Friday, December 23, 2011

These Dixieland Jazz musicians show up in a cow pasture and serenade a herd of cows. The cows' ears go up and they all turn towards the band and slowly advance forward in a line. The cows are curious and even seem to like it. Now if cows can learn to love jazz, will a cow try to learn bass?  Well, probably not.  Hoofs aren't made for plucking bass strings.

Hat tip:  Stan and Loa Levin


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Blues Singer Etta James Has Terminal Cancer

The great blues singer Etta James, who is 73, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Read about it here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Am Officially Looking For a Band

Due to a lack of scheduled practices and what seems to me to be a large difference in commitment and philosophy, I have formally severed my ties with the Shiloh Band here in Hollister.

I am now available and looking for a band to practice and play with.   Right now, I am content to practice on my own through the end of this year and to become part of a new band by Spring.

Here are the attributes I am looking for in a band:

1.  Band (the entire band, not just a part of it) practices at least once a week but preferably twice, for at least three hours each practice.
2.  Band members are committed to regular practicing and making every practice, within reason.  (One can be absent for wedding anniversaries, illness, etc, in which case the practice may be rescheduled for another time.)
3.  Band members are committed to mastering their instrument and expanding their talent and repertoire.
4.  Band members are committed to playing regular gigs for pay.
5.  Band members are committed to strong vocals and learning and improving their singing.
6.  Band members are committed to learning cover songs in their original keys wherever possible; no strange keys please.  (At best, keys should be changed by only a step or half step.)
7.  Band seeks a repertoire or play list that is largely commercially marketable, including jazz swing, jazz standards, dance tunes, some classic rock or blues.  No strange niches please.

Gigs will probably be weddings, parties and corporate events, and maybe clubs.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What Factors Determine Successful Singing?

It's difficult to determine why one singer sounds really great and another just so-so.  However, if I were to list the factors that make for successful singing, I would include these:

1. Did you sing on key?  (If not, the rest of the items don't matter, you blew it.)

2. Is your voice even, i.e. not choppy or of uneven quality, throughout?  (You should be able to move from chest voice to middle voice to head voice smoothly and seamlessly, and your voice should not break.)

3. Does your voice have warmth, timbre, resonance?  (Are you learning to use the natural resonators in your throat, nose and chest?)

4. Does your voice have strength and stamina?  Does your voice sound strained, or do you hit those high notes with ease?

5. Do you sing with feeling, i.e. do you express the message of the song convincingly, as if you really feel the emotions the song tries to impart?

6.  Do you have "the IT factor," some attribute to your voice that sets it apart from everyone else, probably from a combination of tone, technique and all of the above.  (If not, then you probably aren't going to be a rock star, but you can still sing successfully with your band.)  You know when someone has this factor; when you hear them sing for the first time, you will exclaim "Man, that guy (or gal) has a terrific voice!"

I think "the IT factor" may not emerge until the first five items in this list have been fully mastered.  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

To Learn To Sing, You Must Expose Yourself to Ridicule

Learning to sing is a lot like learning public speaking.  Most people are terrified of doing either before an audience.  However, practice and experience are the only route to your goal, and so you must be willing to expose yourself to criticism.  The ridicule you fear is largely imaginary.

I received this note from a friend who actually has a nice singing voice, but doesn't realize it.  He writes:
You see, I am very self conscious and really hate hearing the sound of my own voice.  To me everybody else (you included) sound better to me. I am happy to do BV [backing vocals] and stay in my comfort zone.
Here's my reply to him:
It’s good to know that I am not the only self-doubting, self-conscious beginning singer!! They say everyone is their own worst critic; we tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on other people.

You have a good voice, far better than most who sing with bands.

When I listen to myself, I hear a hillbilly from the Ozarks wearing overalls, smoking a corn-cob pipe and carrying a jug of moonshine. Even when people say that they like it, I suspect they are secretly retching into the nearest potted plant. However, I won’t quit until I get it right. (I won’t quit even then.)

One thing I have learned is this: if you want to be a singer, you have to drop your drawers and moon the world, and do it without embarrassment. You have to be willing to screw up, to blow it, to make a fool of yourself, to expose your precious ego to ridicule, and let the chips fall where they may. For years I resisted any attempt to sing with bands, because I was protecting my ego. Now my attitude is, hey, throw tomatoes if you must, but I am trying to get better, and you can only do that by effort. Learning to sing well requires practice, time and effort, and a lot of experimentation to learn what works and what doesn’t. Feedback from trusted friends is very important. You have to know if you are on the right track, and it is almost impossible to be objective yourself, concerning your own voice. Some people will be too self-critical, and others will be too self-delusional.

Trust your voice, trust your talent. Put it out there!! You are better than you think.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A White Sport Coat

I love this old tune by Marty Robbins.  He recorded it in 1957 and it became a big hit.  It reminds me of when I took Jacky Palmer to the Senior Ball, on March 31, 1962.  Next March will make 50 years since that night.  I don't know where Jacky is today, but I hope she is well and happy.

I continue to experiment with singing in order to learn what works and what does not.  Lately I am trying to sing in a more natural, relaxed style and not try to force it.  It seems to have improved my singing.  I recorded this song several times and always hated the result, but tonight I finally got a recording that I am happy with.  Here it is.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My First Song in Spanish: "Besame Mucho"

I am taking Spanish at the local community college and getting the highest grade in the class. I love learning new languages. In any case, I have recorded my version of "Besame Mucho" in Spanish and it is embedded below.

I posted another version previously, but was very unsatisfied with it.  So today I tried again and discovered something important:  don't force it!  I was trying too hard before; on this version I focused on relaxing and singing in a more natural voice.  I think it improved my singing considerably.  However, that worked on this ballad/love song, it might not work on belt songs.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Steve Jobs on Following Your Heart

‎"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma -- which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice."

-Steve Jobs

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Back to Square One

I have been practicing with a local group here in Hollister, but they have other commitments and can only practice infrequently.  For that reason, I won't wait for them and any other bands, I will practice on my own.

