I Need Bass Therapy!
I have been learning/playing bass for about 18 months. My teacher is a professional musician, is excellent and he has taught me a lot. Prior to this, I knew absolutely nothing about music apart from casual listening. Now, I know a lot of theory, can read music and can play just about anything on bass if given the sheet, chord diagram, tabs or told what to play. Actually, I now play in my church with our organist/keyboardist/drummer and they are quite impressed.
However, I have a big problem. Although I can read and play written music well, I cannot decipher anything from recorded music. If I listen to a song, I find it almost impossible to follow the chord changes. In fact, I get very confused and lost soon after the song begins. I find it a challenge to hear the bass on music either because the bass level is low, or I get distracted by the vocals and drums.
I am not tone deaf and can actually decipher intervals if played on the piano or bass. However, I find it difficult to tell intervals in songs because the notes move quickly and get drowned out by the vocals and drums.
So, my question is this. Is there something wrong with me that I find it difficult to figure our chord progressions/bass line in songs? Is there something that I can do to address this? People say you should listen to lots of music, but exactly what should I be listening for/to (keyboard, bass, vocals, etc). Is there a stepwise, methodical, approach that you guys use to figure out the bassline of songs?
Get a good pair of over the ear headphones, find a place free of distractions. I like to listen while laying in bed. Listen to some of your favorite music and try and pick out some of the easier to hear instruments (drums, guitar etc.). Bass is harder to pick out than other instruments, so don't get discouraged. It just takes time. Also listen to some bass guitar heavy music, so that it's easier to hear. Although bass is harder to distinguish that other instruments, you'll hear the difference if it's not there.
There are a few things you probably need to work on. One is the ability to develop a kind of selective hearing skill. You should aim to be able to pick out different instruments in a mix. I found transcribing drum parts helpful. They are easier to hear but you still have to use the same refocusing around the mix as you pick out different drums and cymbals. For instance, listening to a ride cymbal is very different to listening to a snare and your ear has to change focus.
Then just try picking out other instruments like guitar, keys and string lines. You can just aim for singing them rather than writing or learning.
Bass can be the hardest to pick out so you're not alone with this difficulty.
Then try hearing certain standout bass notes. Sing them to yourself then go to your bass and try playing the notes you sing. Easier to match that way.
As for chord progressions, that can be a case of listening for general chord areas and hearing movement toward the tonic Chord I. It takes quite a while to develop your ear so don't expect miracles. Get used to certain popular Chord progressions like V-I cadences or II-V-I or major to minor changes (c major to c minor) or moves like I-I7-IV and you'll just get better over time. David L Burge's relative pitch course is good but check out any aural training courses.
Praise music can and will use all seven of the chords, in a key, in one song. Catching these changes dead on is going to take years for your ear to pick up.
Nothing wrong with your hearing, everyone has this problem right at first. Rely upon the chord charts you are given and hang on.
What can you do to recognize the changes. IMO coming over from rhythm 6 string guitar helps, because we sat, with our 6 string, in our bedrooms and strummed specific chord changes over and over and then over and over again -- and our ears got to recognizing the V-I cadence. After that when jamming we assumed the other changes. Getting those changes dead on did not come over night, we assumed a lot. After awhile our assumptions got better.
Back to what can you do -- theory helps with the assumptions and there are many ear training sources out there, get one. I can not recommend one over the other.
(1) as mentioned, a good set of headphones
(2) run the song through some software (Transcribe!, Audacity, Amazing SlowDowner, etc.) where you can slow down what you are listening to. Loop a section and listen to it over & over if you have to. These types of software usually also allow you to raise the song an octave, which makes it easier to hear what the bass is doing (as well as making the vocals sound like The Chipmunks!).
Some of the software packages are free; some are inexpensive ($30-50 or so). I prefer Transcribe!, although it wasn't one of the free ones.
If you're really asking about how to figure out chord progressions to a song on the fly, then as Malcolm & Mark mentioned, it'll come with listening to a lot of music over time and learning that a lot of music out there uses & reuses some popular/standard chord progressions. As you learn those, they'll be easier to identify, and you'll *usually* be able to figure out what comes next.
Thanks guys - all great advice and will follow through.
Yeah, really need some decent headphones. Agree, the Praise music has all kinds of stuff thrown in which makes it even more challenging. I thought I would begin here as it is the kind of music that I like, but will now get into the "cookie cutter pop stuff" to see what I can learn here.
Great idea about transcribe approach - will give it a try.
Another way to learn to identify chord progression, esp 'standard' chord progressions, is to work backwards from known material. You know how a lot of songs sound and flow already, you just need to connect some of those changes with the chords.
Some songwriting books provide these sort of examples.
This is how I learned at least some of these.
I found basic piano skills very helpful. And charts when available. To this day I have an easier time learning with other musicians in the room instead of a recordings...
Doing that the melody line and the chord line sound good together. If we play notes of the harmonizing chord we too harmonize the melody and sound good. Yes, that is why we were told to follow the chords and play the notes of the chord. Root on one ........ remember that.
So if we learn why the songwriter decided to use that specific chord that would be step one on assuming what chord would come next.
If that was all there was to that story, this would be great, however, chords furnish two things. The first is verse movement and this is the normal I (rest) to IV (tension) to V7 (climax) then back to I (rest) aka the chord progression we all understand. The other is harmonization and this one falls between the cracks. If the melody line and the chord line share like notes within the same measure - you have harmonized that measure. So if the chord being used does not contain any of the melody notes that measure will not harmonize. How many like notes per measure is needed? Answer; one. That is why roots alone work. Two is better, three is great and four is gravy - if you like gravy spoon it on.
Question; So the chord progression provides movement and harmonization, right? Yes. And I only need one harmonizing note per measure, right? Yes. Let's say I've got my movement taken care of, but, now need a harmonizing note can I insert that note into one of my movement chords? Yes. That is where fancy chords come from. Need a 2 note add a Sus chord leading to one of your movement chords. The Sus's 2 will give you the harmonization you need or insert a 9, which is the 2 in the next octave into one of your chords.
Reaction; this gets complicated. Answer; yes it does, however a dirt simple I-IV-V7-I chord progression has been used to write a zillion songs. And that same ole I-IV-V7-I is a good assumption you can use in a jamming circle. The I, IV and V chords contain every note in I's scale, so sooner or later one of those three chords will harmonize the active melody. Yep, you are using one of the chords and it is not working, try one of the remaining two. If that one does not sound good your next choice IS going to work. Get lost the I and V can keep you in the game till you can find your place.
The Internet is full of papers on how to write a song. Pull up some and study how chords function in a song.
Train your ear & brain to listen to bass lines.
It takes a while.
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