Pitch, on the other hand, is a very specific note (played in a certain octave). This is sometimes specified with numbers: C4 is the famous middle C of the piano for example. If you are reading sheet music and the E in the sheet music is E1 (for us bassists written on a ledger line below the staff), then that specific E is asked for: Hit the open E on your four string!
This is one reason string instruments can be confusing…
An instrument such as the piano contains each pitch only once.
The bass? It depends. Take the low E for example. If you have a four string you have it only once. If you have a five string you could also play that low E on the fifth fret of the B string. It sounds exactly the same (same octave!) but it is played in a different location. The difference is slight. Only string instruments have that “feature” of having the same pitches occur in various locations.
There are also a few wind instruments that allow you to play the same pitch using different fingerings. So we are not alone with this feature. (It actually really comes in handy when you play chords or do some tapping. Very cool for figuring out great fingerings for grooves, fills, solos, too. Hey, we got options!
Now I said the open E and the fifth-fret low B sound exactly the same. That statement does not take into account “timbre”.
The timbre of an open E versus the timbre of an E played on the fifth fret of the B string actually is slightly different, because the B string is a bit thicker and the location on the neck of the bass has an effect of the sound. This difference – same note, same pitch, even, but a different sound quality. Timbre is the sound quality of a pitch. The timbre of the bass is different than that of the piano or the guitar. If the pitch and intensity of two sounds are the same and you hear a difference, then that is timbre you are identifying.
Music Theory for the Bass Player has lots more on the above, including fun quizzes to check if it all clicked for you. And, we are test driving it on the bass fretboard!
Cycle of fifths, key signatures, WWHWWWH got you confused? Check my super simple shortcut method for naming major scales correctly.
Huh? Why would you even want that?
Because it makes it way easier to think of scales if you are naturally (!) sharp with your accidentals (and not just flat out oblivious).
(And I hope you see what I just did there…)
If notes don’t mean much to you and you are a player who goes by patterns, it can be very confusing to sort out that note names, scales, theory can actually be super helpful and make you a better player. That’s so when it’s taught right – from a bassist’s view, without teaching it from sheetmusic but rather from the fretboard with patterns and diagrams. (This is why I wrote the book, because I couldn’t find one to point to that does this.)
Grasping scales helps with:
reading sheetmusic (learn theory first, then reading! Easier that way!)
understanding what it is you are playing
communicating with your band mates
coming up with your own bass lines
and: it is a great and easy way to get your feet wet exploring this 🙂
Maybe you have heard of the formula WWHWWWH.
While certainly a workable model, I often cringe when I see students use this method to build a scale.
It is really easy to miscount
Just because you can count out the scale does not necessarily mean you can actually play it on the bass
You always have to start counting from the very beginning to figure out if any given note is within the scale or not
This method does not tell you anything about note names
It really doesn’t work well if you want to descend the scale or improvise within it
And the sound? You will not know anything about the sound of these notes
Instead, I recommend…
to learn the intervals the scale degrees form with the root, because…
that gives you a usable pattern on the fretboard (must know your intervals and fretboard, though!)
instant access to those notes, including for improvising
tells you something about what each note will sound like
to use my formulas on the graph to name notes correctly, because…
that will help you communicate
it will show you the inherent logic of a 7-note major scale
it will make sure that you don’t build scales with more accidentals than necessary (why? Trust me, double sharps, double flats… they are no fun!)
it is even faster than knowing the cycle of fifths (which is very important, though. But in case you are (as of yet) confused by it, this is the ticket!)
So here are my famous short cuts to major scales. Below the graph I am writing out a few sample scales, but then it is your turn.
Apply the rules 1 – 2 – 3 and you can never go wrong.
To download the above image, pull it into your downloads folder or right click and “save-as”.
F major: F – G – A – Bb (not A#, because then you would go against rule 1, no doubles) – C – D – E – F Imagine this scale as F – G – A – A# – C – D – E – F. You have to think of A twice and B not at all. It makes sense to call it Bb, then every letter is represented once and it is easier to build and play the scale.
In the movie Amadeus, the Austrian Emperor Joseph II says to Mozart – as the last notes of the opera he had commissioned the young composer to write: “Mozart, this piece of music has too many notes in it!” And Mozart answers: “Exactly as many as necessary, your Majesty!” (good story, and yes, there is the artistic aspect of how many notes there should or should not be, but that is not what I mean here).
I am talking about note names.
What is Your Guess?
12? In a way that is correct – there are 12 enharmonic notes. They form the chromatic scale, which is a scale made up of all half steps, thereby sounding all available notes.
Not quite what I was looking for, though.
88 on the piano? And however many frets my bass has times however many strings my bass has?
Yes, okay, but that would be individual pitches! That answer would point towards the “range” of an instrument.
Still not what I am fishing for.