My goal is to play string bass for jazz standards, jazz swing and mellow jazz.  Therefore, I will discard all practice of other music genres and concentrate on what I love.

I am currently gathering sheet music and chord charts of songs from "the Great American Song Book," that is, standards like "Moon Glow," "Star Dust," "Misty," "All of Me," etc.  I will make it my business to learn many of these songs, and then look for a jazz trio or quartet who loves the same music.

I am cutting to the chase.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"C'est Si Bon" Ow, Cela fait mal à mes oreilles! Sauve qui peut!

Anyone can make a fool of himself on the internet, but how many can make a fool out of himself in French?  Only the coolest of the cool, that's who.  Below I sing "C'est Si Bon."  The key is very much within my range, so I guess I have no excuses this time.

"All of Me," a Great Jazz Standard

I rested my voice for a couple of weeks and today I recorded this sing along to karaoke, the great jazz standard "All of Me."  Recorded by Frank Sinatra, it has also been recorded or performed by Michael Bublé and Harry Connick, Jr.  All in all, I was pleased by the absence of stress in my voice.  I felt much more relaxed singing this song (rest helps).

My goal is to be able to sing well enough for gigs, i.e. live performances before an audience, without anyone throwing empty beer bottles at me or making rude noises.  Listen to the song with that in mind.  I am never going to replace Michael Bublé.

Have a listen below.

Here's the song again, with more chest voice per Bro's suggestion. This is what some people call "singing from your gut."  It doesn't feel completely comfortable to me, but I do believe it sounds somewhat better.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bassist Belinda Underwood Coming to Monterey Bay Area

Belinda Underwood
Belinda Underwood is a jazz bassist and singer from Portland, Oregon. The lady has talent, and she inspires me to go pick up my bass and practice. She will be coming to the Monterey Bay area soon for public performances. I hope to go see her.  In the video below, she plays bass to "Don't Get Around Much Anymore."  This is the kind of music I want most to play:  jazz swing/jazz standards.

I never heard of Belinda Underwood before today.  I learned of her through a link on the Monterey Bay Craig's List (under Musicians).  I watched a couple of her videos on YouTube and became an instant fan.  As well as being an accomplished bassist, she is also an incredible singer.  I purchased her first album online and downloaded it as mp3 files for instant listening.  You can buy her albums at this link.

It's hard to believe someone so talented (not to mention beautiful) isn't better known.  Vocally, she is as good as Diana Krall or Norah Jones.

What Should a Musician Do When He Doesn't Know Where He's Going?

What should you (a bass player) do when you are at a crossroads in your music career, and don't know what to do, how to plan or where to go?

Simple.  Practice your scales and arpeggios until your fingers bleed.

The basics are always worth repeating, over and over again.  Then when you do figure out your next step, you'll be ready for it.

Saith the Brahman of Bass, the Shaman of the Strings, the Mystical Musician, the Nadir of Notes.  Bass 17: 34-48.  You can look it up.

And yes, I will follow these commandments, just as soon as I finish folding my laundry.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wither Am I Drifting? My Musical Future Reconsidered

Lately I notice a feeling of angst, malaise or simple boredom with my musical efforts.  Right now I just don't know where I am going music-wise, or where I want to go.  I haven't touched my bass in three weeks, focusing on singing practice instead.

Sometimes it's good to take a step back and give it a rest.  I will let my subconscious mind sort things out and clarify my goals.  Briefly, they seem to be as follows:

1.  I want to play string bass very well.
2.  I want to sing.
3.  I want to play mellow jazz, jazz swing and jazz standards.

Classic rock isn't really a big turn-on for me.  It holds little challenge.  I am just not excited about being in a "classic rock" band.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bornia Boys Blues Band Plays at Bolado Park in Hollister, September 10, 2011

On Saturday, September 10, 2011, the Bornia Boys Blues Band played at the first annual Hot Cars and Guitars festival in Bolado Park, in Hollister, California.  I was there and managed to get some video of their performance.  Like a moron, I forgot to bring my tripod, and eventually my arms got tired of holding up the camera and there are a lot of shaky scenes as a result.  Hope you don't get seasick, but you should love the sound.

The Bornia Boys have an interesting history that is detailed at their website at this link.  The main page of their website is located here.

Here are the videos in the order they were taken:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I Sing "That's All Right Mama," a High Key Elvis Tune

I've been practicing singing exercises for about two weeks now and I can feel my voice getting stronger.  My latest challenge was to sing Elvis's great hit "That's All Right Mama."  This song is in a high key, but I wanted to be able to sing it and hit all the right notes without my voice cracking or changing radically from one register to another.  I think I succeeded.

At first I was hitting the highest notes all wrong -- going up a whole octave when such a jump was clumsy and unnecessary and produced a harsh, strained sound.  Finally, I listened to the actual Elvis recording and studied how he sang these most difficult parts, and then I copied him.  It worked.  Of course, I can't sing like Elvis, but listening to his singing certainly helped me in hitting the high notes properly.

This recording was made through the built-in computer microphone and the quality is only so-so.  I have ordered a soundblaster sound card for my laptop  that should allow me to both play and record simultaneously from the sound card, thus eliminating the noise you get by recording from the built-in computer microphone.  It should result in significant improvement in the quality of the recordings:  better balance, clarity and consistency.

Have a listen:

Self-evaluation:  Roger Love in his book "Set Your Voice Free" talks about commanding your middle voice, and indicates it's tricky to get just the right sound.  I think my voice in this recording needs to be brought down just a bit more towards chest voice.  Right now it is a tad too much in the direction of head voice.  I am not talking about changing the key, I am talking about changing the timbre:  a slightly lower voice (but in the same key) would add warmth and resonance.  I will work on it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Remembering Marty Robbins: He Sings "Beyond the Reef"

Marty Robbins would be in my top five of all time favorite male singers.  He had a magnificent voice, great tone and range.  In this video clip, Marty sings one of my favorite Hawaiian ballads, "Beyond the Reef."  He is accompanied by the great Jerry Byrd on the steel guitar.  Marty had a very strong, clear and beautiful voice, and for those learning to sing, he is an example of what a great singer can be.

