Does the bass guitar sound good when played solo?

solo bass Ariane Cap

Solo Bass Playing?

To some it is a sacrilege – using bass outside of the band context, using bass for anything but grooving in a band.

I challenge that view – amazing solo bass music has been made. It is a very special sound – even though it is “just bass”, the variety of tones and textures solo bassists create is incredible. It is an amazing sound to my ears, and the variety of approaches is mind blowing! I list a few of my personal favorites in the article below.

So, just bass? Well, why not?

“Because then it is guitar playing, not bass playing.” (Um, no. It is played on a bass. It is bass playing. Even when imitating guitar techniques on the bass, it is still bass playing. Plus, what would be bad about that?)

“It’s not what a bass is supposed to do.” (Okay, hail the rebels, then! And, you are supposed to open your mind – wink, wink)

“It is egotistical to play all that great music and play it alone.” (Such a strange argument I don’t even know where to begin…)

“Basses have a job to do in a band context. End of story.” (A good story, but not the only story! Also, what this “job” is can vary greatly)

The above comments were harvested from various youtube comments sections. These arguments make no sense to me. I may not like a piece of music because it does not move me, but to just reject an entire way of using an instrument a certain way just out of some ill defined or implied principle seems wrong.

If you are on the fence, interested, intrigued, to “go solo” a bit, go for it. I started as a bass player because I loved the supportive role the instrument has in a band, the groovin’, the “holding it down”. Then I ran into Todd Johnson, Steve Lawson, Jeff Schmidt, Dave Grossman, Michael Manring and the lot. And I fell in love with the bass all over again! With solo bass, you still get to do the groovin’ and holding it down, and then there is more you may do. It’s a beautiful challenge.

Who are your favorite solo bassists? Comment here.

My Quora answer is below.

Read Ariane Cap’s answer to Does the bass guitar sound good when played alone? on Quora

The Horrors of Errors

errors?

The Horror of Errors

In this article I answer a question on quora about errors. Errors are a difficult topic for me personally because I have a history of being extremely hard on myself if things are not “perfect”. So much so that my self judgment at times completely paralyzed me and sure took the fun out of performing at times. It took me a long time and a lot of encouragement from my teachers and band mates to get better at handling mistakes. I also consciously worked on myself to be able to support myself and deal with nerves, judgment and perfectionism.

One of the most helpful tactics was that I started to record my gigs. That botched fill I played that ruined the whole evening for me? In the recording it is but a blip.

This going for an elusive perfection can take the feel,  groove and connection with the audience out of it; and, it can stop any kind of risk taking in its tracks. Yet, risk taking spices up the experience, makes interaction possible on a much higher level and is such a great challenge and experience! When it “works” it was so worth taking that risk! If it didn’t, there was something to be learned for next time.

Most importantly, I had to learn to find a different relationship to my own playing and the pernicious judge living inside of me. This is a journey and I feel good to be on it. In my experience, the effort paid off greatly.

I hope you find my answer useful. (If you cannot see the text box below, click here)

Read Ariane Cap’s answer to How do I handle my bass play errors when I’m playing with a band? on Quora

Here is an article on how to give constructive feedback. Small tweaks have a big effect….

Efficient Practice Hacks: Sleep!

sleep

Learn in Your Sleep or:

Put Your Bass Under Your Pillow for Maximum Practice Effect.

Wait, what?

In this article I talk about the magic window of learning we get right before we drift into dream land. Another opportunity to maximize your practice bang with just a small pre-sleep routine. It is really easy and just takes remembering to do it! The pre-sleep routine consists of three steps. They involve:

  • Thinking about the fact that you practiced (awesomeness, high five, you rule!)
  • A brief overview recap of your practice session (the individual songs, scales, items you practiced)
  • A more in-depth recap of one random thing you practiced (a particular scale, pattern, shape, the chorus of a song etc)

That’s it! If you do this right before sleep, you will enhance your learning during those zzzzzs. Don’t expect to wake up sounding like Jaco, but do expect that it will be better than yesterday, as you pick up your bass for today’s session!

Read the Article on notreble here. 

Also make sure you did not miss this blog post on various learning channels.

Learning Channels: My 5 for Bass and How to Use Them

learning channels

Learning Channels

Ever played a piece over and over and it still failed to “stick”? No matter how often you repeat it, when you return back to it it feels as if you are starting from scratch?

Don’t worry, there is nothing wrong with you. Likely you just never learned how to practice effectively.

Focusing can help and I have some great tips for you in today’s article and an infographic (click thumbnail below) to make it easy to see!

In all my teachings I am very careful to engage all learning channels.

