Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Latest on the Acoustic Bass

Just when I had convinced myself that I shouldn't buy an acoustic bass...

So I'm headed to Oshkosh this weekend for a gig. There's a guy in Appleton selling a Breedlove ABJ250 SM4 bass for $400. It is a nice instrument. Discontinued. We'll call it an intermediate level instrument, that gets good reviews for volume (not as good as say a Thunderchief, but better than the Dean EAB). They sell for between $400 and $800. Elderly instruments (a totally respectable dealer...they don't carry crap) sells them when they find them...for about $525.

It is probably the best acoustic bass at the best price that I will be able to find. It is also totally unneccessary as a purchase. I have no idea what is going to happen on Saturday.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fundamentals Week 8

This week is 12/8 (and other compound time signatures) and flams. The assignment is shorter than in recent weeks and more improvisational, though the etude is a little tricky. This week shouldn't be quite as stressful as other recent weeks.

Only four weeks left after this week.
Week 9, Afro-Cuban 6/8: Afro Blue
Week 10, Jazz Shuffle: Things Ain’t What they used to be
Week 11, Swinging: April in Paris
Week 12, Cha Cha: Naima

None of these are styles that I am familiar with and I suspect I will be frustrated from here on out.

I was thinking this weekend that it may not be in the cards for me to be a certain kind of drummer...and that maybe I ought to focus on improving what I CAN do and what I could potentially be good at. Something I think that might be a really good idea is just nailing down my sense of time. I've realized that I used to think that I keep good time...but I don't. I don't have a strong internal pulse. Working with a metronome more would probably be a really good particular...starting an exercise or song by playing with the click...then turning the click off maybe with a foot...and trying to keep the pulse...then turn the click back on and see if I stayed with it. It's such a simple thing...but really a great skill to have.

I've also been playing along with some Pixies tunes and would like to nail down being able to play those songs. They aren't hard but there are challenging things in them that I'd like to master. Trompe le Monde is a song that really challenges me and I think truly learning to play it would be an attainable and useful exercise.

Anyway...I'd just like to get back to enjoying playing rather than having it make me feel bad. After this class is over I was to think about where to go next and maybe trying to get back to playing for fun and just getting better at what I already can do. It would be nice, for instance, to gain confidence playing The Drain songs.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Uke Bass

Now available in Madison...going to check it out!

It's REALLY quiet though.

Went and tried this out. It sucks. At least unplugged. Really weird. I think that they probably sound good plugged in...but cost over $400...and what is the point really if you have to haul along an amp anyway.

Resonator Basses and other research

So here's an idea...a resonator bass. A dobro. Great video

There seems to be two main brands...Gold Tone Paul Beard Bass and Regal Dobro Bass. The Regal is cheaper (around $500 to the PBB's $700 or so)

These things are made to cut through in bluegrass seems like they could handle two acoustic guitar players.

I also spent some time today looking into the feasibility of tuning my cello like a bass...but sounds like a pain. Also...not sure the volume would be that great there either if played pizzacato.

There's a Breedlove acoustic bass ABJ250/SM4 for sale on Craig's list in Appleton for $400. I was leaning towards getting it...but now I think this Dobro idea might be a better one.

Other research today...looked up "loudest acoustic basses." Came back with
Guild B2
Tacoma Thunderchief
Earthwood (used in Violent Femmes)
and some Taylor and Martin varieties.

All of these are expensive (like much more than $1,000) and all are rare. No can do.

Also suggested was guitarron...which is used in mariachi music. But they are six strings and tuned ADGCEA. Also run $450 on cheapest end. It would be like learning a new instrument and they seem to be quite hard to play (high action, no frets).

The Dobro bass option is in a reasonable cost range at around $500 and seems to be designed especially for being heard in group playing situations. So I'm gonna keep an eye out. Also kind of rare...but you can get them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fundamentals Week 7

We're on the home stretch now. This week is half time shuffle (and also paradiddles) and the assignment is Rosanna by Toto:

I can play the song. I can't play the song AS WRITTEN...but if you asked me to play it on stage at High Noon ten minutes from now I could do it kinda. I'm having a little trouble both with playing the hi hat as fast as I'm supposed to, keeping it up for 9+ pages, and getting it along with the bass drum. Bass drum + snare I can play pretty much correctly.

