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The Gollihur Music Blog
Wining About Tone
I like wine. I'm no oenophile (potential wine snob), but learning about different grapes and wines over the past three-plus decades has definitely enhanced my enjoyment of them. Before you picture failed actors in shirts and ties serving me megabuck wines in pretentious restaurants, you should know that my favorite restaurants accommodate BYOB -- and at the liquor store I hesitate to pick up wines costing more than $13.75.
When tasting wines you learn to be analytical about their character, so you don't just conclude that you like it, but learn WHY you like it (or don't), and the detailed reasons why it appeals to you. Judging basses and amplifiers requires the same analytical capacity and focus. You can chug a glass of wine, sloppily splashing some on your starched white shirt; but this experience will probably not be pleasant or particularly useful. Unfortunately, I've often seen players judge basses, strings, and amps in the same spirit.
It's worth taking your time to tilt that ear towards the amp and really listen to it — and I mean REALLY listen to it. We can probably come up with some special terms of our own to describe the sound from an amp, just like wines that are judged as earthy. What about texture? Is the amp's sound smooth, meaning studio clean — but in being so, does it take desirable edges and harmonics away that help define the sound as an upright bass? Or is the texture a form of distortion that is not a desirable character? Are the highs glassy and clearly real, or is the top end dull and chopped off, stripping life and accuracy from the notes? Are the lows tight, or is there a flabbiness that hurts the definition and true fundamental of that low E?
Pairing wines with food is a major component of enjoying them; a fantastic wine inappropriately matched with the wrong foods can completely sour the experience. It's the same with basses and amps. When playing in a dense mix, either with lots of instruments crowding the same sonic space as bass, or at higher volumes, we may need some of that rough texture to help define notes and effectively cut through the group sound, just as a dry Gewurztraminer wine can better cope with some spicier foods. But if tasteful trio work resulting in a clearly audible bass is the gig, the most natural acoustic sound can be more desirable.
What I'm suggesting is that we must be scientifically analytical when judging sound, whether we're auditioning a bass or new set of strings, or spending time getting to know an amplifier. And further, just like with wines and food, it's sometimes wise to avoid making immediate "I don't like it!!!!!" judgments that are premature, but instead wait for the "finish," by waiting a little longer for those strings to break in — or hearing how your new amp works with other players.
And so, let us raise our glasses and exclaim, "Life is too short for bad tone!" (and bad wines.)
Having heard of Lindsay Lohan's announcement of dropping her last name a la Cher, I felt it necessary to distinguish myself within the bass world. Due to the many Bobs (at least in my generation) I do find it necessary to make mine unique. Heretofore I will be known as boB, just boB. The difference in pronunciation is subtle; ask me the next time we talk.
from our April Newsletter
New Year's Resolutions for Bass Players
Ok, I took some time off and asked Mark and Christopher to come up with a list of New Year's Resolutions. Yeah, it's a corny tradition, but it might stimulate some thought for plans in 2011. It looks like they made a list of resolutions for us rather than themselves, but there are some good suggestions.
Bob, Mark, and Christopher at Gollihur Music - along with our families and musical friends - wish all of our customers a highly musical new year!
- Practice more - make playing your bass a priority in your life, if it isn't. Even a modest goal - how about every day for at least 20 minutes? Even better, how about resolving to learn a new music piece every week.
- Take good care of your bass - are you minding the humidity and temperature where your bass "lives?" Paying attention to seams, bridge lean, tuner lubrication? Early intervention is key with so many bass problems - that whole "ounce of prevention" theory definitely applies.
- Resolve to not hit the piano player every time he uses his left hand... if you can. (No problem, I never hit the piano player under these circumstances. I throw things.)
- If you don't play with a bow, strongly consider taking it up. It can open new avenues in your playing, and really help you to improve your intonation as well - the nature of pizz tone can "hide" the occasional "pitchy" (who came up with that word?? And when identified, can we throw something at him/her?) note, but the pure, singing notes of arco won't let you get away with it!
- Remember that playing a musical instrument should be FUN - when it becomes a regular "gig", sometimes we lose sight of the enjoyment and wonder which drew us to the bass to begin with. Recapture that!
- Experiment with new genres, even if you don't "like" or "know" them as well.
- Learn a new instrument - and use its differences from the bass to inspire you, and help you to look at how you play music (on bass) from a new perspective.
- Don't forget to DUCK when going through doorways. Your bass pegbox will thank you.
- Support other bassists. Not playing this Friday? Go see a local show to support a fellow player.
- Find your own sound. Play from the heart, rather than trying to emulate the "sounds" of others. The echoes of the masters from whom you've learned will likely be apparent in your own voice, but only you can truly sound like you. Embrace that!
- Buy LOTS and LOTS of bass strings and other accessories from your favorite bass shop, especially if it's us. Stimulate the economy! (Okay, that one is a little "tongue in cheek.")
- Pay it forward. Find ways to encourage other players, especially beginners. Share your love of music with those who are just getting started, so we keep the excitement alive. Inspire new players with your knowledge and passion.
Affirmations can be DeeLuxe
If you phone us (well, me), if you come out with the usual pleasantry of "How are you doing?", you're likely to hear "DeeLuxe" or a similarly positive word. There's a reason for that unusual response, and a definite musical connection.
