Sunday, November 17, 2013

Slap That Bass (Video)

Yeah baby! This is what it's all about.

 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Classic Rock, Classic Boredom: My Sudden Departure From My Band -- Looking Again

It's funny how one's long association with a band can end so suddenly.  That happened to me about ten days ago.  I was practicing with the classic rock band I have played with for three and a half years, on Sunday before last.  The guitar player was nitpicking and nagging me about my bass playing, something she has done since day one (she rags on all of the other band members too).  Even though I believed most of her comments and suggestions were wrong, I kept my mouth shut to avoid offending her, for the good of the band.  This turned out to be a mistake.

By not expressing disagreement, I allowed the irritation of her micromanagement to build up to a critical mass.  During this last practice, she had found a new obsession to feed her control freak streak:  the number of bass notes that I was playing on a brand new song (new to us, anyway).  The song was "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry Over You."  I think Ringo originally sang it.

I was in the process of discovering the chord pattern and not overly concerned with how close I was playing it to the record.  That would come later, when I practiced the song on my own -- as I had done many times before on prior songs.  Our obsessive-compulsive guitarist, however, felt it necessary to tell me three times that I was playing "three times as many notes" as the bass player on the record.  She was referring, not to the correct chords vs incorrect chords, she was referring to the phrasing -- how the notes are played.  This is a legitimate point, but not one to overwork or over emphasize on the first couple of run-throughs.  I put the song on my list of "new songs to learn," but the third time she mentioned it, I lost my temper.  I told her to "Shut the hell up."  She said "Fuck you" and I returned the suggestion.  Then I packed up my stuff and left, never to return.

I hate to be micro-managed.  It is one of my pet peeves.

The guitar player, Lorraine, has been vigorously pushing the band in the direction she wants to go:  playing classic rock exclusively, as close to the original recording as possible.  I have a problem with the former, not so much with the latter.  Playing classic rock exclusively is boring to me.  Lorraine has pushed us into giving up some good jazz and blues songs, simply because they weren't "classic rock."

The truth is, I want to progress musically, and ridding our repertoire of more advanced forms of music is a big step backwards.  "Classic rock" is overdone and a hard sell, and there is much competition for gigs.  I want to play jazz, blues and standards.  I want to play my string bass as well as my bass guitars.  Now that "the Universe" has taken me out of my musical dead-end, I have the opportunity to find a band or bands that are more to my liking. I feel a sense of release.  Leaving this band was a good thing.


Friday, October 18, 2013

My String Bass Practice Routine: It's Working!

My Calin Wultur Panormo
Carved String Bass
I have been playing my upright bass for the past 3 or 4 days, using Vince Guaraldi's Christmas album as the music to accompany.  My idea was to bring myself up to speed, physically, on the string bass so I can look for bands and gigs.

The practice routine is working.  Each day I seem stronger and can play longer before tiring out.  In fact, my progress is faster than I expected.  The first couple of days provided a blister on my right index finger -- the one used for plucking.  It's no longer sore and is becoming a callous.

Some aspects of playing an upright or string bass should be considered carefully before switching from bass guitar.  The upright bass is much more physically demanding.  You may be able to remove some of the stress by using medium or light gauge strings instead of heavy gauge.  I changed mine, and the results were quite beneficial.  Lighter gauge strings don't have as much volume, but if you are amplifying your bass with a pickup or microphone, that doesn't really matter.

Another physically demanding aspect of the upright is the neck.  Yes, it is much thicker and also much longer.  However, the length does not give you more notes.  The upright bass neck actually offers you less notes, not more.  The neck is long, but so are the half steps (what would be frets on a bass guitar) down the bass.  An upright player must use the open strings more often than is necessary on a bass guitar.

I was surprised this week to find how easily I can press the strings to play arpeggios and bass lines.  Yes, the neck is thick, but not so thick that an experienced bass guitarist can't handle it.

In short, my conquest of the string bass is easier than I expected, though it does require effort.  My next goal is to buy the best pickup for the bass that I can afford.  That will cost me around $195   Ouch.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Switching to Double Bass From Bass Guitar: Getting In Physical Shape

I have some time off from my regular rock band and now have the time to get up to speed on double bass (i.e. my big stand up acoustic bass).  I haven't touched my double bass in months and I know the transition back to it will involve effort.  On a stand up, the strings are usually heavier and the neck bigger.  More effort is required for both pressing and plucking the strings.  And, there are no frets!

