A rhythm-section thread

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Crow
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A rhythm-section thread

Post by Crow » September 3rd, 2012, 11:26 am

It was about 30 years ago that I realized I am a rhythm-section player, specifically a bassist. The band was so DIY we didn't have drums to start -- my girlfriend thrashed out the beat on a telephone book. (She shredded the thing.) The guitarist was learning her instrument while writing songs, and I found that a bass player can help turn a beginner into a viable songwriter. You can shift things subtly from down there. Subsequent bands introduced me to better drummers and a conviction that the rhythm section is a calling more than a job. To do it right, you have to live in a mental space that some guitarists can grasp but not all. Often my drummers & I wound up speaking in a gutteral code of our own. The results were good, although the bands weren't. We were serving the beat; not all of my bandmates were.

My present project is a church band with two professional musicians. I'm still trying to get the good rhythm-section ESP going with our drummer. We can achieve it for seconds at a time. I've found that when we are best in sync, I can't hear him anymore. Wondered if anyone else has had that experience. Also any tips on how to develop that ESP are welcome... actually, anything rhythm-section-related would be fun.
"You can't write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say sometimes, so you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream." - Frank Zappa

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Re: A rhythm-section thread

Post by Gotdablues » September 6th, 2012, 9:48 pm

Sure I'll join in,

So, I got a Bass almost a year now after playing guitar(rhythm mostly) for like 12 yrs. Though I want to pick the guitar back up cause i do have a passion for it, I've discovered the one most important thing in music and that's the rhythm. Bass player ain't got it bad, drummer ain't got it worse, lead guitar player ain't got, people are leaving the club!!

I've got the Bass on the stand and Guitar is in the case for close to a month and a half now. I've got 3 songs I've been working on exactly as they are written on sheet music, I play them all through to the end with few mistakes. I think this is the key 8) for me 'cause if I got it right I can play along with the track and its all good.



Pat

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Re: A rhythm-section thread

Post by jwmartin » September 7th, 2012, 6:41 pm

Like both of you, I found myself drawn more to rhythm guitar than lead. I'd never even really listened to the bass when listening to music. I was recording some (terrible) songs I had written and was using a midi bass plugin or a keyboard to do the bass. I started changing up the bass line and realized how it changed the song. I wanted it to sound better, so I thought I would pick up a cheap bass just to use on my recordings. A friend loaned me one of his basses (Fender Jazz) and a tiny little practice amp. As soon as I started playing it, it felt like home. I've played guitar for 9 years and bass for only 4, but I call myself a bassist who also plays guitar.

The first band I played in, the drummer wasn't bad, but he was "free" with his rhythm. Sometimes, we would lock in great. If he was drinking, forget about it. We kicked him out and brought in a friend of the singers and we were like chocolate and peanut butter from the first practice. I always knew right where he was going to be and right when he was going to do a fill and what it was going to be. My current band, I'm still trying to find that groove with our drummer. We are tight, but he loses the beat occasionally when doing a fill. He sings lead on a lot of our songs, so he keeps his beat pretty basic on those, so I usually know what's coming. He doesn't seem to pick up on cues from me, so I'm trying to watch and listen to him more and hope he hears how I react to his playing.

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Re: A rhythm-section thread

Post by banre » September 26th, 2012, 7:27 am

I had a very similar experience to jwmartin. I was in high school/college marching and concert bands growing up, from 7th grade on. I played tuba and was quite good at it. (Actually, still not half bad, as I picked up my son's tuba a few months ago and I think I was still better than him. I think that miffed him quite a bit :D)

After college through the first marriage, I didn't play any music at all. Around the time I got out of the marriage (total of 8ish years I guess), I picked up a guitar and amp thinking I'd learn guitar and really rock out with it. Turns out, the guitar and I never quite clicked. I mean, I can play some chords. But the shredder I'm not.

Then, about about three years after first buying that guitar, I was helping run the sound system at church and the band leader asked if I played any instruments. I said I could play some chords, so he says, how about bass? Well, I'd never touched one at that point, but said if you give me a week or two I bet I could struggle through a service if he needed me to. The next Monday, he proceeded to say be ready for Sunday. He gave me a bass to practice with on Thursday. A big honking six string Ibanez. So between then and Sunday, I had to work up three songs to perform in front of the 100 or so people in the main congregation.

