Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Don't learn songs... understand them

I recently got in touch with some folks via craigslist about playing in a cover band. What I really want to do is play with other people regularly-- I don't particularly care if it's in front of other people or in someone's garage. This particular band, however, is looking to play shows a couple of times a month. Sounds fun to me.

I let them know where I thought I was as a player: still a novice, but not embarrassingly awful. We agreed to get together and play and see if I was a fit for their band. They sent me their setlist of 17 songs and I agreed that I would have 5-10 ready to play when we got together. That gave me just under a week and a half to get these songs under my belt.

On first glance through the list, I knew 16 of 17 songs. I pulled up the 16 I did know from my music collection (or YouTube for the songs I didn't have) and listened to them all, focusing on the bassline. I also did a quick bass tab search as I went along to get an idea for key and general difficulty level. As I listened, I immediately began to sort the songs into difficulty buckets. "Kiss Me Deadly" by Lita Ford? That's an easy one. "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morisette? That shouldn't be too hard... wait a second, that's a really busy bassline. Who played that? Flea? Oh crap, that goes in the "hard" bucket. After my initial sort, I had 12 songs I thought I would try to learn.

Here's how I went about learning "Brass in Pocket" by the Pretenders.

I started with tab.

I looked through a few different versions. There was quite a bit of variety when it came to complexity. Some people thought it was a really simple bassline. Others thought it was pretty complex, with lots of octaves and fills.

Next, I tried using my ears.

Using the tab as a rough guide, I next tried to play along with the song, using my ears. This went... okay, I suppose. I knew there was a lot happening that I wasn't playing, and there was some stuff going on that I just couldn't hear.

Step three: Chord changes.

Once I has a rough understanding of the song, as well as the parts that I knew I needed to work on, I needed to solidify my understanding of the song's arrangement. For this, I charted out the different elements of the song (the verse, the pre-chorus, the chorus, the outro), and then I wrote out the chord changes for each of those parts. I then started working through each part. After this step, I was feeling pretty good-- I could play the root notes of the chords to the entire song. But what about the fills?

To YouTube!

For polish, I started watching YouTube covers of this song; specifically, I watched bass players playing along. This helped me understand some of the tab I looked up initially. It also helped me undestand that I probably wasn't going to be playing it just like the record. The covers ranged from simple (basically the root notes I already had down) to the virtuosic-- there was no way I was going to play like some of those guys. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the recording isn't nearly as busy as some of those covers.

The YouTube videos also helped me make another discovery: the bass on the recording of "Brass in Pocket" is in drop D tuning.

Putting it all together.

Once I had all this information, it was time to synthesize it into something I could actually play. I decided I was going to keep things simple.

I decided I would play in standard tuning. This meant I didn't always get the same tone that the recording had, but it still sounded pretty good to me.

I was going to only attempt the "signature" fills and variations. I'm not good enough to get real fancy and still keep the rhythm rock-solid, so I wanted to focus on being the foundation rather than being true to the recording.

Here are the fills I decided to do:

  • The slide in the intro.
  • The quick fill on the end of the two bars of A in the verse.
  • The fill at the end of the song.

For variations from the root, I would play the A octaves in the chorus (they're pretty prominent in the recording) and then toss in the A octave on beats 2 and 4 in the outro.

I have to say, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I started with the bare bones of the song, and then added signature lines and fills to add flavor. I used tab and YouTube videos as reference, but I never relied on them as blueprints to the song. Instead, I used them as a map to get there on my own. It's great to have a reference, but I never relied on them memorize parts. Instead, I focused on understanding the song, the structure and chords changes, how the fills worked as transitions, and how it all fit together with what the rest of the band would be playing.

The biggest lesson I learned from this process is that I don't need to learn songs, I need to understand them.

