Tool – Pneuma Intro Bass The Right Way

tool - pneuma bass intro

Arguably the second greatest Tool bass intro…

When this song dropped there was a feeding frenzy of people tabbing it out and a race to upload it. I took a look at it at the time but got side-tracked by life and so here’s my take on it.

Compare and contrast

As per usual, I’ll be using the Ultimate-Guitar “Official” tab as a comparison piece as it’s almost certainly most people’s go to to learn it. (I’m pretty sure there are no “official” printed or downloadable tab books with it in yet so I can’t use them…)

A simple enigma

As with all things Tool, it’s both complex and deceptively simple. Justin and Adam are masters of economy in terms of note choices and where their complexity comes to the fore is in the rhythmic use of those notes.

Nearly every single Tool song is in D Minor; that’s just 12 notes in one particular order over a career of 30+ years!

Let's dive in

Pneuma’s bass part feels complicated due to the use of the dotted 8th note delay effect which makes it sound like JC is playing a lot more notes than he is. Here is the UG version of the opening bars of the bass intro:

That’s definitely all the right notes in the right order but one of the most important things about sheet music is that it takes an audio thing and converts it into an easy-to-read visual thing. This transcription really doesn’t do that at all…

The allocation of notes and rests in a piece of sheet music should give clues as to how to count a piece, how to feel it as you play it.

14/8 is essentially 7/4 so I’m not sure why they bothered to use 14/8 if they were just going to use quarter note rests everywhere… Also, counting this in 7/4 or 14/8 gives you no sense of where the downbeats fall.

This is perhaps a limitation of their platform and of Guitar Pro itself when creating multi-instrumental scores: all instruments will need to be written out using the same times and tempos regardless of whether that produces the clearest to read sheet music.

On the UG site, playing this tab definitely sounds right but boy it’s hard to read!

Below is the JTR tab with the downbeats indicated, the moments in the riff where it feels like it starts over:

As with the UG tab, the 1st diad (2 note chord) is a pick-up note from the previous bar. After that, things are divided into much more readable bars and rhythms.

We have a 5 bar phrase made up of bars of 6/8, 4/4, 6/8, 6/8 and 7/8 looping back around to the top.

The rests are written as 8th note rests to help express the dotted 8th note feel of the delay effect and to help you count the riff correctly which is like this (not including the pick-up note which you can play in free time really, whenever you’re ready to start. Play all the 1’s and count the rests in the brackets):

6/8: 1-2-3 1-2-3
4/4: 1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2
6/8: 1-2-3 1-2-3
6/8: 1-2-3 1-2-3
7/8: 1-2 1-2-3 1-2
and repeat.

That’s a lot of 1-2-3’s so here’s the riff visually broken down into those chunks:

Hopefully that looks and feels easier to read and play… It sounds like this with a click:

enter the octopus!

Now, that riff happens twice as bass only, then Danny comes in and things get, as you would expect, MUCH harder to concentrate on!

But it IS the same riff (honestly), twice around again. Identical count pattern, same notes just with added Cephalopod syncopation from Danny and dropped a little lower in the mix…

It sounds like this (I’ve added Danny’s kick and snare pattern minus all the hi-hat malarky to show just how “odd” what he’s doing is relative to an already odd bassline!)

the "turnaround"

The next riff, a kind of turnaround, goes off on a bit of a tangent before getting back to the main riff ahead of the verse.

Things change up a bit melodically, rhythmically and time signaturely (that is a real word!) in this new riff. Below is the UG version:

As before, the UG tab is pretty hard to read and get a feel for what’s happening, when you should play and how to count it and where the downbeats are…

Here’s the JTR version. Remember, it starts on a pick up note from the previous bar (I’ve marked it with the downbeats)

Count it like this:

Which sounds like this:

From here it’s into the verse.

It takes a bit of practice to get it but if you break it down piece by piece and go slow then you’ll nail it and the feel will fall into place.

I hope this helps. In the meantime, may the riff be with you, always.

Download the Learning Resources for this Riff.