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The Importance Of Ear Training: Part 1

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Welcome back, folks! Although Bass Musician Magazine’s assignment for me has so far been one of providing technique-related material and assignments, I would be remiss if I didn’t take a step back to spend some time talking about the importance of ear training, easily one of the most valuable skills a musician can develop. In this installment I’ll attempt to demonstrate how your technical exercises can be reassessed and reinterpreted as ear training exercises moving forward in your development as a player.

In recent years, I’ve been on a bit of a crusade to try and encourage newer players (and experienced players, for that matter) to get serious about their ear training. In my opinion, I see the greatest weakness among aspiring bass players as lying in the fact that so many play more by ‘sight’ than by ‘sound.’ In other words, too many players are relying on shapes and patterns to navigate the instrument instead of relying on their ears. Since music is an aural form of expression, it should be easy to see how this disconnect really can stifle our musical development and capacity for heartfelt expression.

Take a moment and think about what it would mean to have no limitations to your musicianship on your instrument. What would your ultimate goal be? I have spent many years contemplating this question as I have been working at improving my playing and helping other players to improve theirs. Before you can answer this question, however, you first have to establish what you consider to be the common elements that the greatest players share between them that capture our attention. In my assessment, the greatest players have always seemed to possess an overwhelmingly uninhibited sense of expression and freedom on their instruments. When you listen to a great player, you don’t hear a series of rehearsed exercises or patterns played one after the other, until they run out of ideas… Instead, you hear music come to life… It’s as if your ears are deciphering the artists’ very own spontaneous feelings and emotions in real time. There is an intangible but very real sense of connection that occurs between the player and the listener. As I see it, no contrived technical, theoretic, or academic musical component offers us any true sense of expression until it becomes ‘digested’ by the player; it’s all part of the food chain that comprises the evolution of an artist’s living, breathing musical language.

So then, if our quest is to get to a place in which we are able to play with utmost fluidity and spontaneous expression without hindrance, then we need to accomplish several things:

1. Be able to spontaneous transmit what you hear and feel to your hands and instrument without having to undergo any steps in ‘translation’ or ‘evaluation.’

2. Possess the technical facility and headroom to play what you hear in #1, above, without any stumbling or technical distraction.

3. Be in a state of mind of total comfort and freedom within the music, so that no elements of the music hit you with a sense of unfamiliarity, anxiety, or surprise. I refer to this informally as ‘being in the zone.’ Some of us have an easier time living there than others, but we should not forget that this can also be practiced and developed over time.

‘Scatting’…Gimmick, or Tactic?

Many of us have seen and heard players who can ‘scat’ while they play, or spontaneously sing the notes as they are playing them. When I first saw this done on stage by a bass player many years ago when I was just starting out, I was amazed. I thought to myself, “What an incredible display of musical prowess! That cat really knows what he’s playing!” Little did I know, however, exactly how demonstrative a skill that would become for me later.

Some of us might interpret singing while playing to be a showy demonstration, or  dismiss it as mere ‘schtick’ used for entertainment value only. However, I’m here to tell you that every one of us should be exercising that same skill while we play at all times, regardless of whether we are not singing the pitches out loud or not! If you are still confused by why a tactic like this is so valuable, then ask yourself this question:

What does singing what you play demonstrate? It shows that every note you are playing has a specific purpose and place in time. Nothing is arbitrary. You played it because you HEARD it.

This point cannot possibly be overemphasized. Too many players today play the bass in an almost fidgety manner. They try to fill space with shapes that are familiar to them, but their phrases lack any real purpose or inspiration. Singing what you play really forces you to get serious about playing what you hear. I hope that you can see the benefit in devoting time to this valuable practice and performance tactic.

The Ultimate Goal

Some of you might be surprised if I made the suggestion that your bass is holding you back from becoming even more musical and expressive a player… But ask yourself this… Have you ever been inspired with really fantastic musical ideas while your bass was not in your hands? Did you happen to notice that many (or most) of them would not have normally been something you would have come up with if you were playing your bass at the time? For many of us, this is the norm and not the exception. This actually is a symptom of a larger problem: Many of us lack the true familiarity with our instrument that would allow us to accurately play what we might be inspired to hear. To get to the solution, we have to work hard at making the unfamiliar familiar. Most musical challenges we face are not as much an issue of difficulty as they are an issue of familiarity. Subsequently, this should be your ultimate goal:

Be able to play what you spontaneously hear and feel, at any time and in any musical context, with honesty, accuracy, assertiveness, and technical facility.