(Oh yeah, and I got the gig. We've practiced a few times now, and I'm happy to say that focusing on understanding songs has helped me get 6-8 songs ready a week. Give it a try!)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Things you will eventually learn (but would have been awfully nice to have known about earlier)

  • Don't play your bass right after getting out of the shower. Your skin is wet and the callouses might tear right off your fingers. Give your digits at least 30 minutes to dry out.
  • Don't leave basses with active pickups plugged in. Having an instrument cable plugged in to an active electronics system keeps the battery running. When the bass is unplugged, the battery goes inactive. (The same goes for battery powered pedals. Leaving the cables plugged in drains the batteries.) 9-volts are freaking expensive, so you'll learn this one fast.
  • Most of the bass tab on the internet is at least a little wrong. But that's okay; think of it as blueprints. For a lot of stuff, all you really need to know are the chord changes. Figure the rest out yourself. It'll make you a better player.
  • There's more than one right way to play a song. Sure, there are minor differences in sound between a 'B' on the seventh fret of the E-string and the second fret of the A-string, but when you need to play a 'B,' just pick one and play a 'B.' Don't be afraid to re-arrange tab to make something easier to play.
  • If your amp has 'High' and 'Low' inputs, the 'High' input stands for 'High sensitivity'and is meant for the weaker signal from passive basses. 'Low' is for 'Low sensitivity' and is meant for the stronger signal from active basses. (This seems really backwards and counter-intuitive to me, but there you go.)
  • Play with other people. You're ready to do this from the first day you get your bass. It's why you picked the bass up in the first place, isn't it?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Slow down and use your metronome

1 and...
2 and...
3 and...
4 and...
1 and ah...
2 and ah...
3 and ah...
4 and ah...

Practicing different rhythms to a metronome is probably the most important (and honestly, the least fun) part of my practice schedule. But just playing along to recording, even if it's a simple string of eighth notes isn't the same as practicing along to that click.

By playing to a metronome instead of a recording, you strip away all the other noise and you're left with nothing but the rhythm and your playing. There's no big drums or rhythm guitars to hide when your notes are a little off, or the attack of your plucking or picking is sloppy. You've got nothing else to listen to except your bass.

The other thing that's great about playing with a metronome is how slow you can go. Playing along to a rock song at 110 beats per minute is great, but that speed can hide sloppiness. Crank your metronome down 60 beats per minute and see how your tone is. Are you clearly fretting each note? Are you holding it long enough, and releasing clearly when you're done? How is your right hand doing? Are you alternating your plucking fingers properly? If you slow down and really nail your tone slow, when you speed it up you'll be playing cleaner and sounding better.

I know the temptation is to jump straight from warm-up exercises to playing songs (especially after a long day at work, when bass playing is serving as my wind-down and relaxation time), but in the long run, spending the time and playing it slow will make you a better bass player.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Developing a practice regimen: it's hard

(More or less copied from a post I made on

So, one thing I've always struggled with is putting together a practice regimen. Even when I get a good two hour practice schedule in, I dont know how to maximize that time. I'm trying to focus in on basic theory, strong rhythm in the pocket, and good tone.

While I'm able to find advice or even lessons on particular topics, what I'm really looking for is something more specific. "On Tuesday, spend 15 minutes doing these warm ups at 80, 100, 120, and 140 bpm. Then do these exercises for twenty minutes for scale practice..." ...and so on, with a changing schedule to maximize learning and muscle development.

How many times do you run through each scale? Do you work from positions? Do you say the note names aloud as you play them?

I think I'm dense or something, but I really do better with specifics. I'm highly coachable, but I've never been able to spontaneously practice stuff. I need to give myself a structure, and once I have it, I'm able to push myself to success. Without it though, I just kind of flail around.

Am I crazy in thinking that there should be a system of lessons that novice bass players should be able to use to quickly develop basic skills and musical theory knowledge? I've been really disappointed in what I've found so far.

(I should note that while it isn't exactly what I'm looking for, I've been learning a lot from I've been able to take what I'm learning there and using that to try to structure my practice. Scott Devine's lessons are great for understanding the conceptual stuff behind practice. If you're on the hunt for video lessons, give his a try. There are lots of people making great stuff these days, but his are my favorite.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tab: The Hold Steady - Stuck Between Stations

I've been working on my ears by tabbing out a few songs. I've been focusing simple songs I haven't found bass tab for. Here's one by a band I've been really into for the past few months, The Hold Steady.

