The Electro Harmonix Bass Micro Synth gives bass players who are looking to dive into the murky waters of synth bass sounds an opportunity to access a range of classic…
The Electro Harmonix Bass Micro Synth gives bass players who are looking to dive into the murky waters of synth bass sounds an opportunity to access a range of classic synth tones without having to go anywhere near a keyboard. Although far more limited in its scope than more recent synth pedals, like the Future Impact or the Source Audio C4, the intuitive control layout of the Bass Micro Synth means that bass players can start experimenting with sounds almost instantly without having to delve into complex sub-menus:
The Bass Micro Synth is controlled by numerous sliders that govern the following parameters:
Trigger affects the dynamic level at which the effect is triggered; this can be thought of as ‘sensitivity’ or ‘threshold’. The trigger only affects parameters in the filter sweep section of the pedal
Sub Octave controls the level of the 1-octave down signal
Guitar affects the dry signal volume of the bass
Octave controls the volume of the 1-octave up signal (the octave above signal is slightly distorted to provide a richer tone)
Square Wave affects the volume of the square wave distortion
Attack Delay increases or decreases the time taken for a note to reach full volume. Higher settings can remove the intial attack from notes, resulting in a ‘bowed’ sound
Resonance controls the intensity of the filter sweep
Start Frequency and Stop Frequency govern the frequencies at which the filter sweep starts and stops; different settings can result in ‘up’ or ‘down’ sweeps
Rate controls the speed at which the filter sweeps between the start and stop frequencies
If the range of controls on the bass microsynth seems daunting then don’t panic; EHX also publish a pdf of sample settings (link here: EHX Micro Synth Sample Templates PDF) that lets you get straight to the good stuff without hours of unnecessary knob-twiddling. I went through all their tone templates to see what the pedal is capable of:
This post is a continuation of the ‘How To Practise’ series – if you haven’t already checked them out, then you can access all 5 articles here. I’d like to…
This post is a continuation of the ‘How To Practise’ series – if you haven’t already checked them out, then you can access all 5 articles here.
I’d like to make it clear from the outset that this is not my own original concept – I got this from Joe Hubbard. If you don’t know Joe, he’s taught Pino Palladino, Paul Turner, Dave Swift, Mike Mondesir and tons of other great players. I studied with him after graduating from music college and realizing that I still didn’t really know anything about harmony.
Joe has an amazing no-nonsense, high standards approach and has developed an effective, systematic way of dealing with all musical problems as they relate to the bass. I would love to tell you that I was a model student, but the truth is that I frequently showed up to my 9am Saturday lessons sleep-deprived, hung-over and generally not in any state to absorb his wisdom.
One of the biggest light bulb moments in these lessons was this idea of making the distinction between musical self-preservation and self-perfection. What do those phrases actually mean?
Self-preservation covers all of the areas that are essential for you to operate effectively on your current gigs, whatever they may be.
Self-perfection describes all of the things that you want to be able to do, musically speaking, but don’t yet have in your grasp. Whilst they aren’t necessary to fulfil your current musical job description(s), they represent how your ‘ideal musical self’ might sound.
In other words, self-preservation is what you need to do for your current gigs, while self-perfection represents the things that you need to get together in order to get the gigs that you really want in the future. In fact, it might just be a case of scratching your own musical itch, which is a perfectly valid reason in itself.
Think of it of ‘gig of your dreams vs. gig of your reality’.
Finding the right balance
The key is balancing these two areas; if you spend all your time on self-preservation then you never get to where you want to be, if you spend all your time on self-perfection then you end up with gaps in your knowledge and might not be able to effectively fulfill the obligations of your ‘day job’.
Compiling your lists
Since I don’t know what your unique situation is and I don’t want to make sweeping generalisations about the kinds of things you ought to be working on I’ll show you how I arrived at my current self-preservation and self-perfection lists.
The self-preservation list begins by answering the following questions:
– What gigs do you do regularly?
– What skills are required to perform those gigs effectively? Do all of your gigs require the same skill set?
– What are the biggest pain points associated with your current gigs?
Currently, my main gig is with The Travelling Hands, a roaming acoustic band that entertains clients at weddings and corporate events playing a range of pop tunes from the 1950s to the present day.
Granted, I didn’t pick up the bass with the goal of playing ‘Hey Jude’ in a tweed suit, but being able to eat and pay the rent every month trumps any discussion over musical credibility.
