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Advice on "changing my parts (style!)" for the sake of a band member

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by standup17, Feb 24, 2005.

  1. Hello and good afternoon all,

    I have recently enjoyed reading some great stuff in the "pocket" and "learn't from gigs" threads, and I am compelled to ask for a little advice. I'll try to be brief here:

    I play in an oldtime country and bluegrass band (fiddle, mando, banjo, guit, bass), and lately the guitar player and myself have not been getting along. It got to the point that the guit player would mope around at the gig, make faces during songs, stomp his foot, crowd the mic, etc., and it was clear that much of this frustration was directed at me.

    I finally had all I could take, and sat down to draft a letter to him outlining my concerns. The takehome message being:

    "I'm the bass in the band, you're the guitar, I try to be flexible and use my ears, we need to work together, and if we can't make it fun (and respectful), then I'm done".

    I had given myself perhaps a 50/50 chance of hearing back from the guit player in a positive, constructive way, and if not, I was quitting (a great band).

    But, I just got a letter back from him. I had suggested that I sometimes play too busy and/or loud. In the letter back to me, the guit player sort of ran with my suggestions.

    --he feels "enveloped" by the bass and can't hear himself or the others
    --too much walking and syncopation for some of the songs
    --and thus not being able to get diverse sounds

    OK, to my questions (thanks for bearing with me):

    ??-How to approach trying to "make changes" or "improve" our playing for the benefit of a bandmember and the song itself without it being forced-??

    It seems a common refrain that playing and music can be best when the players are able to "let go", get in "the zone", however you want to put it. Which is what I have been able to do in this band.

    ??-So is it reasonable for me to go back to "thinking" about all of my parts for a bunch of songs that I know like the back of my hand? Will it work? Will it detract from the feel-??

    For the record, I have been playing upright for about 8 years and have been told I have good timing, attack, tone, and nice melodic lines by fellow musicians that I respect (including my other current band members).

    And finally for the record--I do everything I can to make my band, its players, and its repertoire sound as good as they can, every night.

    Hoping this doesn't seem way too esoteric for an oldtime country and bluegrass player!

    Thanks in advance for (all of) your time!
  2. hunta


    Dec 2, 2004
    Washington, DC
    It's kind of hard to give a good response without hearing what your playing is like. Do you have a recording or anything like that online?

    There is a possibility that something about how you play doesn't jive with the style, but there's also the possibility that your playing is fine and the guitar player just has different taste than you do. I'm just starting to get into bluegrass a little myself, been jamming with some guys lately, so I don't know a huge amount about it..

    I know that a common problem with funk/jazz players is they play way too busy and don't know when to lay back and just groove without being all over the place. I used to be guilty of that myself, now when I hear bassists doing it I wanna walk up on stage and take their bass away. Sometimes being busy can add a lot of energy to the music though, if the other guys in the band know how to play off it. It's really a judgement call I guess, it sounds like you're happy with the way you're playing and you said others had given you positive comments too, so maybe you just have to decide if it's worth cramping your own style to make the guitarist happy.
  3. I don't play oldtime country or blue grass, but I had a similar problem with a guitar player in the past. I used to do a weekly trio gig with guitar, bass, drums and the guitar player used to act very much like the cat on your gig. I had asked him about it and we talked, he had some good points about time, intonation, busyness. I decided to record a couple of gigs and invited my teacher to come and listen to get his opinion. Well to make a long story short, he had a point, but it didn't excuse his attitude it made the gig unpleasant even.

    The other thing I wanted to say was that sometimes cats have a preconcived idea of what is going to happen behind them (much like the guitarist mentioned above) and when they don't hear that . . . well you know first hand.

    I'd say meet him halfway, you could learn something, but be careful. Don't bend too much.
  4. A couple of thoughts:

    Is this a group or is the guitar the "man" and the rest of the band just backups? If it is really a group situation, I would think it is worth a discussion. What do they see as the bass's role in the group? If you go that route, just be prepared to hear something you may not want to hear. On the other hand, if the guitar player is THE man, you have a choice to either suck it up and play or activate your resume'.

    I once had a similar problem while playing with a group of pretty hot pickers. On most tunes I played things pretty straight with an occasional flourish. Then we added a few non-traditional tunes like Sweet Georgia Brown and Hello Marylou where I could exercise some freedom. That worked pretty well for us.

