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Thesis on "The Bass as a Solo Instrument"

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Guitarrista, Mar 15, 2003.

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  1. I emailed Mr Manring a while back and asked him if he could give me some direction on this topic. He wrote back and said that I should post it up here on Talkbass.com. First things first:

    1. I am not a bassist, I play guitar. I KNOW first and foremost out of experience that a skilled bass virtuoso can give any narrow minded guitarist a good pelting when it comes to 'dueling'. I do not even dare to underestimate its power.

    2. I haven't started writing this thesis yet. That's why I posted it up here to make sure that it was actually possible to write up 15 000 words on it. But hey, I know people who have written a 100 000 word thesis on such topics as "Analysing the First Four Bars of an ABBA song" or "The Physics of a Single Violin String".

    3. I WANT to do this thesis because ironically, I gain much inspiration from the bass because I too am a soloist on my instrument.

    4. I know who Michael Manring, Stu Hamm, Victor Wooten, Les Calypool, Ray Riendeau, John Myung, Jaco Pastorious, Stanley Clarke, Billy Sheehan, John Pattituci, Steve Lawson, Marcus Miller, Roscoe Beck, etc all are. I have a 'fair' and 'educated' idea of who is literally "THE ELITE" on the instument.

    5. I am aware of the Solo Bass network and its mission. I appreciate that there is such a 'shinning beacon' on such a 'dark artform' (in a cool sense of expression).

    6. I resent people who oppress such a bold and artistic endeavor by saying "that's not how you play the bass". If they're not playing the bass, then what are they playing then, a ****ing saxophone?

    7. I would be hypocritical as guitarist to label solo bass playing as inappropriate. The guitar in the late and 19th and early 20th centuries was frowned upon by the upper class viewing it as a "cafe instrument" with a repertoire of "cheap strumming music for the amusement of little ladies". It was also thought impossible to play polyphony on the guitar and was therefore undermined by the great composers, thus preventing the instrument from receiving a vast repertoire. The classical music world resented it when its beloved works were transcribed and performed as solo pieces on this "cafe instrument" by Andres Segovia. Much controversy was later held with his performance of JS Bach's famed "Chaconne", as traditionalists labelled such fine music being sacreligious when performed on such a lower class instrument. It is because of the brave efforts of such men as Andres Segovia, Joe Pass, Chet Atkins and Michael Hedges to name but a few that the guitar is now recieved as a formidable soloistic instrument to rival the feats of the piano.

    Okay...nuff said. Do you think we can discuss about:

    (a) approaching/composing for such a format
    (b) great compositions for solo bass
    (c) great soloists of the bass and their recordings
    (d) how the bass community perceives this 'dark art'
    (e) why the music communtity perceives 'IT' as a 'dark art'.
    (f) the pro's and con's of solo bass and solo bass performance
    (g) how this 'dark art' will influence and affect the next generation of bassists

    I can't wait to hear form you guys! I really, really want to do this!!!

    And who says that the bass player doesn't get the girls/guys?!! :)
  2. By the way, my email is: reapercussions@eudoramail.com just in case you guys want to give me any leads for my research by recommending anything in particular.
  3. Jay


    Oct 19, 2000
    Bidwell, OH
    Wow! What an undertaking. I'll be interested in seeing the outcome of this.

    Also, I'm moving this thread to Miscellaneous because I simply have no clue where to put it, but I know it doesn't belong here in Bassists. That said, hopefully the trolls will stay away and you can get the range of opinions and knowledge that this board has to offer. There are so many knowledgable people here that it's silly. I have nothing to offer as of now, I'm just passing through.

    Good luck, farewell.
  4. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Well, I'm still fairly new to bass, but I'm going to give you my thoughts.

    It was Jaco - the man who's said to have redifined the instrument - who drew me to the bass. And then it was bassists such as Steve Lawson and Michael Manring who led me to explore solo bass even more. Before reading about Jaco in a magazine I never even heard of the term "solo bass".

    I don't like when ppl put limits on things and themselves. Most see the bass as just an instrument that plays root notes and holds down the low-end in the band, the bassist just a person who hides out in the shadows while the guitarist takes the spotlight. And it's not just non-musicians who see it as such. When someone comes along and plays solo bass ppl tend to go "whoah...you can't do that!"...but...guess what? He's doing it. I mean, why put a limit on what the bass can do? The instrument, as with any instrument, is a means of expression. A person picks up the bass because that's the way he wants to express himself. The low, meditative, vibrations are what gave me an interest in the bass. And this is the way I choose to express myself. I refuse to listen to ppl who tell me "you can't do that" and I refuse to put a limit on expressing myself. If it's considered 'taboo' then so be it.

