Interesting Song and Bass Tips from The Beatles

With the release of the movie Yesterday, The Beatles are once again news, so this is a good time to take a fresh look at some things that we can learn from their legacy.

One thing that is too often overlooked when considering their songwriting genius is how much emotion they can create in such a short time span. Consider the emotional drama stirred up by Eleanor Rigby and then notice that this song is under two minutes long! OK, this timing is from my original vinyl album; the official CD release says 2:11 (including some silence after the song ends). Even on CD, songs just barely over the two-minute mark include: And Your Bird Can Sing, Good Day Sunshine, and For No One. The longest songs on Revolver show as 3:00 exactly. I chose Revolver as the example because it is the first “studio album” meant to be listened to rather than performed — The Beatles never performed songs from this album even on their tour after the album was completed. Even Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band begins with the title song at 2:00.

So tight songwriting is a skill that any songwriter should strive for. Make every note count.

Experimentation was a key to The Beatles keeping their sound from becoming stale and predictable. Consider that the brilliant collection of songs that make up Revolver began with what might seem the least likely one: Tomorrow Never Knows. Now that it is a classic, it is hard to realize that it was considered “too weird” for many people at the time of its original release. Having lived through being considered a “Beatles freak” because I loved the song, I remember the reaction all too well. The same can be said of Hey Bulldog, which no one even knew about except for us “Beatles freaks”, possibly because none of our local bands (including mine) could find a bass player who could get close to playing that amazing bass part.

Even now we Beatles freaks can learn something new. I was re-listening to the CD’s of The Beatles Anthology – Volume Two (freakish enough, right?) when I noticed that (the not yet “Sir”) Paul McCartney was fooling around with 5ths on the bass (two notes at once) just before they began recording Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, and sure enough he begins the song by playing 5ths in the bass for the first two chords. A handy tip for bassists looking to fatten their sound, and a technique that he would use again (e.g. in While My Guitar Gently Weeps). At the start of A Day in the Life he plays chords on the bass! (Thanks to my friend Don L. for pointing this out.)

Many of The Beatles’ guitar lines are rightfully famous (several played by Paul McCartney) but their innovative bass lines are often overlooked. An off-the-top-of-my-head list of great bass lines to learn would include Hey Bulldog, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Something, Dear Prudence, Lovely Rita, as well as most of Sgt. Pepper  and the dozen or more that just don’t come to mind right now. Folks, warm up those basses!

One note of caution: Much as I appreciate all of the hard work put into the transcriptions, “The Beatles Complete Scores” have some downright mistakes (look at the first two bars of the bass in Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite) as well as one major flaw. The flaw is the use of repeat signs, which are handy for the melody and chords, but miss McCartney’s brilliant variations on repeats. This brings to mind one song I should have added to the list: Cry Baby Cry. That bass part is a master class on varying a simple descending line in what would otherwise be a very repetitive part. Thankfully, there are some excellent demonstrations of this and other Beatles bass lines, such as this one by one of my favourite players:


Slap Bass Bible

Hey bassists, I have not forgotten you and neither has Hal Leonard. If you have been poring over videos that show you how to slap and pop but leave you with just exercises to play you will love the new Slap Bass Bible!

This is not another how-to book but a collection of 30 classic slap bass tracks carefully transcribed. The time span covered is a virtual history of the technique, going back to Sly & the Family Stone, The Temptations, Steely Dan (Chuck Rainey’s incredible work on Peg), lots of Stanley Clarke, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Victor Wooten, and even Paul Simon’s hit Call Me Al in which Bakithi Kumalo dropped slap onto a whole new set of ears.

You can see the whole list of songs on Hal Leonard’s site by clicking on Song List. All songs are given in both notation and TAB, and you will probably find yourself working between the two. Because the songs cover such a long time and so many stellar recordings Hal Leonard cannot provide the actual recordings, but if these are not in your collection already you need to update right away. You will learn something new in each one of these gems.

If you play slap bass at all, this is one book you need!

In Praise of Older Instruments

Shopping frenzy revolves around several times of the year, and to some extent that is true of musical instruments, but those are mostly new instruments. Vintage instruments are a year-round pursuit for serious collectors. We’re seeing that now in Geddy Lee’s tour for his book Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass.

