Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Refining your sound.(ADVANCED).

ShopPBS.OrgSubscribe to USA TODAY.

ArabicChinese (Simplified)Chinese (Traditional)DeutchEspanolFrenchItalianJapaneseKoreanPortugueseRussian

Wal-Mart.com USA, LLC


THE FIRST STEP IN DEVELOPING A SOUND OF your own is an act of imagination: What is your sound? You might want to listen intently to your favorite bass players, focusing analytically on their tone and articulation. You might also profit from listening to players of other instruments; I think I've learned the most from singers. But in the end you'll need to be able to use what you've observed about sound to imagine your own, distinctive sound. You'll then begin to realize it, in ways both conscious and unconscious. You can't move toward achieving your sound without a sense of what it is. Progress toward the sound you hear is incremental. It's a life's work, but it's fascinating, gratifying labor. I'd like to share some of what I've learned over the years.


While it's paradoxical that a pick (and in my case, a very hard pick made of copper) can produce a warm, singing tone, I noticed that Jim Hall was able to do it on guitar, and reasoned that I ought to be able to do the same on bass. I looked carefully at his right hand and imitated it. I've also looked at the picking hands of many of my other favorite guitarists, among them Mick Goodrick, John Scofield, and Pat Metheny.

My primary stroke is up, not down; I think this instinctually resulted from my experience as an acoustic bass player. The upstroke mimics plucking an acoustic bass string with the index finger. There is a practical limit to the intensity with which you should strike a string with a pick, and this limit falls below what is physically possible. It's counterproductive to pick as hard as you can; beyond a certain degree of force you're causing distortion and actually weakening your signal. You need to discover the precise point at which this occurs, and then develop the discipline not to cross that line. This is something learned on the gig, as the heat of battle tends to produce fits of physical excess.

Given this limit, it's necessary to learn to play as softly as possible, in order to achieve the greatest dynamic range. This is not as easy as it might seem, and the kind of restraint and delicacy it requires is learned as much away from the practice room as in it.

Use Ex. 1 to develop your sense of dynamics, and try extending the number of notes in this exercise. See how many gradations between fortisissimo and pianisissimo you can achieve. The key to widening dynamic range, and thus expanding your range of expression, lies in practicing slowly, and carefully observing what your hands are up to. Take it easy.

Compare the sound of the upstroke and the downstroke--the goal is to make them similar (see Ex. 2). When you execute an upstroke you may be attacking and releasing the string from different angles--and with differing intensity--than with your downstroke. Again, play slow; the faster you play the less you'll learn about tone.

When you pick, notice that your forearm rotates; look also at your thumb and index fingers, as their controlled motion during each stroke has a lot to do with generating tone. They influence the angle and the intensity with which the pick touches and releases the string. You need also to examine where along the string's length you're picking. There's a tendency to pick where the arm most naturally falls, but this position may not produce the tone you want. As I've moved closer to the sound I hear, my right hand has migrated away from the bridge; I'm presently lacerating the high end of my fingerboard with every stroke.


The left hand influences a note throughout its duration. To my ears, Percy Heath has the most delicately calibrated sustain and release of any bassist; I've spent days on end marveling at how he controls the envelope of every note, and the tiny sliver of silence between each of them. To achieve this kind of control, you'll have to focus intensely on the left hand.

It's best to practice long tones, like a horn player would (Ex. 3). When I was in my early 20s and playing with Jim Hall, I would often chat nervously with him before the gig, as he sat with his guitar. His responses to my comments were sometimes faltering and distracted; it took me months to realize that he was warming up, but doing it so slowly that it wasn't readily evident he was playing at all.

An effective way to develop your tone production is to play a single note with as much deliberation as possible, as in Ex. 4. When you do this, you'll notice that once the right hand has set the string in motion, its work is done, and you'll want to pay attention to the role of the left hand in sustaining and shaping the note. How's your vibrato? Vibrato is crucial to developing an individual sound.


As you play, examine what's happening with your upper arms, shoulders, back, the base of the spine, and even your legs and feet. (To fully grasp the implications of this, look into the principles of Kundalini yoga.) Your whole body contributes to your sound. I generally get a better sound when I'm standing up. Miles Davis advocated bending the knees and placing weight on the balls of the feet, but Sonny Rollins gets a massive sound planted on his heels. Go figure.

Also, your breathing is terribly important. A significant result of well-modulated breathing is efficient oxygenation of your muscles, which allows them to work well and avoid cramping. Regular, deep breathing is also essential to the calm, centered state you'll need to be in to play well, and to enjoy doing it.


Source Citation
Friedland, Ed. "Refining your sound." Bass Player Dec. 2010: S62+. General OneFile. Web. 7 Dec. 2010.
Document URL

Gale Document Number:A241356682

ArabicChinese (Simplified)Chinese (Traditional)DeutchEspanolFrenchItalianJapaneseKoreanPortugueseRussian
Personalized MY M&M'S® Candies(Web-Page) http://writers2008.googlepages.com/home46% off Bestsellers at booksamillion.comEmail: leonard.wilson2009@hotmail.com
(Album / Profile) http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=10035&id=1661531726&l=f3f19215d0Shop the Official Coca-Cola Store!Email: leonard.wilson2009@hotmail.com

No comments: