Watch the Reharmonization online guitar lesson by Andrew Ford from Motown Bass Survival Guide
Many times, a songwriter has some basic generic chords to accompany their lyric and melody. For many of them, the focus understandably is on the lyric and melody, after all that is technically what makes up a song. Many of them, as well as producers, depend on those gifted studio musicians such as Jamerson to take their song to the next level with their performance enhancements. A technique used by Jamerson was reharmonization, changing the bass notes of very simple progressions to make them sound much more sophisticated.
Let's look at this simple 2 bar progression using Gb for 1 bar and Db for 1 bar. In this first example, I'll play a more standard bass line that outlines the harmony as might be written by a songwriter. The bassline does have some rhythmic syncopation and note movement. I start on the root Gb in the first bar going down to the major 7 (F) briefly as a pivot before getting back to the root. Finally, I go to Ab as a transition to the next chord, Db. I use a similar motif as I did in bar 1 in this next bar, just changing the intervals. I start on the root Db then go down to the 5, Ab, before going back to the root, and finally and F which is the major 3rd that also leads me nicely back to Gb. This is a decent interpretation of this chord progression, but let's look at one way to harmonize this in the style of Jamerson in the next exercise.
For the second exercise, I'll keep the first bar basically the same with a slight change by inserting the major 3rd, Bb, into the motif. In the second bar, or actually the syncopation into the second bar, is when we start the reharmonization. Instead of playing a normal Db centered line in this bar, I begin with an Ab, which is the 5 of Db. I then go down to the major 3rd, F, before moving to Gb, which is the 4 and ending with and Ab that leads me back to the Gb. I actually never play the intended root Db at all. Now one thing to be aware of when doing this type of reharmonization are the voicings of the chordal instruments. If they voice too low with the written root on the bottom, it can destroy your handy work and take away any impact of these new notes. Also, be aware of what the singer or melody instrument is doing, any fancy stuff you do on bass is a waste of time if it does not make the song "better".