I also do a lot of dep gigs for other bands on electric bass, often at short notice.
Requirements for these gigs are:
• Playing the double bass in tune, which (for me, at least) is a lifelong struggle
• Knowing lots of tunes, many in multiple keys depending on who the singer is
• Contributing as many backing vocals as possible
The biggest source of pain for me on my current gigs is getting a call to dep with a band at short notice and having to devote more time than I want to on revising repertoire. If I combine typical setlists of the bands that I work with most often, I end up with roughly 300 tunes that I should be able to play in multiple keys without any preparation. In reality, my working repertoire is nowhere near that.
If we combine these answers to make them look like actionable tasks for the practice room, then we get:
• Double bass intonation
• Repertoire (and transposition of said repertoire)
• Vocal harmony
This is not how I thought the core of my practice routine would look when I left music college a decade ago, but this is my current musical reality.
– How do I want to sound? Which players inspire me the most?
– What don’t I know that is a source of constant annoyance/insecurity?
– Is there anything that has made me feel out of my depth on a gig?
I’ll try to keep this brief, otherwise it turns into something of a musical therapy session:
• The answer to ‘how do I want to sound?’ changes approximately every 45 minutes, so it’s a hard question to deal with. At the time of writing, it’s a mixture of Bob Berg, Wayne Krantz and Bill Evans, which could easily sound awful.
• My main area of musical frustration is that I lack fluency in the language of improvisation that has been laid out on recordings from 1950 onwards. In short, I can’t play jazz. This is not to say that I want to focus entirely on going out and getting gigs where I have to play standards, but improvising over chord changes is the most challenging thing that I can think of on the bass.
• I’d like to not be that guy that has to get out iReal Pro at a jam session because he doesn’t know any standards.
• Over the last decade I’ve taken numerous lessons and then not done the necessary homework; I have folders full of concepts that I understand on an academic level but can’t comfortably apply on the instrument.
With those answers in mind, my self-preservation list looks like this:
1. Transcribe solos to gain more jazz vocabulary
2. Commit to actually learning some standards
3. Review content from old lessons and get it together on the bass
The very act of performing this sort of analysis can be quite illuminating – things that you thought were of great importance are suddenly revealed as ‘icing on the cake’, while other priorities come sharply into focus. Repertoire, for example, has cropped up on both lists, which is a clear indication that I should be devoting much more time to it.
It’s important to note that, as with everything in life, this is not static. Items may move up and down the list or even disappear entirely depending on what the next 6-12 months look like, musically speaking.
We’re going to stray into the what of practicing, but I’ve tried not to be too prescriptive, because chances are that we’ve never met and I don’t know what your musical goals are. I’ve used my own practice routine as an example, but your own situation will be unique – take the concepts outlined here and adapt them to your own musical needs.
1. Find Your Own Space
Allocating a separate physical space that is dedicated to nothing but music is vital for effective practice – the usual scenario is that our musical lives get shoehorned into 2 square feet in the corner of a bedroom, your amp doubles as your coffee table, or your family has banished you to the garden shed because they’re sick of the incessant metronome beeping. In general, it’s hard to devote space to musical pursuits, but I find that having the physical separation from everyday life provides a better working environment for practising and also affords much needed mental separation from everything else that might be going on in your life.
2. Get Rid of Obstacles
Related to the idea of carving out your own practice space is the notion of making the act of practising as easy as possible – having to unpack all your gear from various cases and plug everything in not only uses up valuable minutes but also presents a psychological barrier to practice; it might well be less effort to turn on the TV instead of setting up your amp and getting down to work.
3. Avoid Distractions
The importance of being able to concentrate for more than 10 seconds at a time without checking your phone cannot be overstated. If you haven’t already seen the blog post/video ‘Your Brain is Rotten’, then this should be your first port of call:
4. Playing vs. Practising
An important thing to clarify in your mind before you start designing a practice routine is the distinction between practising and playing:
Practising is the act of taking something that is currently outside of your comfort zone and learning it on the instrument until it becomes comfortable; this might include working out note names, fretboard positions, fingering options and repeating an idea ad nauseam until a desired tempo is reached.
Playing is putting things that you have previously practised into a practical context, possibly using drum loops, backing tracks or (preferably) another musician.
