your problems dissolve as the experts swoop
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).
What is a "DI'd bass"? I understand it's an easier way of recording, and would be interested to know because I have trouble getting a full sound on to my tape recorder.
DI is short for direct injection which means you plug your instrument straight into the line or mike input of your tape recorder, making sure that the signal is not overloading the channel. Check your display meters and adjust the bass volume accordingly. When you have all the levels right, you can record straight onto tape.
Bass is notoriously difficult to record, especially on cassette format tape machines because there are large fluctuations in level, particularly when you use thumb and pluck techniques. So it might be wise to use a compressor as an extra effect which cuts back the very loud parts of the signal and evens out the volume, ensuring a punchy, well recorded sound.
Most bass players in large studios will have compression added by the engineer even though their technique might be good, there's a wide fluctuation in volume depending on whether you're playing near the bridge, over the pickups, or near the neck. DI and compression is nothing to be ashamed about!
There are not many microphones that can actually capture the full range of a bass guitar, but some bass players like to mix a little of their amp sound in with the DI-ed signal in the final mix to add a bit of a live feel. HT
My question is: what difference do drum heads make? I've seen some with big black circles in the middle. Do they make the head last longer, or is it just for show?
Drum heads make a lot of difference. It's the head, when struck, which actually generates the sound vibrations. The drum shell itself should be relatively passive in that a good shell shouldn't impede the transformation of these vibrations into sound. The quality of the sound is subtly affected by the quality and type of shell and of course the fundamental tone is affected by the size of the drum shell. But at least as important to the end result is the type of head and the way you tension it.
The heads you mention are Remo C.S. (Controlled Sound) black dots. The black centre is a reinforcement which dampens many overtones, but lets the fundamental tone come through. Remo "Pinstripes" have a double thickness of plastic over most of the head which makes them more dampened than the C.S., but still with plenty of attack. Evans makes very heavy heads — double layered with a film of oil between. These are very heavily dampened and require playing hard. Plain white heads come in different thicknesses or weights and have more overtones, but are more responsive. On the bottom of your snare you should have a "snare" head — a transparent lightweight head designed specifically to transmit a crisp snare sound.
These are some of the commonest available types. If you can get to compare them in your local shop you'll have no trouble hearing the differences. The choice is then down to personal taste and what you feel is most suitable for the music you play. GN
I saw a picture of a five-string bass in a catalogue and was a bit surprised as I didn't know such an instrument existed. What puzzled me was (1) how you tune it, and (2) why you'd need a fifth string anyway?
Sunderland, Tyne and Wear
The fifth string is tuned to a middle C, I believe, giving you E/A/D/G/C. As for why you should use one, I suppose the main benefit might be playing higher lead lines, extra harmonics, and the odd block chord, in fact who needs guitar players?! It's best to look at it as a new instrument which extends the possibilities of the bass, and there's nothing wrong with that. I've also heard there were some early five and six string basses which had an extra string below the bottom E, giving you a deep D. HT
I'm confused by the different names given to types of cymbals — crash, ride, pang, splash and so on. Could you please give me a quick idea as to what makes each type different?
What makes each type different is their size, weight, shape and mode of manufacture. However, it's perhaps easiest to sort out if you think of their uses which fall into three main areas: to state the rhythm pattern/feel; to accent or punctuate; to add colour/atmosphere.
To state the rhythm you use the hi-hats or the "ride" cymbal. Ride cymbals are usually large (18in-24in) and quite thick so that they vibrate less giving a relatively high pitch and clear definition when struck with the tip of the stick. They also often have a "bell" in the centre for even clearer and louder rhythm work. (Flat rides have no bell and have a very clear definition with a particularly distinctive soft but "sticky" sound.)
To punctuate you need a "crash" cymbal. Commonest are 16in-20in; thinner and lighter in mass than the ride, they are therefore lower in fundamental pitch with greater vibration and faster response when struck with the shoulder or tip of the stick. Small crashes from 6in-12in are called "splash" cymbals.
