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A Return to the Darkside

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by jazzbo, Apr 7, 2005.

  1. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    As some members here know, I started my journey on DB about a year ago, maybe a little longer now. Is it time to pack it in?

    I'm having some troubles right now. I love the upright; the sound, the feel, the look even. I'll always love the upright, but I'm really hitting a sticking point right now. My progress has been retarded by my lack of discipline, not putting in the required time to excel. Have I made strides since I've started? Yes, certainly. I can know shift and play with a greater confidence and ability than before. Yet, I'm still struggling mightily to convey sounds and concepts that are in my head. I don't have the physical ability to bring them out on upright. Is this because I don't have the talent or never will? No. I recognize that. It's because I have not put in the time.

    What I'm recognizing is that the time necessary to put into the instrument is great. Or, at least to me, it seems great. Maybe to others these things come more naturally. My teacher has been pushing me lately, and I feel a little too hard, taking me places that I should be able to go, if I have put in the time to get there, but again, I haven't. This is something I will be speaking to him about on my next session, rest assured, but it has me thinking? Am I enjoying this enough, the process of discovery, the process of learning, of starting anew? Am I enjoying this enough to push forward? Especially when my faculty on the electric is established. I love music in all ways, and am not afraid of hardwork. But when my life right now is dedicated to entering a Psy,D. program and all that comes with the preparation for that, helping my lady's health care practice grow and thrive, and my "day" job, I wonder how many different directions I'm able to spread myself.

    Am I just in a rut? Should I lay down the beast right now in favor of the slab? Do I push through this sticking point? These are all questions I battle with right now.
  2. Tim Ludlam

    Tim Ludlam

    Dec 19, 1999
    Carmel, IN
    Jazzbo - put this advice in the "for what its worth" column, but if I were you, I would take a month off. You're struggling. You have plateaued. You can't get the sound you hear in your head. I constantly struggle with the same feelings. I have found that when I take a brief hiatus, things that I had been struggling with, suddenly come to me easier.

    I guess this is quite subjective, but it may be worth a try.

    Good luck.
  3. Hey Man....after re-checking your profile, there's a lack of something in there that's really glaring to me. The lack of influences on the DB. Unless there's somebody in there I don't recognize, you haven't listed one DB player except one. You're a jazz player, yet you haven't listed any influences. Who do you listen to? Who do you like?
    Maybe you need some inspiration?
    We all need someone to aspire to....have I hit on anything?
  4. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I've played music my entire life, although not professionally. Music has always given me solace in stressful times. It always feels good to practice after a rough day. I don't think I can give up bass, it's become a part of me and who I am.

    I get frustrated just like the next guy, but from previous experience, it's those "plateaus" that tell me that I'm about to break into a new level. Time and again, that's happened to me... hit a plateau and if I keep hammering at it, I feel like I'm soaring from the upside of breaking the plateau. These days I try not to think about it too much, relax for a week, and put even pour more effort into it. I think it's safe to say that we get discouraged when we don't see the results, and encouraged when we do. Plateaus are only natural. But in that light, I think it's a shame to give up now. Even if you were only able to put in 10 minutes of practice a day, if it's a good quality 10 minutes, you could excel more than if you were just working for 1 hour.

    But I think you also need to have an intention and priorities, and just wanting gratification isn't enough. I play because I love to play, and it's important to me to be able to spend time with the bass. Progress is just a byproduct of wanting to play. Sometimes I get home and I have a good hunger for practicing. Sometimes I don't and I let it go til I feel the "need". Yeah, I'm a junkie. :D

    I'd take a step back (1 month or 1 week) and look at what's important to you. And if bass is important, maybe it helps to think about what keeps that "hunger" going.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Welcome, welcome to the wonderful world of DB. It's easy to look at others from the outside and to feel as if they are just cruising along, making all kinds of steady progress as if on cruise control. In reality, we all hit spots like the one you're describing.