What I mean here are individual note names. They sound the same, but are enharmonically different. Enharmonic means that they can have different names, yet sound the same.
And most notes can have more than one name.
So you could sit down at the piano and figure it out. Black keys all have two names, and then the F can be called E# and the E can be called Fb… you can count that way and would probably get there. But you could also take a drastic shortcut to the entire exercise…
And then the answer is 21.
letters (naturals): 7
sharp (#) them all: 7
flat (b) them all: 7 Sum : 21
(#s raise a note by a half step. bs lower a note by a half step. On the piano that sometimes leads to a black key, for example C#, but not always, for example E# is a white key).
I recommend you now check out a piano and find them all. The piano is so visual and color coded, it helps understanding. Many musicians think a # or b always amounts to a black key on the piano. Of course that is not so: Cb is a white key (AKA the note B)
And then find them all on the bass, like this:
first all naturals
now all sharps
now all flats
More tips on how to practice this:
Say the note names out loud as you do this.
Practice on each individual string,
Then also try to stay within a five-fret span.
Do this ascending and descending
It is a great exercise in understanding how
and how the bass works
The graphic below is clickable for download.
But wait, there is more:
There really are even more notes if you figure in x (double sharps) and bb (double flats).
A Cx would enharmonically be a D for example,
or an Fbb would sound the same as an Eb
If you count them as well you get 14 more. That’s 35! Whew!
Music theory dictates when to use #s, xs, bs, bbs or naturals, where possible. There are actually instances where thinking about a x or bb may be more logical and hence easier. For example: Take a C#7#11 chord (that’s a chord that is contained in a scale called lydian dominant, and it is the 4th mode of G# melodic minor): C# #11 shows up, for example, you’d end up with an Fx (easier to think about rather than a G, that would be an odd scale:
not: C# – D# – E# – G – G# – A# – B – C#
but: C# – D# – E# – Fx – G# – A# – B – C#
etc. – if that last paragraph has you confused, don’t worry about it. Just know that sometimes it matters for good reason to go through the trouble to double up!
I suggest you go ahead and find the doubles as well! It really is great practice for them brain muscles – it will illuminate your understanding of how notes relate!
What an amazing adventure to get to experience the 2017 Grammy Awards show (pre-telecast, telecast, and after party), and a week of parties and special events on top of it! From getting to see the historic Village Recorder at the Producers and Engineers Party (who honored Jack White) to the incredible Clive Davis Show honoring Deborah L Lee with amazing guests in the audience (Stevie Wonder, Ringo Starr, Joanie Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones…) and fantastic artists on stage (Judy Collins, Chance the Rapper, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J Blige, Neil Diamond and more) to hanging with dear old and new friends – it was a mind blowing, star-studded never-ending fest, with the music front and center.
Let’s take a look at a bit of bass at the Grammys!
Here is a very incomplete (but passionate) account based on who I saw or heard. Make sure to check out the list of all winners of the 2017 Grammys..
The Pre-Telecast features a seemingly endless stream of announcements of nominees, the obligatory moment of breath holding, finally followed by the announcement of the winner. Then we wait until winner/s have sufficiently collected themselves to be able to get out of their seats, make their way through the rows and down the aisle, fending off congratulations and hugs left and right so as to come up the impressive stairs of the Staples Center to receive the handshake and the award and find their – often shaking – voices to say heartfelt thanks. [Or – to keep it interesting – announce that they thanked God but really had to go pee now, (true story!)].
It is more than moving, sometimes funny, but clearly a deeply meaningful moment for everyone who makes it up to this podium. You get a sense of the hopes and dreams, the hard work, the many people it took, sometimes the many tries it took. For every single winner there are four who didn’t win and many more who didn’t make the nomination. It is special. It doesn’t mean one is necessarily a better musician than the other or that someone who did not get nominated should quit or rethink their “talent”. But it does mean that the voting members of the Academy – high level industry professionals – cast their votes as they did.
But I digress. Back to bass. That story about making it up the stairs has bass relevance, because…
Lee Sklar is in the house! In the house band, actually! If you didn’t hear it (you did!) you saw it – the silhouette is unmistakable!
While announced winner makes it through seats/rows/congratulations/up the stairs/wipe sweat/catch breath etc, the house band plays. In keeping with the broader style of the category you get to hear recognizable instrumental versions of the epic songs we have all played at weddings and in top forty bands: be it a rocking Eye of the Tiger, or a more Southern Sweet Home Alabama, Buffalo Soldier for the reggae category etc. High energy, upbeat win-tunes. And with Lee on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, it was grooving – very – hard!
As a perk the band also got to back up some of the acts that played throughout the event. I especially enjoyed Lee playing with Ziggy Marley!
Bowie’s album Blackstar was one of the big winners of the night: it received six grammys total including Best Rock Performance. They won in all categories they were nominated in.
