Bass and Ukulele Observations

I know I promised to write about the various bands I saw this weekend, and I’m going to, but I want to give a good listen through all the new albums first, and, you know, actually also have time to practice. Rest assured, that’s all coming soon. Life is just a bit hectic.

And, I don’t want to forget my own lesson progress, because this blog is all about me having something to look back at and go ‘see, I’m getting better!’, so it would not be great of me to not post about those most important thoughts that happen in my practice time.

I mentioned needing to start practicing with a pick if I wanted to master palm muting on the bass. Funny thing, that. I pulled out a pick to try my hand at that last night. (bah, pick. ūüė¶ ) It certainly helped with the palm muting lesson, and I gained a few percent there, but then I moved onto a song I knew had a palm mute section in it (the reason I haven’t tried to reach completion in it, really) – Green Day’s ‘X-Kid’. ¬†That…was a disaster.

Little by Little, Rocksmith is stealing my soul (though, to be fair, I’ve actually been spending more time with my amp, just noodling around recently.)
I’m not kidding. It was seriously bad. The pick made me so much slower and clumsier. So even though I did get somewhere over 90% completion on the song, I felt like a bumbling oaf. But, I did notice that the muting section of the song was actually really straight forward. Disgusted with my picking, I decided to run through it fingerstyle and see if I could manage it without. And, I could. I just muted with my pinky. I wasn’t able to do that before. Weird, how that works. ¬†I put that song on the back burner because I didn’t know how to work around the palm mutes without a pick. Having tried (and failed) at several different ideas, having tried playing it through with a pick, I ended up pretty much right where I started, but with more accuracy. I’m sitting at 99% completion on that song after playing it through a few times last night. So I clearly CAN complete the song. It’s only a matter of time and repetition to get the last one percent. Is my solution for that song the solution for all songs with palm muting? I doubt it, but I really don’t know. ¬†What I do know is that the second you give me a pick, things go downhill fast. That makes sense. I have one pick, versus 5 fingers to work with. Sure, I generally only use 2 or 3 of those fingers to pluck, but of course the more you have on hand to pluck strings, the faster you’re going to be at it with less effort. Still, I stand by the fact there is value in learning to play both ways. I just don’t LIKE picking. It’s harder and seems to make things unnecessarily complicated.

Now, on the subject of things that are unnecessarily complicated: the way my first ukulele lessons told me to hold my finger (almost like holding an invisible pick). Well, I just mentioned what forming my hand in a pick shape does to my playing I think (no wonder I suck so badly at guitar. lol.). Ukulele turns out to be no exception. ¬†I was doing reasonably well with the uke, for the little time I’ve put into it, but I’ve definitely noticed some strumming issues.

1. This position seems to cause unnecessary tension for me. I’m causing enough necessary tension trying to anchor the ukulele against my body to keep it from sliding off my boob. (this has proven more challenging than I ever could have anticipated, but I’m getting better.) ¬†I’ve found it works much better for me if I just sort of hold my hand out, shake it in front of me, let it go totally limp, then bring it back in to the ukulele and more or less play with my hand in a very lax position.

That lax position though, means pulling the body of the uke away from my elbow and figuring out how to anchor with my forearm. You might possibly have noticed, my dear readers, but a soprano ukulele is a tiny little thing. And, I’m borderline petite, but I also have ape-like arms in relation to my torso. The advice to anchor with the inside of the elbow leaves my relaxed hand hovering around the 5th fret, when I should be strumming in the ballpark of the 12th, so, the elbow advice, in my case, is out the window. The uke is just too small for that. I’m sure it would be more relevant with a larger uke (and I do eventually want to try a concert sized uke for sure, but I’ve decided to save up for a decent one. By then, maybe I’ll be able to play more than one song). But, with a teeny little traditionally sized uke, I can not strum at or around the 12th fret if I’m using the joint of my elbow to ancor the uke. The distance from my forearm to my strumming finger is 17 inches. The ukulele is 21 inches. A first-grader could do that math and figure out it’s just not going to work, which makes me wonder how this advice ever came into existence. All said, I’m fairly small. This can not possibly work for the majority of people.

In any case, moving on:

2. I’m noticing that I’m having problems strumming with a consistent volume. Not all the time, but often enough. I suspected with the bass that I was perhaps a little heavy handed, but with the uke it’s confirmed. I strum too hard. I most likely fret too hard, too, which probably explains why I don’t find the bass strings any more difficult to press than guitar strings. ¬†Either way, I think developing a gentler touch is what’s needed here. I may have way more tension in me than I quite realized. ¬†Something to meditate on, at the very least. A gentler touch will likely produce a more even volume and tone than I’m quite achieving on the uke at the moment.

I did order a new uke, though. I found a decent price on a kala soprano uke. And, while I more or less like the uke I have (for a cheap ukulele that I grabbed on sale for $25 – normal retail just shy of $40 – it’s pretty good), the plastic hardware is driving me to distraction. I know ukuleles don’t stay in tune well, but I’ve been having trouble getting this uke to keep tune at all. I’m sure part of that is the heavy-handedness I mentioned above, but I think the better part of it is just a truly crap bridge, saddle, and nut. ¬†It’s a great little starter though, and it gave me taste enough to determine I like playing it, and will probably like playing something slightly better a good deal more, since it’ll mean, in theory, that I’ll be able to keep it in tune at least for an entire song. ¬†(asking too much? I think not. I don’t expect miracles, but I should be able to get through five or ten minutes of play without needing to re-tune, I should think).

It’s funny, because I bought nearly the cheapest bass I could, too, and I love that thing. It’s comfortable, it plays well, it weighs nothing, and I could happily fiddle with it all day. ¬†Sure, as I become more adept and my ear develops more, that may change, but there’s no voice in my head going ‘I want a better bass’. I love my bass. The ukulele, though? That voice is totally there, so I chose something of a better beginner to intermediate quality. I think it’s going to make me want to play it more.

That does not seem to apply to the guitar, which I just haven’t been fiddling with as much because it needs way more time than I have to give it right now (I am still running through basic exercises, but not making any considerable efforts towards progress. For now, practice time with the guitar is more about not forgetting what I’ve learned than it is about learning new things, so I probably won’t talk about the guitar much for a while. I just have too much going on right now to work on three instruments at once.

Until Next Time, more than busy, still practicing, still having thoughts.

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