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Big rant about contemporary music courses

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by afromoose, Apr 17, 2009.

  1. afromoose

    afromoose Guest

    Ok big rant coming.

    I just went and checked out a bass course at a well-respected music college.

    They have requirements that you learn and achieve a certain standard in what they consider to be key skills in the bass playing music industry. Okay, this might be a bit controversial, but I've been playing for the past ten years, and generally I've found if you:

    Play slap bass
    Play mostly harmonics
    Start playing the bass as if it's complete instrument (ie, melody and chords)

    ..for more than about 10 seconds...

    Then people basically won't want you in their band.

    I say that, there is of course the uber-cheese or pure technique bands (like Jeff Beck's band) that have no sense of taste whatsoever (I cite 'Mama Said' as an example of this), but generally any band I've seen that's current and that's any good doesn't have one of these bass players.

    Ray Brown was highly respected as a bass player for example, but when does he play pieces that consist mainly of harmonics? Even Flea said in 1991 that slap bass had got massively overplayed, overexposed, and was starting to be commonly viewed as being a macho and crass way of playing. So now it's nearly 20 years later, surely it's even more redundant now? As far as I can tell, I don't think it's enjoying a resurgence. In my experience, slap bass today generally makes people yawn, or worse, cringe. Amongst curators of events, good booking agents, or serious musicians and artists looking to find a bass player to assist interpreting their music, I would not even want a rumour to go round that I play slap bass.

    I had a look at the grade 8 electric bass guitar book the other day. It might be difficult to play, but my god it sounds horrible! Compare this to grade 8 classical, where you learn to play music by true geniuses, Mozart, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Debussy etc.. It's like having a cookery course where you learn to make big macs

    Check out the Ray Brown youtube videos for an example.

    He explains that when he was young, there was a way of playing the double bass by slapping the strings and showing off. It's like if he turned around to all the students in that class and said - "okay, this is something that's old-hat now, but you HAVE to be able to do this, because 40 years ago, it was popular, and I besides I can do it. Otherwise you fail the course." Notice, Ray Brown is discussing with the students how the music is moving forward, and what's current, not getting them to play extended techniques from the past that are redundant.

    In my opinion if they don't make the music taste on these courses a bit more current, then music's not going to move forward. (At least, the musicians coming from these courses). At the moment, these courses are like a massive taste-filter. Only bass players who are prepared to play slap can get through. You can give a nod to the past, but insisting that that guitarists shred, and bass players slap, to a very high standard, is like some bad hangover from the 80s that just won't go away.
  2. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Your points IMO are correct, dead on and I agree with them. But I think that you are looking at the curriculm of some schools (maybe more than I know) as a vehicle to prepare you for the life of a professional bass player.

    Try looking at the problem (and it is a problem to be solved) of preparing a course of study for bass players THAT YOU CAN GRADE FAIRLY, and will show that THE STUDENT HAS ACHIEVED SOME LEVEL OF SUCCESS. It is a proven (to many times) fact that the techniques of speed and facility can be taught and learned fair easier than the understanding of the history of a style, taste, and a fair look at what the future will bring. (BTW, if you have the ability to do the things in that last sentence you already have what it takes to have as good a life as you can being a professional musician).

    Some things can be taught, others are in the perception of the person...and they are very difficult to teach. I'm guessing that Ray Brown did not learn the things that made him what he is by going to a school.... He paid attention to what was going on around him and was lucky enough to be with good people.

    If you are looking for a degree in music then you'll have to put up with the curriculm (and few colleges give degrees in EB). If you want to learn.... get a good private teacher, and if that means moving to a city that has a good one... move, and work whatever jobs you have to to keep body and soul together while you learn what you need so you can get the gigs you want.

    College isn't for everyone and with the price tag that is now on a degree program, I'd take a good long look at what you're getting into and what you want from it and where you are going.

    Good luck.
  3. afromoose

    afromoose Guest

    Thanks, those are wise words.
  4. funkmangriff


    Dec 29, 2007
    nice rant!
  5. BillyRay

    BillyRay Supporting Member

    Jan 20, 2008
    No comments on the rant, but those Ray Brown clips, ho my.
  6. Kobaia


    Oct 29, 2005
    Denton TX
    Endorsing Artist: Aguilar Amp Gruv Gear and Mono Cases
    unfortunately you've lost the scope of contemporary music when you mention these composers. and in the market these day no one listens to classical.

