In my pursuit of understanding tonality, I discovered that I play way too many notes. I’m reminded of a comment about my 11 string bass, when someone stated that, “If I have 11 strings, I should use all of them on some songs.” That made me think about a piano player hitting all 88 notes per song. That would be horrible.
To me, music is the ultimate language. I’ve been blessed to travel around the world four times as a musician and I’m in awe every time someone who doesn’t speak English, feels exactly what I wanted them to feel in the music. By their listening, we connect.
The art of listening is the only thing that’s harder than learning to play. I turned 47 this year and I finally learned to hear with my heart. When I started playing bass in 1976, my only concern was to let everyone know that I had as many chops as the latest bass hero. In fact, I learned to emulate all of my heroes, but made no contribution to the world of creativity. I studied all the licks and none of the intent.
When great bassist like Marcus Miller and Chuck Rainey play music, they are not only in tune with their musical environment, but they are masters when it comes to interpritation. When I go to a music store, I hear variations of Victor Wooten, Flea and Marcus Miller. I’m glad that people are moved to emulate these great musicians, but please don’t stop with just their chops. There is so much more going on when they play bass.
Listen to when they pause.
Listen to how they played against or with the melody.
Listen to the WHOLE piece of music.
Twenty years passed by before I cared about the other parts of the song. Chuck Rainey told me that his fellow players inspired his grooves. His ability to hear the holes in the art made him a driving force in music. Gus Thornton was the bassist for Albert King and Stevie Ray for several record projects (allmusic.com). His solid bass playing has really inspired me.
Blues bass is the hardest form of bass playing that I’ve ever performed. The ability to support and drive the music and not fill every other measure is so hard to me. I always wanted to show off when I had a bass in my hands. I have nothing to prove now. I’m chasing melodies in my head. I want to share the music that I create with the world. My new music is not as challenging to learn. It’s not as fast as it was 3 years ago. It’s not as harmonically challenging as it was. It’s simple music, played by a simple man, playing an 11 string bass.
I get it!! Music is a language that speaks to it’s own audience. When I was younger, I belonged to a different audience. Now I worship melody and space. I love the 11 string bass because I’m a multi-instrumentalist. I don’t have to keep changing instruments. There are so many people who don’t get the ERB thing or the MIDI thing but they belong to their own audience. I still love playing my 5 string bass and I love learning country fiddle. But I’m in love with music again. Music makes me happy again.
I meet bassist all the time who ask me how can they get out of a rut. I knew that answer would take some heavy thinking, but I’ve got it. Learn to listen all over again! Old songs sound new again. Great input helps with great output. Listen to an old song that you used to love and listen to everything but the bass. It’s wonderful!