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.