Luckily, bass guitar is apparently the instrument I was made to play. Now, the first week, I sure didn't stray much from the roots. But everything just felt "right". In two weeks time, I had bought my own bass. In four months time, I had craigslisted a band and joined up. Standard "Brown Eyed Girl"/"Sweet Home Alabama" type cover band. I literally went from never touching a bass in my life to performing for money in six months. Maybe all the tuba for years growing up trained me, or maybe I was good at tuba because I was meant for the low end.

All that to say that I now know that I was made to be in the rhythm section. That first band's drummer was a self taught older guy. Really solid until he had imbibed a bit too much <insert random barbiturate>. We locked in really well at times.

That band dissolved after a year or so. Guitar and keys were husband/wife. Makes for really awkward practices when they would start yelling at each other. I'll never do the family in a band again. As that was ending, I answered another craigslist ad and wound up in my current project. This one is an incredible project and we've really made some great strides in popularity. We call ourselves a "Band of Christians", not a Christian band. We have a couple of sets worked up. We have a "bar" set that mixes in originals and covers. All the covers are definitely NOT standard "Brown Eyed Girl"/"Sweet Home Alabama" stuff. We have some Gary Moore, throw in some Thin Lizzy, ZZ Top. Our originals are based in Christianity, but only a couple hit you over the head with it. We play them in bars as well.

The drummer and I in this band don't lock in perfectly at times, but we do make eye contact and make sure we are keeping tempo together. At times he has a tendency to let the pace of a song creep up. He does a lot of singing too. He's solid all around though. The band has two PHENOMENAL guitar players, so our job is really to make sure to just lay a nice foundation for the to go off. And we do that really well.

If anyone is interested, you can listen to few originals at http://www.reverbnation.com/UnseenEvidence

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Re: A rhythm-section thread

Post by EzraplaysEzra » September 26th, 2012, 7:55 am

I gave it a listen- I'd love to hear you idea of overtly christian if you think that music is subtly christian!
Good guitar's, I do agree. But "Jesus you are my lord" is such a blatant rip off of "I'm a man" by Chicago Transit Authority that I lost interest right there. That Stuff really irks me.

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Re: A rhythm-section thread

Post by Crow » September 26th, 2012, 8:11 am

Ahem. The thread's really not about critiquing other peoples' music. The rhythm section on what I've heard is solid. That's all I care about....
banre wrote:The next Monday, he proceeded to say be ready for Sunday. He gave me a bass to practice with on Thursday. A big honking six string Ibanez.
What a great introduction to the bass guitar! People seem to avoid the six-string electric bass, but it's the perfect fulfillment of Leo Fender's original concept. Not as hard to play as one might think....
...I now know that I was made to be in the rhythm section.
What made you realize that?
"You can't write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say sometimes, so you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream." - Frank Zappa

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Re: A rhythm-section thread

Post by banre » September 26th, 2012, 9:17 am

Crow wrote: What a great introduction to the bass guitar! People seem to avoid the six-string electric bass, but it's the perfect fulfillment of Leo Fender's original concept. Not as hard to play as one might think....
Agreed. It really made me learn to keep strings not being actively played muted quickly. I bought a 4 string after that, but have gotten a 5 string since and won't be going back. My next bass might be a sixer. The EBMM Bongos are pretty sweet.
Crow wrote:What made you realize that?
Because it fit me. What I'm good at is not the limelight. I listen to the whole ensemble and only attempt to fill in just when something seems hollow, never just to do it. I get great satisfaction know that the band as whole operates smoothly because of what I do.

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Re: A rhythm-section thread

Post by banre » September 26th, 2012, 9:24 am

EzraplaysEzra wrote:I gave it a listen- I'd love to hear you idea of overtly christian if you think that music is subtly christian!
Good guitar's, I do agree. But "Jesus you are my lord" is such a blatant rip off of "I'm a man" by Chicago Transit Authority that I lost interest right there. That Stuff really irks me.
I had actually never listened to that song until just now. I do hear the similarities. That is one original that I inherited coming into the band. I'll prolly bring it up at practice.

If you see my original post, I said we only have a few that knock you over the head with religion. That is certainly one of them. We rarely pull that one out in a bar setting. We have many that are not recorded that we play out that unless you sat down and listened to every line, you wouldn't catch the deeper meaning.