The rhythm is... let's just say it's a little loose. Listen to the recording and you'll pick it up quickly.

Tabbed by: Matt

Tuning: EADG

Intro/Verse (rhythm changes slightly; basically double the notes during muted sections)





A|--rest while piano plays-----------------5----|

The chorus could also be played like this, which is closer to the rhythm guitar line:


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Finding the rhythm

I'm starting to think I've got a bum set of ears. I've been working on tabbing out some bass lines for a couple of Lucero songs based (pun!) on the guitar tabs found on the ones found on this magnificent Lucero tab blog. I haven't had much trouble identifying notes, but I'll be damned if I can work out some of the rhythms.

At first I thought the bass just copied the rhythm guitar, but with a little volume, I was able to tell that wasn't the case. A few live videos (which had horrible phone camera sound quality, which conveniently butchers the bass) also had me convinced that something else was going on. From the few glimpses of Lucero's bassist, John Stubblefield, I was able to get, I realized a few things.

First off, he doesn't play it the same way every time. What am I supposed to do with that? How can I be playing it "right" if there's more than one way to do it? Is the way it's done on the record canonical? What about how it's done live? The important thing, I think, is to play a version that sounds good and supports the song. That might be eighth notes sometimes and other times it might be big fat whole notes.

Second, less can be more. In this live video, I noticed that a whole note filled up space while the rhythm guitar and drums drove the rhythm of the song. It's not always up to the bass to own that rhythm, especially when there's already a lot going on. Sometimes you just need big fat root notes to support the rest of the band.

Finally, I've learned I'm still pretty uncomfortable winging it. If I were to take one of the songs I was working on to a group of people to play, I feel like I need to have a more definitive answer for the rhythm than I do now. Either way, I do know that I want to start playing with other people ASAP.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

You must focus. Focus very hard.

Bass playing has been happening, although my learning pace has been reduced. Blogging has taken a backseat to getting practice time in though. My initial plan for keeping a mix of a practice journal and a learning resource site has fizzled somewhat. I was planning on swinging towards the learning resource site, but I there are plenty of great sites like that already. So, a journal about my learning process?

I've continued with (almost) weekly lessons. I've been practicing at least 5 nights a week, even if some of those practice sessions aren't all that inspired. Practice has tended towards songs lately-- I think more technique and metronome practice is probably required soon.

I feel like I'm about ready to start playing with other folks, but my current lack of a high wattage amp puts a cramp on that. I've almost purchased several heads/cabs over the past month, but Ebay is a cruel mistress. At this point, I've decided to wait until after my move in July before purchasing something new. I'd rather have a little bit of extra cash on hand for unexpected moving expenses than a hundred pounds of extra stuff to move.

To recap, I need to remember to blog more.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A little easy to go with that hard

In my weekly lessons, I've been getting a "tough" song to work on for the week to push one aspect or another of my playing. It's also been neat to get assigned a song that I probably never would have learned on my own. That, in turn, has meant learning a bunch of skills I probably wouldn't have learned on my own.

The technique this exposed me to most recently was ghost notes. I could hear them, that little thud before a beat in funk songs, but I couldn't do them. I was trying to play them by muting the string with just one finger on my left hand. This kept producing harmonics-- the trick is to use two fingers on your left hand to mute the string. BAM-- ghost notes.

Only working on one song a week isn't enough though. I've found that I'm able to learn two or three simpler alt rock songs at the same time I'm working on a tougher song. And to be honest, playing simple roots and fifths is damn fun. I've got a nice little playlist of songs to play along to; I'm getting close to 30 minutes of material to work through almost every night.

This way I'm learning the tough stuff and building up my endurance at the same time.