Striking a balance between these two areas is very important; if all you do is practise, then you know lots of things but can’t apply them in real time, making them largely redundant. If all you do is play, then your playing becomes stale because you’re still playing the same old pet licks over and over again.
5. Time Management: ‘Chunking’
During my stint at music college, I tried to get to every masterclass or clinic that was put on, regardless of whether it was a bass player or not; I actually found Dave Weckl spending almost 30 minutes talking about the angle of his snare riveting.
One of the best pieces of advice I got from a masterclass was this nugget of information from Todd Johnson; the rest of the clinic was not to my taste, but this made up for it:
Only practise for 15 minutes at a time.
That’s it. Pure gold. Now, to be clear, he wasn’t suggesting that 15 minutes is the total practice time per day, rather that your practice time should be divided up into 15-minute ‘chunks’ of deeply focused work interspersed with small breaks of 2-3 minutes.
There’s more detail on the ‘chunking’ process in the video above for those that might be curious. I immediately found that switching to this method of practice allowed me to reach a greater total volume of practice time each day and also helped me retain information better from day to day since I wasn’t burning myself out by slogging away on one idea for an hour.
For more practical solutions to making the most of your practice time in order to accelerate your musical growth take a look at the Better Bass Practice ebook.
How To Practise, Part 3: Keeping Track In a drawer under my bed I have a collection of old diaries stretching back to 2008, detailing almost every day of the…
How To Practise, Part 3: Keeping Track
In a drawer under my bed I have a collection of old diaries stretching back to 2008, detailing almost every day of the last decade. Here are a few of them:
These are not diaries in the conventional sense – they don’t contain my musings on life’s trials and tribulations, there are no empowering affirmations or overly confessional spoken word poetry. Instead, there are scribblings – hieroglyphics listing exercises, keys, metronome markings and time logged at the instrument, part of the never-ending process of attempting to achieve musical mastery.
So why would anybody want to engage in such a boring, borderline-OCD activity?
Tracking your music practice has numerous benefits:
1. Keeping Track Keeps You On Track
Maintaining a log of what you practise, how often you do it and how much time you get at the instrument is a great way of providing yourself with accountability (this was also emphasised in the last post on finding a teacher). Nothing motivates me more than opening my practice diary and being embarrassed by the long gaps between practice sessions – I can see when I’ve been slacking off, or letting life get in the way of spending time at the bass. Seeing the fine details of your practice (or lack thereof) in black and white reinforces the message that you alone are responsible for your musical development – even if you’re taking regular lessons, your teacher cannot do the work for you; if you want to improve then you have to put the hours in.
2. Tracking Provides Accurate Feedback
What were you practising 6 weeks ago today? What were you working on? What keys did you play in? How fast were you playing? How much have you improved since then?
If you rely solely on your memory for these items of information then you’re not only burdening yourself with lots of extra figures to carry around in your brain but you’re also likely to forget many of the details, especially if you’re practising regularly. There’s a Chinese proverb that goes something like this:
“Even the palest ink is better than the strongest memory”.
I find having an accurate written record of the minutiae of my practice routine helpful in gauging my musical progress, not least because my short term memory is terrible – in fact, the act of ‘going back in time’ in my practice diary by 6 months or so is a useful way to remind myself of all the things that I should be able to play but have probably forgotten.
Tools and Tactics
I have two ways of tracking what happens on a day-to-day level – one physical, one digital:
1. The Practice Diary
As detailed above, this acts as a detailed written record of what I’ve been working towards on a given day – my preference is for an A5 notebook, but if you’re clocking up lots of hours then you might want to opt for a larger size. I used to prefer the ‘day per page’ diary format, but my embarrassment at wasting numerous pages has forced me to adopt a plain notebook instead.
2. Forest App
I’ve mentioned this rather childish looking productivity app before in this post on brain-rot but I’ll cover it here as well, because it’s my favourite method of fighting digital addiction and maximising productive time. In short, the app rewards you for spending time locked out of your phone, which forces you to concentrate on the task at hand without distractions. This means that I can easily keep tabs on how much practice time I’m logging in each week and my natural tendency to be competitive with myself means that I’ll push myself to try and increase my score each week.
For even more tips and tactics for maximising your practice time and accelerating your musical growth take a look at the Better Bass Practice ebook.
