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Something I've been wondering about for a while...


I love to have to play bass in different environments and enjoy the whole challenge of winging a set with little or no rehearsal. I'm not a reader (something I hope to correct in the future - I can at least decipher standard notation given time, and I'm not too horrific with the rhythms, it's the pitches that get me) so that counts out theatre etc gigs. And my jazz playing has a long way to go before it catches up with everything else (something else I'm working on - the Ed F book has come out again!)


So, that counts out 95% of subbing opportunities... But I'm very comfortable with charts and my ear's not too bad - it just seems to get confused when everything gets too bop (is that possible? ;) )


However, that minor issue notwithstanding, I'm thinking that there's a whole city full of pop/indie/rock/funk/soul/etc bands all of whom have bass players that get sick/go on holidays/have personal issues/etc. So I'd love to be one of the names that gets called to rescue the situation.


So who does this (including theatre/jazz gigs) and how did you get into it?



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Alex, I have subbed on occasion and have been called on short notice to do a show that was quickly put together. I am not a great reader either.

The big obsatcle was learning ( really learning ) sometimes as many as 3 sets worth of tunes in a very short time.

What has saved me on all occasions and I still use this is The Nashville Number System. Once you get the hang of it its a real life saver and once you write out the chart it works in any key




There have been situations I have turned down since it required me to read 100% notation. But his system has really helped me.


I read an article in bass player about this same topic and the guy said the first thing he need to do was to listen to each song at least five times to get a feel for it and then sit and write it out.



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I've done last-minute sub gigs also.


There was a cabaret gig I subbed at where reading was essential. Everything was notated-no chord symbols. During the rehearsal it became obvious that I wasn't a good sight reader. Even though I took the tape home, came back and nailed everything during the second rehearsal and the following gig, I never got called again. :( Needless to say, reading is a big topic covered in the lessons I'm taking right now.


I've also done a lot of subbing at paying bar gigs playing covers. Those situations are a bit easier, usually there's no written music--sometimes there are chord charts. Usually the tough part there is, like 57PBass said, learning three sets worth of tunes at the last minute.


Fortunately, the more of these kinds of tunes you do, the greater the likelihood will be that you'll already know most of them, since there are certain tunes it seems like everyone plays.


Getting these kinds of gigs is something you kind of have to do through osmosis. I started by seeking out original projects with great musicians playing on them (ie: way better than me). If they like your playing and think you're solid, they may pick up the phone and call you when they need someone.

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I'll second the number system. I learned it while I was taking Dog House bass (that's upright to non-southerners) lessons one semester at college. Works great! And like 57pbass said, once you get the hang of it, you can use it in any key.



"Paranoid? Probably. But just because you're paranoid doesn't mean there isn't an invisible demon about to eat your face."

Harry Dresden, Storm Front

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I've done lots and lots of subbing gigs. Everything from pro theater to symphony to jazz and church music.


Qualifications: for what I do, I must be able to read very, very well, and then when I read, I must play it with feeling. There is always a little "wiggle room" here, however. I sometimes will miss a little lick here or there, but mostly, I can cover it up. Whatever gets you through the gig.


Example; in November, I played with the Buddy Cox Big Band. ( Here\'s them at the Southside Preservation Hall.) This was for a $75 per plate Easter Seal Fundraiser. I was handed 2 books with about 400 tunes each. The band leader would call a chart (#121, for example) and count 1-2-3-4. We're off. The charts were written bass lines and changes, typical of Big Band books. Some were poorly written, some had been rewritten with alternate changes, notes and rhythms.


I didn't even have time to review the form, repeats, DS and Coda and stuff like that. Hold on!


I played the book about 95% accurately, even to the point of improving the written bass lines at appropriate times. All except one tune, which crashed completely. I think my chart was in the wrong key, I never did find anything that fit. I dunno, though...we went on to the next tune.


Example 2: I was asked to sub for "Forever Plaid" for the Casa Manana playhouse. Even though the director wanted me to pick up the music in advance, I couldn't, telling him I'd read the charts at the gig. I showed up about 45 minutes early to go over it...I played well enough to become the regular sub for the last year of the show.


Example 3: I was asked to do a show of 60's music arranged by the drunken music director. This music was often a mess, and he compounded it by telling the audience to "hold on. Our bass player is reading the show." I read my butt off, winning the audience over by every success. By the end of the show, patrons were whooping and hollering at me, actually having a better time getting into the whole "Will the bass player fail?" bit.


Example 4: I was asked to sub for "The King and I" for a community theater. Showed up, played the gig, impressed the conductor, and became his regular bassist after that. You can read about that in: Trashing Whippersnappers and a follow up in: I got the callback.


How to break in? Word of Mouth. In 2 of these instances, I was the teacher of the regular bassist. When I subbed for them it worked pretty well. In the other 2, someone I had played for before had recommended me.


These are probably not the kind of gigs you'll be playing, and I'd advise NOT to accept a gig without being straight up about your abilities. Word of mouth works both ways, ya know?

"Let's raise the level of this conversation" -- Jeremy Cohen, in the Picasso Thread.


Still spendin' that political capital far faster than I can earn it...stretched way out on a limb here and looking for a better interest rate.

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Just a thought here...I don't know if you're a church-going person, but if you are, find a church that has a worship band who plays contemporary Christian music. They usually need bassists. That's what has actually gotten me back into music after a 5 year or so hiatus. I've found that when I play (about every other Sunday on the average), I generally have to learn 3-5 songs by ear and chord charts in a week. These songs fit into musical styles including modern rock, classic rock, ska, almost jazz, etc. It's really forcing me to become more versatile, both in terms of my sound and my playing. Anyway, just a thought...



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

- Tom Capasso, 11/9/2006


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All my gigs are like this.


It took many years to get a reputation for being known as someone who could read virtually any chart, know 1000's of tunes, and be able to play without charts.


It also took many years to be able to do this.


The more gigs you do like this, the more you will get. Especially if you are a nice friendly, cooperative person who also is not only on time, but also early for gigs.


Nashville numbering or Roman numerals is a way to understand what is going on. If you can hear music this way, you can often play songs the first time you hear them. You can also transpose songs into other keys by knowing the songs by numbers rather than chord names.


There are different circles of people out there.

Theatre musicians, r&b musicians, jazz musicians do not usually cross paths. It helps to pick one field and specialize. I have been fortunate to be able to do work in a bigger variety of fields than many other people.

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Dave Brown is right on it when he says it's all word of mouth. I'm in college so I haven't had the years of experience many of you have but I consider myself quite fortunate in the amount of gigs I get called for. Be punctual, confident and pleasant. I've been meaning to for some time but I just haven't gotten myself to sit down and do it...make business cards and always cary a few. It helps majorly if you're giging with somebody for the first time and you want them to remember you if they need a bass player. Most of my referals are from drummers and other bass players so always keep tabs on the ones you meet.


As usual, Jeremy knows what he's talking about as well. It takes time to get "on the scene." I'm just starting out but I can see how things are working exactly how everybody is saying. Alot of the people I meet who later call me for other gigs were last minute alternates themselves at whatever gig where we met so when they need a bass player for something else they're doing...you get the picture.


Also, keep your eyes and ears open for local auditions for whatever you want to get into: musicals, a summer jazz gig, orchestras, a local band looking for a bass player (introduce yourself and say that you aren't able to play fulltime for them but if they need some one to sit in they can call you). Local message boards at music stores are great too. I've found that just talking to people after shows that I go to is quite useful. Jeremy's right in that most of the time musicians don't cross those lines but the nice thing about being a bass player is that you can if you want to.

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