It was getting near Christmas. I was discouraged. I had engaged all my men into the battle. But it was still out of reach. I just couldn’t hear it.
How was that possible? Julian had promised I would hear it after two years of listening and I still didn’t.
I had started just after quitting my job. At first, I didn’t have any ambitions. I was just trying to help my wife. She was struggling and I thought I could help her.
But I had so much fun with it that after six months of listening, I thought I’d push it further. After all, it had been my first love as a teenager.
And two years later, that was a problem. That was a big problem.
I had quit my job as an engineer to become a painter and now there was this “other thing” taking half my time away.
Should I abandon painting? Should I do both and see what happens? What did I like most? Why couldn’t I hear it? Was there something wrong with my ear?
All these questions kept bugging me as I tried to listen to the evasive bass line.
Practicing didn’t help. It didn’t help at all. My ear wasn’t getting any better.
Something was missing.
I had mastered the intervals alright. Easy. It took less than a month.
But this bass line was the hidden Graal. Hidden under a bunch of other melodic lines, it just kept playing tricks on me. I could never transcribe it correctly 100% of the time.
So, after cursing pop music a thousand times, a few days before Christmas, I started making a tree. Not your usual kind of tree.
A tree Socrates would have been happy to rest under (and maybe die under).
A kind of logical tree asking “why” questions again and again. I was very desperate you see.
And mine went something like this :
“After 2 years of following Julian’s course, why am I still not as accurate as planned when transcribing chords ?”
“Because I haven’t followed Julian’s process of transcribing chords”
“Because I haven’t followed Julian’s bass transcription process”
“Because I chose to follow the process but something prevented me from transcribing the bass correctly”
“Because I wasn’t able to transcribe the bass intervals”
And it went, on and on, for hundreds of lines asking the eternal Why?
Fortunately, there was no Sphinx asking these questions. Otherwise I would have been dead multiple times.
But I was still alive and I wanted to solve this problem before Christmas.
Christmas came and went. The children were happy with their presents but unfortunately Santa Claus forgot mine and the accursed bass line kept its mystery.
Wait a minute, did you say?
Why are you being so secretive ? What is a bass line ?
Well, for those of you who are not musicians, a bass line is simply what the bass is playing in a song. If you can hear the intervals of a bass line then you basically can recognize the chords a song is playing by ear. At least in pop or rock music.
Without having to touch any instrument at all!
Yes, most great musicians can do that. Impressing, isn’t ?
Well I wasn’t quite there and very much discouraged again so I started practicing less and less.
For one month, I didn’t even make a single entry in my transcribing log.
But the problem was always on my mind.
Somehow, it became the main problem in my life, which is not a bad problem to have after all.
Three months passed and I had given up all hope.
Then, one afternoon, while I was listening to a plain pop song something strange happened. I just sang the song and knew where it was. How was it possible? I knew where it was.
And I took another plain pop song and had the same result. I knew where the root was.
You’re doing it again? What is a root? Why are you talking about music instead of painting?
I know. I know. Please bear with me again.
Well a root in music is the root of the key the music is in, which will give all the other notes a melodic line is playing. All this by ear.
Yes I could do that. And I started listening again.
Again and again.
A few weeks later, I could recognize the resolution chord without even thinking about it. Just by singing it. And then most of the bass lines.
Today, I’m almost there. Only a few mistakes here and there.
How did I do it ?
“My long term memory somehow categorized the root as the most frequent or suggested central note… “
Well I could go on with the scientific lingo but the truth is no one really knows how these things happen.
Yes, yes, I practiced. Deliberately when I could and not deliberately when I got tired of being deliberate!
But what really got me there was persistency. I gave everything I had until I was completely desperate.
And, one day, just like magic, it happened in my ears. Unconsciously. The skill was there before I even knew it. Skills are sneaky that way.
And that’s what will happen to you if you are persistent enough in what you want.
But you have to be persistent in a smart way : you really have to define what you want to do in painting. And that’s the hard part.
But once this is defined and you are persistent, then you are sure to get there.
And I can’t really tell how you should practice, how much, when…
In my experience, all such advice is bound to fail.
Because we all are more different than you think and you have to find your way.
Human beings are shape shifters.
I’ve seen human beings learn things in one go. Just like that. And others for whom it took years.
Doesn’t matter! And those who succeeded didn’t have to be the first ones.
But one thing is sure : those who were persistent did great things.
As for me, my main area of interest is the human body and I want to be an excellent figure painter from the live model.
If you’re interested in figure painting like me, maybe you can find the tools you need by watching my new videos on my youtube channel here :
And if you’re interested in going deeper in figure painting, I’d like to hear your ideas.
I’m currently in the process of publishing videos on understanding the Bargue plates so that one can be more accurate when drawing the life model or plaster cast.