It sounds like you have two questions in one.
If you are accurately transcribing The Smiths you should end up with independent parts for bass and guitar. Transcription is a whole separate topic from how to use the bass and guitar together. You might look for some good transcriptions of The Smiths to make sure you are getting the parts correct. For some The Smiths are Godhead so there should be some good transcriptions available, just beware of crappy online tabs.
Unfortunately I couldn't find a great transcription source for The Smiths, but this might be pretty good.
But, my honest feeling is cut to the chase and check out this book:
...1,000 pages of real transcriptions of all recorded Beatles songs as performed for the recordings! I can't think of a better source to study pop/rock music. The scores are beautiful and you can so clearly see all the parts as an ensemble.
The follow is a general approach for bass and guitar arrangement. Some of it surely will apply to The Smiths, but it's really meant to be a general outline.
I understand that I can play chords and she can play notes which fit those chords.
Yes. But let's take a step back and think about that.
I think there is a attitude in some rock music that the rhythm guitar provides chords and the bass just plays the chord root down in the bass octave to support the guitar with a bigger sound.
In my opinion that's an impoverished view of the bass part. It also seems to misalign the bass within the band. The bass should be aligned with the drums. Aligning with the drums should help make the bass function independently of the guitar.
Also, rather than the guitar providing the chords (the harmony) and the bass just doubling at the octave, the bass should be understood as generating the harmony. The distinction is subtle, but suffice to say that a lot of bass patterns server to outline the chords, the harmony. The bass needs to be rock solid rhythmically with the drums and in providing the harmonic foundation.
- The bass will generally play the chord root in rock music. When it plays more than roots, the root often is played on the first beat of a bar (or the first note of a chord change) to get the chord defined after which it can continue moving in a variety of ways.
- The bass very often just plays steady quarter or eighth notes, but it could play some kind of rhythmic groove, or various pick up notes before the beat, whatever the rhythm it can stay on the root the whole time.
- The root can be embellished simply by playing a neighbor note a scale step above or below the root and then going back to the root.
- when the chords change the bass can either go directly to the next chord root, or a short segment of the scale can be used to lead into the next chord. For example
AAAA AAAA EEEE... or
AAAA ABCD EEEE...
- The bass can arpeggiate the chord in a number of ways.
- generally the first beat will always be the chord root
- play roots and fifths of the chords, or roots, fifths, and the root in the upper octave, ex.
A1 A1 A1 A1 E2 E2 A2 A2 where the numbers indicate octaves
- play all the chord tones starting on the root
From that little outline it should be clear the bass can simply hold a note, play arpeggios, or play scales. There is no limitation in the basic musical material. However, the bass really needs to make the harmony clear. Careful handling of the roots should go a long way for harmonic clarity.
However I’m learning to pluck individual notes using the scale (playing lead?) instead of playing chords so we’re playing the exact same notes at the same time.
Of course there is nothing wrong with doubling up parts. But, sometimes you want independence of parts.
- The first step in the direction of independence it simply play the two parts at different intervals. So, you probably are playing where the two parts are doubled at the octave. Try playing in 3rds, 6ths, or 10ths. The two parts will be similar in rhythm and direction, but you will actually be harmonizing. This kind of thing may need to be worked out beforehand to fit the chords. Sort of like this...
Am | Em | Am
Guitar: C D E F | G G E E | C
Bass: A B C D | E E G G | A
- Try thinking more about the two rhythms played by bass and guitar instead of the pitches. If you play different rhythms, you will mostly likely end up playing different pitches.
- If the bass plays patterns like those in the bass outline above, then when you play scale-based parts it should not result in duplicate parts, because the bass will be mostly on chord tones while your guitar is playing the full scale.
- Try setting out the general contrast you want to achieve between the two parts. Things like...
- bass plays stead down beat, guitar play with syncopation
- bass uses rests, guitar keeps a steady flow
- bass play fast rhythms, guitar plays long notes
- bass stays locked into a simple pattern, guitar follows long, wide ranged lines
Any pair of contrasting roles can be traded between the bass and guitar.
Along with getting the correct transcripts of bass and guitar for existing songs and studying how other bands do things, you can experiment with this outline of ideas using various common four chord progressions. Try some one hour jam sessions to get a feel for the possibilities and what the two of you like and don't like. Don't overlook the value of using musical rests or simple patterns.