A Plan for Learning to Sing With the Band

Being a good musician isn't enough if you want to have a steady source of gigs.  You have to sing.  You don't have to be the lead singer, but you must contribute vocally.  That raises considerably your value as a band member.

Here are some ways to go about it.

1.  Buy a book about singing and learn what it is all about:  the different kinds of voices, the myths and the facts about singing, common problems and solutions, posture, breathing and vocal exercises.  Any good book on singing will come with a CD of vocal exercises.  You can't learn to sing by reading about it, but reading about it will help you form an effective practice plan.  I recommend Singing For Dummies by Pamelia Phillips and Set Your Voice Free by Roger Love.

2.  Avail yourself of free online resources, like eHow's series on singing, to learn about singing.  Watch this while waiting for your books to arrive from Amazon.  (The series instructor has some great tips on things to do and to look out for.)

3. Choose the vocal exercises from the CD's that you want to practice on a daily basis.  I used iTunes to store copies of all of the exercises, then segregated out those that I intend to practice daily.  I made a CD of just these exercises for practicing while driving.  When not driving, I just play the iTunes playlist from my laptop and sing along with them at home.

4.  Keep a practice log, to keep track of what you have done and to plan for what you want to do.  I just use Word in my computer to do this.  Writing down accomplishments and goals keeps them in your subconscious which targets those goals like a heat-seeking missile.

5.  Practice singing to karaoke recordings.  To do this, you need karaoke files, and you can buy them from many different sites on the net (see sidebar for some links).  These files are usually mp3 or mp4 files, and readily play in Windows.  The best karaoke files are those that scroll the lyrics while the music plays, highlighting the lyrics to sing at any given moment (these are mp4 files).  Other karaoke files (mp3 files) merely provide the backing instrumentals and backing vocals, and the lyrics are all up to you.

You can get a lot of free karaoke files off of YouTube.  Search for "karaoke" and a lot of them will queue up. You can download these as MP4 files using  (Copy and paste the YouTube URL into keepvid and it will download the videos onto your own computer.)

6.  Record yourself singing along to the karoake files, for playback and analysis.  While singing along to the karaoke files, you can simultaneously record your voice using free recording software from the net.  The best of these is probably Audacity.  Once you've recorded your singing with Audacity, you can export it to an mp3 file.  An mp3 file (if you don't know) is a music file that plays once you click on it.  You can save it to disk or even email it to other band members for comments, criticism and suggestions.

You can even embed mp3 files into a website, as I have done previously in this blog, using a third party website that hosts these files.

Although it is shocking the first time you hear yourself singing, don't be discouraged.  Everyone feels that way.  They hear their own voice and say "Ugh!"  However, keep at it and the recordings will improve over time.  These recordings help you to know when you're ready to sing before an audience.

More About Learning to Sing

I left my band in San Jose to join one in my own home town of Hollister, exchanging an hour commute for one less than ten minutes.  This new band wants all members to contribute vocally, so I have been studying books and CD's on singing and practicing daily.  I have never sung before, except some minor backing vocals.  I am having fun with it.  My former band was very weak vocally, but the new band is quite strong with beautiful singing voices. My goal is to provide excellent backing vocals for the band, and sing a few songs as lead.

I have been scouring the net for song material:  chords and lyrics, karaoke files with which to practice singing, and trying to get my audio mixer to work with my laptop for better recording.  It looks like I will have to get a Sound Blaster soundcard, to allow simultaneous recording and playback from the soundcard (as opposed to recording from the speakers and picking up background noise, computer hum, etc).

I have been gathering my favorite songs of all time, and have found it to be an emotional experience.  Listening to these old songs brings many memories to life:  lost loves, lost youth, the time I courted my wife and the songs that helped me propose, and of course, a feeling of sorrow for great musical performers who have since died, like Elvis, Kui Lee and Vince Guaraldi.  Singing some cherished ballads is almost a spiritual experience, and puts me in a meditative mood, pondering the questions of life and death.

I've sung myself hoarse from yesterday's practicing, so I will give my vocal chords a day off today.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Singing "Big River" (an Old Johnny Cash Tune)

Many years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, a friend of ours, one Jim Miller, loaned us a few Sun label records of Johnny Cash.  One of the songs was "Big River."

Funny how almost every song I hear reminds me of some woman or girl.  This one reminded me of Marcia Willis, a little blonde from Oklahoma who had a southern accent, and Johnny Cash's experience with a similar female (as told on "Big River") closely mirrored my own, at least in emotion.

So my song for today is "Big River."  I sang from my middle voice in order to avoid a nasal sound.  Here it is:

I notice that I am just a little sharp on the low notes that come at the end of a lyric, e.g. "I'm gonna sit right here until I die," with "die" being the low note.  I can easily hit that low note in my chest voice, but I am singing the song in my middle voice.  Transitioning smoothly from one voice to another is a skill acquired through practice.  I should be able to instantly transition from middle voice to chest voice in order to hit that note.  My vocal exercises cover this skill.  Now that I am aware of it I can work on it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I Begin Singing Practice

Click For Larger Image
I decided earlier this week to begin practicing some of the singing exercises in "Singing for Dummies," a book that comes with a CD.  I didn't want to start at the beginning, so I chose two chapters with the most potential for improving my vocals.  They are Chapter 11, "Developing the Parts of Your Singing Voice" and Chapter 12, "Expanding Your Flexibility and Range."  I found the tracks on the CD that cover these two chapters and burned them to a CD using iTunes.

Today I had an hour's drive to San Jose to have lunch with a friend.  A car is a great place to practice singing exercises, because no one else can hear you.  So I sang Tracks 15-48, covering both chapters above.  I sang them as well as I could with sincere effort, even repeating some that I didn't quite get on the first time through.

I paid attention to how the exercises sounded and how they made me feel.  I became more conscious of my head voice, middle voice and chest voice, all of which are exercised by these recordings.

By the time I arrived at the restaurant in San Jose, I had finished all of the tracks and my voice was feeling a bit tired, like a muscle that has been exercised.  That's a good thing.

