Sunday, October 5, 2014

Learning Double Bass: Attack On All Fronts!

Lately I am obsessed with learning to play jazz on a double bass (also called string bass, stand-up bass or acoustic bass).  I give not a scatological expression for anything else.  I get on these kicks, where I want to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can.  So I listen to jazz music, paying particular attention to the bass, I read articles on how to play jazz bass, I play exercises, I read musical scores, and I play along to backing tracks.  Lately I have even used a free musical notation program to write my own bass lines from the chord sequence of a song, e.g. "Blue Monk."

Today I finally understand what a 1-6-2-5 chord progression is.  There are many different chord progressions, all described by equally strange numeric references.  The 1-6-2-5 is used in "rhythm changes" jazz tunes, such as "I Got Rhythm."

In other words, when it comes to double bass, I am attacking on all fronts simultaneously.

Ultimately, after digesting a ton of music theory, you have to actually sound good.  So lately I have emphasized playing to backing tracks or the recordings of actual songs.  I don't want to just ad lib, I want to play the chord sequences in clever but accurate ways.  Sounding great on bass is the one overriding goal.  All the rest of it, i.e. the theory, just supports that goal.

I am in my second semester of Beginning Big Band class.  The band leader is a gigging jazz trombonist who really knows jazz and swing, and he is leaning on me to improve (he seems to like me, though).  He is always telling the brass section to "Listen to the bass!  Listen to the bass!"  The bass lays down the rhythm and chord changes that keeps the rest of the band on track.  If I screw up, the whole band can get lost, especially the soloists.  That's a lot of pressure on me not to screw up (i.e. losing my place in the song's bar sequence).

I have learned so much since beginning this class, but there is so much more to learn.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

FEEDBACK! How Do You Stop It?

Last week at my big band class, I started getting feedback from the amplifier.  There was a loud hum, then chairs and music stands began falling over and dust fell from the ceiling.  The other musicians all got under their chairs, fearing an earthquake.  But it was just my bass, feeding back.

How do you stop feedback?  It is a common problem with an amplified double bass!  As soon as I find out how to fix the problem, I'll get back to you.

UPDATE:  I stopped my feedback by reinstalling my Realist Copper pickup, securing the pickup bracket through the G string eye hole.  I had to take off the G string and then run it through the bracket holes, but the trouble was worth it.  Oh yes, and I didn't reinstall it on my practice bass, where it was originally.  I reinstalled it on my carved bass.

At big band class tonight, the tone and volume of the bass were quite nice, easily heard over the sea of horns.  And no feedback!  The band leader said the difference was like night and day, a big improvement over last week.

This fixed my immediate problem, but I think the feedback demon needs greater analysis.  I use a practice amplifier (for bass guitar) to amplify my double bass.  Bass guitar amps were not really made for an acoustic bass with its feedback problems.  There are amplifiers specifically made for double bass, and worth your consideration.

On some of the bass forums, they talk about amplifiers with "notches," a means of electronically eliminating feedback.  I need to research the best amplifiers specifically designed for double bass.  One that I have my eye on:  the Contra bass amp from Acoustic Image.