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How do I prepare (academically) for this studio performance situation?!?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Road Hat, May 7, 2010.

  1. Road Hat

    Road Hat Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2008
    Here's the situation -

    studio time - $ clock running - singer/songwriter/guitarist presents song to the ensemble:

    "I think I'm tuned to GADDAD, but I've got a partial capo on the A-D-G strings at the second fret, so I'm not really sure".

    With regards to keeping regular time...well, there is no such thing for this individual. Great songs! Just no time reference AT ALL. The producer tried to inject a click to the process, which only made it worse. Finally, they settle on a scratch vocal/guitar part, point to me, and the red light is on to cut the bass part. Of course, there were no charts, but I had been furiously attempting to write out all the changes, etc. by ear while they were cutting the scratch part. I was able to suss the tonal centers, but that was as far as I was able to get before 'go' time.

    Frankly, I'm stumped in a couple of areas that I know I need to improve:

    1. When faced with a situation where there are complex/altered guitar tunings (especially with partial capos), what theoretical approach would best serve being able to quickly understand the musical structure of the piece and develop the appropriate bass lines?

    2. What is a good academic strategy on how to develop a groove to complement a constantly changing time structure on a spur of the moment basis? I'm a good timekeeper, but when I tried tapping my toe to this one, it looked like I was having a seizure! I think even a metronome would have had a nervous breakdown...


  2. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    I would honestly just walk and let the guy know he's paying $250/hr for rehearsal space.

    Otherwise tune up your ears, learn to hear the music in very large chunks (not a bar at a time) to determine the form and play very simply and stick to the roots.

    This is a no-win situation.
  3. Approaching that situation academically is not going to be any help, you just have to trust your ears and fly by feel. For any producer to put musicians in that situation and to expect perfection is just ridiculous, but they are certainly out there. You will encounter primitive musicians from time to time and just when you figure it out they will change the rules. OTOH because they approach music from another direction they can help you freshen up your ideas.
  4. Road Hat

    Road Hat Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2008
    Thank you both for the perspective - I needed it! I hadn't thought about the fact that it was a no-win situation, and that I had been placed in a ridiculous circumstance. Heck, the producer was even yelling at me over the talkbalk because I was having such a hard time creating a master bass track from the scratch guitar take (real nice guy). I felt an inch tall, and was extremely embarrased in front of my associates.

    I've always had the mind set that it was my responsibility to adapt to the paying artist, and deliver the best product/performance that I can regardless of the difficultly factor (they were actually fairly complicated songs), which is why I thought that this could be solved from an academic approach - first expand my knowledge, then apply it. I was afraid to walk or fight back, out of concern for developing a bad rep for not being a team player or not having the chops to hang in the studio. I'm extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to have regular session work, and I don't want to jeopardize that. I want to find the good in the situation and learn/grow as a bass player, and I thought additional focused studies might help me be better prepared. I think you're right, though - this particular circumstance is probably more of an art/performance problem than an academic one.
  5. I would bet that the so called producer is not actually a player so there is no way they would have a perspective on the difficulty.
    Remember that when you are in that chair. OTOH you are correct in the duty of any session players to make the best of every situation. Chalk this up as one of those bitter lessons and consider ways to make it a helpful lesson. I found that it was a valuable experience to seek out more primitive players and try to catch their vibe. I work for 2 musicians that are constantly making changes to arrangements and don't always stick to a 4/4 rhythm sometimes shortening or lengthening bars to fit their phrasing for the day so all I can really do is pay attention to the lyrics and go with the flow. Luckily the drummer in both situations and I can make it work. We had a summer gig at a juke joint backing a couple of truely primitive but brilliant folk blues players, really helps us deal with those situations.
  6. Pat C.

    Pat C. Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2005
    Tuscaloosa, AL, USA
    I'm quite sure that yelling at someone while their under duress ii not the best way to coax a good performance. This "producer" is an ass. This incident seemed to be exacerbated by the fact that the songwriter could not even identify their own chords, nor play along with a click track, indicating a deficiency in musicianship on their part. Then again, it's just your job to work around that, which is tough in a no win situation like this. It probably could've been easily prevented by a short rehearsal, or a forwarded scratch track to the other players before the session.

    I think your mindset is good, and I still think this an academic problem to be solved. And IMO it's all about having great ears. You gotta be able to hear not only the harmonic progression as it's being played, but what the chord structure may be (are there inversions, suspensions, extensions) and of course the form (has anybody seen the bridge?). I can understand the combination of a nonstandard tuning and partial capo being an issue because it takes away the visual cue of "let me peak over and see what fret the guitar playing is on."

    I think the ability that would be needed here borders on something close to perfect pitch, or at least nearly perfect relative pitch. I wonder how many players out there actually have this kind of ear. I doubt many do.
  7. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    thank you ;)

    so the guy was a doofus, the producer was an imbecile, and they just pissed away a good chunk of change. but you still want to do a good job. good for you, but from the way you described it, nobody on that end knew what they were doing, so your best bet is to get a check and get the hell out asap.

    now to excel in those situations, it's very tough, but it can be done. perfect pitch is not needed, but the ability to identify pitches and chord changes is. you shouldn't need to know how he's tuned in order to figure out what he's playing. if you have trouble with that, then you should do some ear training. taking lessons from someone who really knows how to ear train is always advisable. and excelling as a studio musician depends a buttload on how good your ear is.

    and if worse comes to worse, tune your bass the same as the bottom 4 strings on his guitar and just play roots ;)
  8. Eminentbass


    Jun 7, 2006
    South Africa
    Endorsing Artist: Ashdown Amps and Sandberg Basses.
    This reminds me of a session I did a couple of weeks back. The singer/songwriter had laid down a piano track but didn't have the musical vocabulary to identify the chords she played and wrote out a chart for the guitarist identifying the changes by the bass notes. It was then up to me to figure out the chords and inversions when it was in fact G/B or a diminished passing chord, etc and rewrite the charts for the guitarist(who also happened to be the producer).