I now have a singing practice routine.  Knowing what to do is half the battle.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stogie Sings "It's Now or Never" (Eat Your Heart Out, Elvis)

My efforts to learn how to sing continue.  In an effort to make sure no one ever, at any time, visits this blog, I have embedded my latest effort below.  It is "Now or Never," made popular by the great Elvis Presley.

One of the biggest challenges to this song is that it is in a relatively high key, and the singer must go to his head voice or higher register.  In spite of this, I think I managed to stay on key throughout.

Here it is:

Bro Sings "Scotch and Soda" and I Do Too

Bro, my older brother, tried his chops on "Scotch and Soda" and it sounds quite nice.  Here it is:

I noticed that Bro's voice is much better balanced with the instrumental portion, and his added touch of echo gives it a professional feel.  I don't have the software and equipment yet to match that, but I did re-record the song and used a somewhat softer voice.  I think it is an improvement over my first attempt:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tom Shaw Trio: Class in Tuxedos

I like this trio.  They are what I aspire to be.  Well, actually, I don't aspire to be a trio, just a bass player in a jazz trio or quartet.

Setting Your Goals for Music

It's always a good idea to write down your goals.  Writing them down helps you to understand what those goals are and gives your subconscious a target to aim at.  You should also identify the time period in which the goals are to be achieved.  Having open-ended goals means that they won't be achieved.

My goals (right now) over the next year (to the end of 20120 are these:

1.  To know my string bass neck thoroughly by feel, and to be able to play every major and minor scale and major and minor arpeggio instantly and accurately, including modes.  This will develop my ear and muscle memory to a fine point.  To do this, I must practice for an hour or more every day and make it a regular "must do," like brushing my teeth.

2.  To become much more adept at reading sheet music and charts, so as to learn and play new songs more quickly and accurately.

3.  To play my string bass in practice and gigs; not to replace my bass guitar, but to augment my musical effort.  To do this I must practice my string bass more and learn the best way to amplify it for gigs.

4.  To understand and apply voice leading techniques to bass playing.  This means dissecting the chords in all blues keys and standards that I know, and arranging the arpeggios to produce smooth bass lines.

5.  To play at least 50 top jazz standards well on string bass.  (If I learn one new standard a week, this won't be difficult.)

6.  To develop my singing voice well enough to support the band's vocal efforts, and to be able to sing without fear or shame because I will actually sound good!  This means I must practice singing every day as well as practicing bass, and must devise a practice plan for doing so.

7.  To gig weekly for pay, using my string bass, my bass guitar, and my singing voice.

Well those are my goals for right now.  What are yours?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My First Vocal Efforts: "Scotch and Soda" and "All of Me"

I have been reading about learning to sing, and one of the first things you must do is lose your fear and your shyness. Let it all hang out, baby. Putting a recording of your own amateur singing voice on the web is like mooning a band of mad Apaches...with bows and arrows!

Nevertheless, here's my first effort, recorded after many unrecorded trial runs, using only my laptop's built in microphone to record it...but enough excuses, have a listen.

Here's "Scotch and Soda":

The balance isn't great -- my voice is too loud compared to the instrumentals.  I will work on getting a better balance.

Here's "All of Me":

My feeling is that it's a start, but only a start to build on.  I need better recording equipment and software.  My voice is too loud in these recordings and seems blaring and harsh.  I'd love to turn my own volume down a bit and add a touch of bass.    Anyone know of any good and not too expensive solutions to these problems?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Scotch and Soda: Kingston Trio, One of My All-Time Favorites

I have loved this song since I first heard it fifty years ago.  It was recorded by the Kingston Trio in 1958.  They were amazing.  I was in love with a girl and it wasn't going anywhere, and this song always gave me solace without actually needing a drink.  The song is now listed as part of the jazz genre.  I purchased a karaoke version of the song and will use it to practice singing this week.

Rattle Snake Ridge Band Kickin' Butt, Menlo Park, July 4th, 2011

My friend Jeff Perez and his group, The Rattlesnake Ridge Band, in a live performance. They played at the Veterans Administration facility on July 4th, in Menlo Park, California. My former band, Legends in Their Own Minds played as well.

I have often stated that the Legends are weak vocally, and the RR boys really outshined us in singing on that day. Have a listen.

Can I Learn to Sing?

One thing I like about the Shiloh Band, with whom I am currently practicing, is that they want a lot.  I feel challenged and I like that.  They more or less expect everyone in the band to contribute to the singing effort.  Up to now, I have only sang backup.

I sang some songs to Karaoke music yesterday and recorded it, and I am definitely not ready for prime time.  I can stay on key most of the time, but in the higher registers my voice sounds strained.

Today I started watching the free voice training videos on eHow (see sidebar for links under "Singing, etc").

The voice training instructor there says you can strengthen your voice and extend your range by practicing arpeggios with your voice, i.e. singing the separate notes of chords, ascending at half steps.  For example, sing C - E - G -C - G - E - C.    (The last C is the octave of the first).  You are singing major chords here, the first, third, fifth and the octave of the scale, up and then down again (see the C chord above as an example).  Then sing the next chord a half step up, i.e., C# - F - G# - C# - G# - F - C#, and so on.  You go as high up the scale as you can without straining your voice, and over time you will be able to go higher as your voice strengthens.

There's more to it than that, of course, and the instructor explains techniques and practice points.

This week I added singing exercises and practice to my regular practice time.  Now I not only practice bass, but singing as well.  For me, practice includes actually playing and singing, but also studying the theory behind it all.  That means reading, and you can find a lot on the web about your instrument and your voice.

I am interested in buying a software program to help me develop my singing.  Some of these, the ones that appear highest rated by users, are also the most expensive.  You get what you pay for.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Alvin the Chipmunk as Front Man for the Band

Great singing is a must for bands.  If you can sing on key, that's half the battle, but it isn't good enough.   Alvin the Chipmunk sings on key, but you wouldn't want him for a front man.  Ditto for Pee Wee Herman, Minnie the Mouse or the late Tiny Tim.

