Day 9: I Had No Life Today Whatsoever

What most musicians wouldn’t give for just one day packed full of growth. Bob Franceschini: world renowned saxophonist; helped design a new breed of sax for Yamaha. Victor Wooten: most proficient bassist on the planet. JD Blair: drummer for Shania Twain; so tight, they thought someone turned the metronome off during the audition. Not to mention Richard the nature guy, the one dude you’d want to be friends with if you were half eaten by a bear. I get to spend three weeks with this, and much other amazing talent, and have direct access to ask them questions, request demonstrations, or just pal around. If you haven’t signed up for a camp yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. This blog certainly doesn’t do it justice.

I’ve been recovering from heat exhaustion the past 24 hours, so I missed out on some of the festivities last night and early this morning. Our morning kicked off with another nature walk followed by some archery. Quite frankly, I prefer shooting things until they’re dead. I can do that real well. I have no need for toy sticks and rubber bands. Give me a .44 magnum and we’re cool.

First up is music theory with Bob. Today? Stationary chords on the diatonic scale.

Just as Richard had me moved out of the “labeling things” business, because it doesn’t mean we know anything about it, Bob encouraged us to begin labeling things. It’s easier to play sometimes if we can label it. It gives us clarity. Labeling sure is better than saying, “no no, man… it’s THIS chord…” all the time. I’ve learned a ton of theory about chords at my time here. I’ve always worked with chords, but couldn’t figure out why I could never voice some of them properly. Once I figured out the secret, I’ve been digging into all kinds of nasty chords.

Bob taught us how to fit triads over a chord to create melodies. You don’t have to stay in the chord being played. You can put a triad over pretty any stationary chord. Imagine taking E7 and diatonicizing it melodically to create melodies. Take a stationary chord and play an E7 down to D, down to C, and so on. Go 1 chord to 2 chord to 3 chord, etc. Playing E7, to playing the D. Stacking chord tones in thirds over the scale. Shift the chords melodically. Build the chords in thirds. In your mind, you can hear the D over the E.

Now play in a triad that works in the key from the mixolydian mode. The tonic of the mixolydian mode is the tonic of EVERY chord, so this works nicely. You’ll hear a harmonic movement in time. Use chord tones to make the melodies. So if you’re playing E7, you can build triads using E-Mixo.  Or how about this: Play E, then find the four chord. Then the three chord, and so on. Triad on the fourth degree.

Think triadically over a chord and you can build wicked melodies.

Next up: Bass line authoring with Vic. The simplest bass lines are repetitive. Think of Billy Jean. Just hearing the drum pattern still puts that simple bass line in our head. It’s been forever burned into our brains. Take your own lines and strip them down to the basic root notes. If your bass line doesn’t groove stripped down, it’s not going to groove when you add embellishments. In fact, if you practice your bass line in a stripped down mode, your embellishments will get smoother when you go back to add them later.

When we play someone’s song, we always focus on mimicking the embellishments first, instead of stripping it down to its simplest form. Strip it, then get THAT right first… then work on the embellishments. Focus on the foundation of the bass line first. Tune into the bass line and ask yourself, “why did they choose that bass line?”.

Keep your bass lines simple and repetitive.

For homework tonight, Victor told us to write three bass lines using Bm and E7, one in 7/8 time if possible. Composing, he says, is improvisation in slow motion. Once you learn to compose, you’ll also learn to improvise. Personally I like my version of this: improvisation is composition in a rush.

After the daily classes, we spent a few solid hours with JD Blair again. JD is always an impressive cat to hang out with. He goes wide eyed when he gets excited, and you can hear the ching of the spurs on his boots when he walks around sometimes. He also has a cool personality and likes to mimic the old Parliament style ghetto funk attitude in his speech. Metamucil brothah.

When bass players build lines, JD says, it’s usually pretty busy. A simple bass line allows the other players to come in and wail on the song. The theme for today was, “the groove within the space”. Space in a song is like driving in your car in the rain. When you drive under an overpass, the rain stops for just a second, then starts back up. Space in music has a similar effect on people – it causes people to miss what’s been taken away.

Add space for crying out loud!

Silence is part of what every musician should be playing. Don’t be a sad bassist.

Timing was next: Don’t rely on the drummer to keep your time. If you lean on the drummer, he’ll trip you up.

FInally, a few words of wisdom on funk. Funk lives on the EEs and the AAs. Funk has a feeling of down, not pushing up. Funk is trying to put the song in a bad mood. When one of Chaka Kahn’s replacement bassists couldn’t groove like Anthony Jackson, he was told that he “didn’t understand the intention of the funk”. Next time you want to play funk, pretend you’re in a bad mood and frown real big. You’ll get it right.

The day wrapped up with a theory class teaching us some tips about writing sheet music. And now I’m off to do my homework.