Slap Bass Timing Exercises – Bass Practice Diary – 8th September 2020
If you’ve been following my recent series of videos about timing exercises, then you’ll know how these work by now. You take an odd number note grouping and play those groupings as continuous 16th notes. What I didn’t mention on any of my previous videos, was that these exercises are a great way to practice slap bass. This video feature three slap bass timing exercises. And you can take this concept and develop your own exercises.
The first exercise is 16th notes played in three note groupings. The three note grouping consists of a note, G, thumped with the right hand thumb (T). A tap on the strings with the left hand, marked L.H on the notation. And finally a pull with the index finger of the right hand, which I’ve played as a dead note by muting the strings with my left hand.
The second of the three note sequence, the left hand tap, can be very soft. You don’t need to hit the strings hard, you just need to do it in time. Hitting the strings with the left hand has the effect of silencing the first note. So, even if you don’t here the tap, you will still feel the rhythm by hearing the note G go silent.
The second exercise is an extension of that idea. This time the three note grouping is made by thumb (right hand), hammer (left hand) and pluck (right hand index). And the notes are taken from a C minor pentatonic scale.
The final exercise features a five note grouping. The five notes are as follows. Thump the G and then tap with the left hand, exactly as in exercise 1. Then thump with the right hand thumb again, but this time as a dead note muted by the left hand. That’s three, the final two notes are F and G. Pluck the F on the D string and hammer onto the G on the fifth fret with your left hand.
Triplet Timing Exercises for Bass Guitar – Bass Practice Diary – 1st September 2020
This is my third video of timing exercises for bass guitar. The previous two videos both involved playing odd number note groupings as 16th notes in 4/4. In this video, I’m changing the subdivision and I’m playing four and five note groupings as triplets in 4/4. All of these triplet timing exercises are written with 8th note triplets. However, if you want to take the exercises a step further, you can make them harder by using quarter note triplets or 16th note triplets.
The first exercise involves playing four note groupings. I’m using two arpeggios in the key of C major, a Dm7 arpeggio and a Cmaj7 arpeggio. You can use any four note grouping to do this. Four note groupings played as continuous triplets in 4/4 will arrive back on beat one after two bars. So, I’ve put the note C on beat one of bar three to complete the exercise. You can loop the exercise as many times as you want to.
Another way to play four note groupings would be to play a scale, four notes at a time. This is a C major scale played descending from G, the fifth.
Playing five note groupings as triplets is harder. The next exercise lands back on beat one at the beginning of bar 6.
Finally, this last exercise combines the four and five note groupings. It’s actually a bit more straight forward than playing just the five note groupings, because four and five makes nine. So, this is effectively a grouping of nine. And because nine is divisible by three, it fits into triplet rhythms quite nicely.
Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar #2 – 16th Notes in Five Note Groupings – Bass Practice Diary – 18th August 2020
This week’s timing exercise features five note groupings, played as 16th notes. Last week I featured a similar exercise with three note phrases. You can make exercises like this by using any odd number grouping, and then playing those groupings as continuous 16th notes in 4/4.
Odd Number Rhythmic Groupings
The larger the grouping, the more rhythmic possibilities it creates. For example, five note groupings can be counted as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Da-Di-Gi-Na-Dum). Or you could count 3+2 (Ta-Ki-Ta, Ta-Ka) or 2+3 (Ta-Ka, Ta-Ki-Ta). However, a seven note grouping would give more options, 4+3, 3+4, 2+3+2, 5+2 etc.
The idea of playing odd number rhythmic groups, is that it creates a continuously moving polyrhythmic feel against the four beats in a bar of 4/4 and the four 16th note subdivisions in each beat. The idea of these exercises, is that they systematically go through every possible rhythmic placement of a five note grouping of 16th notes in a bar of 4/4, before arriving back on beat one at the beginning of the sixth bar.
Three Variations of The Exercise
In the first exercise, I’m playing five note arpeggios in the key of C major.
As you can see, I play the tonic, C on beat one of bar 6. If you can hit that note on the downbeat, then you know you’ve played the exercise correctly.
The second variation of this exercise is a variation of the first exercise. This time, I’m playing the five notes as three and then two.
The third variation also uses the three and two idea. However, this time I’m using an ascending G major scale.
Timing Exercise on Bass Guitar – 16th Notes in Groups of 3 – Bass Practice Diary – 11th August 2020
The concept of this timing exercise is very simple. You take any sequence of three notes, and play the sequence as continuous 16th notes in 4/4. So, you subdivide the beats into four, but you play a pattern of three, which creates a simple polyrhythm. Each time you play the sequence, it will start on a different 16th note. After three bars, you will have played all of the different permutations of where that sequence can start in a bar of 4/4. So, if you play the sequence correctly for three bars, the sequence should begin again on beat one of bar 4.
