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Beyond Bass Camp

Digging Deeper Inside the Bass, with Steve Lawson.

Jul
02

The process I outlined in the previous blog post can be reversed when we start working on drawing musical information out of learning someone else’s music.

I often classify this loosely as active vs passive learning.

  • Passive learning leads us to learn the song we’re working on, play it like the original, tick that box and move on.
  • Active learning asks why the line is the way it is, what lead to it being like that, what the musical elements are the comprise it and how we can make them our own.

So from melodies, we can extract phrases - elements from within the tune or riff or bass-line that are transposable, that we can build variations on, that we can put into other music contexts, we can harmonise to create a different emotional layer on top of the now-unrecognisable line. We can draw out all kinds of material that we can then use in our own music, which hopefully is happening anyway as we build/find context in which to practice the phrases we’ve identified as existing within the melody.

And then, in order to make sure that our own musical prejudices and limitations don’t stop us from discovering the hidden gems in the phrases we found, we can process that material even further by way of applying our ‘parameter and permutation’ approach to the phrases, so see what other patterns are in there, which in turn lead us to less obvious phrases, leading back to melodies…

The combination of having a distinct process for turning ‘music’ into ‘my music’ with a learning approach that demands context for every exercise removes the need for a lot of the questions about ‘where’s the value in this?’ or ‘what’s the point?’ - if the value isn’t apparent in the specific thing you’re practicing, move on and try something else – there’s so much amazing music out there to be found, that spending hours frustrating yourself in exercises that have no apparent learning outcome is just a recipe for being put off the instrument.

By all means dig deep into complex and challenging music – understandable doesn’t mean ‘simple’ it just means that the nature of the outcome is somehow linked to the material being worked on, whoever seemingly complex or basic the start point.

Does that make sense?


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Jun
30

I’ve been thinking about this a fair bit recently, and working through these ideas with a few students. The big question that spawned this concept is the one about the relationship between what we practice and the music we perform.

Anyone who’s read more than a few words from me about the process of teaching music will know that I’m obsessive about providing a musical context for everything – there are no exercises that should exist outside of an explanation and demonstration of the musical situations in which it works.

However, I do also rely heavily on intervallic permutations to generate ideas away from the age-old practice of transcribing other people’s lines.

Transcribing is a great way of seeing how other musicians employ the mechanics of playing an instrument to create magic, but there’s a layer of organisation underneath that – that of patterns based on ‘parameter and permutation’.

What that means is that we can take a fix set of notes – say one octave of a G Major Scale – and a particular interval – 3rds, for example, and work on all the possible permutations within that, all the while creating new scenarios in which to practice it – how does it work with a latin groove? Try playing a straight rock bassline under a I IV V chord progression – does it work?

What’s important with the contextual stuff is that hearing things that DON’T work is as important as hearing things that do. Why a line fails to work in a particular musical context is a bit part of how we train our ears to ‘hear’ things that work ahead of time, so we can head towards the improvisor’s goal of ‘playing what you hear’.

The other important upshot of contextualising the patterns is that it leads us automatically into the next stage – phrases.

The importance of phrases requires us to understand what improvising is, or more specifically, what it isn’t.

  • Improv resolutely is not ‘playing things you’ve never played before’, any more than a conversation is about ‘making up new words as you go along’.
  • Improv is playing ‘good things’ that you choose to play in the moment, based on the compendium of ideas, phrases, sounds, techniques and other musical devices that you have at your disposal. (with that in mind, knowing when to stop playing – or not start in the first place – is a great improvisational skill).

Which means that as we start to choose the bits from within the patterns that sound nicest and most useful to us, we begin to build up a library of ideas, phrases that we can call upon when need to, either when improvising, or as the basis for compositions…

Which leads us ever so smoothly into our 3rd stage for ordering musical material – melodies. By which I don’t just mean ‘the top line in the music’ – I’m using it more as a classification where a particular phrase is chosen as a distinct part of the composition. Not a generic or recycled phrase, but a specific element in the song, to be repeated every time that song is played.

So we move from patterns, to phrases, to melodies, allowing our taste and musical sensibility to inform the selection process, thus heightening our musical awareness, not just the speed at which we can zip up and down major scales.

So, how does that map against the way you practice? Does it sound familiar or alien? Questions or observations are most welcome in the comments :)


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Apr
27

The question in the title is one that is so often ignored and yet is fundamental to the process of learning music (and a lot of other things!)

Because so much that happens in music education is based on a model established for teaching classical repertoire, the emphasis is hugely on “Is It Right?” - the notes on the page are the right notes, any other notes are wrong notes, and there are pre-established measures of what are the ‘right‘ ways to play a piece, what are the ‘right‘ techniques to use… The fact that at some point they were were established as ‘right‘ because of someone’s idea of ‘good‘ has been lost somewhere down the years – the subjective aesthetic assessment of a piece of music by the person playing it is no longer a factor in deciding whether the performance is worthwhile, meaningful, pleasing or anything else(more…)


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