Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Classic Rock, Classic Boredom: My Sudden Departure From My Band -- Looking Again

It's funny how one's long association with a band can end so suddenly.  That happened to me about ten days ago.  I was practicing with the classic rock band I have played with for three and a half years, on Sunday before last.  The guitar player was nitpicking and nagging me about my bass playing, something she has done since day one (she rags on all of the other band members too).  Even though I believed most of her comments and suggestions were wrong, I kept my mouth shut to avoid offending her, for the good of the band.  This turned out to be a mistake.

By not expressing disagreement, I allowed the irritation of her micromanagement to build up to a critical mass.  During this last practice, she had found a new obsession to feed her control freak streak:  the number of bass notes that I was playing on a brand new song (new to us, anyway).  The song was "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry Over You."  I think Ringo originally sang it.

I was in the process of discovering the chord pattern and not overly concerned with how close I was playing it to the record.  That would come later, when I practiced the song on my own -- as I had done many times before on prior songs.  Our obsessive-compulsive guitarist, however, felt it necessary to tell me three times that I was playing "three times as many notes" as the bass player on the record.  She was referring, not to the correct chords vs incorrect chords, she was referring to the phrasing -- how the notes are played.  This is a legitimate point, but not one to overwork or over emphasize on the first couple of run-throughs.  I put the song on my list of "new songs to learn," but the third time she mentioned it, I lost my temper.  I told her to "Shut the hell up."  She said "Fuck you" and I returned the suggestion.  Then I packed up my stuff and left, never to return.

I hate to be micro-managed.  It is one of my pet peeves.

The guitar player, Lorraine, has been vigorously pushing the band in the direction she wants to go:  playing classic rock exclusively, as close to the original recording as possible.  I have a problem with the former, not so much with the latter.  Playing classic rock exclusively is boring to me.  Lorraine has pushed us into giving up some good jazz and blues songs, simply because they weren't "classic rock."

The truth is, I want to progress musically, and ridding our repertoire of more advanced forms of music is a big step backwards.  "Classic rock" is overdone and a hard sell, and there is much competition for gigs.  I want to play jazz, blues and standards.  I want to play my string bass as well as my bass guitars.  Now that "the Universe" has taken me out of my musical dead-end, I have the opportunity to find a band or bands that are more to my liking. I feel a sense of release.  Leaving this band was a good thing.

Friday, October 18, 2013

My String Bass Practice Routine: It's Working!

My Calin Wultur Panormo
Carved String Bass
I have been playing my upright bass for the past 3 or 4 days, using Vince Guaraldi's Christmas album as the music to accompany.  My idea was to bring myself up to speed, physically, on the string bass so I can look for bands and gigs.

The practice routine is working.  Each day I seem stronger and can play longer before tiring out.  In fact, my progress is faster than I expected.  The first couple of days provided a blister on my right index finger -- the one used for plucking.  It's no longer sore and is becoming a callous.

Some aspects of playing an upright or string bass should be considered carefully before switching from bass guitar.  The upright bass is much more physically demanding.  You may be able to remove some of the stress by using medium or light gauge strings instead of heavy gauge.  I changed mine, and the results were quite beneficial.  Lighter gauge strings don't have as much volume, but if you are amplifying your bass with a pickup or microphone, that doesn't really matter.

Another physically demanding aspect of the upright is the neck.  Yes, it is much thicker and also much longer.  However, the length does not give you more notes.  The upright bass neck actually offers you less notes, not more.  The neck is long, but so are the half steps (what would be frets on a bass guitar) down the bass.  An upright player must use the open strings more often than is necessary on a bass guitar.

I was surprised this week to find how easily I can press the strings to play arpeggios and bass lines.  Yes, the neck is thick, but not so thick that an experienced bass guitarist can't handle it.

In short, my conquest of the string bass is easier than I expected, though it does require effort.  My next goal is to buy the best pickup for the bass that I can afford.  That will cost me around $195   Ouch.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Switching to Double Bass From Bass Guitar: Getting In Physical Shape

I have some time off from my regular rock band and now have the time to get up to speed on double bass (i.e. my big stand up acoustic bass).  I haven't touched my double bass in months and I know the transition back to it will involve effort.  On a stand up, the strings are usually heavier and the neck bigger.  More effort is required for both pressing and plucking the strings.  And, there are no frets!

Dealing with no frets:  I decided to deal with this my marking note positions on my neck with a Sharpie pen. I used black for regular notes and red for the sharps or flats.  Not cool, you should know just where to put your fingers totally by feel.  However, I don't have time to be cool, I want to actually know where F. G, A, B, and C is on the E string, so I can play chords (arpeggios) without guessing.

Now that that's done, I will familiarize myself with the big neck by playing major scales and arpeggios for the next two weeks.  This will condition my fingers (the bass guitar does not condition them enough for a double bass), get me used to the bigger reach for playing arpeggios, and help me learn all notes on the neck by feel.  While playing major scales and major arpeggios, I will concentrate on producing a clear tone, not a muffled one due to poor fingering.

Playing a double bass is much more physically demanding than playing a bass guitar, so my initial practice routine, as described above, should get me in shape over the next couple of weeks.

To keep the practice interesting, I will also play the double bass to some fairly easy songs and record it to discover weak spots in my playing.

I will allocate a minimum of one hour a day on double bass practice.  The above practice plan is meant mostly to get my into physical shape to play double bass.