A great voice needs passion, warmth, what they call "soul."  It also needs strength.  I heard one of my new associates sing "Mustang Sally" at our last practice, and it was really good.  It was as if he had bass speakers in his throat.  He had volume and power.  He knew how to "belt."

I read something about singing recently, that said there needs to be a lot of vibration in your nose, vocal chords, lips, etc.  There are lots of tones and undertones and nuances that have to be there.

How do you get all of this?  If I knew that, I'd be a lead singer.

Leaving the Legends

I have begun practicing with a local Hollister band and by mutual agreement, have left the band "Legends in Their Own Minds."  There are many videos of the Legends practicing and gigging, embedded in this blog.  Scroll down to prior postings to find them.

I was with the Legends for one year and seven months, and it was a beneficial association for me.  Practicing twice a week, and gigging occasionally, developed my skills.  As a result, I am now the best bass player I have ever been.   Thanks for that, Legends, and good luck in the future.

I want to go in a different direction now.  I am interested in playing jazz swing and jazz standards, with some classic rock and country thrown in.  An avenue opened for me and I had to take it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Is The Optimal Number of Band Members?

If you want to get gigs, you need to reduce the number of band members as low as possible.

Six member bands may sound great, but a lot fewer gigs can afford them.  So what is the optimal number?

For a full, rock sound, I think you need three minimum:  guitar, bass and drums. For a jazz trio, keys, bass and drums.  Now if you can keep it to three band members and everyone can sing, that is the best alternative.

If you are going to play only instrumentals, the lack of a lead singer isn't a problem.  However, if you are going to play rock, standards, country and numerous other genres, you have to have a lead singer.  You can then recruit a great singer and add a fourth member to the band.  If this is necessary, look for a singer who also plays an instrument, perhaps rhythm guitar.  A rhythm guitar isn't strictly necessary, but it does give a band a richer sound.  If the rhythm guitar player can also double on harmonica, all the better.

Once you have developed a reputation, a following and are getting gigs, then you can think about adding a keyboard player, a saxophonist or other musician.

In most bands, however, the singing is the key to success.  You have to have a good lead singer.  Without one, you won't get as many gigs or playing opportunities.

Monday, August 8, 2011

How I Learn New Songs: a Roadmap for Bassists

I am learning a lot of new songs in preparation for a band performance.  I follow a predictable pattern in learning new songs.

1.  Buy a copy of the songs off of (or Napster or other sites) or record them off of YouTube videos.  The quality of the latter is good enough to practice with, but if you want to listen to these tunes in your car, it's better to buy a quality copy.

2.  Listen to the recorded songs from #1 above, particularly if you aren't familiar with the songs.  Listen for the bass part and mentally note any "signature riffs."  Signature riffs are bass runs that the audience will expect to hear if the performance is to be credible.  An example might be the bass part to Creedence's "Down on the Corner" or Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman."  You have to play these riffs.

3.  Create a song list (I use Excel for its editing and sorting abilities) of all the songs.  For my current project, I have listed the songs by set, sequence number and key (the key used by the band, not the original performer necessarily).

4.  Download chords and lyrics for each song in the list.  You can do this at or other sites (see links in the left sidebar).  Print out the songs and put them in order.  If you can't find the chord tabs in the desired key, you can convert the chord notations using a chord chart converter.  I will prepare one and post in a subsequent post; meanwhile, google "music chord converter" or some such and you will no doubt find one on the web.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Successful Band MUST Have Excellent Singing Voices

On Thursday evening last, I practiced with a local band here in Hollister, the Shiloh Band.  Actually, I only practiced with the two lead singers just to get acquainted, and I may begin playing with them on a regular basis, if the rest of the band likes me (and I like them).

One thing that impressed me was the quality of singing voices in Noelle and Steve Sladon.  You can't play and sing the Eagles' "Love Will Keep Us Alive" without really excellent voices.  You may get by in a pinch with a mediocre voice, belting out rough and guttural rock songs, but that isn't going to take you far enough.  The voices are the steak, the instrumentation merely the condiments.

I don't believe the band I am currently in will go very far with our current vocal abilities.  However, I don't contribute much to our vocal effort, so it's easy for me to say.  One thing is certain, however, I must sing more and I must improve my singing voice through training and practice. I must contribute a lot more than I am now doing, because problems don't fix themselves and merely griping about a problem won't fix it.

As a bass player, it is difficult to sing lead and play bass riffs at the same time.  It can be done, as Paul McCartney has proved, but I am yet to do that.  I will start including singing as part of my practice routine, recording it and striving to improve it.  In the vocals department, every member of the band must contribute.  Simply playing an instrument is not enough.

I will look into voice training and lessons as well, and let you know what I find out.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dan Peek Dies; Co-Founded Rock Band "America"

Dan Peek Is On Left
Dan Peek has died at age 60.  He co-founded the band "America," that played such hits as "Sister Golden Hair," "A Horse With No Name" and "Ventura Highway."

A news report said:
Peek, whose father was in the U.S. Air Force, had met the two other members of America — Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley — while attending high school in London. After signing a record contract, America was an almost instant sensation with songs featuring tight harmonies over catchy tunes. All told, America had three platinum and three gold albums, along with eight Top 40 hits, from 1971 through 1975.

"It was a joyous time for the three of us, full of excitement and laughter," Bunnell wrote on the band's website after learning of Peek's death. "We created lasting music together and experienced a life that we could never have imagined."
Read more:Anniston Star - Dan Peek founding member of band America dies

Lots of people start bands, and a few of those bands attain greatness.  RIP, Dan Peek.

Enjoy my favorite "America" tune in the video embedded below.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rattlesnake Ridge Band, Blues Medley

Here's a blues medley from some friends of ours, the Rattlesnake Ridge Band. Pretty hot!

Click to play.

Ted Plays "Autumn Leaves," Jazz Style; Sue Sings "Summertime"

Bro tries his hand at jazz piano, with "Autumn Leaves."

Not bad, big brother. Have a listen below.

