What is situational awareness, and how can you use it to help a gig go smoother?
When I was a small child, my dad used to make our TV time a little more challenging. When the show would jump to a commercial, he would ask my brothers and I questions about what we had just watched— questions like “What time was the clock on the wall showing behind the actors?” or “Which hand was he wearing his watch on?” or “What was the number on the mailbox?” No doubt, they were crazy questions to ask children, but the game wasn’t just for fun. My dad was trying to sharpen our attention skills, and increase what is called “Situational Awareness.”
Situational Awareness, or SA, is an interesting concept. In a nutshell, it means being aware of your surroundings, and the cause and effect of your actions in the immediate area. SA is difficult to apply because you have to identify objects and actions around you, and you must then have forethought into how your decisions will affect your goals and intended results. The concept is taught in the military, law enforcement and health professions, but also applies to everyday life. You use it while driving (or at least you should), and in workplace decision making. Now, pretend your workplace is a stage, and you’re a bass player. Oh wait … you are! Then read on.
The most obvious ways to apply SA to what we do are not hard to figure out. In fact, they are more common sense calls than anything else. For example, being too loud, bringing an SVT rig to a jazz brunch gig, losing track of time and being late, etc. These are all things that, with a little bit of situational awareness, could have been changed.
Now, let’s take a look at your last gig. Was there something that happened that could have been avoided if you were more aware of your surroundings? Maybe if you paid attention to the edge of the stage, you wouldn’t have fallen off. Or maybe if you’d realized you were standing between the drummer and the singer, someone else could have seen the cues to end the song. Or maybe you saw the guitar player placing his beer too close to his amp and chose to let it go, and now his rig is in the repair shop. (Okay, he should have known better, but still … you get the picture.) Before we go any further, don’t feel silly if any of this sounds familiar. At some point, I’ve been guilty of all of the above, except for the SVT example (but I have been severely underdressed for a gig), so I feel your pain. It’s all one big learning process.
So let’s go a little deeper into the theory of SA. Let’s say you’ve been with an artist a long time and you know his timing (or lack thereof). If you’re paying attention then you can start to feel the warning signs when he or she is getting off, and you can adjust accordingly. A simple adjustment can make or break the performance, like noticing the drummer isn’t ready to kick off the song and holding off the singer for a second. Or maybe you see the lighting truss shaking a little too much and bring it to someone’s attention. You won’t get a raise or a medal for any of this, but “saving the day” is its own reward. I’d like to think that for as many train wrecks as I’ve witnessed, there have been just as many that I’ve averted, too.
You’ve heard the expression, “Walking around with blinders on,” right? Some shows, we are doing just that. You get bored, antsy or you may be more worried about getting home than playing. It’s understandable, but no excuse to shut down all of your senses. It’s almost (but not nearly) as serious as combat fatigue. You lose your edge. Not being on top of your game leads to lackluster performances, and it shows—not only to your band mates, but also to the audience.
Aside from all of the physical aspects of a live show, there is awareness in the music. I don’t want to limit my theory to one genre, but I think jazz players are some of the most aware players out there. You have several players taking solos during the course of the song, and as the bass player we need to compliment each one. Dynamics, note choice and feel all dictate where the song is going to go, and we need to be aware of all of these while playing—in any style of music.
If no one taught you SA when you were little, that’s okay. The beauty is that it’s never too late to learn. Start trying to notice little things in everyday life. Then take it to the stage. Notice how people are reacting to certain songs in your show. I am asked time and time again how to be successful in this business. Though I don’t have one definitive answer, I’ve found that being aware of surroundings, whether it be on stage or off, has had a profound impact on the decisions I’ve made. Being a little more astute has pushed my brain into places that it wouldn’t have normally gone, so for that I thank hours of TV, and of course, my dad.
Steve has performed and recorded with a diverse range of artists, from Edwin McCain to Randy Brecker to Course of Nature. Steve is also an alumnus of Woodstock ‘99, performing with his band King Konga. His current projects include extensive touring and video production with Bucky Covington (Lyric Street) and writing a popular weekly tour journal on his website: shinybass.com.
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.
Mystery Stocking is coming soon! Sign up for PG Perks below so you don't miss it.
Sign up for PG Perks on the form below to make sure you don't miss the launch announcement!
About Mystery Stocking
Each year, Premier Guitar likes to put out these mystery boxes as a part of bringing some fun to the holiday season. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun holiday treat! If the contents of this box will ruin your holiday, deplete the last of your bank account, or end your ability to see the good in humanity, it may not be for you.
