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Tag: technique

Groove of The Week #49: Damian Erskine – ‘Kaluanui’

Damian’s Drum-influenced Double-Stops Following on from last week’s double stop adventures with Hiatus Kaiyote, it’s time for another contemporary chordal groove. This edition of Groove of The Week comes courtesy…

Damian’s Drum-influenced Double-Stops

Following on from last week’s double stop adventures with Hiatus Kaiyote, it’s time for another contemporary chordal groove. This edition of Groove of The Week comes courtesy of modern bass master Damian Erskine (his uncle is the Peter Erskine) and provides one hell of a workout for both hands:

As with many of the grooves that underpin Damian’s debut album (2010’s ‘So To Speak’), the introduction to ‘Kaluanui’ showcases his incredible command of rhythmic ideas and dynamic contrast. In between each chordal flourish is a series of of ghost notes that act as an additional percussion instrument, giving the line a sense of perpetual motion and augmenting the groove without overcrowding the harmonic content.

 

Speaking of the harmonic content, the groove sits predominantly in F major, using double stop 10ths to imply Bb major, A minor, D minor and C major. On the third iteration of the line there’s a brief departure to a new tonality with the arrival of a D/F# chord.

As far as the left hand is concerned, I fret all the major 10ths with 2nd and 4th fingers, while minor 10ths are covered by 1st and 2nd fingers (or 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers in the case of the D minor chord shape that appears in bars 4 and 16).

10ths are a great way of conveying chordal sounds in a ‘shorthand’ fashion and a useful addition to any bassist’s toolkit as they tend to ‘speak’ more clearly than more densely populated chords. Notice how some of the major chords feature a hammer-on from the 9th into the 10th, which is a great way to add melodic interest to an otherwise chordal line.

As far as the right hand goes, ‘Kaluanui’ is a great groove to use as a developmental tool for your palm muting skills – I’ve used the classical guitar system for naming the plucking fingers (p=thumb, i=index finger, m=middle finger). It might take a while for the p,m,i motion required to execute the ghost notes to feel comfortable, but once you’ve mastered it then it’s great way to add a percolating percussive element to your bass parts where appropriate; it’s no surprise to learn that Damian Erskine started out his musical career as a drummer, switching to bass once he was at the Berklee College of Music – lots of his grooves feel like they were composed from a ‘rhythm first’ perspective.

For a deeper insight into Damian’s highly evolved right hand technique, take a look at his book Right Hand Drive.

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Unorthodox Instructionals Part 5: The Worst Book For Bassists (and what to practise instead)

For the fifth and final installment of my ‘Unorthodox Instructionals’ series it’s time to deal with the number one thing that bass players seem to be bothered about. The Holy…

For the fifth and final installment of my ‘Unorthodox Instructionals’ series it’s time to deal with the number one thing that bass players seem to be bothered about.

The Holy Grail

Every bass magazine I read is full of it, every bass forum I visit has hundreds of threads debating what to do about it and every student that comes to see me wants more of it.

What am I talking about? Technique. Everyone seems preoccupied with how to have more control over their fingers, possess greater command of the instrument and coax more notes out of the bass with less effort.

 

Are You Wasting Your Time On Technique?

Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting more chops per se, it’s just that lots of us go about it in the wrong way. I’m talking about this sort of thing:

 

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I bought this book when I was 16 and spent hours working through it cover to cover. It seemed to be the magic bullet for fixing my technique – after all, it proudly states that it’s endorsed by a host of big name players and major music schools so it had to be good, right?

Wrong. But why?

Why Bass Fitness Is The Biggest Waste Of Time For Bassists

There are lots of reasons why this book is junk*, but here’s the most important one:

None of the 200 finger exercises make any musical sense – I can’t find a single one that contains genuinely worthwhile content that anyone in their right mind would actually play on a gig. Most of them look like this:

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Gross.

So why did I waste my time working through 200 finger-twisting patterns that would never really result in any improvement to my playing? I didn’t know any better.

As a teenager in the pre-Youtube world I was at the mercy of what I saw in bass magazines and Hot Licks VHS tapes. As I got older (and hopefully wiser) I discovered that the way to develop my technique was to find music that tested my technical limitations and play the hell out of it really slowly.

Here’s the reality of the situation: you are what you practise. So, if you want to get better at playing music then practise music, not maths. It sounds obvious but it’s amazing how many players (including my former self) get sucked into looking for answers in the wrong places.

So the real question is:“What should I practise instead if I want to work on technique?”

How To Effectively Develop Your Technique

The answer is to practice real music. Find something that you love the sound of but can’t play up to tempo yet, slow it down and work out how it fits on your instrument (using a couple of different fingerings if possible).

Start by playing it slower than you think you need to, without a metronome. Spend no more than 10 minutes at a time working on it but come back to it every day – within a couple of weeks it’ll be second nature.

Final Book Recommendations

In keeping with the rest of the series I should recommend an unusual instructional book that I’ve found beneficial for my technique, so here’s one. In fact, here are two:

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Piano exercises on bass? Back in 2005 when I was in my first year of my music degree I turned up to a morning sight reading lecture to find that we were having a guest lecture from a then relatively unknown bassist called Janek Gwizdala. Regardless of how you might feel about Janek or his approach to the instrument you can’t argue with his technique – I’d never seen anyone play the bass with such technical fluency. Being the curious type I quizzed him about what he’d worked on to develop his chops, and his response included the Hanon Virtuoso Pianist, which is a staple of classical piano pedagogy.

It’s essentially a series of exercises that involve sequencing the major scale in lots of different permutations, and since it’s written for pianists it contains a number of things that are technically awkward to play on a bass. Czerny is a similar idea, and I seem to remember reading in a Coltrane biography that he worked through it.

