Some Questions On Musical Vocabulary And Differences Between Creative Outlets

Discussion in 'Ask Jeff Berlin [Closed]' started by Bryan R. Tyler, Jan 5, 2018.

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  1. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Reviewer: Bass Player Magazine
    I have several questions and thoughts and thought it might be good to get your input on these things to help clarify your ideas on the differences between teaching and performing as well maybe refining the nomenclature we use to maybe clear up some misunderstandings. I’m going to ask each in separate posts to keep it clean. Thanks in advance for taking a look.

    1. You’ve stated that groove always comes last and that you can’t play a song without knowing the notes, etc. African drum groups are often comprised of just rhythm instruments. “Songs” are often improvised and there are neither notes to learn nor melody or harmony- it’s entirely about rhythm, feel, intensity, the push/pull created by playing before or after the beat, etc.- essentially everything that makes up what most of us call groove. Would you not define this as music but rather some sort of rhythmic performance? Do you have a different idea of what you consider groove other than the elements I mentioned?
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  2. J_Bass

    J_Bass Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal
    Interesting question!
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  3. JeffBerlin

    JeffBerlin Guest

    Jan 10, 2009
    First, I apologize for showing up late over here. I didn't know about how to find posts and houghts from other people that I personally didn't post myself. I am still learning how to get around TB. Thank you for your patience.

    I liked your question as well.

    When I make comments such as groove is last, I am referring to specifically the bass guitar since this is our common instrument. Most percussive instruments aren't based in tone but percussive sound.
    Regarding your question referring to improvisation, I totally agree that rhythm, feel intensity, push/pull are the emotional aspects of performance. In an improvisation, the notes still to come first as they are what are used to improvize with.

    Since a bass was constructed to produce notes, it is good when playing a song or improvising a bass part to figure out what those pitches that we intend to play are. This is the first step. Once we figure out what the notes are, we have to play those notes and do so on the bass neck. This is the second step. Finally, when we become comfortable with playing the notes and rhythms, then the only element of music that needs to be put into action is find a way to play the music as we feel that it should be played. Hence, a groove and feel can now be sought as these things are best sought after once we know what to play. This is the third and final step in the full process of the performance of the bass. Did this explanation help?
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2018
  4. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Fusion Cats Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    Jeff - in this explanation, "groove comes last" seems to be quite different than "groove is least important" (which is another common way that the phrase "comes last" is used).
    It seems you mean "working on groove comes later in time, after mastering the notes and how to produce them on the instrument" rather than "groove is least important".
    Am I understanding you correctly here?
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  5. JeffBerlin

    JeffBerlin Guest

    Jan 10, 2009
    If I said that groove is the least important aspect of learning, it isn't and I am glad that you pointed this out to me. But, this needs a little qualification.

    People emphasis groove as being more important than notes (pitch.) People know what I am saying here. In musical terms, this is an insupportable statement. Groove is no more and no less an important aspect of playing than any other musical principle. In learning and practicing, however, groove has little importance because the job of learning is different than the goal of playing/performing. Learning is almost always an out of time regard of new principles. Playing (of the most part) is producing music you've already learned how to play. So, in regards to the steps necessary to achieve a good feeling and well played bass part, the formula reads this way:

    1. Figure out the notes.

    2. Figure out how to play them on the neck.

    3. Practice this!

    4. Once the music is learned, the only remaining element is to put feeling into your performance. Hence, the emotional elements of performance including groove!

    Notes are first and groove is last! And the only reason that I felt that it would be to state this is because many bass players don't realize this. This gives people something to ponder which, hopefully, will add to a little changing in the thinking of teachers and players.
  6. Jeff, while I agree with the sequence of the four steps, have you ever witnessed someone playing an instrument, even proficiently, but still lacking step 4? To me, it’s soul-destroying. My better half spent 15 years-plus studying classical piano playing, when to high school specifically for the instrument, can explain advanced harmonic concepts. But when she plays, there is no soul, no emotion, no feel. It’s tragic (and I hope she doesn’t read this).

    This experience makes me understand why some folks feel that “grooving” should be taught or specifically practiced. I’m not sure how that could be taught, or if I’d ever want to pay for it, but I get their point. Fortunately, I’m naturally overflowing with it ;)
  7. JeffBerlin

    JeffBerlin Guest

    Jan 10, 2009
    I've read many accounts of musicians stating that they have heard other players play without feeling or emotion. I tend to not believe this is true for a couple of reasons.

    Almost everyone "means" what they play. That is, we all play from the part of us that loves to play. Whether or not we as listeners pick up on the so-called emotional intention of other players is another thing. But, I feel confident that the people that are playing are into their own version of the experience.

    I always promised bass players that studying musical content is the only academic process to get everybody equally to learn how to play better. But, on purpose, I never mentioned the term "Art" because I can't say with certainly that this kind of learning leads to a higher artistic ability. By being liberated from struggling to know what they right notes are and where they are located on the bass neck, a kind of artistic freedom surely takes place. But, being an expressive player isn't something that always manifests itself with trained musicians. It is possible that this thought is being played out with your better half; perhaps (and please pardon me for suggesting this) she might be exactly the person that I promised that all bass players would be, a player capable in the playing of the classical repertoire, but, possibly not someone where the real feeling of music will be evident in her playing.

