Want to make it as a professional bassist? Listen up as BGM’s professional bass team reports back from the live stage.
The Jazz Bassist: Ruth Goller
I just recently started teaching again on a regular basis, and I’m really happy to be passing on some of the things that various teachers have taught me about playing the bass. I was lucky with the teachers I had, as they were a great inspiration to me. My first ever teacher on bass was a brilliant bass player called Nico Gomez. He taught me from when I was a beginner and, with lots of patience, coached me through the basics of harmony, reading, playing groove, and getting stronger at playing in time. I took so much away from these lessons.
The most important thing he taught me was to be creative within my exercises. He would explain something in principle, and then make me come up with different ways to achieve that particular goal. He made me aware that if you set yourself strict limitations within an exercise, the learning process will be more thorough, no matter what the subject is. For example, when I first started to learn how to improvise, I remember getting lost by playing too much. My ideas were unclear, my lines were without shape and I tried to overtake myself by playing things that I only knew in theory. He then got me to improvise with three notes only: a triad, for instance. It is difficult to be musical with just three notes, but when I started playing little lines with those three notes, I knew I was getting better.
I also started practising different scales over a single chord. For instance I recorded a simple minor chord on my computer and played it on a loop: I then played for hours through all the different minor scales I could think of in order to internalise each of their sounds. Later at university, my teacher Dudley Phillips taught me the importance of transcription and learning other people’s playing. This is also something I treat seriously, and I encourage all my students to do the same. It’s always good to go back and reassess the basics: these studies are for life, it doesn’t matter how advanced a bassist you are.
The Metalhead: Paolo Gregoletto
I haven’t had much time in the last decade of touring to really sit down and think about band life, or my life before the band. Bar any drastic change in the laws of physics and the way we perceive time, it continues to march on with or without us. I find it hard to get all wrapped up in nostalgia, mainly just because our focus is always six months to a year ahead. So when I realised that not only was this past September going to be my 10th year in Trivium, but also my 10-year reunion for high school, I felt I owed it to myself to take a breather and appreciate my life. I remember being posted in the van at some dingy rest stop parking lot, off of a random highway up in the northeast of the US. It was after midnight and we were trying to catch some shuteye before finishing up a long drive to the next show.
Being cold is what I remember most from those early tours. It seemed like an endless winter, even though it was only about four or five months. This was pre-Ascendancy (or if you prefer, How Did This Shit Happen So Fast?) Trivium. Although I wouldn’t want to get back into a van nowadays, eespecially the seedy one that we had, I do have a fondness for that short time as a completely unknown opening band. Seeing the country like that was an unforgettable experience: the freedom from school and the chance to live out a dream I had, no matter how long it lasted, was a pretty exhilarating feeling. More on this next month…
The Alternative Rocker: Michael McKeegan
Following on from my musical multitasking column last month, it’s obvious these days that what happens offstage away from the music can be make a big difference to your band’s success. Once the music stops, let’s not get lazy – let’s try and use your other creative talents to befit your band’s career. Pretty much everyone can get access to cheap technology, so make sure your website and social media networks look great and up-to-date. There’s a plethora of affordable gear and powerful software out there, so if you have a good ear for tones and a working knowledge of sound, get a basic recording setup for doing cheap demos and recording shows.
Get involved with the photography and video aspect of the band: there’s no excuse for sloppy promo shots or dodgy videos. Make sure you document all your studio sessions and get in the habit of making ‘making of’ or tour documentaries. Likewise, get designing killer merchandise. I’m always amazed how many bands have really cheap looking T-shirts in uninspiring colours. People are more inclined to spend money on a decent shirt than a CD these days, so make sure your shirts stand out. If the designs are strong enough then look at moving them into the artwork and flyer side of the band. If you can rustle up a distinctive design or logo that’s instantly recognisable that image will serve your band well – think Motörhead’s Snaggletooth or Metallica’s Scary Guy. If you’re not computer literate don’t worry: get out there and chat to people face to face, that’s how you’ll build proper relationships with fans.
If you’re not a talker but more of a doer, look after the gear, tech for other bands and learn those skills: your bandmates will never have to rely on the guy up the road for a £30 set-up again. There’s probably a column (or chapter) on each of the above additional band duties you can take on, so I haven’t gone into great depth on any of them here. Just regard them as food for thought: make the most of your talents and be sure to make your mark on stage and off.
The Extended-Range Specialist: Stewart McKinsey
Roberto Vally is a session player and sideman who has played with artists as diverse as Lindsay Lohan and Patti Austin, Spyro Gyra and Bobby Caldwell. When I first heard him he had taken the melodic groove approach that Jimmy Haslip had been using in fusion music, and was doing wild things in a pop-funk band that was playing in the tiny town in Florida where we lived. His talent and drive have launched him into a career that continues to inspire and has allowed him to release his first solo album, Boom Boom Boom.
When I saw his band – with no guitarist and a lunatic bassist playing chordal passages, slapping and playing terrifying ostinato lines even as he was singing and dancing – I knew I had a lot to learn about what I was doing and about what I wanted to do. This was the first player whose tone, taste and time showed me a completely realised concept. Not surprisingly, when I gave Roberto the questionnaire I mentioned last month, his responses came back to practicality, musicality and the ongoing pursuit of improvement both as an artist and as a craftsman. Because he has always been a working player, a lot of his responses came down to flexibility.
‘I believe my strength as a bassist is my versatility, the ability to change and blend my styles to fit the artist and the song I’m about to perform or record’ he said, adding ‘I look up to players that have a lot of versatility and know just the right note to play, and where and how.’ Many of his responses were about the nuts and bolts of being a bass player, of being prepared, of learning how to play with a drummer and how to create an organic environment in the studio and about giving up ego to make music the priority. This is why my ‘big bass brother’ continues to be a hero: he never loses sight of what’s important.
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