Vintage instruments tend to go for stratospheric prices, and Geddy’s book is as close as most of us will get to the majority of basses shown in it, but what about the older guitars that were praised to the skies when they came out and then seemed to just disappear as fashions changed? I think that there are several good reasons to look into these instruments seriously:

  1. It’s good for the environment. Although even mass-produced instruments aren’t terribly polluting, and excellent luthiers are making impressive instruments, many of the best tone woods are endangered.
  2. It’s good for the wallet. There are some great bargains in used instruments. Back when materials were cheaper some great instruments were moderately-priced and are even cheaper now
  3. Some instruments get better as they age, especially acoustic ones, so playing some older but not yet “vintage” instruments can be very pleasant surprises.
  4. You can probably think of more reasons for yourself and your situation.

I have been lucky enough to score big on some used instruments. I used to travel a lot and although I had a great traveling classical guitar, I needed a steel-string. Once I started looking at sizes of guitars vs. airplane overhead storage I realized that a Steinberger regular guitar would fit just as well as a new “travel guitar” and have a full size neck as well as that amazing tuning system. Many people think of these as “an 80’s thing” but when I tried to buy one online I found out that a LOT of guitarists wanted these. I started looking for either a Steinberger Spirit guitar or even the Hohner licensed version. It took me a few months on eBay to finally snag a Steinberger Spirit but I got more than I bargained for. It had been treated with loving care, which I found out when I discovered that the seller lived about 20 minutes from me! Not only was the guitar a dream to play, but he had replaced the original pickups with Seymour Duncan ones: a jazz one at the neck and a hot rock one at the bridge. This became my go to guitar immediately. (He was only selling it to buy a custom-made guitar, and was so sad to see it go I felt guilty … until I got home and played it again.)

Another great find was in a pawn shop. These are places I had overlooked, so imagine my surprise when on my second visit to one I found a Fender Jazz Bass on the wall. It was an MIM (Made in Mexico) which I learned can vary greatly in quality, depending on the luthier. I brought in my bass Vox amPlug and played the bass for an hour, and sure enough this was a killer guitar. I was even able to haggle the price down to about $300 (US) with the best gig bag I’ve ever seen.

So if you are looking for a guitar or bass, or most other instruments too, take a close look at used instruments. Listen closely to them, and check for problems since there may well be some. For example, the Jazz Bass had a buzz, but it was easily fixed with a truss rod adjustment. If you buy from a store make sure that there is some warranty. If they have a reasonable return policy take the instrument to a repair shop and have them look it over. Sometimes problems are easily fixed  while other seemingly minor ones can be deadly in the long run, such as the head stock that has been glued back on and hastily painted over (I’ve seen this). If you can, just like buying a car, arrange to take it to a repair place before buying and see what work it needs. If it is reasonable, you should be able to negotiate the price to take care of it.

Remember that luthiers are making great guitars all the time, and what is “in” is largely fashion. To paraphrase Drake’s great Grammy speech, this is an “opinion-based industry”, and the look of guitars is constantly changing or “new features” added that you don’t need. What is not changing is the need for a design that gives a good tone and sustain, good pickups, and that indefinable magic that happens when you find the right guitar, bass, or kazoo. Just because you don’t have a lot of money, it doesn’t mean you can’t find a great guitar in your price range. And the money you save can go toward a better amp. (More on amps in another post. They are a more complicated purchase.)

Finally, never be afraid to bargain. No one is losing money selling instruments in a store, and the prices of used instruments are really subjective. If you notice that a guitar has been hanging on the wall for a long time, there’s a good chance they will lower the price just to get rid of it. This is true even of new instruments. If you live in Canada (or a country with a currency stronger than the Canadian dollar) we are in the middle of Long & McQuade‘s annual “Inventory Blowout” sale. I don’t mind giving them a little free publicity because I got my beloved 5-string Ibanez bass for $289 (Canadian) from this sale a few years back.

How often can we say that we are helping the environment as we stock up on guitars? We can do some good and find a killer guitar at the same time. So when you need a new instrument think “used” (or “pre-loved”).

Q & A Webinar January 4 with Ariane Cap on Bass Course 2019

On January 4 Ariane Cap will hold a free webinar on her bass course and the “New Year’s special cohort”. This is your chance to talk with the teacher and author, so bassists get your questions ready and learn about the course and what it can offer you.

