Autumn Leaves

I have been busying myself with new videos, producing “Anesthetized” and “Acid Rain” in the past month, and have begun working on a Dixie Dregs cover for my next video (Andy West is a BEAST). In the meantime I am talking with a drummer who was advertising on CL for a prog rock-fusion band, but because of Covid and my still-healing ankle, I don’t believe we will be getting together for a few weeks at least.

Someone once asked me if I taught lessons, and my swift response was “No.” The reasons I don’t teach lessons are:

  1. I am completely self-taught and my way is not THE way I would want someone else to learn;
  2. I can’t really read music (I can bumble through sheet music, given enough time), and I don’t really know any formal music theory. I understand the scales and know a minor from a major, if someone shouts out “the 6th is flat” in a major key I know what not to play, but I would not want someone to learn my own janky system;
  3. I don’t really have the time.

So yes, I confess, I have never had a bass lesson in my life. I recently began to look for potential teachers, but eh. I would like to learn some other techniques – I’d love to be able to slap and play some Primus, I would love to be able to play three finger plucking (index, middle, ring finger), but every time I’ve tried to learn either by watching Youtube videos, I have failed miserably.

And yes, I only play with two fingers – index and middle (I got this from emulating Geddy), but I really wished I had learned three-finger plucking techniques early on. As it is, I have gotten my two fingers to play pretty fast and in insanely fast stuff (bass solo in “Dance of Eternity”) I have found a way to use my two plucking fingers, one at a time, back and forth across the strings VERY quickly. If one finger gets tired, I can switch to the other to complete the riff or solo. I got the idea from guitarists, who only use a single plectrum to shred, going back and forth across the strings quickly.

I do sometimes use my ring finger to play a quarter note section or my thumb (to conserve energy in my two plucking fingers), and sometimes I will use all my fingers (except my pinky) to finger pick all at once (my Genesis’ cover of “Firth of Fifth”), but generally, it’s a two finger attack.

Finally, I can’t play with a pick. At all. So this makes the Yes stuff a bit challenging, but not too bad. A pick feels like it’s a barrier between my fingers and the strings and I can’t feel them like I’m used to. Plus I am nervous about dropping it, or it breaking, and I don’t need something else to worry about while playing. I usually use the fingernail on my index finger plucking hand when any sort of required pick-ish sounding stuff (see my cover of “Tempus Fugit,” or the chording part of “Acid Rain”). So I have my workarounds that do just fine, but I would not want anyone to emulate my finger “style.”

I never learned to read music. I’ve played in bands where people had their master’s in music and teach it formally, but they never really wanted to teach me much (I guess if you do it for a living, you don’t want to do it at home, which has made me shy away from gynecology lol). I have learned the staff, and can work it out, and I know a rest and a repeat when I see one (and I know my circle of fifths from the bass fingerboard), but that’s about it. In the band with the master’s degree musicians, they would argue about the inverted something of something while I played Angry Birds on my phone. Then the drummer would look at me and go, “You’ve got your system – you’ll do it.”

It’s not that I don’t want to read music or know theory, or are against others learning (far from it). As that drummer said to me, “You have your own way of doing it.” But I’ve never really felt the need to learn either, as I have depended on my ear all these decades to learn or work out something. For instance, when it comes to odd time signature, I never ever count anything. I just know what a 4/4 sounds like, then tell myself “This is cut off sooner than the usual,” or “This goes da da DA da da” in my head.

I listen intently to the kick and snare, then work it out. Odd time signatures have never been a problem for me, I first learned the “Overture” to 2112 as my first song, and odd times were just a natural part of playing, they were never unusual and are not challenging at all. Maybe it helps that when I play, I do not ever notice the guitar or keyboards, but I stick to the drums and seek to double them when possible – beat – fills – it makes no difference – stick with the drums!

When a really fast part comes up (the end of “Instrumedley,” or the entirety of “Acid Rain,”) I tell myself “This is faster than you realize….GO!” Check out my video cover of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Tarkus – Eruption” for a good example. This usually works to keep me in tempo, but, TBH, I sometimes go too fast, which is not a good thing. I try to play a little ahead of the beat to push the song alone, but too much and it’s a blurry mess.

Tapping has never been a problem, however, it has its own challenges. One of the things that made Eddie Van Halen so great (RIP), was that his tapping was precisely fretted and in perfect tempo – so it’s completely clean. To tap cleanly, the two big things are “Know your notes perfectly” and “Tap it HARD.” If it’s not clean, it sounds horrible, and if it’s not definitively punched through, it doesn’t sound at all.

When learning a new cover, I check Youtube for how people play it, tabs, and depend on my ears (because tabs are notoriously goofy). I just finished “Acid Rain” and the tab, for 50% of the time, was plain wrong, so I had to rely on my ears, or, if all else failed, grabbed the sheet music and wrote out each note from the score.

Also, I’ve never learned another instrument, other than some guitar stuff (I can play Kansas’ “Reason To Be” and Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away,” and some chords, but that’s all).

I don’t play keyboards, but I know where the notes are and what they are. The reason I never learned or cared to learn another instrument was that, to me, if I wasn’t playing bass but another instrument, that was time taken away from bass and really wasted. Sure, it’s fun to goof around on guitar, but to seriously learn it means that I am not using that time to get better on bass, which is my goal.

What’s coming up? It looks like a great Dixie Dregs tune (there is some slap in it – oh no!), then maybe an Emerson, Lake and Palmer instrumental (“Karn Evil 9, Second Impression”), or my last Liquid Tension song (“When the Water Breaks”), Frosts* “Hyperventilate,” or Yes’ “South Side of the Sky.” Those are all on my radar, but we’ll have to see – maybe I’ll be in a band, or at least, playing with a great drummer.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this autumn season and take care.

Published by Ron Tavalin - Progressive Rock - Progressive Metal Bassist

Hello! I'm Ron Tavalin, a Chicago-based progressive rock/metal bassist and this is my low-end den. Here you'll find music videos, bass guitar information, technique, and whatever else.

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