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Byron Miller: Reach For It Part II by Alex Wilkerson

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Reach For It Part 2

Here’s the rest of the solo by Byron Miller on George Duke’s Album: Reach For It. There are some great ideas in this second half that might be brand new to some soloists, and a good reminder to the rest.

First off, the best part about this solo is that it’s thick with soulful phrasing.  Even though bends make notation much harder to read, they are really important to Byron’s phrasing.  The use of bends makes a solo sound much more soulful and expressive, although commonly overlooked by most electric bass players.  As we mentioned last week, a grace note in parenthesis without a stem or flag is part of a pre-bend.  This means that if the grace note in question is a “D”, and the note after it is a “D#”, then you find “D” with your left hand on the fret board and bend it up to a “D#” before you strike the string.  If the grace note has a stem and is not in parenthesis, then you bend the note after striking the string.  The actual notation for the bend itself is represented by what looks like an upside down “V” on top of, and connecting two notes.

Another nice technique used throughout this solo is the effect of “falling off” the time.  For this style of song, you usually want to play behind the beat rather than ahead.  I’ve notated this with the abbreviation (BTB) for behind the beat and a dotted line to tell you how long to play behind the beat.  In a lot of situations this can make transcribing very difficult and notation very complicated to read, but the good news is that this effect by its very nature grants ample amount of forgiveness in terms of accuracy.  If you are soloing behind the beat, no one will care if you are playing 16th note triplets or 32nd notes.  The only thing that matters is confidence.  In these portions of the solo, don’t take the literal notation too strictly.  Take the general rhythmic idea and play with the time until you like what you hear.

In measures 27 and 28, Byron proves to us that sometimes the strength of an idea takes priority over the actual notes.  What I mean by this is that in this passage, Byron plays a lick and repeats it a half step up (in sound).  Then he takes the lick up a half step again.  He does this seven times until he reaches his target note, the root, which is the second note in beat four of bar 28.  When this motif is started, it is clear to the ears that it is an idea that is exactly repeated except that it is a half step higher.  When the root is reached, it signals the end of the idea and proclaims “yes I do know where I am and what I’m doing”.  What I meant earlier when I said that “the idea takes priority over the notes” is that if you were to analyze the actual notes of these two bars against the chords, you would find a lot of “wrong” notes.  However, once you know the idea, you realize that it’s pointless to analyze these two measures in such a way.  What matters is that a solo makes sense somehow.  It can make sense when you compare the notes against the chords, or just by the idea itself.  It’s much more effective to take the idea higher (in sound) rather than lower because going higher increases the intensity of the solo.  I’ve seen Mike Stern use this technique a lot.  He takes an idea and repeats it either a half step up or a whole step up.  Mike didn’t just stop at three repetitions, he repeated it plenty of times!  The effect sounded great and the audience went crazy.  We talked before about giving the audience something to grab a hold of rather than just providing endless choruses of bizarre chord tones and chromaticism.  Of course, I’m not insinuating that you should mold your solos into what will make an audience go crazy, but on the other hand, if your audience is going crazy, this is something not to be taken lightly.  Take Byron’s lick and keep it in your bag of tricks.

A fourth idea is one we covered in Part 1 but continues through the second part of this solo.  Take a look at how many phrases start on the downbeat of one.  I counted two.  Now count how many phrases start on the downbeat of two.  I counted four.  If you find that you have a hard time keeping yourself from starting phrases on the down beat of one.  Make a mental note to start them on two.  It’s an easy downbeat to find with confidence.  Once you spend some time practicing it, you can then perform it seamlessly without tripping over the time.

Here’s a lick that you can assimilate.  Look at beat four of the pickup going into the downbeat of measure one.  Take a target note.  Let’s use the extension nine which occurs on beat one of the solo.  So if we are in the key of A or “A blues”, the ninth is “B”.  If you are targeting “B”, first play the scale tone above it.  In this case it’s C#.  Now, staying in the chord scale (mixolidian for right now), play the C#, then down a third (A), then down another third (F#), and end on your target (back up to B or the ninth).  The lick should look like this: C#, A, F#, B.  This is a nice lick because the beginning of the phrase (C#) and the final target (B) imply a scale-wise descent.  This is really common in jazz and bebop lines.  You just take a descending idea and then put runs of thirds in between.  Byron uses this pattern more than once.

The last idea comes from Byron’s use of bending four (the note D in this case) to sharp four a.k.a. flat five depending on the direction of the line (the note D#/Eb in this case).  Byron uses this idea about 16 times in one variation or another.  What this means to you and me is that you don’t have to feel pressured to come up with a brand new idea for every measure.  In most cases such an approach will make your solos weaker anyway.  If you have an idea you like, you should absolutely repeat it somehow.  You could repeat it exactly the same way, you could move everything up or down a scale tone, or you could move everything up or down chromatically.  The audience in most cases is not nearly as annoyed with your repetition as you think they are.  In fact they are more likely to be annoyed without it.  Give them something to hold onto.

