Bring Out Your Dead

Like many of you, my music collection began on the venerable Compact Cassette format. While I’m somewhat ashamed to say the first tape I bought on my own was *cough* Thriller, the second proved to be a much more dignified choice.

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1984 wasn’t so bad after all.

Although I remember when computers came with cassette tape players, the format doesn’t exactly lend itself to multimedia excellence. I haven’t had a tape player for years, so they’ve just sat there moldering.

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Riding the Thunder Broom

I recently bought a bass guitar. I figured at this point in my life it would be a good idea for me to take up a new hobby or two. Beachy also wants me to be a “rock star” when I grow up. She approves of this purchase.

Music is not an entirely new thing to me. Dad was a guitarist in a few local bands in the 60s. I took piano lessons when I was in elementary school, although my passion for that was halfhearted at best. Most of my friends in high school were band geeks.

Strongly influenced by said band geeks, I acquainted myself with the works of Mike Watt, Geddy Lee, Les Claypool and others as a teenager. I’ve been interested in taking up bass for a good 20 years. Bass should be a good instrument for me. I fancy myself loud and low, and I think in terms of single notes rather than chords.

There were two main obstacles to that though. First, I’m left-handed. VERY left-handed. Dad tried to teach me guitar on a standard right-handed model, but I just wasn’t picking it up. Everything seemed upside down to me. What’s more, locating an affordable left-handed instrument in the pre-World Wide Web days was about as easy as picking up a bottle of Bacardi 151 in Riyadh. It just wasn’t happening.

The second obstacle – and probably the more important one – was my strong tendency to set the bar unrealistically high for myself when undertaking any new endeavor. If I wasn’t able to be a virtuoso in a relatively short period of time, it wasn’t worth it to me.

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And when I say “set the bar high,” I’m not dicking around here.

I’m a perfectionist by nature. It wasn’t until quite recently that I became somewhat comfortable with the concept of not having to be a world-beater in absolutely everything I did. Having your ass handed to you by bipolar type II will do that to you. That and the miracle of e-commerce finally convinced me to take the next step.

So despite being 39, well past the age many people take up these sorts of things, over Christmas I found a left-handed bass online and had it shipped to the local Guitar Center. Of course, not wanting to drop a ton of money on something I wasn’t entirely sure I’d take up in the long term, I went for – shall we say – a low-end model. It’s made by an outfit called Main Street Guitar Company.

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The Chinese call it quality!

Over the next couple months I picked up other necessary items, such as an amp, a cord, a shoulder strap and a gig bag. I’m ready to RAWK!

Well, I would be if I had anything resembling dedication. Everyone tells me, “Man, you need to practice every day or you lose your touch.” I have no reason to disagree with that. However, I play maybe twice a week at the moment. Never mind CORRECT notes. At this point I’m happy with CLEAN notes which don’t sound like hitting a metal coil with a sledgehammer.

I can play the bass line from “Once in a Lifetime” fairly well, but that’s about it right now.

A couple days ago I compared learning the bass to learning to type. Honestly I don’t know how valid that comparison is, but as a writer it seems logical to me. Music theory as traditionally presented has never been one of my strengths. I get the basic concept of such things as notation and time signatures, but I’ve always found anything but the simplest sheet music absolutely confounding.

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Yeah, this does nothing for me.
Image credit: Hyacinth

It seems to me it would be easier to think of notes as “letters” and bass lines as “words.” One needs to learn where the various notes are on the bass. After that it’s a relatively simple matter of constructing the line in much the same way one types a word on a keyboard. I understand this theory doesn’t take into account important things like tempo. I tend to view that as something one picks up innately.

Perhaps I’m over-thinking this and trying to unnecessarily re-invent the wheel. That’s another thing I’m notorious for.