    I dream of one day putting out a solo bass CD. I'm all for exploring what else the bass can do. And I'm glad to see more and more ppl being drawn to it. Who knows what the future holds?

    Hope this, through personal experience, helps you in some way :)
  5. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    Wow...that was a read.

    I am very interested in Solo Bass, I play a fretted 4-string, which by many would be considered inadequate for solo bass because of the limiting range, compared to extended range basses, or fretless basses like Michael Manring's Hyper-bass. Although I am greatly considering getting a 4 string fretless, I still feel that there are enough tonal capabilities on my Fodera. I guess that Solo bass has caught my interest because where I live, though there are many great musicians, there aren't that many total. There are maybe 7 players whom with I can enjoy playing with, but it is never easy to coordinate with any of them to play together, So I spend most of my time practicing stuff that I won't need a band for, Learning Victor Wooten, Jaco and Michael Manring tunes to the best of my ability, so that I can get ideas for compositions of my own.

    A big factor for me in solo bass, is emotion, technique is important, but I feel that without emotion and feeling in your music it won't be moving to the listeners and won't be very meaningful for anyone. One of the things that made Jaco so wonderful was his ability to play just the right notes in a way that would really catch people's attention. If he was ripping a hendrix riff or playing a slow ballad, he could always get people into it, the level of commitment and dedication that Jaco had was just unreal. While Jaco had the chops to back up claims he made about being the "world's greatest bass player", that wasn't why he revolutionized the bass as a solo instrument, or why he recieved such respect and admiration from almost everyone he met, it was his character, his soul and his being, that captivated people's hearts.

    I think a big reason why it is looked at as a "dark art" is because it IS really peculiar, when you look at a bass, with its 4 big strings and seemingly awkward fret stretches, it seems like the only practical application is to play one note at a time, and only in the lower register. The bass guitar, being the merging of the double bass with the guitar form, afterall. It seems uncommon and different, but the irony is that, to me at least, Solo bass guitar offers such a greater range of tonal possiblities than could ever be found on a guitar or on many other instruments. there are so many ways to strike a note, and once the note is hit there are so many ways to embellish that note, and there are so many ways to change the timbre of the note and the texture and the feeling. Though you can essentially do all the same techniques on a guitar that you can on a bass and vice-versa, the bass sounds out each individual note with clarity and passion.

    Approaching composing...well, anything goes. Classical composing focused primarily on 4-voices, conveniantly, there are 4 strings on a bass, you can look at it that way, assigning Bass-Tener-Alto-Soprano type parts to the E-A-D-G strings respectively, or you can use the upper range of the instrument to play two or three note chords, while playing the bass part on the E string. You can focus soley on Harmonics and the bell like sounds that they create, you can play 4 note chords or finger picked arpeggios. there are so many options, its really an open field.

    some great compositions? look at michael manring, he is full of genius, and technical virtuosity, that practically everything he touches turns to gold. Steve Lawson as well, very very creative and inventive with his use of effects, effectively adding a new dimension to all aspects of his playing. Probably though, for me at least, the greatest solo bass composition is "portrait of Tracy" by Jaco pastorius, the song is just screaming with passion, and with heart-felt emotion, its really moving.

    I don't think the bass community percieves it as a "dark art" at least not so much as the rest of the music world. Granted there are bassists that see no need for solo bass, and think of it as glorified wanking. There are also som that think that the bass should act as support, not lead. I think that some bassists take pride in the fact that they don't slap, or don't tap, or don't play extended range basses, or whatever, its the traditionalists that look down on solo bass, simply because it is different, and it is challenging the boundries and breaking the limits, and some people think that this is meaningless and trite because solo bassists have lost touch with their roots as it were, and focus to much on trying to break the limits than just holding a groove.

    I think that through bass players like jaco or stanley clarke, bass has been forever changed, and that all future generations of bassists will continue to be more knowledgable of different styles and approaches to the instrument. Since the first fretless, the first 6 string, the first hyperbass, future generations learn more, and start thinking more, if they want to, about how THEY can affect the world of bass, what they can do to keep it growing and evolving.

    the pros and cons for me, are that talented solo bassists, with creative and original ideas, can really be amazing to listen to regardless of what your expectations or preconcieved notions are on the instrument. The cons however are that pursuing solo bass, you really need to fight against the flow, and keep your chin up after likely slander. Not everyone likes solo bass, and you have to live with that, even if you want to please everyone. Also you really have to know the instrument, as is with any instrument, you have to learn how the instrument breaths so that you can take full advantage of all of it's capabilities.