Monday, April 4, 2011

On picking it back up

Sometimes, for one reason or another, you put down your bass for a few days, and before you know it, a week has passed. This past weekend, I helped my sister move to Washington, D.C. and as a result, I haven't played my bass since last Wednesday. Tonight (a Monday), isn't looking good either.

When I start practicing tomorrow, it'll have been 6 days. That's the longest I'd gone without playing since I started taking lessons in January. I plan on using this time for a little bit of retrospection on how I practice.

From week to week, I find that I work on the things I learned in the last week's lesson, work a song or two for next week's lesson, and then play through a list of songs that's slowly been getting longer.

I've reached the point where I've got more to practice than I can fit into one session though. Instead of doing the same session every day for a week, maybe I ought to be planning out a whole week's worth of practice. This way, I can go back and make sure I'm touching on old songs and skills that I'm not currently working on.

The tricky thing about practice isn't doing it-- it's planning it. There's a saying that "perfect practice makes perfect." Getting perfect practice involves putting the time in to planning perfect practice. There's not much point in learning new skills or songs if they just fall away after a few weeks. In the coming weeks, I'm going to work on outlining my practice for the entire week to make sure I'm rotating old skills and exercises in with the new.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fretting hand tips

Here's a few of the things I try to keep in mind when I'm focusing on my fretting (left) hand technique.
  • Thumb placement
    I'm awful at keeping my thumb behind the neck where it belongs. I know plenty of pro players let it wrap around, but traditional bass technique says you keep it behind the neck. My hope is that keeping it back there will keep things fluid for faster movement.
  • Fretting fingers perpendicular to the fretboard
    Sometimes I get lazy (especially with my ring and pinky fingers) and fret a string with the side of my finger instead of the tip. Sticking with the tips means faster movement when it's time to change notes as well as better tone in the note when played.
  • Clean fretting matters
    Learning to play isn't just learning to play notes, it's learning to play good notes. Make sure the tips of your fingers are right behind the fret. Do it right, even if it's slow, to build up strength. Speed comes later. Don't fret lazy.
  • Economy of movement (or, use your damn pinky)
    Move your fretting hand as little as possible. Sure, you could slide it a bit to use your index finger again, or your ring finger instead of your pinky, but the extra movement adds up. Speed comes with time, but start the right way. You're eventually going to want to be able to play songs by written by people who used their pinky. Use yours too.
Need more fretting tips?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lessons #4 and #5

Sometime in the past two weeks I've gotten lazy about blogging. (And doesn't that happen to most beginning bloggers?) Anyways, back to our feature presentation!

Lesson #4 and #5 were full of new scales (G and D major), exercises, and songs (The Beatles Drive My Car, Uncle Tupelo's No Depression, The Pixies Where is My Mind?).

Aside from really enjoying lessons, I'm haven't found anything about them particularly compelling as blog post fodder. Time to start branching out into explorations of the bigger concept stuff I think.

The biggest development in my playing in the past two weeks (aside from slowly getting better) is my new practice setup. I've moved the amp out of the bedroom into the home office. This gives me more room to stand up and play as well as the ability to use my computer (and it's nice speakers) for play-alongs. This morning I did an hour of Pixies play-along (Where is My Mind, Gigantic, and Cecilia Ann).

I'm hoping to start recording some of my practices soon in order to give them a critical eye. All in all, things are looking up.

In summary, fewer lesson recaps, more big picture posts, and hopefully a few interviews coming soon.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Lesson #3: Flattop's Revenge

Rather than recapping the lesson, I'm just going to hit the highlights.

We went over the C Major scale in first position. There's going to be some memorization involved there, as I'm supposed to learn the pattern and the names of the notes as I'm playing them. I think this will be a good exercise for getting to know the fretboard better. As it is, I know a few of the important markers to find my way around with a little thought, but it'd be awfully nice to get rid of that extra "thought" step.

We did a play through of Killing Floor, which was one of last week's songs. It's a really fun 12 bar blues kind of line, and I really enjoyed playing through it a few times while my teacher played the guitar part. I think my appetite has been wet for playing with other people. It was way more fun than playing along with recordings has been.