- This year's Mystery Stocking will cost $44.95. ($39.95 + $5 Flat shipping)
- Each box will be guaranteed to contain $40 or more in value.
- US only. (Sorry World.)
- Make sure your shipping address is correct.
- Have your credit card ready to go before you refresh the page. Paypal is not available. Autofill may not fill in your information.
- There will be NO REFUNDS given.
- There has been a huge demand for these in the past. We really did sell out in less than 4 minutes last year. When they are gone, they are gone.
- One per household, one per person.
Q: What's in the Mystery Stocking?
A: It wouldn't be much of a surprise if we told you, now would it?
Q: Will I definitely get my money worth?
Q: Can I return it if I don't like it?
A: Nope. All sales final.
Q: What if I live outside the US?
A: Sorry, US only.
Q. How much is it?
A. $39.95 Plus $5 shipping
Q. When will it ship?
A. On or before December 10, 2022.
Q. What form of payment do you accept?
A. Credit cards only. Sorry, no Paypal for this.
Q. Can I ship to a different location than my billing address?
Q. I tried last year and didn't get one. Will I get one this year?
A. There is an overwhelming demand for Mystery Stocking. Be sure you have a fast internet connection and be ready when they go on sale. Last year we sold out in 3 min 33 seconds.
Q. I want to buy 5. How can I buy 5?
A. You can't. This year, we're limiting to one per household, so more people can get in on the fun!
For part two of our crash course in harmony for bassists, we’re talkin’ triads.
As bass players, our job is often to indicate and support what is happening rhythmically and harmonically in the music we’re playing. And to do that, it’s important for us to understand the basics of tonality and how it works. In fact, every bass player must have a strong knowledge of harmony to do their job correctly. This month, we’ll continue last month’s harmony crash course with some more ways to brush up on your ear skills, in italics below, so you can do your low-end job effectively.
The basic building block of harmony is the dyad, which gives us our basic intervals. But the basic building block of tonality is the triad, a grouping of three or more tones (root, 3rd, and 5th) that give us the four chord qualities—major, minor, diminished, and augmented—which you’re probably already familiar with.
Just as with intervals, we should train our ears to recognize chord qualities instantly. Start with two qualities (major and minor). Once you can identify those two correctly about 95 percent of the time, add another. Keep going until you can identify all four qualities consistently.
Another great exercise is to take a melody (either major or minor) and convert it to the opposite quality. Start out with something you know well, like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” This may take a while at first, but the goal is to keep on doing these until you can convert most stuff on the fly instantly.
“This feeling of resolution, in some ways, is the whole point.”
Each chord quality has its own distinct sound, but major and minor are related, and both feel very grounded. Because of the 5th in each, our ears can easily hear which note in the chord is strongest (the root), which gives major and minor a sense of gravity. This feeling persists even if we change the order of the notes (invert the chord).
Have a friend or an app play inversions of major or minor triads. Find the root of each chord by singing it. Work towards being able to identify these triads in root position (root in the bass), first inversion (3rd in the bass), or second inversion (5th in the bass).
Pay attention to bass lines that land on a root, 3rd, or 5th on the first beat of the bar and then practice coming up with your own examples.
Diminished and augmented triads are much more ambiguous. Without a perfect fifth (diminished has a b5 and augmented has a #5), no tone in particular sounds strongest. Thus, both chords lack gravity. In fact, to most of us, every tone sounds equal, like being lost in the woods where every direction appears the same. Both seem to want to move towards something else more stable. When this occurs, it gives a sense of release, or resolution. This feeling of resolution, in some ways, is the whole point.
The top part of a dominant seventh or V7 chord is a diminished triad. For example, a C7 consists of the notes C–E–G–Bb. If you remove the C, we’re left with an E diminished triad. This is where the moving sound, or the desire to resolve, comes from. The important takeaway is that we’re making something very stable—a major chord—and making it less stable when we add the b7, because of the diminished sound, which in turn sets up the need to resolve.
Listening for V–I: On a guitar or keyboard play any major chord, then add a b7 (transforming I to V7) and try to hear where the progression “wants” to go next. Move to the new key (a fifth down) and repeat. After twelve V–I progressions you’ll arrive back at the original key.
The Dominant Gateway: On bass, try playing a walking bass pattern over the cycle of fifths, strategically using a b7 to move to the next key. This foreshadowing is a great voice-leading skill.
That's all for our crash course in harmony. If you take your time with these exercises, you should notice not only your ears improving, but your bass playing too!