Thursday, September 27, 2012

Clarity of Tone

Clarity of tone

“All vibrations need a conduit before they can be born. A vibration is nothing until it has something to bounce off of.”  Victor L Wooten

When I was thinking about what part of my playing to apply the concept of clarity to first I found an argument that each aspect was the ‘most important’.  As I thought more about it, each part needs to work in synergy with the others to create the total picture.  For the sake of these musings I’m going to start with tone.  Tone is where it all begins in my conception.

In thinking about it I first asked myself the question What is tone?  The obvious answer is it is the sound you produce from the instrument but as I thought more about it I realized it is also, in the case of ensemble playing, how you blend with the group.  The goal with any ensemble is to sound like a single unit.  A great ensemble player develops the ability to step outside of themselves and listen  to the group as a whole taking note of their place in it.  This place is not one of just decibel balance with other instruments but also tonal balance. 

Where does your instrument sit in relation to others tonally?  I think often a mistake of more novice players is to turn up or play harder if they feel they are lacking in the mix.  While this is sometimes the appropriate course of action, other times it is about as effective as trying to knock down a brick wall with your head.  I think developing the ability to hear what you are competing with sonically is key.

Just a note,  As a double bass player that enjoys playing acoustically I wanted my amplified tone to be as close to my acoustic tone as possible.  When I was happy with how my tone was sitting in the mix I made some physical changes to my bass rather than tweaking nobs.

So we come back to how clarity applies to tone.  A tone that sits in a discrete place in the mix yet blends with the ensemble without needing to be forced with volume is a tone with clarity.

We all have been in situations where the people we play with don’t take the same level of care.  That’s why I believe it starts with tone.  Nobody is going to want to listen to what you have to say if you are yelling into a megaphone in an unpleasant voice.

I am not going to talk specifically about tone production on the double bass.  It is something that I have spent countless hours working on and is a HUGE topic.  If you really want to get my thoughts on it send me an email and well set up a time to meet face to face with basses in hand.

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