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Bass-think Vs. Guitar-Think


The Bear Jew

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Bear with me here, this is a basically stream-of-conciousness thing....

 

In band situations, I play both bass and guitar (but not usually in the same band.)

 

When I play bass, I am always listening to the guitarist and drummer and coming up with ways to improve the drum line as well as streamline the guitar part. Now, I know what you're thinking--you're thinking I come up with ideas to change the guitar and drums to leave more room for my bass parts... but that's not it... I just hear stuff in my head for those instruments that'd make the whole song better. Sometimes I have to alter the bass part in order to serve those parts better. But I do that all the time... probably to the chagrin of my bandmates. I tend to be harder on the guitarist in these situations for some reason... probably because I know how simple my ideas for guitar actually are, and I can pretty much keep up with the drummers I've met no matter how they decide to jack the beat.

 

However, when I play guitar, I have become less concerned about what the bassist does and more focused on what the drummer does. I think this might be due to the way I play guitar--which is decidedly rhythmic, especially when I solo. I like to "compose" the solos, and I always hear drum accents that should follow along the melody/counter-rhythm I create. I worry less about the bass in this situation because, as long as the bassist is essentially in time and in tune, I can get along with pretty much whatever they do, even if they get all Geezer Butler on me and run off to the races. But the drums... man, I get annoyed when the drummer doesn't remember a fill we discussed or drops a beat.

 

My point here is that it's a very different mindset for each instrument, isn't it? And perhaps I'm ackward-bass on this thing... because as a bassist, I should probably be more concerned with what the drummer is doing, right? And and a guitarist, I should probably be more worried about the bassist "setting me up" than the drummer. Either way, I'm thinking about the band's sound overall, so that's probably a good thing, right?

\m/

Erik

"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."

--Sun Tzu

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Well, I think that focusing on the big picture and how it all sounds together arrangement-wise is a really good thing, Erik...not a lot of musicians do that (I certainly didn't when I was younger). I don't see anything wrong with how you go about either...the kind of music you play tends to be riff-oriented, so I think you have to focus on what the guitar is doing to some extent when playing bass. When playing guitar, it seems reasonable to me to link up with the drums and kind of let the bass fall into place for your kind of music. If the results are good, then it ain't broke!

 

Dave

 

Old bass players never die, they just buy lighter rigs.

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006

 

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"as long as the bassist is essentially in time and in tune" - Spoken like a true guitarist.

 

I used to play rythm guitar in one band and bass in the other so I can attest to the mindset. Different concerns altogether - particularly with original music. You are fortunate to have the mental capacity to do both and still be aware of the importance and influence of each. I nevr could get the hang of it :crazy:

 

There is never a wrong when thinking about the overall sound of the band - unless the thin line between idea/suggestion and control gets crossed in anyones eyes. Just my opinion mind ya.

 

"He is to music what Stevie Wonder is to photography." getz76

 

I have nothing nice to say so . . .

 

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My point here is that it's a very different mindset for each instrument, isn't it?

I think so, especially after getting a guitar about a year ago. Being a bass player all these years I thought playing rhythm guitar would be a cinch...wrong! It took a while to not feel like a complete idiot when playing country songs I've known for years on bass.

Either way, I'm thinking about the band's sound overall, so that's probably a good thing, right?

Yup. Someone who serves the song instead of the ego is much better to share a stage with or watch from the audience IMO.

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I think you're pretty much right on from a bass perspective. To me, the bass is the bridge between melody and rhythm, so paying attention to both the drummer and guitar player while playing the bass makes a lot of sense.

 

Now for guitar, listening to the bassist makes more sense to me than the drummer. I figure the rhythm is gonna come through the bass pasrt well enough for me to follow it, as will the chord changes, which I want as a reference to where my leads take me from.

Always remember that you are unique. Just like everyone else.

