A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Updates since March

EMP Pop Conf 2016

Its been 3 weeks since I blogged or practiced. I paused during the week that wifey flew out to Seattle with a friend to present at a librarian conference. They did a piece on librarian stereotypes in media (specifically TV, I think) in the 2000’s. Next week, I’m going to fly back out there with her so she can speak at the EMP Pop Conference. This year’s title is From a Whisper to a Scream: The Voice in Music. Here’s a snippet from their website about it:

The EMP Pop Conference returns with its biggest roster of presentations yet, looking at the ways music lets us hear voices: singers, to be sure, whether virtuosos or idiosyncratic originals, but also other types of vocalizing. How do instrumentalists insert their selves into their music? When the dominant voices in our songs change, what changes with that, from personal identity to collective messages? A switch in voice—from croon to rasp to rap to Auto-Tune—alters everything it reaches. 

In dozens of panels, all free to the public (though we strongly recommend advance registration), we’ll explore musical voices across genre and time period: soul singers and rock singers, singers of exotica and Mexi-Cajun blues. Panels on goth-punk wailer Siouxsie Sioux, warbling rapper Future, and pop-rock duo Hall & Oates. Synthetic “vocaloids” and challenges to female decorum. Singing across lines of color. Good bad singing and bad good singing. Vocal coaching. Southern accents.

Wifey’s panel is called Noise Breeding Silence – Heavy Metal Voices. Here’s the description from the EMP website:

Metal remains fixed as a quintessentially white male hetero form in its most visible artists and presumed demographic. The emergent field of “metal studies” has begun to document metal’s appeal to women, non-white, and LGBTQ audiences, and to millions in the developing world. This panel considers to and for whom metal seems most to be speaking. Do metal’s various subgenres (death, black, doom, grindcore, etc.) all draw on the same underlying voice? Are different strains more or less inclusive? How do questions concerning metal’s inclusivity look different from a global vantage? What can we learn from participants who occupy non-dominant positions relative to core constituencies?

She’s going to share the table with Steve Waksman, Esther Clinton, Laina Dawes, Kat Katz and Jeremy Wallach. Most of them have written books about music and metal. We’ve met Laina & Jeremy before – at the MACI conference in 2014. Laina & the missus are actually working together in at least 2 more panels in the next month. One of them was organized by wifey and the other by Laina. The wife’s will be hosted at Barnard College and centers on women in metal and rock. Kat is the vocalist for Agoraphobic Nosebleed, We dug them, and I’m excited to hear her speak for the first time.

I did have her tighten up the trip, because as much as I’d love to go explore Seattle for a bit, I’m worried about being away from the baby for any real length of time, and of course, I’m not made of money and I know what’s going to happen if I’m in a new place with foods I haven’t eaten before. My wallet can’t survive that kind of abuse for long.

Bopps & Piano

20160327_173922Ok. Moving on from that, Bopps has been taking ballet classes since January, and I signed her up for piano about a month ago. She’s had 3 classes so far and is really taking to it. Its at the Belle School of Music. They employ a system based on Russian, Japanese and American technique. I don’t know what all of that entails yet, but so far its been fun. After posting about it on FB, I found that 2 of wifey’s cousins went there and there’s still a picture of one of them in the school’s marketing materials and on the website. The owner actually remembered them both and I think they took classes around 20 years ago! 😉

Its interesting to go with her to class. The lessons are 45 mins long. The kids in her class are all her age – so roughly 3-4 years old, and a parent has to be with them. The parents are actually part of the lesson. We sing with them (yes I do it… and its not just my bass face that’s ugly) and sit with them as they practice in class and partake in activities and homework. Its actually like music lessons for me, as much as her – and since its for really little kids, I can follow along!

So far, she’s learning solfege. She knows the do-re-mi song now, as well as a few others from the school, including Its A Small World from Disney and something I think is a traditional Norwegian song called Weather Vane. But those are all purely singing, while the teacher plays along on piano.

On top of that, the kids learned to identify high and low notes on the music staff right off the bat. Not specific notes like Ab and F#, just that the notes in the treble clef are high and the notes in the bass clef are low. They know what a double bar is (it ends the song) and what a repeat sign looks like (its a colon). They’re using small round magnets on a metal sheet in the back of their binders to place notes on a line or space. So far, they’ve worked on do, re and mi. They’re learning that when we place notes higher up on spaces or lines, the pitch gets higher. They’re singing in key when they identify the notes as well. Its really amazing to see, especially at that age.

