Tuesday, February 15, 2011

learning a language - bass

A bilingual person is a person who speaks two languages. A trilingual person speaks three... so what do you call a person who only speaks one language? American.

OK, I'm not literally talking about languages here although I am truly an American. I'm talking about music. Each musical genre has its own vocabulary, grammar, and syntax... its own language. Each musical instrument has its own dialect in that language as well.

Many guitar players think that because they understand a fretboard, they can play other fretted instruments - bass, mandolin, ukulele, banjo... So, they run out and buy whichever one of those instruments catches their imagination and fancy themselves banjo/mandolin/uke/bass players. It doesn't work. Believe me. I'm a pretty good guitar player and know a couple of different languages on guitar but even though I know where all of the notes are on each of those instruments... I'm not a banjo/mandolin/uke player... I am becoming a bass player.

While I've owned a bass guitar for years, I always sounded like a guitar player playing a bass rather than a real bass player. I never went so far as to get a good bass for that reason. I would use my cheap bass for recording and sounded, well, not like a bass player, but it was OK for my needs. Then about 6 months ago, we lost our bass player in the church band. I decided to get serious and learn another language just in case. So, I bought a good bass - a Peavey USA Cirrus (there on the right) - and a decent little bass amp - a GenzBenz 3.0-8T - and began to study bass. I know where the notes are. I know how chords and harmonies work. I know about voicings and how rhythms work in acoustic music, rock, and funk. I am learning how a real bass player fits into all of that. And frankly, I'm doing pretty well. I don't usually play bass at church as we have a teenager who is filling that slot but I'm always ready to fill in when he isn't there.

I'm really enjoying the bass and decided it would be a lot of fun if I can get some gigs playing bass with some of the local singer/songwriters. I'm not looking for a steady band but occasional things would be really cool. My bass is top notch and my amp is a good sounding amp if a little bit under-powered by modern standards but my speaker cabinet was way too small for any real gigs. So, I started researching different cabinets and the sound philosophies behind them. For electric guitar, the voicing of an amplifier and the speakers are as important to your sound as the guitar. For acoustic guitar, you want the amp to be as transparent as possible. For bass guitar, there is a discussion there with some companies making highly voiced gear and others being more hifi so that what you put it is pretty much what comes out, only louder. I decided to go the hifi direction and began to look for a cabinet called a B2 built by Acme Bass Cabinets. Acme's have a reputation of being very accurate and having among the lowest and biggest bottom ends of any cabs out there. Sounded like a cool idea to me... I found a used B2 and went to try it out - and here's the reason for the whole blog post. After playing it a bit and purchasing it, I told the seller, an accomplished bass player, that I am primarily an acoustic guitar player and that I'm trying to learn to play bass like a real bass player. He smiled and said, "you sound like a bass player to me." Alright!

So, for my musician friends... if you need a bass player for a project, you know where to find me.

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