Don’t be late. The webinar starts Friday January 4 at 11:00 am Pacific Time (2:00 Eastern). You can sign up for free here (or click on the book cover below).

See you there!

Sting’s Bass Playing with The Police

This is the first of two reviews of score books of Sting‘s bass playing, as requested by readers.  This one from Hal Leonard is prominently labelled THE POLICE with BASS Play-Along and Vol. 20 in the upper corners. I guess some younger fans who have discovered The Police might not know that Sting played bass (as well as singing) but I suspect most bass players would. The book contains both notation and tab as well as a CD.

I have some qualms about the transcriptions in this book, none of which are major, so I should say up front that the job of a transcriber for a big publisher is likely not making them rich. Add to that time constraints for any publication and it is understandable that there will be issues with most transcriptions. So Hal Leonard’s Steely Dan Bass Play-Along really deserves the rave that I gave it in an earlier review; its transcriptions are exceptional. And while the subject of this post is not perfect, it is better than any of the free tab versions I’ve seen online.

Hal Leonard’s Play-Along Vol. 20 The Police BASS is a mixed bag. Most of the songs are mostly accurate, and none of the lines in the book will sound wrong if played along with the original recordings (of course they will sound exactly like the reproductions on the CD included with the book). The problems mostly occur toward the end of the book, and the differences are actually some of Sting’s signature moves. So the good news is that the whole book will sound OK with a band playing the other parts correctly, or with the original recording, but you will not be playing Sting’s lines exactly and learning from them. I hope that this review helps with that.

The book starts off well with Can’t Stand Losing You, which has the correct bass part. While not Sting’s most original or difficult part, it is a great starting point for learning bass and how to make it fit a song without just slamming away at the chord roots. Even better news — if you have a band — is that all of the parts are included in Hal Leonard’s THE POLICE Greatest Hits in their Transcribed Scores series. That will be the subject of a later review, but I’ll mention now that it does have all of their parts, including the guitar overdubs.

Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic is next, and most of the part is right, with a few minor problems. One is that Sting tends to re-strike long notes, seemingly to keep them from fading (so maybe at this early stage he couldn’t afford a compressor?). Not a big deal, especially if you have a compressor. A few troublesome spots are the rhythm in the last bar of page 17 and the last line of Page 19 (just after the word “Magic”) where he plays D twice, not D-A. Again not a big deal and both will sound fine with the song. I strongly suggest listening closely to the song to get the feel of the bass, as it is even more important than the exact notes. You can hear this when Sting plays a different order of notes on a repeated passage and it works just fine, great in fact. This is Sting at his best and a song well worth studying.

De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da is another easy but fun song to play. You may have to practise to get the octaves in the Pre-Chorus, but they are a valuable part of the bassist’s arsenal of moves. The Chorus is straightforward, but in a band be sure to keep tight with the guitar part after the title is sung. This gives the song a real push forward.

Every Breath You Take has a simplified version of the bass part that is liable to make the song sound almost trite. Sting often breaks up the straight eighth notes with two sixteenths to give it variety and motion. You can either listen to the original recording and copy Sting exactly or just add these in on your own where they sound good to you. It’s the feel you are going for in breaking up the otherwise monotonous eighths. The bridge has some octaves that may be tricky, so be sure to practise those. Note that the staccato marks over the higher octave are hints to rock your hand back to get the lower octave. Letting them ring into each other gives the song a bit of drag, so it’s a good idea to keep them separate.

Roxanne has the right notes mostly, but misses some of the feel. For example, Sting mutes the first five bars he plays. This gives a special emphasis to the F and G before the voice comes in. He then mutes the next 7 bars, stopping the muting before the second time he sings the name “Roxanne”. He does not mute the section on the D.S. repeat. He uses muting again on the Interlude. There are several places where he leads into the chord root from a semi-tone (one fret) below, and these he plays as hammer-ons. The transcription also misses the fun slide Sting throws into the Outro-Chorus. Listen to the original recording and add the slide in for the pure joy of it.

