Bluegrass Fest-Bass Workshop/Hackjob

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by ArenW, May 31, 2005.

  1. ArenW


    Jan 14, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA
    Just so no one gets the wrong idea-First, I enjoy listening to and playing bluegrass. Its not my main thing but I do appreciate the genre. Second, I am in no way saying that this is the norm for bluegrass festivals. :bag:
    That said-I attended a fairly good sized bluegrass festival this weekend, that did have several national acts as well as lots of regional groups. I was absolutely appalled by the total disregard of technique and misinformation that was spewed by the guy that they had teaching the "Beginner-Intermediate Bluegrass Bass Workshop". This guy had a class of about 15 of us, many of whom had their brand new chinese ebay basses in tow, and most of whom were just getting started playing bass. I couldnt believe the things he was saying to the class- always keep your bass at arms length, keep the front of the bass at a 90 degree angle to your chest, wrap your thumb around the neck for the "claw hammer grip"????, pivot using the index and ring finger on your left hand to play I and V, the left hand doesnt matter anyway-just as long as you go up and down the neck in time???....All of this, he claimed, was an ergonomic approach to playing the bass.
    This crap went on for a half hour. It took every ounce of restraint that I had, to keep from telling everyone there, that this guy should stick with lawnmower repair.
    Sorry about the rant. I just had to get it off my chest.
  2. daofktr

    daofktr irritating, yet surly

    Feb 15, 2005
    aurora, IN
    forgive me for butting in here... :ninja:
    it's been manymany moons since i've played the 'house with any regularity...been slabbin' it for a long time...but what i remember about playing postures, positioning, etc. doesn't include any of that!
    i started learning URB in a bluegrass band, so i think i would remember...
    mebbe that guy was trying to cripple the competition, thereby making it easier to get gigs.... :p

    now it's time for me to hide behind my GT-7 and let the folks who know they bidness chime in.
  3. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Sadly, this kind of thing is more the "norm" among bluegrass bass-holders than otherwise. I've met precious few who are concerned with good tone and technique, even among those in bands of national stature. I find that the folks who try to get it right are usually coming from another genre of music and were taught better.
  4. Sad, indeed! And unfortunately, this is why bluegrassers get a bad rep among other bassists.
    It helped to have Edgar Meyer doing his thing at major BG festivals, however, that's like going from one extreme to the other. Where the hell is the middle?
    Guys like Mike are helping to show what this genre can be when there's a bassist who really does it.
  5. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    "bluegrass bass-holders.." I love that.
  6. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    the above is said strictly in liking that term; i love bluegrass.
  7. greg garrison

    greg garrison

    Apr 12, 2005
    the middle lies with bassists like Todd Phillips- great players with good technique who happen to play bluegrass. Mark Schatz, Byron House, Viktor Krauss. There are also cats like Mike Bub (Del McCoury Band) who is a wonderful player- very informed about bass players, huge sound, nice melodic lines, but he doesn't have great technique. He came to bluegrass bass from banjo- this is a common theme in bluegrass- guys getting to the bass from other instruments. I think sometimes folks learn how to play functionally within the style they are a part of, which can lead to a lack of technique. It is unfortunate that the festival didn't find someone with a better grasp of the real deal as far as playing is concerned. Most bluegrass festivals don't have bass master classes, the scence is more foucused towards mando, banjo, guitar, fiddle, etc. There are some of us out here who care about technique, though- I make my living touring with a bluegrass band right now, and I have a MM in Bass Performance. Maybe next time they'll wise up and have someone like Todd Phillips doing the workshop.
  8. I think that is the key. Most of the bluegrass bass players around west Tennessee play something else but a bass player was needed and they stepped up. And let's face it, if all you're going to play is root-5 on nylon strings raised about an inch off the fingerboard, you really don't need great technique to do a passable job.

    I just think a lot of bluegrass folk don't realize how much music in this instrument.
  9. I think you're right, Steve.
  10. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Steve's on the money. You don't have to be Edgar to get by, or even to do well, and a lot of BG bassists were recruited from other instruments.

    What would bluegrass bassists use good technique for? IMO, you can make an instant improvement to the music -- even if all you're playing is root-five -- just by getting a good resonant sound, with real thoughtful control over the note lengths... Growl, mwah, sustain: all of 'em useful in roots music.

    One of our local BG acts is a magnificent party band with some fine soloists and entertainers in the group. I love listening to them. Except for the washtub bass they insist on using!! The guy is a good musician and plays the tub well (hoo boy...) but to me the music would be SO much better with real bass in it. Nobody brings a cardboard mandolin onstage, or a tinfoil banjo. Why is washtub bass thought to be so freaking cute?

    There is an old tradition in roots music -- especially old country music -- of having the bass player be a clown. Literally. Make-up, torn overalls, a clown act before the main show... There's a history of not taking the instrument seriously. We're like the trombone in that respect: it used to be a clown's instrument.

    I don't take it as an insult, though. I hope that if I play well enough and help move enough souls I'll be part of a process that will make people demand to hear real bass in the music.
  11. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Thanks Paul! Coming from you, that's a wonderful compliment.