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Selling the bass part

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Rockinjc, Jan 8, 2001.

  1. Rockinjc


    Dec 17, 1999
    I'm not talking about money. This is more about execution. Perhaps others would agree but I'm not sure who here has seen or lived this. I am beginning to think that the part it self does not matter as much as how it comes off.

    From punk rock to jazz I have heard lots of music that either stirs my oatmeal or does not, and more and more this surprises me. Take something like a sharp five or a flat nine, these 'off notes' can sound like a lemon or like lemonade - like a clam or Oysters Rockefeller depending on the delivery. What do they call it in food service…presentation?

    Last night we played with a sit in drummer, and while other members of the band thought he was totally off, I told him (and meant it btw) that I could hear what he was trying to get at and loved it, but that he was just not selling it right. He seemed to appreciate this.

    Another example is between our guitarists. One is more of a trained musician and has good conventional technique, is well listened, quick fingers and understands a lot more about theory that the rest of us. He sounds good but so does the other, lead wise because he takes the time to make the most of tone on every note. Two ways, I like them both.

    I put this into technique but it could just as well live in general. It's just that I believe that it comes down to nuances that happen at the fingers, but of course the ears involved.

    I think it comes down to dynamics, tone and timing, making some notes sound more powerful and others more subdued. Is that plucking and muting or what? These tiny variances can make or break a gig. When I am flailing away, as long as I emphasize notes in a tasteful way, I can play almost anything I want. I wonder just what makes the difference even though it seems like I can nail it (most of the time), I can't put my finger on (its all in the fingers) what makes or breaks pieces for the greater whole.

    What do you think?

  2. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...just from my limited experience, something that is played from the heart(right or "wrong")will usually sound better than something that feels calculated(ie technically "perfct").
    I'm sure we've all jammed & found "something" cool while in the moment. I imagine, whatever the phrase or lick was, it sounded good AT THAT PARTICULAR TIME. So, you actually kinda remember what the Hell you played & practice it...the next time, though, it kinda sounds like yesterday's news. I think a lot of it is just pure adrenalin mixed with a little anxiety(nervous energy). I'm usually for a take or 2 on the original stuff I've recorded(ALWAYS ROLL TAPE, BTW!).
    Once auto-pilot sets in...I dunno, too many times, it ain't happenin' after that(from my experience).

    Dynamics is a MAJOR, major issue that all players need to remain aware of; I agree with you, dynamics can make or break a tune. Too many times, it's just bash, bash, bash...even something as "playing down a little during the verses & UP a little during the choruses/solos" makes for a "better" performance. Personally, how I pull that off is through plucking(harder, softer, back by the bridge, up over the neck/pickups,...a bassist's hand(s) should be their volume pedal).

    "If it's "wrong", play it strong".
    Guiseppe likes this.
  3. MJB


    Mar 17, 2000
    I call it playing with "feeling". Most anyone can learn to play the notes, but that's not the same as making music. It's why drum machines don't sound as good as a good drummer. It's why B.B. King can make so few notes sound so good. Blues musicians in particular seem to be very good at this, their heart and soul comes out in their music. It's why I sound so much better playing with other musicians than I do in solitary practice.
    Guiseppe likes this.
  4. Turock

    Turock Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2000
    MJB and JimK nailed it... capturing the feel of the song is more important than note selection. Dynamics too, are often overlooked. If you start out wide open... where else can you go.
  5. Rockinjc


    Dec 17, 1999
    More amps! :D
  6. Rockinjc


    Dec 17, 1999
    Maybe it is psychological, but when you play flat 9 in roughly the same place, it sounds better if you meant it than if it was by mistake. What about that Miles thing, about take a mistake and repeat it they will call you a genius?

  7. That's your ego talking. A clam is clam no matter how much you want it to be lobster. Don't fall into the trap of thinking your hip because you played a note where it made absolutely no sense (ie. a wrong note).

    I think your taking the Miles quote out of context. And besides, musicians that know their stuff know how to disguise a clam, making it appear as lobster. The better the musician, the more lobster-like that clam looks and tastes.

    This dicussion would make a lot more sense if you could write about minor ninths and augmented fifths in some concrete terms; like,"howabout a minor ninth in this situation...," not just, "I think it sounds cool when I play
    a minor ninth."