Synchronicity II suffers from the inexplicable failure to note that there are TWO bass parts playing! My guess is the the transcriber decided that one part, which plays mostly pedal notes (long sustained low notes) is a synth, which is certainly possible. However, we do see pictures of Sting proudly playing a double bass, and to my ear the second part does have that sound (I play double bass as well as bass guitar). Unlike Don’t Stand So Close To Me, where the pedal note is held for a long time at the start with no sound of the bow changing direction (meaning it is probably a bass synth), here the pedal notes seem to switch between the two bass parts. More convincing to me is the sound of the eighth notes over the pedals, which at times sound like an electric bass and at other like a pizzicato (plucked) double bass (this is especially noticeable at the Interlude). The second bass also doubles the first at times an octave higher, which may account for the bass being in the wrong octave just before the Chorus and also at the start of page 45 (where the bass does not leap up the octave). OK, that said, playing the part as written will sound fine, even with the original recording. And since most bands don’t have two bassists (and the guitar part is just too great to leave out) bands will probably assign the pedal notes, and even the doubling, to a synth. Just don’t get confused if you hear two basses and wonder if your ears are tricking you somehow.

Spirits in the Material World is a good transcription. My only qualm is the tie in the riff, where I hear three very fast sixteenth notes. This is not easy, and maybe that’s the reason for the tie. I had to slow down the original to reassure myself that I was hearing the three C’s correctly. Either way, it’s an impressive riff, and great to play once you learn it. Start slowly, with a metronome, and gradually increase the speed.

Walking on the Moon ends the book on a high note with a fine transcription of a great song. It’s a good test of your timing, so be sure to count the beats to enter at the right time. Being exposed like that makes live performance a bit unnerving but you’ll get a lot of praise (and pride) if you can nail it. Practise it enough that you can play it boldly — it’s a real self-confidence boost!

So despite some flaws this is a usable book to learn the bass parts for fun or band rehearsals. You may have to correct a few songs, and work on techniques, timing and feel, but it is a great way to improve your ear and learn from one of rock’s most admired bass players.

Steely Dan Bass Play-Along

Hal Leonard BASS Play-Along Vol. 19 STEELY DAN

To start, the most important feature of this book is that the transcriptions are excellent. If they were not good there would be no point in continuing, but they are beyond even very good; they are excellent.

Another important point that demonstrates the excellence of the book is that repeat signs are rare. Good bassists rarely play the exact same notes for each verse, chorus, or other section, unless they are repeating a riff. Only two songs have repeat notation, using a subtle adjustment that we will discuss later.

As with all of Hal Leonard’s current Play-Along books, you are given a code at the front of the book that allows you to download audio versions of individual songs, or the entire set at once (which I recommend). There are two versions of each song. The ones end with “Demo” in their titles have the entire band (minus singers) including the bass. The “PA” versions omit the bass (and singers) so that you can Play Along.

There is a lot that you can learn from these songs, besides the great bass parts, that will help you in creating your own bass lines. By complete coincidence Ariane Cap’s blog post that was emailed out yesterday (to those who have registered on her blog) does this in much greater detail (and in video) with Sting’s song “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot”. Hers is a mini Master Class on how to do this, and I suggest that you view it if you have not signed up for her blog emails, which she sends out once a week. As I said, this is a coincidence as I have been promising the Steely Dan book review since I got all of your email, and have been working on it bit by bit since it arrived. Sometimes life seems to like to surprise us.

The first song in the book is Deacon Blues. Just looking at the chord names, you can get see that a band can’t get by with just three chords in a typical Steely Dan song. The bass part, though, starts with simple one-fret motions. The first bar of the verse starts with a nice arpeggio that omits the 3rd, and the dot over the first G gives you a hint that the bassist probably rolled the same finger over to D before dropping to the low G. Notice that from here on, many of the notes on strong beats are ‘introduced’ by an eighth note. The fills happen in bars with no singing. If you want a real challenge, try to figure out how they relate to each other (they really do). The last bar on page 8 has the reverse type of arpeggio that was used at the start of the first verse, but here he slides up to change register, and uses the characteristic rhythm to slowly get back down to the lowest frets. When we finally get down to the low F on the first fret it is preceded by a staccato F# so that even though F is on a ‘weak’ beat, it is emphasized by its full duration (as well as the rest of the band). The sixteenth notes that show up in the second bar of the second system are a variation of the eighth note leading into the quarter note, a nice subtle change that you might miss on first hearing, as are the two eighths that lead into the next verse at the end of that line 4 bars later. Finally, notice that although the fills get fancier as the song goes on, the bass goes back to a simpler style when the sax plays its solo (the dream realization of the singer). I leave it to you to pick up on how the bass makes an interesting part from a few simple rhythmic ideas and knowing where we are in the song. You may well come away with admiration for a bass line that is impressive but not overly intricate.