 

 

 

 

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I started out playing Guitar but never developed any proper musical understanding properly until I moved to Bass. All the theory, technique & instrument physicality(dunno if thats a word!) I have developed is over time related to the Bass. I played Acoustic Guitar for a year before moving onto the Bass when I was 16. Fast forward to my 31st birthday and my wife bought me a Gibson Explorer to live out my James Hetfield thrash metal fantasies.

 

Now I'm a well enough developed bass player and I'm comfortable playing many styles and I'd happily jam or wing anything on the bass but as soon as I put on the Explorer everything is Thrash Metal!! I actually have fairly good picking technique and I can rip some great riffs downpicked or alternate. Here's the catch though its just that style I'm any good at and I can hardly play the Bass with a pick at all!!

 

I know its really a matter of woodsheding on both instruments ie Playing Bass with a pick and opening up a little more with the guitar but to be honest I'd rather keep them seperate.

 

As far as composition goes/songwriting I think the best stuff is written with an awareness of all the parts locking. In my situation I try to write bass parts that lock with the drums and harmonise with guitar parts to create as big a sound as possible. When ALB writes everthing is up for editing.

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Ok, let me paraphrase and see if I heard you correctly.

 

When playing bass in a band situation you find it necessary to produce/arrange both the guitar and drum parts. You suspect the guys you play with are intimidated by your all around awesomeness. ;)

 

When playing guitar in a band situation you find it necessary to produce/arrange only the drums. Then you're disappointed when the drummer forgets the things you told him to play.

 

First of all, it takes a special kind of talent to produce and arrange well. As long as your band mates recognize that what you're doing is for the overall good and is not a slam on their abilities then it should be "all good".

 

If they are equally good at producing and arranging then you all have to be able to truly, objectively pick the best direction for a given song. With ego-free musicians this should be a piece of cake. (In other words this is normally a disaster. :D )

 

Now, if you're just talking about performing -- not writing, producing or arranging -- I agree there is a different mind set between playing bass and guitar. I'm mostly a rhythm guitarist but I'm gaining confidence in playing lead. I'm mostly a lead bassist. ;) So I'm actually more comfortable taking a solo on bass than guitar.

 

Disregarding solos, bass and guitar are both supporting the melody (typically the vocals) rhythmically. The biggest difference, IMO, is guitar is expected to play chords whereas bass is not.

 

Other than that it's just a matter of doing what's necessary to support the songs. If I'm playing bass and I hear something in my head like a fill I think the guitarist should play, I'll go ahead and throw it out there on bass. If I'm on guitar and the bassist goes all Jaco I can lock down a basic rhythm with the drums.

 

IMO it really doesn't matter what instrument is currently in your hands. In an ensemble you should be able to add any component to a song: melody, counter, harmony, bass, rhythm, etc. (Well, ok, it's hard to be melodic with a drum kit, but you get the idea.)

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When I am playing bass I am completely aware of everything that everyone else is playing and I am usually subtling controlling all of them.

 

When I am playing guitar, I am concentrating on what I am doing and can barely keep track of anything else.

 

Now in my case, I have been playing bass in band situations for over 40 years. Even though I have played guitar almost that long, my band experiences on the instrument have been few and far between.

 

But somehow I think that my perceptions when playing guitar are not that different from a whole lot of guitarists'.

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Hmm. I tend to play a lot more attention to the guitar.

 

The drums I can follow on autopilot, feeling the rhythm and not really needing to hear a lot more. I find it more important to concentrate on what the guitarist is doing simply to avoid bum notes. In other words, if you lock onto the drummer's rhythm, you could play the same note all night, and it'd be boring... but ok.

 

Whereas, if you don't change notes with the guitarist, things fall apart. Same thing when playing guitar, if I don't change with the other musicians it sounds like crap.

 

So I always concentrate on the other instruments more than I do on the drummer.

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Ok, let me paraphrase and see if I heard you correctly.

