Berklee Bass Talk with Bass Professor Ed Lucie
During my tenure as Associate Editor of Bass Musician Magazine, I introduced a semi-regular column entitled "Berklee Bass Talk", in which Berklee professor Ed Lucie answered one reader question per issue.
Here are some reprints of that column, which ran from 2012 to 2013.
Throw Away The Metronome?
Q: Is the ability to play with good time something that can be improved with practice, or is it more or less just something you’re born with? Is practicing with a metronome or drum machine a waste of time? Also, how can a bass player improve their time when playing in situations where there’s no drummer or time keeper?
Swinging With The Drummer– Push, Pull Or Line It Up?
Q: When drummers swing, some play way on top of the beat, some pull way back, and others are somewhere in between. When playing a swing tune with a drummer, is it better for the bassist to push / pull in the opposite direction? For example, if the drummer is pushing it hard, is it better for the bassist to pull back? Or should the bassist try to swing with exactly the same feel as the drummer?
A: This is an interesting question that I don’t think has one solid answer that applies to all situations. The bottom line is always to make the music and groove to feel good. I remember when I played with Buddy Rich he played ‘on top’ and feathered his bass drum with ‘4 on the floor’. I had to lock in with his time and feel, there was no compromise. The result was a very powerful, forward feel to the groove. When I listen to Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, the quarter notes on Cobb’s ride cymbal and PC’s quarter notes are perfectly lined up but in a relaxed way. Tony Williams and Ron Carter had something else going on, certainly together but looser.
Is It Necessary To Play Live To Improve?
Q: Is it still necessary for bassists to play live with other musicians in order to improve their own playing? There are so many practice tools available now, especially the hundreds of various play-alongs with great rhythm sections. On the other hand, in live situations, we’re sometimes playing with others that might not be at our playing level. Why not just try to improve our chops at home?
A: It is absolutely essential that bass players play with other musicians, not only to improve their own playing but to experience the ‘give and take’ of being a member of an ensemble. There are so many variables at work when playing with others. The first is simply everyone’s different personalities, and learning how to negotiate and work among them; to be a player among players. I always recall Abraham Laboriel saying the bass is the role of a servant; we are to serve the music and make everyone else sound good. He always does a masterful job of this.
And then there are all the things that occur in the moment that musicians need to be able to respond to. For instance: a singer losing the form, the drummer rushing or dragging, the guitarist playing wrong chords. How do we react or respond? You do not learn this by playing with DVD’s where everything is always perfect and always the same. We learn whenever we play, whether it be with more experienced or less experienced musicians. Try Googling “baseball batting instruction”, you’ll find many. Perhaps you can learn some techniques from these but you need to get into the game. You need to be up to bat with two men on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and the game on the line, to know what that takes to succeed. No DVD will ever teach you that. And no DVD will ever teach you the energy, the excitement, the joy and the fulfillment of playing with a good band live, and knowing you are holding it all together.
Was Jaco Overrated?
Q: There seems to be some debate among the newer generation of bass players as to whether Jaco was really as good as some say, or if he’s been overrated. In your opinion, how important was Jaco, and where is his place in bass history?
A: First, I am truly honored to be answering this question regarding if Jaco is ‘overrated’ by some of the younger generation.
Mastering Rhythmic Notation
Q: Very often the biggest reading obstacle for bass students is mastering rhythmic notation. Do you have any specific advice in how students can get up to speed quickly in learning to read rhythms?
A: As far as reading rhythms and rhythmic figures, I have found two things quite helpful both in my own playing and in teaching others. Most of us learn to ‘count’ rhythms i.e.: 1 e & a for 16th notes, or some tri-pl-et for triplets. I have found it much easier to recognize, through practice, rhythmic groupings. (I also say ‘cucumber’ when I see a triplet, it is a much rounder feel). For instance when I see a dotted 8th, then a 16th tied to an 8th and then another 8th note; I recognize this grouping as a very common funk rhythm (rather than counting it). The other exercise I found useful was to read along with a transcription of a bass groove/line that YOU ALREADY KNOW. Then you will put what it looks like and what it sounds like together instantaneously.
Q: When soloing on bass, I want to be able to incorporate chord substitutions, but don’t really understand the concept. How do I learn what chords I can use as substitutes, and where to use them?” This is a good, relevant question that does not have an easy, overall answer, so I’ll try to answer simply in three parts.
A: First is to understand a chord’s function and then use similar functioning chords in their stead, ie: in a major key, the I, III-, and VI- are tonic chords. So in the key of C: Cmaj7, E-7 and A-7 are tonic thus you could substitute an E-7 for the Cmaj for example (assuming your are speaking of applying this while soloing). Likewise, II-7 and IVmaj7 are sub-dominant, so D-7 and Fmaj7 could be substitutes for each other. This can go much deeper with modal interchange, but that’s another story.
Secondly is what is called the tri-tone substitution. This is done only with dominant 7th chords. So you could use a Db7 instead of a G7. The G7 would usually resolve up a 4th to a C chord, whereas the tri-tone sub would resolve down by a 1/2 step (chromatically).
Third is to use alternate scales over existing chords. This has vast possibilities. For instance, you can use a symmetric diminished scale (1/2-whole) on a dominant 7th chord starting on the root, or a whole-1/2 starting on the 3rd, 5th, 7th or b9th. You can use melodic minor and lydian b7 over a II-V vamp. So you would play A melodic minor and D lydian b7 over an A-7 / D7 vamp.
We could go on and on, but I hope this at least gets you started. PS: Listen to Herbie Hancock or Keith Jarrett or…..