LOTW – Man In The Mirror Lick

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This week’s lick comes from Michael Jackson’s brilliant “Man In The Mirror.”

Lick timestamp taken from the original “Bad” album version

Man in the mirror features one of the most astonishing bass-synth parts out there (just my humble opinion).

Although the entire bass part is truly astonishing and a gold-mine for subtleties regarding timing and phrasing (both for bassists and keyboardists alike – heck, any musician can benefit from it) the lick that Randy Kerber plays at 2:12 to lead up to the first more “exuberant” chorus of the tune shoots the hairs on my arms straight up.

A landmark, textbook example of how to effectively play a blues lick as a (bass) fill.

Even though it’s used in “bass” context here, you could easily use this higher up the keyboard too.

Timing

The lick starts on the 2, although on the 1 also the low “d” which is the root at that moment is being played. I, however, don’t necessarily regard it as part of the actual lick itself – which starts with a grace noted “b” (from “a”) then plays a quick bluesy turn (starting on the 3), led in with a quick ghost-noted “d” (16th before the 3) over “a,” “b-flat,” “a” then dropping further over the G pentatonic scale “g,” “e,” “d,” “e,” “g,” “d” down to the new 1 and root of the chorus’ first chord G.

Side note: On a bass synth, one can use the “pitch shift / pitch wheel” (as is done for the turn in this lick) which pitch-shifts a tone in a continuously variable matter (not in half-step increments, like a piano can only do, but in “portamento” hitting all frequencies between the start and the end note). When these things are used for turns (as they often are) the major/minor lines blur a bit. I chose to go for minor in my translation of this turn here (b-flat vs. b).

The fluidity with which this lick is played, the timing, the phrasing, the placement, the flavor.. it’s just all gold. Simple-yet-effective in its purest form.

Here’s my go, showing how it’s done:

Slow

Tip: when you see this slow version – you see that (due to the speed) I tend to play b-flat in the turn almost instantly after the a. It’s very cool for these bluesy types of licks to “drag” a bit on that “a” – then running down the “b-flat” “a” “g” a bit faster to “make up” the wait.

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