The Exercise and Variations
This would be a simple version of the exercise. It’s a “one finger per fret” exercise, but each note is played three times.
I would more commonly play the exercise using triads, as I have here.
You could also apply the same idea to practicing scales. Here is a C major scale played in three note groupings. First ascending and then descending.
Slap Bass 10 Minute Workout – Bass Practice Diary – 4th August 2020
This is the third 10 minute bass practice workout that I’ve released, but the first to feature slap bass techniques. There are a lot of videos on YouTube of bass players teaching and demonstrating slap techniques. They’re often fast and flashy and they almost always involve using lots of open strings. There’s nothing wrong with that, because those things are fun to play. But, in this video I’ve tried to zero in on what I think are the fundamental techniques that bass players should practice, so that they can use slap bass techniques in “real world” music situations.
What are the fundamentals of slap bass?
If you follow my Bass Practice Diary videos, then you probably know that slap bass is not my “main thing” on bass. The vast majority of what I do is played finger style, but I like to keep my slap bass chops ready for when they’re needed. This line, that I’ve written is typical of the kind of exercise that I’ll set for myself when I’m practicing slap bass.
I’ll start by asking myself the question, what do I need to be able to do in order to execute slap bass lines quickly and accurately when they’re put in front of me on a gig? Then I’ll come up with a line, like this one, that I feel tests me on the fundamental techniques that I need. So, I haven’t included any advanced techniques like double thumbing or machine gun triplets. Those are great techniques for playing slap bass solos, but I’m more interested in the fundamentals that I need to make my slap bass lines sound good.
For me, the fundamental techniques of slap bass are the thump with your thumb, the pull with your index finger, the hammer ons and pull offs with your left hand for playing legato lines and dead notes. When I’m practicing these fundamentals, I’m concentrating on trying to get my timing as well as my tone and dynamics even. So all the notes can be heard and nothing is coming out too loud.
Bass players often use compression on their slap bass lines to even out the dynamics. It’s ok to do that, but I would strongly recommend that you don’t use compression when you practice. You need to learn to control the dynamics with your hands. Using compression will subconsciously teach you that you don’t need to control the dynamics because the compression does it for you.
The 10 Minute Slap Bass Workout
If you’ve done one of my workouts before, you’ll know the format by now. I divide the 10 minutes up into four exercises, each practiced for 2 minutes (roughly). And then the last 2 minutes is for putting all four exercises together into one line. Each exercise is practiced at four different tempos, roughly 30 seconds at each tempo. The first tempo should be very slow to help get used to the notes in each new exercise. And the last tempo for each exercise should be pushing you to the edge of your comfort zone.
The last tempo should be challenging but not impossible. It’s a mistake to try and go too fast. You need to push yourself in the last 30 seconds but I think it’s a much bigger mistake to go too fast than too slow. I’ve set the tempos in this video at tempos that work for me, 40bpm, 55bpm, 70bpm and 85bpm. If those tempos don’t work for you, then do the workout in your own time at your own tempos. You only need a metronome or a drum beat, which you can find for free online.
The line is based around a jazz III-VI-II-V in the key of E major. The line itself uses hardly any open strings. I’ve done this deliberately, because it’s harder to play slap bass without using open strings. Typically, when I’ve been asked to play slap bass on gigs, I’m very rarely required to play in keys like E and A where I can use lots of open strings. It’s more often in keys like F and Bb because those are popular keys for keyboard players and horn players.
My line is in the key of E. However, I’ve chosen the chords G#m7 – G7 – F#m7 – F7. Therefore, there isn’t much opportunity to use the open strings on the root notes. However, once you’ve learned the line, you can resolve it onto an E chord, which is fun because you can then bring in the open E string. Here’s the line.
The first exercise goes like this.
I’m practicing it as a 3-beat repeating cycle. The chords at this point go from G#m7 to G7. I’ve included one dead note, which I’m playing by striking the string with my right-hand thumb while muting with my left hand. I haven’t included many dead notes, because I feel like I probably over use them when I improvise a slap bass part. I also put dead notes in instinctively on rest strokes. You can hear me doing it in the video. So feel free to improvise dead notes on any of the rests. You can play dead notes with your right hand and left hand, I usually use a combination of both.
After the dead note, there’s a hammer on from the 2nd to 4th fret on the A-string. In this exercise, I’m working on getting an even sound between the notes that I’m thumping, which are the notes on the A and E-strings. And the notes that I’m plucking on the G and D-strings.
The second exercise is this.