That’s it for the solo from Reach For It.  This solo demonstrates the law that phrasing and attitude are just as important in a solo as note choice.  This piece has a lot of great licks and ideas.  Consider for a moment that the solo section has only two chords, that this is a funk song, and that the solo is unusually long for a bass solo.  All three of these situations make it hard to keep a solo interesting.  Byron uses a lot of great ideas to keep his solo fresh while making it attainable to the audience.  Take his ideas and use them in your own situations.  I hope you enjoyed this issue’s transcription.  I know how annoying it can be to read bends and pre-bends but they are essential to understanding Byron’s phrasing, and soulful phrasing in general.  I’ve got a real treat in store for you next time.  It’s an upright solo that really sings over a jazz standard.  Until then enjoy Byron Miller’s solo on Reach For It!

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Artist Update With Mark Egan, Cross Currents

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Artist Update With Mark Egan, Cross Currents

I am sure many of you are very familiar with Mark Egan as we have been following him and his music for many years now. The last time we chatted was in 2020.

Mark teamed up with drummer Shawn Pelton and guitarist Shane Theriot to produce a new album, “Cross Currents” released on March 8th, 2024. I have been listening to this album in its entirety and it is simply superb (See my review).

Now, I am excited to hear about this project from Mark himself and share this conversation with our bass community in Bass Musician Magazine.

Photo courtesy of Mark Egan

Visit Online:

markegan.com
markegan.bandcamp.com
Apple Music
Amazon Music

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Review: Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB

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Review: Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB

Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB…

Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB – Hearing protection has always been front and center on my mind because I love music so much, I cannot imagine my life if I were unable to hear.

You might remember back in 2021, we had a good look at the Minuendo Lossless Earplugs featuring adjustable protection. This system has a lot of very good features but there was always the question of how much sound attenuation to choose.

Now, the great folks at Minuendo have come up with a new version of their earplugs that has a set 17dB noise reduction. You still get a lot of the great features of the adjustables but you just don’t have to think about the specific sound level. In addition, this new version of earplugs comes at a very attractive price point.

For more information, visit online at Minuendo.com

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Bass Books

Review: The Bastard Instrument, A Cultural History of the Electric Bass by Brian F Wright 

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Review: The Bastard Instrument, A Cultural History of the Electric Bass by Brian F Wright 

I was intrigued when The Bastard Instrument showed up on my desk… let’s dig in!

When we dive into the history of our beloved instrument, the bass, we find roots that go back as far as the 15th century. This instrument was a member of the violin family and was for the longest time, an acoustic instrument. As the years passed and music changed, there was a need for the instrument to evolve and the electric bass was born.

Comparatively, the electric bass is a relatively new instrument with its earliest appearances dating back to the 1930s and it is exciting to be an electric bass player while this history unfolds around us. Fortunately for us and future generations to come, Professor Brian F. Wright has taken on the herculean task of documenting the trajectory of the electric bass with this excellent book.

The Bastard Instrument presents an extraordinary amount of fine details about the instrument itself, the development of the amplification to handle its output, the pioneers that dared play it, the rapidly evolving music that flourished because of its presence and so much more. 

When I first started reading this book, I noticed that it felt a tad academic, like a textbook (it might be one someday) or a doctoral thesis, but to present all this information accurately, this approach is more than appropriate. Another detail that might be a bit of a spoiler is that the book only gets us up to the late ’60s. I was left wanting more as we know that so much has happened in the bass world since that time frame; I hope there is another volume in the works to get us up to the present!

All in all, “The Bastard Instrument, A Cultural History of the Electric Bass” is a must-read for all of us who play electric bass and understand its essential place in music.

I found that there was a lot that I already knew but also quite a bit that I was unaware of. I believe that to know and understand where you are, you must know the history of exactly how you got here.

Highly recommended.

The Bastard Instrument is available at Amazon.com (beginning July 2024)

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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 @meridian_guitars @adamovicbasses @anacondabasses @mgbassguitars @xylembassguitar @officialspector @edwinpaanakker @alesvychodilbasses @boyarskycg @dmarkguitars

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Interview With By the Thousands Bassist Adam Sullivan

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Interview With By the Thousands Bassist Adam Sullivan

Bassist Adam Sullivan…

Hailing from Minnesota since 2012, By the Thousands has produced some serious Technical Metal/Deathcore music. Following their recent EP “The Decent”s release, I have the great opportunity to chat with bassist Adam Sullivan.

Join me as we hear about Adam’s musical Journey, his Influences, how he gets his sound, and the band’s plans for the future

Photo, Laura Baker

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IG &FB @bythethousands
YTB @BytheThousands

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