Learn Bass from the Best Teacher

Just a few centuries ago, music was considered an art and a science. The scientific part was theory, of course, and its practical application was where art came in. Beethoven studied with Haydn to learn how to compose contemporary music; theory was still the way to learn the materials and the proper way to use them, and while a good composer deviated somewhat from them, there were limits set by what was considered good taste. While recognizing his student’s undoubted genius, Haydn felt that Beethoven had strayed too far from the standards of good taste, just as Beethoven felt that Haydn had stayed too conservatively bound by societal norms to truly express the strong feelings that imbued Beethoven’s music. However, throughout a career that would change the sound of classical music and inspire composers to express their innermost selves, Beethoven stayed much closer to his early training than most composers who followed. Thus began the rift between theory and actual practice that is considered the norm by almost all musicians, composers and performers alike. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries composers tried outdo one another in breaking rules, too often disregarding the taste of their audience (if they had one). All of this was justified as “advancing theory.”

Music theory got a bad rap, so that nowadays it takes an extraordinary teacher to bridge that gap and show the relevance of theory to performance and composing (including improvising). Enter Ariane Cap, a trained teacher whose pedagogical approach to the the bass links the critical elements of theory to playing so that her students are those incredible musicians who know what to play when, and how to blow your socks off with their improvising.She teaches theory as it is used today and in this course, how it applies to brainwork like fingering and improvising with the right notes, as well as building muscle memory and physical stamina to use what you head tells you. This is how Beethoven could improvise an entire sonata at the piano, and how you can improvise a great-sounding solo on the spot. Just one priceless example: a major triad consists of a root, major third and perfect fifth, which means that you will play the low root with your second finger, unlike a minor chord. Maybe you knew one, or even both of those things, but did your teacher link those two up when you first learned about chords? Ms. Cap’s point is that theory should strengthen your playing so that brain memory and muscle memory work together, and knowing the theoretical basis so well that your mind is free to concentrate on expressing yourself, just like Beethoven.

HOW TO BECOME A BETTER BASSIST

1. Remember the name Ariane Cap.
2. Buy her Truefire course “Pentatonic Playground for Bass.”
3. Work through the course.

Truefire has so many excellent courses that it’s hard to pick just one, but you really need to buy one (per instrument maybe) and put all of your energy into mastering it before moving on. My advice to all bassists is that this is the one you need.

If you have any objection that this is “just the pentatonic scale” remember that this is the basis of many of the greatest players’ style, including John Entwhistle. Ariane Cap gives you the solid foundation to be able to step outside the scale when you need to, or just want to, and how to get back into it seamlessly.

You will have to work, but this is truly a course where the more effort you put into it, the more you will get out of it. You will learn more about the Pentatonic Scale than you thought there could be to know about any scale, never mind a 5-note one. But that’s just the start, so don’t take the title too literally. If you play along with Ms. Cap you will also learn every note on the neck of the bass, as well as the step of each note in the current scale. This is a theory course in which you always have your bass in your hands and your ears open. Soon you will find yourself hearing the next note before you play it, an amazing experience if you don’t already have perfect pitch; some of you may find that you do.

One of the keys here is focus. It’s very easy for your mind to slide into auto-pilot as you play a scale by shape, but not so easy if you are calling out the notes as you play (and learn) each one, or if you are saying the scale degree. Because it’s the pentatonic scale, each one is a major and a minor version of the relative keys (e.g. G major is relative to E minor — they have the same notes but different key notes). This requires even more attention but pays off big when you realize you are learning two scales at once, and reinforcing the notes on the neck. An added bonus is that you will see and hear why so many songs slide into the relative major or minor for a while before returning to the main key. You will find it much easier to learn songs, pick them up by ear, or even fake songs you don’t know.

The course is broken into three sections: first you learn the 5 patterns that the scale creates, starting on each of the 5 notes. Each is introduced with an overview of the pattern, then its particular features and special applications, some technical exercises to develop both brain and muscle memory, and finally grooves and fills that use this particular shape. By the end of each pattern, you know it pretty well! Ariane’s fills especially show you how versatile this scale can be

The grooves and fills are the real meat and the rewards of this course. If you aren’t blown away by these it can only be because you are too busy working in a major studio! Not only are they great to play, but they will inspire you to get the patterns more completely into your mind and fingers so that you can concentrate on making music like this. They range in difficulty, but thanks to the Truefire player even a beginner can slow the tempo enough to get into these grooves, and the musicality of every one is top shelf.

