Friday, May 29, 2015

Lessons Learned: My Progress on Playing String Bass

Listen to the Band Here.

Last night my Big Band, now called "the Cats Swing Band," gave a recital to mark the end of the semester. The Apostolic Church on Parr Avenue in Campbell, CA were kind enough to make their church available for our performance, and the pews were filled with friends and family. 

I played my acoustic string bass, and all the band members loved it more than my bass guitar.  My friend and attorney, who plays alto sax in our band, said that there is "no comparison" between the sound of my stand-up bass and my bass guitar, and he favors the former.  I agree.

However, a string bass requires a lot more stamina, and I need to improve mine. I was pooped by the end of the performance.  Playing a stand-up bass is much more physically demanding than playing a bass guitar.  This means I need to do my practices on my double bass (string bass) rather than my bass guitar.  I need to run several fast plucking exercises each day, perhaps by playing a few stanzas of a fast jazz song, like the jazz piece "Cute" or "The Blues Walk."  Do it until I get tired.  Learning to play bass is more than just reading notes and learning chord patterns; it also involves study of technique and gaining the physicality needed for long and loud performances. 

Everyone told me I played quite well, but being my best critic, I am far from satisfied. I was, however, blown away by the enthusiastic audience, who broke into raucous applause when our lead tenor sax player soloed.  They broke into applause several more times before the performance ended.  This was thrilling for me, as I have played in many bands, but have never experienced this before. 

Everyone in the audience was grinning, open-mouthed, from ear to ear, including my always grouchy little wife. Afterwards we had a pot luck dinner. The band was ecstatic over the successful performance.

Some important milestones for me:
My new Acoustic Image Contra 4 bass amp performed very well:  I could hear my string bass above the orchestra!  The tone was great -- it sounded acoustic rather than electrified.  Some performances are known as "noisy gigs," and a band our size (15 members, mostly horns) creates a lot of volume.  However, my new amp has solved the problem of being heard, without feedback.  This was the best $900 bucks I have spent recently on my musical pursuits.

My Tuff Bag protected my bass:  I learned that my Calin Wultur Panormo bass is actually 7/8 size, not 3/4 as I thought.  So I ordered a Tuff Bag (gig bag) from a source in Arizona, and it protected by bass quite well, transporting it to and from the gig. No scratches or damage.

My note reading skills continue to grow.  A year ago, I couldn't read notes.  I have come a long way since then.  I am now reading much better in the keys requiring 3 or 4 flats, i.e. Eb and Db.  Learning to read music is a gradual process, a skill gained over time by repetitive exercises.  I can sight read slow songs in the easier keys, but not in more demanding pieces.  I will keep at it, and eventually will be able to sight read even difficult pieces.  Patience and practice are the keys.