    I think it is also important to use a little self-analysis. Maybe you are playing a little loud--especially during someone's solo.

    Also, when you are "busy" are you saying something (oh lord, I sound like Ed Fuqua) or just playing for sake of playing? I have heard guys who jumped all over the fingerboard and all it did was detract from the tune. On the other hand, a little run, some harmony, or a walk in the right place can really boost things. I see it as an exercise in self-discipline every time I play. I hear things and have some ideas, but to play REAL bluegrass, those ideas have to be used sparingly.

    Let's face in--in most bluegrass the bass player has to leave the ego in the vehicle. The primary role of the bass in our music is in support of the melody boys. An old bald-headed overall-wearing fiddle player once told me that if I do a good job, nobody will know I'm there but if I mess up-everybody in the room knows it.

    Such is our lot in life.
  5. This was the first thing I was told when I played bluegrass for the first time. I´ve always tried to remember that when I´m with those bluegrass guys, since I´m not a bluegrass player, just an outlaw. As long as I keep that in mind, everyone´s happy.

    Once I went to a gig, and while taking my bass out of the bag, I shook it a few times, the top facing the floor. The guys asked what the hell was I doing, and I answered that I had to shake all the jazz notes out...it almost killed the whole band.

  6. Hi, I play some bluegrass from time to time and I'd have to say that I suscribe to the "less is more" approach. But that doesn't mean there's less for the bass player to do. You're a vital component of the sound (sit out for a verse and see what happens...) yet you appear to be doing the least work. It doesn't mean it's less challenging.

    Without wanting to sound too much up my own orifice, I'd say that the Zen approach - playing the best possible note at the best possible time - is a good way to go here. Concentrate on getting the note right where it's supposed to go, listen to what the band's doing - watch them as well - so that the feel you're generating is exactly right for the song. Be part of the song and not just the bass player in it.

    Remember too that you can get a rhythmic contribution from the note release as well as the attack, in other words, when you lift your right finger off the string plays a part in the rhythm too. For a simple root and fifth, pluck on 1, release on 2, pluck on 3, release on 4. Another part of the Zen equation...

    I think Steve's tip from the fiddle player is the best advice I've heard in a while!
  7. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Since you say that this is the only guy in the group that has a problem with your playing, the first thing you should do is talk to everybody at the same time. Not "so and so thinks I don't play good, what do you think" but, "So and so has some concerns about how my approach is affecting the sound of the group, they are these - x, y z - how does everybody else feel about that?" It may be nobody else has a problem, it may be that nobody else wanted to be potentially confrontational. Removing the "you vs. me" vibe is going to encourage people to be upfront. It may be that the guitar player is just a jerk, it may be that he's the only one that is serious enough to be concerned, he may be the only one who can HEAR that there's something to be concerned about.

    How many other bass players are around where you are?

    But over and above the consideration of whether or not this guy has a point is - how much "in the driver's seat" are you when you play? We all strive to play what we hear, but we all should be able to be flexible enough to hear what somebody else is going for and whether or not our part of the conversation is supportive or interfering with what they've got to say. As I said in another thread, NOBODY has been called on playing busy or too much if what they are playing is working in a musical fashion with everything else that's going on. If you are hearing something IN CONTEXT, then why wouldn't it work? My suspicion (again, hard to really say without hearing you play) is that you may be approaching things by rote, rather than in a response to your musical environment.
    It's great that you've been playing 8 years, but it doesn't tell me much about your background, study, approach etc. I know cats been playing only a few years that have a great approach and concept, I know cats that have owned a bass and play gigs on it for three times as long who still have not developed the necessary skill sets to actually create a musical moment. I've been playing upright since 1981 and I just barely have a clue. And I've been working pretty hard for the last 7 or 8 years. So don't think about how long you been playing or what everybody else says about your playing. How do you feel about it? When you listen to recordings of the band, what do you hear? When you get together with this guitarist to play duo, what happens? Record that. Hooking up is more than just playing "right", it's playing "together". Which means listening. What may not be communicating when cats talk about the "zone" is that it's not just a state of "not thinking", it's a state of intense listening to what's going one and trying to stay out of the way and letting the music come out. When that's happening you don't have to wrooy about being too busy or too simple or anything. You hear your part as part of the entire aural picture. You don't think "shouldn't add red" you just DON'T cause then it wouldn't be green anymore. I don't think in terms of busy or not busy, I try to hear where the insistent voice is, for me, and play that.

