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Slap Basics With Doug Johns : NAMM Chops

Meet Doug Johns

I think this article is timely in that it coincides with the season for the winter NAMM show. I think everyone should go to at least one NAMM show – it truly is a spectacle to behold. In a nutshell, the show is comprised of just about all the companies in the world that make anything related to the “music industry.” And it’s all there for the public to see.

A useful byproduct of the show is that it has become a prime networking tool for many of the world’s artists. It gives all of us a chance to reconnect, face to face, with the many companies that support our musical endeavors.

One of the useless byproducts of the NAMM show is the NAMM chop.

The what?

Yes, the NAMM chop – or plural, NAMM chops – are something my drummer, Chris Ceja, and I have often joked about. If not kept under control, the NAMM chops can quickly turn you into a NAMM Chump. Now, we’re probably not the first to coin the phrase; and, if I’m to be perfectly honest, I’ve been guilty of it myself a time or two.

So, who is the NAMM Chump?

Imagine yourself walking through the endless halls of the Anaheim Convention Center. Listen closely, and you’ll hear a lot of NAMM chops – not all played by NAMM Chumps, but a fair share of them: “musicians” trying out instruments and proceeding to play every lick they know, usually as loud and as fast as they can, until the well runs dry.

Now, I hate to dog anybody – I truly believe we’re all in this together. And everybody usually learns first by emulating their favorite musicians. But the thing is, nine times out of ten, the NAMM Chump has all the “drop your jaw to the floor” licks, but has nothing to say when playing in an ensemble. The NAMM Chump (especially amongst bassists) doesn’t know his role.

When I say you should know your role, I mean just that. Unless your set is specifically geared toward playing as many notes as fast as you can (which I doubt), we as bass players need to be “laying it down” for the group. Learning to play up, in, and around the pocket is something that takes a lifetime to master. But, knowing your role will be a guaranteed key to becoming a great artist with lots of gigs.

I think a perfect example of a bass player knowing his role is Tower of Power’s Rocco Prestia. Rocco is definitely a master of “laying it down” within a group of stellar musicians. He always gives the song only exactly what it needs, in the deepest, funkiest way, and all without the flash of a million notes.

The most effective way to learn your role as a bass player is just jamming with somebody, sitting in on the bandstand. When playing with an unfamiliar group of musicians, you definitely don’t want to get the look – you know the look – from the guys in the front of the group. It’s the look that says, “Man, you better quit with all that latest video licks crap.” The bass player’s role is to lay down the groove.

Don’t be a NAMM Chump. Techniques are just tools to help you get the car to the racetrack. Once you get there, you need to know your role as a bass player, and serve the song. Groove deep in the pocket and bear your soul.

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