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Category: Lessons

How Joe Dart Got His Groove

Imagine my excitement in discovering Joe Dart’s Berklee College of Music bass clinic on YouTube; over 100 minutes of potential wisdom and grooves to steal! Now, imagine my disappointment in…

Imagine my excitement in discovering Joe Dart’s Berklee College of Music bass clinic on YouTube; over 100 minutes of potential wisdom and grooves to steal!

Now, imagine my disappointment in discovering that the whole thing had been mixed by the drummer’s right foot. But fear not, funk bass fans, for poor audio fidelity will not stand in the way of finding out just how Joe Dart got to be so damn groovy; I sifted through Joe’s lengthy conversation with Danny Mo Morris in order to try and tease out what he did to work on his playing and what he does now to keep growing as a musician.

What follows are eight essential elements of the Joe Dart puzzle; the Tao of Dart, if you will:

DISCLAIMER: The following post contains Amazon Affiliate links; if you end up buying the product through my link, then I get a small percentage (typically 2-5% of the product price) at no extra cost to you. It’s not much, but it does afford me some new plectrums once a year…

Eight Take-Aways From Joe Dart’s Berklee Clinic

  1. He Studied Music From A Young Age

Joe’s musical journey began early on in the form of ‘forced’ piano lessons and 5th Grade trombone playing, but the lure of the bass proved too much:

I was about 8 when I remember the bass being present. The opportunity to play a lot was there from a young age…

Music was very much a part of family life; Joe’s Grandfather – renowned session violinist Israel Baker (who, in addition to numerous other film credits, was one of the shrieking violins in Hitchcock’s famous Psycho shower scene) – would call him and test his aural skills over the phone:

I remember even as a young kid – I don’t know how old I was, maybe 7 or 8 – my grandfather used to call me and quiz me… he’d call me and be like ‘Are you near the piano?’ And he would go to his piano and play me an interval and say ‘What is that?’ and then he’d play a chord and say ‘and what’s that?’

Can you imagine what family ear training from the age of seven does for your musical development? In addition to encouragement at home, Joe studied the bass formally with teachers put him onto ‘the good stuff’ from the start and encouraged learning by ear:

I was lucky when I was a kid to meet some really great bass teachers… [who] fostered an interest in funk bass playing years before I would have found these amazing bass players that I now really consider inspirations, like James Jamerson, Verdine White, Rocco Prestia, Stevie Wonder’s left hand bass stuff… I was hearing it when I was 10 years old, 11 years old, taking lessons because [my teachers] considered that to be the definitive bass music… they sent me home with that stuff.

It wasn’t just what Joe’s teachers were making him study, but how they went about it that helped him develop. On being asked how he gained an understanding of harmony, Joe’s first response is:

…really great ear training, which was my teachers sending me home to learn stuff on my own and come back and see if I had gotten [sic] it or not…

Personal experience has taught me that learning music by ear rather than taking it in from the page results in much deeper learning – things might take longer to learn, but I remember them in more detail and their influence has a way of showing up in my playing much more readily than music that I’ve learned through notation.

Joe’s formal education continued when he studied music at The University of Michigan, where he’d meet the other members of Vulfpeck. Dart’s take on the value of music college stresses that who you know is just as important as what you know:

People will ask me ‘how important is it to go to music school? Is this the key to being a successful musician or a professional musician?’ And I don’t know whether it is or it isn’t, but I can say that for me personally it was, even if it wasn’t the degree it was a chance meeting of all of these people that went on to be my bandmates and best friends; if I hadn’t gone to University of Michigan Music School at this particular time I wouldn’t have met any of them and that made all the difference, you know, so I really do value that when I think about going to music school, going to a place like Berklee. It’s as much – if not more – about the people you meet there, the people you play with there, the connections you make than anything else; that to me is the real power of it.

  1. Play Music, Not Exercises

The act of playing music, rather than practising exercises, seems to be at the core of Joe Dart’s musical philosophy. When asked how he warms up to play, his answer is by playing:

…Vulfpeck played some festivals this fall where it was freezing and it was very early on in the set where we played ‘It Gets Funkier’ and a few of these 16th-note, it’s-not-a-warmup type of tune, but that’s where I’ve discovered is the best way to warm up.

