Archive for the ‘Practice ideas’ Category

KMEA Jazz Audition Tutorial

September 17, 2017

Hey, High School bass nerds – here’s my tutorial for winning the KMEA jazz audition this year: Click me!

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KMEA Jazz Bass Audition Tutorial 2017

September 2, 2017

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Lesson with Ken Walker

January 6, 2017

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I’ve wanted to have a lesson with Ken Walker for years, ever since a friend called him “the Ray Brown of Denver.” Ken has played with so many top jazz players that I hesitate to name some, because I don’t want to exclude the others. He teaches at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver; his bio can be found on their site: http://www.du.edu/ahss/lamont/faculty-staff/faculty/walker-ken.html

We began by talking about how he got into the business. He proudly talked about his on-the-job training in supper clubs in Little Rock and Hot Springs, Arkansas, backing up traveling artists six nights a week. He stressed being able to learn tunes on the gig – being expected to play after hearing it once through.

Sound/Right Hand Technique

Ken wanted to hear me walk the blues – then he quickly borrowed my bass to show me how it’s done. He got twice as much sound and drive as I had. “I try to get as much sound out as possible.” “Pull down toward the fingerboard at a 45 degree angle.” “Your fingers end up on the next string.” “I want to hear the attack… that’s the edge of the knife of your sound… it helps your sound cut through.” (in contrast, I was often just brushing over the top of the string rather than digging in.)

He uses the index and middle fingers together on medium tempo, alternating them when it’s faster. If the tempo allows, he pulls from the right elbow, using the whole arm, not just his fingers. I could see his whole body involved. “If I’m using my whole arm, I’m not really moving my fingers.” “The faster it goes, then it becomes more in the fingers and the wrist.” “I think of it like bouncing a basketball.”

“Another thing is: I like to keep my hand within a couple inches (from the end of the fingerboard).” (I had committed the sin of allowing my right hand to creep up away from the bridge). “You make yourself work harder up here (away from the bridge).”

Ken stressed how the sound comes from the instrument and not the amp. “The amp is not your sound, it just makes you louder.”

His string height was lower than what you might expect for how much sound he got. Ken once had the opportunity to play Ray Brown’s bass; he told me that Brown’s action was similarly not high. He uses Rufus Reid’s specifications for string height –  G string – 1/4 inch, D string – 3/8 inch, A string, 3/8 inch, E string – 7/16. (Reid, 3)

Groove and Style

He recommends legato playing – “one note doesn’t end until the next one starts.” This means being aware of how long you are holding notes, as well as the shifts between them.  “It doesn’t matter the tempo, always move the left hand fast.” (I.e. don’t have lazy shifts on ballads.)

Ken talked about the importance of adapting to musicians who play on different parts of the beat, and finding solutions that work. E.g., he mentioned listening to Woody Shaw play “Misterioso” (Shaw, “Misterioso”) – Stafford James is playing way behind the beat. When he tried to imitate that, it didn’t work. “I always listen to the ride cymbal.”

Concepts and Practice for Building Bass Lines and Solos

I was struck by how there was a rhythmic context for everything he wants his students to practice. Here’s what he showed me:

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You can download this as a .pdf here: lesson-with-ken-walker

  1. Arpeggio practice, starting on each chord member (See example 1).
  2. Targeting/approaches. Ken teaches practicing simple, rhythmic licks that end on a chord tone (he uses the third as an example) on the “and” of 4 (Ex. 2). It doesn’t matter whether the approaching notes are in the key or not, since “the last note justifies what you played, whether it’s inside or outside.” To prove this, he played some examples of “outside” playing that ended beautifully on a chord tone.
  3. Using limitations to spur creativity:
    1. Soloing in a limited range, e.g. play a solo using only notes within a span of a perfect fifth. “You start playing in a more melodic way… and more rhythmically.” ‘It’s about finding a way to get students to stop thinking about notes.” On this point, Ken cited the etudes throughout Michael Moore’s Method (Moore, passim) that are limited to one position, and also Jerry Bergonzi’s material on http://jazzheaven.com/
    2. •Rhythmic limitations. This is an idea he got from an IAJE Clinic: improvise a solo using only dotted quarter notes, or dotted half-notes, “forcing yourself into a box and seeing if you can be creative with that.”

Transcription

Ken assigns two transcriptions per academic quarter. He usually has beginning students transcribe selections from the album Leroy Walks! by Leroy Vinnegar. Students then progress to Ray Brown and Paul Chambers and beyond.

On Taste

I’ll never forget what Ken told me about rhythm in solos when he quoted Dizzy Gillespie: “I hear rhythms, mostly, and then I put notes to them.” When he solos, Ken will start with a rhythmic motive and develop it: “I like to develop ideas. It’s not about a lot of notes, it’s about what you’re trying to say. Playing a lot of notes is like somebody who just talks and talks and they don’t really say anything. Make a statement and embellish that statement.” “A rest is just as valid an idea as a note.”

This all ties in with his advice about keeping your musical priorities straight. “Fundamentals are what get a bass player hired.”

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Works cited:

Bergonzi, Jerry. “Saxophone Mastery.” How to Play Jazz Lessons & Jazz Improvisation Videos with the Greats. Fawi, Inc., n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.