    [Edited by David Kaczorowski on 01-11-2001 at 03:22 PM]
  8. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Not to oversimply something very complex, but I think you are grasping at something beyond words and that's why some of us use music to communicate on a level deeper than words. (Like part of Ed Fuqua's post alludes to).

    For instance, ghost notes are the breaths I take when I speak to inflect my speech. Flats and sharps can make my message happy, sad, sarcastic, etc.
  9. Rockinjc


    Dec 17, 1999
    Dave, Rick,

    I know what y'all mean. I am pushing the envelope both with what I have the ability to say, and what can be said in this medium, but it still beats going on and on about gear IMHO. :D

    I like using the sharp five and the flat 9 in the same context. It seems to work best between the IV & V chords or with the VII Dim as a passing tone, or at least when other grace notes are present.

    Scale wise, I think that any note that is on its way to somewhere and is played with intent can fit in. Chord wise, any chord extended far enough beyond a simple triad will eventually include any note in the scale. Then you can make the actual chord an inversion of some other. I think its best not to put out the more pungent spices at the beginning or end of important phrases. I can't get away with it.

    To me its more about making the right choice with the level, attach, and fall of the notes; between the note going Do, Doom, Da, Dodoom, Dap, Moo or poink….if that makes any sense. I love Onnamanapia (sp?)

    Ed, I really like what you say about having the vision in your head of where you are going, and working with others who listen. It makes all the difference in the world.

    Also, I think it helps if you look like you mean it! There is a band in town here that folks go ape poop about, who can't play their way out of a wet paper bag in a windstorm. They can keep the audience transfixed by looking the part. So much for practicing! :(


    [Edited by Rockinjc on 01-11-2001 at 03:57 PM]
  10. Speaking abstractly, if you know how to handle a note, you're line will sound stronger. How you play it (level, attack and decay) shouldn't be used to make it sound like not a mistake but to color it making the note expressive.

    Have you studied voice-leading? Voice-leading is the way notes want to resolve. For example, a ninth always wants to resolve downward. If you understand the ninth as a leading tone wanting to resolve downward, and as a passing tone upward, you'll treat it differently than you will only knowing it's a ninth.

  11. MJB


    Mar 17, 2000
    Hmmm...very tough to express this with words. I agree that feeling is not a substitute for knowledge or technique. I do, however, think it is the catalyst that gets the music in your head to your fingers and ultimately to your instrument. I guess some real world examples would help, please forgive me but I'm gonna use guitar players :eek:

    Technically, I think players like Vai and Satch are brilliant. But I would rather listen to Clapton or B.B. King. Granted, they're playing different music and maybe that's the bulk of it, but I think feeling DRIVES guys like EC and King to deliver good choices and technique. I know, I'm probably being as clear as mud here. :D

    OK, lets get more bass related. When you hear music that makes you tap your foot, why does it make you tap your foot? IMO that's the "feeling" type of thing I'm trying to describe and I think that affects your playing. Yes, in the end it translates to proper knowledge and technique, but I think your emotional mindset greatly influences your sound.

    Maybe trying to put this into words is an excercize in futility.
  12. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...hmmmm, I dunno(I'm confused).
    IT'S ALL ABOUT FEEL, ain't it?
    "Right" note, "wrong" note, blue note...?
    What are we doin', painting by the numbers?
    I'm with MJB; IMO, anybody can be taught the language & the whys & whens..."musicians" via the cookie-cutter method.
    Feel, though...can it be taught/learned? I dunno/maybe???
    Anyway, I would agree 100% that a player with education, technique, & feel would be a formidable musician. Sans feel, though, whaddya have? Mistake-free playing = boring playing(IMHO).
    (Now, if you're being PAID to PERFORM a PART, that's totally different; then again, if you're being paid to play improvised music...?).

    Question to the pros playing improvised music:
    If(when)you play a clam, do you get overly concerned about it 'cause you know better?

    [Edited by JimK on 01-11-2001 at 08:26 PM]
  13. You hear things differently, you hear your mistakes, you hear other's mistakes. An 11th in the wrong spot will stick out like I don't know what. And you think to yourself, "**** that should been a #11." That could ruin my my night. But if I'm hearing what I'm playing, I might be able to whip something out to save my ass.