In order to accomplish this, we have to be always be in the mindset of pursuing true mastery of our instrument. Successful ear training can help us to get closer to that goal much sooner.

Check back next issue for learning how to put this into practice!

Gear News

New Gear: Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass

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New Gear: Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass

Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass…

Esopus Guitars is proud to announce the new “Tailwater” bass guitar, from legendary bass luthier Stuart Spector. This 32” scale bass is handcrafted by Stuart using the only finest woods and components at the Esopus Guitar workshop located near Woodstock NY in the Catskill Mountains. 

From its fully carved spruce top (the top is carved on both its exterior and interior surfaces) with a thumb rest that is elegantly carved into the top, to its custom-made Fishman piezo pickup and super hard Carnauba wax finish, every detail of the Tailwater is part of creating the ultimate playing experience.

The Tailwater bass features a fully chambered spruce over alder body (15.5″ lower body bout width, 2.25″ body thickness measuring from the peak of the carved top) that delivers a super comfortable tonal tool for all your low-end needs.

Each Tailwater bass is hand-signed and numbered on the back of the peghead by Stuart Spector. A very limited number of Tailwater basses are handcrafted each year at the Esopus workshop. 

“I am proud to present the Tailwater bass, a bass that I have spent the last three years perfecting. The Tailwater is a culmination of all of my 45 years of experience, knowledge, and passion for bass guitar crafting. I am so eager to hear what fellow musicians create with this exciting new instrument.” -Stuart Spector

Direct Pricing : $4995.00 plus options. 

For more information about Esopus Guitars and Stuart Spector’s handcrafted instruments, visit www.EsopusGuitars.com.  

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Bass Videos

Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

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Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

Ian Allison Bassist extreme

Most recently Ian has spent the last seven years touring nationally as part of Eric Hutchinson and The Believers, sharing stages with acts like Kelly Clarkson, Pentatonix, Rachel Platten, Matt Nathanson, Phillip Phillips, and Cory Wong playing venues such as Radio City Music Hall, The Staples Center and The Xcel Center in St. Paul, MN.

I had a chance to meet up with him at the Sellersville Theater in Eastern Pennsylvania to catch up on everything bass. Visit online at ianmartinallison.com/

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This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

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TOP 10 Basses of the week

Check out our top 10 favorite basses on Instagram this week…

Click to follow Bass Musician on Instagram @bassmusicianmag

FEATURED @officialspector @bqwbassguitar @brute_bass_guitars @phdbassguitars @ramabass.ok @tribe_guitars @woodguerilla_instruments @mikelullcustomguitars @jcrluthier @elegeecustom

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Features

Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias

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Interview With Audic Empire Bassist James Tobias

Checking in with Bergantino Artist James Tobias

James Tobias, Bassist for psychedelic, Reggae-Rock titans Audic Empire shares his history as a musician and how he came to find Bergantino…

Interview by Holly Bergantino

James Tobias, a multi-talented musician and jack-of-all-trades shares his story of coming up as a musician in Texas, his journey with his band Audic Empire, and his approach to life and music. With a busy tour schedule each year, we were fortunate to catch up with him while he was out and about touring the US. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Dallas, Texas and lived in the Dallas area most of my life with the exception of 1 year in Colorado. I moved to the Austin area at age 18. 

What makes the bass so special to you particularly, and how did you gravitate to it?

I honestly started playing bass because we needed a bass player and I was the one with access to a bass amp and bass. I played rhythm guitar and sang up until I met Ronnie, who I would later start “Audic Empire” with. He also played rhythm guitar and sang and we didn’t know any bass players, so we had to figure something out. I still write most of my songs on guitar, but I’ve grown to love playing the bass. 

How did you learn to play, James?

I took guitar lessons growing up and spent a lot of time just learning tabs or playing by ear and kicked around as a frontman in a handful of bands playing at the local coffee shops or rec centers. Once I transitioned to bass, I really just tried to apply what I knew about guitar and stumbled through it till it sounded right. I’m still learning every time I pick it up, honestly. 

