Transcription Tip

“WOULD YOU DO AN ARTICLE ON transcription software?” asks Chris Sattem of Lyle, WA.
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“Would you do an article on transcription software?” asks Chris Sattem of Lyle, WA. “I know the folks at Bass Player have phenomenal ears and can hear every bass note played. But we lesser mortals need to find a way to slow down the tunes, keep the same pitch, and use some form of equalization to focus on the bass spectrum while we are learning bass lines. Looking at recent transcriptions (‘Shake,’ ‘Search and Destroy,’ etc.), I’ve come to think maybe you have a favorite piece of transcription software.”

Thanks for the note, Chris—you raise a great point. I sure like the sound of your “phenomenal ears” theory, but I suppose I’d better come clean on what’s actually going on here. While I can’t speak to the methods of my fellow Woodshed and Transcription contributors, I rely on two key pieces of software: Transcribe! [] and Sibelius 5 []. I generally keep an unplugged electric bass in my lap as I listen to headphones coming out of my laptop.

Figure 1 is typical of the scene as I work through a transcription (in this case, Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality”). Opening a sound file (.mp3, .wav, etc.) in Transcribe!, I position that window at the bottom of the screen so I can reference my notation in Sibelius as I listen. For a particularly tricky section, I might select a section of the waveform— in this case, a two-bar phrase—and adjust for tempo, pitch, and other parameters via the EFFECTS window.

As with so many things, it’s a task that’s in some ways harder to describe than it is to actually do. I encourage you to download a demo version of Transcribe! to see if it works for you. If you need any tips, drop me a line and I’ll try to answer your questions in a future column. Now get to it, y’all!


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Technique Tip Fingertip Talk

IT WOULD SEEM THAT WITH JUST FIVE fingers and 4-6 strings (oh, alright, sometimes more), there’d be a relatively short list of potential right-hand techniques. But if there’s one thing my incessant Lockup on MSNBC habit has taught me, necessity breeds invention. Take the Funk Brother himself, James Jamerson. Everyone knows that he played all that phenomenally dexterous stuff with just one finger, “the Hook,” as it came to be known. We’ve all wondered how he pulled it off, but sitting in on the Motown mastertape listening session for this month’s cover story made this question more urgent than ever. With Jamerson’s tracks soloed, the near physical impossibility of some lines was striking. So, capitalizing on the rare opportunity, I asked fellow listener James Jamerson Jr. Sure enough, James confirmed what I long thought: On uptempo tunes, Jamerson Sr. would occasionally pluck with both sides of the Hook—fingerpad and fingernail, like in Figs. 1 and 2. It was a rare occurrence, but ap


Technique Tip : Anchors Away

Teaching beginners always forces me to confront my so-called comfort zone. It happens to all of us: Once we feel like we’re beyond beginner status, we tend to take the fundamental stuff for granted. I was teaching the student about fingerstyle pluckinghand technique. I reinforced the alternating-finger concept, pointing out the importance of a solid thumb-anchor. I had the student pluck a few notes with his thumb free-floating, and then with the thumb anchored on the pickup (Fig. 1). The immediate difference in strength and control is obvious.

Technique Tip: New Tricks

GETTING BETTER AT BASS INVOLVES DIGESTING HUGE AMOUNTS OF new information, but it’s just as important to unlearn the bad stuff. Most of us picked up the bass without much initial guidance, and even though subsequent study can illuminate a better path, our individual approach is often cemented in those early moments of discovery. One extraordinarily common habit is to rest the forearm on the bass’s body, like in Fig. 1. I do it almost all the time if I’m playing with a traditional fingerstyle technique. Unfortunately, this is a perfect recipe for carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful condition that occurs when the passageway of bone and ligament at the base of the wrist compresses the median nerve. If that weren’t scary enough, the forearm muscles weakened position seems to rob the plucking hand of strength. Try the approach in Fig. 2, lifting the forearm off the bass. For me, it feels a little awkward, but I believe it’s technically a better option.


Technique Tip Tasty Chords

UNLESS YOU’RE A SOLO BASSIST, YOU probably spend most of your time playing single-note lines. Sure, there’s the occasional delicious double-stop, but the more dense chordal content is generally left to your piano- and guitar-playing bandmates. Being strong, simple, and supportive is pretty much the gig. That said, I’ve stumbled on a pair of chord shapes that are easy to grab, are harmonically supportive, and have a rich and ethereal quality that works well in certain contexts, especially trios. Figure 1 shows the major, add9 shape, which works well over most major chords. From low to high, the intervals are 1, 5, 9, 10(3). Figure 2 shows the shape’s minor alternative. Its intervals, in order, are 1, 5, 9, b10(b3). I think the chord works particularly well arpeggiated. Figure 3 shows a plucking-hand fingering that uses each finger, classical-guitar style to cycle through each note individually. One final note: try this shape around and above the 12th fret. Any lower and it’ll hurt an