Playing a lot and gigging a lot seems to also be the answer as to how he maintains his level of facility on the bass:

I try to play as much as I can with as many people as I can.

Playing with good drummers helps to keep my strength and stamina up.

  1. Great Time Comes From Strong Subdivisions

The importance of having a great sense of time comes up again and again during the clinic; more specifically, the idea of always subdividing the beat when playing is central to Joe’s concept of groove:

I do really believe in a sense of time, a sense of groove; some constant, militant subdivision. I really do consider that to be what really separates something from sounding good and really feeling good…

The drummers that I love are truly militant about the subdivision.

This belief in the power of the ‘militant subdivision’ extends to his philosophy about music education:

As a bass player [timing] is somewhat overlooked and should be more the focus of bass lessons as a kid: developing great time, subdividing and never letting fills or anything get in the way of keeping time and keeping it feeling really good, keeping it locked in with the kick drum.

  1. Practise Grooves In Context

It transpires that Joe spent his teenage years working on his sense of time in context by always having a reference to the pulse in the form of a metronome or drum machine:

Before I had a long list of great drummers to play with, I played with a drum machine; [first] with a metronome, but – as soon as I had one that worked at all – a drum machine and a looper pedal.

I had this instructional DVD just called ‘Slap Bass’… I already had one instructional DVD that I adored, which was Flea’s with Chad, such a classic. This guy named Ed Friedland had an instructional DVD… I sort of learned to slap and learned the power of the sampler – the looper pedal – and the drum machine from Ed because he was just in a studio, just him and his bass and this little drum machine thing and this little looper pedal and he would just lay down these grooves and then solo on top of them

For reference, the DVD in question is Ed Friedland’s Slap Bass – The Ultimate Guide.

This method of practising seems to have given Joe a solid sense of time and groove that has helped him stay strong on stage:

When I was playing all those hours with a drum machine and then looping myself to find some cool basslines to solo on top of, I was able to develop pretty good time and groove that would serve me later when I would be playing with drummers, or when I would be playing sections of the Vulf tunes where the band drops out… If I didn’t have good time it would just fall apart.

Again, the emphasis – even when practising – is to always be making music:

I can definitely recommend spending some quality time with a drum machine as well as a great drummer if possible.

Don’t have a dedicated drum machine? There are plenty of apps available, ranging from the ‘Drummer’ function in Garageband to dedicated drum loop apps, including:

If you don’t happen to have the contact details of a host of top session drummers, then there’s also no need to despair – you can jam along with greats like Bernard Purdie and Mike Clarke for free on Spotify. I even collected everything together into one playlist available here:

  1. Limiting Gear Makes You Focus On Your Playing

Being restricted in his options as far as gear went in the early years forced Joe to refine his playing so that he could get a halfway-decent sound out of an uncooperative instrument:

The first [bass] was a very cheap Samick bass that had extremely high action and was just extremely un-ergonomic. It was terribly difficult to play, but I think [that] helped me develop finger strength and, in a way, if I could play anything relatively musical on that then when I got to a bass that actually felt good I sounded like I could play the bass.

And eventually, after two or three years of that Samick bass, I got a Fender Jazz used in a local music shop; Mexican made, basically not an expensive Fender Jazz bass, but it was a real Fender and it was my total go-to axe, it was the only one I owned for many years. Really only in the past two or three years have I acquired a couple more basses…

Even the Musicman Joe Dart signature bass is a bare-bones, ‘single-speed funk machine’ which was modelled on Jack Stratton’s rather cheap Carlo Robelli bass (Sam Ash’s entry-level house brand of instruments) that Joe had used on earlier Vulf sessions:

[The Musicman bass] was designed after it… his Carlo Robelli bass, which had flatwound strings on it. I would mess around on it and ended up playing it on a few of the kind of disco/funk tracks of Vulf, including the first ‘It Gets Funkier’ and ‘Daddy Got a Tesla’, among others.