Dealing with no frets:  I decided to deal with this my marking note positions on my neck with a Sharpie pen. I used black for regular notes and red for the sharps or flats.  Not cool, you should know just where to put your fingers totally by feel.  However, I don't have time to be cool, I want to actually know where F. G, A, B, and C is on the E string, so I can play chords (arpeggios) without guessing.

Now that that's done, I will familiarize myself with the big neck by playing major scales and arpeggios for the next two weeks.  This will condition my fingers (the bass guitar does not condition them enough for a double bass), get me used to the bigger reach for playing arpeggios, and help me learn all notes on the neck by feel.  While playing major scales and major arpeggios, I will concentrate on producing a clear tone, not a muffled one due to poor fingering.

Playing a double bass is much more physically demanding than playing a bass guitar, so my initial practice routine, as described above, should get me in shape over the next couple of weeks.

To keep the practice interesting, I will also play the double bass to some fairly easy songs and record it to discover weak spots in my playing.

I will allocate a minimum of one hour a day on double bass practice.  The above practice plan is meant mostly to get my into physical shape to play double bass.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Singing While Playing Bass: How to Learn, How to Practice

Once you have mastered some basic singing skills (see previous post), it is time to learn to play your bass while singing lead.  This has been a tough for most bass players.  It is difficult to play bass lines while singing lead.  You can get confused very quickly.  We can't all be the bass genius that Paul McCartney is, who does this with ease.

My band was playing at a Beatles Tribute, and I made up my mind I wanted to finally start contributing to our vocal effort.  Listening to Beatles tunes, I found that "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" was well within my range, and there seemed to be no bass part.  I could sing this song and not have to worry about playing bass (or so I thought).  I sent my karaoke recording to the band and they agreed I could do the song.  At the next practice, I sang it live and the band was enthusiastic.  However, over the next week I learned that there was indeed a bass part to the song, and I found a couple of YouTube videos where the bass players demonstrate how to play the song.  I had to rethink my approach, but I knew one thing, I would not give up!  I was committed to singing and would do whatever it took.

I learned to play the bass while singing this song in four steps:

1.  I learned the bass part without singing, just playing along to the record.
2.  I learned the singing part without playing the bass.
3.  I started putting the two together. This was done by taking each lyric in the song, singing it slowly while playing the appropriate bass part.  In this way, the two different activities were cemented into one in my brain.  I slowly increased my speed until I could play and sing it at the same time, all the way through, and then I started recording it.
4.  I listened to the recording and learned where there were rough spots, then concentrated on smoothing those out.

There is nothing like playing and singing the song live, so I began doing that at band practice, developing more confidence with each try.  Finally, the Beatles Tribute event arrived, and I sang my song to a live audience.  I was nervous -- this was my first singing ever to an audience -- and the song was mostly good, with a smooth tone and on key.  There were a couple of rough spots, but they weren't disastrous.

And the bass part, that I played simultaneously with singing?  It was flawless.  I had proven to myself that I can sing and play at the same time.

My next step will be to identify several songs I want to sing with the band and begin learning them and the bass parts.  I can do this -- and so can you.  My first effort is below.

Singing While Playing Bass: It Can Be Done

This week I had my debut as a singer at a gig with my band.  I have always been a bass player, and I have found singing and playing bass simultaneously to be difficult.  So I never bothered developing my singing skills.  I could occasionally sing some back up, but even that was rare.

Our band had a great female singer, but she left after a short time, due to her new marriage and career, and once again we had to rely on our musicians to provide the vocals.  I decided to start singing for practical reasons:  if the musicians in the band also supply the singing, the band is not dependent upon a single lead singer.  Any band that wants to grow and prosper must develop the singing skills of everyone in the band.  Everyone must row the boat, there can be no idle passengers.

I began practicing singing to karaoke songs I found on YouTube, downloading the videos using iSkysoft iTube Studio software, converting them to MP4 self-playing video files, for ease of access.  Then I would sing to the YouTube videos and record the singing with Free Sound Recorder, available on the web.  I could then send my efforts out to other band members for feedback.

Further, I searched the web for websites that teach singing skills, and found great teachers like Roger Burney and TVS Training, both of whom provide a number of free singing lesson videos on the web (and more intensive training for a reasonable price).  I also bought Jaime Vendera's book, "Raise Your Voice," 2nd Edition, and downloaded lesson vids from the web.  With these tools I found some important ways to improve the tone, range and power of my voice, and  I am not working on becoming a credible singer.

