Learn to Play: The Bass Techniques of The Who's John Entwistle

The Who’s John Entwistle looms large in the history of rock bass-playing—his powerful, melodic lines helped propel the loudest band in the world while anchoring the breakneck-paced drumming of Keith Moon.

In our bass lesson today, Jake Hawrylak dissects what lay behind Entwistle’s singular take on the instrument. Entwistle had strong sense of melody, perhaps due to a youth spent playing the French horn. Jake explains how The Ox brought a “soloistic approach to the instrument in an era where a lot of basslines were just about keeping the groove.”

Jake starts by diving into the bass solo from the Who’s first hit, “My Generation.” By using a pick—or, alternatively, two, three, or more fingers—Entwistle dug into the part-planned, part-improvised run of notes, achieving a great rattling sound thanks to his quick picking and his bass’ low action.

When discussing “The Seeker,” Jake highlights the interplay between Entwistle’s foundational riff and Pete Townshend’s chords. Similarly, the bassline in the chorus of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is “almost contrapuntal,” according to Jake, with a pentatonic figure, varying trills, and blue notes contrasting with Townshend’s playing and Roger Daltrey’s singing.

Follow along with the full lesson in the video above and in the tabs provided below. And be sure to check back next Wednesday for another bass lesson on Reverb.

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