Jack Stratton’s Carlo Robelli Bass

So, between a handful of the basses Jack owns we started going ‘Oh, this is the cool bass for this tune, this is a cool bass for this kind of tune’and then I really fell in love with that Robelli bass that he had and eventually when Jack and I started to meet more people in the manufacturing side of the industry we met the guys at Musicman, and we said if we were ever going to design an instrument, then it would be designed after this Robelli bass that we envisioned as the ultimate funk bass, the ultimate Bernard Edwards Musicman-ish kind of thing: The ‘single-speed’ funk bass.

  1. Don’t Overthink Your Playing, Be ‘In The Moment’

When playing – and, in particular, when improvising fills or solos – Dart is a fan of being in what he terms a ‘reactive zone’ rather than a ‘planning zone’:


If I think about it in the studio or live and I think ‘Ok, here comes this moment’ and I’ve got this fill, which I’ll catch myself doing sometimes, I’ll be playing and I think ‘I’ve got this idea’, then 100% of the time I miss it and it ends up feeling totally disjunctive, because it’s planned and you don’t nail the actual thing you were hearing… So, I do appreciate trying to get yourself in a real, true improvisational state rather than planning something… Hopefully, over time the muscle memory gets you to a place where you can react in real time.

This seems like a sensible strategy, given the band’s writing and recording process, which seems to hinge around (Vulfpeck bandleader) Jack Stratton giving musicians minimal information in advance of the sessions. Discussing the recording of ‘Hero Town’, which featured ex-Prince drummer Michael Bland, Joe said that:

I don’t think we did more than two takes… He didn’t know what we were going to play, of course, because that’s the Stratton way; keeping musicians in the dark about what’s about to happen is what Stratton does best.

Years of relentless practice and playing have prepared him for new, unfamiliar (and often daunting) musical experiences:

The reason that it can be fun and the reason that it’s magical to have these experiences where no-one knows what’s going to happen is because everyone has been preparing basically for that moment forever.

When asked about the process for learning bass-heavy tunes like ‘Dean Town’, it seems that the man isn’t afraid of a challenge:

Dean Town was by far and away the most challenging Vulf session that I’ve ever done. Woody sent me that bassline [in] MIDI… he thought ‘we haven’t done a bass feature in a couple of albums, we had done ‘Beastly’, but then we hadn’t done a bass feature in a little while. I remember spending all night the night before shedding that for the session the next day because I wanted to be able to nail it, I didn’t want to have to do a bunch of takes…

It was incredibly challenging and now playing it live with the band is as much an audience participation moment as anything… it keeps me limber.”

There’s a transcription of the bass part to ‘Dean Town’ right here should you feel strong enough: Vulfpeck – ‘Dean Town’ Bass Transcription

  1. Always Play For The Song

Fielding a question about how he alters his playing approach for recording vocal-led and instrumental tunes, Joe’s answer shows that he thinks song first, bass second:

I’m always trying to really serve the song and so that’s why when there actually is a singer live it’s much easier to do that; it’s so much easier to serve the song, because you get the arc of it and you see where they’re singing, where they’re not singing, and you see where their phrases are and you can bounce off of that and respond…

Harder to do are the songs where I think it’s an instrumental and the whole time Jack [Stratton] knows it’s not going to be an instrumental, we’re going to add lyrics later but he doesn’t tell me. So with ‘Christmas in LA’, that was just an instrumental track and then later Theo [Katzman] wrote and added vocals, and so hopefully I’m not playing out in sections where it’s a tender vocal moment. But I think when it’s an instrumental song we all can sort of see where the focal point would be… and, either way, I try to always ‘arc’ the tune. And if there’s going to be a little bass moment – a little fill, a little lick – where I step outside the hook of the bassline it’s usually that last chorus, at the very end, which I always loved when bass players would do that on pop songs…

Even when he’s soloing, he’s thinking compositionally:

[I approach writing basslines by] building something that their ear can grab and then playing off that and stepping outside of that, but you can’t really step outside without first building this fundamental song, and that’s even how I think about soloing – when I’m playing a solo a lot of the time I’m keeping time, whether the drums are there or not – you know, ghost notes, really keeping time and really building on building a figure slowly and then playing off that, playing against that.

