Simplicity is Complicated – Historical Perspective in The Age of Information – New Stuff
Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the best.
The bass line that underpins Macklemore’s non-threatening mainstream hip hop hit ‘Downtown’ is essentially nothing more than a trip around the minor pentatonic scale, but definitely gets the head nodding.
The trick with this groove (and with everything else that you play) is to pay attention to articulation. Listen to the song before you try to take the notes off the screen – hear the variety of note lengths in the line and the different levels of palm muting employed:
How much does this white Englishman know about hip hop? Unsurprisingly, next to nothing; fortunately we live in an age where almost every piece of music ever recorded can be in your ears in under 30 seconds. Through some swift browsing of Wikipedia, Allmusic.com and discogs you can arm yourself with a passing acquaintance of the albums that define a genre and access the music instantly through YouTube or any number of streaming services.
At the start of the year The Beatles put their entire back catalogue on Spotify – I was raised on a strict diet of The Eagles and Dire Straits, so my knowledge of The Fab Four’s work was somewhat limited. Starting at ‘With the Beatles’, I restricted myself to listening to only one album per week during my weekday commute. Within 3 months my knowledge of Liverpool’s most famous export had become much more comprehensive by making use of the ‘dead’ time during my day.
Here’s the truth of the matter: no amount of sight reading proficiency will equip you with an innate understanding of exactly how to perform authentically in a genre. Written music is a ‘best attempt’ at trying to capture sounds so that others can recreate them, and can never truly capture all the minutiae of a musical performance. Active listening over a sustained time period will help to provide you with greater insight into any type of music that you might wish to delve into, and if you choose to learn the music by ear then it’ll find its way into your musical memory much more easily (and remain there for longer) compared to music that you learn ‘by eye’.
It might seem strange for someone that runs a website devoted to transcriptions to write a post devoted to the limitations of notation, but this has been my experience throughout my own ongoing musical development; I learn music more deeply by ear than off the page. The transcription archive is designed to help out those who don’t have the time (and/or the inclination) to work things out by ear.
Speaking of which, regular visitors to the archive will notice that things have been tweaked. I spent the last fortnight revising, editing and reformatting over 100 transcriptions. There were many glaring errors (I can only apologise for the state of my aural ability circa 2009…) which have hopefully now been corrected, and all the charts are now in a more ‘reader friendly’ layout.
Some transcriptions have been removed because I wasn’t happy with them – these are more ‘long term’ projects which will be uploaded in due course. If something that you wanted to learn is missing then sit tight and don’t panic, it’ll be back soon.