Archive for January, 2012

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More Great Bass-Slapping Techniques

January 21, 2012

This is a fantastic display of bass showmanship and technical ability. Note how Li’nard starts off by playing the bass as if it is a lead guitar (similar to the playing style first attributed to John Entwistle of the Who), then proceeds to some envious bass-slapping syncopation.

As one YouTube commenter says, “so many great musicians out there… reminds me of how bad the radio sucks these days”.

I find myself agreeing with this sentiment every single day. Turn on the radio or television nowadays, and all you’ll hear is over-produced, sterile, saccharine-sweet garbage that has been written by a focus group and performed by a set of algorithms. On the one hand, it makes me sad that real musicians struggle to make a living from their recordings or by touring.

On the other hand, maybe that’s what I like this stuff so much – because of the underground nature of it, and the fact you’d never hear Li’nard when randomly switching the radio on (or John Entwistle, for that matter).

No two ways about it, this movement of great and talented musicianship will come and go in cycles, but will never disappear completely. Which is more than you can say for autotuning Lada Gaga and Katy Perry.

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Ditching the Sheet Music

January 17, 2012

If there is one thing that can kill the motivation of a bass guitar learner, it is endless sheet music, notation, tabs and other learning resources. Sometimes it feels like there is more reading involved than actual playing, and if motivation is low in the first place, this can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Surely learning to play an instrument should involve more playing than anything else?

I agree with this somewhat broad assertion, however, there needs to be a strong theoretical grounding in music generally, and specifically as it applies to the bass guitar, beforehand. Otherwise, in my experience, bassists “hit the wall” far too soon, and end up losing interest or (possibly even worse) knocking out variations of the same generic bass chops for the rest of their careers.

To be able to really enjoy bass playing, and jam along to records or with other musicians, it is necessary to learn to play the bass guitar by ear. This grants the bassist freedom to just play, without peering down at endless sheets of paper – enjoy the sound of the music, and the fluid, creative possibilities of improvisation, instead of staring at rigid, unchanging quavers on paper. It is only when a musician learns to break away from the shackles of paperwork that he or she can think about playing with others, and perhaps doing so professionally.

Unfortunately, those early months of study are necessary. For some players, it may take less time before they are able to start recognising keys and playing along with records. Other players may need years to get to this stage. As with many things in life, it is a balancing act between hard work and pleasure.

There is an interesting article on learning to play bass guitar by ear here.

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Incredible bass-slapping technique

January 15, 2012

Through my usual weekend trawl of bass playing clips on YouTube, this caught my eye today. It’s a superb display of bass playing, using the “slap” effect:

Dal Farra’s virtuso playing (and I don’t use that phrase lightly) is truly marvellous. It is fluid and utilises a range of well-executed techniques, including slapping, bass chords, strumming, and pinched harmonics. In places, it almost looks like Dal Farra is playing a regular guitar, with his strumming attack style and use of barre chords.

Truly inspiring.

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Building a solid foundation for your bass playing

January 12, 2012

Whilst it is possible to pick up a bass guitar, or any kind of musical instrument for that matter, and master it without lessons, tuition or instructions of any kind (and there are many bass legends that did it this way), I wouldn’t recommend it. Why? The reason is simple – time. I had no formal training with the bass guitar, of any sort, and there was no internet when I was a learner (although the learning process never really ends with music), so I just sort of meandered around for two decades, without focus, goals or any knowledge of music theory.

Music theory is important. Whereas practicing – whether it is playing along to a record, or noodling away with the rhythms in your head – is about the how of bass playing, music theory is all about the why. You can learn, to a certain degree,  how scales and chords work by copying a Beatles or Rolling Stones record – but music theory is the key that unlocks the secret, underlying language of music.

After twenty years of playing along to records and trying to sound like John Entwistle and Herbie Flowers (and, for the most part, failing miserably), I decided to dig myself out of the deep grooves I had dug my playing into (which were actually ruts) and learn about music theory. My bass playing, and songwriting, came on leaps and bounds in a very short space of time, and I finally “got” the maths behind the licks and riffs I had memorized so many years ago.

Now, I understand everything I need to about pentatonic scales, harmonic function and seventh chords, and it underpins my playing and my compositions. But I will always regret not taking the time to properly learn bass chord progressions and notation much, much earlier. Because it is so important if you want to be a “serious” bass player.

Paul Simenon of the Clash taking out his frustrations on the bass guitar

Paul Simenon of the Clash taking out his frustrations on the bass guitar

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Bass Legends – Phil Lynott

January 12, 2012

Phillip Lynott (20 August 1949 – 4 January 1986) wasn’t just a legendary bass player – he also fronted, and wrote most of the songs for, his band Thin Lizzy. His playing style, like his stage persona, was aggressive and underpinned with violence. With Lynott the violence wasn’t an act, however – he was renowned for being tough and street-wise, and these sensibilities filtered through to his songwriting and fuelled his feral vocals and staccato basslines.

Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy

Thin Lizzy were a quinessential hard rock 70s outfit, and Lynott’s unique songwriting, vocals and bass style were a key factor in this. They were not afraid to poke fun at themselves on occasion, or take themselves too seriously, and the band’s onstage unpredictability served to make each show an exciting event, loaded with possibility and chaos. Lynott’s playing was never technically outstanding, but it was always exhillirating, anchoring the (often erratic) music produced by the band, and allowing guitarist Gary Moore to stretch out wildly. His tone was enviable for any bassist.

Lynott died of multiple organ failure brought on by drug misuse  in January 1986. Click here for one of their greatest moments captured on video.

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No Compromises

January 12, 2012

If you’re like me, you’re fussy about how your bass guitar sounds – you want the rich tone only a vintage provides – but you don’t have the cash to fork out for a true original. This presents a conundrum, and for me, its meant a never ending cycle of compromise, usually culminating in disappointment after a few weeks when I realise the limitations of the new instrument I have purchased (frequency range and ability to stay in tune being the two most important factors, closely followed by tone and sustain).

I recently heard about the new range of bass guitars from www.fleabass.com, endorsed by, and a sort of tribute to, Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers

Flea (theRed Hot Chilli Peppers) in action on-stage

These bass guitars promise to provide vintage-grade tone and durability, at an affordable near-budget price (around the $400 mark), and both reviews and general buzz have been favourable. The range is populated with bass guitars featuring the kind of gaudy stylings and garish color schemes associated with the man himself, and the tone is apparently very close to his early bass sound in the RHCPs.

I’ve long been an admirer of Flea’s popping, funky, almost jazz-like bass chops. I’m also always on the lookout for value bass guitars that deliver on their promises (it’s like a never ending quest), so I will probably splash out on one – most likely the Fleabass Junior 3/4 Size Bass Guitar Green and Pink model:

Fleabass Junior 3/4 Size Bass Guitar Green and Pink

Fleabass Junior 3/4 Size Bass Guitar Green and Pink

Guitar ranges endorsed by big name players are often thinly-veiled marketing ploys, with the axes themselves poor copies of the originals, and something the endorsers themselves probably wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. However, I’m not so jaded and cynical to believe that the concept is completely flawed – and it would be great to sound even slightly as good as Flea for the small price of 400 bucks.

Watch this space for my review (maybe).