Making every note sound good

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by BassyBill, Apr 22, 2012.

  1. BassyBill

    BassyBill Still here Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    This concept is probably one of the things that makes the biggest difference between how I play now and how I was playing 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

    I'm NOT talking about note choices here. I'm talking about playing the notes once they've already been chosen, in whatever way that occurs for a particular playing situation.

    I watched a guy on YouTube yesterday, and he was playing a bassline pretty much in time and hitting the right notes, but what he wasn't doing was making each note sound good (hence the thread title). As a consequence, I have to say the musical result was not what I think he was trying to achieve and it definitely didn't sound right to me.

    I believe that the way you articulate each note through a combination of right and left hand technique is every bit as important as the actual notes you play, and perhaps even more so in some situations.

    This might be understood better by considering an instrument that you DON'T play. Pick up a violin or an oboe and play a note in the middle of its range. Sure, with a bit of effort you'll be able to get a note out of it. Now listen to a great player on that instrument play the same note and you will hear what I'm talking about when I say the player has to make each and every note sound good, one at a time.

    This isn't much to do with what gear you use, either. I'm sure we've all heard people sound bad on great gear and others sound great on entry level stuff (within its limitations like volume level or whatever).

    Maybe I should have posted this in the technique forum. Anyway, this is something I first realised quite a while back and the more I play the more it sort of gets reinforced. I'm certainly not claiming to be all that great in this respect myself, by the way. But it's a major part of my approach to playing and I try hard to get this right as best I can. Making each and every note sound good really does matter, and maybe understanding this will help somebody who's just starting out get their playing sounding more like they want it to sound.

    (I'm not saying note choice doesn't matter, of course. I'm saying there's more to playing well than just playing the "right" notes - each of those notes has to played "right", too, in order to sound the way you want it to sound.)

    I just thought I'd throw this idea out there and see if it resonates with any of you folks who know what I'm trying to say here. Any thoughts?
  2. Sure. And you posted in the correct forum IMO, since making notes sound good is elementary technique. Well trained players will sound better, since during performances they have less worries about technical aspects and are able to concentrate on the music itself.

    Many others have great musical ideas, but lack elementary technique. The main reason is that bass players often are self-taught to a great deal, whereas in their first years violinists and oboists usually take formal lessons with well-trained teachers who studied in music schools with a long tradition backing them up.

    IMHO training and qualification of bass guitar teachers should be more formalized to assure the quality of bass guitar teachers.

    For the record: I don't teach bass guitar.
    I wouldn't dare.
  3. trowaclown


    Feb 26, 2008
    I'd appreciate a link to the youtube video in question actually. I get what you mean, but I'm sure we'll all have different opinions on what constitutes a well played note. Still, yes, I think this is an interesting topic to discuss.
  4. Something we all should work on. Bass is still new to me so I'm having fun with it. I also play rhythm guitar with a band I've been with for over 10 years. Same ole 50 songs over and over. The first hour is fun during the second set I start getting sloppy. I caught myself the other day, during a long gig, just strumming the tonic chord, not bothering with the rest of the progression. Now that is beyond sloppy, that is cheating......

    That was a wake up call. Something we all should work on.
  5. BassyBill

    BassyBill Still here Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    We may have different opinions about the fine details, yes. But in principle it's possible to define a well played note as one that sounds the way the player intended it to sound. For example, if the player is trying to play very smoothly and each individual note is not clearly articulated, then the notes are not being played well when judged by the player's own intentions. That's the point, really. The player has to make each and every note sound the way they want it to sound and I think this aspect of playing is sometimes overlooked, especially by relative beginners.

    I'll PM you a link (in confidence) and would be interested to hear your view, but I deliberately didn't share it here as it's not my intention to publicly criticise any individual player, especially as they may be a member of the forum.

    Chris - that comment about not teaching BG is interesting. Care to enlarge on it a bit?
  6. BassyBill

    BassyBill Still here Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    For discussion purposes, here's a very positive example of what I'm talking about. This guy gets it. Nearly every note is just spot on, and you can tell he's controlling how each one sounds just the way he wants it to. Really great playing, imo...

    Narada Michael Walden - I shoulda loved ya - bassline - YouTube

    I guess what we're really talking about is being in great CONTROL of each and every note.
  7. BargeOn


    Mar 19, 2004
    There is an anecdote I’ve heard that is probably true though I may get the exact details wrong.

    Classical guitar god Andres Segovia gave a master class attended by some players acknowledged to be among the best. One of the stars played a passage and played it very well. Then Segovia played and the man was floored and very humbled. They played the same notes, in time as written. But the master brought out music the student did not. When the student asked what he did wrong Segovia answered: You don’t love every note.