David Ellefson, Chris Adler
It was great to see Megadeath up there on the podium, receiving the award for Best Metal Performance. Too much hair and too far away to make out who took the trophy. Both Chris and Daniel played on the album. In any event: Awesome!
I am a big fan of whatever Mark O’Connor does. His band played a feature spot and upright bassist Geoff tore it up – talking five-one at quite the tempo. They won for Best Bluegrass album! Congratulations!
Yes, he plays bass. And piano, and sings, and drums. Any instrument, including video, seems to just be a creative tool for this young man from London.
The Awards Show
During the awards show it was too much of a whirlwind to notice live bass versus tracked performances, but Terry Lewis pumping bass for the Prince tribute as part of the Time featuring Morris Day (and later also featuring Bruno Mars!) was of course epic, historic and bitter-sweet. Robert Trujillo with Metallica featuring Lady Gaga rounded out the stylistic variety.
The After Party
Kool and the Gang at the after party! What a groove unit they are. And still bringing it. The most important thing – the signature groove – is there and strong; as high an energy show as ever. Everyone was dancing!
Jerry Watts with the John Daversa Big Band at the after party. Maybe this was my favorite band of all. The John Daversa Progressive Big Band is a sight and sound to behold. Big band, a string section and vocalists, and John at the helm conducting precisely and compassionately, by heart and from the heart… the arrangements are funny and quirky but always make musical sense. They covered a few Beatles tunes – ObLaDi with constant modulations by a half step – ingenious! Jerry of course was grooving his heart out and laid it down with the rest of the amazing rhythm section. Standing ovations would not stop. And even though it was the last music of a very very long and music filled week – the shouts for “one more” would not stop.
If I had to name one artist the “bass at the Grammys” artist it would be Rickey! He was everywhere – at the show, at the Clive Davis Party… when I picked up my tickets the Bee Gees Tribute Band made the entire queue bop heads to Stayin Alive. He lent his amazing pocket – and I also assume MD talents – to several events I witnessed: from the Clive Davis Industry Party, to the Bee Gees Tribute at the show, he played bass and keys and gave subtle and perfect clues and cues. I can’t but imagine how much work arranging and preparing the Clive Davis show must have been. He navigated – seemingly effortlessly – a variety of styles and artists with a pocket so deep you can put your kitchen sink in it (and then some).
Take Aways of Bass at the Grammys
Almost all of the bassists I mention here I have had the pleasure to meet in person. They are not only incredible bassists but also very nice people: helpful, respectful, encouraging. It is part of “making it” I think, to be a “good person first, before being a good bassist” (paraphrasing the beloved Mrs. Dorothy Wooten here). I also like to say it is part of being a bass player – we are choosing the supportive role in the band after all. But I will openly admit a bit of a bias for bass players.
Solid playing. None of the playing I witnessed was particularly flashy. But man, did it groove! I personally love flashy, virtuous, fast, what have you, but these gigs require solid. If you want to work with the best, solid has priority, that is for sure.
evenness of tone,
your solid timing,
your impeccable reading
eartraining… before you go and practice the triple tritonic backwards #17 flip at tempo 250.
Okay I made that up.
But you get the idea – work on the basics (and those include music theory)
And last but not least, food for thought:
For every single band who submitted, got nominated or won: there was a bass player holding down the groove. (Or maybe a few of them swinging their bows, or a voice filling the low end duties.) Surely those bass player names are not the names you see out front. The Grammys are not about bass. But without us – there would not be any of that grooving that gives you that yummy feeling in your gut and makes everyone’s head bop.
Here is Earth Wind and Fire bassist Verdine White grooving to Neil Diamond… Rickey Minor on bass!
Ariane is an elect Governor of the San Francisco Chapter of the Recording Academy. The views and opinions expressed in this article are her own.
Scale Practice got you down? Try this and apply it!
Remember the “drills for fills episode” on notreble.com a while back? We got the question if I could demonstrate how to use these scale drills in fills. You ask, I answer. Here is the reply and a PDF to follow along and play those fills.
is a useful and powerful to gain understanding of how music theory works,
perfects your ears,
puts material under your fingertips that will then come out creatively.
So why not practice them in ways that are more fun and give you material that sounds better than the straight up and down scales?
Here is how, with examples.
I recommend to incorporate the scale drills into your regular practice regimen. When you have them under your fingers, they tend to show up spontaneously in your playing. Nothing is more thrilling than to hear these fills and cool lines come out of you and surprise you. In order for that to happen you want to have them under your belt. A few weeks of regular practice will usually do. Then be ready to surprise yourself!
As always, let me know in the comments how you are getting on or if there are any questions at all!