The exercises so far focus on notes and rests. They’re playing with their thumb, index and middle fingers. They call them thumb, pointer & tall man. The exercises (which we practice at home as homework) basically have short pieces that they play in C major. Since they’re learning do-re-mi, they’re playing C-D-E along with rests. In the beginning they played quarter notes and this week they got introduced to half-notes and half-rests, which they’re counting aloud while they play (do-2, mi-2, rest-2, etc.).

This week, Bopps got her first song that used 2 notes. Its called Nap Time. It uses half-notes (C & D, which are their do and re notes). So, she’s playing with 2 notes, rests and learning to count half-notes and half-rests while she plays. Previous exercises were quarter notes and quarter rests. I remember one focused on do and the other on mi. I thought we were missing re, but it turned out that this was done on purpose to help the kids learn their right and left (do is played with the thumb and mi with the middle finger, or tall man).

Outside of that, Bopps has figured out some of Doe A Deer, Moonlight Sonata and some other stuff by herself. She’s getting 1-2 notes wrong, but for the most part, she’s playing the beginning parts of them and singing along with Doe A Deer while she does it. She likes playing those more than her homework exercises. I think its because she recognizes them as songs.

Also, I’ve been looking at the sheet music for her homework exercises. Some of them have notation for bass and treble clef. The pianists really use lots of chords on the bass side. I want to learn to play these with her because I think it’ll benefit both of us and be fun too. I don’t know about playing the chords on my bass, but I also remember watching a video from Adam Neely where he spoke about that a little – I think he said to play the lowest note, or single notes, or something. I’ll dig that video up and post it later.

Concert @ Lincoln High School

On Friday (April Fool’s Day, no less) Lincoln High School, in Yonkers, about 5 mins from where we live, hosted the annual Yonkers All-City Concert with vocalists and instrumentalists from all of the Yonkers public schools. It was scheduled for after Bopps’ ballet class. The night before it, I asked her if she wants to go to a concert – I really wanted her to see other kids playing musical instruments. She said yes, and was talking about it during the day before ballet class, so when her class ended, we grabbed wifey from the train and headed over.

The concert was interesting. I’ve never really paid any attention to school-related events before, so this was somewhat new to me. The kids were basically an orchestra. A local studio had donated a nice sound system to Lincoln High School, which they shouted out. There were some speeches and then the vocalists (a choir and some 50s pop stuff and classical arrangements) went on. After that, the student orchestra played. It was fun to watch. We didn’t stay for the whole thing, because as time went on, Bopps got more antsy and we didn’t want to disrupt the show for anyone, but while we were there, she liked it.

An interesting thing happened though. The people behind us were talking pretty deeply about music. They mentioned bass players a few times and spoke about jazz and about the proficiency of a bassist that one of their sons played with. During the show, Bopps was between wifey & myself. She was standing and was dancing slowly to the tempo of what was being played. Some of it was ballet. Some was Indian-dance (she picked up some stuff from my parents). Some of it was just a kid reacting to sound, but like interpretative dance.

So, the guy behind me taps me and smiles and says, “She really gets it!” We speak for a bit. He’s a drummer who played in jazz and rock & roll bands. His son is a jazz drummer, and his son’s son was onstage playing the flute (he was the only redhead in the orchestra). His daughter plays piano & ukulele and his other son is a bassist. I think he said his father was as well. He said that they came from a musical family, and I believe it.

We got to talking about jazz, metal, bass, rhythm. He’s a big fan of Marcus Miller, who wifey & I saw for our anniversary last year. He also digs Stanley Clark and was very impressed with Victor Wooten. He’s a Jeff Beck fan, and I mentioned Tal Wilkenfeld, his current bassist, who he also really liked. We talked about wifey’s thesis work on women in NY’s extreme metal scene and we spoke with his wife about wifey’s upcoming panel at Barnard – which they might try to attend. He said that Slayer put on the only show that ever scared him. 😉

But get this – his son is either the bassist or drummer for a grindcore band from Philadelphia called Congenital Death. The way he was describing the music, I knew it had to be grind, but he was less familiar with the labels. I think he said that his son is currently in England doing something. I’d heard of the band, but wasn’t familiar with their music until a few nights ago. Small world.

I love that they’re supportive of the band. I think that traditionally, people hear death or grind and only process noise, but he understood the technicality of what they’re doing, and even spoke glowingly about it. I should have taken their info, but I’m sure we’ll run into them again. If anything, I can use the band’s contact info to track them down.

