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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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Unorthodox Instructionals Part 2 – Franz Simandl’s New Method For The Double Bass

In the 2nd post on unusual instructional books for electric bassists (part 1 can be found here) we’re examining the benefits of Franz Simandl’s ‘New Method For The Double Bass’….

In the 2nd post on unusual instructional books for electric bassists (part 1 can be found here) we’re examining the benefits of Franz Simandl’s ‘New Method For The Double Bass’.

I discovered this book while studying with Austrian bass titan (and ibassmag contributor Stefan Redtenbacher and spent a long time working through it on electric bass years before I ever touched a double bass.

What’s it about?

Way back in the early 1900s, Austrian double bass virtuoso and renowned educator Franz Simandl published his method for double bass, which offered bassists with a logical, incremental approach to mastering the instrument.

How is a 100-year-old double bass method relevant to modern electric bassists?

Many bass players have borrowed the ‘1 finger per fret’ technique from the guitar, which in certain playing situations makes a lot of sense. The problem comes when trying to apply this concept in the lower positions of the bass where the frets are further apart – the popular ‘1234’ chromatic finger exercises that are still prescribed by instructional books, bass magazines and some teachers place unnecessary strain on the left hand and wrist when applied in the lower portion of the fretboard.

I’m not alone in my hatred of these exercises – Dave Marks has made a couple of excellent videos on the subject:

Renowned bass educator Joe Hubbard also makes the point that these exercises also make no musical sense in this blog post. If you’re not aware of Joe, his list of past students includes Pino Palladino, Paul Turner (Jamiroquai) and Dave Swift (Jools Holland). Not too shabby.

The alternative is to use the approach adopted by Simandl and other similar double bass methods – dividing the bass into a series of 3-fret positions and using position shifts rather than left hand stretching to reach notes that fall out of position. Horizontal shifting is one of the most fundamental aspects of bass playing but also one of the most awkward.

Being able to execute a horizontal position shift whilst maintaining a legato sound requires a great deal of attention to detail, and Simandl’s etudes offer plenty of practice in this area.

Using Simandl’s approach, the 3rd finger isn’t used for fretting notes and instead supports the 4th finger. Applying this ‘supportive fingering‘ concept to the electric bass leads to a more secure left-hand technique that reduces physical strain and (to my ears, at least) results in smoother, more effortless playing.

Benefit #1: adopting double bass technique reduces tension in the left hand, making your playing sound effortless and reducing the risk of injury.

Feel the benefit right now:

Let’s compare 1fpf with the 3-fret span concept using an F major scale:

1fpf means that I have to stretch my 3rd finger out to reach the notes at the 3rd fret, which results in a sharp bend in my left wrist which decreases blood flow and increases strain on the hand:

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Adopting the idea of a 3-fret position allows me to reach all of the notes without stretching or straining my left hand:

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The Lost Art of Articulation
Studying Simandl’s classical etudes also directs our attention towards two areas that electric bassists often neglect: articulation and dynamics.

Since the exercises are rhythmically simple, the entire focus is on producing a smooth, consistent sound from the instrument. Directing your attention towards note length can reveal a lot about your left-hand technique and force you to reevaluate your approach – playing a passage of crotchets with seamless transitions between notes might seem like an easy exercise but the reality is surprisingly difficult.

Benefit #2: paying attention to your note length and articulation will give you greater control over the sound of the bass and enable you to adapt your sound to suit a variety of musical situations.

In addition to solidifying my technique and improving my ability to articulate notes in a variety of ways, Simandl helped me to really understand how to play in a variety of keys across the entire range of the bass.

Benefit #3: Working through the positional etudes will help to solidify your knowledge of key signatures and how each key ‘sits’ in different areas of the neck.

The fact that the entire book deals exclusively with standard notation means that studying the etudes will automatically bolster your reading abilities and improve your knowledge of the fretboard. The bass is a surprisingly difficult instrument to read on due to the fact that a single pitch can be played in a variety of locations. Play this G:

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Where is on the bass? Open G string? 5th fret D string? 10th fret A string? 15th fret E string?? It’s all of them, and the deciding factors for a position are the notes that come before and after it.

Of course, you need to have a decent knowledge of the fretboard in order to know that these options are available to you, and some of them may be more appropriate than others. Reading music and having a working knowledge of the entire fretboard allows you the freedom to play music in the most appropriate way for you, rather than having positions and fingerings dictated by someone else. This is one of my main gripes with TAB – it’s someone else’s opinion of how I should play a line.

Veteran bassist Lee Sklar recently picked reading music as one of his top 5 skills for bassists.

Benefit #4: Working with standard notation improves your fretboard knowledge, increases your familiarity with different key signatures and allows you to easily access music written for other instruments.

I think you get the point, so I’ll leave it there. You can get your copy of Simandl by clicking the links below:

Franz Simandl – New Method for the Double Bass book 1 (US Link | UK Link)

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 that you love and feel deserves a wider audience then let me know 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 just over £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.

3 Comments on 5 Unorthodox Books That Will Transform Your Bass Playing

Uncle Oswald – 'Dear John'

The blog has been alarmingly quiet over the last 6 months. Sorry. Must try harder in future. Here’s something to tide you over until the next post. I made a…

The blog has been alarmingly quiet over the last 6 months. Sorry. Must try harder in future.

Here’s something to tide you over until the next post. I made a resolution in 2013 to start writing my own music as the bulk of my work as a bassist involves interpreting other peoples’ songs and I wanted to start a creative project without any commercial concerns whatsoever. This is the result.

The ending contains a little bass feature which is a nod to one of the ‘Johns’ who influenced the tune, John Francis Pastorius (aka ‘Jaco’). I remember spending a long time as a teenager trying to get ‘Portrait Of Tracy’ together, and once I’d written this tune I was curious to see if I could emulate Jaco’s approach, playing the melody using harmonics while still outlining the harmony.

New articles, transcriptions and videos on the way soon. I promise.

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Geldof

I got this as gift from a student a few years ago (how did he know that an insulting autograph from Sir Bob was top of my wish list?) Is…

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I got this as gift from a student a few years ago (how did he know that an insulting autograph from Sir Bob was top of my wish list?)

Is it a fair point? Probably.

The truth of the matter is that the bass is certainly more ‘immediate’ than other instruments and is technically less difficult to get a pleasing sound out of straight away than, for instance, a violin.

But does that make it any less legitimate? I don’t believe so. But then again I’m ever so slightly biased…

So thanks for the insight, Sir Bob. Now jog on.

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