Section Three is the real “playground” part that applies these scales to real music. First come demonstrations of using all 5 patterns in both major and minor so that your playing is freed from “playing out of box shapes.” Then come connections of the different patterns, horizontally and diagonally, so that you have the whole neck at your command. Special topics like fills using fourths and fifths, and fingerings for single string playing follow before you learn a master stroke: how to transpose these patterns into all major and minor keys. This is a more intense lesson and one well worth spending enough time to truly master it. Next come the blues, and then soloing with both major and minor pentatonics. You will also learn the relation of the scales to chord qualities as well as how to adapt them to play smoothly under progressions. Finally, Ariane shares the gear that she uses and explains why she chose it.

Ariane Cap has a teaching style that is good-willed but firm; she is not out to become your BFF, but to improve your bass playing. Don’t expect to be wheedled into doing the exercises. You are expected to do the work, and once you start seeing results quickly you will realize that this is the way you want to be taught. In fact, this is a good course for other instructors to study to learn how to set up a course and teach it well. It certainly deserves a teaching award of some kind.

Truefire is known for the high-quality of their courses as well as their reasonable pricing. This entire course costs less than one lesson with a teacher of this calibre, and there is enough material here to keep you learning for months or years since you can keep coming back to it to catch things you missed the first time, try some new variations of the supplied grooves, and work with the jam tracks.

Check out the course for yourself at Truefire (https://truefire.com/bass-guitar-lessons/pentatonic-playground/c857) and Ariane and her further teaching on her web page (http://www.arianecap.com/).

This course has my highest recommendation.

Help for Downloading Truefire Courses (Sierra)

I’ve been looking forward to reviewing Ariane Cap‘s course “Pentatonic Playground for Bass” for too long. Literally. It would not download for me and it took Truefire’s tech support three days to get an email to me although the solution is dated the same day I submitted the problem, which tells me that it’s probably a known one. In any case I am presenting the solution for those of you who might have the same problem, and also to explain my tardiness with the review.

We don’t know the cause, but no Truefire courses would download for me, new or even ones I’ve already downloaded. I’m using OS X 10.12.5, the current version of Sierra. Truefire tech WonderWoman suggested I try their BETA desktop version and so far it seems to be working. It’s over 1/4 of the way through the download, while the other version would not even start, so I’m hopeful.

If you are having download problems with Truefire courses, don’t hesitate to report them and maybe even request the Beta version. You will be helping yourself AND helping Truefire if you find any bugs in the new version (which is Beta, which means it has not been completely tested yet).

And don’t forget that a new update to Dorico is due before the end of the month! Interesting days approach.

Music Theory Wall Chart for the BASS Player

BALANCE: the key to having your guitar sit at the perfect angle; the interplay of parts in a well-mixed song; the amount of theory and its complement in playing.I’m looking at Ariane Cap’s Music Theory Wall Chart for the Bass Player on my wall and am impressed by its balance that has displayed pretty much all the theory you need to know without being cluttered and hard to read. This in itself is an amazing feat (try it sometime when you’re feeling impressed with your own brainpower!). The bonus is that if you have worked through Ms. Cap’s book Music Theory for the Bass Player or taken her course, these are instantly recognizable reminders.

The chart is clear enough that you may not even need the legend at the top, but its there so that all is accessible to everyone. There are three major sections set off by the colour of their headline bars. INTERVALS and their inversions are organized so that they go up on the left and down on the right with nice big diagrams readable from a distance, and fingering options visible a little closer. Whenever practical, each is shown on adjacent strings and also skipping a string.

TRIADS and chords are diagrammed in the two ways suggested in the course, with different coloured fingerings and arrows. A side chart shows the harmonic content of each chord and their sound characteristics.A second chart extends this to 7th chords.

A smaller section for “The Cycle” shows the cycles of 4ths and 5ths in sharps and flats and makes their relationship instantly clear. While this is the true chromatic cycle, the second part shows you how a diatonic cycle is created to stay in the same key but still follow the cyclic patterns.

And that’s just the left-hand side!

