Transcribe Something Pedestrian Today

March 18, 2019

...Also transcribe your heroes being otherworldly, obviously. But let’s talk about all those non-face-melting licks you can find scattered throughout your music collection regardless of whether you to listen music via a box of thrift store cassettes or a popular internet format.


As I mentioned in my Larry Bird post, there's a lot of value in "getting the job done." However there's a lot of temptation to exclusively focus on learning the most pyrotechnic aspects of music. I'm going to suggest you can also get a lot value out of learning some of the simple things in music. If you tackle this with diligence you'll clean up your technique for the difficult stuff, and you'll learn--




--and really that's what it comes down to. Just like adding spices to taste in a dish, if you constantly throw the whole spice rack into every pot, you might please your weird gross nephew. Most reasonable adults however appreciate some nuance. Also, if you're cooking an Indian dish one might expect more seasoning than on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. So here we go..


1. Find your heroes playing repetitive parts 

One way to you can keep yourself motivated is to remember that someone who can totally shred played this. For bass players like myself try this:


 The esteemed Jamerson playing one riff for a whole song.


"Ok," you say, "so I learned that riff:" and play beautifully the following

*(with a B as the last note of the main riff That's what happens when you write something from memory without listening back)


  Now, the key to any musical endeavor is to extract everything you can about it. So can you answer these superficial questions:


a) what are the chords? Notice anything unusual about how they relate to the bass


b) does it ever vary? (Hint: even though I didn't write a coda, you'll need one to finish this chart. Since this is a blog post about doing the work, I'll let you figure that out)

c) how many measures were in the intro before this starts? (this type of information WILL catch you off guard in a cover band, try to make it as infrequent as possible by keeping track of this type of stuff as you learn songs, the drummer may not play the exact fill that you used as a mental cue).


Now dive a little deeper (if you're listening on bad speakers, here's it bumped up an octave so you can hear the details of the bass)

 a) which notes are connected?

b) on notes that aren't connected where do they cut off

c) if I were to play this on a modern bass with fresh strings and boatloads of sustain, how would I compensate?

d) can I play so perfectly with the recorded bass that you can't hear is anymore? Now focus on how that feels against the drums and the other instruments. No instrument exists in a vacuum. The magic comes from the subtle pushes and pulls. Otherwise you'll sound like a sequenced karaoke track.


If you can answer those 7 questions you'll be a long way to pulling off "For Once In My Life" or "What's Going On?" convincingly. Always capture the feeling and vibe above the notes. With patience, the notes will come. Capturing emotions doesn't come without some prying.


"Yeah," you mutter smugly, "that's one Temptations song." Well, I heard that and I don't appreciate your tone. Before I send you in a time out. Listen to the bass on this other repetitive  Temptations song:






Ok, I'm sorry it came to sending you to your room, but if you would trust that I always have another song as an example we wouldn't be here.


By way of apology, here's Ray Brown playing almost the exact this through all the A sections of Have You Met Miss Jones​

2. Learn a Whole Album.


This admittedly takes a lot of work. But this will teach you taste, and mental endurance. Taste is the more important aspect. Albums and live sets need ups and downs in all aesthetic categories, and, unless your name is on the marquee, not all the songs will feature you. While it's pretty easy to say you understand that sometimes you need to tuck back, it takes a lot of work to make it an instinct. But that's what we need. If you don't work on this a lot, your ego WILL get the best of you. Definitely be conservative on your choice of albums.


The other thing you'll learn from this is rationing your mental focus. If you've read anything about sports psychology, you know that focus is an expendable resource. Recording in the studio you'd only play 5 consecutive minutes at any given thing, and you can pretty give everything you have for that length of time. But albums like the live sets are going to be 30-60 minutes. Unfortunately, you can't give every note your full attention for that long. If you try you'll be sloppy be the end. So figure out what you can play on autopilot and practice changing your level of attention depending on the passage.


3. Parting Thoughts


If you every come to need learn anything out of Nashville that you think is boring, just assume everyone on the session can play Giant Steps better than you, because I've heard pedal steel players and banjo players tear up some heavy jazz. If playing music with and for people is your calling, never be afraid to be the Steve Kerr to Michael Jordan when the song calls for it.

Laura Cayouette wrote about similar aspects of film acting in her excellent book on the business of acting Know Small Parts


"Acting isn't for everyone. There are hundreds of auditions, most of which you won't get. Even Meryl Streep isn't "right" for every part. After stomaching the rejections long enough to find work again, the work can be tough physically and emotionally. On set, there are going to be moments that affect your ego, moments when you feel left out or insulted. You will sped hours waiting around for your moment. You will miss weddings and funerals only to find out you've been rescheduled for next week. But, that's the job. Like in the military, you may leave your home, or even the country, for months. Like athletes, you may have to perform physically demanding tasks over and over. You may train for years for a skill no one every films. Like Doctors, you may have to be on-call or work all-nighters. You may have to cry on cue or live through being raped over and over. That's the job. If you wish to be an actor, then that's the job you're wishing for."


If being a better musician is what you want, what are the unglamorous, frustrating things you need to do and work on? They're probably simple and repetitive.



Finally, as a reward for sitting through a pedestrian conversation about pedestrian playing, I offer you a transcription of the spiced-up ride out from the Ain't Too Proud To Beg on "Tempations Live!" Bill Upchurch on bass


check the pdf


 Gotcha! This was really a reminder to be able to play everything in any key, even the temptations might need a new key live!  Although I'm intrigued that the last audible bass note is a B natural. How would you finish that measure?


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