How to Write Your First Song

OK. Several people have asked why I have not reviewed my own book here. Seriously, what do you think I’d say? After working on it for months, trying to create a book that would help the novice songwriter, as well as one who has “hit the wall”, to find their own process and create a song that they are truly proud of. One that they would not hesitate to play for friends or critics. Of course I think anyone thinking of writing their first song, or getting back into it should buy the book. But for good reasons, not just because I wrote it. I felt that there was a need for this book and I remember the agony of writing my very first song, that took one year to write, compared to my second which I finished in one day. But it took me a year to learn what I needed to write a song that I still like, decades later, and one that helped me to get into the Music Composition program at the university of my choice.

I wished I’d had a book like this when I was starting out, so I wrote it in the hopes of helping people in similar situations. I have unique training, with advanced degrees in computing and music, as well as Music Criticism, Music Theory, Computer Music, and Education, but my most practical qualification comes from decades as a music reviewer and listening to over 1,000 LP’s and CD’s most of which were from people trying to break into or make it in the music world. I’ve heard the same mistakes repeated countless times, but I have also found some true gems, all of which defied convention in their own way but still evoked a strong response in the listener. So while I can’t tell you how to write a guaranteed great song (no one can)  I can tell you what will ruin even a great idea that could have been a hit. To get that hit, or even songs that you like consistently, you need to know your own process for writing, and I can help you to find that.

How many Grammy speeches begin with “I’d like to thank the author of the book …” Not many, and yet so many song writing books promise, implicitly or right out there, that you will end up creating a huge hit, and if you don’t, it’s your fault. It’s more realistic to listen to the “overnight sensations” who tell you that they have written 100 songs and finally learned their craft by trial and error. My goal was to help you find your own process to write a good song without having to go through the 100 duds; to shorten the “error” period. Maybe it won’t be a hit, maybe not “commercial” enough, but it will be a song that you like and are proud of. And with a start like that, you can only improve.

Hits are a combination of craft, hard work, and luck. Good songs are a combination of craft and hard work — no luck required. You may not get wealthy, you may not even make a living at it, but you will be able to write songs that you like and even build up a modest fan base who enjoy your music. That’s a lot better than sitting and dreaming of “making it.” And you have to start somewhere. (And yes, I suppose you could use the concepts to analyze hits you like and maybe write a hit yourself. Maybe.) I’ll tell you what my aims were in writing the book, and you can see if they reflect your situation and might help you.

The BIG ONE is to get you over the hump of wanting to write a song but not doing it. (This includes established songwriters who have hit a wall and may even feel “washed up.”)  Maybe you’ve tried and got bits and pieces of several songs that you just can’t finish to your liking. Or you’ve written one according to a formula or copying a song you like that you can’t be proud of. An important step that you might be wondering about is to determine if songwriting is something that you really want to do. I won’t try to talk you into it, and you might discover that you’d rather just listen to songs. Even if that is all you get out of the book it will save you lots of time and frustration and let you get on with what you really want to do more.

But if you find that you truly want to write songs, I will help you to find and refine a process that works for you. There are lots of ways to approach songwriting, and the book is written so that you can try different things and see which ones produce results you like. It’s a very personal activity that reflects who you are, and only you can decide what you want to express and how you will do that. I don’t want you to copy how I go about writing a song, but rather to discover how you do. At the end of the book you will have written the first song that you really like and are proud to play for anyone, from a close friend to a record producer.

How do you get that kind of confidence? Together we look at building on your strengths and getting past your weak spots. Maybe you don’t have the theoretical background you feel you need. I’ll show you what you need to know without any extras like, say, the range of the piccolo or the notes to beware of when writing for clarinet. Or maybe you have lots of theoretical training, so much that you become “rule-bound” and have to loosen up your concepts so that you can move ahead just as music has moved past the “rules” that were established for music of the past. (Music theory always lags behind practice!) In fact, songwriters have a different perspective on music theory from classical composers, whose works form the basis of most standard music theory. The introduction of guitars and drums, as well as digital music sources, has given new life to older concepts that have been refined in new directions, as in jazz or progressive rock, or kept as a basis for new uses in popular music from country to hard rock and its more metallic derivatives.