In music I distinguish these Learning Channels:

Visual –

when you are seeing yourself play the tune, or you see the dots on the fret board, or you imagine fret board diagrams in your mind’s eye, or you figure out note relationships by thinking of a piano keyboard, or you see the chart in front of you (in reality or in your mind).

Auditory –

what you hear inside and what you hear as you play.

Kinesthetic –

having shapes under your belt. This channel is trained through mechanical repetition. Shapes you play a lot (either because you practice them or because you have them “under your fingers” after years of using them, that is the kinesthetic channel. The bigger your repertoire here, the bigger your palette.

Conceptual –

song analysis, music theory, talking through the “form” (intro, verse, chorus, bridge etc), knowing the note names on the fret board. If you are learning a song by heart, chord analysis can be a great help here, for example. Or when you and your band mates talk through the form, that is conceptual knowing.

The Sixth Sense –

here I include anything that may come through and is felt as “inspiration”; for example, interaction with the other musicians and the audience belongs here, thinking about serving the song, interpreting the lyrics… The music you listen to, the heroes who inspire you… And feel free to include unexplainable/divine inspiration here as well. If you improvise, compose or put your own touches to music (you always are, even if you play covers), this channel is in action. We can ask ourselves questions such as – what emotion am I trying to evoke in the listener? Typically, the emotion we then feel as response will inform musical choices. This instinct can be sharpened through active listening and observing of the masters.

How this can help

next time you are stuck learning a tune, try cycling it through these channels.

Play the tune and pay attention to the channels:

  • visual: are your fingers on dots or not? Can you see the chart in your mind’s eye?
  • auditory: can you identify intervals you hear with the melody, for example? Can you play through the tune only playing the bass line but hearing the melody at the same time?
  • kinesthetic: can you make out scalar shapes or patterns that you are playing as part of the groove? Any boxes (little or big), boots (upside down or reversed) or other shapes that you can sink your mind into?
  • conceptual: analyze the chord changes of the tune. What do the lyrics say as it goes to the IV chord? Can you find any common chord progressions? How about you try to name the notes you are playing? What chord does the bridge go to? How often does the chorus repeat in the end?
  • sixth sense: how can you express the lyrics of the song with your bass? What emotions do the various parts invoke? Does the drummer do anything differently in the chorus? Does the guitarist go to a certain range of his/her instrument when the saxophonist solos? How can you compliment that

Why This Works

By doing this you give your mind “hooks” to sink itself to. Instead of “just notes” you have shapes, visuals, sounds, emotions, stories, lyrics…. this makes it more real to the mind. It also gives you something to do other than to just repeat the song over and over mechanically. And, as I have said before, emotions make it more real.

Note

I am not talking about learning styles here. We may all have our favorite learning channels or not – science says it has debunked that notion that students have a favorite learning channel and that only that preferred channel should be “fed”. In these studies they typically refer to classrooms that made the kinesthetic learners walk around while the visual learners stared at the black board. Apparently this doesn’t work that way and I am not surprised. It is also not what I am talking about here!)

What I am talking about is using these five senses/channels to enhance learning. You cannot deny that they come into play as we learn, so why not use them consciously and with focus?

One more thing: the kinesthetic channel is the fastest of them all. There is no way you can think of theory or naming note names in the speed you can actually play a shape or pattern that you truly have under your fingers with muscle memory. There is a reason they call it that. That said, all channels add to the whole!

And one more: all these channels can be practiced away from the instrument. That truly works. That’s for another post or book!

Enjoy, and leave a comment!

Learning channels

 

Efficient Practice Hacks – How to Take Breaks

breaks

It’s a no-brainer, you practice, then you take a break, right? True, but, even that process of taking breaks can be improved upon and hence make your practice session significantly more effective.

How you take those breaks, the spirit in which you take breaks and at what intervals all plays into how much you will get out of your practice routine.

This is because when you take a break your mind continues to process. Post-practice routine suggestions include anything that is relaxing and enjoyable to you, with one exception: anything that involves screens. Just give yourself a bit of a buffer before you pull out that phone or dial up that Facebook page. Screen-related activities tend to be too stimulating to allow the mind to process what you just practiced so hard.

Celebrate! It creates habit!

But it is not only very important to let the material settle uninterrupted by new things that flash by, it is equally important to high five yourself, congratulate yourself, celebrate! That little act of showing pride and self appreciation makes it so much easier to practice next time because you are connecting “having done it” with a good feeling! BJ Fogg of Stanford Persuasion lab says: It is not repetition that creates habit – good feelings do! You have the power to create a good feeling after you practiced. Do it! You earned it!