Two comments that apply to several other songs as well. The bass is mixed quite low for such great lines, so they are sometimes hard to hear on the original recordings. Also, if you do what I did to listen to the originals and use a “Best of” album they often fade before the lines in the book do, so if you are a real stickler for detail go to the original albums (we’re only talking 1 or 2 seconds here).

Do It Again is the next song, and it uses most of the bass ideas from Deacon Blues. One cool idea of note is the repeats during the electric sitar solo, which has five endings, each of which are different! By now you should be able to spot the different uses of slides. In the middle of the organ solo the timing gets a bit complex, so if you can’t read music notation, especially rhythms, now would be a good time to learn. The best way I can recommend is the aforementioned Ms. Cap’s book and course. And again the Outro guitar solo goes on longer than the recording I used. You might be missing the last two bars but they are well worth mastering.

FM, the next song, will give you a great sense for the off-beat right from the first two notes. The F leads into the bass note A, which is the root note. Here it comes a half-beat (one eighth note) before the downbeat of the next bar. Music theory names this an anticipation because it comes early, anticipating its normal position. The very next bar has off-beats at two levels: 1) The two eighth note Bb’s come on beat 2, a weak beat, rather than the stronger downbeat (i.e. beat 1); and 2) the F# and E come on the second half of beats 3 and 4 rather than on the stronger first half (or ‘on the beat’). Follow this throughout the song to see how many subtle variations are played. On page 28, I particularly like the first bar of the last system where the bass slides up from B (again on the second half of beat 2) to land on a staccato F# and rolls the finger over to B on the next string. (And yes, the words are interesting, as is his pronunciation of them.) The descending chord progression under the lyrics “The girls don’t seem to care” begins and ends with anticipations in both the vocal and bass lines, whereas the bass seems to contradict the vocal next, under the lyric “to-night”. Again we see different rhythmic levels in play, with the two eighth notes A and A# leading to B (and then the same rhythm going down F#-F-E), contrasted with the two sixteenth notes G#-G leading into F#. It’s a tiny detail, but one that gives a sense of overall coherence that you hear but might find hard to explain. As with most Steely Dan songs, we could go on for pages looking at one song, so I will just add one final note: very few writers or players could make a “riff” that was memorable out of three notes (here E-F#-G) played in alternating octaves. (Carol Kaye comes to mind.) I need to add that the music here to the Outro seems a bit confused, with the keyboard doubling the bass and sometimes in a different octave. Also, the bass is mixed so low that the harmonics are not very clear on the actual band recording.

Hey Nineteen uses mostly ideas we have already seen so you should be familiar with much of the song already. Be careful of the key changes, especially when the G# becomes G-natural and later at the Interlude when the key signature changes 3 times in 7 bars! Here’s where learning patterns comes in really handy — look for them. Compared to that, the changes from 4/4 to 2/4 are simple, just shorter bars, but be careful just the same. If the vocal harmony interests you, you might want to review (or learn) triads and passing chords. Ask yourself why an Em chord seems to work over a Bm7 background. This is also a great example of the bass driving the groove of the whole song, as is the case with most Steely Dan songs, even when it is hidden.

If Josie takes you a while to perfect, have a kind thought for the guitarist who has a real rhythmic challenge with quarter note triplets played against the drummer’s straight quarter notes at the start. That’s when theory really saves the day (or session, or job). Those great double-stop slides way up the neck are a lot easier if you start off with the fingering for the second pair of notes, that is you use your index finger on the G string and ring (3rd) finger on the D string. This is a bit cramped on the first one but “opens out” into the second one. Practising octaves comes in handy for the B-C-C#-D at “…eyes on fire”. If rolling your hand slightly helps you to cut off the lower note make it a slight roll and don’t lose your position. Seeing all of these familiar moves in a more complex song will make it a little easier to learn and also give you an insight into the growth of complexity in their music over time.