The whole right-hand column is devoted to SCALES. The Major and (natural) Minor scales are shown in familiar scale diagram form, with fingerings. These also show the distance from the root (lower root for the ascending form, higher root for the descending one). The relations of scales are shown clearly for major, its relative minor, the major’s parallel minor, and its own relative major. (If that’s starting to sound “out there” you’d better get the book). Major and minor pentatonic and blues scales lead into the basic formula for blues “changes” (labelled as ‘411 of Music’ which is true enough, although you might go so far as ‘911 of music’; they both work). The chart ends on the Modes. Rather than just show a C major scale beginning on each of the degrees, this chart starts each one on C, a more challenging and valuable way to know the modes. The ‘melodic and harmonic minor scales’ are omitted, which I find a wise decision. They are simply variants of the natural minor scale to accommodate the dominant chord, so showing them as separate scales is simply confusing.

I think you would be hard-pressed to find a major omission from this chart.

A last-minute addition: On Tuesday I was fortunate enough to have the time to work through part of Unit 4 of the course that Ariane Cap made available free as a ‘special look’ over the Memorial Day weekend while featuring 15% off the regular price of the course. The part I was able to cover was memorable, meaning that it drove the fingerings and theory into my brain and my fingers — both brain and body memory. This looks like a great course that really does build on the book but goes far beyond it. If you are serious about really learning the bass and you are willing to put in the work — real work — then you should come out of this course ready to take on some pretty challenging gigs, even if you’ve never set foot on a stage.

The days of a bassist playing just the root and 5th of each chord are long gone thankfully, and now bassists are expected to make an equal contribution to a band at any level. Ariane Cap may not bring you into Geedy Lee’s class of player (yet), but she will give you a great start, and one that I bet Geddy wishes that he had had!

Appreciation for “Music Theory for the Bass Player” by Ariane Cap

This is my second review of this great resource for every bass player. It was first published in the January 2016 issue of Just Jazz Guitar, and when I copied it to this blog I goofed: I made the review a “Page” rather than a “Post”. However, over the year and a half I have had this book, it has been my go to book for fingerings and ideas. Now that the 89 videos are complete and available here it is even more valuable. Ariane Cap is a no-nonsense “this is how you do it” teacher who leaves the work of reading and grasping the content of the book to you, so the videos are the perfect complement. “OK, I’ve told you the theory and the value of the different fingerings, this is how to play them and what they look and sound like.”

The book and videos form a powerful combination for learning, but not everyone has the discipline to take so much of the burden of following through on their own. Fear not! Ariane Cap will teach you online, taking you through the book and its content to ensure that your playing and improvising are much better by the time you finish. You can also take regular lessons tailored to your individual needs.  And you still have fallback resources if you forget anything later. Her latest addition to her wealth of teaching materials is a wall chart that summarizes all of the important information from book, course, and videos.

There’s more. You can sign up to receive weekly tips and tricks from Ariane herself. These contain solid information that will clear up concepts and get you out of some sticky situations. For example, last week she taught the difference between a #11 and a b5, both of which sound the same but require different scales and imply very different keys. Knowing the difference will save you in many situations, even if you have perfect pitch. Of course Ariane’s web site is full of these tips and more, and I encourage you to check them out and learn a lot of really useful information for free!

As some of you know, I have been very ill and Ariane’s teaching materials have kept my fingers working and my musical mind active throughout. The good news is my newfound appreciation for a first-class teacher who every bass player should know about.

I’ll be writing more on the wall chart as soon as it arrives and I put it on my wall (I have the space reserved!). I also hope to do a review of Ariane’s DVD Pentatonic Playground for Bass published by our friends at Truefire.

__________________________________________

Here’s the original review:

 

Ariane-Caps-Music-Theory-for-the-Bass-Player

 

by Ariane Cap

CapCat Music Publishing

Bass players rejoice! Music Theory for the Bass Player presents music theory as it matters: to improve your playing and your hearing. And all from the perspective of the bass player. Ariane Cap has put together a challenging book that will reward you with more confident and capable playing and improvising with a solid knowledge of what you are doing and why. In fact it is just as much about fingering as it is about theory, and Ms. Cap explains how fingering patterns relate to theory concepts and how these work together to strengthen your ear, so you know the sound before you play it. This is how theory should be taught: to improve your playing.

