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Here come the dots

Category: Groove of the Week

When to say ‘NO’ to gigs (Gigonomics 101)

The Agony of Choice In spite of advances in modern technology, it’s still not possible to be in two places at the same time. As a freelance musician — or…

The Agony of Choice

In spite of advances in modern technology, it’s still not possible to be in two places at the same time. As a freelance musician — or freelance anything, come to think of it —you have to constantly decide which gigs and projects to accept and which to decline. Sometimes, it can be difficult to make the right decision and it’s not always obvious which choice is the right one.

This is where a helpful tool called ‘The Gig Triangle’ comes in; this appeared in a column in Bass Player Magazine some years ago (I’ve searched for the original article, but to no avail) and has stuck with me ever since. It’s also proved to hold true on every gig I’ve ever been on.

What is the ‘Gig Triangle’?

Every gig or project on offer contains a balance of three areas; music, people, and money. Let’s take a closer look at each side:

1. The Music

This is a pretty basic thing, but is the music bearable? I’m not talking about whether or not you like the music that you have to play, because part of being a professional is being able to make it seem like everything you have to play is your favourite music in the whole world. Everyone also has notions of musical credibility until it’s time to pay their rent.

The real question is: can you do the gig without feeling like your soul is being eroded with every note that you play, or wishing for some apocalyptic event that would mean that the gig would be brought to a swift end? In a decade of freelance work, I’ve had this happen three times and it has never been worth it.

2. The People

Who’s on the gig? Are they going to be a pleasure to work with, or are you going to have to share a 4-hour journey to the gig with that creepy keyboard player who lacks any sense of personal hygiene?

So little of the time on a gig is spent actually playing that this is a serious issue and often has nothing to do with the musical skills of the people involved. The gig is not the music – a vast proportion of your time is spent travelling, loading in gear, setting up, and then hanging around waiting to play. You don’t want to spend all that non-playing time surrounded by people who drive you crazy, so if we assume that there’s a basic level of musicianship and everyone in the band can play then the main concern is what will the hang be like?

3. The Money

Obviously, this is why you’re doing the gig, because you need to earn a living and doing gigs sure beats working in Starbucks. But this side of the triangle is not always about how large or small the gig fee is; your time is a valuable, non-renewable resource, so you have to factor in how much prep work the gig requires and how much time you have to block out of your day in order to actually do the gig.

The Golden Rule of Gigging

So we have music, money and people on the gig triangle, and the golden rule is that there have to be two sides of the triangle in place for a gig to be worth saying yes to, which leaves us with these three scenarios:

Option 1

Gigs where there isn’t not really much money, but you enjoy the music and the people are great; this is basically every original band project ever.

Option 2

Gigs where there’s a decent fee and there’s a good hang, but the music isn’t your ideal choice; this is essentially most covers bands, unless you happen to really love playing ‘Wonderwall’ or ‘Valerie’ every week for the rest of your life (and there’s nothing wrong with that at all!).

Option 3

Gigs where the people are not enjoyable to work with, but you enjoy the music and there’s a good fee – this is probably the rarest scenario.

In most cases, you won’t need to go into this level of analysis, but it can help avoid situations where you make spur of the moment choices that make you resent the gig that you end up on. There’s nothing worse for the audience, the band, or the music itself than having someone on stage who really has somewhere better to be.

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Is the Boss OC-2 still the best analogue octave pedal?

Why would you want to use an octave pedal with your bass? If you want to be able to keep up with synths without having to go anywhere near a…

Why would you want to use an octave pedal with your bass? If you want to be able to keep up with synths without having to go anywhere near a keyboard, or you want to access lower notes without switching to a 5-string or detuning, then an octave pedal is the way to go.

Introduced in the early 1980s, the Boss OC-2 is still widely touted to be the best analogue octave out there; famous players like Pino Palladino, Tim Lefebvre, Juan Alderete, Jonathan Davis and Janek Gwizdala have all helped to maintain the popularity of this pedal long after it was discontinued and replaced by the more refined and much less enjoyable OC-3. In fact, many players swear that the ‘glitchy’ and imperfect nature of the OC-2 is the very reason that they love it so much.

Ever since the Boss OC-2 was released, other manufacturers have been trying to steal its crown. Some have added additional features to their pedals, while others opt for a no-frills emulation of the classic octave pedal sound.

Analogue Octave Pedal Shootout

This video gives an overview of 5 different analogue octave pedals to see if anything comes close to the classic sound of the OC-2. Although each unit is capable of producing multiple tones, this octave pedal comparison focuses on the 1-octave down 100% wet signal sound that the OC-2 excels at:

  • Boss OC-2
  • MXR M288 Bass Octave Deluxe
  • EBS Octabass
  • 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre
  • Iron Ether Subterranea

Tone is in the ear of the beholder, and every viewer will have their opinion on which octave pedal sounds best. For the curious, my go-to octave pedal for gigs is the 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre; it does a great impression of the OC-2 while adding some useful features, particularly the ability to switch between a blended dry/wet sound and a solo’d sub bass octave with a simple tap of a footswitch (you can hear a practical demo of multiple pedal settings within the same song here).