    Contemporary rhythm sections bass players are expected to play bass notes. ie roots, and notes to create inversions.

    you never know if someone wanted you to slap a line or play a harmonic. most performance programs do their best to over prepare you for the job market.
  7. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    True, Josh, but the vast emphasis in any contemporary program worth its salt won't be on auxiliary techniques. Wind players in classical programs learn extended techniques like multiphonics and harmonics and things like that, but just as a supplement to their development of overall technical facility. In contemporary programs, a solid foundation in slap bass is likewise necessary, but should never be a focus. Learning theory, practicing ear-training, developing rhythmic awareness (groove), mastering a variety of contemporary styles, practicing sight-reading and developing an over-all foundation as a well-rounded musician are all aspects necessary to survive in the market. Not necessarily development of a wide range of auxiliary techniques.
  8. afromoose

    afromoose Guest

    Yeah they're awesome!
  9. BillyRay

    BillyRay Supporting Member

    Jan 20, 2008
    I really liked how he taught students in a simple, hands on manner. His comments were also spot on: "Don't let the amplifier play you!" to the guy who when Ray was talking to him, kept on fiddling with knobs.
  10. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Just because certain techniques aren't used as much anymore doesn't mean you shouldn't learn them. Maybe you'll be the one to bring them back into prominence in a new and very cool way. Just like Dave LaRue told me when I told him that I hardly ever used slap anymore..."You may not ever need it, but you're going to learn it just in case you get a gig that requires it in the future."

    Better to have a skill you don't need than to need a skill that you don't have. Think about it.
  11. D Rokk

    D Rokk Banned

    Feb 19, 2009
    Delta Quadrant
    i'm starting a compendium of the best advice i see on TB

    this is bullet point number 1
  12. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Thanks! I thought it was pretty profound my own self. And if I thought there was a chance in hell of it being original, I'd claim it as my own ;)
  13. BillyRay

    BillyRay Supporting Member

    Jan 20, 2008
    True, but for regular schmucks like us who don't go to college to learn their instrument, this advice can be hard to implement. There's only so much time.
  14. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Both sides are perfectly valid.

    As I've said before, in the literally *thousands* of gigs I've played, people have asked me to slap very rarely, tap never, and play chords beyond fifths or 10ths, never.

    Mastering the basics takes years of hard work. Unless you can play Ab Locrian without blinking or solo while sightreading a leadsheet or look cool playing covers you learned that week, you ain't got enough practical job skills to survive the scene here, NYC, or LA.

    The degree of slap necessary for playing in a wedding band is relatively "low" by today's standards, ie, no double thumping etc... However, getting a good sound and playing Carwash consistently is alot harder than many guys are willing to admit.

    I'm seeing more and more guys who skipped over the basics and just sound like sh*t in a real world setting. For real, how many guys can play the whole Jamerson book or even basic Jaco transcriptions?

    You know what impresses people more than anything else? Showing up early, being a fun hang, and playing a memorable bass line at soundcheck. Wanking around with both hands on the neck or battering your plank with your thumb will only lose you work in most scenes... YMMV.
  15. afromoose

    afromoose Guest

    I have thought about it and I'm not so sure.

    Everyone keeps bringing up this situation where you're going along and you suddenly 'need to do something'. Okay, I don't agree that this happens very much if you've got any choice whatsoever in what sort of music you play. If you're the type of person who literally can't afford to turn down a gig and won't turn down work, then why not learn anything. Why not learn to be a plumber for example - hey, you never know when you're going to have to fix your taps right?

    I've met lots of musicians that can play just about ANY style, real virtuosos, real session musician types. And no matter how hot they are, for 50 quid, you've got them to play - that's their fee. That's the way the market is for that type of player. In my experience, the money comes from having a regular band or project that builds momentum, records, makes a name for itself. If you're getting this kind of work, then situations rarely occur when all of a sudden, from out of nowhere, you have to play slap.

