Tuesday, May 1, 2012

For the Joy of It

Although I've played bass guitar since high school, a few weeks back I started learning bass guitar.

Prior to that I'd only ever played out of necessity. If the bass player doubled on organ and the band needed someone to play bass, I'd play. If during a mixdown the tracks played by the band's bassist weren't cutting it, I'd overdub them. If the bass player didn't show, I'd cover.  Although I'd played bass frequently, I'd never actually sat down with a bass to practice.

One afternoon about three weeks ago, my mind full of code that isn't going anywhere, I glance up at the wall and notice my bass.  Have you ever looked at someone and felt like you were seeing her for the first time? You've known her forever, but you've never taken time to look at her, to notice the creases around her eyes, the shape of her upper lip or the line of her jaw.

I leave my code where it is was, grab my bass, plug into the amp and start to play.

I stop.

I turn the bass over in my lap and examine it, scanning from top to bottom, running my hands up and down the neck. I hold it up to eye level and check out the string height. I turn it over to test the quarter-inch jack to see if it needs tightening. I slowly twist each of the knobs, my fingers searching for any hesitation or resistance.

Satisfied that everything is working well, I re-situate myself, set the bass in my lap and tune. I take my time. I first tune by ear simply listening to the intervals. I test my work comparing the overtones of adjacent strings, listening for the beating patterns that occur when a string is just a bit off.

I stop. I breathe. It occurs to me that I've never taken this long to prepare to play, certainly not with a bass guitar.

I close my eyes and pluck a groove from the groove garden that seems to bloom perennially in my head.

I open my eyes and look at the fretboard. My left hand slides up the E-string to the fifth fret. My right elbow shifts to the right positioning my thumb and index finger just above the lower pickup.

I stop.

I close my eyes and explore the strings with the fingers of my right hand, calibrating the distances between each pair. I caress the top string with my thumb taking time to enjoy the texture and density. I roll my left hand back and forth around the neck and find just the spot land my thumb.

As I grip the bass to play, I notice for the first time how massive it is, it's five strings, broad neck and dense body designed to provide a deep, long-lasting resonance. It's much heavier than your average bass, more substantial.

I focus. I pace my breathing. I visualize my hands and fingers. I drink in the sensations they provide me. I play.

An hour later, I stop.

No massage has ever been so relaxing, no meditation so calming.

Standing in the shower this morning, I felt an undercurrent of anticipation as I thought about playing my bass. As I toweled off, I thought, "Hmm... why don't I feel that way about everything else?"

Then I thought, "Good question."

Happy Friday,

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