Saturday, February 16, 2008

Time to Get Serious


It occurred to me at the Protest the Hero show the other night that although I've been playing bass for 12 years (and I was a quick study, I might add), I've hardly improved at all for at least 10 of them. Since I started in grade 10 I've played bigger shows with progressively better bands, but I haven't built a repertoire of cover songs, I haven't learned to read music on the bass (it should be a cinch, since I can read it for piano and trumpet), I can't slap well, I can't tap at all, I can't count out odd time signatures or polyrhythms, I can't solo or play with a pick to save my life, and when it comes to improvising, I'm hamfisted, slow and limited to three scales. I've always embraced the "less-is-more, deeper-is-better" philosophy of bass playing, and it's served me well, but, truthfully, part of why I denouce flashy bassists as masturbators is because I'm envious of their skill.

I've always said to myself, "Well, if I just practiced more, I could be better if I wanted to," but now I'm starting to think that I'd learn more, faster if I started taking lessons from a competent teacher. Following one's own inclinations can only take the learner so far, because the best knowledge, skills and techniques in any field are rare, hard-won and often counterintuitive. Some people might argue that any kind of "true" classicism violates the spirit of the rock ethos (this is probably the only point in the known universe that Alan Bloom and punk rockers would agree on, and I hope to return to Bloom's ill-tempered but philosophically interesting critique of rock music as irresponsible, vulgar and onanistic in a future post), but I think this is balderdash. It may seem paradoxical that submission to the rigours of tradition would be profoundly liberating, but I believe it's nonetheless true. I just hope I can find the time and the self-discipline to go as far as I can with this, because I really am getting too old to be a poseur or a dabbler.

I was thinking I'd find some inspiration if I spruced my old Fender Jazz 5 up a little bit with a truss rod and intonation adjustment, lighter strings and a fancy new pickguard, but I need to get a goddamn job before I start worrying about all that.

(Image from www.gand.com)

6 comments:

Glenn said...

A few years ago I realized that I was doing a lot of creative type things (making movies, writing rock songs, writing stories, writing poetry, making electronic music, everybody's mom) but that I was really mediocre or worse at all of them. So I basically decided to pick one and focus on it. For some reason that was poetry, so I basically stopped playing the guitar and now I suck at it. I don't know what the lesson is here. Poetry is awesome?

John MacEachern said...

You should pick it up again. I mostly stopped playing bass for 2 years about 5 years ago, and once I got over the hand-cramping rustiness and bloody blisters (which took about 3 months) I was noticeably better at it. Not like I knew hot to play any new stuff, I mean, but I was better at playing the same old stuff.

Shauna said...

One of my favourite compliments ever was that I "look like the kind of girl who plays guitar", and one of my greatest shames is that I never even tried to learn. I've gotta get on that.

Jan said...

This is why I rarely tell people that I play the piano, because then they expect me to be able to play something and I just feel that is far too great of an expectation.

fEeF said...

Great to read word of your re-engagement with the ol' bass! I too have played on-and-off for the past few years, with little overall improvement... I recently picked up a killer EBS multi-drive distortion peddle and love to strap on the ear goggles and wail like fuzzed out metaleer. Anyway, killer stuff on here, John... love your writing, it boggles my jealous mind.

John said...

Thanks, Shireef. Good to hear from you.