Another thing I do to improve my singing voice is to sing along to CDs in the car, practicing the techniques I have learned from the aforementioned resources.  The major lessons are how to sing in the soft palate, how to avoid putting strain on your pharynx, how to breathe, how hit the high notes.  Singing with CDs helps to strengthen your vocal muscles, which must be developed like any other exercise.

Next article:  the method I used to start singing and playing simultaneously.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Sweet Lorraine" -- Fred's Love Song for His Wife of 75 Years

Why do people write love songs? Probably because love is the highest human emotion. This gentleman was married to his wife Lorraine for an astounding 75 years. When she passed away, he was inspired to write a love song in her memory. It won a "best original song" contest and is now on iTunes. Fred and Lorraine's story is below.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ringo Starr's Very Cool Hat in "Help!" (Actually, a Scottish Military Issue Tam O'Shanter)

Since my band is preparing for a Beatles tribute in September, I have been looking for hats that say "Beatles!"  Don't take that literally, since there are baseball caps that have "Beatles" emblazoned on the crown.  What I want are hats like those the Beatles wore in their heyday in the 1960's.

John Lennon liked hats that are eight-panel newsboy caps, with the brim unbuttoned from the crown.  George sometimes wore a top hat, as he did in "Help!".  However, the coolest hat in that 1965 film was worn by Ringo.  It was a khaki colored, military issue tam o'shanter.  It is described in a bagpipe forum this way:
If you watch the Beatles 1965 film "Help!", there is a musical sequence on Salisbury Plain near Stonehenge with the Beatles being guarded by British soldiers -- I think one of the Scottish regiments, based on what I've seen from stills shot at the time. In the movie, Ringo wears a khaki tam o'shanter obviously borrowed from a soldier and I've tried to ID the regiment from what you can see of the tartan backing and cap badge -- can anyone else hazard a guess? I think possibly the KOSB or RS (is that Hunting Stewart or Leslie?). The cap badge is *I think* the unpopular and short-lived "Lowland Brigade" badge issued for a time to all the units grouped in the brigade (there was at the same time a common "Highland Brigade" badge).
52nd Lowland Cap Badge Design
52 Lowland Cap Badge
Tartran Backing
I've done some research, and the tam o'shanter (a Scottish cap) was of the 52nd Lowland Brigade (as proved by the cap badge of same).  The big X is actually the St. Andrews Cross, a Scottish symbol.  It is also a part of the flag of Scotland, a white cross on a blue field.

At first I thought the cap badge backing (the square piece of cloth beneath the cap badge) was solid black, or what they call Government Tartran.  I have changed my mind.  The badge backing, after blowing up a picture of Ringo (see above), appears to be the Tayforth Universities Officers Training Corps Hunting Stewart Tartran.

52 Lowland Cap Badge & Backing
(Photoshop Simulation)
So where could a Beatles fan/musician get a hat like Ringo's?  You can order military issue tam o'shanters here (for $35) or here.  Some of these hats are more of a green tint, but Ringo's was obviously of a tan or light brown color.  Therefore, I would opt for the second link above.

You can buy a 52nd Lowland badge off of Ebay, when they are available.

 You can order the cap badge backing here -- see item E1J995.

You will have to have the badge backing sewed onto the tam o'shanter, then affix the 52nd Lowland badge over that.  Finally, you will have a hat identical to that Ringo wore in "Help!"  Final cost will be in the neighborhood of $100.

Finally, here's a video showing the Beatles (and Ringo in his hat) playing "I Need You" in the movie "Help!".  You also get a good view of John's unbuttoned, green corduroy newsboy hat.



UPDATE:  I ordered all the components as described above, and put them together.  I sewed on the tartran backing myself, then carefully punched small holes through the tartran and the hat in order to afix the cap badge.  Fortunately, I did not ruin the hat in the process.  The badge is held on by a cotter pin inside the cap.  Here is the result:  a Scottish military tam o'shanter that is very close to the one worn by Ringo in the film "Help!":
My recreation of Ringo's hat
Note that I am wearing the tam with the cap badge between my left eye and my left ear, which is the proper way to wear it.  Ringo wore his borrowed tam with the cap badge in the middle of his forehead.  It looks nice, but is not the proper military way to wear the cap.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Hats for Musicians: If you ain't got the right hat, you can't be in the band. It's in the Musician Union rules.