Rikki Don’t Lose That Number* is one of few songs that can be instantly recognized by a simple, very common bass pattern. It is also unusual for this collection by having a repeat that uses almost exactly the same music, although it uses a D.S. al Coda instead of a repeat sign (which means go back to that sign that looks like a psychedelic ’S’ beside the word “Verse”). The only bar that differs the second time through instructs you to use “Fill 1” in the box at the bottom of the page. Otherwise, you have seen most of these patterns already and even the change of key. Notice especially that during the guitar solo the bass sticks to the root and 5th of the chords, not even assuming that the soloist will use the 3rd of the chord written. After a very contained performance harmonically I really like the sixteenth note triplet on the last page, after “It’s the only one you own…” (*NOTE: The book uses the original “singles” version, which omits the marimba-like instrument at the beginning used on the album version. More information about this is on Wikipedia.)

The book ends with Reeling in the Years [sic]. What that [sic] means is that’s how they spell it in the book. Steely Dan wrote and recorded it as “Reelin’ In the Years” on the album “Can’t Buy a Thrill”. I guess Hal Leonard decided to correct the grammar of these two guys who met at college(?). Whatever, there is some irony in what is considered Steely Dan’s “rock song” that the bass plays “swing”, in short: when playing two eighth notes the first is lengthened a bit, so the second has to be shorter. It gives a flowing feeling. The bass pattern is an old one, used in old blues styles such as boogie or shuffle and is still in use today. This particular pattern uses the root-octave-6th-5th, with an occasional triplet that adds the 7th. Walter Becker described the whole song as “simple, but effective” but that really applies to the bass and rhythm section; the guitar playing by Elliot Randall is something else! (Mr. Randall told Guitar World that he played this in one take!)  This may be the easiest song in the book, and it makes use of repeat signs and two fills (the second one only needed to remove the Ab octaves). The challenge here is mostly the speed, which means practice, practice, practice.

In Summary: A great collection of great transcriptions of great songs. Yes, it is funny that Becker is playing a guitar on the cover of the bass book, even if they did cut the end of the head off it, but don’t let that deter you at all. This one is a real workout with a big reward for consistent work. And if you start slowly and speed it up, work becomes play pretty quickly.

Highly recommended for any Steely Dan fan, or any bassist looking for a challenge.

Big savings on Ariane Cap’s Bass Course ONLY until October 20, 2018

You have until October 20, 2018 to save $130 (US$) on Ariane Cap‘s improved version of her outstanding course based on her book Music Theory for the Bass Player. The course has moved to a new platform that allows for better presentation of the material, including new extra stuff. Of course all of the work to port the course over plus add new material does not come cheap, so the tuition will be going up, but you have a few days to register early and save money.

I highly recommend this course. Please do yourself a favour and click here for more information and the link to sign up. (Note that this is an email sent to me as an owner of the book who has signed up for the accompanying videos. The information for those who have not registered for the course starts about halfway through.)  Please do it now because I don’t want anyone to be kicking themselves next week for putting it off!

More BASS On The Way

Thanks to all of you bass players who wrote in asking for reviews of books on specific bands. I was quite surprised that the most requested band was Steely Dan. Certainly Walter Becker was great at creating and keeping a groove going, but Chuck Rainey is a real legend, so I guess I should not have underestimated the taste of my trusty readers. Second place went to Sting, who is both over-rated and under-rated, which is a pretty good trick to pull off. I think that goes beyond the Police / solo split in his career, and even album to album but more like song to song. He can surprise you.

So thanks in advance to our friends at Hal Leonard who are providing review copies of what is available. I was surprised that Sting is represented by his work with the Police only. Maybe the solo work used too many bass players (when Sting felt like playing guitar, for example)? More about that soon.

And it was nice to hear from some of Ariane Cap’s students! They sound very happy with their teacher! Maybe she would prefer that you pick these songs up yourself by ear, but my feeling is that we only have so much time, and sometimes you just feel like playing your favourite song rather than figuring it out. You should keep a healthy balance between honing your ear by picking songs up yourself and using good transcriptions to get you going. Few transcriptions are perfect anyway, and quite often you will get a good first verse, followed by a repeat sign when the bassist actually changes things up on subsequent verses (Paul McCartney is a great example). So keep your ears open and take books as a first pass at creating your own transcription. (And if you find a perfect one, remember that person’s name; you’ve struck gold.)

