Bass players are the unsung heroes of jam sessions. (Couldn't find an gender-neutral word that worked there....) Tuesday night Kenney did an especially good job of "putting the bottom in the band," as we say. First of all, at his lesson right before the jam, he had played Amazing Grace and Farther Along almost flawlessly. Three-quarter (3/4) time--also called "waltz time" or "boom-chuck-chuck" time--can be tricky because it's so slow. On the bass the notes seem interminable, with large spaces in between. The count is "ONE, two, three; ONE, two, three..." and you play a note only on the "ONE" and there is silence on the "two, three." So, it's easy to lose track on the chord progression. But Kenney is a-gettin' 'er, as we say here.
But at the Tuesday night jam, for whatever reason, we didn't get to either of these songs. Still, Kenney outdid himself on the other songs, which is to say, he played so well we didn't even notice him--high praise for a bass player! (You can see why I was never satisfied being a bass player!) He didn't even bat an eye or make a peep when I chose to sing I Saw The Light in the key of A. (We normally do it in C or G.) When the song was over, I meant to compliment Kenney but I got distracted and forgot. ...continue reading →
Today we'll talk about what may be an unpleasant subject: PRACTICE. While some learners find it easy to play one or two or six or seven hours a day, some can't get the energy or time for 20 minutes. But it's important.
I can talk from my own experience. As I get older it's harder to get up the energy to practice, but sometimes there are special events coming up that make it easy. Right now, I'm practicing mandolin and singing every day, to get ready for a CD which Christopher and I plan to record in a couple of weeks. And you know what? Practice helps, even if you've been playing a long time. I'm playing and singing a whole lot better than I could a month ago. I was pretty rusty, but now I'm getting back into shape.
Is it hard for you to practice? Remember that it's a lot easier to start practicing and sound good after just a day or two off, than it is if you haven't played for a week. That by itself is a good reason to play a little every day-- you'll sound better when you play again. In fact, play every day if you can, even if it's just for 20 minutes. Or 15 minutes. Or 10 minutes. Then when you get a chance to practice for a longer time, it'll be easier to play and sound better!
As I've said before in these pages, 20 minutes a day is better than 2 hours on Saturday. If you go from one weekend to another without practicing in between, it can be hard to even pick up your instrument and play! So even if your schedule is rushed, when you have a few minutes in the morning or evening, play a tune or two. Your fingers will be glad you did.
Yesterday evening I went out to a local weekly jam session. This event started a couple of years ago and has turned into an informal outdoor concert, with a dozen or more pickers and a hundred or so listeners every week. The players are all local folks, and I enjoy playing music with them. But every so often something will happen to make the music hard to play.
When I arrived and joined the session yesterday evening, a person was playing bass and doing well with it. She knew all the songs, and played solidly on the beat. This really helped the jam session hold together.
After about an hour, though, she needed a break, and was replaced by another player. He got through the first number, though a little shakily. Then when a fiddle player kicked off the next tune (Golden Slippers, in G), the bass player started playing his notes on the off-beat, and stayed there.
Now, bass players play their notes on the ON-beat, not the OFF-beat. When a bass player is playing on the off-beat instead (like a mandolin's rhythm), it makes the music sound pretty weird. This time, it seemed as if half the players stayed with the fiddler's rhythm, and the others were wandering a bit between the fiddle and the bass. It was a pretty diffuse sound. I stopped playing after the first few beats of the tune, and decided it was time to pack up and go home.
I applaud all the folks who want to come out and play, but it's better when the bass player just plays on the beat. It's easier for everybody!