    Just this last year, I turned 40 and have been going through a bit of a "musical midlife crisis". The end result (so far, anyway) has been a division of my practice time into "conception" and "execution" to the end that each feeds the other. I'll try to explain:

    Conception: In this phase of the session (usually, it's second, but I'll get to that later), I go wherever my mood takes me. Often, it involves playing on a single tune for an extended period of time, starting "in" and getting further and further "out", and then coming back. Sometimes it just means free improvisation. Sometimes it means playing along with a favorite record trying to catch the vibe. But in all cases, it means going for nothing more an nothing less than getting what I'm hearing in the moment out of my bass. Sometimes I'll stumble and stop and sing the phrase I was going for, sometimes I'll sing before I ever play anything. Many times, it's about slowing tunes down to the point where I can hear clearly the lines I want to play. It's really about "getting out of the way" and letting the music come and trying to be, as Kenny Werner so aptly puts it, a "conduit" through which the ideas flow.

    Execution: In this phase of the session, I'm working on any and everything in my technique that clogs the conduit described above. Basically, it's just technique practice...scales, arpeggios, speed studies, fingerings, etc. The difference between what it is now and what it used to be is that now my "execution" studies are driven specifically by what is lacking when I try to execute the stuff I can "hear" mentally. It may be a certain interval pattern at a certain tempo, or a certain fingering for a passage that I can hear but not yet play. At any rate, this is the drudgework of practicing, the part that isn't really fun UNLESS..

    UNLESS I amable to understand whay I am doing it and exactly how this work will pay off in the long run AND the short run. Before, when I would practice technique, I simply made myself do it, and got stuck in ruts again and again because I had no unifying force dictating WHY I practiced what I practiced. I still did it, but it didn't inspire me at all, and I had to make myself get my butt on the stool and just do it. If I had continued this way, I would have wanted to quit many times. I know this because I thought about it a lot. Now, when I do the drudgework, it seems like fun because I get excited about getting closer to execute what I'm hearing every time I sit down to practice.

    Why am I telling you this? I guess because it sounds to me like you are in a "labor" phase with the bass - all execution and no flow of ideas. Try this: come up with a simple idea - a groove, a motive, a melodic contour, a tune, whatever - and try to follow where it leads you without thinking or worrying at all about fingerings, shifting, intonation, etc. Just play, and don't judge - shrug off the weight of your worries and the world and just play whatever moves you. Once this starts to feel good, try to take some chances...reach for some sounds that you can hear but don't know if you can pull of. Go for them and either get them or completely **** them up. RECORD yourself doing this after a bit. Later, you can go back and pick your technique apart for things that didn't work as you heard them in your mind's ear. Then practice those things unti they are more in your grasp. Repeat as needed, and season to taste. (FWIW, YMMV, NHOP, IHOP, etc.)

    The rest of the advice in this thread is also excellent. I think that Jason and Paul have also brought up excellent points. In Paul's case, that's a really important question: whose playing inspires you to want to pick up the bass so that you might get closer to the place that they have attained? Answer this, and you've taken the first step.
  6. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    I'm a little embarrassed to add my simpleton's perceptions amid all the excellent well-stated responses you've gotten here Jazzbo, but I have to wonder....do you have a gig on upright? Would that help?

    If not, maybe you're missing the gut-level fun of just getting in front of an audience and whanging out a groove on your big baby. Personally, I need the visceral stimulation as much as the cerebral.
  7. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    ...it's easy to forget about the music when we have anxiety about our playing. Isn't that putting the focus on the musician and not the music? Isn't that cart-before-horse territory?

    Entertain someone with a song. Maybe it's yourself you need to entertain. The simplest stuff can do that magical little job. It's what music is for.

    Not that I don't have boatloads of anxiety about my playing and its development. It's easy to lose perspective.

    Keep playing and wait for the next step to the next plateau.
  8. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Dude, that is such a great idea!!! JAZZBEAU, you should look into his stuff if you haven't already. I'm not so crazy about his meditations, but they're worth trying once and his conceptions about inspiration and such are just simply awesome! Actually, I found his video far more inspiring than the book, but the book is good for understanding the nitty gritty of what he's talking about.

    You're more than welcome to borrow them from me. I'm not using the material at the moment, and since we both live in SF.... just PM me.
  9. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Don't focus so much on the goal. Remember, all you can sound like is what you sound like. It doesn't matter what you WANT to sound like, all you can sound like is what you sound like.

    If you can only put in an hour a day, you can only put in an hour. And sure, you won't make as much progress as if you could put in two a day with the same focus. But that's what you CAN do, right? So the pressure isn't coming from what you ARE doing, it's coming from where you EXPECT to be.