At its most basic level, music comes down to repetition versus novelty, with enough repeated material so that we can recognize it as the same song but new parts that give variety so that we don’t get bored. Every genre or style does this in different ways, popular and classical, Western or Eastern. Music is truly infinite in its possibilities.

The book has access to all the musical examples online, where they can be played or downloaded. I personally created over 100 audio examples so that you hear our topic rather than just read about it. More importantly, you can decide whether you like it, and how you might improve it to make it more to your liking. You need to learn to critique your own ideas, but it is often much easier to start by critiquing the work of others. The difference here is that we will be concentrating on one aspect at a time, so that you refine what harmonies you like, what rhythms speak to you, how lyrics fit the melody (or don’t!), and many more aspects that are personal to you. I can tell you that the reason I prefer to be a reviewer to a critic is that I don’t assume that everyone shares my musical taste, so I point out what I find interesting in a song but leave it open to the reader and listener to agree or not, and to find more in it. Read old critics’ views of many songs that have become legendary over time and you will inevitably find articles saying how awful they are and how the artist will disappear, just as that very artist is starting a decades-long career as a major star. You might not like songs that I do, but you should like, or love, every song that you write. It should speak to you, even if to no one else.

Rather than go on and on, I’ll let you read the first page of the introduction to the book here. You can find a little more on the Hal Leonard site here, and order it from there or from,,, or find it in your local music store.



Legendary Bassist “Duck” Dunn Bio and Transcriptions

Few people become legends in their own time, and even fewer are unaware of it when it happens, but this itself is part of the legend of one of the most influential bass players ever – Donald “Duck” Dunn.

Soul Fingers is sub-titled “The Music & Life of Legendary Bassist Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn” and the ordering is as it should be since the bulk of the book consists of transcriptions of some of Duck’s most famous lines along with some basic analysis of his style. Author Nick Rosaci writes “I have to admit, I’m not much of an author. I was the student who barely passed my English composition classes so I could spend more time in the practice rooms.” This explains the one problem with the book: the biography section is somewhat disorganized with some events out of order, and several places where information is repeated a couple of paragraphs later. This seems to be the result of one of the strengths of this section, which relies on the reports of family and close friends who were there at the times mentioned. Their statements are kept intact, and they often wander or span Duck’s entire lifetime. But the important events are there, and even those of us who admire his playing will likely be surprised at the range of artists whose recordings Duck’s bass added groove to. For example, his work at Stax with Steve Cropper is well-known as is his work with The Blues Brothers, but Tom Petty was also a great fan who wanted Duck on at least one track of each of his albums “for luck”! Even his passing from this world befits a legend, waiting until after his tour of Japan was completed before slipping away in his sleep after the final performance, a pro right up to the end.

Possibly the strangest session Duck was on was for Elvis Presley, who sent a demo which he wanted the band to copy exactly, note-for-note. Here’s one of the greatest bassists being told to suppress his own legendary style to play a different part entirely. To top it off, Duck didn’t even get to meet “The King” because he sent an Elvis impersonator to do a guide vocal during the recording of the backing track, over which Elvis added his voice later, alone!

Being given so much work and pressure to crank out “hits”, it may be understandable that Duck had no idea of his growing reputation outside of Memphis, at least until the Stax European tour where sold out shows and wildly enthusiastic audiences showed him the effect that his music was having worldwide. Once he started playing sessions it seemed that everyone wanted to record with Duck. The range of artists he played with is attested to by the 57 transcriptions included in the book (which includes online access to 28 play-along tracks performed by Duck’s son Jeff, Will Lee, and the author). The play-along tracks are great, with the bass on one speaker and the band on the other, so that you can study the bass alone, or mute it to play along, or hear the entire thing together. The performances are very good, but of course you need to listen to Duck’s original recordings to get that “deep pocket” feel that sets his playing apart.