 

When playing bass in a band situation you find it necessary to produce/arrange both the guitar and drum parts. You suspect the guys you play with are intimidated by your all around awesomeness. ;)

 

When playing guitar in a band situation you find it necessary to produce/arrange only the drums. Then you're disappointed when the drummer forgets the things you told him to play.

 

First of all, it takes a special kind of talent to produce and arrange well. As long as your band mates recognize that what you're doing is for the overall good and is not a slam on their abilities then it should be "all good".

 

If they are equally good at producing and arranging then you all have to be able to truly, objectively pick the best direction for a given song. With ego-free musicians this should be a piece of cake. (In other words this is normally a disaster. :D )

 

Now, if you're just talking about performing -- not writing, producing or arranging -- I agree there is a different mind set between playing bass and guitar. I'm mostly a rhythm guitarist but I'm gaining confidence in playing lead. I'm mostly a lead bassist. ;) So I'm actually more comfortable taking a solo on bass than guitar.

 

Disregarding solos, bass and guitar are both supporting the melody (typically the vocals) rhythmically. The biggest difference, IMO, is guitar is expected to play chords whereas bass is not.

 

Other than that it's just a matter of doing what's necessary to support the songs. If I'm playing bass and I hear something in my head like a fill I think the guitarist should play, I'll go ahead and throw it out there on bass. If I'm on guitar and the bassist goes all Jaco I can lock down a basic rhythm with the drums.

 

That's kind of the jist of it... this kind of stuff occurs to me as I am playing with new people and feeling things out with other acts to see where I'll be going next musically.

 

Maybe part of this has been due to the fact that when I've been playing bass with new bands, I tend to be coming into pre-existing situations, so I'm mostly just learning the material and doing my part to tweak arrangements and things... In those cases, maybe it's just that I'm just a set of fresh ears, so I'll hear things in the guitar parts or drums that could be tweaked a little to serve the vocal line a little better. This might also be because I also tend to play bass with bands that don't need me to be an overly technical player, so I can hear everything I'm supporting as it happens...

 

As a guitarist, I tend to end up in a position where I'm part of the writing process, and therefore, the bassist will be in on the ground floor with me in the writing, and I guess I just figure if the bassist has the gig, they know what the songs need. This just doesn't always seem to be the case with drummers, though, so we'll be rocking away, and I'll hear something in my head and turn to the drummer and say, "Hey, when we get to that part, can you try going to a tribal, tom-tom type of thing?" or "Maybe open up the hi-hats there and do a little more of a Bonzo thing than a Dave Weckl?" or (I'm known for this one, big time) "Can you simplify that fill to something more powerful and grand, like maybe a 'blickum-blickum-blickum-BLICK' group of flams?" I dunno why I'm so hard on drummers. I think it's because I've been lucky to play with some really excellent, open-minded drummers in the past, and now I feel like I have to re-train these new guys to look at things in different ways in order to meet that standard.

 

Yeah, yeah, I know... I'm a big pain in the butt. I can't help it. When I am passionate about the music I'm playing, I just get this way. I know I'm not a particularly amazing player of bass or guitar, but I do think I have good producing and arranging instincts, so, within my limited abilities, I would like to get my bands to sound as tight and confident as possible with their material through solid arrangements of parts that mesh together and make sense for what the band is trying to accomplish.

 

It's definitely all for the good of the whole band--it's not like I arrange things to highlight myself on either instrument. I'll happily throw lead guitar parts to the other guy if it makes sense (or write something other than a guitar solo for that spot) or remove bass fills if they seem to be stepping on something else in the song. When bandmates see that I do such things, they tend to understand that I working for the greater good and not my own interests.

 

And if they don't get it, I punch them in the taint.

\m/

Erik

"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."

--Sun Tzu

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Yeah Kramer...I agree with you...in a live show it seems to be that I kind of lock into the drummer without havning to think much about it, so I pay more attention to on eof our guitarists (depends on what song we are playing).

