Monday, 30 November 2009

Christmas Songs For Solo Bass

Hi everyone.

Yes, that time of year is sneaking up on us at an alarming rate and soon the sound of relatives saying “play us something on that big guitar” will be ringing in our ears. With this in mind (and the fact that I’m a bit of a big kid where Christmas is concerned!) I thought I'd let you know (or remind you if you were around last year) that a collection of solo arrangements is available from and is now also available at ( If you haven't already checked out Learn The Low End, I highly recommend it - it's a fabulous site with a range of courses and lessons from some truly incredible players. I'm really honoured to be involved!)

NB If you order from Bassbook, I'm afraid I'm doing everything manually so there may be a slight delay in emailing the file to you (but it should be with you within 24 hours at the most). If you register with Learn The Low End it's all there waiting for you :-)

So what is it? Basically,you get the following in PDF format:

10 Christmas chordal arrangements for solo bass in notation and tablature

Auld Lang Syne, Away In a Manger, Ding Dong Merrily On High/Deck The Halls, In The Bleak Midwinter, Jingle Bells, Joy To The World, O Come All Ye Faithful, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, The First Noel

11 Christmas melodies specially transposed to “easy” keys ( ideal for less experienced players) in notation and tablature

As above, but “Ding Dong Merrily On High” and “Deck The Halls” are presented as seperate pieces

2 mini lessons

An introduction to natural harmonics and a lesson on the two handed tapping technique used for the arrangement of “Jingle Bells”

I also have a favour to ask of you – if you like the arrangements and use any of the bass forums or social sites, please tell people about it :-) Word of mouth is often the best advert an independent musician can get so any help is greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your time and take care,


Monday, 21 September 2009

The Secret Guide to Sight Reading ( the bits they don't tell you)

Hi all. I was asked recently for tips on sight reading and started to think about the things you need to know other than how to read notation. I know a lot of players who can sit down and work their way through a piece of notated music, but wouldn't feel comfortable turning up to a gig and having a pad of charts placed in front of them,so started to think about what else is involved.

Here's what I came up with, based on my own experiences of sight reading on gigs, which will hopefully be of use to you...

Before starting a piece

Have a quick look at the whole thing and check
- The time signature (and any changes to the time signature or tempo)
- The key signature (and any key changes)
- If there are any repeats or Coda signs, make sure you know where they go. Nothing worse than scrabbling to find where the repeat is, especially if it was two pages ago!
- If the chart is really long, look if there's any way you can fold it into a book so you can flip the pages. Also look out for open strings or parts you can play with one hand while the other flips the page ( or even better - a few bars rest!)
- Have a look what the highest and lowest notes are. This'll help you decide what position to play it in. If you can find a position where you can grab the highest and lowest notes easily, do so.
- Check if there are any dynamic markings ( a lot of the bass charts I see don't include them) and follow them ( this also takes a bit of listening as different bands will decrease or increase volume at different rates)

If you need to look at the neck, eg if there are a lot of position shifts, set the music stand up slightly to your left (assuming you're right handed) so that you can see the neck and music without looking back and fore. It can be really easy to lose your place if you're glancing away. Similarly, if you have a conductor, try and set the stand so you can see them over the music without too much movement.

If you get presented with a tricky piece, break it down. Start by just playing the rhythm then add the notes in. Believe it or not, an audience will notice an out of time note long before they notice an out of tune one. If you're working it out ahead of time, don't use a metronome until you're comfortable with it, otherwise you may find you end up missing things "getting it at speed".

If you are given a line of 16th notes that are not playable at sight, play the first one, use muted notes for the middle ones, and play any accented notes and the last one. Yes, it's cheating and ideally you should play them all, but this really works on gigs if something terrifying is put in front of you :-)

After a while, you'll get used to how certain shapes and rhythms sound eg a note on one line and note on the next line is a third, etc or an eighth note followed by two 16th notes is the "Steve Harris gallop". This allows you to read much easier in the same way that you read words and sentences rather than individual letters.

Read regularly

Like all skills, if you don't maintain it you'll lose it. If I haven't done a reading gig for a bit, I usually get the Bach Cello Suites, or some James Jamerson transcriptions, out for an hour to get my eyes and hands in synch again. Otherwise, I will be really rusty.

Above all though, make sure it's musical. When I first heard a recording of me reading a walking line it was awful - every note was dead on the beat but had no swing whatsoever. It's important to remember WHY you're reading the chart - to make music.

Hope that helps, any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below.


Saturday, 22 August 2009

Neck Spanning Arpegg-a-thon...or something

Hi all. Apologies for the lack pf post recently, thing save been a bit crazy but I'm back!

Today I though I'd post a run I've been using to warm up and work on cleanly shifting positions up and down the bass neck. It utilises three major chords:

C major 7 - CEGB - Root, 3rd, 5th, major 7th
Ab major - Ab C Eb - Root, 3rd, 5th
E major - E G# B - Root, 3rd, 5th

which also make up the wonderfully wacky sounding C augmented scale - C D# E G G# B

I've always liked the sound of this scale and this run came about while trying to come up with different patterns based on it.