These basic types are found over the whole range of music styles and in recent years the manufacturers have responded magnificently with a tremendous array of variations within these categories — from rides for your tea-dance jazzer, which sound like the tinkle of a large spider on a small glockenspiel, to crashes reminiscent of the destruction of a corrugated iron shed, for the... err, more demonstrative player. The choice is there.
For more colour, other unusual types are available. For example, "Chinese" type cymbals are now common (usually 18in to 24in). Sometimes known as "swish" cymbals, they have distinctive turned-up edges and squared off bells. They can be used for ride or crash. The "pang" is a particular sort of swish with a special low sound. GN
I'm a new drummer and a fan of Rockschool, so please help me. I don't know if you've covered it earlier, but what is a rim shot? The guitarist (Sam) hasn't got a clue, and I'm feeling deprived.
Tell Sam a rim-shot is achieved by striking the batter (top) head and the metal rim of the drum at exactly the same time. This obviously requires a bit of practice, but soon becomes second nature. It's most commonly used on the snare drum to produce a very sharp and loud beat, or to accentuate various strokes within a roll. But you can also try it on the tom-toms for a particular sound. (It's also an essential part of timbale technique.) GN
I've been playing a fretless bass for a few months now and I'm having trouble keeping the notes in tune. Have you got any advice for a struggling bass player?
Try these guidelines...
1. First have your bass checked for intonation along the neck and the correct positioning of the bridge saddles so then you know that your bass is perfectly set up to begin with.
2. Once you have the open strings in tune, plug into a chromatic tuner and practice scales while watching the tuning position on the meter.
3. Get a very friendly piano player to record the major scales in octaves at a slow tempo and practice along to the recording, remembering to check your tuning as you go.
4. I don't know whether your bass has lines drawn across the fretboard, but you could ask a friendly guitar maker to paint some on where the frets would be to help with your positioning. Even Jaco has fret marks on his bass.
5. Because you don't have the frets to help you, there are real problems stretching your fingers in the lower positions. I suggest you use one and four of the left hand when you play tones, fifths and octave shapes.
6. When making up bass lines use open strings as often as possible, this will give you reference notes to adjust your position to.
7. If all else fails, buy a fretted bass!!! HT
I've been looking at guitars in the local shop as I'm going to buy an electric soon to replace my Eko acoustic. I'm finding the bridges confusing. Can you tell me what a saddle does and how it works?
Doncaster, South Yorks
Bridges are used to adjust two areas — the string height and the intonation. On most acoustics, the bridges are fixed so that adjustments cannot be easily carried out by the user/player. However, the bridges on most electric guitars are much more versatile. As with electrics generally, there are two main types, the Gibson and Fender designs.
You can adjust string height either by moving the whole bridge up or down by means of two rotary screws either side, or adjust the heights of the individual saddles, depending on the design.
The saddles are the metal pieces on the bridge with grooves cut into them, over which the strings pass. On most electrics each string passes over its own individual saddle and these can be moved backwards or forwards to adjust the intonation — that is, the tuning. Each string often has to be fractionally longer or shorter than its neighbour if they're all going to be perfectly in tune across the whole neck.
The intonation is correct if a note played on an open string is in tune with itself played at the twelfth fret. If the open string note is higher then the saddle should be moved back (away from the neck), if it's lower then move the saddle forward. (See this month's Guitar Care supplement, pages 45 to 56 for further explanations.) DC
The other day I tried tuning my low E string to D after reading a magazine interview that mentioned it, but it didn't sound too good when I was playing chords. What can you do with this tuning, or have I got the notes wrong?
No, you've got the notes right but maybe not the chords. This dropped tuning is used quite frequently in Blues playing, particularly if you're in the key of D or A, because the open string acts as the roof note for the common chords in these keys. You can also get a drone effect using the two open D strings (the low one and the normal one), and play a melody line on top.
You could also try open tuning to the following notes D/A/D/Fsharp/A/D. The open strings now play the chord of D major and you can play other major chords simply by barring across all six strings. Alternative tunings like this are often used for slide or bottleneck playing, but there are so many different tunings that you can use, you should experiment yourself. DC
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