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Hiding behind the music


Ross Brown

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Last night my wife came into my music room and sat down on the couch to chat, as she does sometimes. I turned off the CD that I was working on and we talked. When she does this, I usually keep noodling a little for a couple of reasons. One, if I stop, she thinks she is annoying/interrupting me and wants to leave. (I get plenty of practice time, so it is really not an interruption). Two, I think it is a good exercise to try to play while carrying on a conversation. Like singing and playing, two different things at the same time.

 

Last night I realized that I sound like crap without the CD playing. :bor: on how I am doing.

 

Anyone care to share their experiences with this?

"When I take a stroll down Jackass Lane it is usually to see someone that is already there" Mrs. Brown
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Yes, recording studios are sometimes the place where messy playing usually shows up. I think it helps a lot to record your practice sessions and focus in on the details. I've found that since I've got into looping during practising that this is a way to really focus in on the clarity of one's playing. There's nothing like hearing a 'mistake' loopoing over and over.

Personally, I quite like string noise - but I guess it should always be intentional.

Good luck with it, Ross!

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Thanks for being so honest, Ross. I know a lot of us, especially in a public forum, like to always show our best side and leave the wrinkles at home.

 

Sort of reminds me of the story I shared before about a guitarist friend that always hid behind a lot of distortion: when I got him to play clean the mistakes were quite evident. (He started practicing clean and is a much better player today.)

 

An even better analogy is a person that sings along to recorded music with the lead vocals still in the mix (not karaoke). The song still sounds great because the recorded vocals sound great. Take away the recording and, well, you have some of the "not ready for prime time" candidates for American Idol. (I sound much better when the CD I'm singing along with is much louder than me. :o:D )

 

It's not nearly as fun, but try practicing without the CD, at least for the first part of your practices. In fact, it can be extremely boring sitting all alone chugging out open E 8th notes for almost an entire song (e.g. "Panama"/Van Halen). But it gives you a chance to focus on what you're doing.

 

If you have a hard time remembering all the changes (we sure do rely on those cues from other parts, don't we?), write out a chord chart or lead sheet. Doesn't have to be fancy; just has to get you through the song.

 

As an added bonus, try playing along to just a metronome to work on your timing, too. Set it to half the song's tempo and let the clicks represent the snare hits on beats 2 and 4. Don't use a drum machine as that may be too distracting. Remember, you want to be able to focus on your own playing.

 

Ok, now play through the song. Listen to every sound you make. Concentrate. Focus. It'll be frustrating at first; don't give up! If you find a particular passage is giving you trouble, slow it down, work it out, then slowly bring it back to tempo.

 

Try alternate fingerings. For example, maybe playing that open A string is causing problems because it's difficult to mute it; try 5th fret on the E string instead. OTOH, maybe it's a very fast run and being able to grab an open string gives you a little extra time to make a shift easier. Look for optimizations to make the playing (a) sound better, and (b) easier to pull off.

 

All right. That's all fine and dandy. But don't neglect all the boring rudimentary stuff, too: scales, etudes, that sort of thing. You should at least be warming up with these kinds of exercises. Spend a little more time with them and critically listen to yourself to fine tune them. The other stuff will likely fall into place without much extra work if you can get these to sound good.

 

You should also record some of your practices. Even when you're playing alone and very focused on what you're doing, it's still possible for little things to escape your concentration. It's far easier to hear these things when you can sit back and just listen to a play back. As they say, "the tape never lies".

 

If you're really working hard and not seeing any improvement (give it some time), don't be ashamed to work with a private instructor. A good one will be able to quickly spot where you need to improve in your technique. Not as good would be to video tape yourself playing and do your own evaluation. (Unless you have a bunch of cameras, it's hard to capture everything.)

 

As always, the first step to recovery is recognizing the problem.

 

 

Me: Hi, my name is Eric, and I'm a sloppy bass player.

Everyone: Hi, Eric!

:D:D:D

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I've always found it a good idea to play a song without the music playing after I think I've learned it. Yeah, it does expose a lot of flaws and weaknesses, but it's a great way of improving as well.

