Obviously we all know how important it is to practice playing our instrument, but what about an instrument specific top 10 list? Here are my top ten tips to help you practice efficiently and hopefully a little less boring too!
Rhythm has your two hips moving! (see what I did there?) but as a bass player it is vital to be able to lock in with a groove and keep perfect time. I used to have a really hard time doing this when I first started but I started doing this – Find a basic drum groove from YouTube etc and listen to it, try to follow the bass drum and the snare independently. Pick one and try to lock in with the rhythm of that particular drum until you can do it confidently. the next day lock in with the other drum and repeat, gradually increasing tempo and/or the complexity of the groove. Another way is to play crotchets over a metronome at say 100bpm then half the metronome to 50bpm (essentially turning the crotchets into minims) and play crotchets over it in time without the full backing of the metronome. I find this way is more challenging but it has endless possibilities like playing sixteenth notes at 100bpm with the metronome playing one beat per bar.
Try and add some dynamics into your playing, but I’m playing as loud as I can! I must admit I don’t vary my use of dynamics as much as I should but it is a really great way to interact and learn all the quirks your instrument has. Write out a nice bass line or even copy one and add in a different dynamic mark every eight bars or so and you will soon see how well you can cope with changing your playing dynamics at a quick pace. It really does make a significant impact to your bass line when you utilise differing dynamics. One bass line dynamic exercise I like uses an eighth note pattern and follows – Decrescendo 4 bars, Forte eight bars, Crescendo 4 bars, Fortepiano 1 bar, Mezzoforte 4 bars and finally 2 bars Morendo.
Having the right technique from the start is paramount to be able to play your bass efficiently and with ease. Other techniques such as slap, two-handed tapping etc come second. If you have an idea for a riff or lick and want to play it but your technique is lacking this can be a very frustrating place to be. By having your fundamental technique in place you can then experiment and play the parts you want. Find a technique you are lacking expertise in, even if is just playing finger style from a beginners point of view and find the most efficient and comfortable way for you. Not anyone else just you, and work on that technique until you are comfortable and happy. online tutorials can help with this but at the end of the day it is you who has to be comfortable.
This can cover so many things. Listen to new music as often as you can to broaden your taste and experience. Working out parts by ear is pure fun for me but for some it can be difficult but persistence is the key. Try and find a popular song that you have listened to but don’t know how to play and try to work it out by using the notes of your bass. Expand on this after practicing by trying to “guess” the progression of a song from one section by listening to it once. Intervals and chords etc can be practiced by numerous ear tests available or with a fellow musician or tutor. I like to relate intervals to tracks I know which start by using intervals such as – Major Second ascending – Happy birthday, Major Second descending – Three Blind Mice.
Sounds so boring and un music like but it is a very serious matter. I played upright bass with appalling posture and that caused me so many problems. The same with electric bass. You need to be aware of any stresses you are putting on your body. for instance, the length of your strap shouldn’t be too low or too high but comfortable. Is your strap comfortable and strong? Does it distribute the weight evenly? Your hands should be relaxed along with your arms. Can you reach all the notes on your bass comfortably? I tend to change instruments quite frequently depending on the gig and I follow this regime. Adjust the strap to a comfortable length and check to see how well the instrument balances and how your shoulders take the weight. Then reach to the first fret of your bass and the last fret to see if that is also comfortable. Following this I will always use a mirror to double-check if I am hunched over or my shoulders are slopped. General information – I use a TGI leather strap which I find very comfortable and it is quite wide compared to the cheap nylon straps you see. It also has a sort of loop feature to adjust the overall length like a belt but it has a cool two position drop down feature where you can quick change the length of the strap by taking it off the guitar at the back-end using the other hole to immediately change the position. If in doubt go to a reputable music store and try some out!
5. Music Theory
Wow such a huge topic. Basically it just has to be done to get anywhere as a professional in most circumstances. Sit down with a teacher or musician friend and work at it, it will unlock so many things you wont know what to play/use. This will be the shortest topic but the most expansive if you include all the aspects of music theory. A big subject that is easy to conquer in small chunks.
4. Playing With Other Musicians
This is such a beneficial way to improve in all the areas of musicianship. You can bond over general music talk and make awesome songs too. you can help each other and mostly learn from everyone too. I remember while taking the Rockschool Level 4 Diploma in Music Teaching, being dropped into live performances with 5 guitarists and myself the sole bass player. Without listening to them or asking questions I would not be the musician I am today, plus I had to learn the guitar parts and solos on bass which was a task in its self but made easier by the other musicians.
Make sure you have the right equipment when you need it. You don’t have to have the biggest bass stack or the most amazing sounding wah pedal but you need what is required for the situation. For instance my first professional session I took everything. Four basses a jam-packed pedal board, tuners, two amps and a box of cables. I ended up using one bass, one cable, my tuner and a DI box. Take what you need not what you want. You don’t need to have the most expensive kit but make sure it works!
2. An Open Mind
Don’t take criticism as a negative and be open to all the comments you get be it bad or good. Learn from your “mistakes” and improve. Have an open mind to every aspect of music and musicianship. Don’t dismiss music because you think its total rubbish without listening to it, you may be surprised. If your in a band don’t ignore ideas your band mates have (even the drummer) just have an open mind and try it.
Practice often. I find practicing at a set time everyday for a “reasonable” amount of time is more beneficial than one 4 hour practice session on a Sunday. Also if your already practicing regularly, stop when you feel bored! If you continue when you are bored with said exercise or track it will be a waste of time. Move on to another subject or have a little break.