This week's new songs to learn are Come Together by the Beatles and the line from Groove is in the Heart by Dee Lite. It's originally a Herbie Hancock line from a late 60's soundtrack, but I think I'll always hear it as the Dee Lite song.

Come Together is pretty easy so far, but I still have a lot of practicing to do to always fret notes cleanly all the way through the riff. It's a personal failing that I tend to get something to 75% and then move on before mastering it. I'm going to try to focus on avoiding that and not getting too spread out.

I've got a "song list" from bass lessons of five songs now, as well as a few more that I've been trying on my own. I need to make sure I'm still going back and playing those other songs completely and improving instead of just focusing on this week's new work. It's not as fun as learning new stuff, but I know myself well enough to know that putting in extra work to get those older songs up to 85% or 90% is going to pay off.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lesson #2: Lord knows, I shoulda been gone

After a week with no lesson (boo not scheduling soon enough, learned my lesson (har)), I was back this week. Here are the highlights.

We went over a new warmup exercise for the left hand, as well as a string skipping exercise working down a string and a fret, and then back up. That one is going to take awhile to bring up to speed, which is a good thing.

We talked a little bit about practicing, how often to repeat exercises in a given session, and then about applications of the blues scale I had worked on last time.

As an example of the blues scale, I'm going to learn Sunshine of Your Love by Cream. It's a simpler riff than last week's Brown Eyed Girl, which is exactly what I was hoping for. I think I already have it mostly memorized, so it'll be a nice piece to feel good about (and maybe even bust out the fuzz pedal on once in awhile) while I still work out the kinks on playing Brown Eyed Girl cleanly.

We did a play through of Brown Eyed Girl, with my teacher on guitar, which was fun. I screwed it up a lot, but I almost always found myself and got back by the next "1" beat. Still a lot of work to do before I feel like I really "know" the song and could play it with someone, but it's coming along. It'll stay in the practice schedule until I get it down.

To finish things up, I was shown Killing Floor by Howling Wolf. I didn't actually know this song (which is kind of embarrassing, since it's pretty great), but its got a cool, driving 12 bar blues pattern that I like playing. It even has a couple 16th notes in the riff, so I can start practicing those (everything I had been working on before was 8th notes, with the exception of what I think are some triplets at the end of the Brown Eyed Girl prechorus).

All in all, I had a good time with it. I had been feeling down about my practice for a couple of days, feeling like I wasn't making much progress, but after tonight's practice I feel like a few more things clicked into place. I'm looking forward to this week's practice sessions.

Next lesson is scheduled for next Thursday night, but I just realized I'm supposed to pick my wife up at the airport at 6:30 in Detroit. I suppose I should see if I can fix that.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

No news is no news

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to schedule a lesson this week. I was hoping to do weekly lessons, but the scheduling system at the music store confuses the hell out of me so I wasn't able to schedule anything.

Practice continues (almost) daily. So far I went light one night last week (20 minutes) and skipped another entirely. I don't feel guilty, as I was pretty sure that would happen, but I'm trying to make sure it doesn't become a habit.

My current practice regimen consists of:
  • Right hand warm ups with quarter and eighth notes to a metronome
  • Left hand warm ups with quarter notes to a metronome (I'll do a run or two of eighth notes if I'm feeling sassy)
  • E minor blues scale in two octaves to the metronome
  • Browned Eyed Girl run throughs
  • Play some other songs
The first two items I think I have down, although I should probably vary the tempo on the metronome a bit more. I did some of them at 100 bpm last night instead of 120 and I noticed the difference. I also need to figure out some rhythm patterns to use with that blues scale. I've got the fingerings down, I just don't know what to do with it.

The Van Morrison song is another problem. I need to start treating it as a song instead of a bassline that repeats for a long time. One of the ways I'm hoping to do that is through the use of Capo-- software that (among other things) lets me slow down a song without changing its pitch. Once I'm a bit more familiar with it, I think a review is probably in order.

