Picking up the Bass

Back in late June of this year Kev moved a bunch of stuff over to my place in preparation for doing some songwriting and generally re-starting the KWB machine – a welcome return that’s been indeed.

In amongst it all was a GT (Guitar Technology) four string bass – a copy of a Fender Precision Bass – that Kev had picked up somewhere along the line.  I’d always been interested in learning Bass to the point of toying with the idea of picking up a cheap one to have in the music room but hadn’t progressed the idea – quite apart from anything else I’m trying to be a bit disciplined in not acquiring more “stuff”.

Had a bit of a plunk for a few weeks and through that started getting into a bit of a practice routine, aided in part by the quite good computer tutorials that Yousician provide.  Along the way I had my friends at DW Music put some fresh strings on the bass and generally give everything a once over and got a case too.  I kinda figured that a combination of practice and self tuition along with some sessions with local bass teachers would do the trick to begin with.

About two months in now it’s been a really interesting journey;

At about the one month mark I had a great lesson with one of my Rock of Ages band mates, Jack Schwenke – super nice guy and very talented bassist.  Towards the end of our one hour session he kindly opined that I “…could probably join a rock band now…” – this coming from such a capable player and, as an aside, a member of a younger generation than I, I took to be high praise indeed :)

More seriously though, Jack helped me with some more efficient ways to play scales as well as overall ergonomics – this being something I saw as important both to avoid overuse injuries and to ensure I didn’t pick up bad habits too early in the piece.

As I write I’m about three weeks into a five week visit to the US in Raleigh, NC.  I elected to bring the bass along since I had the baggage allowance and I figured it would be a good thing to pass the time with while away from home and it’s actually worked out really well.  When I take a typing break (something I try to be diligent about) I often pick up the bass and run through some exercises.

Closest I’ve had to a “concern” in this otherwise very enjoyable journey has been avoiding bad habits from the word go.  With that in mind aided by Google I found a local teacher J Michael Pope and had a thought provoking and worthwhile lesson with a couple of weeks back.  Michael gave me some great exercises for my left hand to build finger independence and some useful pointers on scale patterns for my right.  As with Jack, time well spent.

There’s been any number of little things I’ve noticed as someone who can already play an instrument reasonably well switching to another one, but I’ll save that for the next post.

 

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Among excellent Company

RoA-CastBandCrew-20160313

Rock of Ages Canberra 2016 – Photo courtesy of Pat Gallagher – Click for a larger version :)

For the last few months I’ve been involved in Canberra Philharmonic’s production of Rock of Ages. As I write this we’re down to the last three shows of a thirteen show run – it’s been one of the most enjoyable musical experiences of my life and well up there on the overall list of Cool Things I have Done :)

The show itself has garnered some excellent and I believe well deserved reviews (in date order – 1, 2, 3 & 4) and the Company are amongst the nicest and most talented folk I’ve had the good fortune to work with.  We have a lot of fun putting the show on – it really does rock – and the audience reception has been fantastic even on the nominally “quieter” nights early in the week.

While I’m something of a tragic when it comes to going to Musicals, this is the first time I’ve actually been in one and I doubt I could have hoped for a better entree.

Being in a Musical is a bit like being in an awesome band but with about 12x the number of people.  A very talented bunch, egos refreshingly held well in check and a degree of camaraderie, mirth and esprit de corps that would leave a well organised sporting team looking for ways to improve themselves.

My intention is to write a bit of a lessons learned post in the not too distant future, being as I am basically a rock keyboardist who has been fitting in to the world of Pit Musician.  But some initial thoughts;

  • It’s nice to leave your gear at the show unchanged for a few weeks.  Turn up, uncover gear, power up, line check, rock out Act 1, intermission, rock out Act 2, shut down, cover up gear, socialise a little, go home, try to sleep, sleep.  Rinse, repeat.
  • Saturdays with two shows (Matinee and Evening) are tiring. On the plus side you get to do it twice and with careful food selection and a power nap, easy to make the night show as energetic as the afternoon.
  • It’s fun to be in costume (RoA is unusual in that the band are on stage at the back rather than in the “Pit” below stage)
  • Vamp means keep playing the same section over until the Conductor signals you to keep going – this accommodates dialog or other things taking longer than usual
  • Learning the tunes from an original cast recording is an excellent start – but you miss a lot of the little connecting pieces that go under dialog or between scene changes
  • Playing to a Conductor is tricky, doubly so if you’ve only ever really worked to a click or a live drummer
  • Being able to sight read would make things a fair bit easier…
  • In Ear Monitoring with a professional rig and individual mix controls is amazing
  • There really are some cracker songs from back in the 80’s

If you have the opportunity to get involved in a show, I commend it to you.