There's an etude which I'm totally going to not play right and I kind of don't care.

For sure my attitude has shifted on the course...probably for the worse in terms of playing well...but probably for the better in mental health terms. I'm still doing the work...but trying not to take it so hard that I'm not at a certain level. I'm where I am...and that's the only place I can be.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Acoustic Drums

SSW tried playing acoustic last night for the first time. It went surprisingly well. No vocal mics...the only amplification was a very quiet bass amp uses with a fretless bass for KS.

I stripped my kit down to snare, hi hat, splash, and bass drum. Added chimes, tamborine, cowbell (didn't use it), baby bongos, egg shaker, and maracas. The maracas didn't work so well so I'll probably ditch them and the cowbell may be unneccessary. I tried playing with brushes, hot rods, and 7A sticks. In general it seemed best to cross stick as much as possible...or play on the edges of the snare to get that hi quiet Carribean sound. The splash was really I think it needs to be used less often than I normally crash. I really had to pull back on the sticks and it threw my balance off...which made my bass drum unsteady. I was planned to play a 16" bass at the show...but I think I'll use the 22". It helps keep things grounded and isn't overwhelmingly loud (though more prominent than usual). The boys made out like using brushes was no big deal and the way to go. But this really isn't brush music and I don't really know how to use brushes. They worked really well on one song only...Too Drunk to Fuck...which I converted to a train shuffle with brushes. I think I'll go with hot rods mostly used quietly and cross sticked as much as I can get away with. I might buy a thinner pair to get even quieter too. Note to self...egg shaker worked great on Stooges medley. less and more simply. Drop the complicated bass patterns. Drop most crash/splashes. Simple.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

More on Acoustic Basses

Since I was in the neighborhood and had 10 minutes, I stopped at Guitar Center yesterday to see what they had in acoustic basses. I was surprised that they had several.

Ibanez AEB5 cutaway ($199)
Dean EAB cutaway ($199)
Dean Exotica ($499)
Washburn AB 4 string (slots rather than a proper sound hole). Don't remember the cost...but it was probably $499 as I don't remember any priced higher than that. The Guitar Center website doesn't list the bass that I saw. Maybe an old model.

I feel like there was one more too but I can't think of what...perhaps it was a second Ibanez AEB10 cutaway at about $349-$499. Don't remember.

I was ill prepared and in a rush, so the testing was minimal. Played riff of I Bleed, Here Comes Your Man, and Is She Weird on each one. Forgot a pick and didn't have time to ask to borrow one. For sure these instruments require playing with a pick to get any serious volume(which means practicing with a pick too). I didn't try plugging any of them in.

My impression is that none of them were great projection wise. The cheap Dean has the biggest body of all of them (which would seem a plus) but this didn't seem to help the volume. I want to test a non-cutaway and see if that extra body space helps.

The Washburn was volume at all. And I thought it was ugly.

The Ibanez's didn't blow me away and I didn't hate them.

The Dean Exotica is a really nice looking instrument. Unique and different than the standard black acoustic bass. I don't think the sound was $300 better than the basic Dean though. And the fingerboard was different...and I'm not sure in a good way.

The scales felt a little different between instruments and I should check that.

I also get the feeling that the kind and age of strings could make a significant contribution. I prefer a dull deep tone...but a bright tone will be louder and cut through new strings (perhaps a certain kind or gauge made for brightness) may be in order.

In general they were all set up well...playable without much if any buzz. A good setup will be key too and maybe a reason to buy at a bricks and mortor store (I'm sure Guitar Center could order me any thing the company carries even if they don't normally have it in stock).

I'd like to go somewhere and play a nicer instrument and see if it makes any difference at all. I should call Spruce Tree and see if they have any.