To be continued …

Comparison of Music Theory for the Bass Player Books

Teaching Music Theory to Bass Players – A Comparative Review

A few years ago I reviewed “Music Theory for the Bass Player” by Ariane Cap, which I said was the best theory book for any instrument that I had seen. Now that I have read and played through “Music Theory for Bass Players” by Steve Gorenberg my belief about Ms. Cap’s book remains unchanged. Her unique approach combines learning music theory in relation to logical fingering on the bass, ear training, and a comprehensive yet never heavy presentation of theory that is practical for any style of music.

Although Mr. Gorenberg’s book fails to live up to the standard set by Ms. Cap, he is not alone. His book is typical of the type of theory book for guitarists and bassists in its material, its approach to it, and its (unstated) focus on rock and pop music. Ms. Cap’s book is based on her educational background, which includes a Masters of Science in Biology/Marine Biology (!) as well as studying Jazz Bass and Bass Education at the Academy of Music in Vienna, whence she received a scholarship to the University of Miami. There she received her Graduate Certificate of Music, and began her studies with some of the world’s most respected bassists including Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey, Michael Manring, Chuck Rainey, and several others. Ariane is also a certified NLP Master Practitioner, a certified Tiny Habits Coach and deeply interested in the psychology of learning and performing. ALL of this is combined in her approach to teaching and learning, so that you learn solid musical concepts from the start, apply them logically to the bass so that fingerings make sense and also avoid mistakes that can cause serious physical problems both now and in later life, and most importantly you learn to associate the concept with its sound and its position in physical space on the fretboard. Even her Marine Biology training fits into her work with her comprehensive, rigorous, research-based methodology and testing.

Mr. Gorenberg’s Book

Thus Mr. Gorenberg, and any other author of a similarly-aimed book, has a high standard to aim for, and likely is not even aware of it, although in his case with virtually the same title I assume that he is at least aware of Ms. Cap’s book. His book begins with informing the reader that music uses the letters A to G to name notes, and then goes through typical exercises in the first position, with notation and tablature. The problems are that he does not explain the concept of a “position” and expects the reader to be able to read music or at least tablature. He then explains the fretboard from the combination of half-and whole-steps, concentrating on the natural (no sharp or flat) notes. Here he tells the reader not to ask why, but just accept it. This would drive me mad if I was trying to learn from this book but his explanation is incorrect, and the reason has more to do with the way the major scale evolved than “physics of soundwaves and a lot of other complicated mathematical things”.

The organization of this book is confusing, placing the Major Scale, Minor Scale, Key Signatures, and Arpeggios all before Intervals, on which all of the former are based. It is no wonder that the emphasis is on rote learning rather than explanations of why Major and Minor Scales differ, or what the logic is behind the cycle of 5ths in key signatures or the different fingerings for arpeggios. And suggesting that bassists will find their own favourite fingerings for each (although they should learn them all) not only lets learners continue with possible bad habits (some of which are harmful) but does not tie fingerings to intervals, arpeggios, and scales and their sounds. And as someone who had to unlearn their entire fingerstyle technique to play classical guitar, I can attest to the difficulty of doing that as opposed to learning correct hand position in the first place.

One final problem I will mention with the organization is that its emphasis on the major and natural minor scales means that Melodic and Harmonic Minor scales are left for the “Advanced Scales” section, which also includes the whole tone scale, plus Phrygian Dominant and Lydian Dominant scales. The last three are strange inclusions for a book that eschews jazz as “a lot of complex theory that’s useful for jazz guitarists and keyboard players” but not necessary for bassists.

Not only does Ms. Cap proceed in a logical manner that explains how intervals are classified with exercises on how to finger them and get their sound in your ear, she makes her examples “grooves” so that learning is more fun and more relevant to real-world playing. This approach relates theory to any style of music while making it fun to learn.

