technique

    This is where things get interesting... Stings bass lines are based around arpeggios or triads. Arpeggios are so called because the notes that are in a arpeggio (when played simultaneously) make a chord and arpeggio means broken chord. Each chord had a triad. This can be major, minor, diminished augamented, it doesn't matter. So lets look at some triads...
    C major: C E G
    C minor: C Eb G
    C aug:   C E G#
    C dim:   C E Gb
    Here are the spellings:
    Major: 1 3 5
    Minor  1 b3 5
    Augamented: 1 3 #5
    Diminished: 1 3 b5
    I'm sure you can find thousands on the net. Now lets take a look at this...
    Here is a D major arpeggio. It uses the 1 3 5 1 pattern (note that the last note is an octave of the first. Now try all of the above triads or arpeggios in D and make them very clear in your head. Now, assuming Sting come up with chords first (don't worry I'm doing both) he can use these arpeggios wherever he wants to. But what sould happen if a chord like A6 comes up? Well just add a 6th onto the A major triad. It's not so easy to get your head around but is simple enough once you grasp it. Now, use these rules above to get a bass line into this chord sequence. Remember that you do not have to play the entire arpeggio or play it in order.
    |Gm| |Gm| |Gm| |Dm| |Ebmaj7| |Dm7| |Cm| |Fsus4 - Gsus4|
    How did you do? In case you didn't notice, that was the intro to Roxanne, a Police classic from their 1978 album 'Outlandos d'Amour'. You may have struggled with the Ebmaj7 and the sus4s. Well if you did lets analyse them...
    Note that this arpeggio is no longer a triad. It has more than three different notes.
       Fsus4      Gsus4
    Don't expect to grasp all this now. It comes in time. To fully understand triads and arpeggios you need to consult another lesson. It is not important here. Now we haven't yet touched upon the bass players biggest weapon. The root note. If you can already play Roxanne on the bass you will know what I mean. Here is the intro to Roxanne on the bass.
       Gm      Dm    Ebmaj7  Dm7   Cm   Fsus4 Gsus4
    Sting uses a mixture of what we have spoken about above.
  • For the Gm he uses a G note. (root)
  • For the Dm he uses a b3 (part of the arpeggio)
  • For the Ebmaj7 he uses an Eb note (root)
  • For the Dm7 he uses a D note (root)
  • For the Cm he uses a C note (root)
  • For the Fsus4 he uses an F note (root)
  • For the Gsus4 he uses a G note (root) So from this we can see that we do not need to use the full arpeggios, and that's if we want to use them at all! Sting may also use passing notes or 'Chromatic' notes. Chromatic means coloured and that is exactly what these notes do. They fit in between the notes that are fixed. Bad way of putting it really. Let me show you like this.
       Gm      Dm    
    Try and fit that note in. You will probably now say "What a dick, that sounds like crap". It does to me too. But imagine you have never heard this song before. Now play it. Not that bad eh? However although it does occur this is not one of Sting's main traits in his playing. Unfortunatley, I don't know Sting so I wouldn't know what order he writes his tunes in (Melody, Chords, Bass, Vocal etc) so lets have a look at how he might write with the bass in mind...
    Recognise that? That is the opening bassline to Rehumanize Yourself from 'Ghost In The Machine' released in 1981. It is quite clear that Sting sat down, messing around with his bass and come up with this riff. I am also quite sure that Sting didn't think "Oh I'll start on a B, down to A, into an F#, oh cool F#m!" Na. This riff just sounded good and could fit hundreds of chords. B7 for instance, F#m and so on. This came later when he wrote the guitar parts (assuming he writes for bass first). So how does he write these catchy little riffs? Three ways. He might hear a nice line of a record and adapt it to his own liking, he may just come up with a tune in his head while driving around in his Aston Martin and get back to write it down (we've all done it! Well not all in an Aston) or he may do as mentioned above and just toy with his bass or piano and come up with something that sticks. Well I hope I have enlightened you on Sting and his wonderful basslines. Please ask me question if you don't understand anything or if you have something to add or change. Maybe I'll put it in a Part 2 or even start an Andy Summers one, but in the meantime. Good Luck. Don't Give Up!
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