    Regarding feeling: I don't see how feeling and knowing your **** are mutually exclusive. That example w/ Louis Armstrong has him placed in the wrong category. He has much less in common with Steve Vai than with BB King. And I'm sure they all know which way a ninth resolves. Maybe the can't articulate it in words, but their ear hears it, and they know.

    In response to feeling vs. paint by numbers sans feeling: that BS reminds me of when I was in high school and a lot of punks didn't want to study because they thought knowing music would destroy their creativity. While they were worried about feelings and creativity I was getting paid to play with musicians twice my age. All those folks I saw drinking and dancing at gigs never accused me of lacking any feeling.

    If I were an astronaut trying to go to the moon I'd want to use all the math and science I could to build the best possible rocket, to make sure I'm blasting off in the right direction and at the right time to hit the moon. I'd want a lot more than a pocket calculator and some Black and Decker tools.

    Everytime you hit you're trying to go to the moon.

    [Edited by David Kaczorowski on 01-11-2001 at 10:50 PM]
  14. APouncer


    Nov 3, 2000
    Lancashire, UK

    Nice try, keep it up - onomatopoeia - the adjective being onomatopoeiac - "I love onomatopoeiac words" or "Splash is an onomatopoeia Jeeves" to present them both in context. You need to present things in context in order for their full meaning to be understand or even make sense - this is called an allegory or a metaphor.

    I am English, and I speak and write English, the rest of you are Yanks.


  15. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...sorry, Dave-
    I don't think it's BS; I get your point about certain musicians NOT wanting "a clue" 'cause it'll wreck their creativity. What's as bad(IMHO)are the technicians out there with all technique & no heart, no soul, no feel.
    ...and your rocket to the moon analogy; we're not talking rocket SCIENCE(though some do approach music as a science vs. art).
  16. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    We have all been given gifts, abilities and talent either by God or pure blind luck (this is not the point to argue on ) Its how we use them that matters. Returning to bass we can either play it like a typewriter or move people to dance, laugh, cry or a religious experience. I have seen players with limited ability achieve some or all of the above and 'talented' players fail to do any of the above or refuse to play at all with lesser mortals.

    Your choice guys and gals. (thats the bit to agree/disagree on)

  17. yawnsie


    Apr 11, 2000
    Personally, I don't really believe in the line that learning more about music necessarily stunts someone's creativity. However, I think that putting more feel into something is a lot harder to quantify than the notes that are played - you can practise your scales or walking lines for hours, but you can't really sit and work on how much feel you put into a song.

    I've noticed that in my band, of whom only the guitarist has much theoretical knowledge, some of the most precise and note-perfect performances in rehearsals tend to be very bland, and lacking in feel. But when we play live, there may be more mistakes, but the added excitment is tangible.

    I would say I prefer the likes of BB King and Clapton to Vai and the rest. Before I started playing seriously, I listened to people like Clapton, but I wouldn't have given a second thought to Vai. Now I play and can appreciate people more musically, I realise how proficent Vai is, but I'd still rather have a bluesman putting his heart and soul into the music than someone playing, as CS said, like a typewriter.
  18. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

  19. Turock

    Turock Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2000
    Someone said "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got swing". I agree and stand by my statement that the feel of the song is more important than note selection. Your average person at a club has no idea about scales, modes, theory, etc. and wont notice or even give a damn about a flubbed note, but if the groove is not happening...
    That's not to say those things are not important, and many times players use the term "feeling" as an excuse for laziness or not comprehending. Also, some players don't want or need to take it as far as others, and are satisfied with what they know or do. It's all about fun anyway.
  20. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Well - "Swing" is to do with an understanding of triplet feel in 4/4 time and is just as much to do with technique as chords/scales - in fact rhythm is the area where most people could actually do with better understanding to create more interesting bass lines. You can add excitement to a performance by how you play rhythmically rather than just getting louder or faster as most people that claim it's all about feeling seem to do!

    Note selection is not everything of course and note placement within a bar or across it, is what makes a groove - a lot of grooves just won't happen unless everyone is playing in exactly the right place in the bar - but this is a question of practice and experience in playing as a unit - you can call that "feeling" if you like, but groove is just as much about practice as anything else.

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