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Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Dec 27, 2017.

  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Several recent events have had me thinking about this subject. The most recent one was a mixing session for a trio record date that I was on right after getting back from ISB this summer. I had to play the session cold after basically 5-6 days of not practicing because I couldn't take a bass to Ithaca. While listening back to the tracks we recorded those 2 days, I was thinking that I sounded functionally OK, but also that I sounded like a machine that wasn't calibrated (i.e. - a car that wasn't tuned but still ran ok, a skilled athlete who could play the game but was out of shape, etc.). No great tragedy and nothing to be done about it in this case, but still it stuck in my craw a little.

    It happens a lot at this phase of life when everything is so busy with job, family, transportation for my son, etc. I still play basically like me but often the fine tuning is off. When I was younger and just learning the bass and hungry to get better I fell into this routine of doing a 36 minute 12 key warmup with a metronome and a drone playlist the that cycled through all the keys 3 minutes at a time without stopping. At the end of that 36 minutes,I felt connected to the bass, like I knew how sounds connected to the instrument in a very intuitive and visceral way. At that point, the targeted practicing that came after tended to go pretty smoothly. I remember that some days would get busy and I would be too tired to practice after or I only had time for the warmup, but even then I felt like just doing that every day was useful to stay connected to the bass.

    Anyway, I've picked the habit back up in the past few weeks and am making a resolution to keep it going even if its the only thing I get to do on any given day. I was wondering what some of my other TB brethren do to stay calibrated. Please share your routines!
    Peter Brendler, dhm, the_Ryan and 3 others like this.
  2. What helps me stay calibrated (maintaining skills, fluency, revision) is 5-15 mins playing first thing each morning, and listening to songs I'm currently working on while driving to/from work.

    I 'mentally rehearse' throughout my work day what I played that morning, and as a result I'm much fresher and sharper each time I play.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2017
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Got a PM request to share the bare bones of my 12 key routine, so I'll attempt a basic description.

    It always involves a metronome and drones and progressively smaller beat subdivisions. It usually involves scales/patterns/arpeggios throughout major or minor tonalities. So one day might be Major keys, then the next day would be minor. Some examples, ascending and descending, might be:
    - Major scales 2 8ves - Quarter notes, 8ths, triplets, 16ths
    - Melodic minor scales (classical) - Q/8/3/16
    - Make up a simple pattern from the scales above - ex. 1-3-2-4-3-5-4-6-etc then descending 8-6-7-5-6-4-etc
    - Diatonic triads from the tonality alternating ascending and descending ex. - 1-3-5 6-4-2 3-5-7 etc. or 1-3-5-8 (9)2-6-4-2 3-5-7-(10)3 etc;
    - Diatonic 7th chords as above ex. 1-3-5-7-8-7-8(1)-#1 2-1(8)-6-4-2-1-2-#2 3-5-7-9(2)-3-2-3-3 4-3-1-6-4-3-4-#4 etc.

    I try to play a pattern over several days until it starts to feel really solid and I can play it through all subdivisions with alternating RH fingers. The more complicated the pattern, the more days it takes to get solid, and on the first day I might only get through 8th notes or triplets. I don't work out all the fingerings in advance but try to find them on the fly and then ingrain them for each key on the principle of starting them in "nut position" and then climbing up to wherever they lead on the top 2 or 3 strings depending on the pattern.

    When one feels solid I'll change mode an get that to where it feels good and then make up a new pattern and start over again. The idea is to keep spinning slight variations and find the fingerings in all keys, play in tune all over the neck and try not to rush. When it really gets going well it's like shifting a manual transmission car into overdrive and the whole thing becomes very relaxed even at the higher subdivisions. This last is the feeling of "calibration" in the physical sense that I was alluding to not having on the recording session.
  4. The Diaper Geni

    The Diaper Geni Submissive. And loving it. Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2005
    Central Ohio
    Hmmmm...."Calibrated". Interesting term. Likey!

