So, I couldn’t sleep and took the opportunity to hole up in the office for a bit and practice. I worked on that simple R-5-8 exercise from Building Rock Bass Lines and then on the variation that I do sometimes. It got me thinking…
Here’s the exercise, as it is in the book. As I said in my previous post, its R-5-8, go up a position, 8-5-R, go up a position, and repeat. When you reach the fret you want to stop at (the 12th, in my case) you descend the same way until you’re back at the 1st fret. All of this is done via roots on the E string.
So, I ran that a few times. My little finger is still getting tired. Then, I switched to that thing I can do without actually shifting positions – its the same pattern, but along 2 adjacent positions. In this case, I did it starting on the 3rd fret, so its in G. In the exercise from the book, we use our index and pinky fingers to fret. In the variant, we use all 4 fingers. The index and ring cover one position (a root, 5th & 8th). The middle and pinky cover the adjacent position (8th, 5th and root).
Anyhow. I got to thinking – its all roots, 5ths and octaves. Regardless of if you’re in a major or minor key, those 3 notes stay the same – so its completely independent of major and minor tonalities – those notes can be used anywhere. I know I’ve read about this before, but playing it and thinking about it helps it sink in a bit differently.
Finally, I did a last variant, that I’ve done in the past as well. Its the same pattern, but for part of it, I begin with the descent. So, we do the 8-5-R with the middle/pinky fingers and then move on to the R-5-8 with the index & ring. Its the same notes, and arguably, the same order, only starting from a different point. Its interesting to me to hear how it changes everything. I mean, its obvious, but hearing it is different from just thinking about it.
I read through the rest of the book earlier, as well. It got me thinking about a bunch of stuff – one surprising thing to me is that there are several different types of approach notes. chromatic, scalar and dominant. I’ll talk about those in a later post, when I get to those exercises, but its cool to see because it does get me thinking about them, and it also makes me realize how much I need to internalize the sounds of intervals. I think we can probably learn a lot by ear if we know intervals, and also pull a lot of sounds out of our heads instead of letting scales and patterns (and by extension, our hands) dictate what we play.
Of course, that raises the question of whether its better to be expressionistically at the mercy of our head or hands. Should physical habits dictate what we play or do we accompany the voices in our heads? I don’t know if there’s a right answer or not. I’m not sure if either is truly an extension of free will or if rote practice is like a forced predeterminism, be it mental or physical. Its 2:30 in the AM though, after a hellish PM with work, so my head’s not quite where it should be. I’m going to do a few more runs with this R-5-8 thing and then see if I can pass out.