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.