Michael Moore, The Michael Moore bass Method, Rottenburg: Advance Music, 2007. Print.

Reid, Rufus. Evolving upward: an aid in developing thumb position technique for the double bass. Teaneck, NJ: Myriad Ltd., 1977. Print.

Shaw, Woody, Steve Turre, Mulgrew Miller, Stafford James, Tony Reedus, and Bobby Hutcherson. Master of the Art. Wounded Bird Records, 2009. CD.

Leroy Vinnegar, Leroy Walks!, Contemporary, 1992, CD.

Daily Jazz Scales and Arpeggios

January 5, 2017

I knew that if I was going to take lessons, I would have to be in shape. That means scales and arpeggios. So I made a rule that I would practice them an hour every day. Here’s how I did them:

I concentrated on one key a day, going around the circle of fifths, first with major, then with it’s relative minor: i.e. C major, A minor, F major, D minor, B flat major, G minor, etc. A metronome or drum machine was usually going – varied tempos – and I often used a reference tone for intonation.

Arpeggios – I did fifteen minutes each of tonic triads and dominant sevenths with straight (example 1) and mixed (examples 2 – 4) rhythms. Examples 3 and 4 are especially good to do with the bow. I also did progressions of diatonic triads and sevenths (examples 5 and 6).

Scales – fifteen minutes each of tonic and dominant.

To make it relevant to jazz soloing, I decided to concentrate on eighth-note bebop scales, (examples 7 and 8). But instead of starting and ending on beats (square), I added notes – a chromatic leading note at the beginning and an extra chord tone at the end – so that each phrase starts and ends on off-beats (hip). I did these beginning on each chord tone (examples 9 and 10).

Yes, I did this every day, going between upright (bowed and pizz) and electric, starting slowly (for tone and intonation) and not getting really fast until the end of the session.

Since we’re on the topic of daily practice, I’m also continuing the rule of recording myself every day without fail. This has been the most helpful feedback ever! Do this!

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You can download this as a .pdf here: jazz-scales-and-arps-for-blog

KMEA Jazz Bass Audition Tutorial

August 28, 2016

Hey, all,

This is for Kansas High School bass players. Just stopping by to upload a video I made. Check it out if you’re auditioning for District or State Jazz Band: https://youtu.be/5Uk1DYJ8ddU

M

KMEA State Orchestra Audition Stuff 2013

September 23, 2013

This is for all Kansas High School bassists auditioning for Regional/State Orchestra this year. I made a video of all the 2013 bass audition stuff. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5La_xsY-xnQ.

A fully fingered and bowed part is here: KMEA.Bass.Aud.2013.

These are professional-grade excerpts; I’ve had to prepare these for many full-time orchestra auditions. Most important, though, are the scales. Make sure to practice them a lot; the scales are the first thing the committee will hear. Keep the tempo steady and the tone beautiful. Let me know if you have any questions.

Happy auditioning!

M

Electric Bass Two-Octave Scale and Arpeggio Workout

September 19, 2013

Electric Bass Two-Octave Scale and Arpeggio Workout

Hi, all,

I know its been a while – sorry I left this thing alone so long. I’ve been getting requests from students, though, so its time to resurrect the bass blog.

Here’s a two-octave scale and arpeggio workout. The fingerings are designed for solid positioning and minimal tension-inducing stretching – follow them exactly. Do them slowly for accuracy, then build speed.

For beast-mode practice: it ends with a key change; at this point, play the entire thing transposed to F major. Keep repeating, adding a flat to the key signature each time until you’ve played all twelve keys.

ElecBass2OctScale

Motivation

February 10, 2009

Do you sometimes have a hard time getting motivated to practice? Let’s look at what motivates you.

There are two types of motivation: extrinsic (from without) and intrinsic (from within). Both are important, but sometimes extrinsic motivations (your teacher, an upcoming audition, competition, a practice goal, your mom) can be associated with pain, fear, and self-loathing (What if I lose? What if I fail? Will my mom still be proud of me? etc…).

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is completely painless; it comes only from the love of doing. The great thing is that we all have it to begin with and it is always there deep within us. Intrinsic motivation is associated with our personal identity. So, listen to that quiet inner voice saying things such as: I like being a bass player. I love it when I feel the low notes go through my body. The music that I make is unique and totally mine. I like the challenge of working out the details of how to play. Being in a band is cool.

Have a happy practice…

String Crossing Exercise

January 8, 2009

This one is for string crossings. Jeff Bradetich teaches this down in Texas. The more you use the finger and hand joints, the less you have to rely on slower big arm motion. Therefore, do this one FAST!

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The interval exercise

December 22, 2008

Here’s a way to get to know your keys and your fingerboard. Play the first and third notes of a scale in one position. Do it slowly and slurred so that you use the whole bow. Shift and play the second and fourth notes, etc. Do this ascending and descending to nail down all those thirds and straighten out your hand position.blogex6a1

You’re not done yet. Play the whole thing again, but this time execute each third on the same string, so that you’re practising your shifts.

But that’s just thirds. Do the same thing with fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, and octaves, first within the hand position and then with shifts on the same string. After about an hour of this you’ll feel like an intonation ninja.

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