This episode called “The Pistol Grip” struck a chord with many and ignited a few discussions, too. It explains my reasoning behind the use of one-finger-per-fret. It also acknowledges that the pistol grip – a collapsed, sometimes a bit lazy hand that spans only over three frets and sometimes grabs the neck with the thumb sticking out – has its uses. So, where do you stand? Are you mainly a pistol-gripper or a one-finger-per-fretter? Here is the post on notreble.
Hi Ariane! This is Matthew, I met you at NAMM, I’ve made it safely back to Singapore. Just started the course (the discount code worked, thank you very much!) and finished week 1’s materials (going to keep working on the drills and practices through the rest of the week through!) and I want to say this course truly does look like it’s going to be amazing! I just had a quick question, what do you think of playing the bass in between the legs while seated (similar to classical guitar)? I tend to play that way most of the time because a few of my basses sort of encourage it. Any thoughts on that posture and anything to look out for? (Risks of straining certain muscles etc) Love the material and I do intend to take this very seriously! Thank you!
I saw your sign up and was happy to hear you were going for it. I really think you will get a lot out of it.
As for the seated posture classical guitar style:
I don’t think ergonomically it is a problem unless you feel any kind of tension in your neck, shoulders, or arms because of it. The finger kung-fu exercises help you monitor for tension (multiple reminders), so scan carefully while you go through them.
The one disadvantage to this particular seated posture you describe, however, is that when you stand up it may feel quite different. When seated with the bass in this classical guitar style pose the fretboard comes toward you at an angle, and the entire bass may be higher up on your body than when standing. You don’t want to put yourself into a situation where standing on the band stand on Saturday night feels awkward after a week of practicing seated. To avoid that just stand up while practicing here and there and now and then.
Make sure to always play with a strap when seated.
Reason being, there are three points of contact between you and the bass:
the fretting fingers of the left hand,
the right arm resting on the bass body and
the strap around the back of your neck
Feel them with your bass on – seated and standing: wiggle the bass around and really be aware of the synergy of these three points.
Feel how they
enable control of the instrument,
and help you to not over grip with your thumb (not at all a tendency I saw in your playing by the way)
View the Kung Fu exercises of the course as a meditative practice that gives you the opportunity to really feel these three points working together. Seated and standing.
my audition went great and I am now the bassist in a rock cover band. We play Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin etc. WOuld you use an effects pedal in such a situation? Would you use the delay pedal more for soloing or also for comping? Your delay playing is totally awesome. I would like to contribute a few solos to my band, but there would be a drummer playing, so I don’t have a perfectly defined tempo I could set in my unit. So can I even program the delay pedal in that case? Will the solo sound out of tempo?
Greetings from the cold,
Great question, Günter!
As for pedals in general:
In a cover band context I’d be careful using too many pedal effects. Sometimes I may use a distortion pedal or an octave pedal, maybe my MXR envelope filter (cuz it is like mega funky!). The goal is to emulate the original and most and foremost fit the song.
Here are a few more suggestions for cool pedals:
Amp emulations can be great
Compression – if used well – is nice
EQ pedals (with presets if possible) are great to match tones
A Chorus can be useful in ballads
Reverb (maybe short room sound) – can make the bass sound big
Filters to emulate filtered sounds (try to get that dark 60’s sound),
Distortion or saturation – if used wisely – can be good to emulate certain amp sounds.
Just be aware that too many effects on bass can sound gimmicky if not used well.
As for the hocket delay specifically:
I view it more as a special application in a solo context, looping context, or maybe in a duo.
That said, the sky is the limit on creativity, so if it fits with what you are doing in the band, go for it!
Some units allow you to program the tempo with your foot. So while your band is playing and you are getting ready for the solo you tap quarter notes for tempo (or dotted eighth notes if you have to program the dotted eighths that way as well!) into your unit. It is really important everyone can hear you well. With pedals it is all about volume, so you may add a bit of gain (don’t forget to soundcheck the pedal!) since it is your solo. Important that everyone can hear you and react, because there will likely be a bit of fluctuation when you program the pedal and then kick it in.
Or: Use a synced up click track. Some units have midi out and you just give the drummer a feed.
And if it is not the hocket delay but a different type of delay technique you are using then timing is not that critical, as you are not going for a string of even sixteenth notes.
One more thought: make sure that your solo fits the style of the music you are doing.
Are you looking for a formula to create grooves over a chord progression? Check out this episode of Talking Technique! This lesson features an exercise that helps you hone your technique while building grooves from triads.
I have a I-vi-IV-V chord progression for you. Let’s use a formula that has two main ingredients: rhythm and triad notes. That’s your tonal material: the triad notes and you can play them in any order you like.
The second ingredient is a rhythm. I will break that process down for you by starting you out with a formula that stays consistent and creates a groove.
Once you get the hang of it, can add more ingredients such as dynamics, phrasing, variations, various playing techniques, and much more. Follow along this PDF with examples.
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