Know Where you Are by Tim Risser
The widespread use of GPS, MapQuest and our precious smartphones has enabled clueless, wayward travelers such as myself to become Ferdinand Magellan (minus the getting killed part!). I feel that technology has allowed us to travel without hitches, roadblocks and especially- large flappy, ridiculously oversized maps! And of course, the analogy here is that most of our musical journey is more than just a straight shot as well. The geography is infinite! A musician’s path starts at the moment you hold that beautiful 4 string in your hands (or 5 or 6 string- damn you’re ambitious!!). Ahead of you is an expanse wider than the North American Midwest and those early wide eyed emigrants seeking routes to California and sweet, sweet gold! Among the trails are passable routes and shortcuts, but beware of Donner Pass (unless you enjoy freezing and dining on your love ones!), because there is technically no perfect route to get to your destination; and you will stumble! Let me explain the best way to not get eaten (I mean frustrated).
I learned from a great teacher at a local college; because that was part of the deal when my parents plunked down $299 for my Squier Jazz Bass. I was 16 and eager to learn. The majority of your own beginnings ring similar but there is a fork in the road almost immediately! While my teacher stressed rhythm and sight reading, I was convinced she should teach me “Distant Early Warning” by Rush. Hey, I had the “authorized” tablature book from Hal Leonard! Keep in mind; I was in possession of my new bass for about a month at this point! Youthful ambition will crush logic every time. So after a few more months of lessons and a solid foundation (?), I decided it was time to pack up the wagon and head out west. I could read tablature, so I was well prepared- right?? Can you imagine Magellan getting out in a row boat, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, because he was tired of that slow ass clipper ship? And I can also see the Old Plains settlers staring each other down at the campfire; all wily and cut-throat- wondering who was really leading and who’d get there first? If only there was enough gold?!
Tablature has obviously made the budding musicians life very accessible and allowed many bass players to cruise along at a manic pace. That’s all well and good, I’m not going anywhere without my MapQuest app either (I even use it for walking when I’m in a major city- looking like a righteous tourist!). Tab allows riffs to flow easy when you begin but there are a few things that escape us when we utilize this application. First off, pick up your bass (yes, right now!) and play the third fret on the second string. Are you lost yet?? Sure you are! What about my directions even sound musical? I am basically applying a coarse # system and blowing off any musicality that might be present; even as an afterthought. And it’s also cool if you know you’ve landed on C natural on you’re A string. That’s what I’m looking for!
My point being is that a rudimentary (I mean-very basic) knowledge is a helpful starting point, no matter where you’re headed. Don’t just rely on “Are we there yet?”, but think of it more as road sign or route that gets you in the right direction (you know, the one that says: California 1,000 miles!). Ultimately it will guide you from destination to destination. And when you become lost along the way, refer back to your Map (Quest) and get back on track. “Grace Under Pressure” is just a bunch of zeros, fives, sevens and octaves (whoa, slow down there fella!) and me pleading with my P-bass to magically sound like a Steinberger with Geddy’s adept timing! Know where you are dammit!
And for the record, I am no teacher or music theorist- I just noticed that all the shortcuts I had used hindered me, instead of enabling me. Over the years, you can become very complacent! It doesn’t have to be this way, so you adjust along your route.
Music is for everyone; and even though that sounds like a cop out from someone whose personalized his bass technique to suit his musical journey, it’s really no different than the hapless explorers or expeditions that shaped our advanced world we live in. I look silly walking around New York City because I have no clue where I am and don’t even ask a New Yorker for directions! Give me a P-bass though and I feel good, like I’m home. I know exactly where I am.