Saturday, 10 December 2011

TMBG - Lesson 3: A Student's Perspective

Lesson 3 starts with some information on playing with a pick.

Roy gives a rudimentary lesson in the basics of choosing a pick that’s right for you, and the “studio grip” way of holding it. Then he puts the pick in motion with some drills in quarter notes and eighth notes.

He also talks a bit about why it’s even important to know HOW to play with a pick, as opposed to simply using the finger method. If a person is going to be a well-rounded bass player, it’s necessary to have a variety of playing techniques under your belt. If you are planning to become a studio musician, it makes you more useful to bands seeking a bass player. Be as valuable as you can be.

The lesson then progresses into the business of eighth notes. Roy’s simple visual is to tap his foot and count off beats each time his foot hits the floor. 1-2-3-4. These are the quarter notes in 4/4 time. With eighth notes, he has the student say “and” between each foot-tap…in other words, your foot hits the floor on 1-2-3-4, and when you lift your foot between those beats, you say “and” as you count an in-between note. Thus, you get eight! It’s a pretty easy way for beginners to learn how to keep time and understand the structure of these faster notes.

Then it’s a review of whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes as they appear on sheet music, and the use of the tie to create the same sound using the different note values.

Four quarter notes sounds the same as eight eighth notes tied together in pairs, and so on.

As you go through this section, you start asking yourself, “Why do I need to know more than one way to write notes, since they all sound the same to the ear?

You’ll learn why when Roy moves from these simple, straight forward patterns into the more involved dotted notes. It’s at this point in the course when you start to realise the importance of being able to read sheet music. Honing your rhythmic chops on the bass is paramount, but a solid understanding of the fundamentals of what it looks like on paper is going to be the foundation of your ability to play whatever comes your way.

In this section, I slowed down considerably, because reading sheet music is a weak spot for me. Doing the drills for dotted notes is going to take some effort for a novice, especially if you’re following along with the foot-tapping system! But once you learn the feel, and the mathematics of it are in your head, you can go back to the groove of the whole thing…but now, when you play the notes, you can see the sheet music in your head. Nice. This is one of the beautiful things about TMBG. No rush, no pressure. Just do what you can. Confidence comes as you start to grasp each concept in your own way. I call them “Lightbulb Moments” - those weird, special little Aha sparks that go off when you finally “get it” and start to make it your own.

After the foot tapping drills, we are introduced to Jason, one of Roy’s students. This is a great feature of the course. Being introduced to a fellow student and watching him go through his paces makes the TMBG student feel at ease about any clumsiness or confusion they may be experiencing. It’s the real pat on the back in terms of reminding us that we are new at this and that it’s okay to go slowly on our bass journey!

Roy explains and then has Jason play some triads, in major, minor, augmented, and diminished form. It’s a wonderful lesson in learning the variants of the basic triad - the student hears how the entire sound of a piece of music can be enriched through these single-fret changes. Learning triads opens up the fretboard to all sorts of new possibilities, and, if you’re like me, you start hearing familiar songs in your head and get to feeling a bit itchy to get out there and try them.

One thing I did at this point was to start finding my triads all over the fretboard, and then trying the minor, diminished, and augmented variations - then I drew them all up on charts to keep handy as I practiced. I’m a big chart maker. I love posting index cards all over the walls. Everywhere I look is a lesson.

Once Jason leaves, Roy takes us into the Rockin’ Blues tutorial, and you start to get excited, because you know you’ll soon be playing again with the TMBG Band! Get out your pick and get ready! Once again, the band plays once with and without Roy…and you can choose a slow or a faster tempo as you progress.

The last tutorial of the lesson is called “Improv: You Play It.” Not only does this intense little workout give you an opportunity to take your new skills to the studio, but it also encourages you to start thinking about creating your own sounds within the framework. While the TMBG Band lays down the backing track, you can improvise the bassline! The song has kind of a Doors feel to it, and it’s great fun to play.

I spent a lot of time with this improv thing. So many possibilities, so little…um…no…that’s not right. So many possibilities, all the time in the world to make them happen!

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