How would you teach this?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Alvaro Martín Gómez A., Sep 21, 2005.

  1. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    Hi everybody.

    As some of you already know, I work as a bass teacher in a local university. Right now I have some students that have completed more than half of their studies and I'll even have my first "son" this semester. My question points to the fact that in my teaching program I've included "Portrait Of Tracy" as a piece they must play, in order for them to know and get used to the harmonics technique. I have some really good students that just with the recording and showing them in the class room how to play it, they get it. But I have other "slower" students who have more problems to get things understood. My problem is: I don't know how to teach them to play this. Of course, I already taught them how (natural and artificial) harmonics work on the bass and I asked them to learn the notes they can get with natural harmonics on a four string bass, not only thinking of the actual names of the notes, but thinking of them intervallically.

    But putting that info into this piece is another story to me. Problem is, according to a popular saying here, those are people who want them be given "ground air and grated wind" and just playing the piece in the classroom isn't enough for them. Besides, I think that the transcriptions of PoT aren't clear enough for a student. The only thing I think about this is to record a video of myself playing the piece and showing part by part how's played, so they can scrutinize it at home, but I don't want to spend my time (and money) doing that. I mean, it would be cool to do it, but there must be a more logical way to teach this to a "slow" student. Any suggestions on this are highly appreciated. Thank you in advance!
  2. Garry Goodman

    Garry Goodman

    Feb 26, 2003
    Hi-Just my opinion here;
    I think selecting this piece is ambitious and the playing of harmonics is a developed skill for advanced players.I want to ask if the next tune is going to be "Donna Lee" .

    Adam Novicks book "Harmonics for Electric Bass'" included a chord book of all known chords played in harmonics on the 4 string.
    If I were teaching ,I would divide the piece into two parts.I would devote considerable time to the harmonics and their function in the tune.I would get each student to play harmonics easily first.They develope an appreciatation for "Portrait of Tracy" because they now know what it took to make that sound.
    Then isolate the plucked passages ,transcribe them and write in rests where the harmonics go.Have the student play the plucked bass part and you play the harmonics.After the student has spent time with harmonics, and feels comfortable with the concept ,reverse the roles and have him fill in the harmonics while you play the bass notes.Then have him attempt both parts.

    Yes ,it's time consuming, but I feel it needs to be done this way to even the field because some have learning disabilities.
  3. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    Thank you so much for your reply, Garry.In fact, I also teach the "Donna Lee" melody as a fingerstyle exercise, but not to be played at 218 bpm as Jaco did. Only at a moderately slow tempo, but with a metronome.

    Of course, I'd never try to teach "Portrait Of Tracy" to a student that doesn't know how to play harmonics on the bass guitar. I ask to play this piece only to the students I feel have the foundation of the technique. The've already played all the possible natural harmonics on bass, looking for good tone, accuracy and function of the notes they're playing against the open strings. Your suggestion on teaching specific chords with the book is great, and playing a duo of a "plucked notes" bass with an "harmonics" bass is excellent. I'll work on that.Thank you for your reply and please keep'em coming! :)
  4. Garry said a few good points another thing is to hone in on the problem area whether if its a technique prob. or a shift that isn't smooth ,like get them to go through the tune and then pinpoint the areas that have difficulty and zone in on them by giving them a exercise that helps with there problem areas
  5. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I am by no means a skilled or qualified educator, or bass player, so a pinch of salt required :)

    Could you not compose a piece using natural and false harmonics to play some of the chords in the song? You could make it simpler and less technically challenging than PoT and perhaps the lesson of using harmonics as notes, rather then as 'an effect' would be a clearer? The advanced technique required to play PoT might obscure the lesson on harmonics? You could always use excerts from PoT as examples for further study?

    I dunno, just some thoughts really :)
  6. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Alvaro, it's very simple and I think Garry made an excellent point. You have students that can't handle playing "Portrait Of Tracy." Don't teach it to them. They're not ready for it.

    What I'm getting from what you're saying is "OK, I showed you how to play bass harmonics, now it's time to play the most difficult bass harmonics tune ever written." Knowing where harmonics are and how to do them doesn't mean they have the skill to play a song like that. That's a really difficult tune for even the most advanced players. I haven't seen you or your students in action, so I don't know for sure if they don't have the skill to pull it off, and that's something that you as a teacher need to decide on your own. But if they are struggling with it, that means they aren't ready to take it on, and no amount of splitting up parts of the tune or taking it section by section is going to make them ready.

    Instead, you either need to find an easier song with bass harmonics or you need to write one. You have to be able to walk before you can run, but it seems to me they're not getting past the crawling stage before you're making them run. Again, I'm just going by what you said and nothing else, so use your own judgment, but that's what it seems like to me.
  7. dougjwray


    Jul 20, 2005
    That hits the nail on the head.
  8. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    You've made a really interesting point, Jimmy. To me, the problem with these students (now that you make me think of that) is that they're some really closed-minded guys and they're only interested on learning what they need. My philosophy about teaching has been to show them the wide array of possibilities available for them with the instrument and then decide in their professional lives what they want to use and what don't. Of course, my intention isn't to convince them to become "solo players", but I thought in this case that learning a cool and demanding harmonics tune would catch their interest.

    I think you're right. Maybe I should keep PoT for the really good students only. As Howard also suggested, I think I can create a harmonics piece loosely based on Portrait Of Tracy that shows them what they can do with harmonics and without so much stress (for them and for me).

    Thank you very much! :)
  9. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Hey, that's what I'm here for...


    As for the students only learning what they need, well I'm a businessman and I strongly believe in the old adage "give the people what they want." Now you should try to get them to open up to all possibilities, no doubt, and I'm not telling you that you shouldn't try to get them to learn bass harmonics, but I believe that you can only teach someone what they want to learn. So to save yourself some stress, maybe what I would do is ask them if they've heard of bass harmonics and what it can do for them, play PoT for them, ask them if they dig that style, and if they do, offer to teach them harmonics. If not, then maybe you could just skip it, because quite frankly, learning what they need to play in bands is the most important thing, and you can play your whole career and never once need harmonics.

    And don't teach them how to rake ;)
  10. Garry Goodman

    Garry Goodman

    Feb 26, 2003
    This is a great suggestion and also JimmyM's comment on the skill level required to play that piece. You know "The Fish" tune on Chris Squires solo album was a pre-Jaco use of those harmonics and there are only about 8 of them to play. Instant gratification.
    I have a tune , "Haleakala", which has a solo in tapped harmonics(some 32nd note runs in harmonics) that would be a nightmare for a beginning player.As an introduction to the technique,it would at best,discourage a guy from wanting to play that way if he wasn't already interested in that sort of thing.