A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Archive for January, 2015

The KORG Beat Boy came in

I waited about 9 hours to use it, because wifey went to yoga with her friend and when they came back, she wanted to run out again to get a bed for the baby. In Jersey. Co-sleeping is rough. Someone (me) gets kicked in the face a lot.

I actually opened it much earlier today, but the baby saw it, and after learning that its not a phone, she got pretty caught up in dancing to different drum beats and then drumming along with it on the sofa and my amp. She knows how to change drum patterns, so that occupied her for about 20 mins.

Anyway, my initial impression – its fun, and playing roots and chromatic runs at 120 bpm wore me out in about 10 mins. Its mostly the pinky finger on my fretting hand. It was holding the root while the other 3 did small runs to the root, mostly in C, and then a little with F and G, since I wanted to see if I could apply the Circle of Fourths to it. The verdict – I can somewhat keep up at that speed, but I tire out fast, and 60 bpm, while letting me practice the same stuff, doesn’t sound quite the same externally. In my head, I can make it feel the same, which is what practice is for, but without a little imagination, halving the speed really sounds like something else.

Its a much more interesting and varied way of playing to a metronome than using just a click. It also helps with understanding the concepts of locking in with the bass and snare drums. I can actually hear now why its so often said that we should play something (usually the root) to the kick drum and I’m even more in awe of players who have the speed, dexterity and brainpower to move around at speed and play melodically or harmonize what the rest of the music is playing.

Here’s a link to my first post about it:

Ok. Now that my first taste is over, I’m going to wrap up and get to bed. I hate having to work 6 days a week. I think I’ve said that here in the past.

[edit] Also, before I forget – on Monday (2/2/15) I start that Coursera class on beginner music theory. I’m pretty excited!

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Different Understanding of Musical Aesthetics

Here’s a great TED Talk from Victor Wooten. I love how he approaches music, and appreciate it even more now that I have a daughter who’s 2 1/2 years old. Just the other day, I was talking to my wife about her and music. I told her that I’d read on Wikipedia that Victor had started learning how to play bass when he was 2 years old, and that I wondered how Reggie Wooten had gone about teaching him. I told her that I wanted to learn more about it, and that last year, I’d gone online and looked at music schools in the area to get an idea about how young a student could be.

This video answers a lot of that, in approach. Our daughter already loves singing, playing with my basses (even though to her they’re all guitars) and with the Dora the Explorer ukulele I got for her last year (another guitar!) and wife’s keyboard. She also plays drums on everything (including my bald head). So, in a big way, she’s speaking the language already. I have to find the right way and right time to encourage her to continue.

This week’s set of lessons has been highly revealing for me and my interpretation of aesthetics. It’s a huge toss-up for me to decide which of these highly inspirational passages from our reading in To Be An Artist* has resonated with me most deeply. I’ll give the runner up, William Banfield, a very honorable mention. The way he challenges us to, “explore music through the cultural studies lenses of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, power, and class” really got me thinking about the kind of messages I can start to communicate; the injustices in my sphere that I’m able to express to inform society. This concept I’m talking about is something I feel I’ve really lost in myself and would like to revive.

Although, Mr. Banfield had some very challenging thoughts, Victor Wooten’s commentary resonated with me greatly. The way he talks about the creative person we are in the video…

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The KORG Beat Boy

During the past week, while reading and looking at bass videos, I’ve noticed a few people comment on how their playing and creativity has improved by practicing with a drum machine or a looper. It seems to help with making exercises musical and with letting ideas manifest during practice. It also looks like it would be really useful in the absence of a practice partner.

In Evan Brewer’s video, towards the end, he speaks about it and says that a lot of his musical ideas come from practicing with a looper. He showed an example of how to apply different playing techniques to scale practice (slapping, tapping, playing in a particular rhythm) that could definitely be made musical if coupled with a beat or even a melodic partner.

Yesterday, I came across this post from MalcolmAmos on Talkbass:

In it, Malcolm said that he had just gotten a device called the KORG Beat Boy. He plans on using it to improve how he locks in with drum patterns. The responses on Talkbass have been encouraging. I was curious about the device, so I looked at it on Amazon, and the reviews there were very good as well.

KORG Beat Boy

KORG Beat Boy

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Evan Brewer at Bass Player LIVE! 2013

Here’s a fantastic video from Evan Brewer, who plays bass for The Faceless and has released two solo jazz albums of his own. The video focuses on technique, because he wanted to discuss functions that all bassists must perform during his Bass Player Live (2013) clinic, instead of venturing too far into theory, which wouldn’t necessarily be understood by the entire crowd.

He shows different applications of the same technique in different musical settings and I like his analogy about the fretting and attacking hands as a language, with fretting representing the words being said and attacking representing inflection, like whispering or yelling.