    All sessions are different so academically the only way to prepare is to know your instrument as well as you can and have a grasp of chord structure/construction and so on. The real challenge is keeping a cool head and just to smile and nod when dealing with people who don't actually know how to convey what they want :)
  9. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    honest to god eminent, why weren't YOU the producer? ;)

    since we're on scary producer stories, my favorite is the one luther vandross told about a session where the producer tries to explain to the background singers what he wants and he can't explain it well, and he ends up making one of them cry because he's getting so upset that they're not understanding what he wants. she calms down a little, luther tells her to use her head voice, and that ends up being what this idiot wanted.

    i have a theory that the producer should know about twice as much about music as the act they're producing.
  10. Road Hat

    Road Hat Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2008
    I like the ear training idea - thanks much! We did the basic ear training in school, and I literally have big ears (my nickname was Dumbo), but when I looked on Wikipedia I realized that there was a vast area of study that I needed to begin. I don't have perfect pitch, but I do have a good relative pitch. It's a great starting point, which is fantastic for an eager learner!

    Any thoughts on developing advanced timing/feel disciplines? I can read, including rhythmic notation, but I'm not aware of a formal discipline that will assist in developing 'feel' time, especially when its amorphous.
  11. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    jeff berlin says you'll never get good time by studying with a metronome and i believe him. as you said, it's something you just have to be able to feel. for complex time sigs, subdividing large counts into smaller counts, like counting 7/4 "1 2 3 1 2 3 4" can help, but it's a feel thing that varies from song to song, so you'll just have to develop what feels good as the song progresses. but if you've got good academics, it becomes infinitely easier.

  12. Well you seem to have done well. Since it was not your money being spent, it must have been easier to relax, breathe and stay calm.

    For 1: It should not matter what tunings the guitarist uses. It should not matter if we accompany a guitar in standard tuning, or a violin in 5ths, or a piano. (As long as we all use the same reference pitch ie. A=440Hz) What matters is sound. What do we hear? Hear the chords flow and play along. It's all about the listening, not the fingers over a particular instrument. A side story that I read from Daniel Levitin's book "This Is Your Brain on Music." is a how Joni Mitchell use to use crazy tunings all the time with special chord voicings with sounds that could have been interpreted in many theoretical ways. She would have a hard time with studio bassists asking her "What's the root?", when she did not really know. She was pushing the art beyond her academic understanding. She was thinking, "
    The chord sounds like this, play something good." When she started working with Jaco, she found a bassist that was comfortable with the ambiguity of her chords and played good sounding counterpoint to her voice and chords.

    For 2. It's not always about metronomic time keeping. I think it is essential to practice with a metronome in a variety of ways to sharpen, one's rhythmic performing skills. It is equally important to also practice true rubato playing to develop a different sense of phrase speaking. (Eg. Symphonies don't play with a metronome, a conductor does not just beat time.) With a lot of folk players, it's really all about the melody and the lyrics. One needs to have the lyrics written down and know the melody, and where the chords follow the melody. We listen the the melody and the lyrics, and when the moment arrives, play the right bass line to support the melody and lyrics.

    To develop 1- the usual ear training methods.
    To develop 2 - continue the metronome practice, but add in rubato playing. go through songs you know, (if need be) transpose them to your vocal key, sing the melody and words in rubato time while you accompany yourself. Vocally, take the melody really out of time, and just deal with it as a bassist. You can also try playing the melodies like this in rubato as well on the bass.

    It's a life long process.
  13. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    In most situations like this it is experience you fall back on. Any song will have a melody, might not be one that you like or care for but lets say that songs as a rule have a melody. So that can be used to under pin a bass line if need be. because you have a melody that means you should be able to get certain harmonies for it, so again something to under pin a bass line. In that case tunings do not come into it imagination and experience does so that needs to be used. I would say in this situation it is a "vision" project and any contribution i make want a writers credit for.
    As for recording any time sig issues fall into performance, so it is a performance issue rather than a recording one, after all you record what you hear, and if what you hear is being played then you are performing it. It then stands to reason if you can't record it, its because you cant perform it. Try thinking out the box and go with and develop your imagination, not academics in this situation.:)
  14. Eminentbass


    Jun 7, 2006
    South Africa
    Endorsing Artist: Ashdown Amps and Sandberg Basses.
    Haha, the producer was also of the singer/songwriter variety(no offense to any of those here, I just have an impression based only on my experience that many prefer to avoid any theory) and therefore prefers to play by feel, the downside being that it takes him longer to figure out how to play what he's feeling. He's one hell of an engineer though and my bass sounded great.

    I've always loved studio work, even when playing styles I wouldn't listen to because it's a great place to learn how to adapt and try different things that may be more suited to the client's needs than my own.
  15. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    right on. it's always a challenge, but it's always fun. even the worst day in the studio is better than a good day on any other job. i just wish i got more studio calls to enjoy it ;)
  16. Road Hat

    Road Hat Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2008
    Quick update - I just got this email from the producer, who wants me back for another shot at the project:

    "Charts will be forthcoming later today, I'm still formatting them. There will be 3 songs for you and they will be strict arrangements with no half measures or Chinese psuedo-chromatic Mixylodean transgressions".

    So THAT'S what I needed to study!!

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