    Let go of expectations, embrace where you are. The work you are doing to get closer to your own true voice is worthwhile, whether you do it all day everyday or half an hour before you go to work in the morning.

    If you aren't hearing it anymore, well, it's not an exercise to build you up spiritually and morally. The ONLY reason to play the big one is because that is the most beautiful sound in the world to you. If it is, just keep putting your hand on the instrument and you can bull this through. Remember, this moment is not the entirety of your life. It's hard, there's a lot going on. RIGHT NOW. Life is not always going to be like this. So if you can perservere with the little time you can put in now, it will be easier than trying to start again later. Just be comfortable with saying "this is all I can do now".

    Deep cleansing breath. It'll be OK.
  10. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    The thing that I find a little funny about Kenny is, if I apply his philosophical stance, the only reason I can't speak Japanese is because I'm not relaxed enough...
  11. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    First, a very heartfelt thank you to all for replying. Your advice and opinions are worth more than you know, and I've read each post carefully, and then again.

    Let me try and reply to each post individually, even though that may belabor the point. (I'm known for overtalking things).
  12. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Thanks Tim,

    Yes, it does feel very much like I've plateaued. I've recently picked up the electric in preparation to sub a gig for a friend, (after really not playing much electric for months), and it just feels so good, so easy. I missed that sound. A lot. I feel dirty. Like I'm cheating. Like I'm cheating on Salma Hayek with Roseanne Barr. Sure, it'll get the job done, but it's just not the same.

    Is that weird? It's almost a snobbery thing. I feel like I should be all dedicated to the upright. I feel like the electric is this lesser thing that I'll play, because it can be necessary, but if I were a true musician, I'd stay with the DB. It's weird.

    But, I wonder if that's because I can play the electric with an amount of ease. I can pick it up, and do whatever I want, really, whether it's walk or solo through a standard, cop Jamerson's lines to pretty much any song, pulse with fury to Tower of Power, or create slow, melodic phrases with Joni Mitchell. Having that "ability", (however lacking it still is), versus the obvious struggles with the DB, are just so glaring right now.
  13. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Jason, thank you so much for the reply. I bolded some items in your post because they really stood out to me.

    Yes, I do need to keep in mind how tough the beginning can be. When I first started, I didn't expect to be able to make any musical sound. Then, after I learned I can do that, I think my expectations got too high.

    The two hour thing, that's what scares me. I won't do that. I know I won't. I wish I would. But I need focus for that. My lack of discipline is astounding. Seriously. If I had a performance class twice a week, or a band to play in, than it would force me to play more. But without having some outside agent, I often lack the motivation to do it on my own. And further, two hours a day scares me. Not once in a while, not 3 times a week, that I can do. But the feeling that two hours a day, every day, to be able to make progress and strides, is frightening. I won't lie to you and say that I'm extremely busy, but I don't have that kind of time.

    The last bolded part, about not seeing our improvement. This really hits home. My teacher and I had a particularly difficult lesson a few months back. He was pushing me like he does, which he's very good at, and I was having an off day. I was struggling, I wouldn't take chances, and I froze up more than anything else. Now, when I'm in that moment, he's very good at bringing me back to a relaxed point, and simplifying things, but I was struck that the next week, he took the time to apologize that he hadn't really been that vocal about the improvements I've made. I didn't see them, because I was so focused on pushing forward, pushing forward, that it became myopic. It was nice to step back a moment, and realize that improvements had been made.
  14. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Hey Paul,

    The lack of DBers in my profile has more to do with the fact that I just don't regularly update my profile, than anything else.

    Really, the people I enjoy most are Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Dave Holland, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, and Oscar Pettiford.

    I've been listening a lot to Joe Henderson's "Page One", Sheila Jordan's "I've Grown Accustomed To The Bass", Mingus "Mingus Ah Um", Sonny Rollins "Saxophone Collossus", "Tenor Madness", and some general Bud Powell, Miles Davis, and Duke Jordan.
  15. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    I think I need to take this to heart. Have you ever felt like, there's so much to learn so much to do, so much to practice, that it makes you not even pick up the bass at all?

    Thank you. I need to remember this. I'm embarrassed to admit that I took my eyes of the goal and became only attached to the finish line, as if there is one.