Tenstrum

 

"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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Hello, My name is Jonathan, and I am a speed varying bass player and sloppy bass player.

I know the feeling Ross. More so with singing than playing. But I have noticed that if I am playing by myself I dont rush, but if the drummer cuts out or its just a string/vocal practice I waver in speed. The biggest thing in my opinion is... PAYING ATTENTION. if I know to look for it, I can keep her steady. Or as far as playing goes, I have to make myself lighten my touch. WHen I'm getting into it I start digging the strings hard and this makes everything suck. That reminds me, I need to go work on some things.

Best of luck,Jonathan

 

 

 

 

 

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I couldn't agree more. My articulation leaves a lot to be desired. I've found practicing with headphones plugged into my practice amp allows much easier identification of missed notes and bad articulation.

-- Joe --

 

"If you think you're too old, then you are." --Lemmy Kilmister

"I have not seen a man who is not god already." --Austin Osman Spare

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I do most of my practiing with the Tascam BT. I learn the song by playing with the CD. After I feel like I am doing pretty good, I use the TASCAM to cut out the bass on the CD. This allows me to just hear my playing. There is a big difference. Often when playing bass with a CD, our playing blends into the mix and it sounds pretty good. With only my plying coming thru, it really shows my weak points.

Rocky

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb, voting on what to eat for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb, contesting the vote."

Benjamin Franklin

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The Tascam BT is good. I use that. But the mistakes can still hide. I know the songs well I think I am just not carefull. Great reply RBG. Thanks.

 

I really never had trouble with rythym and timing. Just so sloppy with the other stuff.

 

I have had those moments when the band stopped except perhaps for the drummer and it was just me. Then I am paying attention!! I remember one time the sweat coming down my head as I realized I was now in a different ball game.

 

In recent jam/practice (for a benefit show) with a bunch of guys I have never played with before we were playing Mustang Sally and everyone was taking a solo for all 12 bars. I suspected that I was going to have to take my turn and I did cause the drummer begged off. That was OK. I was more careful and definately paying attention (and sweating). Not great, but not a laugher.

 

If I were in a studio and my track played by itself I would die. That is what I want to work on. Moving to the next level. Always playing solid. I don't right now.

"When I take a stroll down Jackass Lane it is usually to see someone that is already there" Mrs. Brown
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Nowadays almost all my practising is done with just a bass, not playing along with anything, rarely even plugged in. Nothing to hide behind! (Though I came about this through sheer laziness and not bothering to plug in or switch on...)

 

If you can create the vibe singlehandedly through really nailing a bassline, then think how much more musical the song will be when built on such a strong foundation.

 

If you're good at rhythm and timing, focus on those strengths and really get inside the groove of what you're playing. Spend an hour playing the same two notes on your own and make them groove harder than you though possible with just solo bass.

 

Alex

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Originally posted by C. Alexander Claber:

Spend an hour playing the same two notes on your own and make them groove harder than you though possible with just solo bass.

 

Alex

I have just started having an appreciation for songs that consist of one basic chord. I never thought that was possible. It is, if done in moderation.

 

Two notes???? May just give it a try.

"When I take a stroll down Jackass Lane it is usually to see someone that is already there" Mrs. Brown
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Originally posted by Ross Brown:

In recent jam/practice (for a benefit show) with a bunch of guys I have never played with before we were playing Mustang Sally and everyone was taking a solo for all 12 bars. I suspected that I was going to have to take my turn and I did cause the drummer begged off. That was OK. I was more careful and definately paying attention (and sweating). Not great, but not a laugher.

This is why I believe all bass players should be able to solo. As in sports, when they call your number you gotta be able to make the play! You don't have to be Jaco, but don't assume that just because you play bass you'll never have to solo. On a twelve-bar blues like "Mustang Sally", minor pentatonic scales, phrasing, and confidence can go a long way. (What do you think the other soloists are using? ;) If they have more confidence it's because they practice more, that's all.)
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Another really great timing exercise if you have a drum machine (any kind, hardware or software) is to set it to there is a click on every quarter note for 16 measures, and then have it play a click for every whole note. Play a nice steady walking pattern, and you'll see if you need some internal timing work. Try it at a turtle-slow tempo and record it if you want a laugh.

