Monday, July 28, 2014

Zoltan Dekany: A Great Bass Instructor Online

Zoltan Dekany
In a Google search, I discovered a great bass instructor online.  His name is Zoltan Dekany, and his YouTube Channel is called Zoltan's Bass Lounge.  He lives in the U.K. You can access his site at this link.

Zoltan has instructional videos for both bass guitar and double bass.  Since I am struggling to become a double bass player, I concentrate on those videos.

When I first got my double bass, I was impatient, and ignored videos telling me how to use the "hand shake," the manner in which a bass player uses his left hand.  As a result, I became tired quickly and couldn't practice too much.

It has since become obvious to me that solidly learning the basics is highly important, so I am currently concentrating on intonation (playing clear sounding notes), shifting the left hand to accurately play notes up and down the neck, and strengthening my fingers through bass exercises.  Zoltan explains these things in clear language that the student can understand -- there are many good bass instructors online, but many of them talk over my head.  Zoltan doesn't do that.

I recommend Zoltan if you are looking for a good online instructor.  I have added Zoltan's link to my sidebar.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cleaning and Organizing My Music Room

Since I began a serious study program for double bass, I have been busy doing odd things.  Like cleaning up my music room.  Yesterday I began cleaning out my desk drawers of old junk:  obsolete computer programs, obsolete cables and computer accessories, old bills, correspondence and bank statements (these are shredded).  I am being ruthless in tossing stuff I no longer need or use.  Today I will continue, clearing out my book shelf and a chest of drawers, a closet clogged with junk, all to make more room for currently useful items.

Having a neat, organized practice space is conducive to good practice habits.

I took my three bass guitars off of their stands and put them into their cases, to protect them and make more room.

My two string basses sit on these big metal bass stands, similar to the smaller stands used for guitars.  The feet of these stands, where the bottom of the bass rests, are covered with foam rubber sleeves to protect the bass from scratches.  However, these foam rubber sleeves quickly wear out, developing holes and exposing the bass to scratches from the metal surfaces.  Yesterday, I removed the worn out rubber sleeves, and replaced them with clear plastic tubing from Ace Hardware.  The tubing protects the bass very well and will not easily wear out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Musical Progress! Reading Notes, Playing Bass and Replacing My End Pin

I have now finished three classes of "Beginning Big Band," an adult education class, and my skills continue to grow.  The band leader is a lovely lady Brit who seems to like me a lot, probably because I am one of the few musicians in the class who doesn't play some kind of horn (we have four alto saxophones, one baritone sax, one tenor sax, two trumpets and a trombone.  Non-horn musicians include a drummer, a guitar player, and me, on string bass).

I am reading notes better and better.  Now when I look at the sheet music, it makes a lot more sense then when I first glimpsed the chaotic collection of dots and lines on the page (the notes and staff).  More and more the feeling grows, that not only is this possible to become a literate musician, it is inevitable.  It will happen.

We have a two week break before resuming our weekly class, which ends in early August.

Last week the end pin on my bass broke, and I was wondering how to repair or replace it.  I took a chance and ordered a new end pin unit, not knowing if it would suit my bass as opposed to other brands of basses.  However, when I loosened the strings on my bass, the old end pin could be pulled out and the new one inserted.  (The end pin is held tightly in place by the strings, which are attached to the tailpiece, which in turn is attached to the end pin by a steel cable.)  Apparently, just about any end pin will fit just about any bass.

I love it when I am able to figure out and fix things for myself.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nashville, the Television Series

I have been spending evenings watching the television series "Nashville" on  The series is basically a soap opera with guitars, set in Nashville, and features the struggles and conflicts of Country singers and musicians.  As a series, it isn't bad, and I am enjoying it.  The major characters include Deacon Claybourne, a recovered alcoholic, his niece Scarlett O'Connor, a cute little blonde with a great voice, his former lover and mythical Country megastar, Rayna James, and a young and ruthless artist Juliette Barnes.  Rayna is a lovely older woman, 40is, and Juliette is a 20 something, smoking hot blonde.  Juliette is perpetually angry, horny, demanding and rude and tends to be a one-dimensional character. Deacon is the chief male protagonist of the series, a likeable guy and constant fugitive from a shave.  He is by far the most interesting and believable character, though like everyone else, is subject to occasional fits of overacting.

I began watching the series because it was ostensibly about music, and there is a lot of singing and playing.  Most of the music, however, is utterly forgettable and as substantial as cotton candy.  It isn't very Country either.  Some scenes are just not credible -- Rayna strutting and posing on a stage while a large audience is going wild, jumping up and down, cheering and raising their arms, until Rayna starts singing another of her utterly forgettable tunes in her very ordinary voice.  At that point the audience really gets excited.  ACTING!!

It has been said that great songs have a "hook," some repeated theme that makes the song compelling.  These songs generally do not have that hook.  Furthermore, the lyrics of these songs are generally vacuous and silly, with a few exceptions.

Rayna is pretty and stays on key, but her voice is ordinary.  Same for Juliette.  Scarlett is the only singer who actually has an interesting voice, though most of her songs are also mediocre.  With better material, she could really be a star.

Like most soap operas, there are subplots and background drama, a host of characters involved therein, while the latter play musical beds, and everybody winds up banging everyone else, sooner or later.  My interest in the series is on the wane.  I'll look for something better.