  1. Study The Greats, But Maintain Your Voice

One particularly insightful remark concerned the importance of acknowledging your influences, but not at the expense of developing your own sound on the bass:

Finding your voice on an instrument is something you can’t force… it’s not something you can decide to do one day. It happens very slowly and is something that hopefully, if you’re listening to enough different stuff and you find what really speaks to you hopefully it starts coming back into your playing, but not in a way that you’re just constantly quoting or copying – it’s hopefully going to blend into something which eventually becomes your voice…

Over the years, I’ve taken something from each of these bass players that really influenced me from a young age like Rocco, Verdine [White], Pino, Flea, but trying to figure out ‘what do I have to say? What really speaks to me about each of those players?’

It’s also important to dig deeply into the history of the music that you’re inspired by in order to discover who influenced your influences:

You find your own voice through learning what other voices sound like and where they’re coming from and then you check out the influences that they were checking out; that’s where Jamerson comes into things for me, because I didn’t actually realise that the people I was looking up to were looking up to Jamerson. I didn’t hear Flea and think ‘Oh, he’s doing a Jamerson thing’, I also didn’t know who Jamerson was until Flea hipped me to him, so checking out other people who have a voice and then checking out who they were checking out.

It’s not just bass players that Joe Dart took influence from when finding his voice:

And even non-bassists, I think I do really look to guitarists’ solo phrasing or saxophone or, like I said, Stevie Wonder’s playing. I think you can find inspiration for how to speak on an instrument even through many other instruments.”

Still dying for more Dart? You can check out these posts for even more head-bobbing bass action:

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100 Albums In A Year?

In spite of the fact that it’s 2020 and we’re in the era of being able to instantly stream almost all of the world’s recorded music from a mobile device, I’m still scouring charity shops and Amazon for second-hand CDs to fill out my collection.

In spite of the fact that it’s 2020 and we’re in the era of being able to instantly stream almost all of the world’s recorded music from a mobile device, I’m still scouring charity shops and Amazon for second-hand CDs to fill out my collection. Why am I taking the path of most resistance when technology makes it easier to fulfil any and all of my listening desires?

I’ll cut straight to the point: this year, I’m challenging myself to learn 100 albums by ear. When I say ‘learn’, I don’t mean that I’m actually going to sit down and transcribe every single note of those 100 albums; that would be incredible for my musicianship, but it would also take an insane amount of time and effort. I mean that I want to get to the point where every album is in my musical memory and I know each tune inside out from a listening perspective – we all have our ‘go-to’ records where we know exactly which note or lyric comes next.

The Listening Diet for 2020

My new prescription is this: take two contrasting artists at a time and listen through their entire discographies from start to finish. One album a week from each artist, listened to in its entirety every day. Why? Because musicians that I respect including Michael League, Jacob Collier and Bob Reynolds have all been saying things that made me realise that my current listening habits are giving me a broad but shallow understanding of music.

We now live in the age of information, where you can access almost anything within a couple of minutes – the problem is learning how to handle all of that information in a meaningful way. Don’t get me wrong, streaming services are an amazing invention, especially when it comes to making playlists of tunes that I have to learn for gigs or digging up obscure albums, but having access to anything and everything at all times isn’t always such a good thing – I increasingly find that I don’t know what to listen to because there’s too much choice.

Something that Michael League from Snarky Puppy said in an interview on the great Bass Lessons Melbourne YouTube channel really stuck with me:

“We’re kind of incapable of creating sound that isn’t directly related to a sound that we’ve heard before”

He then followed with this absolute gem:

“When we play music, we play our record collection. When we write music, we write our record collection.”

But who still has a record collection any more? The downside of having the musical equivalent of an all-you-can-eat-buffet in your pocket is that it devalues music (in every sense of the word) and makes it easy to have a broad but shallow understanding of things. I went to a Bob Reynolds saxophone masterclass last year, where he was said that as a teenager he would get really into one album at a time – because that was all that he could afford – and that process of quality over quantity helped him to get a deeper understanding of the music that inspired him. This definitely rings true for me; as a teenager, I would listen to certain albums incessantly because they were the only music I had access to and those records have all definitely had a lasting impact on the way that I hear music and play the bass.

Under The Influence

But how does listening to 100 albums a year help you as a bassist? The answer is ear training; not the sort of ‘academic’ ear training of interval recognition, but stylistic ear training – carefully managing your listening habits to help you develop a personal voice on your instrument.