    That's about all I have to say about that right now, hope it helps to start things off and break the ice a little.
  6. Brilliant topic. I wish I had something to say.
  7. Killdar


    Dec 16, 2002
    Portland Maine
    I feel it is good to have a 22 fret 4 string....to fulfill that traditionalist ideal, but also to have something that is so incredibly useful and adaptable without being extended range. One can solo on a 4, Jaco did. I don't think anyone needs an extended range to solo, it just helps, and makes things interesting. I know I sure would like some low F# to high F action goin on. :bassist:

    A bass solo is just so much more ballsy than other stuff. It is passionate, soulful, sexy, and everyone loves a good bass solo. :cool:

    thats a great topic for a thesis....I will steal the idea if I get the chance ;)
  8. jondog


    Mar 14, 2002
    NYC metro area
    I'm just a regular cover band bassist, so I don't have a lot of knowledge about solo bass. However, I have written academic theses, and I have one word of advice -- *focus*. Try to find one precise research question that you really want to know the answer to. There is a lot of material out there, even on something as seemingly limited as solo bass, (as your post demonstrates) and you can drive yourself crazy trying to read and study all of it. Samples of precise questions might be something like

    How has solo bass evolved over the last 20 years?
    What impact did Jaco Pastorius have on solo bass?
    What is the role of effects in modern solo electric bass?
    How does composition for solo electric bass differ from solo tuba? :D
    How can solo bass be marketed to teens?

    You get the idea. If you have a precise question, then your job is to compose a complete and accurate answer to it. Your thesis, literally, is a one sentence answer to the question, and the rest of the paper is a development of that single idea. Happy Writing!
  9. I think Jondog has the right idea here. There is probably enough material just in the topic of "How the solo bass has evolved in the last xxxx years" to write a thesis. Also, dont limit yourself to bass guitar, there are many double bass soloists out there; Rob Wasserman, Dave Holland etc.
  10. one of the best things about solo bass is that you can solo while changing the entire feel of the song too, since bass has such a direct impact on the rhythm. No other instrument (notably a guitar) can really do that. They can to an extent, but they can't make you feel the groove in your gut like the bass does...all while soloing...that's pretty freakin cool, and my favorite part about bass solos. It adds a lot to the depth of expression, and you can only get that through a bass.
  11. I've read your posts so far and I'm surprised and very thankful that there are people out there willing to help. To reply to Jondog's post, the reason to why I haven't focused on anything specific is that I haven't propsed this topic yet to my supervisor, and even though I am enthusiastic about this, nevertheless in the back of my head I also have doubts about writing a thesis on the solo bass guitar because of its 'obscurity' within the hearts and minds of the music world. That's why I'm still very open minded to welcome ANYTHING and ANYONE that has something to say about solo bass playing and solo bassists. I'm going to start writing this at around July/August, so when I come and propose this topic, I'll know what to say to my supervisor and what issues to focus on and cover within my research.

    .......on a different note,

    About me:

    *I live in Australia and drive on the other side of the road :)
    *I am a music undergraduate doing my honours year in which I have to write a 15 000 word thesis as 50% of my assessment criteria. I'm not a postgraduate just yet so this is the first time I've attempted a 'major research' project.
    *I'm majoring in musicology......

    The first time I heard "A Portrait of Tracy", I was so impressed. Then I bought "A Show of Hands" which is probably one the finest achievements in 20th century music. Then I saw Wooten on the 'Bass Day 98' video playing 'Norwegian Wood' and 'Amazing Grace'. Never has anything in my short life fascinated and intrigued me so much than the solo bass. I've only met only a handful of bassists who are serious about the potential of their instruments and I have never met a non bassist that is even aware of the instrument's solo capabilities. To many musicians, the term 'Bass Guitar Virtuoso' is an oxymoron. Then when I play them "A Show of Hands", they either hail it or absolutley resent it. In fact, I've lent that particular album to many people. After that, they have never given it back and do a disappearing act on me. My current copy is the 5th one that I've bought and I'm now very reluctant to lend it to people. But really, the solo bass is a phenomenon that has to be seen/heard to be believed by the majority of musicians.


    Once upon a time I fell in love with an acoustic guitar in the window. Every time I'd walk pass the shop, I couldn't help but stare at it for long periods and just day dream. I was determined to save up for it. When I had enough money, I caught the bus to the music shop determined to buy that guitar sitting by the window. When I arrived, I asked if I could play it. The salesman took it down from the window and gave it to me. "Here, you can use my pick" he said. I replied, "oh it's okay, I play fingerstyle". He looked at me funny as if to say "well, it's your loss". I then began to tune the sixth string to a 'D'. He cringed and said,

    "No don't do that mate, what do you think you're doing?"

