While I'm wrapping up my music studies as part of a formal project, I'll definitely continue to study, practice and try to grow as a musician. As I listen to a wide variety of musical genres and practice playing my own music, I'm slowly becoming more aware of the characteristics of music that make one artist or style more enjoyable for me than another. The difficult part now is trying to emulate the style and tone in the sounds that I make. It's one thing to play the notes, a whole other thing to make it sound natural and not overly stilted. The music I've been playing is meant to have a bit of a swing to it, not just straight quarter or eighth notes. And that really takes practice. You have to know the notes inside and out so that you can allow your fingers to play without thinking, let them feel the heart of the music.
That said, it's been great playing music again. I didn't realize how much I missed it. Hopefully I can continue to make time to practice, learn new songs, and play with other people. Looking back at the start of this project I had a few goals in terms of gaining a better understanding of the instrument and its place in musical landscape. Thankfully there are tons of resources on the web I was able to find both written and video tutorials on many aspects of the bass guitar, from the basics to lessons on intricate elements of playing. It's pretty amazing just how many tutorials are on Youtube for playing musical instruments. And not just in general but for many individual songs. I learned about the types of musical notation and the benefits of reading traditional music vs. tabs. I can definitely see the benefit of each depending on the circumstance. Reading music again has been fairly easy to pick back up.
Coming back to this idea of musicality, I was able to learn a few different strategies for playing bass. The bass creates the foundation for both rhythm and harmony, and the basic, most common, style is to simply focus on the anchor note of the chords. Some musicians prefer to work in a wide variety of notes, essentially soloing behind the main melody. I think the best musicians do a combination of these two. These tend to be bassists with strong improvisational skills and somewhat of a jazz sensibility. Some of my favorites are Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead), Mike Gordon (Phish) and Les Claypool (Primus). Of course, the ability to lay down a clean line that drives a song is also key, as seen in Family Man Barret's work with Bob Marley.
I chose to learn a couple songs from two different genres that each focused on a simple repetitive rhythm. This seemed like a reasonable way to start learning slowly while playing tunes that I'm already familiar with. I think that most people are familiar with Bob Marley's "Stir It Up", and the bass line intro is immediately familiar. I found it written out in traditional notation and its pretty easy to play along with. I just had to start out slowly and increase the speed until I could keep up with the original song. I'm definitely not satisfied with my ability to play it consistently, but I can get through it pretty well. It's a fun song that everyone recognizes as soon as that bass line starts.
I managed to get an audio recording of me playing along with Bob. Thankfully I made it through without any major flubs. What do you think?
Looking back to when I started this project I had a series of questions that I hoped to answer:
What are the basic musical stuctures or theories I need to know to play the bass?
How do the various settings and knobs on the bass and amp affect the sound that is produced?
How does the bass fit into the "picture" of a song?
What musical documentation is needed to learn a song? Tabs, sheet music, video instruction?
What are examples of songs (in genres I enjoy) with distinctive, yet simple, bass lines that can be learned relatively easily?
Where do I find the materials to learn those songs?
How long will it take to become proficient playing those songs?
It definitely seems that over a series of a few weeks, practicing just a few hours each, I was able to play the basic rhythm and melody of the bass lines. It's going to take quite a bit more to be able to play these songs comfortably, and even more to have it down so well that I can start adding in nuance and swing and improvisational elements.
How will I measure success?
Going forward I plan to not just practice songs, but try to build up my basic chops and knowledge by learning and practicing scales and chord structures. This is going to be the key to playing along with other musicians and being able to quickly pick up new songs. Hopefully this is just the start of a long learning process.