Hal Leonard keeps improving their online music delivery system, which you access via your personal code at the front of your book. When you have more than one book with audio access, you can form a collection called “My Library” that contains all of the tracks arranged by book. You can download the play-along tracks one at a time or choose to “Download All” to save time, OR you can play them right from your “My Library” site using the PLAYBACK+ software that appears if you click on a song and choose “Play” rather than “Download.” It allows you to adjust the speed without affecting the pitch; to reset the pitch by semi-tone up or down as much as an octave; set loop points to concentrate on a particular section; and adjust the balance between the speakers, and thus between the amount of bass and of the band.  It’s a great way to learn a tricky song correctly at a slow tempo, and then speed it up gradually, or to do the same with a difficult phrase. Pitch adjustment is great if you play with a singer who needs the song in a different key.

The transcriptions range from Booker T. and the MG’s, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Bill Withers; Muddy Waters, Albert King, and The Blues Brothers; Eric Clapton, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Jimmy Buffett, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; to the Manhattan Transfer and many more artists. No matter what style or artist Duck plays with, he holds down the groove and keeps the rhythm section solid, a master of the “less is more”school of playing. Usually his most memorable performances are close to frugal in their use of notes, but each note is just the right one for the song, a lesson for all bass players regardless of their level of achievement.

This book is essential for Duck Dunn fans, firstly because it is the only complete biography of this legendary player, incredible as that seems, with assistance from family and friends and a foreword by fan and fellow Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd. Also, it is a terrific collection of accurate transcriptions that show you how Duck played in many different styles and genres. It can also be an introduction to genres that you may not be familiar with that still have Duck’s inimitable bass playing holding them together.

Pick up a copy of this fine book at your local music store (and if they don’t have it, tell them to order a dozen copies!). Of course you can order it online if you have no local store. Click on either of the images above (or here) to go to the Hal Leonard site to order online or for more information on the book with the full transcription list and Table of Contents, Dan Aykroyd’s Foreword, some sample pages, and even a couple of audio examples.

DORICO 1.1.10 FREE Update Released

Once more Steinberg has updated Dorico with a release that only offers about 70 new features, improvements, and bug fixes! So just as I was going to post my latest “Dorico adventure” something a little more important has come along.

The biggest news is the addition of graphical editing of individual chord symbols. As if it wasn’t enough that you had every conceivable style of chord symbol in use, now you can edit every part of a chord symbol on a grid for fine-tuning. While this may not seem a big deal, think about situations where you have had a chord change on every quarter note with complex harmonies and suddenly that bar took up almost an entire line, with not quite enough room left for another bar. An extreme situation, but you get the idea. Once again Dorico scores a coup in the world of notation leaving little doubt that it is the software of choice for serious composers and arrangers.

And once again Daniel Spreadbury has outlined all of the new features in Dorico 1.1.10 on his Making Notes blog including a video by Anthony Hughes demonstrating the new editor and explaining its use. But that’s not all. In fact, if you want to know all of the new features and fixes you can consult the version history in PDF format and read the first 12 pages.

Set Final Tempo % For Changing Tempo

Just one of my favourite new features is the ability to specify where a rallentando or accelerando ends up. This is found in the Properties panel, and gradual as well as relative tempo changes now play back correctly where your beat units are not just quarter notes.

Learn By Example

There are several example scores that you can study, play back, and learn from. These are great shortcuts to learning the program and also getting ideas for articulations and even instrument combinations that you may not have thought about. If you download the trial version (and you should if you haven’t bought Dorico yet) then the examples should load for you. They didn’t for me in the full version but Daniel Spreadbury’s page tells you where to find them on either Mac or PC. I did think I noticed an odd glitch in the Rameau example, where the repeats did not play, but I had forgotten that Dorico does not play repeats yet. This is probably because of the wide variety of repeat types you can notate.  Still, this is yet another amazing update to THE twenty-first century notation program.