 

Though I have played bass for years, I was always primarily a guitarist and did a vast majority of my writing on the guitar. It always seems that my best stuff was the songs where I had some intentional "air" between the guitar and drums...and filling in that air with bass melodies and counter melodies yeilded my most satisfying/interesting songs. You really do have to change your mindset and how you view compsition depending upon what instrument you are working with.

 

CMDN...prior to my current gig, I was in an original metal 3 piece as a bassist. The drummer was a "feel" drummer and not particularly technical...the guitarist was a very skilled rhythem player and a creative song writer, but not a lead player, and he was inexperienced. So, even though I was the bass player, I was the most experienced musician in the group. Though the guitarist was a creative song writer and a hell of a riffer, his songs still came off very 2-dimentionally...though the riffs were all different, the songs all followed the same pattern...so after I didn't feel like "the new guy" I started "arranging"...like you mentioned..."hey, instead of playing that riff 4 times (like always)....how about once, then have a three beat pause, then finish with two runs of the riff..." And, like you, I was particualrly suggestive to the drummer, because, though he was solid, he was not particularly creative. So, I can totally understand where you are coming from...

My doctor says I'm A.D.D. - I just like to think of it as "multi-tasking"...

 

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I actually tend to almost ignore the drums other than for timing purposes. I even tend to ignore him for that as well often as my internal timer is actually very good.

 

We just recently picked up our first singer about 3 weeks ago and it has revealed an issue with our drummer in that he adjusts his time based on the vocals. So if the singer sings behind the beat, he slows down to match up, which makes the singer slow down to stay behind the beat, which causes the drummer to slow down.. etc.. Before you know it the song has dropped down to half tempo or worse with me and rhythm guitarist looking at each other screaming WTF as we try desperately to bring the tempo back up.. He's never played with a singer, so we're working on it..

 

Anyway, back on topic..

 

I listen to the guitars more than anything else as I base my bass lines off the guitar melody and rhythm, unless it's a song I initially wrote, then they base their parts off the bass line.

 

A lot of the music we write has a lot of harmony work in it so I end up constructing part of a larger chord with the guitars, or I'm playing my own distinct melody underneath the guitar harmony.

 

Still other parts I do the standard bass thing and play the roots.

 

I don't play the guitar, have no real interest in playing guitar, and the guitar players can get over any preconceived notions they have about the bass part. I write and play what works for the song in my head. In some parts it may be to lock to the roots, in others it may be to play some completely off the wall line..

 

 

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Delusional Mind

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I like Jeremy's line of how he listens to everyone and subtley controls the sitation. I guess I try to do that in a way. I can depend on my drummer to always be there and be creative, so it leaves me open to experiment with how the song flows, and I change that from time to time on any given song. I'll play what I feel at the moment.

I also think that as a bass player it is easy to see how songs are, or could be arranged. I think we could be naturally good at this.

Visit my band's new web site.

 

www.themojoroots.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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...I don't play the guitar, have no real interest in playing guitar, and the guitar players can get over any preconceived notions they have about the bass part. I write and play what works for the song in my head. In some parts it may be to lock to the roots, in others it may be to play some completely off the wall line..

 

 

So if the guitarists (or the drummer or singer)have a suggestion about something you're doing with the bass line on a song, what do you do?

\m/

Erik

"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."

--Sun Tzu

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This just doesn't always seem to be the case with drummers, though, so we'll be rocking away, and I'll hear something in my head and turn to the drummer and say, "Hey, when we get to that part, can you try going to a tribal, tom-tom type of thing?" or "Maybe open up the hi-hats there and do a little more of a Bonzo thing than a Dave Weckl?"

 

Yeah, I'm like that too. I'm worse actually because not only do I suggest drum parts, I'm always trying to get the band to step back from what we are doing and explore different avenues for any given song.