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Re: A rhythm-section thread

Post by EzraplaysEzra » September 26th, 2012, 9:47 am

Oh I wasn't criticizing the christian stuff, you mentioned the music didn't beat you over the head with it and then I listened and within the first verse I said - this is christian rock. Just thought that was humorous. Like saying - my music isn't really guitar related and having the first track listed as a 10 minute version of eruption. I've got nothing against anyone playing what ever they want about any subject matter whatsoever. I do hate obvious plagiarism, having been the victim of it, and call it when I see it. I will not apologize for that. Nothing personally against you, like you said, you inherited it and I would think it would be mighty large of you to bring it up to the author. Many people wouldn't do anything at all.
Good and tight musically though.

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Re: A rhythm-section thread

Post by NoteBoat » September 26th, 2012, 6:17 pm

Crow, I've been thinking about this thread lately.

I've been contracted to do rhythm section clinics for a local school district's jazz bands. I'm only about a month into the project so far, but it really boils down to listening to the other musicians (which is the key to everything musical, really)... and I'm starting to form some rules of thumb. Bear in mind that my pupils are age 10-13, with less than a year of playing experience and zero ensemble experience.

- As a rule, the bassists I'm working with don't play enough notes. They play enough pitches, but not enough of them - I'm working with them to take the pitch they have to play and make it swing - you don't have to do a half note to fill two beats; a dotted quarter/eighth or some other syncopation adds a lot, filling in the open time.

- As a rule, the guitarists play too many notes. They play the right ones (the chord that's called for), but they're not very aware of how the voicing steps on the other musicians. If you're in a band with a dozen players, you don't need a six string voicing - you want three, or two, that get the idea across and give the music room to sing. You expressed this really well with a couple of phrases: "we were serving the beat" and "when we are best in sync, I can't hear him anymore". Less is definitely more for guitar in a big band.

We're doing simple exercises based on 12-bar blues to start with, and I'm trying to incorporate trading fours into the last part of each clinic, to get them used to the dual roles that rhythm section players have: be the clock most of the time, and unwind when it's your turn.

My clinics are focusing on three aspects of jazz:

1. Jazz has extended harmony. That harmony tells you there's a lot available for what you can play - but it doesn't mean you should play it all at once. Leave something for the next chorus to make that one fresh (and sparse) too.

2. Jazz has syncopation. But being able to play between the beats doesn't mean you always should; you're dancing with the beat, not forcing it to follow you.

3. Jazz is improvisational. That means a) you need to know what you want to say before you say it, and b) the moment you begin, you're succeeded - you've created a musical conversation with your band mates. There aren't any mistakes in jazz, just things we learn from that we can apply in the next chorus.

I'm having a blast working with the kids in this role, and they seem to be too. They're absolutely becoming more musical about their playing, and quickly - I've heard dramatic progress in each hour long session. Because we're completely focused on building rhythm sections, the focus is not on what to play, or how, but WHEN to play (and when not to).
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Re: A rhythm-section thread

Post by Crow » September 26th, 2012, 7:47 pm

SO much good stuff in that post.
NoteBoat wrote:...it really boils down to listening to the other musicians (which is the key to everything musical, really)...
Yes. In theory everyone's a rhythm-section player, listening to everyone else; in reality the rhythm guys have to listen to one another first and foremost, with half an ear on the rest of the band. This may be somewhat different in a big-band setting, with a four-piece rhythm section, but I'll bet it's not THAT different.
- As a rule, the bassists I'm working with don't play enough notes. They play enough pitches, but not enough of them - I'm working with them to take the pitch they have to play and make it swing - you don't have to do a half note to fill two beats; a dotted quarter/eighth or some other syncopation adds a lot, filling in the open time.
This is a critical role for the bass player: filling open spaces in the fabric of the music. If other people aren't swinging, the bassist has to swing twice as hard. But that's dangerous, as it can lead one to play more than necessary.
- As a rule, the guitarists play too many notes. They play the right ones (the chord that's called for), but they're not very aware of how the voicing steps on the other musicians. If you're in a band with a dozen players, you don't need a six string voicing - you want three, or two, that get the idea across and give the music room to sing. You expressed this really well with a couple of phrases: "we were serving the beat" and "when we are best in sync, I can't hear him anymore". Less is definitely more for guitar in a big band.
Freddie Green said his guitar added color to the drum kit -- the snare was F minor, the high-hat was C major. That was pre-amplification rhythm guitar in a nutshell. It must be hard to have a guitar amp that goes up to 11 & have to find a way to blend in with a band. It's possible to develop interesting rhythm parts with two- or three-note lines. Robben Ford and Larry Carlton are wizards in this field.
My clinics are focusing on three aspects of jazz:

1. Jazz has extended harmony. That harmony tells you there's a lot available for what you can play - but it doesn't mean you should play it all at once. Leave something for the next chorus to make that one fresh (and sparse) too.