Evan Brewer (The Faceless) at Bass Player LIVE! 2013

I didn’t know that Evan studied under Reggie Wooten (Victor’s older brother). It was a revelation to me, and it shows in his technique and in the places where he does speak to theory a little. What he says about warming up his “musical mind” in place of doing physical warm-ups was also really interesting to me, as well as his bit on practicing with a looper or other source of rhythm/melody to unlock creative potential.


Memorizing notes on the E & A-strings using the Cycle of Fourths 4

So, I’m practicing the Cycle of Fourths on the E and A strings, as per my post from earlier tonight. Everything is going well. Its slow at first, as I work to play a note on the E string, find its counterpart on the A string, then remember my place well enough to go to the next note. I still screw up D and Db sometimes, going to B or Gb instead, but overall, its running smoothly.

Sometime while practicing that, it occurs to me that I can switch it up. Instead of starting on the E string and playing the same note on the A, I’ll start on the A string and play the same note on the E. Well, it takes me a few runs to get it right, but its somehow going faster than when I played it using the E first. Am I quietly getting smarter? I’ll have to ask the wife. Objectivity – that’s what they’re good for.

Then it occurs to me… there’s some kind of pattern going on here. It takes me another run or two, but I realize that for most of what I’m doing, when I play a note on the E string, the next note on the A string is on the same fret. I’m practicing the Cycle of Fourths. The bass is tuned in fourths!

Cycle of 4ths on the A & E strings playing the same note on both strings

Cycle of 4ths on the A & E strings playing the same note on both strings

Look at the diagram above. As long as you know the Cycle on the E string, it puts you right where you need to go on the A string. Since we’re moving in fourths, and the bass is tuned in fourths, all we have to do is move up a string to get to the next note.

Now, that may or may not help me with fretboard memorization, but its definitely interesting to know. It also means that I can play 1/3 of the cycle from one position, then switch and play another 1/3 and switch one more time and play the rest. Its 4 notes per fret, each on a different string. I don’t think I’m going to use that information just yet, as it defeats the purpose of trying to memorize the notes, but once I have them down on all 4 strings, I’m sure it will help me to navigate. And, by then, I’ll hopefully have the Cycle drilled into my head enough that I’ll know what note I’m moving into by going up a string but remaining on the same fret.

Its starting to come together. I love it when a plan comes together.


Memorizing notes on the E & A-strings using the Cycle of Fourths 3

Playing the Cycle of Fourths along with the 5th of each note and naming them is too hard for me to do. I just don’t have the brainpower to recall the 5th each time, so I’m tabling that for now. What I’m doing instead is playing each note in the Cycle on both the E and A strings together. So, I play [C on the E string], then [C on the A string], then [F on the E string] followed by [F on the A string], etc., until I reach the end. Then I repeat.

That seems to be working a little better. Here’s what it looks like in tab:

Cycle of 4ths on the E & A strings playing the same note on both strings

Cycle of 4ths on the E & A strings playing the same note on both strings

I think that I really have just been memorizing a sequence each time, which is why I’m looking to mix things up using baby steps. I know that I should do these backwards as well (the Cycle of Fifths) but I think that right now, it would throw me off completely, so I’m waiting a little more on that.


Memorizing notes on the E & A-strings using the Cycle of Fourths 2

A snowstorm just passed through the NY-metro area last night. We got about a foot, which isn’t so bad, considering that parts of Long Island got around 3 feet. 😉 Hopefully things will be a little quiet and I won’t get too many client calls/emails, so I can practice a bit today until the baby wakes up and wants to help me work (she likes typing the letter “O” into Word documents for me).

So, I read a little more about the Cycle of Fourths earlier this AM, just to see how others apply it to their practice, and so far, it looks like at my level, its simply used to repeat patterns to drill them into memory (practice scales in all positions via the Circle, etc.). Since I’m using it to memorize the fretboard, I’ve been trying to get a little more out of the motion at the same time, so I’ve been running the Cycle and playing the 5th as well. So basically, I play a note in the Cycle, follow with the note one string up and two frets higher, and then move onto the next note.

Right now, I’m chaining the Cycle along two strings. I play It on the E string, and then I immediately continue on the A string. I’m now able to play each note and its 5th without losing my place. Its funny how just adding in a single note to my practice makes me make mistakes at first. But, with that under my belt, I’m going to try to start naming the 5th each time I play it. I think it’ll help me to cement in those note names & positions, and it’ll begin to help me memorize the relationships (root/5th) between those notes by name instead of position on the fretboard (one string up and two frets over).

Here are the notes in the Cycle along with their 5ths:

Cycle of 4ths & their 5ths

You know, now that I’ve written that out and I can look at it, the 5ths follow the same pattern as the Cycle of Fourths, except that they start a 5th higher (duh!). I suppose that should have been obvious, but I’m not that quick on the uptake these days. Blogging about this stuff really is helpful – writing to communicate it makes me analyze what I’m doing more. Hopefully, its understandable to some of you and my sometimes-garbled thoughts aren’t too confusing.