Calibre – The Great FREE E-Book Reader / Manager

As I’ve read more e-books, I’ve come to really appreciate Calibre. It’s an e-book reader for your computer, library manager for hardware e-book devices, and format converter for both, plus a lot more features that let you bookmark, edit, backup and more. If you are online it will even help you shop! It is open source, which means that anyone with the skills can modify it and submit their mods for testing, but it also pretty much assures that it will be around for a long time and will remain free. Big thanks to Kovid Goyal for providing the world with this free app that outshines most if not all of the other e-book software around. I can’t say for sure because after trying a couple and finding Calibre, I’ve never been tempted to try anything else.

I had to write this column because I got a request from a friend for help with a somewhat expensive e-reader that could not read the format of the book she just bought. I read the blurb (there was no user manual) and it vaguely suggested it could read all “common” formats, and her book’s format was definitely a common one. So she switched to Calibre and all is well. I suggest that you check it out at

The video on that page shows you how to setup the manager for a hardware device, and how to use it to send books from your computer to your device and bring them into the manager from your device. If you have a book that is not in your device’s format, Calibre formats it automatically when you transfer it to the device. Calibre will search online for a book you request, returning a list with the lowest-priced one at the top, a very convenient way to shop for books. It will let you edit the metadata for any book, but if you have a large collection you might want to use its automated feature that searches the internet and finds the metadata for large numbers of books, which you can edit later at your convenience, if you like. To find a particular book, or just find something to read, you can browse by cover or tags such as author, genre, etc.

Calibre also reads PDF’s, so you can manage your PDF scores, articles, etc. along with your e-books in one convenient place.

Calibre has a great way to get news: choosing “Fetch News” brings up a list of languages in which news is available with the number of sources for each (over 300 in English alone!). Clicking on the left-hand triangle opens a list of the news sources in that language. You can set a schedule for downloading news from a source, as well as a number of days before the download is deleted. Of course, if some of them are pay-only you will need to have a subscription, but most are free.

There is so much to Calibre that I suggest you check it out for what you need in an e-reader or e-book manager, and then gradually you will find more uses that you never thought of. But if you read e-books at all, you really should check out Calibre.

UPDATE: A number of people have written that they cannot get Calibre to work on their iPhone or iPad or iPod Touch. The Calibre FAQ shows how to use it with these devices.

The Calibre help page has links to the FAQ, the user forum, and their blog as well as to the user manual, which is available in several formats.

Adventures with Dorico 1.1 – The Intro

Dorico 1.1 is a huge upgrade to a fantastic program, and the changes are so vast that a single review just cannot do them justice. As if to underscore that, the email I’ve been getting has not been “Should I buy it?” but “Does it do X?” or “How well does it do Y” or even more questions about the alphabet. (OK, I’m kidding, but you see what I mean, I hope. People want to know about specifics.)

So before I start with my “adventures” using this software, I will say that YES you do want to buy it if you use or are considering a professional notation package such as Sibelius or Finale. NO, it still does not do guitar TAB so if you want that I would suggest MuseScore. It is an amazing FREE program that outdoes several paid ones.

Dr. Dave Dives In

Early in my computing career I worked for a major corporation that employed a rather strange person who seemed to do nothing most days, but when a project was ready for testing, to the distress of the project manager and entire team, she was able to break it in under 5 minutes. Virtually every time, and no matter how simple or complex the system was! She had little computer training, and as such was at the same level as the product’s customers. She had what the company began to call “tester’s mind” — an almost psychic ability to find the one flaw in a program. I tell you this seeming digression because I’m afraid I may be developing “tester’s mind”!