2. Jazz has syncopation. But being able to play between the beats doesn't mean you always should; you're dancing with the beat, not forcing it to follow you.

3. Jazz is improvisational. That means a) you need to know what you want to say before you say it, and b) the moment you begin, you're succeeded - you've created a musical conversation with your band mates. There aren't any mistakes in jazz, just things we learn from that we can apply in the next chorus.
Beautiful. None of that applies only to jazz BTW.
They're absolutely becoming more musical about their playing, and quickly - I've heard dramatic progress in each hour long session. Because we're completely focused on building rhythm sections, the focus is not on what to play, or how, but WHEN to play (and when not to).
Couldn't put it any better than that myself. It must be hard to teach a bunch of middle-schoolers to lay back, but if they learn it at that age, they're that much ahead for the rest of their lives. You are doing God's work, NoteBoat.
"You can't write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say sometimes, so you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream." - Frank Zappa

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Re: A rhythm-section thread

Post by Gotdablues » November 8th, 2012, 8:45 am

Crow wrote:SO much good stuff in that post.
NoteBoat wrote:...it really boils down to listening to the other musicians (which is the key to everything musical, really)...
Yes. In theory everyone's a rhythm-section player, listening to everyone else; in reality the rhythm guys have to listen to one another first and foremost, with half an ear on the rest of the band. This may be somewhat different in a big-band setting, with a four-piece rhythm section, but I'll bet it's not THAT different.

Well, just playing covers with one other guitar guy right now, and the goal is to know the songs well enough where all my complete focus doesn't need to be on my own playing but on both of us, this way I can better sync, the 2 man band needs to play as one.

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Re: A rhythm-section thread

Post by NoteBoat » November 9th, 2012, 7:55 pm

Crow wrote: You are doing God's work, NoteBoat.
It sure seemed that way today - it was the first rehearsal with the full big band. The school band director (who plays trombone) conducted from a chair while playing - at the edge of the brass section, adjoining the woodwinds. We rehearsed in the round, with the rhythm section facing the rest of the band, me coaching the rhythm section between the guitarists (two were chosen, both of whom are now my private students) and the bass/drums. I played with them, but unplugged, so I wouldn't intrude on their sound (using a semi hollow body, so they could hear me, but the rest of the band couldn't)

We comped different rhythms, working backwards - drill the last four bars, so everyone knows how to end together; then drill the solo section, so everyone knows how to listen/respond; drill the head; then perform the whole tune. In an hour, we worked four tunes, two in minor keys, two in major.

At the end of the hour, we had a group of complete beginners - kids who had never picked up an instrument until about seven weeks ago - playing Coletrane (Mr. P.C.) and doing a darn fine job of it at the original tempo.

The bassist, with all of 50 days on her instrument, was solid. In time, running her arpeggios. The drummer, with the same amount of time, was steady. The guitars struggled a bit as we got to tempo... one was fine (he's been playing for two years), the other (who has been playing for two months) can do the fingerings with preparation time, which you don't get at 200bpm. We took a quick moment to substitute some chords - instead of Eb7, he plays Bbm (creating an Eb9 with the other guitar) and they made it swing.

I hope I'm around in 20 years to hear what these kids develop into. They've got the drive, and they're starting to get the ears.

The struggling guitarist had a private lesson with me at the school tonight. He knows he's in the deep end of the pool, but he's able to shake it off and try new things. We spent the whole lesson on the Coletrane tune, and by the end of it he could play the changes four different ways, with three different comping styles.

Their first gig is next week - they're going to play at a nursing home in a neighboring town as a warm-up for a holiday concert. I'm going to try to reschedule my lessons that day and go watch... and groove to the next generation!
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