Here's the run for 4 string bass:

Click here

(Blogspot's layout makes the graphics unreadable so apologies for not embedding the notation)

The basic analysis is 7 notes of C major 7, then 3 of Ab major and 6 notes of E major, and then repeat up an octave.

The important thing is to sound every note cleanly and not to slur anything, especially where two consecutive notes are fretted with the same finger.

And here's the six string version which drops the first note by an octave and adds an extra octave at the end:

Click here

I love the sound of this pattern ( always makes me think of Steven Spielberg/George Lucas film soundtracks - it has that geat open mysterious sound) and it's really good for getting your hands used to cleanly shifting along the whole fretboard.

Until next time, have fun with this exercise and as always comments and questions are welcome!


Monday, 15 June 2009

Charity Webcast - June 20

Hi all. Hope you’re well. I just want to mention a charity event I'll be doing this week which I hope you'll want to support......

From June 20-27, Cancer Research UK are running a fund raising event called Busking Cancer where musicians busk ( as the name suggests!) and donate the proceedings to helping cancer research. When I saw it, I decided I definitely wanted to get involved in some way, but soon realised my diary is pretty full between those dates. The only free time was Saturday night and busking in a town centre on a Saturday night is probably a pretty risky venture!!

So instead, I will be busking….from my house. At 8.30pm UK time (International times can be found HERE ), I’ll be doing a 30-45 min live solo bass webcast which you can watch at I’ll also be recording it so don’t worry if you’re not able to see it live, you’ll still be able to watch the recording at the same website (although miss out on heckling me via Ustream’s chatroom thing!)

All I ask is that you make a donation to Busking Cancer at their Justgiving site – You can do it any time, you can even donate in advance if you really want to ;-) . When you donate, please enter “Alun Vaughan webcast” or similar in the Comments box so that we can identify the donations from this event.

I hope as many of you as possible can tune in for this, and help raise money for a really worthwhile charity.

Thanks in advance,

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Freedom To Fret

Hi. Today's post is a slightly weird one for me because there is no real way that I can give you a definite example of what I'm suggesting you do. Intrigued? Then read on....

As bass players, or indeed any instrumentalist, it can be very easy to allow our hands to fall into patterns they are comfortable with rather than playing what is right for the music. Then, when we try to escape the comfort zone, we may find that our playing suffers - notes are cut off or buzz, wrong strings are plucked. As a result, it's very easy to fall back into the same patterns as we know they are "safe".

So this exercise aims to free us up from playing "safe" and, if I'm honest, you may not want your nearest and dearest hear you playing this one! Basically, what I want you to do is play constant 8th notes but completely freely in terms of pitch. As soon as you find yourself playing a pattern, change direction - go in the opposite direction or change strings. Play chromatically, play tonally, skip strings, make sudden position jumps - just play! If you find something that makes you stumble, play it again :-)

So why am I making you play this free jazz nonsense? Simply because, you will be playing patterns which your hands may well find alien and won't be "built in" to your muscle memory. I have found that this exercise has not only improved my accuracy, playing it for several minutes also does wonders for your playing stamina and may well help you find new ideas that you can introduce into your everyday playing.

Until next time, have fun and comments/questions are welcome as always :-)

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Dynamic Control

While writing the previous post, I began to think about dynamics in general and how we can control them on our instrument. This is a really simple exercise but often overlooked.

The first thing to think about is how loud/soft our instrument can go. And by this I don't mean how loud your amplifier or preamp can go, I mean how loud or soft we can make the bass purely by how we play. For this exercise, you may want to plug your bass in. Personally, I nearly always practice unplugged but this will mean possibly not hearing the quieter end of the dynamic spectrum.

Start by fretting a G at the third fret of your low E string. Now pluck it as gently as you can. You should hear a very quiet note. Now progressively increase how hard you pluck the string. Pay careful attention to how hard your fretting hand is holding the note down. Our body's natural instinct is to say "one hand is using more energy, better make sure the other one does too" and, as a result, as we pluck harder we tend to grip harder. Concentrate on keeping the fretting pressure the same no matter how hard you pluck the string. It's surprising how little effort it actually takes to hold a note down.

Keep plucking harder until the note begins to "clank" on the frets. How loud you can get before this point will depend on the setup of your bass. If you have a low action, you'll reach this point much earlier than if you have a high action. I keep my action reasonably high so that I can have a wide dynamic range before I start to hear that Stanley Clarke/Marcus Miller style clank. I can still get that sound by digging in but I like it to be by choice, not the only option.

Once you've reached the maximum volume without fret noise, progressively pluck softer until you can barely hear the note. You've now worked through the full dynamic range on that one note.

Now try taking a simple pattern, or maybe a scale, and try playing it as softly and then as loudly as possible ( using purely your hands - don't just turn the amp up!). Now try repeating the pattern - starting off playing as softly you can and slowly increasing the volume up to full volume and then slowly back down again.

In doing this, we're not only training our hands ( both in terms of picking technique and in being conscious of how hard we're fretting) but also our ears and brain as they recognise the different dynamic possibilities.

