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Young players and the basics of the bass

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by chicagodoubler, Nov 26, 2013.


  1. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

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    Chicago, that toddling town
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    Excuse my rant in advance, but...

    I'm seeing huge holes in the basic skill set of a lion's share of young jazz bassists these days. Sorry; it hurts but it's true. I've had students come to me a month before college auditions, shocked to find out that they needed to play a sonata (like a classical player should be doing by second year) for entrance to a HUGE number of conservatories, even for jazz departments... (After a year or more beating them over the head about the necessity of shedding bow skills...) :crying:

    I rarely see a college (or post college) jazz bassist who can play all 12 major arpeggios consistently in tune in the lower register, much less across 2 octaves. Somehow, smidging, sliding, and wiggling your way into notes became acceptable. In my book, this stuff is an artistic choice and should NEVER be the default method of playing a note in tune. I rarely see guys bother to get the thing accurately in tune before starting the gig/tune. Electronic tuners are cheap and miraculous. You can even put one on your phone for free.

    Big surprise- I've also seen professional bassists go to schools like Juilliard for post-programs, and be forced by Ron Carter himself to fix bad habits using... wait for it... Simandl. How stink is that? Go have the honor of studying with Ron and spend a year or more working out of Simandl? Clearly there's a problem here.


    I ain't just ranting for rant's sake here. Lots of kids use this board as a resource, and lots of excellent teachers do the same. Somehow, pedagogy is severely failing a generation of young jazz bassists, and in my not so humble opinion, the instrument deserves better. We need to suck it up and force jazz players to stand up to the same basic standards as classical players... otherwise college is going to be an arduous task for them, if they can even get in. Never mind the real world, where a solid foundation is a *given* for survival in any big market.

    I've never seen competent arco work hurt a guy's jazz playing. I've very rarely heard excellent intonation across the board from a guy without it. Also, being able to play with the bow can open amazing work opportunities to guys. Wanna play Broadway shows? You're gonna need the bow.

    End rant- jazz players should do MORE than classical players, never LESS. There are no shortcuts to competency in this music. It may not initially be fun playing scales with the bow, but putting it off makes it harder and harder to fix bad habits each consecutive year.
     
  2. bassoakoustiko

    bassoakoustiko

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2002
    Location:
    kingston, Pa
    I agree. Kids are growing up in the age of mediocrity. "It's ok, you tried your hardest", is
    sabotaging this generation. Technology is teaching our children to be lazy. I could go on and on with this subject...

    I disagree with the whole bow thing at least in relationship with jazz. I do not think it should be a prerequisite to play this music. One thing I actually agree with Wynton Marsalis is that you do NOT need to learn classical to play jazz. I love this especially coming from Monster classical trumpeter. Don't get me wrong, there is tremendous value in studying the stick but as we all know practice time is limited.

    I propose this...

    Two students begin their journey at the same time. Each practices 1000 hours in 1 year. (4hrs/day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks)

    Student 1 sheds a modest 30% with the bow and the rest with traditional jazz studies.

    Student 2 sheds 1000 hrs of nothing but transcribing the masters and playing along. Bass lines and master soloists. learning how to use the Vocab.

    For me transcription is the absolute fastest way from point A to B.
     
  3. mtto

    mtto Supporting Member

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    Los Angeles, CA
    Student 1 plays more in tune than student 2, and has a connection to Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, Eddie Gomez, Charles Mingus, and all the other jazz greats who have played and continue to play jazz with the bow.
     
  4. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

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    Lemme drop a solid checkmate on you guys.

    What did Paul Chambers practice?

    Oh yeah. Legit. His arco skills were fantastic. He played in orchestras. I seriously doubt he ever transcribed a solo in his life.


    As much as I harp on transcription as the ultimate method of learning jazz, I adhere to the reality that the way those guys studied how to play the instrument is the same way people had for hundreds of years prior.

    I'm not saying you need to play Bottesini to play jazz, but it sure doesn't hurt.
     
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  6. mtto

    mtto Supporting Member

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    You're not checkmating me, we're on the same page. I don't think playing scales, patterns and arpeggios with the bow really qualifies as "classical." That's just practicing the raw materials of music.