If you're going to be in a band, you gotta have the right hat.  I am, of course, referring to most any kind of band, whether it be classic rock, British rock, Reggae, Blues, Funk, Latin, Country, Jazz or Peruvian Flute.

Stingy-Brim Fedora
Possibly the most popular hat worn by band members today is the stingy-brim fedora.  These are great looking hats.

Another popular band hat is the pork pie hat.  These have long been popular with jazz bands, but have moved into rock and roll as well.
Pork Pie Hat

Recently, I purchased a Homburg hat because I saw the steel guitar player in Hank Williams III's band with one.  I liked the look.

You can find a lot of hats on EBay.com, or just google them by name and you will find many suppliers.  Look for the best prices.

Stacy Adams Homburg Hat
My band is scheduled to play for a Beatles tribute in September, so I ordered a "John Lennon" hat off of Ebay -- see picture.  Finding retro British-style rock hats isn't easy all these years after the British Invasion of the 1960's.  John Lennon's favorite hat was a retro newsboy hat, also called a Baker Boy's hat or Applejack or Eight Panel hat.  These often resemble a Greek fisherman's hat.

John Lennon Style Hat
The best representation of the Lennon hat that I found is made in Poland, and it will be at least three weeks before it arrives.  There are suppliers in Great Britain who also make similar hats.  They are made of corduroy.

There are many kinds of hats for musicians to choose from, and the proper hat creates a favorable impression to the audience.  Use your imagination and find the topper that fits your fancy.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Let's Get Funky! (Uh...But What Is Funk Anyway?)

Musicians who play with soul often use a technique called "funk."  But what is funk?  According to About.com:
Funk is a very distinct style of music based on R&B that reached its height in popularity from the late 1960s to late 1970s. Its name originated in the 1950s, when "funk" and "funky" were used increasingly as adjectives in the context of soul music -- the meaning being transformed from the original one of a pungent odor to a re-defined meaning of a strong, distinctive groove [the "groove" being the rhythm laid down by the drums and bass].

One of the most distinctive features of funk music is the role played by bass guitar. Before soul music, bass was rarely prominent in popular music. Players like the legendary Motown bassist James Jamerson brought bass to the forefront, and Funk built on that foundation, with melodic basslines often being the centerpiece of songs. Other noteworthy funk bassists include Bootsy Collins and Larry Graham of Sly & the Family Stone. Graham is often credited with inventing the percussive "slap bass technique," which was further developed by later bassists and became a distictive element of funk.

The stong bassline is primarily what separates Funk from R&B, soul and other forms of music, melodic basslines often being the centerpiece of songs. Also, compared to the soul music of 1960s, funk typically uses more complex rhythms, while song structures are usually simpler. Often, the structure of a funk song consists of just one or two riffs. The soul dance music of its day, the basic idea of funk was to create as intense a groove as possible [emphasis added].

The Funk genre has lost most of its popularity since the 1970s, but saw a mini-revival in the early 1990s due to the sampling of Funk songs by hip-hop artists.

Examples of popular contemporary funk artists include Soulive and funk pioneer George Clinton, who's still recording new music after more than three decades. Also, many rock bands use a stong funk element in their music, including Primus and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
My major problem with this piece is its definition of funk as a separate genre of music.  Funk was and is a style or technique, not a different genre.  It was mostly applied to Rhythm and Blues or Soul music, but may be applied to other genres as well.  Elements of it can be found in any face-paced music genre, like Latin (think Santana) And jazz.  Vince Guaraldi, the famous jazz pianist, was known as "Dr. Funk" to his fans and fellow musicians.

Funk is a staccato bassline with triplets and eighth notes, many of which are played on the upbeat.  That's why it is so hard to play -- our natural tendency as bass players is to play on the downbeat.  In addition to playing in a staccato style, the bassist also relies on slap and pop techniques to emphasize certain chords, and hand muting techniques to make individual notes more distinct.  Beyond all this technical verbiage, funk just sounds good!  An otherwise bland song can be given pep, the way a bland soup wakes up to spices.

