Monday, March 20, 2017

Time to Rest and Reflect

This past week I have hit the practice routine harder than usual.  My new fretless bass kept me up late practicing.  New toy syndrome.  I had two band practices with two different bands, the Cats Jazz Band (a big band with a band leader) and a new quartet that is in the early stages of formation.  All this practice required intense focus and concentration.  As a result, I am mentally tired.  I need a day or two away from the bass.

I'm told that the subconscious mind keeps working on problem solution and information processing when the conscious mind is at rest.  I have noticed an uptick in my level of playing after a layoff of practice.  Your mind is refreshed and things seem to click and come together more easily.

This only works if the rest period is preceded by vigorous study or practice.  It's why in college students are often advised not to over-study for exams, and to even take a day of rest before an exam, assuming he or she has studied well beforehand.

Fortunately for me, no more band practices are scheduled for a couple of weeks, so I will have time to rest and reflect.  However, I won't waste the time off.  There is too much still to learn.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

How to Learn Jazz Tunes

I have been struggling for the best way to learn jazz tunes for some time now.  When I first started with a beginner jazz band, I thought I just had to study the notes in the sheet music, playing them over and over, without any music.  Then, I thought, when the band meets I will be able to just sight read the notes and all would be well.  It didn't work.

Then I tried something else.  I would just read the chord symbols and build bass lines around them.  That worked better, but it wasn't perfect.  Some songs, like "Take Five," have specialized note patterns that require reading the notes to learn the song.

Now I have evolved to a third method.  I listen to a recording of the song to get the gist of it.  Then I play through the notes on the page once or twice to gain familiarity with the song.  Finally, I attempt to play along with the recording, by ear.

My final effort is to play the notes along to the recording, putting the sound and the theory together for a complete package.  I inevitably discover parts of the song that I can't read well enough to stay up with the recording.  I then go back to the notes and study just that part of the song, memorizing the note pattern if needed.  Now I play along to the recording again, both by ear and by reading the notes.  I repeat this cycle until I know the song well enough to play it with my live band.

This new method seems to work well!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Got My New Fretless Fender Jazz Bass

My new fretless Fender came in.  I like it.  It is liberating not to worry about hitting frets.  The neck is very fast.  The sound is great, though the new Fender flatwound strings sound a bit tinny.  This should pass when the strings are broken in.  They will stretch over the next few days, and I will have to tune them often, but then they will be fine.

I can't help but wonder what Fender was thinking, putting a bright white pickguard over a sunburst finish.  The white does not complement the dark finish, in my opinion.  I ordered a tortoise shell pickguard from EBay, for only $15, which includes shipping.  I will swap out the white pickguard when the tortoise shell one arrives.

Tomorrow I practice with my yet unnamed jazz quintet, which now may be a quartet.  The sax player is dropping out.  He says he only wants to jam now and then, has no time for gigging or practicing for gigging.  Now is the time for serious musicians to separate themselves from the dilettantes.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Are You Gig-Ready?

"Gigging" is the term that means playing in musical performances.  A gig is a musician's job.  Playing in parties, clubs, festivals and other venues is called "gigging," or "playing gigs."

Being good enough to play in such performances is being "gig-ready."  Being good enough to gig is the goal of every serious musician who wants to perfect his craft.  That's what we strive for in individual and group practices.

To get gig-ready, you have to be willing to "let it all hang out," to coin a 1960's era slogan.  Take a chance.  Perform!  You may screw up, you may make a fool of yourself.  If so, be the fool, after all, it's only temporary.  You are a work in progress, and on the way to becoming a competent musician.

If you don't have gigging as your goal, why are you practicing your instrument?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A-N-T-I-C-I-P-A-T-I-O-N: Still Waiting for my New Fretless Fender Bass

I thought I would have my new fretless Fender Jazz Bass by now, but it only just left Salt Lake City (a UPS hub) this morning.  Looks like Guitar Center stores inventory somewhere in the Midwest.  However, UPS tracking says it should be delivered by the end of the day tomorrow.  I should have it by the weekend.  That's good, because I have a practice with my fledgling jazz band on Sunday.

Monday, March 13, 2017

I Bought a Fretless Fender Bass Guitar!

Yesterday my friend Rafael Espanol let me try his Rondo fretless bass guitar.  I liked it.  So today I went over to Guitar Center in Gilroy and ordered a fretless Fender Jazz Bass.  I should have it in my hot little hands in a couple of days.  My wife will complain, but all progress involves some pain.  An hour or two of nagging is a small price to pay for a $650 Fender bass.

The biggest advantage of a fretless bass guitar:  no fret noise.  No making that awful boink sound when your finger hits a fret by mistake.  I would rather be a tad sharp or flat when stretching for a note than to hit a fret and make that awful noise.

My bass will look exactly like the one on the left.

Breaking Into the Bay Area Jazz Scene; Dealing With a Rival (Audios)

On March 3rd I practiced with a group of very professional jazz musicians in San Jose, California.  With any luck I will play with them again.  The sax player was amazing.  Listen to the audios linked below and you will see what I mean.

On Friday evening, I and some other musician friends went to the GVA Cafe in Morgan Hill to listen to our keys man perform with his Jazz fusion band, Fusion Blue.  They were fantastic.

The keys player in Fusion Blue, Rafael Espanol, has taken us under his more experienced wing, and we practiced yesterday at his home in San Jose.  We tried out a female singer, who was quite good.  We're hoping to have her join our fledgling efforts at forming a jazz band.

