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Tag: motivation

Self Preservation vs. Self Perfection

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.

Sorry, Joe.

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

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

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.

Self-Perfection Questions

– 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.

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Janek Gwizdala Masterclass 2007 Part 3: Gear, Tradition and Finding Your Voice

Here’s the third and final instalment of Janek Gwizdala’s bass clinic at ACM Guildford in 2007. For those who missed the first two episodes, you can find them here: –…

Here’s the third and final instalment of Janek Gwizdala’s bass clinic at ACM Guildford in 2007. For those who missed the first two episodes, you can find them here:

Part 1 focuses on transcription, including things he stole from George Benson and Allan Holdsworth
Part 2 deals with Janek’s early days playing the bass and how he developed his prodigious technique

Part 3 covers a range of topics, including:

Janek’s philosophy on equipment

Regular viewers of his ‘coffee with Janek’ blog might find it interesting to hear how his views on being a gear head have shifted over the last decade – this masterclass happened before he started hanging out with Juan Alderete and stockpiling Meatboxes and OC-2 pedals.

The value of understanding tradition

While talking about his time playing with the late Hiram Bullock, Janek reveals that he didn’t begin his journey with jazz and started on a solid diet of pop music before moving on to the likes of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock.

One of the most important points that Janek makes on this topic is that it’s essential to have a comprehensive knowledge of your chosen musical genre(s) before you can forge your own musical path – if you don’t know what has come before you, then how can know when you’re being original?

(and yes, I was that guy who knew everything about Anthony Jackson. I’m pretty handy at a pub quiz…)

finding your ‘voice’ on your instrument

Closely linked to the idea of understanding your ‘place’ in musical history is the importance of not simply regurgitating things that have happened before – but how do you work out which direction you should go in? Janek discusses some of his own ‘self talk’ that he uses in musical decision making.

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Received Wisdom: 3 Pieces of Advice I Should Have Listened To

Are you as terrible at taking advice as I am? While putting off filing my tax return (one of my favourite January activities) I did a few calculations:   Over…

Are you as terrible at taking advice as I am?

While putting off filing my tax return (one of my favourite January activities) I did a few calculations:

 

  • Over the course of 2015, I taught roughly 1200 one-to-one music lessons
  • That’s in excess of 600 hours spent telling other people what I think that they should do to improve their playing.
  • That’s the equivalent of 25 whole days of dispensing advice about music. 

 

 

Why is this important? It shows that the amount of time I spend giving advice is wildly disproportionate to that which I allocate to receiving advice from others about my own playing (or teaching). 

This got me thinking about important lessons that I’ve taken in the 15 years since I first picked up the bass and reflecting on the pearls of wisdom that have had the most significant impact on my musical development. 

The most worrying fact is that the most valuable pieces of advice are the ones that I’ve actually paid the least attention to.

 

The 3 pieces of advice I should have taken on board

 

“Don’t party until you’re 25”

 

If (like me) you’re over 25, don’t panic – this can still be applied to a degree. Some readers will see this as a rather hardline approach, but for aspiring professionals it’s worth thinking about. 

 

The source: This nugget came courtesy of the owner of the only live music venue in the small town where I grew up. I was 18, and on the night in question I was helping out my teacher at the time as guitar tech for his band. I got chatting with the venue’s owner after the gig, and mentioned that I was getting ready to go to music college and wanted to make a career from music. The above was his only piece of advice on how to succeed. 

 

The meaning: Your teens and early 20s are when you will form the foundations of your musical identity. They are also the years in which you will (most probably) have more free time and fewer responsibilities than at any other age – devoting this free time to working on your musicianship will pay huge dividends later when ‘real life’ starts to eat into your practice time. 

 

Why it didn’t stick: I deluded myself into thinking that I was working hard enough and let other areas take equal priority over playing – the fact that the music college I went to was above a pub didn’t help matters… In short, I partied. 

 

What you can do about it: Sleep less. Watch less TV. Spend less time on social media. Have two drinks at the pub rather than seven. Stop wasting time reading blogs like this one and do some practice. This article by pianist James Rhodes is a wonderfully savage introduction to cutting out the rubbish in your life and getting back to what you love.