You are also a songwriter, recording engineer, and a fantastic singer, did you get formal training for this? 

Thank you, that means a lot!  I had a couple of voice lessons when I was in my early teens, but didn’t really like the instructor. I did however take a few lessons recently through ACC that I enjoyed and think really helped my technique (Shout out to Adam Roberts!) I was not a naturally gifted singer, which is a nice way of saying I was pretty awful, but I just kept at it. 

As far as recording and producing, I just watched a lot of YouTube videos and asked people who know more than me when I had a question. Whenever I feel like I’m not progressing, I just pull up tracks from a couple of years ago, cringe, and feel better about where I’m at but I’ve got a long way to go. Fortunately, we’ve got some amazing producers I can pass everything over to once I get the songs as close to finalized as I can. 

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that can be improved on the bass.

I honestly don’t know what my style would be considered. We’ve got so many styles that we play and fuse together that I just try to do what works song by song.  I don’t have too many tricks in the bag and just keep it simple and focus on what’s going to sound good in the overall mix. I think my strength lies in thinking about the song as a whole and what each instrument is doing, so I can compliment everything else that’s going on. What could be improved is absolutely everything, but that’s the great thing about music (and kind of anything really). 

Who were your influencers in terms of other musicians earlier on or now that have made a difference and inspired you?

My dad exposed me to a lot of music early. I was playing a toy guitar while watching a VHS of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble live at SXSW on repeat at 4 years old saying I wanted to “do that” when I grew up. I was the only kid in daycare that had his own CDs that weren’t kid’s songs. I was listening to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and The Doors when I could barely talk. I would make up songs and sing them into my Panasonic slimline tape recorder and take it to my preschool to show my friends. As I got older went through a bunch of music phases. Metal, grunge, rock, punk, hip hop, reggae, ska, etc. Whatever I heard that I connected to I’d dive in and learn as much as I could about it. I was always in bands and I think I kept picking up different styles along the way and kept combining my different elements and I think that’s evident in Audic’s diverse sound. 

Tell me about Audic Empire and your new release Take Over! Can you share some of the highlights you and the band are most proud of?

Takeover was an interesting one. I basically built that song on keyboard and drum loops and wrote and tracked all my vocals in one long session in my bedroom studio kind of in a stream-of-consciousness type of approach. I kind of thought nothing would come of it and I’d toss it out, but we slowly went back and tracked over everything with instruments and made it our own sound. I got it as far as I could with production and handed it off to Chad Wrong to work his magic and really bring it to life. Once I got Snow Owl Media involved and we started brainstorming about a music video, it quickly turned into a considerably larger production than anything we’ve done before and it was such a cool experience. I’m really excited about the final product, especially considering I initially thought it was a throwaway track.

Describe the music style of Audic Empire for us. 

It’s all over the place… we advertise it as “blues, rock, reggae.” Blues because of our lead guitarist, Travis Brown’s playing style, rock because I think at the heart we’re a rock band, and reggae because we flavor everything with a little (or a lot) of reggae or ska. 

How did you find Bergantino Audio Systems?

Well, my Ampeg SVT7 caught fire at a show… We were playing Stubbs in Austin and everyone kept saying they smelled something burning, and I looked back in time to see my head, perched on top of its 8×10 cab, begin billowing smoke. We had a tour coming up, so I started researching and pricing everything to try and find a new amp. I was also fronting a metal band at the time, and my bass player’s dad was a big-time country bass player and said he had this really high-end bass amp just sitting in a closet he’d sell me. I was apprehensive since I really didn’t know much about it and “just a little 4×10” probably wasn’t going to cut it compared to my previous setup. He said I could come over and give it a test drive, but he said he knew I was going to buy it. He was right. I immediately fell in love. I couldn’t believe the power it put out compared to this heavy head and cumbersome cab I had been breaking my back hauling all over the country and up countless staircases.  

Tell us about your experience with the forte D amp and the AE 410 Speaker cabinet. 

It’s been a game-changer in every sense. It’s lightweight and compact. Amazing tone. And LOUD. It’s just a fantastic amp. Not to mention the customer service being top-notch! You’ll be hard-pressed to find another product that, if you have an issue, you can get in touch with the owner, himself. How cool is that? 

Tell us about some of your favorite basses.