"For instance" is not proof.

 

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Yet another fun thing to do with a metronome...

Mess with the clicks....

 

Sure, anyone can play in time with the clicks.... but...

 

Try playing pattern and landing each note just before the clicks... as in:

*note*CLICK... *note*CLICK... etc.

 

Or just after the clicks...

 

or... vary them...

One set of the pattern right on the clicks...

One set right before...

One set right after...

 

Mix and match... try it at different tempos.

 

It can make you go a little nutty, but it's good for ya.

\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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yea... the Mustang Sally solo thing was actually fun, but I saw it coming...

 

Got no feedback and that bummed me but then I thought about it and no one got any feedback. Maybe I should have started it.

"When I take a stroll down Jackass Lane it is usually to see someone that is already there" Mrs. Brown
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I played a couple dates with a somewhat inexperienced drummer recently.

 

His biggest problem, frankly, was confidence.

 

Anyway, he was talking about how much better everyone else in the band was than him. I told him, "Look, it's not that we're any better than you -- we just do this a lot, so we know how to cover our mistakes better."

"Tours widely in the southwestern tip of Kentucky"
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Originally posted by Ross Brown:

Have I been hiding behind the music? I presume I am hiding behind the band during rehearsal too

Great advise (that I´ll use myself) from the others. My advise is sort of a compromise that works pretty good for me at home practice: Lower the volume of the CD and/or increase the volume of your instrument, so that you step to the front from hiding behind. You´ll need to hear the recorded music just enough to keep on track of the tune. You´ll need to hear your bass well enough to hear your mistakes.
What ever...
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I think you should do most of your practicising unaccompanied. It's good to build in the playing along with records too but you need to develop confidence in your own sound and playing. You need to play sometimes with and sometimes without a CD; sometimes amplified; sometimes not. Sounds common sense but it's easy to get stuck into patterns and routines. One of my main faults is practising eveything at a similar easy medium tempo, but of course you need to vary the tempo you practise at too.
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Originally posted by CMDN:

Yet another fun thing to do with a metronome...

Mess with the clicks....

 

Sure, anyone can play in time with the clicks.... but...

 

Try playing pattern and landing each note just before the clicks... as in:

*note*CLICK... *note*CLICK... etc.

 

Or just after the clicks...

 

or... vary them...

One set of the pattern right on the clicks...

One set right before...

One set right after...

 

Mix and match... try it at different tempos.

 

It can make you go a little nutty, but it's good for ya.

[uPDATE for TUESDAY]

 

Worked on some of this last night. Kinda fun. Thanks Eric.

 

Also worked on string noise. I agree that sometimes string noise is desirable. I just want to have control of it. I think most of my issues will be concentration issues. We'll see...

 

Tonight, Octaves without thud?... maybe or maybe just notes without thud...

"When I take a stroll down Jackass Lane it is usually to see someone that is already there" Mrs. Brown
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The metronome stuff is very cool. Ed Friedland has a bunch of great metronome exercises in his book 'The Working Bassist's Toolkit' - decent book this! They used to be available on Ed's website but the link no longer works (as it links to a now defunct BP page).

I spent a while doing those exercises on the train/bus to work - using headphones into a pocket sized metronome and tapping on my thigh!

 

Maybe it's too obvious but slow it right down, Ross and see if it still happens (or is it harder slow?)

 

I think we all go through phases of working on particular details of our playing. Sometimes it's worth selecting one issue e.g. note length/vibrato/string noise/positon shifts/intonation/left hand pressure etc and focussing on just that for a while, filtering whatever other issues that there might be out for a while.

There is always room for improvement. I play a lot of gigs playing very simple root-5 basslines at the moment so I have been spending many gigs and practice sessions focussing very much on the length of notes (and the relation between that and the drummer's and others' parts) and their tonal character rather than on other factors.

 

It seems from your post that this is the approsch that you are taking. Be specific. Self-criticism is good, but try to focus on one area at a time.

