your queries sorted by the BBC TV experts
More expert assistance from TV's top musician advisers – Rockschool's Deirdre Cartwright (guitar), Henry Thomas (bass) and Geoff Nicholls (drums). If you've got any playing problems write to: The Rockschool Club, One Two Testing, (Contact Details).
I'm not very happy with the bass drum pedal that came with my kit – it's a bit difficult to explain, but it doesn't respond that well to my playing, it doesn't seem very fast compared to what I'm trying to make it do. I wonder if you can make any recommendations, either modifications that I can make to a basic bass drum pedal to make it work better, or a cheapish new model that you'd recommend as a better one to start on? Thanks for Rockschool – it's great to be able to see another drummer and what he's up to for a change.
Assuming that the pedal's working properly in the first place (a little oil or grease on the moving parts wouldn't go amiss) there are only two parts you can modify with any ease, the spring and the strap. If the pedal seems sluggish then maybe the spring isn't tight enough. If you've tightened it all the way and it still doesn't respond you could try to get a stronger spring. The length of the strap affects the length of the stroke, so again if yours doesn't feel right you could buy a shorter or longer strap.
Short of actual modifications, the other variables you can play with are: the length of the beater shaft – the longer it is the greater the stroke and "kick"; the type of beater – felt or wood; and the tension of the bass drum head – the tighter the head the faster the rebound.
Finally, pedals are a very personal choice. There are quite a few good ones in the lower-to mid-price range and you should go to one of the bigger drum stores and try a few out. One of them should suit you. GN
The Squier Strat I play has a tremolo arm which I haven't actually used much so far. What can I do with it apart from wobbly Hank Marvin effects?
Bingley, West Yorks
It depends what kind of style you play, really. With a more sustained rocky sound you can use it instead of finger vibrato to increase the sustain of single notes. You can get swooping and diving sounds out of your guitar by pushing the trem down (or up), and change the pitch of a chord dramatically. The lowest chord on the guitar is no longer open-E. Tremolos can also control and change the effect of feedback; this is especially good at the end of a heavy rock number. If you're interested in hearing what has been tried on the tremolo arm, listen to Jimi Hendrix who came along after Hank Marvin. Suddenly guitarists found they could do more than wobble. DC
A lot of the drummers I go and see seem very fit. I've been playing about a year and a bit now, and I still haven't got into the track suit and dumbell routine. How necessary do you think it is to be a sportsman if you're going to reach the top in drumming?
I don't know about "sportsman", although there are some very able and athletic drummers around today. Stewart Copeland is an obvious example – he always reminds me of Steve Ovett, for some reason. I think it's all a part of the generally increased interest in fitness and sports over the past few years. Drumming is very physical. To get through long sets playing very hard under fierce lighting means that you've got to be strong and fit. However that doesn't mean that drumming is all crude thrashing. Touch and control, relaxation and pacing are the keys. By developing strength and control in your wrists and fingers you can do a lot more with less wasted exertion. And by consciously relaxing while you play, instead of tensing with the effort, you'll attain much greater control without tiring. Easily said, of course, but well worth working at. GN
When I practice I try to invent scales that are virtually impossible to play and try and play these scales very fast. Am I doing the best thing here, because I really don't know? Can I be taught technique, or is it just something that comes in time? I have at last mastered slap string playing – but what gauge of strings would you recommend for this?
As far as I can see the only use of inventing unusual scales if you don't know how to apply them is as a warm-up exercise for the fingers, in which case one should only spend five or ten minutes a day doing that sort of thing. It's more important to practice things slowly. Record your efforts, then listen back to ensure that each scale has been played correctly. Only then should you attempt to play any faster. HT
I know that in playing slap bass the left hand plays an important role in obtaining a percussive thud by dampening the strings, but I'm not sure if this works other than on open strings. Could you advise me how to get the percussive effect while holding down a note – ie the role of the fingers which are not holding the note. Keep up the good work, Thunder-thumbs.
On open strings, the left-hand fingers can be slapped flat on to the bass strings to provide rhythm between a thumb or pull. Getting away from open strings, you have to use hammering and damping techniques.
Hammering: The third finger of the left-hand with the other fingers in support hammers down on to a string with enough force to create a note. This requires a lot of power from the fingers, and the movement is from the knuckle.
Damping: While the right-hand plays a rhythm with the thumb, the left-hand finger depresses a note slightly, without allowing the string to touch the fingerboard.
These techniques do not rely on open strings, so can be played anywhere on the bass from the third fret upwards. Remember, with hammering the left-hand creates the note. With damping, the left-hand mutes and the right-hand plays rhythm.
To go on from there, one can use the full hammering-on technique, where a first note is played either with the right-hand thumb, fingers, nails etc while the left-hand holds down a note with the first finger like a barre. The second or third fingers of the left-hand then hammer down on to the string with enough force to create a second note.
And finally, pulling-off: A note is played in the normal way with the right-hand, while the second or third fingers of the left-hand flick off the string. This is done by pressing down hard on to a note, and then pulling the string across and down toward the floor, at the same time rotating the hand and forearm clockwise. HT
You can be taught technique – all you need is a book or a tutor, although some people have a natural ability to pick things up on their own.
For slapping I'd recommend light strings as they're much easier on the fingers. Make sure that you add extra bass on your amplifier, however, to compensate for their thinness of sound. HT
I play an Aria with twin-coil pickups, coil tap and phase reversal controls through a Marshall combo. So far I have not been able to get a really clean, sharp but tight and punchy funk rhythm guitar sound. I'd appreciate your advice on right-hand techniques, eg what thickness of plectrum, if any, I should use and should I emphasise any particular strings? Also, what gauge of strings should I use – I use fairly light ones at the moment. And would a compressor help?
Well, even though a lot of the sound you produce comes from the technique you personally use, I don't think that the amp and guitar set-up you've got is the most suitable for clean funk sounds. Single coil pickups produce a sharper, cleaner sound in general and even coil taps, which theoretically can switch a humbucker to a single coil, don't really produce quite the same sound, though it should help. You could see if there was any improvement playing through a cleaner amp such as a Fender Twin Reverb.
Personally I use a small, heavy plectrum, and you should get a richer rhythm sound using heavier gauge strings. Start with a 0.010 or even a 0.011 on the top E. You'll find that chord shapes on the higher strings and further up the neck will help emphasise a lot of funk material – a chorus pedal might help you, not a compressor. Some Japanese guitars have very high pickup outputs, so try the simple act of turning the volume down on the guitar itself. These days amp manufacturers put a lot of effort into making amps distort easily because that's what they see as the heavy metal trend... ten years after the event. Roland Jazz Chorus combos, Carlsbros and Peaveys are sometimes better known for their cleaner, transistorised sound. DC
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