Hey Everybody! This is my foray into the world of blogging, and im going to post thought up here on at least a weekly “bassis”
Knowing Your Bass (might be a discipline issue)
My First Blog is one that might sound familiar to those of you who are my students, have been to Bass/Nature camp, Bass Boot camp, or a clinic of mine. It is on a subject that I believe we all need to be aware of from time to time, it is the working title of my forthcoming instructional book. Please feel free to leave comments and share with others.
Knowing your Bass
Bass players are generally the most undisciplined members in a band. We’re usually the least knowledgeable one or the most knowledgeable one with usually no gray areas in between. That’s why you have a whole bunch of keyboard and guitar players just giving you the ROOT of chords. “Play a C”, “Play an A”., they tell us. If somebody does that to you, that’s an insult. You should be insulted by that. That is them saying that they don’t expect you to know what the rest of the chord means. They are implying, “We don’t expect you to know what to do with it, so we are just going to give you the root.”. But you can’t outline a C7b9, if you don’t know what that chord is. They’re not giving you the whole chord, because they don’t expect you to know what it is. We have to accept some responsibility for that. So my observation is that bass players are either the least knowledgeable in the band or the music directors like Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Victor, or Ricky Minor. We have to do our part to make sure that we aren’t the least knowledgeable person in the band.
The notes on your bass….how many bass players know the notes on their bass? It’s not a trick question, either you do or you don’t. You will never, ever, ever meet a piano player who doesn’t know the notes on a piano.….ever. You will never ever meet a sax player who doesn’t know the notes on a sax. You will meet good bass players, and I mean really good bass players, that don’t know the notes on their instrument. THAT’S why they give us the roots. Because we’re the dummies in the band, and we bring it on ourselves. So I ask you again how many of you know the names of the notes on your bass?
Most bass players know the names of their notes in first position on the lower strings. That’s where we know the notes best.
I purposefully go in the opposite direction. (Here’s an example starting at 1:50 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptAoexAf3uI )
I start on the highest note on the highest position. In the case of my four string 24 fret bass, that’s a G. I play the highest G on that string and then I play the lowest version of that note on the same string. I play all the G’s on the G string from highest to lowest, then all the G’s on the D string from Highest to lowest, all the G’s on the A string from highest to lowest, and finally all the G’s on the E string from highest to lowest. If you can’t do that for all 12 notes in our music system, you don’t know the notes on your bass. There’s no gray area, either you do or you don’t. It’s a simple thing. KINDA knowing them, or knowing some of them, is not one of the answers to the question. You either know the notes or you don’t. Make sense? Piano players, can do that, its easy on piano. Sax players can do that. Bass players can’t do that. We have to take the time to get caught up.
We can use the excuse that this is a new instrument for only so long. This instrument is only 60 or so years old so we are still building tradition and curriculum on the instrument. But 59 years ago the 20th fret on the A string was an F, 59 years from now the 20th fret on the A string will be an F. If I ask you where all the Bb’s on your bass are and you need a bass in your hand to answer the question, you don’t really know the answer. If I know the notes on Tammy without her in my hands, its going to be EASY when she is in my hands.
How many of you love your bass? I absolutely love my bass, its provided a great living for me. Because of that I have an open and honest relationship with it. She’s provided a great living and a great lifestyle for me. The only way your instrument is going to do that, is if you know everything about this thing that you say you love. How many of you love your car? You can describe your car to a “T”, If you need me to get something out of the glove box, you say “Anthony ok, you can reach in glove box, my Ipod is in there behind that you can grab that thing”. How many of you are married or have significant others? If I asked you to describe him or her right now without him/her standing right there, could you do it? Because you love her/him. So if you say you love something you should be able to describe it even if that thing is not around. If you say you love this instrument, Is that fair to say? Every musician on the planet can do that except bass players. We’re the dumbest ones in the band. Make sense?
It’s a fair assessment, guitar players are the same way too, they just have more ego attached. Here’s why: This instrument is tuned symmetrically so it lends itself to being played in patterns. If I want to play something like “Brickhouse” (which is in A) in the original key and the singer can’t sing the original key but he can sing it in C, I can still play it with the same exact fingering. We can transpose without regard to what notes are played. If a sax player wants to move up a minor third (three frets), he can’t rely on a shape or pattern, he has to know the notes on his instrument. A major scale or minor scale in all keys will have a different shape on a sax or a keyboard. They can’t take a familiar shape and move it up. We as bass players have it easy in one sense because we have a pattern based instrument so we can take a shape we’re familiar with and simply move it up. But at the same time, we never have to know the notes we’re playing. So it’s a plus or a minus. It’s kind of built into our instrument, the dumbness is kind of built into it. So we have to overcome that intellectually.
This is a discipline issue when you don‘t know the notes on your instrument, make no mistake about it, it’s a discipline issue. We all know that the first fret on the E string is an F. You just have to have the discipline to do that for the rest of the notes. If you don’t have that learned, and you’ve been playing longer than a year, IT’S A DISCIPLINE ISSUE. Own up to it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of playing and getting gigs, and not taking the time to do it. But how we get invited to the NEXT Level of doing this is based on what you know.
If Chick Corea holds an audition for a bass player, and 20 bass players show up, all 20 of them are going to know how to play. That’s not going to be the deciding factor. The deciding factor is going to be based on KNOWLEDGE. Because what you don’t know could cost an artist money. If an artist says “hey lets take it up a tritone, you either know what that means, or you don’t. And if you don’t know what that means, you are now officially costing them money. It’s easy to replace you, because there’s somebody who knows what it means, and can play it.
There’s not too many feelings that are worse than auditioning for something and getting rejected. The only thing that is probably worse than that is having your heart broken, but losing an audition is a close second. If I go audition for a band and if I don’t pass that audition because I’m black, because I’m short, or because I’m extremely good looking, I can’t do anything about that. But If I don’t get that audition because I don’t know the notes on my bass, That’s shame on me. That’s something I have got to take care of. I can’t do anything about the dark skin, I cant do anything about being short, or change the fact that I’m extremely good looking. But I can take the time to learn the notes on bass, and if I don’t that’s a discipline issue. Is that fair to say? The last thing I want to have happen to anyone is for them to audition for a scholarship to college, or to get into college, or to get into a band and don’t get it because of something they could have taken care of like knowing the notes on their bass.. It’s a discipline issue, and if we all address it, we may no longer be the dummies in the band.