EXAMPLES OF FUNK
A great example of a song played "funky" is the classic R&B tune "I Heard It Through the Grapevine."  Marvin Gaye's 1968 version is the most popular, though it wasn't funky when first released.  Gaye added funk to later live renditions, as we shall see.  Here are some facts about this famous song:
The Gaye recording has since become acclaimed a soul classic, and in 2004, it was placed on the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. On the commemorative 50th Anniversary of the Billboard Hot 100 issue of Billboard magazine in June 2008, Marvin Gaye's "Grapevine" was ranked 65th. It was also inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant" value.
Now let's consider different Versions of "Grapevine," funky and the not-so-funky:

1. Gladys Knight and the Pips released their version in 1967, before that of Marvin Gaye, and it went to number two on Billboard.  Gladys Knight's version is undoubtedly the funkiest version.  See her sing it live at this link, and be sure you can hear the bass (use headphones if you don't have capable speakers).

2. Marvin Gaye's original version was not funky but he added funk in later performances.  Hear his original 1968 recording here (no funk) and his live performance in Montreux here (funk added).

3.  Finally, there is Creedence Clearwater's version of the song -- no funk at all.  Hear it here.

In my opinion, the funk adds a great deal of color, class and enjoyment to the song.  Funk may not be absolutely necessary, but it surely separates the elite performers from the also-rans.  Therefore, if you are a bass player, it would behoove you to learn at least some basic elements of funk style.

MORE EXAMPLES:
ONLINE LESSONS ON FUNK
There's a series of lessons on YouTube called "Rock School," produced by mostly British performers, explaining various aspects of rock music.  Volume 3 of Rock School covers "Funk."  There are eight videos covering in Vol 3, but only the first three deal with funk.  They are worth your time if you want to get funky.  See links below.




When learning to play funky, start slow and add more over time.  Be patient.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Experienced Musicians Jam to "Born To Be Wild" (Video)

When experienced musicians come together to jam, the results can be pleasing. Here we are at a Jam party last week, playing "Born To Be Wild." This was the first time we had played this song together, and it already sounds polished, IMHO.

 

 Here we are accompanying a fair lady singer in the Monkees' classic "Daydream Believer." This one is probably not ready for prime time, but pleasant nevertheless.

 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Bro and Stogie Jam Out With "Black Magic Woman" (Video) -- Hear My New Jazz Bass!

Over the weekend I visited my older brother (Bro) in Fallon, Nevada. We jammed for two days straight! In a jam, you play many songs that you may not have played before. Bro and I haven't played music together for three and a half years, but had a great time and were pleased with the results. Because it's a jam, the renditions will not be as polished like they would be if previously rehearsed. That adds a bit of fun to the efforts, because improvization is required. In the vid below, Bro is playing a black Fender Stratocaster guitar, but you can't see it behind his keyboard. Too bad, it's a beautiful guitar -- but you can certainly hear it well. I am in the fedora playing my new Fender Jazz Bass. Have a listen.

 

Here's the guitar Bro is playing:

Black Fender Stratocaster

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Stevie Ray Vaughan: One of the All-Time Great Guitarists (Video)

Stevie Ray Vaughan was a self-taught guitarist from Texas who rose to fame and acclaim in the 1980's due to his innovative and energetic guitar solos.  He mainly played on a Fender Stratocaster, fitted out with the heaviest gauge strings available.  The strings were so heavy that he regularly tuned his guitar down a half step, to Eb.  His bass players did the same.

Vaughan was a good-looking guy who always wore cowboy hats, decorated with shiny bling or rhinestones or fancy bands.  In many ways his garb reminded me of Hank Williams (Sr).  Even his guitar strap was decorated with large musical notes, like those Hank Williams often wore.  During the evening of August 27, 1990, SRV had just performed at the Alpine Valley Resort in East Troy, Wisconsin and was ready to board a helicopter for a ride back to Chicago.  Four helicopters departed in a thick fog, one every two minutes; Vaughan got the last seat available in one helicopter, asking his wife and brother to take the next one as he was anxious to get back to Chicago.  Vaughan's copter never made it, as it flew into the side of a mountain shortly after taking off, killing everyone on board.  Stevie Ray Vaughan is buried in Dallas. (Read more about it here.)

It seems that if you desire a quick death, become a famous musical performer and take a ride in light aircraft.   Stevie joined many others who went that way before him, Patsy Cline, Otis Redding, Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, Jim Reeves, Ricky Nelson and others.

In any case, here's a video of Stevie Ray Vaughan, made in 1984.  It's a comical piece featuring his hit song "Cold Shot."



Serious Jamming Ahead! Off to Nevada to See Bro!

