Learn to Play: The Bass Techniques of Michael Jackson Songs

Bassist Jake Hawrylak is back in the Reverb studio this week, with another exciting lesson just for the low-enders. In the past, Jake's lessons have broken down a single song or a couple of signature grooves from a well-known bassist, but this week's lesson paints with a broader stroke. This week, Jake is looking at a handful of classic Michael Jackson tunes, breaking down a variety of funky parts that were written and played by a handful of excellent musicians.

Jake starts with "Rock With You" from 1979's Off the Wall—a funky line played by Bobby Watson, who tuned his bass a half-step down for extra dynamic. The next song, "I Can't Help It" (with music written by Stevie Wonder) is also from Off the Wall and features a bass part played by frequent Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones collaborator Louis Johnson.

Louis Johnson also played the bass part on the next Jackson tune that Jake teaches, "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." Each fill of this song alternates between a higher and lower register, almost as if Louis is orchestrating a sort of "call and response" with himself through his own parts.

Jake then moves onto the synth bass playing of Greg Philliganes on "Baby Be Mine" and "P.Y.T." from 1982's Thriller, before circling back to Louis Johnson on the same album's major hit "Billie Jean." Jake closes his lesson with Jackson's later tune, "Smooth Criminal," from 1987's Bad.

Be sure to watch the full video above, follow along with the tablature below, and let us know what you'd like to see next in the comments below.


comments powered by Disqus