    If you want to give up all choice over what you do, then yeah, I can see that you'd need to learn about every single thing going, just in case it came up. But that's assuming no kind of choice over your direction.

    With regards the course, the reason i feel that slap shouldn't be a compulsory part of a course is that it's an auxiliary technique, as the guy said earlier, and from what I've come across, most people don't like it.
  16. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz

    If you're asked to slap on a gig it's almost never a "surprise."

    A buddy was asked to slap on a gig and told the band leader "you hired the wrong guy." No big deal. Plenty of gigs in the sea.

    I gotta add- if you're going to learn a new technique, work on the real sh*t!!!!! Ain't no kids out there that can play me Graham Central Station songs. That's just dumb.

    Quick add-on regarding harmonics: Portrait of Tracy won me some awesome auditions, and I've played ebass in the symphonic context where harmonics were written into the part... but how often does the phone ring from a major symphony orchestra to play conteporary plank in the section? :)
  17. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Well if you're looking to get rich making music, you might as well just get out now. It happens for so very few people, and so many factors are completely out of your hands that you actually have a better chance of winning the lottery than making it rich as a musician.

    BTW...50 quid a night? That translates to about $75-80 US, right? I haven't worked for that kind of money in over 10 years. That's the typical teenage "I'm an artist and you're not" BS that me and all my friends used to spew back before we knew better. I would get goofed on by a lot of them for wanting to learn how to read music and slap and all the things they thought were stupid. But once all these guys got past the age where no record company on earth would be interested, they all had to take straight jobs, and some took really crappy straight jobs because they had no other skills besides rocking out. Meanwhile, I'm not only working steadily as a musician and having fun while making money, but I'm making as good or better money and working a lot easier than a lot of them. And I kind of resent your characterization of us folks who do that because it's based on nothing you know from first-hand experience.

    So I hope it works out for you and you strike it big. But if that's what you're counting on, then you're into music for all the wrong reasons.
  18. afromoose

    afromoose Guest

    I do have first-hand experience, and the people I know who are sessioners and making a good living are all in projects that have been together a long time, and get regular well paid work. The guys who don't stick at particular projects, almost without exception, no matter how good they are, make the kind of money I told you about. And believe me, you might think 50 quid wages means they're **** or kids. They're not. One of the guys I'm talking about played at the Baked Potato in LA and Danny Carey from Tool came up to him and told him he was a sick guitar player. But without a project to earn money in, it's weddings, whatever, here there and everywhere.

    My point was about things not just coming 'out of the blue by surprise'.

    What I'm saying is that I think if you stick with projects and grow them then you get better money. I think you're the one who's jumping to conclusions about what I was saying, because I was suggesting that rather than flitting about and doing whatever work comes about, it's better to build projects, that's all. As in, a decent blues band, a decent function band, a decent avant garde band, a decent rock band, etc. I never mentioned getting famous or 'making it'.

    And as for my own chances in that department, my own band's doing okay, touch wood, thank you very much. I don't think that 'winning the lottery' accounts for the fact that we played the royal festival hall on monday, and I had drinks with Brian Eno and David Byrne afterwards, and we got massive compliments from his backing band, who are all top session musicians. I think that's because of hard work, personally. You're not the only one who works hard mate.
  19. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Never said I wasn't. And yeah, when you put it that way, I think there's something to it. Certainly my price and my demand went way up when I hitched myself to the Bowzer thing. But it's not something that can be generalized. I know a drummer who does nothing but freelance and he makes a killing. Depends on which circles you freelance in, really. It's nothing that's cut and dried.

    Anyway, after seeing the benefits of being versatile first hand, there's not a person on earth that can convince me it's not a good idea. Using Chicagodoubler's example, yeah, there are plenty of gigs in the sea, but maybe that night there was only that one. And maybe the non-slap dude didn't get a paycheck that night. Thats a fine approach if the dude's happy, but personally, I'd much rather be able to get the paycheck than to miss out on it because there was something I couldn't do.
  20. afromoose

    afromoose Guest

    I just love this post - it's so bitter, so assumptive, and makes it so obvious you've got a massive chip on your shoulder.

    'I resent your characterization of us folks who do that' - what the hell are you talking about? You're having an argument with thin air.

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