The Cats Jazz Band, an adult education project of which I am a part, continues to study sheet music of famous jazz songs.  I still struggle with reading music.  I can read it, just not fast enough yet.  Sight reading is still beyond my grasp.  To make matters worse, the Cats has another jazz student who currently plays guitar, but is mostly another bassist, and he has wanted my job for the last two years.  He thinks he is better than I am, and has taken to offering me criticism disguised as advice.  His comments about my playing took a turn for the worse this week, when he became insulting.  I told him his comments were presumptuous, and asked him to stop giving me advice on how to play bass.

I won't complain too much, however.  His negative comments only spur me to practice harder, so I can blow him away, musically speaking.

Here are some songs from the March 3rd practice, which so annoyed my rival:

Autumn Leaves:

On Green Dolphin Street:


Blue Bossa:

Four on Six:

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Jamming With Jazz Musicians (Audios)

After two years of practice with my adult education band, I realized that I was not progressing as fast or as well as I would like.  My band leader told me I needed to jam with other musicians to fill out my scope of learning.  I searched Craig's List for other jazz musicians for this purpose.  I saw a few ads looking for jazz bassists, but did not feel ready to put my self out there.  Another year went by and now I do feel I have the chops to start playing in jazz jams.  Sooner or later you need to climb out of your comfort zone rut and take some chances.

A couple of weeks ago I jammed with four other musicians who aspire to play jazz.  None of us are experts, but we all want to play jazz.  So we met in the the keyboardist's garage and went at it.  The results were encouraging.  The songs recorded below are the first time we had ever played together and we are essentially playing cold.  Have a listen.

Have a listen:

Autumn Leaves

Black Orpheus

Bag's Groove

My Goal of Jazz Bassist Is Slowly Being Realized

Three years ago I dreamed of becoming a jazz bassist.  I had plenty of equipment, three bass guitars, two acoustic basses, two amplifiers, a microphone...but nowhere to use them.

I had spent the previous four years playing bass guitar with a classic rock band, but had grown tired of rock.  It no longer satisfied my musician's soul.  I had been listening to Rod Stewart's five CD collection of "the Great American Songbook" jazz standards, and I yearned to play bass to such music.  But how does one break in?  I hadn't a clue.  Still, I joined the local jazz society and bought a lot of Jamey Aebersold books about jazz, and collected an array of walking bass how-to books.  They weren't much help at that point, since these books presumed a pre-existing level of knowledge that I did not yet possess.

One day, however, my attorney and good friend Don invited me to come to a jazz band recital that he was in, playing alto saxophone.  Don was in a band?  What was that all about?  He told me it was an adult education project where a lot of older musicians (and a few young ones) practiced jazz and swing tunes, under the direction of a band leader.  I signed up, and began playing bass with this band.  Suddenly I had found a possible path to my goal!

The band read music.  I didn't read music.  Uh oh.  With each new sheet of music the band leader gave out, I penciled in the name of each note, c, d, e, etc.  I could easily figure out the notes because I new the lines of the staff were, from bottom to top, GBDFA (good boys do fine always) and the spaces were ACEG (all cows eat grass).  Slowly, after a few weeks, I could recognize the notes on sight and actually began reading music.  Not expertly, to be sure, but slowly and clumsily.  After three years with this band, my note reading has steadily improved.  It gets easier over time.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Setting Practice Goals to Become a Better Bassist

Do you know what your goals are for bass?  I have known for a while, but it helps to clarify them when you write them down.  After you know the goals, you can devise a plan for reaching them.

My goals:
To be a competent jazz/swing bassist.  Specifically:
1.  To be able to compose smooth, walking bass lines on the fly, by reading chord symbols at the top of the bars.

2.  To be better at sight reading notes.

3.  To know at least 50 popular jazz tunes, but 100 would be even better.  Once I get to 50, I'll start on the next 50.

4.  To be able to play in jam sessions without being embarrassed or feeling inadequate.

5.  To be well known among the jazz community so I can more easily get gigs.

How do I get there?  Here's the path I see before me:
1.  To practice playing arpeggios all over the neck.  Arpeggios are chords played one note at a time, as is necessary on bass.  See Scott Devine's Bass Lessons 12, 13 & 14.

2.  To learn smooth transitions from one arpeggio to the next, not always starting on the root or ending on the 5th.  A bass line should sound smooth, not using large jumps from one note to the next.  You may find it smoother to land on the 3rd of the next chord rather than its root, for example.  Ever more, you don't always have to play a chord note at all.  To move from one chord or chord note to another, you can also use scale tones or chromatic tones.  The latter are used as passing notes.

3.  To practice playing up and down the neck, not confining your playing to one section of the nexk, e.g. the first position.  Always playing in one section of the neck sounds boring after a while.

4.  To develop a repertoire or inventory of chord changes that you can use over and over again on different songs, to produce smooth basslines each time you play.  Obviously, you don't always want to play the same phrase over and over again, but developing a basic inventory of chord changes will provide you with a foundation for further enhancement of your basslines.

Once you have a feel for playing arpeggios all over the neck, create a bassline for a simple song.  Most bass instructors seem to prefer "Autumn Leaves" for this purpose.  You can download the sheet music for free from the site "Learn Jazz Standards" at this link.  Click on the C instruments button.

Now you need to experiment a bit.  How can you play the chords in the top measure using smooth transitions between each chord?  The top chords are C7, F7, BbMaj7 and EbMaj7.  Try different combinations of the chord tones until you find a smooth way to move between them.

This will be hard at first, but it will get easier.  Later I will post some links to videos that illustrate these concepts.