    When I studied North Indian classical music, I had to play scales and patterns with the bow, just like when I studied Western classical.

    In jazz class with Harold Land, each week he had us play scales in all twelve keys before we even played a tune. If it took the whole class period to get through that without mistakes, so be it.

    I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want to practice scales with the bow.

    I've done a little transcription, but I've gotten a lot more out of studying ear training, harmony and voiceleading. And slow improvising.
     
  7. bassist1962

    bassist1962

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2006
    Location:
    Portland, Oregon
    Although I never studied in college, I had a high school band director who had us do this same thing. Most of the students thought this guy was a PITA and he was, but To this day (I graduated 1981) I still do scales (both major and minor) around the circle of fifths, both pizz and arco. I cannot see a better way to find your way around the instrument. I told a band mate recently that this was part of my practice regime and he thought that was fantastic because most people can't or don't know how to do that. A sad stae indeed.
     
  8. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

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    I don't have time for scales. I'm too busy gigging...

    ;)
     
  9. neal davis

    neal davis

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    Dec 29, 2006
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    toronto canada
    I think the fact is the poor state of music education in general right now. Kids are expected to do so much in such a little time without having the fundamentals together. I have students that are asking about university auditions and they cannot even play their scales around the cycle.

    It takes time to become proficient on any instrument but the kids and a lot of teachers don't want to give the time that it takes.
     
  10. Zojo

    Zojo

    Joined:
    May 19, 2013
    This is a great topic. Of course it is not necessarily about young players. For anyone wanting to play jazz, the question is what skills and knowledge are required, and how do you get them.

    I went to the ISB conference last year with my 13 year old son, and there were 18 year olds in the program who had "completed" Simandl, and had music scholarships, but still had trouble improvising in time and in tune. So I have seen what you are talking about.

    Timing and intonation have never been a big struggle for my son. Some people say he is a "natural", but I think his advantage is that he played the violin for 8 years before switching to bass. His mom isn't a Tiger Mom, but she did sit at the piano with him when he did his 15 minutes of practice, making sure Twinkle Twinkle was in time and in tune. I think violin to bass might be a better path than little bass to big bass, because even little basses present a lot of obstacles to playing musically.

    A lot of kids come to bass late, often switching from guitar or electric bass, and because of the frets have not had intonation drilled into them. Probably they are just moving through Simandl too fast.
     
  11. Tom_RCJ

    Tom_RCJ

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    Jan 4, 2010
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    Cardinal, Ontario, Canada
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    Band is sponsored by Trinity Amps and Sennheiser.
    I see an opportunity for a very constructive discussion here. I'm the person you're talking about. In fact, I suspect you would consider me to be even below those of which you write. Before going any further, I would like to avoid any misunderstandings caused by the limitations of this written medium and say that I come to this with nothing but respect for the monumental amount of work and dedication you have put in. You could play circles around me and I know it.

    I started with a rock/metal background with a few Beatles and Beach Boys dalliances. Please bear with as I am desperately interested in your perspective and I feel bridging the gap between us would greatly benefit the community at large.

    When I saw someone play the electric guitar for the first time at the age of 16 my mind was blown. Strumming stings and making those soul shattering sounds that evoked memories and emotions changed my perception of the world around me. When I got my first guitar I was mesmerized. I played 10-12 hours a day for the first 2 years. I couldn't stop. The concept of expressing myself through a sequence of sounds was novel to me and I couldn't get enough. Those hours I practiced could have been put to much more efficient use to be sure, but I had little in the way of guidance at the time and ended up learning from Metallica tab books because that's what was available to me. I didn't know of anything else and neither did anyone around me. I lived in small mining towns in northern Canada. What I'm trying to say here is ; I have it in me. I can get obsessed enough to lock myself in my room for days, years even. But I need a reason.

