Friday, August 14, 2009

Checking out my J-Bass

Well I've been working graveyard shift all week at my new job so I haven't posted at all; messed up sleep schedule makes finding time to get on the Internet difficult.

I've been practicing on the double bass between 3 and 4 hours every day but today I decided to take a break and revisit my old Fender J-Bass. I broke out some Fake Book charts and went at it for a good 4 hours today. I immediately noticed that playing the upright has immensely helped my technique and ability on the electric bass. I'll admit I was no slouch on the bass before I began this journey, but my speed and tone on the electric is miles beyond where it was the last time I picked up the instrument. Playing with a bow has made me think about the note sustain much more than I ever have before. Even when I'm playing a thumping funk line I'm much more able to keep the groove tight and connected.

When I started singing Jazz, I realized that my classical training was what set me apart from a lot of the other jazz vocalists I heard at many colleges. I guess the same process can really effect upright v electric playing. Having the strength and thought processes that you gain from learning the double bass can really help you play at your peak when you have the electric in your hands.


So I've been using this terribly old and dry violin rosin that a friend found in a back drawer. It's dusty, it's chipped, and it really doesn't work. Today, my life has been made better. I ordered some new dark bass rosin and it really has made a huge difference. If I were taking lessons from someone right now I'm sure that my teacher would have stressed the importance of good rosin in producing a consistent sound. But yea, it really has made an incredible difference in my sound.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My Bow

Well I just picked up my first bow a few hours ago. No significant markings but it seems to be you run-of-the mill white horsehair bow. Looks to be Rosewood, with an ebony frog. I was trying to decide between German and French but this bow is French...and decision was made for me.

I've been playing for a couple hours now and the feeling is so completely different for me. Even though the instrument itself is a completely different animal, playing pizzicato still held to many of the same concepts that good electric players adhere to. Just walking around the fingerboard, the sound was still largely reliant on the picking from my right hand; adding the bow into the equation has blown all preconceptions away. Thought I've spent a lot of time reading and watching numerous videos on holding the bow, having it in my hand while worrying about things like intonation and body position can keep my mind quite busy (and it is a lot harder than it sounds to keep your hands relaxed during the whole process).

Taking all of the trouble and new information into account, I still absolutely LOVE it. Even moreso than playing pizz., I can realy feel the notes. It's an amazing sensation to experience the music with more than just your ears. I can feel the notes through my arm. I can feel the sound vibrating through the body and down to my legs; the smooth rumble of the low F all the way to the upper harmonics.

I've been involved in music most of my life and, even though I wish I would have found this instrument as a child, I think I appreciate it more having been involved with music for so long. The burps and occasional shrill squeels don't deter me from my practice; because I know that I just need more time and a lot more work. Even though I'm not great yet, I know that I can be.

Now, on that note, back to practicing some scales!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Jumping into the abyss...

Hello all. I'm going to use this first post to introduce myself and just give you a little background on my musical history and how I ended up where I am.

I've been a singer since I was young; but my first real introduction to formal music didn't come until I was in junior high school. I had a wonderful choir teacher who was really able to instill in me a passion for music. I continued singing until I graduated high school, at which time I auditioned for and received a scholarship to go to college, with one caveat. To earn my scholarship, I had to move out of my classical comfort zone of German art songs and Italian arias and perform in a vocal jazz group that did upwards of 70 shows a year; quite a shift from my roots.

Despite my initial fears, I succeeded, even thrived, in the new environment. I was exposed to new styles and techniques that opened up my musical world in a way that I had never imagined. I was suddenly in more control of my voice than I had ever been before; and had learned that it had many abilities that I was not initially aware of.

At the end of my first year, our bass player graduated college. Though there were other bass players in the area, none of them could hold up the vocal end of the bargain (as the entire rhythm section was required to be, first and foremost, capable singers). The director of the group asked if anyone would be interested in taking a shot at learning to play the bass over the summer. As I had had some basic guitar experience, I cautiously volunteered for the job. The previous bass player sold me one of his old J-basses and I was off on my own.

Over the next two and a half months, I practiced day and night. I was taking summer classes and performing as one of the leads in a large scale musical at the time, so I would take time whenever I could get it. I immediately fell in love with the instrument. I loved the feel of the neck. I loved the vibrations permeating my body when I sat in front of the amp and, most of all, I loved the sound. I loved that rocky thump that could drive the pulse of a tune. I loved that sexy groove created by the little gestures and grace notes that make a band swing.

I still sang, but I suddenly had an entirely new role to play. For awhile I was content to simply explore the electric fretboard, picking up new and interesting techniques as I went along my way; but, as I listened to more and more jazz, the magic of the double bass locked my gaze. The first time a friend of mine every played me an Oscar Peterson record, my head snapped up.

"Who is that bass player?"

"Man...that's Ray Brown."

It was more than the beautifully constructed walking lines. It was that percussive thump, that sexy slide up the fingerboard. It was the deep resonation that came through even on the old recording. From there I discovered the beautifully smooth melodies created by Neils Henning Orsted Pedersen, then the fingerboard mastery of Scott LaFaro, then the playful counterpoint of Christian McBride. The list goes on and on as a new society of great players was built before my eyes. As I delved further into the insturment, my classical beginnings continued to call to me. Not only could I get to the heart of jazz, I could explore the works of my favorite composers from a completely different angle, I would be able to play in the orchestra. I had to get a Double Bass.

Once I had enough money, I bought a vehicle that would allow me to transport an instrument of that size. Now, through the good graces of an amazing local player and college professor, I have an old Kay double bass in my possession. I've been playing all summer on my own, trying to learn to basics and get a feel for the fingerboard. In a few days, I will have a bow and will begin a new adventure. In a month, we start orchestra rehearsal. we go.

Wish me luck.