Tomorrow I am driving to a town near Reno, Nevada to see my older brother, "Bro."  It will be a welcome interruption to my daily rut.  Bro is an accomplished musician and plays lead guitar, steel guitar and keys.  He teaches guitar and gigs around the locale where he lives.  We will do some serious jamming, and yes, I am bringing my new bass guitar.

Right now I am sitting in my lovely backyard gazebo, enjoying the very mild California weather, and listening to a CD of Anat Cohen (jazz clarinet) that my friend Rick Darby (of Reflecting Light) sent me.   (Thanks Rick!)

The problem with reaching retirement age is that every significant goal in life has been achieved:  you completed your education, got your degree, started a career, found a mate, had children and grandchildren and finally retired.  Now you get to do nothing all day!  Just hang around and wait for the grim reaper.

Doing nothing is absolutely boring.  Without a major purpose in life, one can lose his zest for life, even his will to live.  So to increase my sense of purpose, I have turned to my long-deferred goal of becoming an excellent bass player.

For the past three weeks I have been studying music and practicing bass for anywhere from 3 to 5 hours a day.  I am not just practicing what I already know, but pushing myself to gain new skills, to break through to the next level.  My practice involves practicing jazz chord progressions to backing tracks, watching how-to videos (Scott Devine's are best), practicing speed and accuracy drills, playing to music and recording it for analysis, among other things.  Because so many riffs and bass lines are presented as written music (with notes and time and key signatures), I can see that I will have to renew my study of reading music, too.   And that's fine!  I want to be a real musician, one who is literate and can sight read.

From time to time I will post recordings of my progress.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Chords in the Major Scales

Yesterday I purchased the five study packages from Scott's Bass Lessons and learned some new things.  One of the most important is that the chords in each major key always follow the same pattern.  Knowing this, you can figure out the chords in any major key you play.  You take the seven notes of the major scale and play a major chord for the 1st, a minor chord for the 2nd and 3rd, a major chord for both the 4th and the fifth, a minor chord for the sixth, and a diminished chord for the 7th.  

See the chart below.  The major scale for the Key of C is C, D, E, F, G, A, B.  SO, the chords for the key of C are C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am and B diminished.  The chart shows all chords in each major key.  The chart can be a useful reference when playing jazz or blues chord progressions.  For example, if someone tells you that the progression is a ii-V-I progression in Bb, you would know the chords referred to are Cm, F and Bb.

























To better understand how chords relate to scales, see this discussion at musictheorysite.com.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Playing My New Fender Jazz Bass to "Cold Shot" With My Band

My New Fender Jazz Bass
Here's me playing my new Jazz Bass with the band. Unless you have quality computer speakers or headphones, you won't be able to hear the bass!

 

Monday, May 20, 2013

The New Fender Jazz Bass - Made in China. I Want One!

My first bass was a brand new, 1960 Fender Jazz Bass.  My father bought it for me when I was 15 years old.  Since I was too lazy to learn guitar, he figured (mistakenly) that bass would be easier to play.  So, thanks to my father, I, the family musical slacker, was assigned the role of bass player.

My Jazz Bass came with a nickel chrome tail piece with a big "F" on it, and also a chrome cover for the forward pickup.  These accouterments were supposed to improve the looks of the bass, but for modern bass players, they are more of a deterrence than anything else.  So Fender did away with them, and I agree with the decision.

During the late 1960s, British rock was all the rage, and groups did not use Fenders as much -- so I sold mine (big mistake).  In 2005 I bought a Fender Mustang bass, thinking the shorter neck would be good for my small hands.  That was also an illusion.  Even small hands can be trained to successfully navigate a standard bass guitar neck, and I have no problem with the full-sized neck on my Rickenbacker 4003.

With my growing interest in becoming a professional bass player, I have developed a desire to have another Fender Jazz Bass.  For sentimental reasons, I want one that is three-color Sunburst and has a tortoise shell pick guard -- like the one my father bought for me in the long-ago summer of 1960.  With the advent of the Chinese made version of the bass, the price for a Jazz Bass has become very affordable.  The Chinese version above costs $499, compared to $1,350 for the American-made version on the right.

Yesterday I went to Guitar Center in Gilroy and played a Chinese Jazz Bass.  The finish on it was gorgeous, and the neck and action sublime.  It sounded great as well, even with the cheap Chinese strings that come with it (I will upgrade to better strings if I buy one).  The pick guard is black, but I can buy a tortoise shell pick guard from Sweetwater for less than $30.  I can also order a beige, tweed hard shell case (like the one that came with my 1960 bass) for about $130.  The Chinese bass only comes with a gig bag.