    Personally, it's as much a state of mind than (then??) a physical thing. Ferinstance: Played two services at my church gig Christmas Eve. First one was decent. Second one I sucked. It wasn't a matter of warming up or being physically connected to the instrument. I just wasn't mentally there. I tried to be. I yearned to be. But I wasn't.

    Having said that, I try to do achieve a goal every practice session. Could be simple like playing a song/an exercise a bit faster or memorizing part of a song. Or starting a new song. Or playing a learned piece (more) in tune. That's what keeps mentally and physically calibrated.

    Also, the term "calibrated" implies you are part of a mechanism. One part of a whole. Which, as bass players, is a big part of our role as rhythm instruments. We need to find that relationship with the other instruments (not just the drums) that serves the "whole". Tone, note choice, note placement, etc etc are all things that need to be calibrated. If that makes sense?
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  5. Scott Lynch

    Scott Lynch Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2002
    Delaware, USA
    Thanks for sharing this, Chris! I've done 12-key cycles with scales/arpeggios, etc. off and on. Admittedly, I've been on an 'off' cycle recently, doing more key-specific technique and warm-ups, but have gotten back into a 12-key routine in the last couple of days since your post. There is a confidence-boosting element to physically getting around all the keys on the instrument, and 'calibrating' is a great way to put it.
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  6. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Over the past several years, nothing gets me back in gear that to simply play bebop heads.

    Yardbird Suite
    Au Privave

    As many as I can remember. And most importantly
    Laverne Walk

    I don't know why buy that last one really gets me back in gear. Makes me think I should go all the way and keep learning more of them.
  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Thanks for the replies! Sorry, I missed the ones from yesterday because the alert system is apparently wonky at the moment. I understand the term "calibration" can be construed a number of ways, so for fun I lookout it up and found a definition that kind of gets in the direction of the idea I was after:

    the comparison of measurement values delivered by a device under test with those of a calibration standard of known accuracy

    I'm using the term calibrated to refer to the mechanistic physical connection to the bass, as apart from the musical/interactive aspect. The best analogy I can think of is the difference between fitness and skill in an athletic endeavor. I see them as two different things, although there is often overlap in our fitness training as improvisors, since we practice things that show up in our playing even when we aren't technically learning a new concept.

    Bebop heads and Bach suite movements can be great vehicles for calibration, especially when practiced slowly and with the sonic "guardrails" of drone and metronome. I'll have to try adding some of these heads and phrases from the suites to the 12-key paradigm.

    I recently had an experience with my car that might be pertinent to the discussion. I bought some new tires for my CRV, and they were a different brand than I usually get. They were balanced when installed, but there was an unnerving vibration at highway speeds. I had them rebalanced, and the same thing happened. I finally took them to a shop that had a balancing machine that measured not only the balance of a free spinning wheel (i.e. - side-to-side balancing), but also simulated the effects of the weight of the vehicle while they were spinning (called "road force balancing", which i had never heard of before). Turns out the tires were defective in that they were slightly out of round, but it only showed up when there was weight on them. I got them replaced with my regular brand, and now the car rides smoothly again. But the feeling of driving on out-of-balance tires reminds me of the feeling of playing when my chops are not finely calibrated - the car still runs, but it isn't very much fun to drive!
  8. JohnDavisNYC


    Jan 11, 2008
    Brooklyn, NY
    Endorsing Artist: Aguilar, D'Addario
    Thanks Chris! This is a really great approach. I often feel this way, as my life often doesn't let me take as much time for the double bass as I would like... working 10+ hour days engineering in the studio, being on tour a bunch playing electric bass, and still trying to maintain domestic life means not nearly as much time as I would like for practicing db. I am going to try to make a clear and articulate focused warm up like this and try to do it every day... I can always get to the studio 30 minutes early to shed if I have a good clear plan.

