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Question for Michael...

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by Knavery, May 12, 2005.

  1. Knavery


    Feb 24, 2004
    Westminster, CO
    I have been playing bass for about ten years now. I had started out on guitar about fourteen years ago, but switched when some friends needed a 4-string slinger. Of course, that's how many of us start.

    I haven't been playing in a band since 2002 or so and wanted to get serious again. Last year, I bought a Warwick FNA Jazzman 5 and a fairly nice rig -- Beringer Ultrabass 300w head with a 212 Avatar cab. I never played! I don't have any idea why I didn't have the itch to play.

    Come two weeks ago. I went to a local GC and tried out some basses. I picked up a Fender and was COMPLETELY blown away. So, I bought an American Series Jazz bass. Then, I got to thinking... Why am I playing this Warwick I don't like? Sure it's expensive... Sure it's made from nice woods etc. etc. But I can spend all the money I want and it's not going to mean a thing if I don't like the feel. Hence the end of my superficiality and vain attempt at looking cool.

    I found my bass. A Fender American Series Jazz. I loved the feel... I loved the sound. I loved the simplicity and ruggedness of it. I never cared for Fenders as a guitar player, but their basses rock. Then, I bought a Geddy Lee Signature. I've turned into a Fender whore. I never imagined I'd ever say that. So now my Warwick is on the block.

    Now for the reason I wrote this... I have never taken bass playing seriously. I didn't realize until recently that it's my favorite instrument of any band. I always just learned the songs required and never worried about anything else. Now I feel different, but I have no idea where to go from here. I've got bass books and magazines and have been studying the circle of fifths to get an understanding of how songs are formulated. I just plain don't understand any of it. I've been working up my motor skills while trying to build some theory knowledge, but I feel it's not sticking. I've never had a problem making up songs, but I want to understand WHAT I'm doing. I find myself doing the same repetitive exercises over and over and over. I have no idea if I'm doing a pentatonic scale or what.

    If you have any advice you could give a humbled bass player that has reached a plateau but is ready to move forward, I'd REALLY appreciate it. Thanks!

  2. jetforcex


    Sep 23, 2003
    Hi, of course I'm not Michael, but your post resonated with me so I thought I'd offer something in the interim til Mike has a chance to post.

    Have you thought about your ears? I mean basically understanding what you are hearing. I've been down that same road of trying to assimilate the theory stuff, circle of fifths, scales, harmonic relationships, etc...and what I found was that while all of that is very necessary and worth learning to make advancement in your musical capabilities, and should be undertaken as serious study, it's sort of putting the cart before the horse if your ears don't have the fundamental building blocks down first, ahead of the intellectual assimilation of musical concepts.

    The part where you say "I want to understand what I'm doing" basically states a need to comprehend the relationships of sounds, in a way that you can ultimately have an intuitive knowledge of those relationships as a foundation for making your own music, or understanding the music of others, instead of just playing patterns or trying to carry around a bunch of charts and graphs in your head. Comprehending the relationships of sounds all comes down to ear training. Once you understand what intervals sound like, and internalize those sounds, you can move on to learning what combinations of intervals (chords) sound like. Building block on top of building block.

    Eventually, once your ear "muscles" have been "flexed" enough, you will internalize these sonic relationships, and things like the circle of fifths or the pentatonic scale will be understood actively by your ears, in the practice of playing and hearing the relationships of sounds contained within them, instead of as mere intellectual concepts or physical patterns.

    It might sound tough but it's really not! If you flex your ears a little bit every day, you'd be shocked at how readily you'll start to be able to identify the relationships you hear. Ultimately the big payoff is that all those sounds you have floating around in your head, you'll be able to take them, identify the relationships you're hearing, and pull them out from your brain and into the real world in a way that's much more efficient (and musical!) than wandering haphazardly around the fretboard trying to find a pattern.

    What's called for is a good method and a little discipline. There are a bajillion ear training resources out there. One I'm particularly fond of is Gary Willis' "Ultimate Ear Training for Guitar and Bass". The great thing about this little book is that its deceptively deep. It's not just ear training. He has you doing visualization away from your instrument, sight singing, and even some serious transcription by the end of it. It's really a complete method. It comes with a cd full of tracks that comprise the actual hearing exercises in the book, so you can drill yourself silly internalizing the sounds. I'd recommend moving all the tracks to a portable mp3 player, if possible, to make pausing and unpausing during the exercises a lot easier, as well as give you the convenience to study anywhere, anytime.

    Good luck. I'd be curious to know how Michael went about internalizing these relationships, which must have been at a very young age.
  3. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Great advice, jetforex. Thanks for making my job easy! I agree that listening skills are by far the most important in music. The intellectual studying we do is really just there to help us organize and interpret what we’re hearing. I encourage you to keep at it, Knavery. It’s quite common that theory and harmony concepts take a while to sink in and make sense. I encourage you to seek out as many kinds of playing situations as you can and engage any musicians you can in discussions about music. There are (at least) two different kinds of music theory, classical and jazz, and I think the concepts involved have a lot more relevance if you’re applying them on a regular basis. If you don’t want to write Baroque chorals, for instance, classical counterpoint may seem like a lot of unnecessary rules and jazz harmony is primarily intended to help you learn to be a better soloist in post-bop idioms. Nevertheless, I believe that knowledge is always beneficial and the more you know, the more tools you have to spark your creativity. Good luck!
  4. Knavery


    Feb 24, 2004
    Westminster, CO
    Thank you both for the reply. I really appreciate it. I have started looking at lessons online here and at activebass.com. So far, I have found them very invaluable. :):)

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