This is a book that could only be written by a top-notch bassist with a deep understanding of educational principles. Information is presented in easily digestible chunks that are illustrated in several ways including the fretboard. Each concept should be fully understood before continuing, and this is reinforced by a brilliant set of exercises at the end of each section. DO NOT SKIP THE EXERCISES! To do so would be to miss the whole point of the book: for you to get each concept into your head, your fingers, and your ears.

This is a robust book with no “filler.” For example, when speaking of Whole-Half step scales Ms. Cap notes that there are four possible roots for each of the three different scales. Most books illustrate all 12 possibilities, whereas this one shows the three unique ones; if you are going to master them you need to be able to figure out for yourself how the roots are related. While the text does actually explain the relation (and from a playing perspective) the point is made that when you see musical examples, they are important. Study them.

You could certainly learn to play the bass with this volume, but that is not its aim. This frees the author from providing those boring “quarter notes on the first string” exercises that turn off so many beginners. Instead, we get really “hip” patterns that illustrate what can be done with, say, a single interval using a more contemporary rhythmic style. It also allows accomplished players to learn the theory that they missed without feeling like they are in grade school again.

Many of the concepts are important for bass players, such as how to deal with chords that contain several different extensions or alterations, slash chords, and even how to determine the key of the piece. There are few “rules” given, which is a blessed relief, with the emphasis on why music works as it does. Somewhat ironically (and perhaps to illustrate this) the one spot where rules are given – forming major scales – they immediately require more rules for exceptions, which are explained more clearly in the section on the circle or cycle of fifths. So don’t worry if the rules sound complex at first – the explanation coming is simple.

Fingering is given such prominence in the book that it is as much about proper fingering as theory. This instills good habits in new players while keeping more experienced players on their toes, all the while establishing the sound of the theoretical idea in our ears. Do you know why you want to start with different fingers under a major or minor chord? Have you thought about alternate fingering that will save you from awkward shifts on a single finger? Many such tips demonstrate the interconnection between good technique and solid theoretical understanding. Others are handy for guitarists who try to use their one-finger-per-fret system on the lower bass positions. At the time of writing (January 2016) not all of the audio/video examples were on the web site, but it is likely they will be there by the time you read this.

Of the many extras at the end of the book, the suggestions on technique stand out. The pictures (often tongue-in-cheek exaggerations) show both good and poor positions for your body and hands that will help you to relax and play your best. The overall impression left by this book is of the relation and interdependence of theory, technique, body movement, breathing – all of life as we live it really, and how it affects the bass player. If you are a bass player, want to be one, or care for one, get this book. Ariane Cap has given an excellent gift to the world of music.

Order this great book here.

Make Money While Practising

Every few months the guitar magazines rediscover that regular practice improves playing. This is often touted as the “secret” of the current great guitar player. I’m going to assume that you all know that by now. (If not, try doing 15 minutes of focused practice every day for a few weeks and see what happens.)

I have a few suggestions for your practice sessions that can actually save you money, which is like having more money to spend on that dream instrument while being able to play it better when you get it. It’s like getting paid to practice.

Here’s how: Focus on something you need to learn, not something that you can already play in your sleep (chances are you stopped hearing it a while ago). If you don’t know the whole neck of your instrument, learn it several ways. Up and down one string, across every position, skipping notes, in scales and modes, there are all sorts of ways to make sure that you know where Bb is on the D string, for example.

The second thing is to listen as you play. This will train your ear, and it will also let you hear your guitar (or any other instrument you play). This is crucial, because if you don’t know what your guitar sounds like, and what you can do with it, you won’t be able to spot a better-sounding one in the music store.

Third, I suggest having a set routine that runs through the whole neck, every string and at least every three frets. This should be short and one of the first things your play every day. Notice the changes in tone in all of the various ranges of your instrument. That’s why you want to cover the whole neck.

Finally don’t forget to learn a few songs so well that you can play them perfectly even in front of the person who wrote or played it. You want to be able to listen to the tone you are getting without worrying where your fingers are or if you are hitting the right string.