AV Support

Mr. Gorenberg’s book comes with both audio and video support. The audio plays the examples from the book, but is handiest for both the examples of several rock players’ styles as well as play-along tracks (although the only suggestion for playing-along is to adapt the book’s examples). The video is the best part of this package, although Mr. Gorenberg is not in it, nor is it coordinated with the book. Elton Bradman’s two videos on Bass Fretboard Layout and his Bass Interval Workout are well-organized and accomplish their tasks completely, with ease of presentation and encouragement for the learner.Steven Hoffman explains the construction of the major and minor scales in his lone video in a more logical way than the book (which would have been better off to have followed it).

A New Paradigm

Let’s not come down too hard on Steve Gorenberg since he’s following a standard template that instructional books have used for decades and no doubt people think it works, or at least is “good enough.” What sets Ariane Cap apart from other authors is that she understands that there is a better way to learn, and she goes about proving it. Learning is gradual, testing is real and does require that you master the information in the section to pass. Beginning with exercises that do not require an instrument means that you can practise while in a long line, waiting for a bus, or in a boring meeting. You learn the same shortcuts to the notes on the bass that Gorenberg presents, but within the context of reinforcing your learning, rather than as the focus of it. The interval names are explained from the starting point of “why?” and their fingerings show the most comfortable fingerings as well as others for situations where they are necessary, but always with the safety of the fingers and hands as a major consideration. Concepts such as interval inversions are presented along with their usefulness in forming grooves and creating variation over a repeating chord progression.

Very welcome additions to the curriculum (not to grand a name for Ms. Cap’s organization) is a full section on Ergonomics and Health, Bad Habits to avoid, and ‘Teaching Yourself Great “Habitual” Tone’ — which shows that good habits and posture actually improve your tone. In fact, the photos on Posture are both very funny and very informative. And don’t feel too embarrassed by seeing yourself in one or more of the pictures — you now know what to work on to play better, beginner to pro. One of the benefits of her interests beyond just music is her concept of “Practicing using the Principles of Rotating Attention (PORA)” which is effective at learning new technique as well as correcting bad habits. She even sets out another section just to address Changing Ingrained Habits. She ends with a short chapter on Musicality, outlining the most important parameters for a musical, rather than merely “correct” performance. She even gives tips to “ignite your musical senses”!

She also uses video, but Ms. Cap demonstrates every example in the book (all 89) herself. This gives you the sense of the author as a person, a real live teacher showing you what is on your music stand and how to play it correctly.

Most authors stop there, but Ariane Cap knows that even if many music books haven’t, the world has changed. You access the videos online. While you are there, I strongly recommend that you sign up to her blog. In return, you get weekly tips that are excellent. Along with the tips you do get an ad or reminder of Ms. Cap’s course based on the book but you are rewarded with valuable tips, and fence-sitters might need a few reminders to take the course. You do not have to sign up to the blog, but you have nothing to lose by trying it, and a lot to gain. And you can unsubscribe at any time. Besides, the course is based on the book, taught via video along with other materials such as PDF sheets and other special supplementary information. These allow you to proceed at your own pace. There are other goodies such as get-togethers online with Ariane and other students and bassists to ask questions, share experiences, and just hang out with liked-minded folks. This is another strong incentive to stick with it when you feel like you have hit a wall. (You can check out Ms. Cap’s teaching style at

If this appears to be almost another review of Ariane Cap’s “Music Theory for the Bass Player” I felt I needed to go into detail as the title of Steve Gorenberg’s book “Music Theory for Bass Players” is likely to be confusing, and I would hope this was not planned.

IN SUMMARY: Ariane Cap’s book “Music Theory for the Bass Player” is the future of bass theory teaching and I really wish it had been available when I was first learning. It is not over-stating it to say that Ms. Cap has created a new paradigm for musicians’ learning based on a book. The old way was: “here’s my book, now learn it.” Her new one is “here I am to help you to learn properly working with my book.” Proper hand position, relating theory to fingering and ear training is what makes “theory” the practical tool that it was for Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and others up to that era, so this approach regains the relevance that theory has lost over time. I cannot recommend Ms. Cap’s book and approach highly enough.

DORICO 2.1.10 released with several bug fixes

Dorico has released a minor update (2.1.10) that contains significant bug fixes but no real new features. Still you should update to improve performance and avoid several annoying bugs.

Also, stay tuned for a review of a new theory book for bassists by Hal Leonard and a full article on how to learn bass (and any instrument) effectively. Coming soon.