Why you (and I) still need lessons Regardless of whether you’ve been playing bass for two weeks or two decades, there are always things about your playing that could do…
Why you (and I) still need lessons
Regardless of whether you’ve been playing bass for two weeks or two decades, there are always things about your playing that could do with improvement – the problem is that it’s very difficult to be truly objective about your playing while you’re in the act of playing; too much of our mental processing power is taken up with the task of playing music, so it’s tough to accurately critique yourself while making music.
One idea is to record your gigs and/or your practice – whilst this can be a useful tool in assessing your playing, it might not always be the best thing:
Your current gigs might not reflect the way that you’d like your playing to sound; if you’re looking to master improvising over changes, then recordings of you playing ‘Superstition’ or ‘Dancing Queen’ at last weekend’s wedding gig won’t be particularly relevant.
Recording your practice might be more indicative of what you’re working towards, but everyone is the best player in the world when they’re in their own room and there’s nobody else about. It’s also easy to kid yourself that everything in your practice sounds great (you might not even hear the things that need work).
So, what you need is a second pair of ears to give you feedback on your playing and direct your practice with the aim of reaching your musical goals. This doesn’t have to be a teacher in the traditional sense, it could be a ‘critical friend’ – a bandmate, other musician or another bass player who you trust to be objective about what your playing really sounds like.
One issue with asking this of a friend is that they might not want to be brutally honest about what you need to work on – they also might not actually hear any areas for improvement either; the best option is an experienced teacher who has no other agenda other than helping you to improve your playing.
It should be noted that even after 18 years of playing the bass and almost a decade of teaching I still try to take lessons whenever I can; there’s nothing more powerful than the occasional reality check to get rid of any musical complacency that might have set in.
Want to know how to tell a bass Jedi from a snake oil salesman? Better Bass Practice contains straightforward advice on how to find the right teacher for you and how to structure your practice routine to get the most out of lessons.
Perfect Electric Bass Posture? Is there such thing as the perfect posture for playing bass? This article aims to provide you with practical advice for improving the way that you…
Perfect Electric Bass Posture?
Is there such thing as the perfect posture for playing bass? This article aims to provide you with practical advice for improving the way that you sit and/or stand with the bass, regardless of what style(s) of music you might be playing.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or physical therapist, nor do I claim to be one. Any suggestions towards specific movements, exercise routines, alternative therapies or diets are based on personal experience and may not be suitable for everybody; please consult a qualified medical professional before making any significant lifestyle changes.
The following are some ideas that I’ve arrived at over the last 18 years of playing the bass and roughly a decade of teaching; I’m pretty badly constructed from a physical point of view and have had numerous back problems and other soft tissue injuries over the years including tendonitis, so I’ve put a fair amount of time and effort into optimising my posture and movements for playing bass (and life in general).
Whilst it’s not generally top of most bassist’s to-do lists, posture is the first essential element of interacting with the instrument and it comes before technique; the physical aspect of playing the bass is often taken for granted (if not ignored completely) by many players and teachers.
This video gives a brief rundown of the seated and standing postures outlined in this post:
New Kid in Town
The main issue when discussing posture is that the electric bass has only been around for 67-odd years and, as such, we haven’t quite reached a consensus on the best way(s) to play it – contrast this with more elderly instruments, like violin or piano, which have well-established teaching methodologies and definite guidelines for best practice that have been refined over hundreds of years. If you look at five different bassists that you’re aiming to emulate, chances are that you’ll see a huge amount of variation between them in their stance, strap height, neck angle and hand position.
First port of call is realising that playing the bass is a fundamentally unnatural and asymmetrical task for your body to perform – we’re placing a load of between three and five kilos on one shoulder for an extended period of time. Playing will always be a compromise between what is natural or comfortable for your body and what is necessary to get around the instrument in a relaxed, musical fashion. No one particular posture is perfect – all have pros and cons – but some make more sense than others.
Most of us have to deal with the fact that we sit down to practice but are forced to stand up when it comes to gigs – sitting on a gig basically out of the question unless you’re in a theatre pit or you happen to be Anthony Jackson. Because of this, we need to make sure that our sitting and standing postures are complementary rather than contradictory, otherwise we’re sending our body mixed messages about how to play and our practice time will have been wasted.
If you’re looking for more top postural tips and advice on how to improve the quality of your movement to enhance your playing and reduce the risk of injury, then take a look at Better Bass Practice, which contains practical, actionable advice on how to get the most out of your practice time and maximise your musical development.