Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Down-Low, with Sean O'Bryan Smith- Bass Yoga

Bass Yoga ( Harmonious Bassdom for All )

Greetings Fellow-Groovers,

It is I, the Artist currently known as Baldy Locks. For my latest installment for the folks here at Eden I wanted to discuss a little something I call “Bass Yoga.” No, I am not talking about playing pan flute lines via MIDI on a 7-String. You know, that could be kinda cool but I digress. Actually, Bass Yoga is the concept of flexibility and being “in tune” with your surroundings as a bassist. Now this can take on many forms as most things I go over and it is actually expanding on some of the concepts on my prior articles. I think you may find some usefulness in some of the following ramblings and it will hopefully help you develop as a player and as a professional in the music industry so, hang on to your booty and lets do this thing.

I was extremely fortunate to be raised up in a music family as my mother and my uncle were both professional jazz and blues musicians. That being said, I cut my teeth in learning music centered around improvisation. This obviously meant I needed to have a good grasp of what was happening with the music also. With jazz especially, being able to listen to everyone and interacting is “king”. That aspect of being “in tune” with those around you is what we all strive for. That feeling of actually being “in” the music is better than any high you can create artificially but, getting there sometimes is easier said than done. This can particularly suck if you want to slam the horn player’s fingers in his case because he wants to stay up all night playing obscure avant-garde jazz tunes. Especially, while you are trying to get some sleep before driving to the next city. Yes kiddies, that is unfortunately part of being in tune with your surroundings too. Personal interaction with those that you are trying to create with can make for some amazing musical journeys. It is so much easier to find that happy place in your music if you can keep from ripping someone’s head off.

So how does this apply to Bass Yoga you ask ? Well, before you can reach your harmony with the world of playing, you have to get in tune with those around you and more importantly yourself. Now to start this process begin by setting yourself a certain amount of time in your daily musical endeavors to really make sure you understand what makes those around you tick. We all have that certain band, artist, or player that just “does it” for us but, do you truly understand who “does it” for the other folks you are playing with? If you can discover this it can make the difference between sitting at home or being on a stage. Make a conscious point to listen to the cats around you as much as possible and really listen to what they have to say both musically and verbally. I also suggest if you want to take it to the next level even going out and purchasing some of the music from some of their heroes to really get in to their headspace and begin your voyage to musical oneness with the galaxy. All of a sudden I feel like pan flute again.

This leads me to the other portion of Bass Yoga and that is flexibility. Even though a double jointed bassist on a Cirque gig could be interesting that is not where I am going. No, being flexible about music means breaking it down to us getting out of our own personal safety zones and trying something new or a different approach to what we are doing for the music itself. You may be an old school finger style player, hardcore pick fan, or a slap fanatic and from a technique perspective it is extremely beneficial to spend some substantial time learning all of these techniques but, that is actually only part of being flexible. We all have our “go-to” bass parts that we hear on a particular tune but that may or may not be what the tune calls for. Depending on the musical situation and the folks you are working with at the time, the occasional “ What the $*%& are you playing ? That is not the right part.” is inevitable. Even worse, you’ve poured your heart and soul into a gig thinking you have done everything right only to find out you are being fired because “It is just not working out”. Remember things are not always as they seem but don’t you fret class. This can all be avoided in the almighty Bass Yoga. Now you say “Sean, I have done all I know to do to get ‘in tune’ with these poor sacks. I’ve listened to them play, bought some of their music, and even listened to them go on about everything from obscure recordings to bad Sci-Fi films. What else can I do?” It is real easy my perpetuators of the groove. Lose anything you have resembling an EGO !!!!

More times than not, our own musical ego is the CAUSE of our inability to be flexible. Case in point, I was on an audition years ago for an artist that I still work with. It was a full band audition and everyone came in cocked and loaded with their bag of tricks and their interpretation of how the music should be represented. Lucky for me some of the life lessons regarding my ego had already taught me a couple of things so I was prepared for anything but, the guys I was auditioning with,not so much. Keep in mind, that the guys I was auditioning with had played with major musical legends in their career so it wasn’t that they couldn’t cover the gig but, the award winning producer for the artist was in the corner of the room and I could tell he just wasn’t digging it. I knew I had to be flexible to what he and the artist wanted and more importantly find what the song needed. So with the ego dropped it was time to embark on my Bass Yoga techniques by a) being “in-tune” with the producer’s needs and b) being flexible and venturing away from my approach at the time. Now, one thing I haven’t hit on yet with the “in tune” concept is WATCHING people. Be sure and watch everyone you are working with as much as possible. You can find out what people want from their body language and ultimately get in tune with them. It just works and ultimately has been a huge part of my success. So, armed with all of the Bass Yoga techniques I had, a solution for the gig finally presented itself like a beam from the Heavens. The producer stood with his eyes closed and started playing a bass groove on his chest. Thanks goodness I was watching him because without pause, I immediately started to cop what he was doing feel-wise. After a few moments he very subtly opened his eyes and smiled. There it was. I had just won the gig ! He proceeded to move to the next guy but unfortunately, ego had the best of the auditioner as he wanked away mindlessly with HIS “vision” and was totally oblivious to the fact that he was not “in-tune”. By being flexible and in tune I had already captured what was the ultimate vision of the artist where this guy was blowing it. His own inabilities to adapt and oddly enough, everyone else auditioning whose egos didn’t let them get “in-tune”, cost them the gig. They also missed out on a wonderful hang as the producer and artist have both become two of my dearest friends in the world. Of course it doesn’t hurt trying to make my house payment either. Somehow creditors enjoy it when you send them money. Go figure !!!

So there it is gang. Light a few candles, burn some incense, and begin your Bass Yoga practices. Not only will it help you prosper in getting in tune with the music, it will make you a very successful musician and a friend to those you work with. Now, I’m going to go chart some 7 string pan flute parts so, until next we groove. Later, S

(Originally published by


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