    "Don't worry, I promise to tune it back to standard tuning when I've finished".

    "Fine suit yourself..."

    It's as if I had offended him and that I was some young hooligan who knew nothing about playing the guitar. I de-tuned the guitar to DADGAD and I began to play one of my own compositions (you know, the one's that take you about a night to concieve and a year to technically master) and I felt that I was on fire. It came up to that moment within the piece where I employed double handed tapping like a bassist. All the customers were watching me play "serious guitar" and not cheap strummed pop songs, and I was really on fire. Then all of a sudden I felt the guitar being dragged away from me in the middle of all that bass style tapping. The salesman forcefully grabbed the guitar away from my grasp and told me to get the hell out because I might damage the guitar. I was really, really feeling it on the instrument and people were actually enjoying watching me tap like a bassist. I had saved so long to buy the guitar that 'sat there by the window'. It hurts so much when you play music that you have created and someone just tells you:

    "That's not how you play the instrument"
    "That's not 'real' music"
    "All that fancy stuff takes all the emotion away from the music"
    "Get the hell out of here you young hooligan, you know nothing about music"

    Imagine if you were on fire and somebody snatches your instrument away from your hands because they see your music as improper, unorthodox or even "original". I got out of the shop and waited for the next bus home. I was waiting for a bus home five minutes after I had just arrived.......

    I know that everybody has different taste, but that was just blind prejudice. I was shot down because I wanted to play like Victor Wooten or Michael Manring or Stu Hamm on my guitar. That is one of my main motivations to actually undertake this endeavor. Even though I will not make a difference as a single person, I just want to make my bid to give recognition and enhance awareness to an instrument that has influenced this guitarist in particular. I guess when I hear people do wonders on the bass, it just blows my mind. Nothing also makes me feel more alive than hearing a single person take a single bass and just make inspiring music. It really is one of the great underestimated instruments of our time. I hope that in the future, this 'underdog' will win.

    Unfortunately, I doubt that solo bass playing will ever gain its long overdue recognition within my generation. There are many narrow minded people out there, some of them are even fellow bassists who resent anything 'flash'. But in the end, I just want you all to know that you have this guitarist's respect and admiration.
  12. Hi Marty,

    Do you know anymore on these guys you mentioned (Rob Wasserman, Dave Holland)? Do you know any more examples of solo double bass playing? The only one I've got is Edgar Meyer playing three of the six solo cello suites by JS Bach.

    And when I mean solo double bass examples, I welcome both bowed and pizzicato approaches.
  13. I would lean towards appreciating solo statements based on their intrinsic musical value, rather than which instrument they are performed on.

    That said, if you really want to focus on bass solos as BASS solos rather than peices of music, there are a few things I would like to toss into the fray.

    First is that my impression of the solo bass and bass solos I've heard is that they are considerably lower in standard than that of the finest solo statements made on other instruments. I firmly believe this to be a result of the physicality and tonality of the instrument rather than any musical deficiency in the players. Second, I find that it is the very aspects which make the bass less suitable (not unsuitable) for solo statements that let the instrument be such a superb tool for accompaniment, and which lend the solo statements of bass players nuance, value and a flavour all their own.

    Guitarrista, if you are going to do a thesis on the bass solo, I think you are going to have to deal head on with the fact that other instruments can do plenty more and that the value of the instrument in this context is not that it can perform on a musical or technical par with the best piano/guitar/violin/whatever music, but that it can do it's own thing well.

    All IMHO, IME, YMMV etc.
  14. Exactly, I love it when a player can play a melodic, solo-like line, while still yet giving so much emotion and feel to the song. The bass is the heart of the music.

    FWIW, It always seems to me that double bassists can solo, while being so deep in the pocket, that they rip right through it. It's always mindblowing to me.

    Groove is where it's at, soloing is the next level, and being in the pocket while doing so never ceases to amaze me.

    By the way, that is a great idea for a thesis! I may have to borrow it from you sometime. ;)
  15. "Guitarrista, if you are going to do a thesis on the bass solo, I think you are going to have to deal head on with the fact that other instruments can do plenty more and that the value of the instrument in this context is not that it can perform on a musical or technical par with the best piano/guitar/violin/whatever music, but that it can do it's own thing well."

    Don't worry Moon, I'll try as much as I can to NOT compare the bass with other instruments in this thesis.

    And remember everyone, it's "solo bass playing" (unaccompanied) and not playing bass solos (ie lead breaks).
  16. Great Topic! And very well thought out for a person who doesn't even play the instrument! I don't have much to contribute I'm afraid, my own solo compositions are still rather feeble-I think we need to get Max Valentino in here, he'll have plenty to say...