Down on Yourself? I get it… but…

It is super important to give yourself credit even if you think you did not do so well. Or you have doubts in your abilities or the process itself. It is crucial you celebrate anyways because it not only helps you build the practicing habit, it also makes your learning more effective. The old saying “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, either way you will be right” is true: If you tell your mind that you just learned something, did okay… it primes your brain to keep learning. Try this for size:

  • I s#ck. I will never get this. It is too hard.
  • I got a little closer today; actually, I am on the path; hey, I got this.

From my own experience I know how hard it can be to get into the habit to accept a more supportive stance toward our own learning. Fake it til you make it. It does get easier with time!

Lastly: You did what you set out to do

You set out to do something and you followed through!  Especially in today’s world of distraction this is no small feat at all. So even if the feeling of pride or non-s#cking is hard for you to accept, enjoy the fact that you just proved to the world that you actually did what you said you would do!

You did something for yourself. Yey!

It is sometimes regarded as a negative – to do something for ourselves. Isn’t that selfish? My guess is that music takes a very special place in your hear; it is something you truly love (even if it takes discipline, is not always easy or perfect etc).

Here is a metaphor how I view this: In the airplane we are instructed to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first and on others after we have secured ours. A focused half hour of practice in the spirit of supporting yourself, doing what you set out to do, and taking it so seriously that you give it a proper break afterwards – it seems like your “oxygen”, metaphorically speaking. Likely it will make you happier and better for all you support.  Plus, in the article I mention doling out hugs as a good post-practice routine, so this may just be alright with everyone.

Read the article on notreble here and click the thumbnail below to download the graphic on how to take breaks effectively!

When you take a break (correctly), you may just get a break! Please comment below.

 

break

 

 

Efficient Practice Hacks – Creating Feedback Loops

feedback loops

I recently wrote on Feedback Loops, and I got a few questions on it. So I wanted to go a bit deeper on the topic, particularly, by giving you examples of “how not to” and rather “how to”. It helps to have examples  – whether it is to improve yourself or others! Make sure to download the info graphic if you don’t already have it.

Creating Feedback Loops

In my never ending hunt for effectivity when practicing, I talk about harnessing the power of feedback loops. Whether the source of feedback is you, friends, teachers, methods or tools, feedback works best when it is encouraging and positive, so:

  • choose your own thoughts wisely,
  • pick encouraging team mates and teachers who understand the importance of this,
  • be specific
  • remember that immediate feedback (right after the practice or performance) has the best effect.
  • Feedback increases awareness and creates an opportunity to improve.

Always follow these rules of giving feedback effectively (whether to self or others):

Stay on the behavioral level: Comment on the behavior level (doing), not the personal/identity level (you are).

Be as specific as possible with suggestion on how to improve

Focus on the present, not past or future

Examples:

  • Not: Your timing still s#x.
    • But rather: You tended to be a bit ahead of the beat in the chorus. Lean back a hair. Alternatively, set the tempo a few clicks faster and see how that feels.
  • Not: You solo like a bass player. Root, root, root! I guess you can’t break from old habits, can you?
    • But rather: Experiment with using chord tones other than the root on the downbeat. The third or seventh for example are safe choices. Here is a way to practice this…
  • Not: Okay, this is Jazz! Are you a rocker or something? You phrase this like it’s hard rock. This is supposed to swing, man! They say: “It ain’t mean a thing…” for a reason!
    • But rather: You played the eighth notes of this swing a bit on the straight side. You could take a listen at the drummer/do this exercise to feel the triplety subdivision a bit more natural. Here are some exercises to open up your swing feel a bit.
  • Not: Are you tone-deaf or something? This is not the right scale for this chord!
    • But rather: A few times you played a major third over the minor chord. Let’s isolate this sound and compare it with other, possibly better note choices and examine which pentatonic shapes/tonal material work best with which chords and why.

Sources of feedback loops are

  • self (self monitoring, awareness, deep listening and watching, using tools)
  • others (teachers, band mates)
  • tools (metronome, mirror, back ground tracks, the PORA technique etc).

Some of my favorite feedback tools:

  • a mirror to see yourself
  • a recording device to hear yourself
  • a metronome to check on timing
  • a tuner or drone note for fretless and combined ear training and fretboard training

I maintain: it is not in the quantity of practice, it is in the quality!

If you are looking to get the biggest bang for your practice time buck, check out this linked article and infographic, because here is exactly how. If you implement just one of these tips, you will see big and fast pay-off!

Read the article on notreble here and download the handy info guide I made by clicking the thumbnail below.

Enjoy and give feedback on this article in the comments, please!

feedback

Adapting Patterns for Four-, Five-, Six-string Basses

Adapting Patterns

Adapting The Patterns for Four-, Five-, Six-string Basses – Surprisingly Easy and Not What you Might Think

I have been getting a few emails lately with questions about The Pattern System. The Pattern System is a systematic approach of

  • getting the fretboard down,
  • learning to think ahead (great for the groove!) and
  • being able to play proficiently in all keys all over the fretboard.