To my fellow RoA Company members and, particularly, my Bandmates – my heartfelt thanks.  It’s been a joy :)

 

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Yamaha Pedal Wiring

I did a little rewiring of my keyboard rig on the weekend, in particular the pedal board I use to keep things organised and quick to set up.  In the process of this I loomed three of the foot switches up together which necessitated re-terminating them with new plugs having cut the old ones off.

For future reference then, here is the wiring schema/colour codes for my particular pedals.  If Google picks this page up, might save someone else a little hassle :)

Yamaha FC4 Footswitch

The FC4 is a conventional switch, Normally closed, contacts open when the pedal is pressed down

  • Tip – N/C Contact – Inner conductor in cable
  • Sleeve – N/C Contact – Shield in cable

Yamaha FC5 Footswitch

Electrically the same as the FC5, just a different physical form factor.

  • Tip – N/C Contact – White conductor in cable
  • Sleeve – N/C Contact – Black conductor in cable

Yamaha FC7 Footpedal

So with the FC7 footpedal, when it’s pressed all the way down, the minimum resistance (100 ohms or so) is between the ring and tip, and maximum resistance (50k ohm approx) between ring and sleeve.  When the pedal is all the way up this reverses – the minimum resistance is between the ring and sleeve and maximum resistance between the ring and tip.

  • Tip – “Down” end of 50k ohm pot – White conductor in cable
  • Ring – Wiper of 50k ohm pot – Red conductor in cable
  • Sleeve – “Up” end of 50k ohm pot – Shield of cable

 

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Keyboard tinkering

As I mention elsewhere in the pages I’ve been playing keyboards on and off for over 30 years now, a passion that came about from being interested in electronics and computers first, then wondering how to make music with them second.

So anything that combines the two is bound to be a bit of fun in my book.  I did just that this morning and thought would post what I learned along the way – might be of interest to others and I’ll know where to find it too :)

Back in about ’87 or ’88 I had a keyboard rig that used two Yamaha KX-76 controller keyboards – for anyone unfamilar these are keyboards that just produce a MIDI data stream that in turn goes into some other device to create the actual sounds.  To this day I’ve still got the two KXs and consider them one of the better feeling “synth action” keybeds out there.  A little noisy acoustically – so perhaps not ideal in a studio setting, but for band work ideal.  In any case, I digress…

Like most keyboards the KX-76s are velocity sensitive – the harder/faster you press, the louder the sound.  Velocity sensitivity is generated by firmware in the keyboard by working out how quickly the key has been pressed.  In practice this is usually accomplished by each key having a pair of switches (or a single leaf style switch with two positions as is the case in the KXs) that are set up so they change state one after the other as the key moves.  Time how long it is between the first one switching and the second one and you have a figure that can be turned into velocity.

The above is all stuff I’ve understood intuitively for some time, but I’ve often wondered just how quick this time interval between the two switches is – one day I’d like to build a controller of my own and this is a fairly important design consideration.  So this morning with a bit of tinkering around I was able to do some experiments to find this out – hence the setup in the photo above.

Turns out the shortest interval is around 5ms up to 20ms+ for a very slowly played key.  Anything over about 10ms seemed to be interpreted as the “minimum” velocity of (0x01).  I couldn’t manage an interval of less than 5ms or so – this corresponded to a velocity of 105 which is the maximum a KX-76 will send anyway (this a throwback to limitations of the original DX-7 as I recall which also stopped short of the 127 maximum velocity).  Also a fair bit of “keybounce” for a ms or so after contact close/open.

Key up time was 9ms if the key was allowed to return to it’s original position via the spring.

Screen capture below is typical for a mid-velocity press.

PRINT_02

One other detail I should add – the keyboard in the KX-76 is a matrix with notes as columns and octaves as rows.  It’s scanned by the microcontroller on the main board such that each note is checked once per millisecond. The scanning appears to stop until the key down time is captured, then continues.

Oh and yes, the KX-76 survived the ordeal of being poked and prodded :)

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