    In the past decade I have taken up the bass and migrated over to classic rock and now blues. I have stayed away from jazz in the past due to my own erroneous perception of haughtiness from the genre, but now I find myself older, wiser and open to the idea of playing jazz. It has a nice feel to it and could be fun. That's my driving motivation really, "playing jazz could be fun". But so very often I fail to see that in those who really push the art form. It just doesn't seem like fun anymore. Hard work does absolutely pay off, but what's the payoff? I'm not saying there is none, but I don't understand your drive. What is at the end of the road for you? If you put in that much work, then it must have been worth it. So tell me; what's it like? Tell me how it tastes so I can be hungry for it as well. I can play rock, I can handle blues. I can get a whole room dancing and having a good time. I have a sense of accomplishment now, but I wonder what else I can achieve. Just “being better” sounds hollow. I’m already better than a lot of others. You’re better than me. Others are better than you. That cycle doesn’t motivate me because it never ends and feels like a pointless endeavour. Being better for the sake of being better feels like having lost any sense of purpose. So what is jazz for you? What made you put in the work? Why should one strive to be at the level you described? There has to be a reason.

    I’ll stop here because the longer I go on, the harder it is to be intelligible. Please feel free to dissect my position as I desperately crave an in depth discussion. I have ruminated on this for years now and feel that many could be helped by a proper exploration of this topic. I’m playing a gig tonight, but I will absolutely check in tomorrow. I might even have time before leaving. I apologize for the wall of text. I promise to read any reply no matter how longwinded and will try to be more succinct myself.
     
  12. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

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    This notion that one "completes" Simandl is one of the big issues here. I work out of basic method books every practice session to focus on sound production and efficiency of motion. Ask an Olympic boxer if they ever "complete" jumping rope and working the bags. SMH.
     
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Supporting Member

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    Dec 13, 1999
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    Brighton, England, UK, Europe
    I'm the same as you Tom - I played rock/pop when younger and there was no way anybody was telling me what to do or to practice more! ;)

    I was up on stage playing music on bass guitar and nobody talked about any kind of music theory or practice - it was just : " do it"! It was all about fun!

    Many years later I still loved music and my tastes gravitated towards Jazz and now I feel there were many years I feel I could have been more focused and structured in terms of developing as a musician - but if I had told that to my 18 year old self, there is no way that person would have listened. :p

    But now I go to Jazz workshops and enjoy it - but I can see the people who are really doing it are the ones teaching at workshops/summerschools etc and the ones like us are turning up as students! That's the difference.

    I know I'm never going to be Dave Holland - but I do still enjoy playing and I think it gives me a different appreciation of those guys' art and what has gone into it.
     
  14. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

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    Tom, I don't think he's talking about you tho. We're talking about kids taking up the bass and trying to get into jazz programs as if it's going to be their career at some point. Both you, Bruce, and myself are hobbyists. Music is not our bread and butter.

    I think this generation is in a strange conundrum. They're nurtured by all these supporting parents with expectations from when they grow up. Except their children are surrounded by bazillion other distractions (Facebook, video games, internet, etc. etc). Even as part of Generation X, my life as a kid was pretty boring - I had to find interesting things to do. Kids now are overwhelmed with stimulus. On top of that, some people complain about their sense of entitlement. Less time = less practice. Less practice + false expectations = bad results.

    Not to mention that the education system in the US is failing a lot of people in general. They aren't taught critical thinking skills and the arts are pretty much obliterated from most school programs in lieu of a focus to take aptitude tests. I'm skirting politics now so I'll stop with that end of things.

    It's a number of things, but also remember that not everybody succeeds in every endeavor they attempt. Failure and being ill-prepared is also part of life's journey.

    And to the topic of what the bass deserves and doesn't deserve. I dunno. I think it's silly. The bass is not holy and I don't think there's any real shortage of bassists - esp in the day where Jazz is not the hottest thing on the market and schools are cranking out great players by the dozen. Those are are good will rise to the top and there's plenty of kids who will fill in the gaps with the right skill sets.
     