There’s a great book on this called Primacy of the Ear by Ran Blake which is the only place where I’ve come across the idea of targeted listening to develop a personal style. The earlier strategy of taking two contrasting artists and to listen to their recorded output in chronological order comes directly from Blake. Taking in the entire discography in order gives you get a sense how the artists’ playing and writing developed over the arc of their career. It also gives you a historical context for everything that you’re hearing, allowing you to ‘join the dots’ and see where your influences sit within the bigger picture of musical history. This understanding of where things come from is often what’s missing when we take an ADHD approach to streaming and simply put on whatever’s on our mind at that particular moment.

I’m starting out with two of my favourite improvisers: Bill Evans and Pat Metheny. One album from each per week, in chronological order. I’m in my third week and already I’ve learned a ton of stuff that I was ignorant of before.

Ready for the #100albumchallenge?

If you’re up for the challenge then it’s really easy to do without starting a CD collection; you can simply use your preferred streaming service (technology is a wonderful thing when we control it, not the other way round). Pick two artists that you love; it definitely doesn’t have to be jazz, it can be anything at all – I did this with The Beatles last year because I didn’t really ‘get’ them when I was younger and it worked wonders for my appreciation of their music. A brief visit to Wikipedia or Allmusic.com will give you access to an artist’s discography so you can map out their career and put albums in order. All you have to do then is make time to listen to each album once a day for a week.

I’m really curious to know what other people choose for this challenge, so if you’re willing to give it a try then leave a comment to let me know who you’re listening to.

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10 Years to Learn a Lick?

Confession time: I’m a terrible student. March 2019 marked an entire decade since I took a lesson with the great Dr Richard Niles, a guitarist/producer/composer/arranger who studied under Pat Metheny…

Confession time: I’m a terrible student.

March 2019 marked an entire decade since I took a lesson with the great Dr Richard Niles, a guitarist/producer/composer/arranger who studied under Pat Metheny at Berklee in the 1970s and has subsequently worked with Paul McCartney, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, James Brown and a host of others.

I met Richard while studying for my degree at The Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, and shortly after graduating I began to realise that in spite of having a music degree I still didn’t know enough about harmony and improvisation to feel comfortable as a freelance musician, particularly as I was starting to develop an unhealthy interest in The Dark Arts of Jazz.

It turned out that I had a lot to learn (and still do). Reviewing the dictaphone recording of the lesson is hilarious and humiliating in equal measures as Richard begins to ascertain the extent of my ignorance. In order to get my rather malnourished sense of harmony on track, he gave me a set of exercises that involved voice leading through a split-bar ii-V-I progression using arpeggios.

Wait, what?

Here’s a basic ii-V-I in the key of F major (7th chords on bass are almost always better with the 5th omitted):

 

Voice leading is an expensive-sounding term for finding the path of least resistance between chords – in this case, we’re looking for semitone resolution from one chord to the next.

The b7 of the Gm7 chord (F) falls by a semitone to become the major 3rd of the C7 chord. This process is repeated for the resolution from V to I: the b7 of the C7 chord (Bb) falls by a semitone to become the major 3rd of the F chord (A):

Playing just these notes (known as ‘guide tones’, because they guide your ear to the sound of each chord) provides us with the essential outline of the ii-V-I progression:

Building an 8th-note line that includes these semitone movements can be done using a simple combination of ascending and descending arpeggios:

Why is that a useful thing to practise? Even if you’re not looking to become a fully fledged jazzer then it’s still a very nutritious exercise. My perspective is that although I don’t want to make playing jazz standards my main thing, I definitely don’t want to have to shut myself off to that area of music because I haven’t done my homework and put the hours in; improvising over a set of chords changes with confidence and musicality is the hardest thing I can think of to do on the bass.