    When you finish I'd love to read it!
  17. corinpills


    Nov 19, 2000
    Boston, MA
    While I wish you luck with your thesis on an academic level, the very fact that it's a viable topic is due to the prevailing concept of bass as a non-solo instrument. 99% of bass playing that's being heard with any level of appreciation is in the context of ensemble playing. I can guarantee you one thing: the only people lining up to see anybody play solo bass are other bass players (and probably 15 and really pimply). I think that's going to have be a point that you get across in your thesis to show how extraordinary it is to play solo bass. Don't assume that your average reader will know this, you'll need to explain why it's a topic worth of exploration.

    There you go, I'll be the close-minded caveman you can resent while working on your paper. Solo bass bores me to tears and, personally, I like it best when guitar is "cheap strumming music for the amusement of little ladies". Then again, I like songs.

    Best of luck with the thesis, though.
  18. Josh Ryan

    Josh Ryan - that dog won't hunt, Monsignor. Supporting Member

    Mar 24, 2001
    It's all about where your head is and your skill, overall and all around, as a musician. If you look at a great solo bassist like Lawson, Manring, Max Valentino, they all are musicians first and bassist's second, IMO. All instruments are capable of the same notes, they are just played differently. Sure, it's harder to play polyphonically on a bass, (easier than on a trumpet!) but not even close to impossible. It makes sense that as musicians have explored different instruments as a solo voice, that an instrument with such a wide range of sonic possibilities like the bass should eventually stick. Good luck with your thesis, I'd love to read it. :bassist:
  19. I can't post this all in one go because its just too long, so I had to do it in sections. Here goes.....
  20. Excerpts from:
    ‘Beyond Genres and Niches’ - Interview with Michael Manring by Anil Prasad
    URL: www.innerviews.org/inner/manring.html (accessed on 03/17/03)
    © 1993 by Anil Prasad. All rights reserved.

    Prasad: What sort of label constraints were placed on you when making the last album? (…..meaning ‘Drastic Measures’, remember it’s still 1993 - Gt)

    Manring: With ‘Drastic Measures’, they were really hands off. They just let me and Steve Rodby organize everything. At the last minute, before we went to record, I went to the label and said “You guys have been really kind about this”. They basically didn’t say anything except “Just do what you need to do”. So we said “Is there anything we can do musically to make this thing work for you?” and “Is there any way we can cater for you on this?” you know, just to be professional. And they said “Yeah, one thing that would really help us out is if you could give us a cover tune because we think we can get it on radio”[1]. So, I thought that sounded kind of weird, but we thought we could give it a try. That’s how we ended up with the Police’s ‘Spirits in the Material World’. Of course it ended up not really being a hit in the end [laughs]. I don’t think radio ever played it, but Windham Hill was very happy to have it. So, I had their input voluntarily. They keep on getting better with each record.

    P: That’s surprising to hear. I assumed that the label played a more active role.

    M: My only regret at this point is that I’ve always wanted to do an all-bass record. I’ve got all the tunes and I’m really anxious to do it, but they won’t let me do that yet. It’s just a symptom of a greater disease. It’s amazing how much discrimination there is towards bass overall. It’s kind of a shock. There’s an awful lot of clubs that have basically told us that if I played guitar, they’d have me there every couple of months. As it is, they won’t book me at all. And, you run into these kind of ideas over and over and it doesn’t matter if you have good shows and great reviews. Even if you have a video to show them that it’s a good show, they’re still really scared of that idea of the bass. And that kind of mentality extends all throughout the music business.
    Producers are really afraid of putting anything other than the most traditional kinds of bass parts on a record. I think bassists kind of haven’t realized how constrictive the whole business is towards them. It’s really pretty bad. It’s kind of weird to use the “discrimination” but it’s really like that. It’s really kind of strange. So, Windham Hill’s point of view is that they don’t think they could get any airplay on it and there wouldn’t be a big enough tour. There’s really a stigma around the bass that I never hear anybody talk about. I’m kind of hoping that bassists will think about that and if we’re kind of clear enough on it ourselves – that we have an instrument that’s worth listening to – we can make people listen to it as well[2].

    P: The dichotomy you describe also exists within the bass community itself.

    M: Boy you’re right about that. I didn’t want to be the one to bring that up, but I think you’re right. I mean, there’s an awful lot of bass players that don’t seem to mind that you can’t hear them when you go to the concerts at all. You can’t hear them in the mix regardless of what they’re playing. It’s kind of scary. As long as that’s the case, someone, somewhere is gonna figure out that you don’t need bass or bass players

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