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Thanks Phil. Yes, I am trying to stay focused. I think missed notes (thuds)will end up being a focus for a while.

 

I saw in an ad in BP that Jeff Berlin seems to hate metronomes. That seems to be counter to what I have always heard. As, I mentioned, my timing has not been a real issue, but the excersices still seem worthwhile. everything has its place, I guess.

"When I take a stroll down Jackass Lane it is usually to see someone that is already there" Mrs. Brown
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Jeff likes to be controversial - it means he gets more publicity! :evil:

No, he's great and both points of view are right.

You need to practise with a metronome sometimes and without one some(many)times. It comes down to how you use the metronome too, it musn't be a crutch. This summer one of my teachers recommended programming a drum machine with 8 bars of groove alternated with a few bars of silence and playing along with that (but I haven't tried it yet - my drum machine is in great need of repair!).

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You can learn the songs by playing along with recordings, but your practicing should be in a quiet room so you can hear what you are doing.

 

At first I thought this thread was going to about the gigs where you are sitting behind a music stand playing some really silly show and you hope no one in the audience recognizes you.

 

tnb knows all about that.

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For me, a lot of problems go away with a good firm fretting-hand technique. While those with carpel-tunnel will be quick to point-out not over-doing it, bass does require a lot more physical strength than some instruments. I have a "Wimpy Grip", so without firming-up my fretting-hand, I have a rather buzzy/stacatto sound.
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Originally posted by Phil W:

This summer one of my teachers recommended programming a drum machine with 8 bars of groove alternated with a few bars of silence and playing along with that (but I haven't tried it yet - my drum machine is in great need of repair!).

Great idea! A variation of an exercise I was taught. The ultimate challenge would be to program only the first and last 8 bars of a song to see how well your "internal metronome" keeps up for the duration of the song. (Well, maybe for a 2:30-ish song; I wouldn't want to try this with something like the extended "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"! :D )
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Yeah, I'm with Jeremy on this one.

 

I thought this was going to be about stage presence, and to look up once in a while and not be buried in the sheet music.(or the lyrics for the singing bassist).

 

Another way to cover up sloppy playing is to have the bass tone WAY up and the treble down. Used to play that way, but a wise player told me to turn up the treble, and Yikes, I had to start practicing.

I'm trying to think but nuthin' happens....
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Originally posted by jeremy c:

You can learn the songs by playing along with recordings, but your practicing should be in a quiet room so you can hear what you are doing.

 

At first I thought this thread was going to about the gigs where you are sitting behind a music stand playing some really silly show and you hope no one in the audience recognizes you.

 

tnb knows all about that.

Hey, I'm in here! :D

 

Speaking of silly assed gigs, I'm leaving in a few minutes to go do another rendition of "Always...Patsy Cline", complete with cowboy hat.

 

Back on topic. Recording yourself while playing with an ensemble is a great way to fix the little things that make you sound like crap. Work on the things that sound most dreadful and then just start getting picky.

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Originally posted by randy clay:

 

Another way to cover up sloppy playing is to have the bass tone WAY up and the treble down. Used to play that way, but a wise player told me to turn up the treble, and Yikes, I had to start practicing.

I have done this!! Busted :rolleyes:

 

UPDATE for Wednesday

 

I stink! Got rid of string noise, played flatwounds last night. :D

 

Worked on simple blues patterns and then some walking. Missed notes and a couple of "buzzers". I did get better as the night went on. This will take a while.

 

For the walking, I couldn't get into it so I played along with a couple of songs and then turned the CD off. That helped. The songs was then playing in my head.

 

Tonight, more of the same. :cry:

"When I take a stroll down Jackass Lane it is usually to see someone that is already there" Mrs. Brown
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Oh yea... sorry about the confusing topic title. Our (former) singer/guitarist had a music stand for his lyrics. Drove me crazy because he was hidden behind it. He couldn't remember the words. I don't have a problem with a music stand but it needs to be discrete. IMO.
"When I take a stroll down Jackass Lane it is usually to see someone that is already there" Mrs. Brown
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