I am currently writing the book on it. Not quite ready, but as always, you can study the Pattern System with me via private instruction. The book Music Theory for the Bass Player contains the five pentatonic patterns. as does my TrueFire Course. Both of these resources are a great foundation to have for patterns land. The TrueFire DVD gives you a great well rounded view on the basics of the pentatonic shapes – a useful thing for every bass player – and the theory book is making sure you have the theoretical foundation down. The pattern system goes much deeper on fretboard harmony.

One question I have been getting from students of my pentatonic DVD but also from my one-on-ones, who play five or six string:

Your patterns are made for four string, but I have extra strings! What do I do? Adapt? If so, how?

Here is my recommendation: yes, you can certainly adapt the patterns and extend them for example by starting them on the lower string, as shown in the black dotted diagram in the graph below.

Advantage: pattern stays the same on the bottom and just adds a shape on top.
Small disadvantage: the key is now different. Was G, now is D. You have to transpose them all as you first learn them.
Bigger disadvantage: The shape is not as accessible, not as pretty, no cool mnemonic, way more info, and while we need that “more info” of course, I have a better way.

Okay, you could keep the shape where it is and just extend the pattern to the lower string – how is that?

Advantage: that keeps the key the same, but changes the name of the pattern and again has the same bigger disadvantage as listed above.

So, what is my recommendation for adapting for five and six stringers, then?

Learn them as four-string shapes. Why?

Because stuff repeats, over and over and over. I play 4, 5, 6 string basses and if I played 16 string, I would probably still just relate it all to those trusted five patterns that I have under my fingers cold for four strings. You need to know where the root is and have the shape under your fingers – then you won’t have any trouble at all extending the shape to as many higher or lower strings as you wish.

So, if five-string bass: learn the shape as a four string shape on E A D G strings, and follow the system verbatim. You will be able to easily extend to the low B, once you have the shapes under your belt.

If six string bass: same thing: learn the shape as a four string shape on E A D G strings, and follow the system verbatim. You will be able to easily extend to the low B and high C, once you have the shapes under your belt.

For two decades I have been enjoying light bulbs go off when this suddenly connects for learners. It simplifies the neck tremendously.

What’s worth mentioning is that the Pattern System approaches the neck a bit differently than most methods I am aware of.

  • Step one is to learn the 5 shapes mechanically – ie, so well that you know it cold, have it under your fingers without needing to hear it.
  • A pattern goes from lowest possible note in one position to highest possible note in that same position, so you are starting and ending with all sorts of notes, not necessarily the roots.
  • Always know where the major root is. That is just a reference. Later you will extend to minor and all modes, but you will be surprised how easy it is at that point.

When I say five shapes – there are five major scale shapes and then lots of shapes within shapes – triads, chords, pentatonics. If you have the main shapes down, all this becomes easy. And: it repeats and repeats and repeats, once you see it.

A brief history on the Pattern System

I originally learned it from my teacher Wolf Wein and a little later again at the Bass School Munich. I didn’t even realize how lucky I was to have such a great foundation until I saw others without that back ground struggle their way to understanding the fret board.

Me and Wolf have further developed the system over the years; I added the goofy names (AKA mnemonics), as well as the diatonic cycle and “shapes within shapes” concept, and Wolf brought the crucial and super powerful mental practice aspect in and many creative uses as well as the overlay with learning to read music at the same time. By the way, Chuck Sher in his great book, “The Improvisor’s Bass Method” lists the five shapes in the major key with some great ideas for improvisation.

The Pattern System for the Bass Player will be a Book and a Course.

ETA is still a bit up in the air, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you have not worked your way through Music Theory for the Bass Player yet, do it now, because it will be nice to have it under your belt for “The Pattern System for the Bass Player”, when that’s ready. Also, the 20 Unit Course is a recommended foundation to get your theory down and used in grooves!

If you have my pentatonic course or are studying with me, the below new graph will come in very handy to help you understand why I recommend learning the shapes as four string shapes. But even if you don’t know what the Pattern System is and how it works, you will get a lot out of studying this graph about how the bass is laid out.

In Summary

If you are curious about the five pentatonic shapes, their goofy names, how to get them down mechanically and improve your technique in the process, how to correctly use pentatonic for major and minor contexts, how to use them to solo over a blues and more – on one word, how to high five it up, my pentatonic playground course is for you.

Music Theory for the Bass Player also lists the five shapes (major and minor contexts) in the pentatonic chapter. And, yes, the Pattern System (first book, then course) is in the pipeline. And I am incredibly excited about it!

Adapting Patterns Ariane Cap


Music theory for the Bass PLayer