OK, now that you’ve done that (or when you have) let’s save you some money. Most players tend to freeze when they go into a guitar shop and there are a lot of players there. “Man, is everyone else great on the guitar but me?” Naw, they are just playing their “store set” of exercises and songs. But now you have a store set too! So no matter what that guy in the corner who thinks he’s the second coming of Eddie van Halen is doing, you can do your own thing and listen to the guitars you play. And play a lot of them. Bonus tip: there are subtle differences between every guitar, even ones from the same company in the same model with the same configuration that come off an assembly line. The great thing about wood and the other materials that make up guitars is that you never really know how one piece is going to react to sound. A tip that you won’t need if you listen is that the price of a guitar has little to do with the sound of a guitar. I did a test one day of 15 Les Paul’s in one of my favourite music stores, about half Gibson and half Epiphone (actually 8 were Gibsons). The best two were about the same with slightly different tonal ranges, and they were both Epiphones, over $500 cheaper than the cheapest Gibson (in THAT shop on THAT day; your mileage may vary). The point is that it’s always worthwhile to compare. A friend did a similar comparison with Telecasters and found a Godin that was the best sounding one in the store for less than half the price of a Fender Tele. In that case he wasn’t sure which sounded better, but since I knew a song he’d just learned I suggested he play it on all of them and see which one sounded best. There was no doubt in his mind when he bought the Godin.

You probably see my last example coming, but I’ll tell you anyway. Years ago a friend in a band I was in wanted to upgrade his “Strat knock-off” with a real Fender. We both knew the sound of his guitar well, so we expected great things at the store. He played three Strats and asked me to play them too. Our consensus was that they sounded no better than his guitar — no worse, but no better. In this case we were lucky enough to find the same type of amp that he used, because a better amp can bias you, but in this case he made the biggest savings of all and had a new respect for his knock-off guitar.

So a regular focused practice routine can save you money. At the very least you will end up as a better player. You will also be ready to try out instruments at unexpected places and times. Look into how Geddy Lee and Jack Casady found their favourite basses — the ones their signature models are based on — and you will realize that it was their ability to hear the special tone of the instrument that was crucial.

A lot of the guitar biz is based on players not realizing what they actually have already. As with anything in life (cars, significant others, phones, etc.) be sure to know what you have before you try to upgrade. And if you do upgrade, check out what you are really getting.

 

 

One-Man Band LIVE (and what a band!)

A lot of us find ourselves in remote places at times, or in other situations where we ourselves are the band. It helps to be able to play a number of instruments if we want to record something “band-like”. Even those of us who are able to play a number of instruments well enough, and to sing without inspiring washroom breaks for anyone listening, it can be an exciting if somewhat nerve-wracking experience each time the red-light goes on and the recording is happening.  But of course we can always re-record, although finding the acceptable version without the need for “just one more tweak” can be a mind-killer without a producer to say “Good enough; now move on.”

So I salute all of you who produce your own music because you have to, or because you <…shiver…> want to. Now, that said, there is a level that only a few enter into, and of those who do, it is no great shock to find musicians of the calibre of Jacob Collier.

I found out about Jacob Collier from NS Design, who are stoked that Jacob plays their new NTXa bass (which I guess makes my old NXT bass a ‘vintage’ model now), but this is just one of the many instruments he has mastered, which helped him to win TWO Grammies:1) Best Arrangement: Instrumental or A Capella and 2) Best  Arrangement: Instruments and Vocals.

The NS Design artist web site for Jacob Collier says this: “Based in London, UK, Jacob has been inspired by many sounds – his music combines elements of Jazz, A cappella, Groove, Folk, Trip-hop, Classical music, Brazilian music, Gospel, Soul and Improvisation (to name a few), which culminate to create the world of ‘Jacob Collier.’ ”

Jacob’s own web site features his debut album and live dates, as well as quotes such as these:

“I have never in my life seen a talent like this… Beyond category. One of my favourite young artists on the planet – absolutely mind-blowing”

— Quincy Jones

“Wow!! Jacob, your stuff is amazing”

— Herbie Hancock

“Staggering and unique… Jazz’s new messiah”

— The Guardian
It also features his astounding “Jacob Collier and his One-Man Live Show Creature perform[ing] ‘Don’t You Know’, an original song from Jacob’s debut album ‘In My Room’; filmed live @ Village Underground, London, May 28th 2016.
This is a pretty amazing tour de force of technology, and I applaud him for being able to put it together and use it so creatively. Maybe it will inspire some of you to make music you never thought possible. Or maybe it will just make you appreciate your current band mates a bit more. Either way, you win.