Update:  I have continued watching into the second year episodes.  The songs have gotten better, and Rayna and Juliette sing better than my first impression of them.  However, there is a sameness to the each episode that I find annoying.  Musical beds continues, with everyone banging everyone else, and everyone cheating on their mate, with absolutely no romantic relationship lasting more than an episode or two.  In this fictional world of "Nashville," marriage is indeed an obsolete institution.

Friday, July 11, 2014

How to Get Ready to Play String (Stand Up) Bass

Taking a course in "Big Band" has really helped me to make the transition from bass guitar to stand-up string bass.  Here's how I am preparing myself to play it with skill and stamina:

1.  Playing string bass is physically tiring -- After playing a while, my shoulders and arms start to ache from holding and plucking the bass.

Solution:  Exercise your arms and shoulders with five pound, hand-held weights.  At first I was skeptical -- only five pounds?  A squirrel could work out with those.  However, the secret is in the number of repetitions.  I do three separate lifting exercises, with twelve repetitions each.  I do this regimen once in the morning and once in the evening.  After I'm through, I can feel the burn. Now my arms and shoulders feel stronger and I don't tire so quickly playing bass.

2. Playing by touch, not by sight -- With a string bass, you never have to worry about hitting a fret -- there are no frets!  Nevertheless, you still must hit the right note in the right place on the neck, and you must do it by feel alone.  Why?  Because as a string bassist you will be concentrating on your music, and if you look away to find the note on the neck, you will lose your place on the sheet music.

Solution:  Practice your scales daily.  First, look at where the notes are on the neck (I put pencil marks on the side of the neck showing where the fret would be -- they can be easily erased later).  Play the scale while looking for the first time, then play the scale several times without looking.  This will help you navigate the neck by feel, without the need to look at the neck.

3.  Reading notes quickly and effortlessly -- If you are new to reading notes, pencil in the name of the note by each note on the sheet music.  After a couple of days of practice, you won't need the pencil marks anymore.  Then you build speed by reading the notes as you practice.  There are many bass books that supply you with "etudes," practice routines for reading notes.  To be able to read notes, you must read notes!  You learn by doing.  Don't worry about speed at first, just concentrate on playing the right note as it is represented on the page, one measure at a time -- or even one note at a time.  Speed will develop quickly.

4.  Amplifying your bass -- I bought a Realist Copperhead bass pickup.  It costs $200, but works very well, producing true bass tone through an amplifier, with no feedback so far.  I use a small Peavey bass practice amp -- I bought it for my bass guitars for less than $200; it is light and portable, but puts out enough power to be heard.  The Realist pickup installs easily without having to carve into the bridge, and you can hide the input jack under the tail piece.  I used a computer cable tie to fasten it to my tail piece.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sight Reading Notes - Not As Hard As I Thought

I started my Big Band class last Thursday, and was given sheet music to learn.  I was not at all sharp on my ability to read bass clef, so I penciled in the name of each note on the sheet music.  This helped, but after a couple of days, I no longer needed the pencil notations.  In fact, they became a distraction, so I threw out the sheet music and printed fresh pages from my soft copy.  Now I am just reading the notes.

My ability to sight read is growing quickly.  I am amazed.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Bass Notes Quiz

I found this great little bass notes quiz online.  It helps you learn the notes on lines and spaces by sight.  See it at this link.

Another useful program for learning bass notes can be found here.

Big Band: My First Practice

Last night I had my first practice with the big band.  We will be playing swing and jazz.  The project is actually through an adult education class, with a band leader and various musicians.  There is a big brass section:  a baritone sax, an alto sax, a trombone and three trumpets.  We could use a drummer and a tenor sax.  A guitar is coming.  As for me, "I proudly took my place, as the one and only bass" (from the Music Man).

My attorney (and close friend) plays alto sax, and invited me to join this group.  We are having a ball doing it.  The challenge for me is reading notes.  I do read bass clef, but not nearly fast enough; I can't really "sight read," but this project will help me do that.  I found myself straining to read the notes, and it was challenging, but I am sure I can do it, with enough study and practice.

That's a rule for success in learning to read notes.  Get in a class or program where you are obliged to learn it, with deadlines.  You may never learn anything new without a good reason and a good program for doing so.  With other musicians depending on you, you have a great reason.

I used my Fender Jazz Bass guitar for this first meeting, but will bring my Calin Wultur Panormo string bass to the remaining sessions.  A big band must have a traditional string bass; bass guitars are just too rock and roll.   I splurged on a better pickup, a Fischer, at $200, for my string bass.  Yes, string basses do need amplification (all those horns are loud), but this pickup ostensibly does not alter the warm, woody twang of the bass.

Our first three songs to practice are (1) Sing, Sing, Sing (2) Greensleeves and (3) A String of Pearls, all from the American Songbook of great old standards, which make for excellent jazz pieces.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Big Band Practice! I Have to Read Notes! Arrrgh!

Tonight I start an adult education class called "Beginning Big Band."  We will study the music for various standards and play the songs as a band.

The course requires you to be able to read music.  I do -- sort of.  I have studied the bass clef in the past, but never had any opportunity to apply what I learned, so have forgotten it.

So now I am on a crash course to relearn bass clef.  Hope I don't make a fool of myself tonight.