Other differences are (1) the wood -- the Chinese bass is made from alder whereas the American version is made from ash.  (2) The Chinese version has noise-canceling humbucking pickups, compared to the traditional single-coil pickups on the American bass.  Fender describes the new bass this way:
The Modern Player Jazz Bass® is a volcanic new take on the time-honored Jazz Bass thanks to its dual Modern Player humbucking Jazz Bass pickups. Other features include an alder body, C-shaped maple neck, rosewood fretboard with 9.5" radius and 20 jumbo frets, three-ply pickguard, vintage-style four-saddle bridge with brass saddles, open-gear tuners and nickel/chrome hardware. Available in Three-color Sunburst, Olympic White and Black Transparent.
Reviews of the new bass on YouTube and on bass forums are very positive.  This appears to be a great bass at a great price.  I'm going to get one -- hopefully, sooner rather than later.

UPDATE 5/22/2013 -- The bass is mine!  I bought it today and I love it!!

Monday, May 13, 2013

"That Thing You Do" -- a Movie About a Fictional Rock Band in 1964


Danelectro Bass Guitar
Yesterday I watched the Tom Hanks film "That Thing You Do," about a fictional rock band in Pittsburgh in 1964.  This band calls themselves the "Oneders" (pronounced "wonders") but everyone thinks the name is pronounced "the Oh-Needers."  Cute.

The drummer, Guy Patterson, is the chief protagonist.  He is asked to sit in for the Oh-Needers regular drummer (who has broken an arm) at a talent competition.  The band plays their own composition, "That Thing You Do."  It's supposed to be a ballad but drummer Guy speeds up the beat considerably, making it an up-tempo tune, over the objections of the band leader Jimmy.  The song is an instant hit and the band wins the talent contest.

After playing in a local pizza parlor and making an amateurish record of "That Thing You Do," the band is discovered by a talent scout and are on their way to fame and glory.  They trade in their cheap Silvertone guitars and Danelectro bass guitar for better instruments.  I liked the portrayal of the instruments, and found them to be historically accurate for the time period.  Lead guitar player Lenny upgrades to a Fender Jazzmaster guitar, and the bass player trades his Danelectro for a Fender Jazz Bass, which was identical to my first bass, a 1960 Fender Jazz Bass in three color sunburst, complete with chrome tailpiece and string cover.

The only sour note in this accurate depiction was Jimmy's 12-string, '63 Rickenbacker guitar, identical to that played by George Harrison of the Beatles.  There is no 12 string sound in any of the songs, and the instrument seems out of place in what is essentially a bubblegum band -- toothless music targeted for pubescent schoolgirls.  (When I think of Rickenbacker, I think of the earthy blues of Creedence Clearwater or the British Rock of the Beatles, or the psychedelic rock of the Jefferson Airplane.)

Other things about the movie bugged me.
Fender Jazz Bass, 1960
Young people are shown with small portable radios with white earphones, similar to those used today for iPhones.  Portable radios and even earphones were in use back then, but were rarely (if ever) seen on the street.  No one in the band has long hair, though by 1964 every male teenager in the country was busily growing it out to emulate the Beatles.

Jimmy, the guitar player, comes closest to an authentic 60's hairstyle.  He resembles Dave Clark of the Dave Clark Five, also popular around that time period.  Indeed, in one shot of the band, they are wearing white turtlenecks under black suits, making them look very much like the Dave Clark Five.

Blacks depicted in the film were politically correct to an absurd level, portraying them as beings of light rather than real human beings with faults and frailties.  They include Lamarr, the head bellhop of the Los Angeles hotel where the band stays.  Lamarr is Mr. Effervescence, nicer than pie, positive-thinking-on-steroids, and matchmaker to Guy and Faye (the band's only groupie).  He is too nice to be real.

Likewise for Del Paxton, the piano player of a jazz band and musical hero to Guy, who finally meets his hero in an L.A. club called "the Blue Spot."  Del is also super positive, upbeat and offers sagacious advice to Guy, some of which is memorable, like never depending on a band, because "bands come and go," and you have to keep playing with whomever you can.  I like the Del character, but again, he is almost too nice to be real.  Now if he smoked cigars, had a few tattoos, maybe an earring, knocked back a few more whiskeys and swore a little, I could believe he's real.  The characterization was too saccharine for me.