 

Last thing I asked, for example, was how they would feel about bringing in a drum machine to keep the beat under the drums, which could then be used more melodically. We eventually rejected the idea, but it got us talking. I'm also fond of asking the singer to try out different ways of singing a song ("why don't you speak the lyrics?", "try singing it in an angry/joyful/despairing manner" and so on). One day I'm going to bring in Eno's "Oblique Strategy" cards.

 

I'm a right royal pain in the ass, actually. :grin:

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...I don't play the guitar, have no real interest in playing guitar, and the guitar players can get over any preconceived notions they have about the bass part. I write and play what works for the song in my head. In some parts it may be to lock to the roots, in others it may be to play some completely off the wall line..

 

 

So if the guitarists (or the drummer or singer)have a suggestion about something you're doing with the bass line on a song, what do you do?

 

If I'm in a gracious mood I listen politely and then try my best to incorporate their idea. If I like it fine. If I don't, I say so.

If I feel like the line betwen suggestion and control has been crossed I say something like "Hey, I don't tell you how to brush your teeth do I?"

"He is to music what Stevie Wonder is to photography." getz76

 

I have nothing nice to say so . . .

 

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If I'm in a gracious mood I listen politely and then try my best to incorporate their idea. If I like it fine. If I don't, I say so.

If I feel like the line betwen suggestion and control has been crossed I say something like "Hey, I don't tell you how to brush your teeth do I?"

 

I get where you're coming from with this... but where is the line? Or is it just in the way that the suggestion is raised(tone of voice, choice of words, etc)? Or do you just question their motivations in asking you to try something else?

 

Matt, I'm not specifically picking at you here, but this is something kind of essential about bands.

 

My point is, if someone's suggestion for your part is truly meant to be for the good of the band's overall sound, doesn't it behoove you to give it a shot, if only to show the other person that their idea won't work?

 

I certainly wouldn't want anyone (aside from a dentist) to tell me how to brush my teeth, but my oral hygiene only really effects me (and possibly anyone close enough to smell my breath.)

 

However, a band situation isn't about any one player in the band--when you play out or record, what each player does is actually a reflection on the whole band, and the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts. If one person isn't on the same page with the rest of the band, it just sounds bad, and John Q Public in the audience can't usually tell who is screwing up or playing something "out"--they just know it sounds bad or weird. When a single player is so precious with what they do that they won't change it (or look at another option) regardless of what their bandmates suggest, the whole band ultimately suffers.

\m/

Erik

"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."

--Sun Tzu

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Maybe part of this has been due to the fact that when I've been playing bass with new bands, I tend to be coming into pre-existing situations, so I'm mostly just learning the material and doing my part to tweak arrangements and things[...]

 

As a guitarist, I tend to end up in a position where I'm part of the writing process, and therefore, the bassist will be in on the ground floor with me in the writing, and I guess I just figure if the bassist has the gig, they know what the songs need. This just doesn't always seem to be the case with drummers, though [...]

Yeah, I think that has a lot to do with it. If you were the ground floor bassist I think you'd be a little more critical/vocal than when you're not, and instead given a full demo CD to add a final bass line to (or told to cop the one the previous guy did). It's more rare to have a song completely fleshed out without any guitar parts, unless you're talking just lead/solo, but that's a whole 'nother thing!

 

I whole-heartedly agree on the issue of drummers. If you really want some anguish go listen to a pro jazz drummer do these amazingly musical things all night long and then compare to your typical bar band quality rock drummer's BOOM TAP BOOM CRASH. :o:D

 

To be fair, I do know rock drummers that have amazing talent. If the song calls for just flat out beating the skins, they will, and you'd think they were just your typical drummer. Then they throw in stuff that makes your jaw drop, and they do it with one hand tied behind their back (sometimes literally).