Playing these sorts of exercises will benefit your playing in four different ways:

A greater understanding of harmony: this sort of harmony is not limited to jazz, and understanding the way in which chords move can help to improve your playing regardless of the areas that you operate in.
Voice leading: as bass players, we spend our lives moving from root to root and are often guilty of not thinking about the rest of the notes in the chord. Developing an intuitive sense of voice leading helps to strengthen the melodic content of both your solos and your basslines.
Technique: this is a great example of an exercise that falls into the ‘music, not chops’ category – everything here is derived from a musical concept, and working out how these patterns fit on the fretboard in every possible way will definitely present your fingers with a variety of technical issues to solve.
Vocabulary: This is the main reason why I was prescribed these exercises: even though I understood the concept on paper I definitely couldn’t conjure up an improvised line that fulfilled the criteria of using arpeggios to voice lead a melodic line through a split-bar ii-V-I. Developing fluency in improvisation in jazz or any other style of music first requires that you amass a collection of small fragments that can easily be recalled whenever you get into trouble and don’t know what to play, and these sorts of lines are a great starting point.

A full run-down of possible fingerings for this exercise on 4- and 5-string basses can be found here:

ii-V-I Licks I Ought to Have Learned by Now

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Taking the Sting out of Odd-Meter Playing

For many of us, the very phrase ‘odd-meter’ brings us out in a cold sweat. Chances are that unless you’ve had a very eclectic musical upbringing then you’re most comfortable…

For many of us, the very phrase ‘odd-meter’ brings us out in a cold sweat. Chances are that unless you’ve had a very eclectic musical upbringing then you’re most comfortable in 4/4 time and anything that involves stuffing more beats into a bar is rather stressful. The matter is complicated by the fact that opportunities to practise your odd-meter groove skills are heavily biased towards prog rock, technical metal and modern jazz; not the most accessible genres by a long way.

But there are bright spots to be found in far more commercial territory: Sting’s 10 million-selling, triple Grammy-winning Ten Summoner’s Tales (1993) shows the former Police frontman stretching his songwriting skills to incorporate advanced harmonic and rhythmic concepts within the confines of a mainstream pop record and includes a number of odd-meter excursions.

Here are a few of my favourite moments that will provide plenty of practice material for odd-time playing that isn’t ‘Take Five’:

Seven Days

Further proof that Sting is actually a massive nerd: this song is in 5/4, happens to be track 6 on the album and is titled ‘Seven Days’. Who doesn’t love a number-based in-joke?

This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest songs ever written; a song in 5/4 that features extensive non-diatonic harmony, uses diminished passing chords in the chorus, contains a brief flirtation with the harmonic major scale and still sounds like a great pop song.

The verse groove provides a great training ground for 5/4 playing. The bass part consists of a simple, ascending root – 5th pattern throughout the verse, leaving plenty of space for you to count (and feel) the meter without having to play anything too complicated.

 

The chorus contains a rhythmic development of the verse part. Here, the bass uses a simple root-octave pattern to clearly outline the 5/4 meter’s 3+2 subdivision:

St. Augustine in Hell

This brooding, organ-driven tune is built on a repetitive bass figure in 7/4, which can be thought of as alternating bars of 4/4 and 3/4. Notice how the rhythm of the initial idea is displaced and contracted to achieve the odd meter:

Love is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)

Sting allegedly wanted to write a song in 7/4 and sought appropriate numerical lyrical inspiration from the 1960s Western film The Magnificent Seven (itself a cowboy twist on Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai), which also helps to explain the song’s country-influenced chorus. The verse groove is built on a bluesy idea that hints at A7, while Sting’s vamp under the piano solo (starting at around 4’11” on the track) features some more chromatic playing:

 

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5 Wonder-ful Pentatonic Unisons

Five of Stevie’s 5-note lines Stevie Wonder’s vast body of work is rightly revered by musicians (and, indeed, non-musicians…) for its harmonic and melodic invention; Stevie has managed to seamlessly…

Five of Stevie’s 5-note lines

Stevie Wonder’s vast body of work is rightly revered by musicians (and, indeed, non-musicians…) for its harmonic and melodic invention; Stevie has managed to seamlessly weave jazz-based ideas, such as chromaticism, extended chords, and tritone substitution into his tunes and still sell vast numbers of records.

One of his definitive compositional devices is the use of pentatonic unison lines, which have provided instrumental hooks for some of his biggest hits. While some are deceptively simple, others might have you breaking into a sweat on a gig. Let’s look at some of Stevie’s best pentatonic lines, the musical concepts he uses to construct them and how to play them:

‘Isn’t She Lovely’

This is the shortest (and easiest) of Stevie’s pentatonic ideas, but the rhythmic placement of the line transforms a straightforward ascending E major pentatonic scale into a memorable hook. For an extra challenge, think about how many different fingerings could you come up with to play this:

‘Superstition’

I can almost hear readers groaning at the sight of this: “Surely he’s not going to try and teach us how to play ‘Superstition’?!”