Monday, February 13, 2012

An Acoustic-Electric Bass

So many, many years many years ago I can't even remember...I nearly bought an acoustic-electric bass. I was long before Ye Olde Motor Primitives...MAYBE even before Wyrd Tuesday. It must have been after quitting grad school though...when I was really into collecting and teaching myself to play new stringed instruments. I don't even know how I got the person's contact because this was before the ad in the paper? Who knows? But I remember distinctly going to a person's apartment to test out an acoustic-electric bass and being THIS CLOSE to buying it and then deciding that I had no idea what I was looking for and could easily be ripped off. Also, I think it buzzed...which I know now isn't surprising, but might or might not have been fixable.

Everything old is new again...and I find myself interested again. Sometime after that first time I decided that acoustic-electric basses were pointless because you had to amplify them to really hear them...and what's the point of that. But some of the bands are looking at unplugged sets coming in the next year...and...well.

I know that a cheap instrument is a cheap instrument and probably not worth the money. I also know that every instrument I own is cheap and they've all taken me as far as I've wanted to go.

If I'm not mistaken, for Newport Kim Deal used a Godin...probably an A4. That's just way out of my price range...and possibly designed with amplification in mind. I'm talking about a 100% unplugged show with full band.

KS recommends a Guild...but jesus those don't even seem to be for sale at any major retailer...and that tells me they will be 1)hard to find and 2)expensive.

No...I'm probably looking at a Dean EAB or similiar. I recognize this is a shit instrument...but for the price (about $150...just stupid cheap) it seems to get pretty good reviews. I think it would be smartest to try one out in a store with one or both of my guitar players in tow. We should all three play together and see if you can hear the bass at all. I'll probably have to use a pick all the time. If I bought it at a brick and mortar store I could have them set it up for me assure no buzzes and best action possible of the piece of shit.

So begins the research anyway...

Fundamentals Week Six

This week is samba...which it turns out bossa nova is a variety of even though we treated it separately. It'll be another rough week...though maybe not as bad as I thought. For some reason the variations in the lesson seem more intuitive to me than I'd expected. We'll see.

While I think this course was valuable, I don't think that I'm putting enough time into it to get as much out of it as I might. And I feel myself starting to hate it a little bit and hoping for the day when it will be over. So it was an interesting experiment, but I think it is just too hard on me emotionally.

I'm not sure how I get into a daily practice that is sustainable. It is very much like exercise of any know it is good for you but you have a hard time motivating to do it. And the less you do it the less able you feel to do it...and so on.

I want to advance my skills and to be respected. But at the end of the really just needs to be fun...right? I mean no one gives a shit that I'm doing's supposed to be for fun. What a wonderful thing it would be to actually have fun with no judgements on if I was good enough or not? Pixies gets close to that (minus vocals anyway) and this is why I love it so...but it is also why I discount it as "too easy".

I'm pretty much inconsolable and the architect of my own misery.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Album Tunes Left for Band to Learn

1. All Over The World
2. The Happening
3. Hang Wire
4. Stormy Weather
5. Havalina
6. Lovely Day
7. Motorway to Roswell
8. Navajo Know

Left to get Bass Tab for

1. Lovely Day…have guitar chords...ALBUM SONG
2. Rock a My Soul…have guitar chords...ON OUR LIST
3. Santo…have guitar chords...ON OUR LIST
4. I Can't Forget (Leonard Cohen) …have guitar chords...RICK LIKES
5. Wild Honey Pie (Beatles)…think this is almost done

6. Evil Hearted You (Yardbirds) …have guitar chords
7. Hang on to Your Ego (Beach Boys) …have guitar chords
8. I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young) …have guitar chords
9. Boom Chicka Boom…just recently got guitar chords
10. Bam Thwok…have guitar chords
11. Make Believe…have guitar chords

12. Born in Chicago (Paul Butterfield Blues Band)…blues song

13. Theme from Narc…I got nothing
14. Ain't That Pretty at All (Warren Zevon)…I got nothing...I KIND OF WANT TO LEARN

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stirrings and Change

I feel like CJ is on the cusp of something. It is strangely random.