I was always broke and usually working part-time delivering pizzas, so I just played what I could get my hands on. I went through a few pawn shop basses, swapped in new pickups, and fought with the action on them constantly. I played them through an Ampeg be115 combo amp. All the electronics in it had fried at some point, so I gutted it out and turned it into a cab that I powered with a rusted-up little head I bought off someone for a hundred bucks. My gear was often DIY’d and held together by electrical tape and usually had a few coats of spray paint to attempt to hide the wear and tear. I never really fell in love with any piece of gear I had till I had a supporter of our band give me an Ibanez Premium Series SDGR. I absolutely love that bass and still travel with it. I’ve since gotten another Ibanez Premium Series, but went with the 5-string BTB.  It’s a fantastic-sounding bass, my only complaint is it’s pretty heavy. 

Love your new video Take Over! Let us know what you’re currently working on (studio, tour, side projects, etc.)

Thank you!! We’ve got a LOT of stuff we’re working on right now actually. Having 2 writers in the band means we never have a shortage of material. It’s more about getting everything tracked and ready for release and all that goes into that. We just got through filming videos for 2 new unreleased tracks with Snow Owl Media, who did the videos for both Love Hate and Pain and Takeover. Both of these songs have surprise features which I’m really excited about since these will be the first singles since our last album we have other artists on. We’ve also got a lot of shows coming up and I’ve also just launched my solo project as well. The debut single, “Raisin’ Hell” is available now everywhere. You can go here to find all the links distrokid.com/hyperfollow/jamestobias/raisin-hell

What else do you do besides music?

For work, I own a handyman service here in Austin doing a lot of drywall, painting, etc. I have a lot of hobbies and side hustles as well. I make custom guitar straps and other leather work. I do a lot of artwork and have done most of our merch designs and a lot of our cover art. I’m really into (and borderline obsessed) with health, fitness, and sober living.  I have a hard time sitting still, but fortunately, there’s always a lot to do when you’re self-employed and running a band!

Follow James Tobias:

jamestobiasmusic.com
Facebook.com/james.tobias1
Instagram.com/ru4badfish2
TikTok.com/@jamestobiasmusic
audicempire.com 

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Bass CDs

New Album: Avery Sharpe, I Am My Neighbors Keeper

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A new recording will be released on JKNM Records by internationally renowned bassist/composer Avery Sharpe, “I Am My Neighbors Keeper”

Avery Sharpe and his Double Quartet to release, I Am My Neighbors Keeper

A new recording will be released on JKNM Records by internationally renowned bassist/composer Avery Sharpe, “I Am My Neighbors Keeper” is scheduled for release in June 2024.

Sharpe has composed a new work that highlights our commitment to one another. Avery initiated the project as a response to the political and racial division that has grown over the past seven years in the country. “The U.S political climate has drastically changed in the past 40-plus years, especially during the last seven of those years. In this age of greed, which Sharpe refers to as “IGM,” I Got Mine, basic human compassion has been eroded. Racial, economic and social strides are being turned back.

“We have food insecurity, the unhoused, pandemics, school shootings, domestic violence, and an opioid problem, just to name some. There is a need to remind people that each of us is here on this planet for a very short period of time. It doesn’t matter if one has a religious approach or a secular approach, it all comes down to concern and compassion for each other. Through these compositions and recordings, Avery’s mission as an artist is to remind us that we all are interconnected and that ‘We Are Our Neighbor’s Keeper.’ When we help to uplift one, we uplift everyone,” Sharpe said.

Each movement in the piece describes the values we should strive for to help one another for this multi-media (video slide show during performance) and multi-discipline performance.

Many of Sharpe’s projects and recordings have been about “standing on the shoulders of ancestors, heroes and sheroes.” Among his recordings and projects, include “Running Man” (celebrating the athlete Jesse Owens), “Ain’t I A Woman” (about Sojourner Truth), and his most recent project “400: An African American Musical Portrait” (marking the 400 years from 1619 to 2019).

Avery Sharpe has recorded and performed with many jazz greats from Dizzy Gillespie to Yusef Lateef. He had an illustrious run of 20 plus years with the legendary Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, of which he recorded more than 25 records with Mr. Tyner and performed countless worldwide concerts.

Visit online at averysharpe.com/

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