  9. ILIA


    Jan 27, 2006
    You sound like an academic on holiday break! No offense. What hdiddy said. Mandatory bebop heads you had to learn in school, then a few more that you didn't get around to learning when you were still in school. The neat thing is that these newly learned bop heads stay with you, when you call the new bop tune at a gig, when you are deep into the spring semester, and have no time to calibrate. At least you stay connected to your holiday calibration time, at a time in the semester when it seems your students can't hear a ii-V-I to save their life, your adult life commitments suck all your free time, and you are about to go crazy.
    Chris Fitzgerald and Adam Booker like this.
  10. bdowd

    bdowd Supporting Member

    Oct 27, 2005
    New Hampton, NH
    Chris, maybe I missed this, but what do you use for your drone sound? Piano, keyboard, other?
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    None taken, for obvious reasons. :D

    As for the rest, I hear you. OTOH, when my knees finally got to the point of no return and I had to quit martial arts training, I had to find some physical activity to take its place for health and sanity reasons. It took a while, but I ended up getting up an hour early 6 days a week and putting a little physical maintenance routine together to keep my knees working and also so I wouldn't have to buy bigger and bigger clothes every year. At this point, it's an ingrained habit and one of the most positive things I do daily. This thread is basically about the same concept, only for bass fitness. :)

    I use these, because I bought them years ago and they don't annoy me, but there are a lot of great drone sources out there these days. I liked having them in MP3 format so I could edit them down to the length i want and put them in a playlist that plays continuously. In my case, they are arranged around the circle and 3 minutes each gives a 36 minute cardio workout that warms up and ends in the easier intonation keys and weans you into the snarky ones in the middle.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2017
    unbrokenchain and Nashrakh like this.
  12. bdowd

    bdowd Supporting Member

    Oct 27, 2005
    New Hampton, NH
    Thanks Chris, those look great. This thread is inspiring, wish I had the time and space right now to keep a daily regime, but the kiddos, small house, and new teaching job are leaving a very small slice left for me. Oh, and my pant waist is growing, guess I need a bit of something. Back to calibration!
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  13. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I hear you. "Calibration"to me is about getting back into that mind/body connection. Getting the body back up to speed that it can keep up with the imagination.

    There's also the need to be able to get into the flow state at higher tempos. It's like a mindset I feel that I need to also practice
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    @bdowd I hear you loud and clear. One of the things that is making me think about these issues is that now that I'm in my mid 50's I need more sleep and also have more responsibilities, so there seemed to be only several possibilities: stop doing things that are important, or become more efficient with the things I'm trying to do. I know I go nuts when I don't make time to exercise and I was starting to feel the same way about practicing. Looking forward to hearing what other old farts do to keep their chops in shape with limited time.
    tito mangialajo likes this.
  15. John Chambliss

    John Chambliss Supporting Member

    Nov 11, 2005
    Memphis, TN
    Start saying "no" more often; delegate responsibilities that you can - let youngsters make mistakes so they can learn; enjoy simple things; practice outside with the birds; walk 30 minutes every day; try meditation; travel abroad and listen to local music; try more arco.....
    Maple and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  16. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    What is this nonsense? You mean you want us to live life?

  17. John Chambliss

    John Chambliss Supporting Member

    Nov 11, 2005
    Memphis, TN
    Yeah, I always get this way about
    NYE. I’ll be over it soon :)
    marcox likes this.
  18. What's that saying.... 1hr on the bandstand is worth 10hrs playing alone.

    Invite a student/fellow staff to just play for 1hr each week for a semester; you're in the perfect workplace to do that. :thumbsup:
    John Chambliss likes this.
  19. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    nice thread! thanks! :thumbsup:
  20. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Musically, I fully agree. Physically, I'm not sure that's true if you learn how to work out properly... plus it all depends on who else is on that bandstand!

    I have a great pianist friend at the U. I do this with, plus there is always at least one gig/performance a week if not more. I guess all of that MA training got me hooked on "fight fitness" type classes/training and I miss that form of physical exhaustion. Maybe that's weird... :bag:
    Groove Doctor likes this.

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