If someone plays at the same dynamic all the time, your ear soon tunes them out but if there is a good range of loud and soft it really makes their playing much more interesting and musical. Try it on your next solo - drop the volume level right down and slowly build it up ( or maybe have sudden unexpected accents before dropping back down). Or try taking a repeated pattern and playing with the dynamics - maybe fade it right down and back up will keeping the same pattern going.

As always, the aim is to play something musically interesting and have the music be the deciding factor in what you do, not your ability on the instrument.

Comments welcomed :-)

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Accenting exercise

In this blog, we're going to look at a chromatic exercise which is great for getting your fingers and brain in gear. The idea of this exercise is to allow you to accent a passage as the music dictates, not as your hands would rather accent it.

To begin with, we're going to use a very simple one finger per fret pattern. I've place it at the 9th fret on the G string which should be pretty comfortable for most players. If you do find it a bit of a stretch, ensure that your thumb is behind the neck, parallel with either your first or second finger. If it's uncomfortable to hold all four fingers down, you can pivot on your thumb so that your hand is almost like a see saw - as the fourth finger comes down, the first lifts slightly.

If this is new to you, it may feel weird for a while but it will become more comfortable with time.Ideally, we're looking to try and hold all four down, but don't hurt yourself.

Play it a couple of times and listen to whether or not your accenting any notes. Chances are the first note may be slightly more accented than the others? This is totally natural, but I want you to aim for every note to be of uniform volume and length. Play through it slowly and really try and focus on getting every note even.

OK, now that we've got all the notes of uniform volume, we can look at adding accents where we want them. In the next exercise we systematically accent each note in turn...

Try making the accents really extreme, as well as barely accenting them. The aim is to make your ear and brain conscious the accents and to be able to add them as you wish.

Try just looping one bar and really focus on where the first beat is - it's really easy for your brain to trick you into hearing the accent as "one" after a few repetitions.

Once you're happy with that pattern, reverse the notes and go through the same process...

So, that's one position and one string. As an extra exercise, try both over two or more strings. This adds more of a challenge as the first note on the new string will often come out a little accented if left to its own devices.

The final challenge for this lesson is to add in some position shifts. We're going to play a chromatic scale up the G string. How you finger this doesn't matter too much, whether you play one finger pre fret or use a more Simandl/upright bass fingering of first, second and fourth fingers. Start on the open string, work up to the 12th fret and back down.

As with the previous exercises, aim to get all the notes even in terms of tone, volume and duration. This is easier said than done as the natural instinct is to accent the first note after each shift, and possibly to cut the note before the shift short as you get ready to move. Again, do it slowly and really pay attention to the notes.

Once you're happy with that, we're going to start accenting. First try accenting in groups of 4. This will mean accents on the open string, 4th fret and 8th fret going up and 12th fret, 8th fret and 4th fret on the way back down. Using either fingering, not all of these will be on the first note after a shoft so pay close attention to the sound of the notes.

The final idea for this lesson is to do the same but this time accent in groups of 3. Now the accents will be on the open string, 3rd fret, 6th fret and 9th fret on the way up and then 12th, 9th, 6th and 3rd on the way back down.

And that's the basic germ of the idea. The possibilities are endless - try it across strings, move the accents or try different groupings (groups of 5 are fun as you'll change direction mid-grouping!). Try it on patterns and scales you already know.

Ultimately, it comes back to the idea of freeing your hands up to play what the music needs, not what they automatically might want to.

Comments welcome as always.

Friday, 1 May 2009

The Great Technique Myth

Hi and welcome to the Bassbook blog. Here I'll be discussing musical ideas, concepts and exercises which will help you a better player, a better musician, or maybe just get you thinking.

For this debut blog, I thought we'd have a look at the myth and mystic of "technique" and whether developing your skills is really such a bad thing.....

Go on any internet musicians forum and you'll find the discussion of technique being discussed
for many pages. It's often seen as a dirty word,as if having a lot of technique turns you into a robot that just plays millions of mechanical notes with no emotion or sense of melody. In fact, there is an almost romantic notion that the non-technical will produce better, more honest music.

Technique is defined as "a procedure used to accomplish a specific activity" and when applied to our instrument it is exactly that - the procedure that allows us to play the music we want to play.

At the moment I'm sitting here with my laptop typing this. Using what? Yes, my typing technique. A technique which is, if I'm honest, not that great. As a result I make mistakes and have to correct things, and can't express the ideas in my head as fluidly as I'd like. If my typing technique was more precise I would be able to express my ideas more quickly and more accurately. Whether I decide to write a love poem or a technical manual full of long words, my typing will be up to the job.

And that is exactly how I see bass technique development – a way of allowing us to express the
ideas in our heads easily and effortlessly. If we then decide to play a slow ballad or a non stop flurry of notes at 400 beats per minute is down to our own sense of musicality, it has NOTHING to do with the ability in your hands. Our technical prowess is simply a way of realising the sounds in our heads.

Just remember that, no matter how much technique we have, we are trying to create music,not win the Bass Olympics.

Comments welcomed :-)