Good enough for Coltrane? Good enough for me.

With both of these titles the exercises are based on musical content, rather than permutations of finger patterns, so they definitely don’t fall into the ‘waste of time’ category. Occasionally I’ll dip into one (or both) if I feel that my fingers are being unusually disobedient.

Have I missed one of your favourite instructional books? Tell me about it!

So we’ve covered harmony, borrowing from upright bass, sight reading, ear training and technique – have I missed anything? let me know by commenting on this post.

*other reasons to avoid this book include (but are by no means limited to): heavy reliance on TAB, extensive use of 1 Finger Per Fret in the lower areas of the bass, the cover art.

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Unorthodox Instructionals Part 2 – Franz Simandl's New Method For The Double Bass

In the 2nd post on unusual instructional books for electric bassists (part 1 can be found here) we’re examining the benefits of Franz Simandl’s ‘New Method For The Double Bass’….

In the 2nd post on unusual instructional books for electric bassists (part 1 can be found here) we’re examining the benefits of Franz Simandl’s ‘New Method For The Double Bass’.

Simandl

I discovered this book while studying with Austrian bass titan (and ibassmag contributor Stefan Redtenbacher and spent a long time working through it on electric bass years before I ever touched a double bass.

 

What’s it about?

Way back in the early 1900s, Austrian double bass virtuoso and renowned educator Franz Simandl published his method for double bass, which offered bassists with a logical, incremental approach to mastering the instrument.

 

How is a 100 year old double bass method relevant to modern electric bassists?

Many bass players have borrowed the ‘1 finger per fret’ technique from the guitar, which in certain playing situations makes a lot of sense. The problem comes when trying to apply this concept in the lower positions of the bass where the frets are further apart – the popular ‘1234’ chromatic finger exercises that are still prescribed by instructional books, bass magazines and some teachers place unnecessary strain on the left hand and wrist when applied in the lower portion of the fretboard.

I’m not alone in my hatred of these exercises – Dave Marks has made a couple of excellent videos on the subject:

Renowned bass educator Joe Hubbard also makes the point that these exercises also make no musical sense in this blog post. If you’re not aware of Joe, his list of past students includes Pino Palladino, Paul Turner (Jamiroquai) and Dave Swift (Jools Holland). Not too shabby.

The alternative is to use the approach adopted by Simandl and other similar double bass methods – dividing the bass into a series of 3-fret positions and using position shifts rather than left hand stretching to reach notes that fall out of position. Horizontal shifting is one of the most fundamental aspects of bass playing but also one of the most awkward.

Being able to execute a horizotal position shift whilst maintaining a legato sound requires a great deal of attention to detail, and Simandl’s etudes offer plenty of practice in this area.

Using Simandl’s approach, the 3rd finger isn’t used for fretting notes and instead supports the 4th finger. Applying this ‘supportive fingering‘ concept to the electric bass leads to a more secure left hand technique that reduces physical strain and (to my ears, at least) results in smoother, more effortless playing.

Benefit #1: adopting double bass technique reduces tension in the left hand, making your playing sound effortless and reducing the risk of injury.

 

Feel the benefit right now:

Let’s compare 1fpf with the 3-fret span concept using an F major scale:

1fpf means that I have to stretch my 3rd finger out to reach the notes at the 3rd fret, which results in a sharp bend in my left wrist which decreases blood flow and increases strain on the hand:

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Adopting the idea of a 3-fret position allows me to reach all of the notes without stretching or straining my left hand:

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The Lost Art of Articulation
Studying Simandl’s classical etudes also directs our attention towards two areas that electric bassists often neglect: articulation and dynamics.

Since the exercises are rhythmically simple, the entire focus is on producing a smooth, consistent sound from the instrument. Directing your attention towards note length can reveal a lot about your left hand technique and force you to reevaluate your approach – playing a passage of crotchets with seamless transitions between notes might seem like an easy exercise but the reality is surprisingly difficult.

Benefit #2: paying attention to your note length and articulation will give you greater control over the sound of the bass and enable you to adapt your sound to suit a variety of musical situations.

 

In addition to solidifying my technique and improving my ability to articulate notes in a variety of ways, Simandl helped me to really understand how to play in a variety of keys across the entire range of the bass.

Benefit #3: Working through the positional etudes will help to solidify your knowledge of key signatures and how each key ‘sits’ in different areas of the neck.

 

The fact that the entire book deals exclusively with standard notation means that studying the etudes will automatically bolster your reading abilities and improve your knowledge of the fretboard. The bass is a surprisingly difficult instrument to read on due to the fact that a single pitch can be played in a variety of locations. Play this G:

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Where is on the bass? Open G string? 5th fret D string? 10th fret A string? 15th fret E string?? It’s all of them, and the deciding factors for position are the notes that come before and after it.

Of course you need to have a decent knowledge of the fretboard in order to know that these options are available to you, and some of them may be more appropriate than others. Reading music and having a working knowledge of the entire fretboard allows you the freedom to play music in the most appropriate way for you, rather than having positions and fingerings dictated by someone else. This is one of my main gripes with TAB – it’s someone else’s opinion of how I should play a line.

Veteran bassist Lee Sklar recently picked reading music as one of his top 5 skills for bassists.

Benefit #4: Working with standard notation improves your fretboard knowledge, increases your familiarity with different key signatures and allows you to easily access music written for other instruments.

I think you get the point, so I’ll leave it there.

Do you have a favourite instructional book? Tell me about it!

I’m always interested to hear about different methods that have helped people develop musically. If there’s a book that you love and feel deserves a wider audience then let me know by commenting on this post.

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