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.

Friday, April 22, 2016

How to Read Sheet Music and Not Get Lost (#playingbass, #jazz, #bigband)

We just started a new session for our jazz and swing band, and we've had two practices in the new semester.  However, I realized that somehow the sessions weren't working for me.  It came to me in a flash.  The sheet music provided is often woefully lacking in anchor points that I need to avoid getting lost.

All of the music is lacking song lyrics.  With the words to the song provided, it is relatively easy to get back on beat if you get lost during the song.  Without the words, it's not so easy.  The lyrics are an important anchor point.

Even worse, some of the sheet music doesn't have the chord symbols over the staff.  There are just notes.  If you don't know the notes by rote, you're dead.  It's easy to get lost and to stay lost.  There are no anchor points to get you back on track.

I have been practicing sight reading with every practice for the past two years and have gotten a lot better at it.  However, learning a song just by reading the notes is difficult and not much fun.  If you can't associate the notes with the actual tune, it seems hopeless.  It's sort of like reading German on a page.  You can pronounce the written words, but have no idea what they mean.  Just reading notes without connecting them to the tune and the place in the song means you won't learn how to play the song.  Just reading notes doesn't work for me -- at least in this stage of my musical development.

Before practice last night, I decided I needed something practical in order to play the songs with the band.  I began printing out the songs under study from digital fake books.  First I made sure the fake book songs had lyrics and were in the same key.  Then I made sure the music had the chord symbols displayed.  At practice, I used this sheet music instead of that which had been provided.  I stayed on beat, didn't get lost much at all, and played some decent bass lines just by reading the chord symbols.  It was a big improvement.

We will study four different songs next Thursday, and I will be ready.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

New Music Session Looks Promising for the Cats Swing Band

The new music session for the Cats Swing Band began about four weeks ago.  Here are the songs we are studying this session:
  1. Duet (Count Basie)
  2. Fly Me to the Moon
  3. Bein' Green
  4. Blue Skies
  5. Almost Like Being in Love
  6. Bye Bye Blackbird
  7. All the Things You Are
  8. They Can't Take That Away From Me
  9. Four (Miles Davis)
Last Thursday our drummer and guitar player couldn't make it, and I was the only member of the rhythm section present.  I had to provide the beat for the band, and it turned out well for me.  I had compliments from the band leader and other members of the band.  This was encouraging.

I'll post some recordings once we have some polished enough to share.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cats Swing Band, Full Recital, 11/13/2015

We had a recital for our jazz/swing band last night.  You can listen to the entire recital at the link below.

My bass playing, IMHO, has improved greatly since I joined this band.  I have turned a corner.  I am not where I want to be just yet, but I am happy with my progress.

If you want to be a successful bass player:

  • Learn music theory
  • Learn bass techniques
  • Learn SONGS.  The more songs you learn, the easier it is to learn new ones.  
Here's the link:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Moondance: the Best Jazz Version Ever (#PlayingBass)

My jazz/swing band is practicing "Moondance," the great Van Morrison rock tune, which is also suitable for jazz versions.  I used to play this song often with a rock band, but how do you transfer it to jazz?  So I have  been viewing jazz versions on YouTube to learn just that.

I came across this version by the New York Jazz Quartet.  In my opinion, this is the best jazz version ever of "Moondance."  See if you agree.  Watch the video below.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Now That I Read Notes, a Lot of Practice Manuals Become Useful (#PlayingBass)

Five or so years ago, after I got a carved string bass, I set about trying to learn to play it.  I went on, and bought several books on constructing bass lines and other bass topics.  The books came, and soon went into my bookshelf unread.  The books relied on note reading as a means of teaching, and I didn't read notes.

Now, however, I do read notes.  Suddenly all of these manuals I bought several years ago, become useful.  I chose one and started playing the exercises.

There's no way around it.  If you want to learn bass, you must learn to read notes.  Forget those god-awful charts, they do not compare.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Gaining Stamina for Stand-up Bass: It's Working

For less than a week now, I have been exercising my shoulders, arms, sides and back with 2 pound, hand-held weights.  That seems to be working, as I am tiring less quickly than before.

Today my practice consisted of playing my bass along to my music app, iRealPro.  This part of the practice is most important, as it (1) exercises my hands and arms, (2) develops my ear and improves my intonation and feel for the neck, and (3) allows me to practice making basslines on the fly.

I also spent some time sight reading notes to a couple of songs.  You should practice sight reading notes every day.

When I finished practicing, I noticed that my hands, arms and back weren't tired or painful.  Further, my sound production was good -- clear tones, produced by strong left hand fingering and correct right hand plucking (using the side of your plucking fingers rather than the tips).

I feel encouraged.  It indeed seems possible that I will gain the strength and skill to play the one to two hours I will face in a typical gig.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Playing Stand-Up Bass is Not for Sissies: How to Build Stamina? (#playingbass)

It has become clear to me that playing stand-up bass is very demanding physically.  You get tired playing string bass.  Your arms, your hands just poop out.

Obviously, if you want to be a double bassist, you need to build stamina and strength in arms, hands, back and shoulders.  I found a thread over at TalkBass forums about this issue.  One double bassist said he thought it would take a year for him to build the needed stamina in his hands.  Another said that it is more than hands that need stamina, but arms, shoulders, back and even butt.

In order to build stamina, it seems to me, that I need to play my bass vigorously for a few minutes a day.  I would say 15 minutes of playing fast and demanding songs.  Be careful not to injure yourself.  I started this regimen yesterday.

Besides playing the bass line to fast songs (recorded), I intend to use two pound weights to exercise my arms and shoulders.  With light weights, it is the repetitions that supply the needed exercise.  I will start with ten repetitions of various exercises, and add more over time.

Of course, your bass needs to be properly set up so that a poor bridge adjustment, too heavy gauge strings, etc, are not issues.

Adopt this regimen at your own risk.  You can injure yourself if you are not careful.

Currently, I am relying on my bass guitar somewhat until I build stamina for my double bass.