    Certainly the other part is that once you get to a point where you are really expressing yourself in a consistent way, there are going to be those people who just want to hear something else. Somebody who likes the way Eddie Gomez and NHOP approach ensemble playing shouldn't hire me for a gig cause I don't hear things the same way they do. Hopefully somebody is going to hire me for a gig because they like the way I sound. Most people who do are looking for certain things I can provide, most who don't are looking for things I don't provide. You should always hire whoever you think is going to get the sound you want to hear. It may be that you don't play too busy, you just play busier than the guitarist wants to hear.
  8. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Much evidence here of intelligence amongst bass players, once again. Two things to add:

    • the zen of rhythm -- some weeks back Jason Sypher spoke of the snakiness of the bluegrass / trad groove. I believe in that myself -- the groove is touchy, wanting to be placed just so to achieve the desired moving forward effect. Lately I've stripped my playing in this genre right back to root-five (well, I can't totally abandon my threes, but MINIMAL I tell you), concentrating instead on g-r-o-o-o-v-e. Bassman drives the bus.
    • oil and water -- sometimes it happens that two folks just don't schmeck together. There's all kinds of stories out there about bass/drum combos that never clicked. If none of the other stuff pans out, maybe this is the deal here.
  9. Gufenov


    Jun 8, 2003
    It this is true, it indicates that the guitar player does some of his thinking from the depths of his fruit-of-the-looms. HOW a person communicates is often more important that WHAT is communicated.

    I agree with what's been said about evaluating your own playing, especially Damon's comment that "Bassman drives the bus." Make sure you're doing your part for the team. But at the same time, you have another issue to deal with; your teammate's destructive communication methods. You might consider a conversation with him where you point out your appreciation for his wisdom, talent, etc. - but make it clear that you DON'T appreciate his methods of communicating. If he can't - or won't - appreciate that, then you two aren't "schmecking" (great word, Damon!) and it might be time to look for a new team.
  10. Standup,
    the other guys have all touched on it but I think there are two issues at play.

    The first is whether or not your playing is too loud/too busy or totally appropriate. Talking to the whole band and listening to the recordings will tell you the answer to tha question.

    The other issue is that the guitarist isn't completely happy with what you're playing, or how you are playing it. Whether he's right in absolute terms doesn't matter too much. You need to find out exactly what he doesn't like. Until you can explain his grievance to him better than he can to you you won't get very far. Organise a rehearsal for just the two of you, and work through some of the songs. Get suggestions on changes and try them out. He might be right! If you disagree, explain why.

    Good luck,

  11. Guys, thanks so much! This thread has gotten away from me (I wasn't getting email notification of responses), and so expected to see only 1 or 2 when I signed on this morning!

    I'll try to answer to questions/comments in order here:

    --Recordings...all that I have are some live recordings (both wav and mp3 files, I believe). How do I go about putting one on here for you to listen to? And where do I put it?

    --The guit player is not "the man" in the band. The mandolin player is the leader, and him and I are the founding members. One thing I see is that the guit player has a hard time (in general) as a "sideman". Quite a strong "ego" there.

    --It is VERY obvious when I mess up. And I have often thought that is encouraging. Tells me I am really "in there" most of the time. It is rarely a "wrong" note. Usually when I just plain miss the string. Happens a couple/few times a night.

    --Arto, YES, I'm gonna shake those extra notes out of the bass before the next gig!

    --Doug, can you describe note "release" a bit more?

    --Ed, thanks for your note. I have only approached the guit player and the band leader about my difficulties. Thought it was best to start there, and have tried to stay away from "you versus I" in all of this. There are only 1 or 2 other upright players working in town. I try to see them, and really check out how they do it whenever I can. I am in the drivers seat a lot. In some ways, it seems like the only way to do it. But I do try to keep my ears open, try to be disciplined. I shudder to think I have a "rote" approach. When I listen to recordings I usually think the bass sounds as if it is doing its part. I have really only played oldtime and bluegrass (and folk) on upright. My "training" has been in playing with various other players (many more experienced than I), and listening and learning from them and from recordings. I don't read music and don't really know any theory.