Bassist’s Guide to Scales Over Chords

Bass_Scales

Ordinarily I would skip a book on scales because that’s not the way that I think about or teach music. But Chad Johnson is one of my favourite authors of instructional books so I figured Bassist’s Guide to Scales Over Chords was worth a look, and it really is.

In all fairness, I realize that a lot of teachers teach scales and modes, including some top schools, so this will help students who learned that way or are struggling with it right now. The topics are clearly laid out with great examples that both explain the concept and get the notes under your fingers. Also, whether you consider them scales, modes, or just “the notes in the key” the information is what you need to absorb well enough to just play the right notes at the right time.

What is outstanding about this book is the treatment of modes. Unlike most books that teach “modes” as just major scales starting on notes other than the tonic, Chad Johnson shows how the harmonies as well as the notes differ in the modes, and how these have been used to give a fresh sound to familiar chords and progressions. Many bassists (and guitarists in the sister book for guitarists) may be surprised to find that they have played in modes often without realizing it.

Let’s take a concrete example, the progression C-Bb-F-C. A purely scale-oriented player might think of it as V-IV-I-V in the key of F. It could be, but then you have a problem with ending on the V chord and having it sound so final. Much more often this is a modal progression (in the Mixolydian mode on C) and so C is the tonic, which makes it a strong ending chord. It sounds modal because the Mixolydian mode has a lowered 7th note — in C Mixolydian that’s Bb — and thus there is no leading tone. That one note changes the tensions inherent in the whole mode since the tritone no longer leads to the tonic (and instead of being stressed usually needs to avoided).

I particularly recommend this book for anyone interested in exploring true modal playing and composing. It presents many progressions that give a true feel for different modes. This is a different way of thinking from, say, playing a “Mixolydian mode” over C7 in the key of F, and then reverting to “normal” F. By working with the mode, you create the entire song, melody and harmony, in a modal framework.

For more information, go to Hal Leonard’s web site or Amazon. (Guitar players can check out Guitarist’s Guide to Scales Over Chords here.)

Jaco Pastorius Books

Hal Leonard has brought out some great books for bassists lately including two on one of the most influential bassists of all time: Jaco Pastorius. While often considered a jazz bassist, Jaco’s eclectic style has influenced players in all genres, and there are few better workouts than playing through and learning even one of his songs.

Jaco Play-Along

Jaco Pastorius BASS Play-Along is Volume 50 in Hal Leonard’s Play-Along series, and it contains 8 meticulous transcriptions of some of Jaco’s most beloved (and envied) songs. You can get more information including the song list by clicking here.

For a deeper look into Jaco’s style, and how to incorporate some of his most important innovations into your own playing, check out Play Like Jaco Pastorius, which is somewhat modestly sub-titled “The Ultimate Bass Lesson”. In fact it is a series of lessons that illustrate his approach to technique with examples from his actual playing on several of his most famous songs.

Play Like Jaco

The Gear section tells you the Primary basses that Jaco used (along with ones used more rarely) as well as his favored amps and pedals. These help those who want to get a particular tone, or to emulate his rig in general. The example songs come from both his work with Weather Report and his solo career, covering both fretted and fretless bass.

If you feel you want a challenge, or have the need to take your playing to a much higher level, be sure to check out this great master class by clicking here.

Both books contain online audio that you can listen to and work with on the internet or download in mp3 format. The playing is worthy of this great master himself. Working with this book is time well spent, and could even change your life.

Music Theory for the Bass Player – #1 Best Seller

Congratulations to Ariane Cap! Her book Music Theory for the Bass Player has become a “#1 Best Seller” on Amazon.com (in Bass Guitar Songbooks). This comes as no surprise to me, nor I hope to any reader of Just Jazz Guitar, where I review the book in this month’s issue. Since this is the magazine’s last month of publication it may be hard to find, so I have reprinted the review here (with permission from the magazine, of course).

Ariane-Caps-Music-Theory-for-the-Bass-Player

 

I will just add here that every bass player should own a copy of this superb book. Ariane Cap’s ingenious linking of logical fingering and hand position with music theory makes this a truly practical “theory” book, while her clear and concise explanations and directions are easy to understand and follow. Follow her advice and you will become a much better player.

Read the review here.

Order the book here.

Visit Ariane Cap’s web site here.