As my first test of Dorico 1.1 I decided to arrange a simple folk tune for various ensembles in differing styles.Unfortunately I was unable to find just the melody in MIDI, but found an acceptable version of it in an arrangement that was public domain. When I imported the MIDI file it came in as a 4-part song on a single violin in one clef. No problem, I thought, I’ll just use the “explode” feature that most of the same team had written for Sibelius years ago.

But there is no “explode feature.”

Yes, I had to select each line separately, and copy them into different instruments. OK, not much drama in that, as it’s a simple thing to do to select the whole piece, then just the top notes of the chords, cut and paste into new instrument, repeat until done. But it gave me a new appreciation for the task Daniel Spreadbury and his team have set for themselves. Not only do they have to compete with the other professional notation programs, they have to compete (in many cases) with their own work, which was brilliant in the first place! Certainly they can’t just copy what they did before because of copyright. So they would have to create a different way to do something that has one obvious solution. In this case they did just what I would do: they left it with a “good enough” solution and moved on to more innovative and important features. (I’m sure they will come back to this when the time is right.)

Exploring New Features – Chord Symbols

By now the excitement of having chord symbols has overshadowed the gloom when Steinberg seemed to be saying that they would not be in Dorico 1.1, so let’s not forget that they delivered more than they promised. Had that happen with much else lately?

I could go on about the range of chord symbols covering virtually every way of notating them in our notation, but I couldn’t do as fine a job as the folks over at, Philip Rothman’s fantastic blog that used to go under the name Sibelius Blog and was started by Daniel Spreadbury himself when he was the key member of the Sibelius programming team. Philip did a great job of covering other notation software as well as Sibelius (including Dorico) and so he changed the name to Scoring Notes ( this past April. Their look at chord symbols is here.

To get an idea of the options for chord symbols, scroll through this massive list of them from that same article (you may need to click on the “magnifying glass to see it clearly). This brings me to my next point. The choices may seem overwhelming, but remember that you only need to use the style that you prefer, and that covers virtually any style. But it can also be an educational or reference opportunity as well. If you are used to standard pop charts and for some gig you are required to read jazz symbols, you can use the different options on the menu to translate from one to the other, either to rewrite the chart or to learn a new set of symbols.

And of course this doesn’t just apply to chord symbols. Dorico is constantly surprising me with the number of ways there are to notate slurs, ties, note heads, stems, you name it.

Next time I’ll get into notating this “exploded” folk tune, but why wait for me? Download the 30-day free trial from here and try Dorico out for yourself.

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.


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 ( and Ariane and her further teaching on her web page (

This course has my highest recommendation.

Steinberg Releases Dorico 1.1

Today Steinberg has released Dorico 1.1, a major update to their acclaimed notation program. You can get all of the details from their press release here. There is also very interesting information on Daniel Spreadbury’s Making Notes blog that goes into detail on why they under-promise, so that if they can add a certain feature by release time (fully tested) they will, but they will not promise a feature if they are not sure it is ready yet. So those of you who were disappointed when it came out that chord symbols would not be included will be delighted to discover that not only are they included, but they are far more comprehensive than anything else currently available!

I will do a fuller post ASAP, but I really suggest that you go to Daniel Spreadbury’s Making Notes blog and watch the videos to get a true idea of what makes Dorico the notation package of choice for most composers, orchestrators and arrangers. If there is some way to notate virtually anything (e.g. piano pedalling) or to make workflow suit you personally (e.g. moving groups of items around together logically), Dorico has that option.

I have taken some serious flak for my unstinting support of Dorico even before it was released, and I feel that this update justifies every bit of my seemingly crazy enthusiasm. My one regret is that guitar diagrams are TAB is not ready yet, but watch the videos and I think you will have some idea of the level of detail they will have when they do arrive. Dorico marks a whole new paradigm in notation software programming (which is “under the hood” and you won’t see) as well as in features and options, which you will see immediately.

Now please excuse me as I work through this amazing software. I’ll share my experience soon.



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:




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.