For the moment, I think I'm going to try to learn a couple of other (simpler) songs this week well enough that I can play them all the way through without mistakes. The first is going to be The Misfits' Where Eagles Dare. It's faster than I can play without errors, but slowed down to 3/4 speed I think I can handle it (and it's dead simple). The other is still up in the air, but something slow and more difficult for my left hand is probably in order.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Lesson #1 - Cast your memory back there, Lord

Last night I had my first lesson. I went in a little early, both because I was a little nervous and because the roads were icy. I ended up getting there about ten minutes before my lesson. I sat in the waiting area and had a nice conversation with a little girl there for a violin lesson who was surprised adults were there for lessons too. Everybody's got to start some time, kid.

The 30 minute lesson went by quickly; we started out going over where I was at and what I was interested in learning. I think I did a lousy job of communicating that, so I plan on going into my next lesson with a few things written down (bands I like, what I'm looking to learn, a few basslines I'd like to focus on). After some quick basics that were mostly review (except for a map of notes on the neck... I need to spend some time with that; I'm no good past the fifth fret), we jumped into some exercises to get started.

These exercises confirmed what I suspected: I need to focus on fundamentals if I want to be a better player. Simple right and left hand exercises, done repeatedly, would build muscle memory. Accuracy and tone now, speed later.

I was also shown a basic E minor blues pattern. I had learned the minor pentatonic box pattern on guitar years ago and still remembered that, but this pattern moved a bit more up and down the next and gave me access to two octaves. I think I need to work it into my practice a bit better (right now I'm just playing quarter notes at 120 beats per minute on the metronome), but I've got the pattern memorized. It hasn't quite sunk all the way into my fingers yet, but it's getting there.

To round things out, I was asked if I had a particular bassline I wanted to learn. Naturally, I blanked. I'm not sure how I wasn't prepared with at least a few answers to that, but I had nothing off the top of my head. Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison was suggested, and it sounded good to me. The song is pretty simple, overall, but it's got a moving riff for the chorus and verse that actually exposes one of the things I'm having trouble with-- looping. I can't quite seem to smoothly loop the four bar line together more than a couple of times without screwing up the rhythm or losing myself in the turn-around.

So, practice this week consists of basic right and left hand exercises with the metronome, E minor blues scale runs in two octaves, and then Brown Eyed Girl. I'm hoping to get a longer practice session in on Saturday in order to start working on the pre-chorus and bass solo sections.

I suspect I'll want to take on an additional bass line project or two in the future, but for now I'm going to focus on this one until I can nail it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was a recap of my first lesson.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What to bring to the first lesson?

So, the day of my first lesson has arrived. I set up the lesson through the store, so I actually haven't talked to my teacher at all yet. This leaves a few questions, the biggest being "what should I bring?"

Here's what I'm planning on taking with me tonight:
  • My bass (duh)
  • Picks (not sure if I'll be using these or not, but I figure it can't hurt)
  • Tuner
  • Metronome (probably won't need this, but it can't hurt to be prepared)
  • And most importantly, a notebook and pen.
Of all the stuff I'm bringing, the notebook and pen is what I'm hoping to use most. I wouldn't even be really surprised if I hardly touched the bass at all.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Metronome acquired: Korg MA-30

Last week, I bought a $20 gift card to for $10 from (kind of a competitor that does localized coupon deals, from what I can gather). Later that week, I was doing some research into metronomes, and low and behold, I found one I liked on for $19.

I had been using MetronomeOnline, which has all the basic stuff you get with a metronome. It was handy, but I don't really like practicing in front of my computer all that much. I keep my practice amp in the bedroom (like any 30 year old man indulging his inner 15 year old self does), so I thought it would be nice to have the portability that an actual metronome provides.