    But remember that the real soul of the player might begin and end with the player him/herself. She may believe that she is playing with great expression. Who's to know. Fifteen years studying an instrument might have taken place because of her real love for playing, so possibly, if you aren't picking up on her musical feelings, she might be in full experience of them. :)
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  8. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Reviewer: Bass Player Magazine
    So is it the presence of a melodic element to an instrument that makes you put the emphasis on the notes first? I’m just trying to flesh out your ideas on the matter so people don’t just read you mentioning “groove last” and not look beyond that.

    I personally don’t think it’s as cut and dried when it comes to the bass. Most folks do consider us part of the rhythm section, and a lot of musicians (including bassists) find the percussive and rhythmic aspect of our instrument of more import than the melodic content in a lot of situations, particularly soul, dance, and hip hop. I know you’ve stated that you can’t play a song in time if you don’t know how to play the notes yet, but it seems equally true in these types of musics that you can’t play a song with the right notes if you can’t play it in time first. An example I gave in a different thread was Stevie Wonder’s song “I Wish.“ You can play a completely different set of notes in that song and if you keep the rhythm tight and that pumping groove going, people will still be able to dance to it, while getting all the notes right and having the rhythm or groove off will totally kill the song. The melodic content of our instrument takes a far back seat in that example. Do you still put rhythm and groove behind notes in musics like this even when those musics put a much higher emphasis on them than notes?
  9. consectaneus


    Sep 23, 2016
    What I'm understanding is that groove first or near the top of our concerns is putting the cart before the horse. Not that it's not important, just that it develops as a function of learning musical content. If we come across a tune where the bass is almost all percussive in nature then so be it. In other words, I don't see where these concerns are mutually exclusive.
  10. 5thsand4ths


    Mar 16, 2014
    I think what Jeff refers to is knowing the notes comes first.
  11. JeffBerlin

    JeffBerlin Guest

    Jan 10, 2009
    All that you have mentioned pertains to art. But I don't talk about art. I talk about learning.

    Learning is different than playing. Yes! It is that cut and dried! Why this might seem difficult to accept is that people can't separate learning how to play from playing itself. It really seems to be THE most difficult principle for many bass players to get their heads around.

    This post was written to get people that focus on groove to recognize that teaching it as a priority ignores that there are a couple of principles that have to be attended to first. At the bare minimum, so far, no one appears to be able to refute this order of procedures. This means that if they can't find any flaws in my comments, maybe they would be open to learn something from them.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2018
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  12. JeffBerlin

    JeffBerlin Guest

    Jan 10, 2009
    Learning is different than playing. The two concepts are incompatible so referring to a tune where the bass is percussive shows that you might want to read my original post again. Also, realize that even if you play an all percussive bass part, before you play it, you have to know what they rhythms will be. Even here, groove is last.
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  13. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Reviewer: Bass Player Magazine
    That is actually a difficult concept to get my head around. Part of it has to do with the title of this thread, as with different creative outlets it doesn’t necessarily work that way; in painting for example, you are creating the piece (playing) while you’re figuring out how to make it (learning), and those cannot be separated. You could also work completely backwards from the way I normally would start a work and still come up with a successful piece.

    Since you see such a strong distinction between learning and playing, I think it would be helpful to know where one begins and the other ends- basically how would you define learning and how would you define playing. For example, in my example of learning to play “I Wish” as I mentioned above where the song’s emphasis is much more on rhythm and groove than notes for the bass part, I thought that would constitute “learning” as you’re learning your function in the song and how to physically get yourself able to play it properly. But you considered this the art aspect, or playing, so I’m clearly missing something in the definition of these terms.
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  14. consectaneus


    Sep 23, 2016
    ^^^^I suppose I have to admit I'm not as clear on the differences as I could be either. Even when practicing, we are still playing if not performing, and rhythm (and inevitably groove) are a component of that even if not the focus of the musical exercise. I can't see where it is all so clearly demarcated and cut and dried as it is in theory.

    The overall thesis seems clear enough though...obviously to perform it, one has to practice it and they are two different experiences although dependent on one another. It's the area where these two meld together where things can get fuzzy.
  15. Downsman


    Jan 30, 2016
    I was just reading this comment, and the thought I had, trying to apply it to my own experience, is that playing the wrong notes while getting the groove right would only happen if I didn't care whether I was playing the right notes or not. If I was just randomly hitting whatever string happened to be nearest to my fingers at the time then yes, I could focus exclusively on the groove and who knows, maybe get away with it in the song you mentioned (none of us in my band enjoys it when someone is playing in the wrong key, but we don't play that song). But if I want to be playing the right notes, and care enough to try to play the right notes, the groove would go right out the window if I didn't know which notes to play well enough. I can say that because the groove has gone right out the window whenever I haven't learned the song well enough.
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  16. After reading this thread and the hundreds of comments on Jeff's similar thread, it's really sinking in, and I have to agree. "Groove" is hitting the right notes at the right time. Even a rest is a period of silence having rhythmic value. You have to know your theory and your fingerboard, and have some degree of proficiency in your fingering technique, to execute "groove."
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2018
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  17. Rhythmman535

    Rhythmman535 Supporting Member

    May 9, 2007
    Rochester, NY
    That was amazingly insightful. The tree falling in the woods. It does make the sound even if nobody hears it. A child initial attempts to communicate are gibberish but they will eventually learn how to tell you that they are hungry long before they understand how to emphasize the statement. Eventually they learn to stress the urgency. But they have to learn the words and place them in the proper order first.
    Drgonzonm likes this.
  18. Drgonzonm


    Sep 4, 2017
    American SW
    disagree if not heard. Agree as it's likely to be heard.
    I agree ( is this me saying it?) With J berlin.
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