In today’s bass guitar lesson we’re going to be looking at how to play the song The Chicken For ‘Beginner’ bassists. The Chicken is a funk tune by sax player Pee Wee Ellis but popularised for the bass guitar by the legendary Jaco Pastorius.
Strictly speaking, this isn’t a ‘beginner’ bass line… but this tune is often played on Jazz Jam Sessions the world over. You’ll find Jazz Musicians who are in the early phases of learning to play this tune because the chord sequence is relatively straight forward. Top professionals love this tune too because it is an awesome groove to improvise over.
In this bass guitar lesson we’re going to simplify The Chicken into 3 core elements - perfect if you’re just starting out learning this tune.
Make sure you watch Jaco Pastorius performing this tune so you get a good idea of what you are aiming for.
Get The Backing Track
You can get the backing track for this lesson as part of the eBassGuitar Jazz Jam Backing Album. This is an album of 12 of the most common jazz tunes found on Jam Sessions the world over. The album is made is especially for bass players. You can listen to a video sample of the album and get your copy by clicking this link.
Part 1: The Chicken Bass Groove
The basic groove of The Chicken is a 16th Note Funk Groove. This means you will hear the bass and the drums dividing each beat by 4 a lot of the time to create the groove.
Here I have simplified the Jaco bass line so you have a simple starting point. This groove can then applied to the whole of the sequence.
The most important thing when working with 16th notes is to always know where the pulse or strong beats of the bar are. I’ve shown this very clearly using an arrow.
To begin with, observe whether or not there are notes placed on each of the strong beats of the bar.
I’d recommend learning this bass line either beat by beat or by splitting the bar in half (i.e. beats 1 & 2, then beats 3 & 4).
I’d also recommend playing this in the first position on the bass guitar starting on the first finger. Use the Tab if you are unsure.
Part 2: The Offbeat Unison Phrase
Before we look at creating the rest of the sequence there is one ‘unison phrase’ which is an essential component to this tune.
A unison phrase is a section of music where the band plays exactly the same notes AND exactly the same rhythm as one. It’s a very powerful effect.
This phrase is based on the Bb Minor Pentatonic and is largely comprised of off beat 16th notes. You will often hear the term musical term ‘syncopation’ used when there are a lot of notes which are not placed on the beat.
Watch out for the final Ab which is not an offbeat 16th note. It’s placed on beat 3+ of the bar.
Part 3: The Chicken 16 Bar Sequence
The Chicken is based on a 16 Bar ‘looping’ chord sequence which starts at bar 5 of the music below. The first 4 bars are an introduction.
This sequence is quite straight forward but also a little unusual because it has some unexpected chord changes.
The one bar groove from Part 1 can be ‘superimposed’ over the whole sequence. When changing to the Eb7, D7, G7 & C7 chords start the bass line with the 2nd finger (on the fretting hand) and try and use the one finger per fret technique.
The OffBeat Unison Phrase can be found in bar 12 of the 16 bar sequence with N.C. written above (which means ‘No Chord’)
Two Bar Bass Line For The Chicken
The one bar bass groove we learned in part one is just the tip of the iceberg… there are so many amazing places you can take this bass line. There’s so much space to jam and groove using this bass groove and chord sequence.
Here’s a simple ‘tweak’ that I make to turn the one bar groove into a two bar groove. Adding a simple open string note in on the last 16th note of beat 3 of the second bar is very effective.
Using open strings is one of the tricks Jaco Pastorious used a lot to add extra speed and ‘funk’ into his bass lines.
Lesson Wrap Up
The Chicken is one of those bass lines and chord sequences which all bass players who are interested in Jazz and Funk music should know.
It’s a seminal tune which is very much worth learning especially if you want to play at a Jazz Jam Session.
If you’re a beginner to intermediate bass player and want to take this lesson to the next level we have a whole Walking Bass Course and Bass Line Creation course inside the Bass Lab PLUS membership. - Join FREE Today with a 14 day trial.
Both courses are easy to understand and simplify complex ideas so bass players in the early phases of learning can make rapid progress and achieve results that impress their friends and family fast.
Good luck and get stuck in!