    Really like you comment about "staying out of the way to let the music come out". I do try to do that.

    Thanks again guys. Above all, I am approaching this as a learning experience. As a musician and band member, but more importantly, as a person that needs to be able to communicate difficult issues with another person that I need (and want) to be able to work with.

    Please inform about putting a sample recording on here.

    Thanks again for all of your time,
  12. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    You may have missed my meaning with the "driver's seat" remark. If you're really in the driver's seat, then it doesn't matter if the guitar player wants to go to Philly by way of Newark, you just go that way. If the only way you know how to get to Philly is down the New Jersey Turnpike, you end up going that way no matter where anybody wants to go.

    Point being, if you are not going by rote and are in control of both your internal and external picture, then playing fewer notes or more notes or shorter notes or longer notes or whatever should not be a THINKING exercise, but it should be a CONSCIOUS exercise. being in the zone doesn't mean being oblivious to what's happening around you.

    Learning from more experienced players has its good and bad points. It all kind of depends on their experience, right? Every little kid born learns to speak their language from the people around them, right? Which is why my buddy Nick and his wife didn't really hear anything that unusual with their 3 year old son until they were visiting Mary's relatives in Ohio and little Nicky was in Sunday school class and they heard him with all the other little kids going through a nursery school rhyme.
    Only it came out " Ya head, Ya sholdahs, ya knees, ya toes".
    When you learn from other cats, it all kind of depends on the depth of their experience and understanding. For me, trying to learn how to play jazz in East Bum**** GA, in a lot of cases I wasn't getting fundamentals as much as it was I was getting somebody's limited understanding and vocabulary.

    Have you been to the TBDB Sampler thread, in RECORDINGS on the DB side? Talk to Damon about posting something there.
  13. Okay, I'll elaborate a bit, but I'm not introducing anything highly technical here! I think we're maybe not using the same language.

    If you hold down a note on a string with your right hand then pluck the string, the note sustains as long as your right hand holds the string down. The sustain on any half-decent bass should be longer than one beat of the bar, so if you're playing on beats 1 & 3 you could let the note sustain on beat 1 through beat 2 and just before beat 3 you could lift your right hand finger off the string and go for the next note. But if instead you lift your finger ON beat 2, and do the same on beat 4, you'll find it gives an extra rhythmic element to your sound.

    Hope I'm not teaching egg-sucking here... :)
  14. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    How are you "plucking" the strings: I started off UB playing jazz first, only using a bow during practice, lessons, tuning the occasional intro. Later when I found myself in a youth orchestra I quickly found that when playing pizz, using the side of your finger/hand is not acceptable(I can still remember the looks I got). Most bluegrass and folk player's technique is more of a "plucking" motion, like a harp. This makes for a more rythmic approach with much less volume and sustain, like a heartbeat.
  15. I use the side of my fingers because it gives me more volume, but I have tried the "harp-playing" technique. It's true that you can get a "thumpier" sound that way, but I find you have to judge it just so or it turns into slap bass with the string bouncing off the fingerboard.

    The note-release method that I'm describing works however you pluck, though.
  16. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    ..all very true. I use the side of my fingers and hand to dig in as well. I only use the "harp pluck" when emulating that kind of sound, or playing classically, which is not to often. I think set-up plays a role here to..A bass set-up with low action, low tension and light strings for jazz will not be optimized for bluegrass. Generally and traditionally speaking, basses used in bluegrass were, and often still are, set-up in a much more traditional way(High and Hard). It is probably going to come down the "multi set-up" where sacrafices will have to be made on both ends..It's tough having one bass for two different functions..
  17. Zirc


    May 13, 2001
    Los Angeles
    If the guitar player has an ego and doesn't do the writing, get a new guitar player. That guy is pretty much useless. Professional bands don't have egos.

    Basically, ask the music writer of the band what he thinks, and then go from there.
  18. Just ask the guy what's going on face to face. Is he going to swing at you? Maybe you are too busy, or maybe he's a big baby. Of course it sounds already like a poisened relationship, been there.

    Dude... you can't swing a dead cat without hitting 5 or 6 good guitar players. Lifes too short for ****ty gigs.