Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Getting used to a new bass and more

Hey guys!

Yesterday I excitedly picked up my new bass - a Wood & Tronics Chronos 5. It's a very, very nice instrument and probably the nicest and quickest bass I've played, let alone owned. I'm very pleased with it, even after having it for only 24 hours! It's strange because despite owning 5 string basses before this is the first one which is tuned E-C (no low B string, which is the usual vibe for 5 string basses). This opens up a whole new world of experimentation with chords, soloing and melody, though it's going to take some time to get used to the fact that all my strings have effectively moved up one and the B has disappeared; strange for an experienced bassist to say that I know but it's true!

I didn't know anything about W & T until I stumbled across this in the Bass Gallery in Camden Town here in London. If you're a bassist and you've never been there then get yourself down there - it's an unassuming looking shop on Royal College Street, housing the best of high-end basses, amps, effects units, strings, you name it, they got it. They're also incredibly nice guys and one of the luthiers, Martin Petersen, has been building his signature Sei basses for a long time now. Gorgeous instruments, though I haven't taken the plunge with one yet (I will one day).

Anyway, rambling again. W & T (http://www.wtbasses.net/home.aspx) are an Italian company, and their design and goals give a little nod in the way of Fodera, if you're wondering what angle they're going for. I've not had the fortune of playing a Fodera yet myself but I honestly believe it'd be tough to hear something much better from one, simply because the tone of this is so damn gorgeous. Really cuts through, chords sound crisp and clear, the neck is unbelievably fast and the size of the neck, though comparatively low at 32 inches, is comfortable and snug (though I do have small hands...those that know me know I'm no 6 footer!). Check these guys out - and if you're lucky enough to stumble across a used one, or if you can afford a new one, try them out. This is top notch.

Coincidentally if you follow me on Twitter @caimarlegarcia , you can listen to a rough mix of a new track with the Chronos, with a little solo at the end. Take a listen and tell me what you think. This clip will be going up on my website shortly along with a video review of the bass. I got used to it a little more in preparation for the recording by having a jam with an old mate of mine, who you can also follow on Twitter @quietoutlaw. He's a Twitter fiend and a massive music / jazz buff so follow him for sure!

Enough from me for tonight, bit more practice and then sleep!


Cai x

Sunday, 30 October 2011

More on practice...

Hey y'all...

I thought seeing as I'd started a topic on practice, I'd go into a bit more detail into my current routine. It may not be for everyone and it's important to remember that as with most art-forms there's no right or wrong...what works for some doesn't for others.

For the last 4 or 5 years, I've had certain things be the staple parts of my practice diet, if you like. One of those is what I call my students the 'Spider Exercise', the classic one-finger-per-fret across all strings and in groups of 4 frets all the way up the fretboard. Doesn't matter if you're 8 or 28 (though I'm 3 years shy of that...), this exercise will get you nice and warmed up for some more musically-inspiring practice. Next, is running through the first couple of parts of the Hanon piano exercises book. You can grab this off of Amazon for a few dollars / pounds, and is a series of scale exercises running through different patterns. I tend to pick a few different key centres around the bass to test my fingers with larger and smaller spacings. For example, the first 20 or 30 exercises are all based around a C major scale. I'll run through these in a combination of a G maj scale (3rd fret E string G) and an E major scale (12th fret E string E). Again, doing this pretty much every day is all about increasing dexterity, comfortability around the fretboard and that all important muscle memory. Remember, pretty much every awesome thing that you hear in music, be it a lick, bassline or 160bpm solo, is based on a scale or a collection of scales.

I'll run through a combination of major, melodic and harmonic minor modes. If you're not sure what these are, check them out. If you've ever wondered what the hell some killing cat is playing or how they're playing it, it's a combination of chops and a vast vocabulary gained from extensive knowledge from listening, transcribing and getting their theory down. Modes fall into this category - and don't stop at major modes. Melodic minor modes are the gateway to interesting phrases and soloing!

Next I'll focus on a specific song. Usually a bassline, melody, solo, passage or phrase will have pricked my ears up and I'll have the urge to find out not just HOW to play what I've heard but WHY. If you can work out the why, then you can use the idea in your own context and put your own slant on it. If you only have the how, then you have an idea that isn't relevant to any other piece of music or moment than from where you first heard it, making it pretty much useless except as something to boost your own ego or impress others. Which can sometimes be handy, but that's not the point!

As I said in my very recent blog post, I've been revisiting John Coltrane's solo in 'Moment's Notice'. It's not a bassline, obviously, but many trail-blazers over recent decades have shown that we shouldn't think of ourselves as rooted to the instrument that we play, but as MUSICIANS. Calling myself a bassist is accurate of course but doesn't cover my composing, arranging, or transcribing infuriating-but-legendary saxophone solos. As a bassist I have specific roles and duties at specific times but it doesn't mean I shouldn't be totally prepared for and aware of everything else that's happening around me. Download this and run it through Transcribe or Robick (for iPhone / iPad users), and try and work out some of his solo. It doesn't matter if you don't dig the music, but your skill on the bass will improve because you'll be playing in ways you never thought likely on the instrument.

Other solos I've been working on recently have included a few of Hadrien Feraud's monstrous solos. This guy is a phenomenal player and his harmonic understanding is almost completely unrivalled. Try running 'Natural', 'Rumeurs' or for a more melodic solo, 'Shall we love?' through Transcribe.

Anyway enough rambling from me - have some structure to your shedding sessions, and have your bedrock of material you visit every day - it'll help with your rudiments and prepare you for whatever new challenges you throw yourself into.


Cai x

Let's get back on the horse...

Hey all!

So, it's been a really long time since I've posted on here. I've been using Twitter / Facebook continuously and it suits my musings / happenings as they usually happen in short bursts! 2011 has been a strange year so far, taking a break from my own fusion-orientated music and working on pop gigs and sessions, aside from doing lots of writing.
However, recently I've got the bug again, and have been writing and getting my chops back into shape for my newest fusion tunes and upcoming rehearsals. I'm very excited about the new direction of some of the tunes, and am generally in a better state of mind than I have been for a while.

It's funny how not being 'in the zone' to shed for hours and hours can put you off-track at times and as my man Janek Gwizdala details more eloquently over on his page and blog, it's hard to know what to focus on when practicing or writing when there always seems like there's so much to cover. Recently it's been specific solos (sax and guitar as well as bass) to help push my vocabulary and keep pushing my technical level further. One specific solo I came back to over the last week or so has been Coltrane's on 'Moment's Notice'. It doesn't matter what style you play, or the ability you're at, working out and playing through something like this will improve your vocab and skill immeasurably. As I always say to my students, speed isn't important when practicing. Clarity and playing clean is the goal. 

I'll be updating this more regularly from now on, though do follow me on Twitter to be right up-to-date. I'll be heading to Bass Day U.K. next week so stay tuned and follow me on 'caimarlegarcia' to get my thoughts on the day and checking out as much gear as possible. Tomorrow I'm picking up a new bass - so expect my next blog entry to follow this one very closely, and excitedly!

Now go download 'Moment's Notice' from iTunes, and 'Transcribe' (or 'Robick' for iPhone / iPad users). Slow it down, work out Trane's solo and reap the rewards. 


Cai x