The fairer part of the act (Sue) sings "Summertime" and does a record-quality job of it.
Listen below.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Long Ago and Far Away: Remembering Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin in 1968, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco
My band practices in the music room of our guitar player's house in San Jose.  Bill, the guitar player, has a lot of music memorabilia hanging on the walls.  He has a framed photo of Janis Joplin, sitting on the hood of a psychedelic 1965 Porsche, parked right in front of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.  That's the photo on the right.

The photograph was taken in 1968 but the Palace of Fine Arts, built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, looks exactly the same today.  (It is located at 3301 Lyon Street, SF 94123).  In the early 70's I sometimes wandered the grounds and structures at night with my pal, Gary Potts, fellow accountant, after getting blasted at Henry Africa's.  I remember looking up at the high ceiling of the dome from inside and feeling frightened by the height.

Later, I took my girlfriend there during the day for a romantic walk, and we later married (and still are married).

In any case, a lot of memories came to life in viewing this old photo of Janis Joplin.  During the days of  1966 - 1968, my father owned a music store in San Jose and sold guitars, amplifiers and speaker columns to members of famous bands.   Janis Joplin's band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, rented some speaker columns from us.  I saw Janis Joplin perform, up close and personal, at the Loser's South (now the Italian Gardens) nightclub in San Jose, where she wandered through the customers' tables, stopping and singing in the midst of us.  I thought she screamed her songs too much and found her appearance plain (no makeup at all) and rather dowdy.  Janis was never one for sartorial splendor I guess.  She could, however, be pretty and sexy when she wanted to.

The Jefferson Airplane was there that night, too, and at break I was sitting a few feet away from Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, who compared musician union membership cards with two very-long-haired members of Big Brother.  The Big Brother guys informed Kaukonen that they had joined the Seattle union instead of the San Francisco union, as they got a better deal on dues.  Funny, it was just a mundane conversation but I still remember the gist of it forty years later.  (Continued below the break)

Jerry Ragovoy, Writer of Soulful Ballads, Dies at 80

Great song writer dies:
Jerry Ragovoy, who wrote or collaborated on some of the most soulful ballads of the 1960s, including the Rolling Stones hit “Time Is on My Side” and the Janis Joplin signatures “Piece of My Heart,” “Cry Baby” and “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder),” died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 80.
Read it all here.

We all gotta go and none of us are getting any younger.  Practice baby, practice, practice, practice.  Gig, gig, gig.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Decoding the Upright Bass: Voice Leading

A few years ago I became very interested in how a computer works, so studied various programming languages, i.e. machine language, Basic and C.  I wrote programs and debugged them, and figured out how to do things.  It was very instructional and also very intuitive.

Now I want to figure out how an upright bass works, and the program that I need to learn and apply is music theory.  Right now I am studying "voice leading," which is moving from one chord to the next, but since bassists play one note at a time, you must play the appropriate note in the "next" chord.  Specifically, you must play the closest note in the following chord to keep the intervals as small as possible.  This results in a smooth, fluid bass line.

For example, if you play F7 chord and then Bb7 chord, you could just play the straight arpeggios in order:

F7   = F, A, C, Eb
Bb7 = Bb, D, F, Ab

It would sound right but not very cool or fluid.  Instead, you might play Bb7 this way:
D, F, Ab, Bb (on the second and first stings)

Or also like this:
D, Bb, Ab, F (open D and then on the third and fourth strings)

With "voice leading" you play the nearest note in the next chord, which in this case is third of Bb, or D, as above.  Voice leading is the key to constructing professional, smooth sounding bass lines, by stringing the chords together in a fluid line.

The only way to learn to play "voice leading" chords in a bass line is to figure them out.  Take all the chord changes in the key of F (a blues key), figure out the voice leading note (or transition note), then play all the chords as a bass line.  Memorize the changes, play them like scales to instill them into your subconscious.

Shane Allessio, an accomplished upright bassist, discusses voice leading at the following link.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Legends" Band Performs Over Hot Weekend and Holiday

Gig at a Private Party
Our band, "Legends in Their Own Minds" performed at a private party on Saturday, July 2nd, in San Jose, California.  Although they day was very hot, we enjoyed the gig, playing in a large backyard in the hills overlooking San Jose.  We were covered by a canvas canopy, and that helped, but it was like playing in a sauna until a breeze finally kicked in.

On July 4th, we played for veterans at the Veteran's Administration facility in Menlo Park, California.   The weather was much cooler than on Saturday, and we enjoyed ourselves as we played for a large crowd of festive vets and their families.  We shared the gig with some band friends, the Rattlesnake Ridge band.  They opened the entertainment, we played after them, and they closed the show.  We were very happy with the favorable reaction we received; several people came up to the bandstand to express their appreciation and enjoyment.

We all felt the band is reaching some kind of turning point, where our performance is moving up a notch.  I felt very comfortable with my bass playing, enjoying the thrill of having my subconscious serve up new riffs and runs that I hadn't played before, trying new things on the fly and having them work.  I am big on improvisation, as opposed to merely playing memorized bass lines, but only for songs where such improvisation is appropriate, e.g. jazz, standards, etc.  For classic rock you need to play the signature riffs that the audience loves and expects.

After this weekend of heavy gigging, we are postponing any further practices until Sunday, to recuperate from the heat and the physical activity.  It takes a lot of effort to run a band, and not just from practicing and playing.  Loading and unloading equipment, setting up speaker systems, plugging in and testing the microphones, arranging the systems, then the breaking down and carrying it all back home again...many folks don't understand how much effort is involved.  That's why bands should be paid something for their performances, at least enough to reimburse for gas and costs.  (We were paid for the Saturday gig but the July 4th gig is our charitable contribution to our veterans, which we were happy to provide.)

After the July 4th gig, we retired to our drummer's home in Palo Alto to eat and relax, and talk about a new song list for future performances.  It was a satisfying three-day weekend.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hot Act From Fallon, Nevada!

Dynamic Duo, Ted and Sue
Here's a hot act from Fallon, Nevada, featuring my older brother Ted and his singer, Sue!