 

“Go after the sound you love”

 

The source: The venerable Richard Niles, award winning producer, arranger, guitarist and all-round musical übermensch. The quote itself is actually attributed to Pat Metheny, with whom Richard has worked with on frequent occasions. 

 

The meaning: Make the distinction between what you want to learn and what other people tell you that you should be learning. Embrace the music that you are passionate about and steal as much as you can from it – don’t shy away from your musical heritage. Don’t get distracted by people telling you that you should really listen to Miles Davis if the sound you’re after is bluegrass-meets-Squarepusher (I’d love to hear from anyone who is actually after that particular sonic equation). 

 

Why it didn’t stick: The short answer here is decision paralysis: presenting myself with too many options and failing to pursue any one of them to the level required to really absorb the sound into my playing. 

 

What you can do about it: Adopt the Helsinki Bus Station Theory (yes, really).

 

 

“If you have to practise* for the gig, you shouldn’t be on the gig”

 

*It’s important to note that I mean practise in the sense of developing mastery of a musical concept through persistent effort, rather than playing through new material that you might have to memorise for a gig. 

 

The source: Renowned bass educator (and No Treble contributor) Joe Hubbard

 

The meaning: Have the humility to realise that there are certain gigs that you should say ‘no’ to because they lie too far outside of your current comfort zone. Because of the many external (not to mention internal) sources of pressure that are present during any live performance situation, your musical ability has to be sufficient so that you can have a ‘buffer’ to absorb the distractions without your playing being compromised. 

Let’s say you have to learn a tune with a taxing unison line or ‘bass feature’ in it (‘Spain’, ‘Got A Match?’, ‘Sir Duke’ and ‘You Can Call Me Al’ are just a few off the top of my head) and you’re struggling to get it up to tempo in the practice room. There is NO WAY that you’ll be able to execute that same part at tempo on stage in front of an audience – you need a technique buffer of roughly 10-20bpm that will allow you to absorb distractions and still play the part properly. 

This isn’t just a chops thing. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is saying ‘yes’ to a gig which involves playing music that puts you out of your depth stylistically – if you have no real interest in listening to and studying jazz then don’t pitch up on a standards gig with iReal Pro on your iPad and hope you can survive the evening. Don’t say ‘yes’ to the progressive metal gig if you’re not comfortable with odd time signatures – there’s no shame in being honest about what you can and can’t do musically. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be constantly striving to improve your playing and getting better gigs – there are plenty of opportunities to work on the performance aspect of music without being on a gig where the audience and the other musicians expect you to be on top form.

 

Why it didn’t stick: It’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll turn down certain work until you realise that you have to pay your rent this month. Learning how to say ‘no’ to work also takes time for both financial and psychological reasons – it’s an ego boost to be called for a gig, and you might not want to have to pass on work to other musicians for fear that you won’t ever get called for anything ever again.

 

Do you have any wise words to share?

If there’s a piece of advice that has really helped you in your musical development then why not share it by commenting on this post?

 

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5 Unorthodox Books That Will Transform Your Bass Playing

I have a confession to make: I’m an addict. Over the last 15 years I’ve built a comprehensive library of instructional materials; books, DVDs, play-a-long CDs, online video lessons, VHS…

I have a confession to make: I’m an addict.

Over the last 15 years I’ve built a comprehensive library of instructional materials; books, DVDs, play-a-long CDs, online video lessons, VHS (yes, I’m that old). Here’s a glimpse of part of my bookshelf:

The problem is that I’ve never really used half of them; I find it difficult to stick to one method at a time, so most of the things I buy get retired to a bookshelf fairly swiftly.

Sound familiar? Then read on…

This series of posts books looks at the handful of books that have helped me make significant improvements to not only my bass playing but also my general musicianship.

One thing that they have in common is that none of them were written for electric bassists, which might well be the reason why I’ve found them so enlightening.

