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Bass Lessons

Jared and Madeleine bass 2014

I’ve been a bassist for over 20 years (over two-thirds of my life). As college approached and  I was deciding what to do with my life, I had two options: professional musician or architect. Much of my life could be described as a balancing act between musician and architect. The tipping point from one to the other happened during my junior year of college, though I didn’t notice it for another few years. Currently my bass playing is approaching a nadir (at least that’s what I tell myself). Between being an architect at SALA Architects and running Shoegnome, my bass playing has all but vanished. The most playing I do is sitting on the floor with my nineteen-month-old daughter and letting her bang on the strings. The arrival of baby #2 in March or April won’t help the situation! But 2014… that’s my goal to get back to gigging out. Fortunately all those years of playing music haven’t gone to waste. There are at least three very useful lessons I’ve learned over the years:

Lesson #1 : Hand positions
I find that a lot of the keyboard shortcuts are reminiscent of gestures I used while playing the bass. Specifically the use of my thumb in conjunction with other fingers. A lot of my shortcuts will be something like this: ctr + 1, opt + 2, com + opt + z, ctr + opt + `, ctr + tab. Shift, control, option, and command are always pressed with my thumb. If two have to be pressed at once, the thumb straddles the keys and does both. While this is usually a mirror of how I’d use my hands on the bass (left hand instead of right hand), it’s the same basic muscle memory and very easy. Also it’s all about instinct. When asked what my keyboard shortcut for linework consolidation or fill consolidation is, I can never remember. But if I put my hand on the keyboard, it goes to the right place.

Lesson #2: Posture and comfort
This might come across as a little egotistical. Don’t worry. Read lesson #3 and it won’t be so bad. I’m a very good bassist. And I’ve been playing a very long time compared to most people I meet. Typically people pick up the guitar or bass in high school or college. I started playing when I was 9, after 2 years of cello. Because of this experience I can generally see someone hold a bass or at most play a few notes and have a good approximation of what kind of bassist they are. There are better and worse ways to hang a bass on your body. More experienced ways to put your hand against the neck or pluck a string. A bassist just about to play gives away a ton of cues about how comfortable, knowledgeable, and serious he or she is with the instrument. I’ve been playing long enough and I’m well versed enough to pick up on all this. Similarly, I’m discovering the same premise holds true for Archicad. How the hands rest on the keyboard, the phrasing of how questions are asked, how a view map is organized, how a file is named, etc. Individually these don’t say much (we all have our strengths and weaknesses), but together (and they’re always together) they reveal a lot about ones comfort level (and I’d argue effectiveness) in Archicad. Inversely if one focuses on these minor points, Archicad will become a lot easier and more fun to use.

Lesson #3: Stu Cloonan
I’ve had a lot of bass teachers. But one in particular made me the bassist I am today. Stu Cloonan taught for a brief time at Windsor Music Centre. He moved up from Florida to help the owner and vanished within 18 months. At first our lessons were 30 minutes in the basement of the store. Then they were however long he wanted them to be in an apartment above the store filled with miscellaneous musical equipment. Stu had a dispute with the owner and then he moved to some unknown location in Southern Connecticut.  We tried to meet up after that, but he got into a car accident on his way up to my house. It was bizarre and mysterious. And I was 16 or 17 and stupid, so I didn’t follow up and chase after the best music teacher I ever had. He taught me all about funk bass playing–thumping, tapping, all the great techniques and grooves of bands like Tower of Power and Parliament. But the best thing he taught me was this:

Before Stu met me, he had a student named Dan. Dan was a really good player, but a little lazy. Stu told him, “Dan, you’re good, but you need to practice. You’re the best player at Windsor High but… I guarantee you that there’s some kid at home that you don’t know who practices 8, 10, 12 hours a day and is amazing.” I was that kid. But unlike Dan, I got it. I was a damn good player. The best that I or anyone else in town knew of. But somewhere there was a kid who I didn’t know that was even better.*

And so it goes with Archicad. About half the tips from this post have this lesson in the background. Do your best and work hard, but understand there’s always someone you’re chasing and someone chasing you.

*I met the high school bassist who was better than me on a few occasions. First when we were both twelve, I was better than him. Then we met again at eighteen. He was amazing and went on to be a professional musician.

April 2015 Update: It’s insane that this post was written before my youngest daughter-who is now FOUR-was born. Also that 2014 goal, um…no. Make that 2018 or I don’t know. Someday. For sure.

September 2022 Update: That younger daughter is now entering middle school and I’m still not in a band. But, I bought a new bass in 2021 and ordered a second one a few months later that should arrive by the end of 2022. I play pretty much every day now and a year ago I started taking lessons again. Taking lessons from a teacher my same age on an instrument I’ve been playing for over 30 years is worthy of a blog post all to itself. I’ve learned my lesson with post predictions: maybe I’ll get that one written by 2050. Hopefully I’ll be in a band before then.

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