Here’s a fun article that shows some videos from Billy Sheehan, Steve Harris and Geddy Lee. The author, Andrew Hutz, selected them as some of the most exciting and skilled bassists that he’s listened to. I agree with his picks, although, there are a bunch of others I’d add, from various extreme metal bands, jazz acts and new wave bands.
Some instruments get all the love. Who doesn’t want to be like the charismatic singer, or the mysterious lead guitarist? Even the drummers get respect after everyone gets the drum jokes out of the way. Piano has its place as well. But aren’t we forgetting something?
Yes we are! We’ve forgotten the noble bass guitar!
Unfortunately, the bass guitar can sometimes be hard for young musicians to get into, especially as a primary instrument. Because bass is often ignored by the mainstream music media, great bass players get overshadowed by their six-string playing band mates. Beyond that, there is more early gratification from playing piano or guitar. The best part of playing bass guitar is playing it with other musicians (this is true of most instruments, but especially of bass). But the bass is actually badass, as this article will no doubt prove!
Bass guitar is essential to rock, blues…
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I came across this post on Talkbass a few weeks ago but haven’t had a chance to blog about it until now. Its an hour-long talk with Billy Sheehan (Talas, Mr. Big, Steve Vai), Rex Brown (Pantera), Frank Bello (Anthrax) & David Ellefson (Megadeth) from Bass Player Live 2013. I’m really impressed with Billy and David’s remarks, in particular – and also with how articulate David is.
Its interesting to note – Geezer Butler wrote the lyrics for a lot of Black Sabbath songs. I never knew that (and neither did Billy Sheehan)!
Wow. Its approaching 7 months since I wrote my last blog post. For a lot of that time, I’ve also not been practicing. The baby and work have completely dominated my time. She turned 9 months old today though (5/28) and I actually did a few small music-related things in the past month, so I’m trying to find more time to squeeze in bass practice and blogging about it again. She really likes my basses, BTW. She always leans in to play with the strings up by the headstock. She’s also trying to explore alternate tunings whenever she can get her hands around the tuning pegs.
So, in reverse-chronological order:
I just discovered Jamplay – a subscription-based website that has hundreds (if not thousands) of structured video tutorials for learning how to play guitar from dozens (if not hundreds) of guitar instructors. I came across them from a post on Talkbass last week. The important thing here is that they’ve recently added bass lessons and as of this writing have about a dozen instructors, some of which have more than 20 video lessons ranging from complete novice to intermediate to advanced concepts.
So, last night at 10 PM, Lesson #1 of Music Theory for Bass became available for download from the International Institute of Bassists (IIB). I didn’t realize this until later in the night, as I was editing a paper for wifey on Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection by Anna Tsing.
The initial lesson is made up of 8 PDF files. I logged into the IIB website at around 1 AM and grabbed them. These files have the following titles:
- Lesson #1
- A Guide to Practicing
- Notes on the E, A, D & G Strings
- A Guide to Notation
- Notes & Rest Values
- Relative Pitch Ear Training
- Lesson #1 Quiz
I’ll go over each of these a little during the week in separate blog posts. I’m not sure how detailed I’ll be about content, as I don’t want to give away IIB’s class. Tonight, at 10 PM (EST), there’s an optional chatroom meeting/discussion which I’d like to attend. Following is a summary of my thoughts on the sections of the first document (Lesson #1). Some of its parts have the same names as the 8 documents listed above, because it discusses them.
Background / Senseless prattle
For the first few weeks after I started practicing, I found that I was only able to move around the fretboard if I was seated while playing. I practiced my exercises and got to where I could play them without many mistakes, but if I stood up and played, it was like I was touching the neck for the first time.
The main issues were that I couldn’t see the frets or where my fingers were when not on a chair. Sitting made the bass rest partially against my thigh, which angled it so that the front faced a little more skyward. Standing lost this angle and made me rely on feel, which I don’t have yet.
I didn’t really know what to do about this other than to practice while standing. And you know what? It worked! About 15 years ago, a friend of mine (Hi PJ!) said to me that the sixth sense was sense of body. Its like how you can close your eyes and still know where your fingers are. I think that if you play enough, memorization and sense of body will teach your hands where the contours of the instrument are and where your fingers are along the neck, much like typing.
I love Dan Maines. His groove on early Clutch is the 2nd coming of Geezer Butler to me. His playing tells stories to my ear, unlike the overwhelming majority of rock bass players that I hear.
I remember an interview with Billy Sheehan in which he talked about bass lines and how they’ve changed over the years, from the 50s, 60s and 70s until now. He spoke about how bass lines were melodic and were an integral part of the song, how you could hum a bass line by itself and recognize the song it came from. He also observed how this changed with a lot of modern music.
An example that Sheehan gave was playing part of the bass line for “Stand By Me”. Its instantly identifiable if you’ve ever heard the song. He then played a few bars of repeated 8th notes and asked what song it was. It could have literally been any of dozens. I got his point.