Part 1: ‘The Advancing Guitarist’ by Mick Goodrick

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is the best book I’ve ever read on any subject. It was recommended – or, more accurately, prescribed – to me by Richard Niles (whose work has sold more than 250 million records, so I try take his advice wherever possible).

You can buy The Advancing Guitarist here for less than £10. Do it. Now.

What’s it about?

This book is so broad in its scope that it would actually be easier to list the things that it doesn’t cover – there’s enough material in ‘The Advancing Guitarist’ to keep you busy for several lifetimes.

These are the key areas that Mick Goodrick covers:

* Single string playing
* Positional playing
* Modal improvisation
* Intervals
* Triads, 7th chords, slash chords
* ‘Commentaries’ – short articles on a range of musical topics

Sounds just like every other guitar method book, right? Wrong.

What I love about this book is that it is the polar opposite of 99% of other instructional methods.

Rather than prescribing specific exercises, the author presents a series of musical topics and forces you to work out what to do with them. While this might sound like a cop out on his part, I found that it meant that I actually got much more out of the book – by having to find my own route through the material I found that I gained a deeper understanding of musical concepts that I’d seen numerous times before in other books.

How will it change my playing?

In my opinion, there are only two items of information that anyone needs to be a proficient guitarist (or bassist):

1. The notes used to construct different chord types
2. The location of those notes on the instrument

All other considerations (technique/articulation/phrasing/tone/vocabulary) are dependent on the style of music that you’re playing and are, for the most part, subjective.

Is that a gross oversimplification? I don’t think so.

The ugly truth is that most players fall short of the mark on point 1, and an extremely small number of people that I’ve encountered, including professional players and teachers, have a really thorough understanding of number 2.

Right from the outset, ‘The Advancing Guitarist’ forces you to constantly think about which note you’re playing and how it relates to the chord that you’re playing over. For me this was nothing short of life changing.

BENEFIT #1 – This book will drastically increase your fretboard knowledge, liberating you from playing the same old licks and patterns

Confused about modes? Join the club

In my experience as a teacher, modes seem to be one of the greatest sources of confusion for students; Learning the names is confusing enough, let alone understanding how to use them.

‘The Advancing Guitarist’ clearly explains the construction and derivation of the modes of the major, harmonic minor and melodic minor scales and presents a number of practical ways to apply them.

BENEFIT #2 – Modes will no longer be a mystery

Need help finding your voice?

For me the real value of working through the book on bass is that it forces me to work on things I rarely hear other bassists play but that (to my ears, at least) have a lot of musical value. There’s plenty of discussion amongst musicians regarding the importance of finding your own ‘voice’ on your instrument, and several chapters of the book have allowed me to uncover things on the bass that I otherwise might never have explored.

BENEFIT #3 – Working through this book allows you to sound more like you and less like everyone else

‘Commentaries’

The last section of the book is composed of a series of short articles on various aspects of musicianship, including (but not limited to):

* Time, tempo and rhythm
* Reflection and self-evaluation
* Improvisation and composition
* Technique
* How to approach different playing situations

It’s rare that guitar books cross into the realm of philosophy, but I’ve found Goodrick’s insights to be a great source of inspiration, particularly if I find myself stuck in a rut with practising.

BENEFIT #4 – Examining your playing beyond the ‘nuts and bolts’ level will improve your musicianship and give you a fresh perspective on how you approach the bass

 

Whilst it’s obviously aimed squarely at guitarists, the book still works for bassists (and other stringed instruments) because it presents a series of musical topics and forces you to work out how they apply to your instrument. The information is presented in an extremely logical manner and everything is arranged to provide the reader with a clear sense of development as they work through the book.

‘The Advancing Guitarist’ is one of the only methods that I’ve come across which fully outlines both the complexities and the limitations of the guitar (or bass) and provides a progressive route to a greater understanding of how harmony applies to the instrument.

One more thing- it’s also the funniest guitar book I’ve ever read. Always focused and succinct but never stale.

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 (or VHS…) that you love and feel deserves a wider audience then let me know by commenting on this post.

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