A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Caught with my pants down…

Fell off the horse again. I haven’t practiced in about 3 weeks. We’re in the midst of beta testing and launching v3.0 of our software, and its been hectic. I’m also presenting to new potential clients (one of which owns 24 facilities). On top of that, wifey and I are working on the living room (and some other things) while the house is somewhat clear.

Earlier today, I played bass with other people for the first time. Bear in mind, I haven’t touched my bass in almost a month. Three guys from my wife’s side of the family that I see pretty regularly came over and really wanted to jam today. (Usually two of them come over so we can grill and/or work on the house.) They all play guitar and one was a semi-professional drummer in the Phillipines. I’ve told each of them, at various times this year, that once I have about a year’s worth of practice, I’ll see.

Well, I saw. 😉 I really wish I’d kept practicing, and tonight just makes it moreso. Everyone’s more experienced than I am. No one knows “theory” but they know the names of all of the notes and where to find them on their guitars. They also know guitar chords. It looks like what they’re doing is memorizing fingering positions for certain chords and playing them. I think that this is something I need to know as well on several levels.

I’ve not gotten to the point where I really know what a D-minor-something is, or anything like that. Its music theory, as much as the guys don’t seem to really say it. They had tabs for some songs, and some of them knew chords for a bunch of others. They showed me how to identify root notes for what they were playing and either repeat them or play them in certain patterns for a number of repetitions. I know its extremely basic, but it got the job done and I played with people. Its an interesting experience.

I messed up a bunch of times but they kept going, and I was able to find my place again. I was mostly playing patterns using root-3rd-5th or root-4th-5th. Its different from practicing with audio tracks, because it does make you feel like you’re being analyzed, and that people are depending on you – even if they’re able to go on fine when you mess up. I don’t know if I was doing that to them as well, probably not though because they’ve all played with people before (and are all into karaoke as well).

I can see what Billy Sheehan meant when he said on some interview that he learned everything he knows on stage, up in front of people. As a beginner, I found that I really had to stop thinking about the why’s of what I’m doing when playing with people and focus on just playing, otherwise I’m not able to perform. Having sound organically created around you and being in a position where you’re trying to contribute to that process makes you strip unnecessary activities down so that you can do what you need to (like remembering where your fingers need to be and for how many repetitions). I’m hoping that experience will make things come together so that play and theory merge into one action.

We did some pop songs that I really don’t know. I listen to different music from what they do, overall, and I can’t really play any of it just yet, so I had to hear them play and sing for a bit and then play the basslines. It was fun, but it makes me frustrated with myself for not dedicating more time to learning recently. I can really see how it helps you learn though. I was able to identify things right away that I need to work on: learning where the notes are and learning what to play when chords are named are the first two things. I should probably also listen to more music that they like as well. Even if I’m not into it, it really is a nice way of practicing, and I’m sure it will become applicable to further study. It will also allow me to improvise or experiment with patterns on songs more easily. There were points where I felt like I was holding them back from playing, but it might just be in my head because maybe I really just have to hold down the rhythm and let them fly. I kind of want to fly with them though.

I’m going to make an effort to get back into things. We’re almost done with the living room, but there are so many projects still. Oh, and I turned 36 on May 17th. Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails has the same birthday, but he’s 10 years older than me.

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