Although I still keep my 1986 Boss OC-2 in the studio for recording (and nostalgia) purposes, it isn’t robust enough for live use and has a habit of falling apart on gigs.

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“No Need for 5-Strings if You’re Good Enough.”

Occasionally, I see things on the Internet that are so insanely idiotic that I feel compelled to set the record straight. Here’s a Facebook comment on a fellow bassist’s page…

Occasionally, I see things on the Internet that are so insanely idiotic that I feel compelled to set the record straight. Here’s a Facebook comment on a fellow bassist’s page that made me despair for the future of humanity:

The reason that this incensed me so much – aside from the lack of grammatical awareness displayed by the author – is that it represents a narrow-minded point of view and attempts to draw a correlation between the type of instrument being played and the ability level of the person playing it, which is completely misguided.

Should I Switch to a 5-String Bass?

Here’s how to work out how many strings are right for you:

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DOD FX25 Envelope Filter

The DOD FX25 envelope filter pedal has become something of a cult classic – a simple, two-knob auto wah that gives bass players a variety of tones ranging from subtle…

The DOD FX25 envelope filter pedal has become something of a cult classic – a simple, two-knob auto wah that gives bass players a variety of tones ranging from subtle vowel sounds to a full-on funk ‘quack’. The straightforward user interface and low price point make the FX25 a good starting point for bassists looking to experiment with envelope filters. 

There are only two controls on the FX25:

  • Range controls the intensity of the filter effect
  • Sensitivity affects the point at which the effect becomes active (frequently labelled as ‘threshold’ on other envelope filters)

The sensitivity control allows the user to dial-in how subtle (or otherwise) they want the effect to be; as with all envelope filters, the FX25 responds to changes in your plucking hand dynamics and for this reason it’s wise to place it towards the front of your signal chain if you’re using multiple pedals. As all envelope filters and autowah effects react to changes in playing dynamics it’s important that any compression happens after the effect.

The FX25 was manufactured between 1982 and 1997, after which it was replaced by the FX25B; the main difference between the two is that the FX25B has an additional ‘blend’ knob.

The DOD FX25 is now sadly discontinued, but there are plenty floating about on eBay and other second hand gear sites. Here’s an overview of the pedal’s features and a demo of some of the sounds that it’s capable of producing, both on its own and in conjuction with other pedals including octave, fuzz, and distortion:

Part of the pedal’s popularity can be attributed to the fact that Flea used an FX25 during part of his ‘Adventures in Spontaneous Jamming and Techinques’ instructional video. It can be heard here during a jam with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith:

 


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Electro Harmonix Bass Micro Synth

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:

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Groove Of The Week #50: Joshua Redman – ‘Greasy G’

GOTW HITS 50! It’s finally here. The last instalment of the Groove of The Week series – what should have taken a year has taken nearly 3, but better late…

GOTW HITS 50!

It’s finally here. The last instalment of the Groove of The Week series – what should have taken a year has taken nearly 3, but better late than never…

Back To The Start

This groove is actually what started everything; I remember getting hold of the Joshua Redman Elastic Band album Momentum (2005) when I was a student and immediately got hooked on the combination of jazz harmony and deep groove that ran through every track. Momentum features a number of guest musicians throughout the album, but because I’d, errr… ‘acquired’ it I didn’t have access to the cd liner notes to see who played on each track; I could hear that one of the bassists sounded like Flea, but there was one groove that totally floored me:

I’d never heard anyone play a groove with that feel before – this was some years after Pino’s laid back grooves on D’Angelo’s much-lauded, behind-the-beat masterpiece Voodoo (2000) and J Dilla’s brand of ‘drunk hip-hop’ was old news, but this was something else. I had to know who it was and how the hell they could sound like that.

And so began my 12-year (and counting) love affair with Me’shell Ndegeocello; she and Anthony Jackson have the rare ability to make me feel like every single note that they have ever played is absolutely perfect.

Here are the dots:

Incidentally, Me’shell uses a very similar groove on here tune ‘GOD.FEAR.MONEY’:

 

Catching the feel(s)

So, how do you get to sound like that? This was by far the most difficult Groove of The Week track for me to get the hang of; I’m not claiming to even be in the same ballpark, feel-wise, but here are my two cents:

Listen, listen, listen. Then listen some more – every aspect of the music needs to be in your bones.

Record yourself. Listen critically (analyse your waveforms, if necessary).

Are you rushing? Dragging? Dragging? Do you even know?

(Here would be a suitable place for a Whiplash reference, but I thought it one of the worst things ever – Rocky for jazz drummers.)

The point of this is that you can’t be objective about your playing while you’re playing, because too much of your brain’s ‘bandwidth’ is taken up with the act of playing. Recording yourself is a brutally effective mechanism for finding out how you actually sound, not how you think you sound. I have a hunch that this is the reason that session greats such as Steve Gadd, Anthony Jackson, Bernard Purdie and Nathan East sound so incredible – they have heard their playing on tape countless times, allowing them to develop a total understanding of how to internally direct their playing to achieve the desired external sound.

This is getting worryingly metaphysical, so let’s wrap it up here. May the groove be with you.

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