Other blacks included a female singing group reminiscent of the Supremes, highly coiffed, dressed in pastel colors and looking pretty, but singing tunes even too cheesy for the early 1960's.  In one scene they are singing "When you're holding my hand, you're holding my heart," followed by hand claps.  I had a brief mental image of a doctor holding a beating heart during surgery as I suppressed a brief wave of nausea.  C'mon!  The Sixties were never that corny.

In the end, of course, the band is dissolved by the same forces that destroy many popular bands:  egos, the desire to play some other genre of music other than the one that made them famous, differing goals and visions, personal jealousies and annoyances.

Del Paxton had that right:  you can't depend on a band, so play when you can, with whom you can.  If you're good enough, you'll always have opportunities to play and perform.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Useful Chart for Major Scales (aka the Ionian Mode) and Key Signatures

Here's a chart I made in Excel of all the major scales (which are also called "the Ionian Mode"). You may find the chart helpful in learning your major scales and notes therein.  When you play each scale, say the note you are playing and it will help you learn notes in the major keys.

Another use for the chart should be to recognize your key signatures that are found on sheet music.  Up near the clef (be it treble clef or bass clef) in the uppler left hand corner of the music staff, you will generally see a number of flat symbols (b) or sharp symbols (#).  These signify the key in which the music is played.  No sharps or flats means Key of C; 1 flat is Key of F, 2 flats, Key of Bb, and so on.


For example, if there are two sharps indicated in the Key Signature, what key are we in?  Consult the column on the far right of the graphic.  Yep, we are in the Key of D.  In the rightmost column we see that the two sharps in the Key of D are F# and C#.

You can see in the chart which notes are sharp or flat for any of the twelve keys.

Here's another graphic on Key Signatures. I found this on the web at this location.  This graphic shows also the minor key associated with the major key.  (I'll explain later.)
Note that C major key is the same as A minor key.  Here's why:  the notes in the C major scale are
C D E F G A B

The notes in the A minor scale are:
A B C D E F G

The Key of C and the Key of A minor have the same notes and are therefore harmonic equivalents of each other.  Here's another example, chosen at random:

The A minor scale above is the Aeolian mode of the C major scale.  It has a distinct minor sound to it.  To play the Aeolian mode, just take the usual major scale and flat the 3rd, the 6th and the 7th notes of the major scale.

Notice the 3rd note in the A minor scale is a C.  "A major" chord is A C# E (the 1, 3 and 5 of the 7 note scale).  A C E is "A minor" chord -- the 3rd is always flatted in a minor chord, and C# becomes C.

The notes in the F major scale are F G A Bb C D E;
The notes in the corresponding minor scale of D minor are D E F G A Bb C.
Same notes, played in a different order.  The first is sounds like the first scale we learned in grade school:  Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do. The second has a spooky minor sound to it.

To find the minor equivalent of any major scale, go to the sixth note (or degree) of the major scale.  The sixth note will name the minor equivalent.  For example, in C scale, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, we see that A is the sixth note in C scale.  Therefore, A minor is the harmonic equivalent of C major.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Zen and the Art of Playing Bass

Finally, finally, finally, I am making a serious effort to raise myself from the ranks of amateur bass players to professional bass players.

I have a long way to go.  But I have learned, thanks to a bass teacher named Dale Titus, that it can be done with patience and repetition.

Oh, the learning regimen is fairly traditional:  learn scales, learn modes, learn arpeggios.  Absorb scale theory and how it relates to chords and keys.  Learn every inch of the neck.

However, a lot of successful bass playing (or playing any instrument) is great execution.  Getting your fingers on the right fret at the right time, without string rattle or buzz, plucking those strings accurately and quickly -- those skills are hard to attain.  You attain them by playing exercises (Titus calls them "chop builders") slowly at first, concentrating on a good sound.  You then slowly increase the speed of playing those chops until you can do it quickly as well as accurately.

So much of learning an instrument is developing the muscle memory to play it well and right.  Break it into its various parts and learn each part well, taking as much time as you need to do it.  Keep at it on a daily basis.  If you learn one small thing each day, your knowledge and skill will accumulate faster than you think.

I think this principle works for mastering just about any skill or body of knowledge.   It's like the old but useful analogy of the snowball rolling downhill.