In this Carpenters' tune, Ted plays keys while Sue sings very well.  Have a listen.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jim Morrison: Dionysian Shaman or Acid-Addled Freak?

Pamela Courson and Jim Morrison
Dead by Heroin
Photo:  Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson.

I watched Oliver Stone's 1991 movie on the life of Jim Morrison, on  It stars Val Kilmer as the strange rock star of the Doors, an acid rock band that performed and recorded from 1967 to 1971.  The Doors are famous for such rock hits as "Light My Fire," "LA Woman," "Riders on the Storm," and "No One Here Gets Out Alive."

Kilmer actually sang the Morrison songs in the 1991 film, and he was simply awful.  He portrays Morrison as he most likely was in life: a narcissistic, self-absorbed addict who made a concerted effort to erase all viable brain cells with a steady regimen of hard liquor and drugs.  In the process, Kilmer's Morrison goes on stage wasted, insulting the audience, improvising incoherent lyrics to songs, and greatly aggravating both club owners and fellow band members.   Off stage, Kilmer's Morrison is depicted as screwing every female within a three mile radius.  Naked women are seen running through the halls of his hotel while his common law wife, Pamela Courson, suffers the infidelity.  When he isn't copulating, Morrison is depicted smashing things and screaming at Courson.

The film portrays some real events in the life and dubious career of Jim Morrison:  his confrontation with the police in a New Haven, Connecticut concert, where he was arrested on stage, leading to a fan riot in the streets; his alleged indecent exposure on a Miami stage.  Per Wikipedia:
During a Doors concert on March 1, 1969, at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, Florida, Morrison gave a controversial performance. The restless crowd was subjected to Morrison's lack of interest in singing, as well as to his emotional outbursts, screaming challenges to the audience, and making irreverent social statements. A few days later, on March 5, the Dade County Sherrif's office issued a warrant for Morrison's arrest claiming Morrison deliberately exposed his penis while on stage, shouted obscenities to the crowd, simulated oral sex on guitarist Robbie Krieger and was drunk at the time of his performance. Morrison turned down a plea bargain that required The Doors to perform a free Miami concert. He was later convicted, sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to pay a $500 fine. However, Morrison appealed this conviction and died in Paris before serving his sentence.
In fairness, the bit about exposing himself was later proved untrue; only one witness claimed to have witnessed Morrison's penis, and she was a cousin of the arresting officer.  However, Morrison was guilty of all the other charges, e.g., public drunkenness, public obscenities, etc.  Some sources say he tried to induce the Miami audience to riot, but failed in the attempt.

At the end of his career, Jim Morrison was showing signs of substance-abuse dementia at the band's last and final concert:
During the Doors' last public performance, at The Warehouse in New Orleans, Louisiana, on December 12, 1970, Morrison apparently had a breakdown on stage. Midway through the set he slammed the microphone numerous times into the stage floor until the platform beneath was destroyed, then sat down and refused to perform for the remainder of the show.
Morrison moved with his common law wife, Pamela Courson, to Paris in March 1971.  He spent several weeks taking walks through the city and visiting all of the usual tourist attractions.  However, on July 3, 1971, after spitting up blood and complaining of chest pains, decided to take a bath.  Courson found him dead in the bath tub at 5 AM.  Morrison had apparently died of a heart attack induced by a drug overdose.  No autopsy was made, however, to confirm the cause of death.  He was 27 years old.

Morrison was buried in the famous Parisian cemetery Pere Lachaise on July 7, 1971.  This cemetery holds the remains of many famous people, such as Frédéric Chopin, Eugène Delacroix, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde.  One of my favorite French singers, Yves Montand, is buried there as well.

Morrison's grave was soon a gathering place for fans who share Morrison's fascination with death; they scaled the walls at night to place lighted candles on his headstone, while smoking pot, shooting up or drinking booze, leaving used needles, flowers, empty bottles and other paraphernalia behind. Morrison's bust (a statue of Morrison's head and shoulders) on the grave, as well as surrounding walls and tombs, were soon festooned with graffiti. In later years, someone stole the bust and cemetery officials removed the graffiti. Night patrols now discourage nocturnal visits from drug-addled fans, but they still come in the daylight.

Morrison's wife, Pamela Courson, went home to California and died of a heroin overdose in 1974 [see death certificate].  Her ashes are entombed there.

The Jim Morrison story is interesting to me. He, like Obama and many other "celebrities," has become a fantasy for fans, who impute great poetic, intellectual or shaman-like qualities to their idol. Morrison, however, was a weak man of limited talents who self-destructed in an orgy of nihilistic self-indulgence.

Here's a video of Morrison performing his most famous hit, "Light My Fire":

Learn To Read Bass Notes: The Bass Clef

Learning to read notes is not as difficult as you may think; it merely takes repetition of exercises. Reading notes is useful when studying bass riffs and exercises.

Here is the bass clef with the bass notes that are playable on a four string bass guitar or upright bass. The first two notes, low C and low D, are not playable on a four string bass, but I put them in just for theory's sake.

NOTE: Read from the bottom of the staff first. The first space note is A, followed by C, E and G (remember "All Cows Eat Grass").  Read the line notes from bottom to top also; the first line on the staff is G, followed by B, D, F and A ("Good Boys Do Fine Always").

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"The King and Us" Performs at Bill's Party, June 11, 2011

"The King and Us" is a rock quartet that features Johnny, an Elvis impersonator. Johnny also sings other rock classics besides Elvis, but the Elvis theme makes for a fun performance.

Note: the video ends abruptly in the middle of the second song. My camcorder battery died. I have to get a second battery.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Videos From Practice Session of June 5, 2011

These are videos of our practices, for use in evaluating and finding what and how to improve our band.  They are not intended to be polished performances.  However, suggestions and criticisms are welcome -- viewers can help us improve!

My World Is Empty Without You

Me and Bobby McGee

Island Style

Friday, June 3, 2011

Learning Minor Scales

This week I am studying natural minor scales.  To do this I am listening to Jamey Aebersold's CD "Minor Blues in All Keys," and practice minor scales.

