Derek Tillotson

Bass Hero

Not sure when it'll show up, but I bought a bass.

Okay, that violates one of my digital declutter rules (no unnecessary online purchases), but I'm justifying it because I was planning on buying either an electric guitar or a bass guitar by now. The Coronavirus is the main reason why I didn't. So after weeks of toying with the idea, I decided to pull the trigger and ordered a bass and a stand. I didn't get a strap, which I may regret (guess I'll need to play seated until Guitar Center reopens).

I've been playing the ukulele for a few years. On one hand, I have little to show for it--most people wouldn't be in awe by my skill. On the other hand, I enjoy the hell out of the instrument and there's a strong emotional attachment there. It's not the same level of attachment as I get from writing, but I get good feelings from it. I can't imagine what my life would look like without a uke at this point.

At the same time, I also feel like I'm done buying ukuleles. The last one I bought was an all-solid wood one (concert size; cedar top, pau ferro back and sides--it's beautiful) and unless I eventually want to start playing in gigs, I can't imagine adding something new in the near future. In fact, I was planning on getting rid of a couple before the pandemic struck.

But the bass is something I've been intrigued by for years. I've had phases where I seriously considered buying a full-size bass. I've considered buying a short-scale bass. I've considered buying a bass ukulele (ukulele-sized acoustic bass with rubbery strings). In the end, I kept putting it off.

Then I bought Rocksmith for the PC.

If you don't know, Rocksmith is a video game that has been promoted as a guitar tutor. There are tutorials and activities that are intended to make you a better fundamental player. But the main draw is the ability to play songs on a real guitar (or bass) in a Guitar Hero-type setup, where you pick the specfic string while holding the specific fret when the game tells you to. It's like reading and playing from tabs, except it's real time. There are tons of folks who have developed their base ability from the game, and it seems like a good option for building my base bass ability.

There are three important rules I'm giving myself when my bass arrives:

1) Do not treat Rocksmith like a game. It is a game, but it's not only a game. From talking to people and reading experiences, it very much seems like something that you get out what you put in. If you go in wanting to play songs and don't focus on progress, you can have a good time. If you want to improve your skill and be good enough to break away from the game, you can do that too, if you put in the effort. That's what I hope to do.

2) Use it every day. Practicing every day is more important than practicing a lot, but sporadically. The "60 day challenge" people have been following in Rocksmith suggests practicing an hour a day for two days. There are folks online who have created what they call the "10/10/30/10" system that has you play two different skill-building mini-games for ten minutes each, then practice a song you want to learn for a half hour, then a song the game recommends for the final ten minutes. As of right now, that looks like the route I'm planning.

3) Use other resources. If you've ever tried learning a language from Duolingo, and only Duolingo, you know what I'm talking about (unless that language was Esperanto, because their Esperanto course is amazing). You have to cast a wide net to learn something as vast as a language, and from my experience with the ukulele, it's the same thing with music. Use a guided software like Rocksmith or Duolingo as the base (except with Asian languages, because Duolingo is terrible at those), but add in other resources to grow faster.

The other rule is that this cannot take priority over reading, writing, idea generation, or my day job. The day job because I need money. The others because those are the things that keep me fueled and motivated. If at any point, I catch myself playing the bass instead of writing or reading, I will cut myself off. Idea generation is a little easier, since I exercise the idea muscle before I get out of bed.

But luckily, there's always enough time in the day to do things that genuinely matter to you. I'm not worried. I just have to impatiently wait for it to arrive. It's an Ibanez TMB100 in white.

Written April 25, 2020


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