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Practicing with Lasers by Steven Gregory

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It seems obvious:  if we want to truly become excellent worship bass musicians, we must practice our craft.  However, how to practice (and how to do so effectively and efficiently) is one of the biggest problems in the worship bass world (and often, in the bass world in general).  Many of us have had symptoms of inefficient practice:

  • Spending hours and hours every day practicing, without much actual improvement.
  • Not having enough time to practice regularly.
  • Thinking that “cramming” to learn songs for the week is all there is to practice.
  • Applying the “practice” label to rehearsals, noodling, warming up, playing the same song you learned 5 years ago…anything other than truly meaningful practice.
  • Spending practice time randomly wandering from task to task, with no real direction.

Practice was absolutely a burden for me when I first arrived at Berklee.  I had great intentions, but I just didn’t know what to do with my practice time.  I spent hours in the practice room where I would start one thing, then move to another, then waste time on a cool lick that I already knew how to play, then snap myself back to run scales for a few minutes…until I was tired, frustrated, and not improving.

This changed when I met Jim Stinnett (http://www.jimstinnett.com), who became my teacher and mentor.  Jim is an outstanding bassist and educator who has the uncanny ability to cut straight to the heart of a student’s problem.  Jim saw my problem within seconds and prescribed the perfect remedy:  laser practicing.

“Laser practicing” is about applying intense focus, without distraction, to your practice.  This method, which Jim developed and I will simply pass along, takes care of the aforementioned problems and many, many more.  To engage in laser practicing you need a timer, a notebook, items to study, and at least one hour a day to practice.

The basic outline of laser practicing is as follows:

  • Determine the areas of study you will practice.
  • Divide your time so that every area of study has a “slice” of your total time.
  • Start the timer and practice the first area without distraction until the timer goes off.
  • Make quick notes about the first area, start the timer again and practice the next area without distraction.
  • Repeat until the hour is done.

By using bursts of complete focus, you can cut through problems and make amazing gains, much in the same way that the focus of a laser can cut through material that unfocused light would have no effect on.

Let’s look at an example, using a student named Fred, who has five areas he would like to practice:

  1. Minor arpeggios
  2. Walking bass lines
  3. Slap grooves
  4. Worship songs for the week
  5. Sight reading

We will assume that Fred has specific materials for each of these areas, as was directed by his instructor, along with his weekly worship music set.  Fred outlines the day’s practice as shown in Example 1:

In Fred’s example, each of these items will get an equal “slice” of the hour, which equals 12 minutes.  Fred starts his timer and begins to practice his minor arpeggios around the cycle of 4ths.  Complete and total focus is given to the arpeggios – not the other tasks, not the song Fred really likes to play, just the arpeggios.  When the timer goes off 12 minutes later, Fred stops immediately, writes some quick notes about the session, then restarts the timer and works on the next area.  Fred does this for the remainder of the hour and finishes with a sheet that looks like Example 2:

After a single hour, Fred has truly practiced 5 areas of study and has notes on which he can build his next laser cycle.  If Fred has another hour to practice that day, another cycle is started.  If Fred only spends one hour a day practicing in this manner, he is absolutely going to see improvements that he would not have experienced by practicing without focus for many more hours.

Laser practicing is a radical departure for many and there are many common questions that arise.  Here are few of those questions, with responses:

Q:  You’re kidding, right?

A:  Nope.  I thought it was a nutty idea too, but I encourage you to try it for a couple of weeks.  I can promise that it will feel odd and that you will want to ignore the timer, but don’t.  The results are worth it!

Q.  Do you have to evenly divide the hour?

A.  Even divisions work best for beginning laser practice sessions, but that is not a hard and fast rule.  You can adjust as needed, but I have found that creating a “slice” that is less than 7-8 minutes or more than 13-14 minutes isn’t effective.  You are trying to focus with incredible intensity for each slice, so give yourself enough time to “settle” into that focus, but don’t overextend yourself.

Q.  Transcription in laser practicing?  That won’t work!   I can’t learn the songs for the week unless I set aside a separate session for that.

A. Focus, grasshopper.  Without distraction and with intense focus, you can absolutely transcribe music in short bursts.

Q.  I don’t have an hour to practice!

A. I said this in front of Jim once, who simply said, “Get up an hour earlier!”  We may not like to admit it, but I’m positive that 99% of us can find an hour a day to practice by getting up earlier, staying up late, turning off the television, or some other “trimming” of our schedule.  Decide that excellence is worth finding that hour!

Q.  Why should I keep notes?

A.  Notes are very important to this process.  The notes keep you focused and create a record so you can track improvement.

Q.  Isn’t stopping one section when the timer goes off incredibly frustrating?

A.  It can be, but you can always practice that section again…in the next cycle.

Q.  Have you ever used this for a time other than an hour?

A.  Yes, but an hour is best.  If you have multiple hours, do multiple cycles.  When I’ve had an “odd time”, such as 90 minutes, I’ve often done one cycle and then repeated a few of the “slices” for the last 30 minutes.  I have used laser practicing to make the very best use of a 30-minute window, as well.  Refer to the above question about how you divide the time to make sure you don’t cheat yourself from meaningful “slices”.

Laser practicing truly revolutionized my playing and I hope you will give it a try also.  Take your worship, musicianship, and bass playing to the next level with the focus of a laser!  Make sure you let me know how it goes by catching me on Twitter (@sgregorybass) or in the Bass Musician Magazine Community.

Until next time, I hope that your bass playing is blessed and that you can bless others through your bass playing!

 

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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Latest

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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