Although this is one of the most-gigged songs ever, I doubt that many people faithfully reproduce every nuance of the original synth bass line (I know I don’t…). Nailing all of the legato phrasing and grace notes requires deft fretting hand articulation, as many moves that come naturally on a keyboard are rather awkward on a fretted instrument tuned in fourths. My preferred approach is (unsurprisingly) to use an octave pedal with 100% wet signal to maximise the ‘synthy’ quality of the part:

 

‘Master Blaster (Jammin’)’

The underlying concept here is C minor pentatonic sequenced in 3-note groupings, which will be nothing new if you’ve ever sought out pentatonic scale exercises. The potential difficulty in this line is getting the position shifts right; I’ve marked in the fingerings that I use, but you might have another alternative that you prefer to use:

‘Sir Duke’

A fairly demanding exercise in playing the B major pentatonic scale (with frequent additions of the minor 3rd as a passing note) all over the fretboard, ‘Sir Duke’ is a classic example of what I’d term ‘bass Chinese Whispers’, where gigging a song for many years without referencing the original recording results in some considerable approximations of the actual part. I find myself playing the 8va section of the line in the lower octave and putting in hammer-ons wherever possible:

I also tend to mutate the last line somewhat, playing it more like the horn line on the Natural Wonder live version (my ears can’t decide if Nate Watts does this, too). Attempting to write this out resulted in the following triplet horror, which is easy to hear but a nightmare to read:

‘Do I Do’

This one still causes me to panic somewhat, because 16th-note pentatonic sequences at 114bpm are near my upper limit and this one sounds very vague on a gig unless I’ve been practising it regularly. This line is a great example of how rhythmic displacement of a simple pentatonic sequence (B major pentatonic in 4-note groupings) can have great results:

 

 

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Double Bass Technique on the Electric Bass

Is it possible to use double bass fingerings on the bass guitar? Actually, forget possible, is it even useful? The short answer is yes. The long answer is that including…

Is it possible to use double bass fingerings on the bass guitar? Actually, forget possible, is it even useful? The short answer is yes.

The long answer is that including left hand principles from double bass method books resulted in the most significant improvements to my playing in many years: better tone, more consistency and less fatigue, especially on longer gigs.

Long-term followers of this site will be well acquainted with my frequent touting of the Simandl double bass method book; I wrote about its virtues at some length in the original 2015 Unorthodox Instructionals book review series. Imagine my surprise when I received an email from John Goldsby informing me that said blog post was getting a shout-out in Bass Player magazine (clang!) – I’m very flattered to think that anybody reads the things that I hurl at the Internet, let alone people who write bass magazine columns.

Enough bragging and back to the point… The last two Bass Player’s Book Club episodes led to lots of people asking questions about how and why I use Simandl on the electric bass, so here goes:

What Did I Get From Simandl?

The main reason that I found Simandl to be so beneficial for my electric bass playing is that it made me rethink what technique actually is. For many players, saying that they are “working on technique” or “getting their technique together” simply means that they’re concentrating on being able to wiggle their fingers more quickly: technique is about much more than speed.

The focus here is on quality rather than quantity – does every note sound as good as it possibly can? If not, what can you do to fix it?

Practising the Simandl etudes gave me insight into alternative (and unusual) ways of playing major scale ideas – which, let’s face it, form the bulk of the material that we’re required to play on mainstream gigs – that are never introduced by bass guitar method books. Single string shifting is just one of the areas that electric bassists tend to neglect, but those who pursue it will find that it does wonders for fretting hand technique.

Simandl is not without its detractors; many accuse the etudes of being too boring and repetitive. To them, I say: “What did you expect?!” It’s a bass method book, and those expecting white-knuckle excitement will be disappointed; those of us who understand the virtues of taking the path of most resistance will get years of enjoyment.

You can find the Simandl book here:

Franz Simandl: New Method for the Double Bass Book 1

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