Also, one of the vocalists is a woman. I don’t think she’s still with them – he said that it was really a strain on her throat, but I’ll dig up more info about that later. Oh, and I believe he said that most of them also had finished school, including some holding master’s degrees. I love it when we break the “dumb metalhead” stereotype that was so prevalent in the 80s.

Bass Stuff

Finally, on to some bass-related stuff. Three weeks ago, I put down the 6-string fretted bass and grabbed the 4-string. I wanted to switch it up and practice while wifey was away. It didn’t happen. While I was tuning the 4-string, the tuning peg on the A string broke and came right out. I’ve never had anything like that happen before. I ended up looking online and ordered a replacement. It arrived the other day and I installed it. Its not a perfect fit. Its slightly smaller and I don’t want to drill holes in the bass to accommodate it so I’m living with it for now.

Above are pics of what happened to the 4-string

While ordering stuff from Amazon, I ended up grabbing a headstock tuner called the Snark. Its a chromatic tuner that’s supposed to be useable on guitars, basses and violins. I used it to tune the 6-string fretted and the 4-string, as well as Bopps’ Dora the Explorer ukulele. I love this thing! Its so easy to use. You just clip it onto the headstock and I think it reads the vibrations running along the body to report what note’s being played. It has little bars that look like a speedometer that let you know if you’re flat, in tune or sharp. Bopps has been using it on her uke and calling out notes as she plays them. Its fun to watch her in action, “This sounds like an F. Now a G. A B. An A!” I clamped it onto the piano to test – on that little cover thing that we slide up from the keys so we can play – and it read that as well. We played notes from 3 different octaves and it called out each one correctly. I noticed that we’re flat for a lot of them though, so at some point, we’re going to need a piano tuner to come by and take a look.

The left 2 are the broken pieces and the right 2 are replacements

Finally, you can see how the new one doesn’t quite fit/line up


Finally, I pulled the trigger on starting a business. I was deliberating between an LLC and an S-Corp for a long time. I was supposed to pick since October last year. Anyhow, 5-6 months later and I went with LLC, because they’re simpler to run and provide the same type of tax benefits and asset protection. I registered it using a company called incfile.com who handled all the paperwork. I just got a message today that New York State has accepted it and are sending the packet with my processed paperwork. So, Housecall Support Services, LLC is being born. I’ve already created 4 websites for it that I’m not happy with. I want it to be really simple so people don’t get confused or intimidated reading it. My aim is to have it all squared away and running by the end of this month.

I’ve also been doing everything I can to keep my regular job and the company I’m already part of afloat. We had to cut development hours significantly, which is really bothering me, but if I can get Housecall to pick up the slack for me, personally, then I can look at shifting funds in the other company a bit to allocate more to development. My boss, who is the current owner, is in the process of transferring that company to me and another co-worker, so this year is going to be a ride, and I’m really not looking forward to tax season next year.

Ok. Its after 2:00 AM now, so I’m going to actually practice a little bit on the 4-string and then see if I pass out tonight.


3 responses

  1. Grrl in Progress

    Those snark tuners are the current ‘gold standard’ in clip on tuners. I would say almost every uke player has one, and most guitarists. One of the acoustic shows I went to recently, I saw one of the guys with a little red snark clipped onto his guitar. I have one as well, though the little rubber foot kept falling off, so now I just use it without it (mostly because it’s gone missing) and am extra careful about putting it on so I don’t scratch my instruments. I think I’ll just get myself one of those little foam things you stick on the feet of chairs and cut it to size to remedy the issue. lol.
    I also have a fishman clip on, and the snark blows it out of the water, but I notice with both you can sometimes get mis-reads if you don’t let the bar go down before plucking the next string. And, because it never hurts to have a spare I also grabbed one of the reverb ones that look like the snark in the last sale (for something like $3 shipped? Totally worth trying.) I use the snark more, but the reverb clip on comes pretty darn close in terms of overall functionality.

    Good to see you’ve got that flexible kiddy brain bending towards music already, and that she’s taking to it so well. I know you can’t wait until she starts playing circles around you! haha.

    April 7, 2016 at 7:32 am

  2. Pingback: A visit to Sam Ash | Ugly Bass Face

  3. Pingback: Bass repair cost at Sam Ash in White Plains, NY | Ugly Bass Face

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