    This seems to be a theme amongst seveal posts, and therefore something I'm going to give careful consideration.
  16. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    You mention that you are adding only a simple perception, but it may wind up being the most astute. I don't have a regular gig. I was playing with a quintet for awhile, but the guys are flakey, (as it's their second band). Also, they only want to play the fast bebop tunes. Still, when we played regularly, I practised regularly, are at least more regularly. I made greater strides, and felt better about my playing.

    You may have touched upon something that is more important than I was giving it credit for.
  17. Ben Rose

    Ben Rose

    Jan 12, 2004
    This oughtta be posted where I can always see it. Thanks.
  18. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    The ultimate answer for me, and I pass this along to students is:

    You love it.
    Love it.
    Love it.

    Or, you don't.

    If you love it, really love it, then there isn't anything that you'd rather do. Drop all the other crap for a minute; expectations, goals, desired proficiency -- ALLA that crap. Get your head in that space, and then pick up the bass. If it's just you, music and your tool (the fiddle) and all feels wonderful then you're good to go. Otherwise just get rid of the thing, as it's just a focal point for other frustrations in your life.

    You hear stories of Coltrane falling asleep in a char with the sax in his hands. This might have been partly due to the fact that he was sloshed or stoned, but the real thing to note is that he had the horn in his hands all of the time. He didn't make himself do this, or make some concious descision that he needed to 'discipline' himself with the saxophone. He found it near freakin' impossible to put the thing down.

    I've been through a few phases in my music career, but I'm nearing that 'falling asleep in the chair thing' more and more as time passes. Playing the bass, and more specifically music, is akin to being stoned. There ain't a happier place for me.

    Dig deep inside and see if this thing is inside you for the double bass. If it isn't, then drop the whole issue without guilt and go on to happier pastures.

    My 2 cents, intended with love.
  19. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Not really. Not anymore. IMO, Falling into the trap of not being good enough is pointless. There's always somebody out there who's "better" and it's just best to accept that fact and get on with life. My goal of playing music is that I'm out there making noises for me, not for the sake of competence or getting attention from others. It's about feeling good about the act of creating music. I'm totally with Kenny Werner when he says that this is totally a selfish act. It's all about me, what I want, and what I like to do. At the end of the day, I couldn't care really that much about what other people think of my skills.

    I am happy the with the fact that I'm here doing what I love. If I made them happy with my music, great. If I didn't, so what. Admittedly, sometimes I still fall into the trap of seeking approval from others, but it doesn't dominate me like it used to.

    If I'm allowed to play psychoanalyst, I think you find EB more attractive because it's easier to play. There's less struggle, and it's easier for you. We naturally don't like to do what has hard or challenging. Maybe you gain acceptance by other musicians easier, or maybe that you can hop over the same hurdles easier than a DB. That's fine, there's nothing wrong with playing electric.

    But I don't think it's not a problem of lack of discipline - you wouldn't have gotten where you are if you didn't have any. I think it's a lack of drive or desire which keeps you from following through. The sucky thing is that I dont' think any of us can tell you what you want. You have to want it.

    I'm totally with Ray. ANd when I mention priorities, it's about what is important. Bass is important to me. It's almost as important as sleeping, or eating, or being with my GF.

    But Jason's right too... you have to celebrate your victories and don't be so hard on yourself. And sometimes you have to be compassionate towards yourself, especially when you hit plateaus or when times get difficult. It's not your fault that this stuff is hard, but if you have the committment, you'll follow through.

    I'll stop rambling now. :)
  20. avocado_green


    Mar 22, 2005
    Detroit, MI
    Maybe this is a little late, but do you think about playing during the rest of the day? I know that if I think about playing while I'm at work, taking the bus home, etc., when I get home, I feel much more energized to play what I've been thinking about.

    Also, playing with other people can be very inspiring. Try to look for people that are in similar situations on other instruments and put aside an hour every week just to jam and help each other out.

    One other thing, sometimes I find that picking up another instrument (with a different tuning) and fooling around- then trying to play it on your instrument can be inspiring as well. Every now and then, I pick up my girlfriend's mandolin, I'll admit I don't know what I'm doing, but I might come up with a theme for my next song- something I might not have invented on my instrument. I do the same thing on keyboard/piano sometimes.

    Don't feel guilty about playing BG, though. I fall into the same trap- if it's easy for me, I feel guilty because I think I should always be challenging myself. Why not practice for an hour on DB and wind down on the BG?

    Good Luck!!!