In order to pick one out, I made a mental list of the things I wanted or at least wanted to consider in a metronome:
  • Variable tempo (duh)
  • Small enough to be able to be tossed into my bass bag
  • Battery powered
  • Volume control
  • Headphone jack
  • Visual beat indication of some kind
  • Decent reviews from other users
Here's how the Korg MA-30 stacks up.
  • Digital selection of beats per minute (comes on at 120 by default). Also has a nice chart of tempo ranges on the back that might come in handy if I start playing from sheet music.
  • It's the size of a playing card with the thickness of a smartphone. Nice and compact.
  • Runs off 2 AAA batteries.
  • Has a small volume dial on the side. Doesn't get super loud, but does mute itself while keeping the visual indicator going.
  • Has a standard mini out headphone jack.
  • The beat is indicated by a LCD arm that ticks back and forth. Not as cool as an LED lighting up, but cool enough.
  • Other Amazon users rated it highly, which was a bonus. Teachers seemed to especially like it.
Two other features that I'm really happy with are a small plastic arm that swings out from the back of the metronome to prop it up like a picture frame and a different beep on the 1 beat.

That last one is awesomely useful and reinforces the counting in my head (which I've been bad at ever since junior school band). This setting is also changeable, so if I need to practice in 3/4 for a waltz or something, I can do that too. This is the feature that pushes this over the top from digital metronome that is functional but forgettable into a purchase that I'm actually really happy with.


On the practice front, I'm sticking to a chromatic scale warm-up up and down the neck. After that, a little riff noodling, then some learning where I try to learn a riff from tab from a song I already know (tonight's was a very slow version of For Whom the Bell Tolls by Metallica). After that, I'm putting together a playlist of a few simpler songs (mostly riding the root) to play along to. Nothing fancy, but it's something to keep me occupied until I take my first lesson this Thursday.

I also went to the local music store last week and played a few other basses, just because. It's hard to say because of the difference of location and whatnot, but I think my DeArmond 4-string has the action set a little high. It might be just in my head, but then again, this bass had been in my possession for 10 years with only a few string changes and no professional setup. I'm going to see what my new teacher thinks. If it is high, I think I might try to learn to set it up myself (provided I can find my allen wrenches).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Teacher time

After noodling around and riffing on the one scale pattern I remember from playing guitar a decade again (1st position minor pentatonic, but of course), it's time to settle in and schedule some lessons. I need structure, and I need it fast, or I'm going to end up playing a few songs a few nights a week until I slowly stop picking up the bass again.

So, how am I going to find a teacher? I figure there are two predominant ways. First, I checked craigslist. I figure anyone giving lessons freelance would post there. Second, I looked at local music stores.

My craigslist search brought up two possibilities. Price-wise, they were the same as in-store teachers, or close enough to make no difference. One was came to your house to give lessons, which I imagine is a bonus for some people. For me, it sounds like a plan for unnecessary anxiety. The other fellow had an out of date website, but other than that, seemed nice enough. Nothing inspired me to actually want to take lessons with him though.

The other option I looked at was taking a lesson through a store. There are three local music stores that offer lessons in my area. The closest to my work is the smallest. I carpool though, so proximity to my home is more important. The closest place to my apartment does lessons, but didn't have any information online about scheduling. I hate the "call us for more information" line. I'm already looking for information. Why not let me know a little bit about your teachers, rates, and schedule?

In the end, I decided to give the third place a call to see what I can set up. Elderly Instruments is a local business with a national catalog that's pretty great. Their store has a great vibe, and the teacher biographies has a few people who matched up to what I was looking to learn.

The only thing left to do is decide when I want to take lessons, and for how long. I'm leaning towards half an hour once a week, but once every two weeks might make sense too. Wednesday seems like a strong candidate, but I'm not sure the day of the week actually makes a difference at this point.

The plan is to make a call tomorrow and see what I can set up. Lesson might not start right away, but I want to get them scheduled so I have something to look forward to (and work towards).

UPDATE: Booked my first lesson for Thursday, February 3rd. I'm thinking half hour lessons weekly after that, but I think I'll wait and see how the first one goes.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Online resources for beginning bass players

Although the next step I need to take is to find a local teacher for lessons, I thought taking stock of my knowledge of available online resources would be a good idea.