If you want to learn to play jazz, Aebersold's series of booklets and CD's are excellent (see

Here is a chart of natural minor scales:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Train Your Ear and Learn the Bass Neck: Practicing Scales Are a MUST

If you are a newbie to bass, or even someone fairly experienced, practicing scales is a must.

By playing scales, you will:

1.  Train your ear;
2.  Learn your bass neck;
3.  Condition your fingers.

Practicing major scales means playing the "do re mi fa sol la ti do" sound, starting with each note in the scale.

For example, to play C major scale, you play C D E F G A B C.

To play F major scale, you play F G A Bb C D E F.

Memorize each scale so that you can play it forward and backward quickly and without hesitation.

Consult the chart on the right for the notes in each major scale.   Then play each one in the order shown above, which is in "Circle of Fourths" order (this will help train your ear).  When you play each note, say the note out loud - this will affix the location of each note in your memory.  Play up the scale and then down the scale (for example, CDEFGABC CBAGFEDC).

To find the location of the notes, consult the graphic immediately below:

Start simply.  Learn C scale first.  Play the notes as follows:

Remember, you count the strings from the bottom up.  The string on the bottom is G, the next up is D, then A and finally (on top) is E.

Finally, watch this video to hear the C Major scale and how it is played:

Some Thoughts on Playing String Bass

My Fully Carved String Bass,
a Calin Wultur Panormo
I have been practicing and gigging with the band herein for a year and a half.  During that time I have used my electric bass guitar exclusively.  I own two string basses, one a laminate and the other a fine carved bass.  My two string basses were only gathering dust in my music room at home.  Oh, I would practice on them from time to time, but the strings hurt my fingers too much and there seemed to be little opportunity to actually play them with the band.  For one thing, string basses are large and not easy to transport.

Here's how I started to actually use and play my string basses.

1.  I changed the strings from heavy gauge to medium gauge, making the basses easier to play and more comfortable on my sore fingers.

2.  I took the laminate bass to our practice room and left it there (on a bass stand).  Now it will be there for each and every practice, making it unnecessary to transport it every time.

3.  I started actually playing the string bass with the band, and this is an important point.  If you want to learn to play string bass, then play the darn thing.  It won't play itself, and once you begin, you start becoming familiar with the instrument and learning the best techniques for playing it.  (You won't bother learning the best techniques until you have a pressing need to do so, i.e. because you are actually playing the bass with a band.)

So I began playing string bass with "Stray Cat Strut," an easy song for bass and a nice starting point for my career as a string bassist.  Once you have begun, you can move forward.  I'm excited by the possibilities.

Note:  You really must amplify your bass in order to be heard.  I use a $90 simple bass microphone that plugs into my bass amp with a regular guitar cord.  You can order these from Gollihur Bass at this link.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Stray Cat Strut" With String Bass!

I finally tried out my string bass with the band.  It worked out better than I thought and the band loved it.  I will be using my string bass more for appropriate songs.  Meanwhile, check out these videos from our last practice (sound quality is limited due to use of a Canon hand-held camcorder).

Stray Cat Strut  (Kenny does a great job on vocals here)

Groovin' (Not really a string bass song, but this was an experiment)

Susie Q

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Sleepwalk" Played on a Pedal Steel Guitar

The song embedded below is "Sleepwalk," one of the most popular pop instrumentals of the 1950's.  (It was popular in 1959.)

My brother "Bro" plays it on his steel guitar and does justice to the original by Santo & Johnny.  Click on the arrow to play.

Here's a picture of Bro with his steel guitar.  He isn't as mean as he looks.  He's meaner.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Multi-Channel Recordings for Use as Demos

Below are some recordings our band has made for demo purposes.  We'll post more when we get them.

The sound is best when played through decent speakers; if you are listening on small computer speaksers, use earphones instead.  I mean, if you can't hear the bass, is there any point? :)

Spooky - Bill Ulibarri

Rio de Janeiro Blue -- Lindsay Worrell

Memphis - Bill Ulibarri

Sounds of My String Bass

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bass Lesson 1: Learning the Bass Neck: Notes on the Neck, Sharps and Flats

If you want to play bass, you need to know your bass neck thoroughly, and you need to be able to identify key changes and chord changes by ear and react instantly.

Let's take a look at the bass neck.  In the diagram below, the red notes depict open strings; the blue numbers depict the frets, and of course, the black notes are what you are playing.

Here's the bass neck showing only the major notes from the nut to the 12th fret:

If you move up the neck from left to right, you call the "in between" notes sharps (#) and if you move down the neck (from right to left), you call the in between notes flats (b).

Here's the bass neck, showing the sharps between major notes.

Let's get oriented. If you are playing a right-handed bass, you play the above notes with your left hand and pick the strings with your right hand. Looking down at your bass neck, the bottom string in the above graphic is actually the top string, the thickest of the four strings. That's the E string (so called because when you play that string "open," without any left hand fingers touching it, the note is E). The string below it is the A string, then the D string and finally, the G string.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Two Good Examples of a Great Country Sound

Our band does two great Patsy Cline songs, "Crazy" and "Walking After Midnight."  Here are two videos of a professional group performing them.  I would love to attain this level of professionalism.  We move in that direction with every practice.

Note especially how this performer sings with passion and feeling, what we call "soul."  It isn't enough just to sing the words, you need to sing them as if you believe them.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Practice Session of Sunday, January 16, 2011

I have started filming our practice sessions.  I am posting the best of these sessions here.

This first post features our new lead guitar player, Lorraine Lewis.  Lorraine's guitar riffs add an important new element to the band.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Recent YouTube Videos of the Band

Here are some recent videos of my band playing gigs.  To hear my bass you will need to listen with headphones, as small computer speakers cannot reproduce the sound.

Played at a Christmas Party, December 14, 2010, VA Hospital in Palo Alto, CA


Thursday, January 6, 2011

More Videos of the Band -- Taken July 2010

These videos were taken at the Livermore, CA VA Hospital in July, 2010.  We had lost our female singer and our guitar player had to carry the day by singing all the songs himself.

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay