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.