Metronome Online is a nice and simple metronome app on a website. It clicks. What else could you ask for?

Learning Resources:
Wheat's Bass Book: a site I remember from way back-- lots of simple lessons and exercises. I plan on using this as a starting point until I start lessons.

Study Bass. Another study program from a teacher in Texas. I've seen it linked a few places, and it looks interesting.

Community is a big part of learning, but I'm a little wary of spending time talking instead of playing. I've been down that road, and it leads nowhere good. However, having a place online to talk to other bass players can be a great resource.

THE forum when it comes to talking about bass online, TalkBass is full of bass players of all levels with more knowledge about theory, technique, and gear than I could learn in a lifetime. I have a tendency to get lost in reading and research, neither of which are conducive to actually learning to play bass. I plan on visiting TalkBass and sites like it only when I have specific information I need.

Reddit is a community based link aggregator. There's a bass subtopic, so I can browse here to get interesting bass related links. I find it less of a quagmire than forums, since it's discussion about something rather than endless topics about which bass players are awesome and which styles suck. Plus I read Reddit occasionally for other topics.

Tab archives:
For bass tab, I haven't seen another site out there that comes close to BassMasta. Not only do they have the biggest and most varied collection of tabs I've seen (although still incomplete-- not a single Lucero tab on the site, unfortunately), they also have a great collection of riffs and movie/TV themes. The Bond bass line? Yeah, I need to know that. Super Mario Bros level 1-2 music? Yup, that's must have.

Well, and then there's YouTube. There's lots of crap there, but also some great "how to" and other instructional videos. It'll make a nice injection of live inspiration into practices.

I'm sure I'm missing some great resources, but these should be enough to get me off to a good start. I don't think any of them will make as big a difference as working with a teacher will.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Equipment check.

As I'm getting started, I thought it would be a good time to list what I've got to work with. I've got a d'arddio 4 string pilot deluxe, a model that was discontinued a bout ten years ago. I've got a Vox 65 watt practice amp. I've got a handy little tuner that plugs into my output jack. And I've got a computer, which gives me access to online metronomes.

I've got some other junk too. But none of that matters at the moment. At this point , it'll only get in my way. For now, its all about focusing on fundamentals.

Practice: Today I did a chromatic run up and down the neck with a pick while a metronome clicked away at 92 bpm. I then bumbled around playing 3 or 4 songs. All in all not awful, but not much more than a session to wake up muscle memory and start work on a new set of calluses.

Next up, finding a teacher and scheduling some lessons.

Getting started. Again.

I've decided to learn to play bass guitar. Again.

Some history: I got a guitar at sixteen and played it somewhat sporadically until my early twenties. I never really progressed beyond chord strumming and basic riffs. That didn't stop me from buying multiple instruments and assorted crap though. At some point, I bought an electric bass (which, to be fair to my younger self, was on sale). Flash forward through half a decade of barely touching my guitars, and here I am at thirty. I still want to play, and this time I'm going to actually put the work in to make that happen.

As an older, wiser man, it's clear to me why I failed: I didn't practice. And more importantly, I didn't play. Sitting in front of a computer reading bass forums with a bass on your lap, occasionally strumming a note or two is not practice. Doing a few warmup scales a couple times a week is not playing. If I'm going to learn to play, I need to play and practice with discipline. Now that I'm old and no longer rock and roll fun, I think I can make that happen.

The first thing to do is figure out how I'm going to learn. I plan on taking lessons, but with where and with who is up in the air. I think a key component of my past failure is that I attempted to do it alone. Playing music, especially with a bass guitar, is something of a group activity. Playing with and for at least one other person is the first step towards creating a support system for my learning.

Other learning options include books and DVDs. I remember good things about Wheat's Bass Book, so I plan to use that as an occasional resource.

This blog is going to serve as my "notebook." I'll record plans, victories, and failures here. I'll review the methods I'm using and iterate. Once I have a better grasp on where I want to go, I'll do a big old goals post.

Time to begin my lower education.