 

One of my current faves is Brad Elvis (of The Romantics and also Chicago's The Handcuffs). Brad can be playing a hard-hitting beat complete with fills, carry on his stage show (many visually entertaining tricks), and still spot his friends in the audience and say "hi" to them as if he were just sitting there casually sipping a White Russian. A lot of drummers I meet have a hard enough time just concentrating on playing a solid pattern.

 

But it's not just drummers. My cover band recently auditioned a slew of guitarists and the range of talent tended towards the dismal side. It's not like we're playing prog or EVH but a lot of these guys didn't have the chops or had problems with the basics, like timing. It got so bad my drummer half-jokingly suggested I switch to guitar because it would be easier to find a bassist. :D (We finally found a guitarist and he's working out rather well.)

 

I did have one audition where three of us (bassists) took turns in the same room, so we got to hear our "competition". I think we were all competent -- everyone had solid basics -- so the decision came down to style. Of course I still see a lot of Craig's List ads that start out with "Aren't there any good bassists around?", so I know every musician experiences some frustration in finding other suitable musicians with which to form a group.

 

 

Back to subject -- but from a slightly different perspective -- at my last studio gig I was asked to lay down a bass line for a song. I also brought a guitar to double the existing rhythm guitar track. What was there was good but I thought a single acoustic guitar track was going to be a little sparse once electric bass and drums were added.

 

My bass playing had to be somewhat melodic because there was no lead instrument save vocals. At the same time if my attention strayed too far from the rhythm of the drums the whole song lost punch and came off flat.

 

Guitar was easier in this case because I just had to lock in rhythmically with the drums (and the existing guitar track, of course). Folk style, full open chord strumming.

 

There's still room for a lead instrument. I was asked to come back and play mandolin. If the song still doesn't have lead guitar on it -- and I don't think it will -- I'll probably record both lead and rhythm mando tracks.

 

But don't ask me about Mando-Think vs. Bass-Think vs. Guitar-Think. :D

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If I'm in a gracious mood I listen politely and then try my best to incorporate their idea. If I like it fine. If I don't, I say so.

If I feel like the line betwen suggestion and control has been crossed I say something like "Hey, I don't tell you how to brush your teeth do I?"

 

I get where you're coming from with this... but where is the line?

Good points, Matt and Erik.

 

I'm sensing that Matt is coming from the angle of a brain surgeon whose candy striper patient is trying to tell him how to operate. The neuro surgeon literally spent decades to learn and master his craft. And while the candy striper may play an important role in the field of health care, he is unlikely to have much knowledge of neurosurgery. Hence great resentment ensues.

 

It seems Erik sees it more akin to a school group project. Everyone in the group decided to cut out whale pictures for a "Save the Whales" collage, but when they got together to mount them some of them just didn't fit with the others. Maybe one was the size of the poster board and just overwhelmed the others. Or maybe someone brought in pictures of humpback whales but everyone else had blue whales. At that point some felt the focus should be narrowed to "Save the Blue Whales" and that the humpbacks were distracting, especially since no other whales were being represented.

 

The line is crossed, IMO, when the person acting as producer (i.e., the guy giving suggestions to everyone else) is clearly making poor decisions.

 

Sometimes this happens when the "unwritten rule" is invoked. That is, the guy who originally came up with the song idea becomes that song's executive producer. But what if that person is not a good producer? What if they'd rather stick to their original vision of the song regardless of the input of others that would result in a better song?

 

It can go the other way, too. A songwriter brings his idea to the group and the direction of the song changes ... for the worse. Years later the songwriter plays the song as originally intended and the listening public is left to wonder why it wasn't recorded this way in the first place.

 

It can be tricky.

 

If you want to talk about differences in artistic vision and focus, just visit a painting class, for example. Each student will paint the exact same subject slightly differently based on his or her own interpretation. Some may be very similar but no two will be identical.

 

It's like movie directors. I like Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hallow, Nightmare Before Christmas, etc.). I just don't think Tim Burton is the right director for every movie ever made, say, The Sound of Music.

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