  15. bassist1962

    bassist1962

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    Portland, Oregon
    I dont play Jazz, I am more Blues, Folk and Acoustic Rock, but the concept of being able to play your instrument with authority shoud be the same no matter the genre. Know how to get back home if you get lost. Knowing how to get sounds out of the instrument that you hear in your head. Many people think I am a natural, but dont realize how much I have worked my tail off just to be able to lay down a solid groove/drive. I am always going back to the basics just to keep my technique in tact. This includes practicing scales, arps, string crossing both pizz and arco, dexterity drills, etc. Along with whatever material I am working with the group I am playing for. And yes, above all else, I have fun playing because I know all these things and am very content with not soloing, but just supporting the music.
     
  16. Zojo

    Zojo

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    Yes. My son's teacher is 74, and still works on Simandl.
     
  17. Tom_RCJ

    Tom_RCJ

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    I apologize for not being clear. I make my living exclusively from music. I'm in that wide gap between weekend warrior and what non-musicians* unrealistically call "making it". As if you only "made it" as a musician when you're a global sensation. Not that I'm laying this fallacious perception on anyone here. We're essentially a local blues/blues-rock band in east Ontario, working hard and trying to expand because we like playing music and doing so in other parts of the world and meeting new people would be a great adventure.

    At this point I don't plan on entering a serious jazz program, but you never know. I'm starting to warm up to jazz and am developing a curiosity about it. That's why I said I'm probably a level or two bellow the serious "jazz aspirants". First I have to get bitten by the bug, so to speak. That's what Im looking for here.

    My initial point was that, from the outside, jazz seems incredibly inaccessible. I just wanted someone who did all the work, someone who IS a true accomplished jazz player, to tell me what drove them. What is it about the genre that makes you push yourself? Why would anyone want to go through all the "basic work"? What made you go jazz? How do you feel about jazz? What makes all the work worth it? I'll write up how I feel about blues and rock if anyone thinks it'll help. I just want to understand the passion behind it, hoping it might push me past mild curiosity. I know using words to covey musical passion is counterintuitive, but if it could be expressed concisely, it would clear up so many misconceptions. It would open up the genre to many who just don't "get" it.



    *: I use the term non-musician without a hint of derisiveness.
     
  18. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

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    Diddy,

    "A noble instrument should be nobly regarded."
    -Zimmerman

    Ours is the oldest instrument in the orchestra. It's the only member of our family to remain musically significant in the 21st century. No offense to gamba players... The instrument itself deserves to be treated with respect, and to be represented with care and precision. I'm not talking about greatness. I'm talking about basic proficiency, which is woefully lacking on our instrument on a level it does not seem to be lacking on any other instrument in jazz. We aren't asking of jazz bass players the absolute *musical basics* that are demanded of every other instrument. That's a crying shame, and it makes all of us look bad.

    Tom,

    I play in dance bands, and listen to as much Pantera as anything else these days. That business is well and good, but playing the upright is a completely different animal. The question of why to strive for competence on the upright has to do with love, and nothing else.

    Jack Budrow tells this story about going to his first orchestral concert. He saw the bass, fell in love with it, and dedicated his life to it. I bought the first upright I ever saw in a store, and practiced as much as 10 hours a day because I just loved the thing, and everything about it. Personally, I ended up playing jazz, classical, bluegrass etc... not because I loved those genres more, but because those genres included the big bass. This is common to many people I know who dedicated their lives to it.

    That being said, jazz is perfectly accessible. Show me someone who doesn't like Frank Sinatra and Nat Cole. Arguably, the metal that I work out to is *FAR* less accessible.:bassist:
     
  19. Zojo

    Zojo

    Joined:
    May 19, 2013
    This question of "why" put in the practice is a good one, but kind of off point. I'd like to hear more about why young (or any aged) bassists seem to be having trouble with basic skills.
     
  20. bassist1962

    bassist1962

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    Portland, Oregon
    +1000
     
  21. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

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    I think the focus on jazz pedagogy over basic instrumental pedagogy is largely at fault. A kid should not be expected to improvise when they are incapable of playing scales in all 12 in tune.

    Similarly, a kid should not be expected to walk when they are incapable of consistently playing in 2. There's this voodoo mystique about jazz playing, as if it were some secret language that can only be achieved through the ivory tower... In reality, we are largely playing root-fifth, and filling in the gaps, just like every other style of popular music. Methods like Simandl have been training people how to do just that for a long, long time.
     

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