A year ago today we'd been a band for less than a year and we decided to take on the challenge of playing a Halloween gig as the Flaming Lips. I won't say that this was a mistep because the experience was useful, but it certainly distracted us and exhausted us. We cared too much how it went and maybe worked too hard on it. We started out with high expectations and had to make too many compromises. After the dust cleared I was kind of worried that we might lose our drummer...and that maybe all of us were just a little too exhausted or depressed or SOMETHING to carry on. The future seemed really unclear and shakey.

But we took a little time to rest (just a few weeks, but what a difference that makes)...then a little time to learn new tunes (again, really only about a month of this). And the learning of new tunes went surprisingly well. We've added Silver, D=RxT, Space I Believe In, In Heaven, Wave UK, Ana, Blown Away, and Bird Dream since Halloween...all but one of them since Jan 1st. And now the finish line of finishing the complete catalog is in's a little ways away yet...but you can make it out for sure. It is buoying.

Enter Martin Atkins.

Such a random thing. We HAPPENED to hear about the coaching session. We went on a whim. We intended to talk Drain but got sidetracked talking about CJ. half hour conversation with one person got us:
1. To decide to print swag...then buy the equipment and start to learn to use it...and to start working on designs.
2. To make a contact for a show in Chicago...and another potential contact for Milwaukee.
3. To start thinking like we were headed somewhere.

Martin is a hell of a guy and he actually followed up with us to tell us to get our asses in gear on the Chicago gig. What a shock. And so now we've been promised a Chicago show at a really nice venue...just waiting on a date (probably a long time off because of how far in advance they book, but promised/pending all the same). Meanwhile...we've got a show every month for the next three...all are on weekends...two are headlining with 2 set gigs...and one is a benefit at HNS.

The feeling today is much different than the feeling that I had on November 1, 2011. It's a total turnaround. I hope that we can sustain this. Learn the rest of the songs. Start playing outside Madison on a regular basis (once every three shows perhaps?). Make and sell swag. Be a respectable band. Get Albertonied for crissakes. MAMMA-fy us bitches. And then stick with it for a while (I don't know about the boys, but I'd be happy to still be doing this schtick five years from now...or longer...if people still came to the shows...which is probably how the real Pixies feel too). Let's fucking do this thing.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fundamentals Week Five

This week is bossa nova. My talent in the latin rhythms is not...good. But of all of them bossa nova is the one that I get the best. Probably because it is relatively simple, relatively slow, and ubiquitous in American culture.

Last week's lesson was horrible on so many levels...but I take heart in the fact that everyone else in the class thought it was horrible too. I got a C+...which is probably the first time in my life that has happened (I failed an English paper once for not following directions...on purpose...but I've never gotten a C before I don't think...of course...I'm probably blocking out Nuclear Engineering grad school now that I think of it). His comments were not helpful. I made quite clear that I was struggling with the assignment and his comments amounted to "you did it wrong"...which I had already full well admitted. The professorship is minimal here.

And again I have to say that the care and organization of the course is subpar. For was implied this week that we had already studied accents. We have not. Accents were thrown into an assignment...but they were never explained or discussed. Same for dynamics in general...they've been thrown at us...but not truly examined. In this week's lesson it says we will start 32nd notes this week...only we started them last week. And I got zinged for playing both etudes last week when we were only supposed to play one...well THAT wasn't made clear AT ALL. Oh...and in some places he'll say to play things at 50 bpm...then somewhere else it'll say 60...for the same portion of the assignment. Just really bad editing and consistency checks all around. It'd be ok if this was cheap...but it isn't at all. Lazy...sloppy.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

More Thoughts on Berklee

The feedback that I've gotten from the Berkleee instructor has been strange. He picks up on strange things that don't seem all that important to me and misses things that seem like a big deal to me.

I particularly liked when he told me to work on better synching of my video and audio files. Yeah...they aren't synched's one file.

This week (last week's assignment) he said I should try to have fun with the song. So...have you ever tried to have fun while reading sheet music that you aren't familiar with? It's hard. When I know a song well I can have fun. When I'm reading tiny dots 3 feet away I have to focus. We only have a week to learn these songs. If all I had to do was kind of play them like them seem I could have fun. But if you want me to read them note for note...well it's reading dude.

Anyway...all of this reinforces to me that the feedback portion of this course isn't that useful except in that it forces deadlines.