In the late seventies I was a part of a pretty cool and fun band that did parties and weddings -- yes, the dreaded wedding band. But don't put it down, it was at least 80% made up of college educated, very experienced players, and there were no set lists, no rehearsals, just spontaneous musical fun and challenges. Rick Swallow, on keyboards/trumpet/lead vocals would often just start of song, and we had a split second to figure out the tune and key in and come in. For a particular reason that escapes me right now, we brought in a sax player for a couple gigs. He was introduced to me as "Grub", and he spoke only occasionally, and in a decidedly Tom Waits sort of grunt. And at the conclusion of a particularly good tune or solo, Grub would often nod and quietly growl his approval with a gutteral "DeeLuxe".
I liked that.
Flash forward to my "real life" in the business world, where a drone in management, when asked how he was doing, always muttered a "Bleegh!" or similar negative response. Ok, I admit, I was under the influence of a couple new agey courses, but I decided it was pretty foolish to tell the world, and especially yourself, that you were feeling sucky. Affirmations were the focus at the time-- basically, it's recognizing that you hear and believe what you say about yourself. If you make a mistake and say "stupid!" to yourself, you are calling yourself stupid, which is, in fact, pretty stupid, particularly since you'll eventually start to believe yourself.
It was then I adopted DeeLuxe as my personal attitude, or at least the primary way I would express how I was feeling if somebody said, "How're ya doin'?".
While I have always been a positive and optimistic person, the actual practice of this particular affirmation came in handy in the future. Especially when I lost my job, was diagnosed with cancer and lost my vocal cords, and then lost my next job when that bank was merged into another. I'm not going to pretend that positive thinking was an everyday cure during some of those dark days, but it sure didn't hurt to continue to tell myself I was Definitely Doin' DeeLuxe.
Forgive my detour into positive thinking, but feel free to join me! And understand my motivation if, when you ask how I am doing, I say "DeeLuxe!"
P.S. I bought a 1971 Porsche 911T in 1987, because it was cool, and after it was 16 years old a Porsche was finally within my price range (though I spent the purchase price again on repairs in the next three years - oh well). Getting the D Luxe personalized plate was a must. I had to sell the car (dammit!), but I still have the plates and the positive attitude!
What should you bring to a gig... stuff or attitude?
This blog started off being a discussion of Gig Bags - what you should bring to a gig, but brought to mind another very important thing — What sort of attitude should you bring to a gig?
I don't think I consciously realized the importance of this little tidbit until I was into my second decade of gigging: It is important to leave all your problems behind once you step on stage. While I'm definitely guilty of violating this rule over the years, recent breaches reminded me I need to remember to toe the line.
We could all analyze the many reasons we perform, anything and everything from ego to cash. In my earlier years it was definitely motivated by extra bucks to support my family, but I later realized that it was also a much needed escape. No, it wasn't alcohol or drugs; all but one of my bands from that era had strict rules about that. It was all about being somebody else on the weekend, leaving the demanding "real job" and other responsibilities behind, and releasing your alter ego by performing. Perhaps that's why "jamming" in somebody's basement just doesn't quite fulfill that musical mental health need for me.
If you haven't noticed it yet, true performance, to some degree, is acting. We take off our shirt and tie and jump into our Bass Player Costume, physically and mentally. That's when we have to put the argument we had with our S.O. or the fact that we're two months behind on our truck payment aside, slap on a grin, sway to the music, and merge into being the band.
My personal demon is chronic pain, and I've become more conscious of how it affects my own attitude when playing. Those aches don't seem to inhibit play as much as put Ticked Off closer to the surface. Last week I was in Ticked Off Mode for the first set for a variety of gig-related reasons, but in the second set, second tune, my bass groove helped to transform me into Blues Bass Guy, and the pain and attitude drifted away. It was then I realized I violated my own rule about bringing negative stuff to the gig or allowing problems on the gig to ruin what should be an enjoyable time. It was then I determined I had to be more cognizant of my failure to heed my own advice. So I write this today not just for you, but for my own sake as well.
My original Gig Bag piece about What should you bring to a gig? is now in the Upright Bass FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section. Those physical items and the mental ones above can be equally important.
The Importance of Music in our Schools
I believe that the solid music programs in my elementary and high schools are the only reason I have enjoyed playing music for the last 50+ years (holy smoke!). As I recount on my personal bass page, it was the kind and enthusiastic music teacher, Carmine Guastello, playing violin in my third grade class that struck the spark that still burns inside me. I also must credit my high school band director, Roger Bangert, who offered me many opportunities to further my musical education and interests. Perhaps you were also inspired by a music teacher.
If you have kids in school you are probably aware of just how tight budgets are, and the continuing cuts to the arts programs. It's been bad in the last few years, and getting worse due to the recession. I am concerned that my grandkids will not have the opportunities in school that gave me the priceless gift of music. It's up to us to make sure that the actual price of these programs does not cause school music to become extinct.
There are a number of programs that promote school music, some of which can provide some tools by which you can evaluate your local school's programs. I hope you also feel the need to reinforce the need for solid music and other arts programs in schools.
I mention VH1's Save The Music program on my personal bass page, but there are many other organizations and informational sites. Check out Support Music, MENC's Fund for the Advancement of Music Education, and the the NAMM Foundation.
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