    It has taken a while for all that implies to sink in.
  8. GigJones


    Jun 10, 2009
    This is a great topic.

    I started focusing on making each note sound right when I started formal jazz lessons.

    My teacher assigns a different mode in a different key each lesson. I am to practice it playing quarter notes, eight notes, triplets, and sixteenth notes, in two octaves, in increasing speeds (bpm).

    After starting this practice, I realized that playing scales is not only about learning the notes of the scale but it is also to practice the mechanics of making each note sound good.

    So now, when I practice scales, it is foremost in my mind (and intention) to sound good playing play each note. This practice translates well into actual live performances.
  9. miltslackford


    Oct 14, 2009
  10. I would almost venture to say that in the three years of playing (it's only 3, so I might not be 100% correct) that the way you play a note can also be more than what notes you play. You can play wrong notes correctly, and make them fit in.
  11. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    I don't know ... to me it is more of an unconscious thing that happen when you worked enough to be in control of the instrument. So when playing a ballad, you play smooth, when playing funk you hit harder and more staccato, playing metal you are more agressive, playing classical you are more expressive etc ... it just happen.
  12. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    So true. And it does come out of how you hear the note in relation to what its doing in the music. This is where art takes over from technique.

    Its not just making sure the note sounds, but how the note is started. How many different ways can you articulate (start) a note? How many different ways can you end a note? Can you play a phrase and make a certain note the most important note in the phrase (even if its not the first or last or highest or lowest)? What happens to a phrase when you make a different note more important than the last time you played that phrase? Can you take a simple cliched bass lick no more than 2 measures long and play it 4 different ways? 8 different ways? (not fair changing the rhythm or pitch or any note...just the attack, length and ending).

    What if you have a bass part that is a 2 measure phrase that is repeated 16 times? Do you grind it out and fill 32 bars, or do you find a way to play it over and over and increase or decrease the intensity over the 32 bars? Do you lead to the last rep, or do you make it lead to the 10th repetition and back it down to the 16th rep?

    There is no right answer to any of this. But your choices (or not) make the music.
  13. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    It's playing with deliberation!!
  14. BassyBill

    BassyBill Still here Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    Yes, that's the intent - being able to achieve the intent is the complementary aspect.
  15. puddin tame

    puddin tame

    Aug 14, 2010
    I agree with this. I won't point out any specific videos but if you look up covers of most any victor wooten tune you'll see this, if the players are managing to play the notes they just don't have the same feel.

    I think a touch is developed over time. You can't teach it, because the physical action takes part on such a small scale and can only be developed unconciously over time as a result of trial, error, and your minds idea of good sounding notes. Emotional attachment is also part of this I think, if you are emotionally attached to the note you will really be paying attention to the tone, eventually your fingers and brain will connect the dots, a better sense of touch will come out.

    Had a guitar player I was jamming with want to take a turn on my bass, "why not" I thought, and though his notes were on it just did not sound good. "Is that MY BASS??" I thought "Is that how I sound???" as I sat back and listened.
    Of course not! As soon as it was handed back to me that silky smooth tone returned. I have an idea of what bass should sound like in my mind and after so many years of playing it has come out into my hands and I could not tell you why, but playing like that definitely gives me a certain peace of mind as I roll out my notes
  16. Good post!
    I think Herbie Hancock said (don`t quote me on that) play every note as it was worth a dollar....or something like that :)
  17. Well... The deliberation part happens as you practice and contemplate your technique because 'deliberation' means 'slow, careful consideration' - but I am being picky.

    I'd say it's important to play expressively. Articulation and dynamics are key to playing expressively and are the distinct differences between a beginner who is 'making it to the end of the song reasonably error-free, but hanging on for dear life' and the seasoned player who is making every note and phrase count.

    My student (I only have one!) has been playing in his cover band for a few years now. That's both a good and bad thing for his technique. Without the band, he'd have no inspiration to practice and learn stuff. Because he's in the band, he has to learn and play so many songs that most of them don't get the fine-tuned attention they deserve - but because they sound 'ok' as a band, it doesn't hit his radar that his technique is really pretty shoddy. Most of his notes sound bad on their own, but merged with the din of the band, they sound OK...

    When we work in his lessons I show him how to attack his parts one note at a time and we discuss the spirit, intent and execution required to bring those things to life - but getting him to practice that way is a huge challenge! He's all about cranking up the tune and jamming along - slop be damned!

    Kids... He's only 15 so he's got time and he's come a very long way since he first started - but the natural impatience that comes with being young really puts a monkey wrench in the works when it comes to practicing things that require patience.