This is a bass fill played using a combination of hammer ons and pull offs with the left hand. While the right hand is using both index finger and thumb. It starts by plucking the 6th fret on the first string and pulling off to the 4th fret. Then the right-hand thumb plays the open string second string and the left hand hammers on the 5th fret. Then I use my thumb again to play the 2nd fret on the A-string and I hammer on to the 4th fret. Watch out for the rest on beat 1, and the goal is to make it sound like one smooth line.
Exercise 3 goes like this.
Each note in this exercise is articulated using either the thumb or index finger on the right hand, with no written dead notes or legato phrasing. You can improvise dead notes on the rests. It’s a 3-beat cycle, like exercise 1. I could play exercise 3 as a 2-beat cycle, but it flows better with the quarter note rest on the end.
This is the fourth and final exercise.
Another rest on beat 1. More combinations of thumping and plucking, hammer ons and pull offs. Good Luck!
Learn G Major On the Entire Fretboard – 10 Minute Bass Practice Workout – Bass Practice Diary – 16th June 2020
This is the second 10 minute bass practice workout that I’ve posted. This one is specifically designed to help you learn your fretboard up and down by learning the key of G major in every position. These workouts are an example of the kind of practice workout that I often give to my students. The idea is, that if you use your time efficiently, like this, then you can achieve a lot more than you might think in 10 minutes.
The idea is that you practice each line for 2 minutes (roughly) and then the final 2 minutes is for playing the entire example all together. Each line contains all of the notes in the key of G major in a particular area of the fretboard. For example, the first line covers all of the notes between the open strings and the 4th fret. The second line covers the 5th fret to the 9th fret, and so it goes on up the fretboard until, at the end, I’ve played every possible note in the key of G major on my 20 fret fretboard in every possible position .
Each 2 minute section of the workout is divided into four tempos, with approximately 30 seconds spent on each tempo. I like to start at a very comfortable (meaning slow) tempo. And then work up to a tempo that challenges me. In this workout, I haven’t pushed the tempo up as high as I did previously. The reason is because my main goal here is to learn the notes and positions for G major. Speed is not necessary to achieve that. However I have still increased the tempo because there’s no harm in pushing my technique at the same time as learning my fretboard.
Learning Your Bass Fretboard
Learning the notes of every key all over your fretboard is huge. It will make a massive difference to your playing. It probably makes most sense to start with C major, but it doesn’t really matter which order you learn the keys in. You can think of this as learning modes as well as keys. When you’re learning the key go G major, you’re also learning A dorian, B phrygian, C lydian, D mixolydian, E aeolian and F# locrian. It helps if you can practice playing the notes against some kind of harmony, which is why I recorded some diatonic chords in the key of G major to go along with the workout.
Altered Pentatonic Jazz Lick on Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 2nd June 2020
Last week I featured a pentatonic scale that you can create by altering just one note in a standard major or minor pentatonic scale. This week I’ve put that altered pentatonic scale into practice. I’ve come up with a jazz lick on fretless bass that features both the standard and altered versions of the pentatonic scale.
I’ve composed the line on a II-V-I-IV progression in the key of C major. I choose to use the IV chord rather than the more common VI7 chord in order to feature two different pentatonic approaches to playing on major 7th chords. On the Cmaj7 chord I’ve played an E minor pentatonic scale. It gives me the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th relative to the root note of the chord. On the Fmaj7 chord, I’ve used the altered version of the scale to create a lydian augmented sound. The notes are E, F, A, B & C#, 7th, root, 3rd, #4th, #5th relative to the F root note. It’s like an F# minor pentatonic scale, with an F natural root note instead of F#. It’s a sound that I featured in last week’s video.
On the II chord I’m using the obvious D minor pentatonic scale. I like to start my jazz lines inside the harmony and then take them outside. The altered version of the pentatonic scale does a really good job of spelling out the sound of an altered dominant chord. It helps me bring in some of those outside notes on the G7 chord V. The notes are G, Bb, B, Eb & F, which is root, #9, 3rd, b13 &7th. It’s like the notes an altered dominant arpeggio. You can think of it as C minor pentatonic scale with the root note lowered by a semitone to B.
10 Minute Bass Fretboard Workout – Play Along With Me – Bass Practice Diary – 12th May 2020
This week I’m posting a 10 minute bass practice workout that I prepared. You can join me by playing along with the video or you can do it at your own pace. Having done a video a few weeks ago talking about “how you should practice rather than what you should practice”. I wanted to post a practical demonstration of what I think is a really efficient method of practicing.
First I came up with a line which goes like this.
When I was writing the line, I was trying to come up with four bars in which each bar tested something different. But all four bars put together still needed to play like a musical phrase. I wanted the finished line to involve moving both horizontally and vertically on the neck. Meaning position shifting up and down the neck as well as moving across the four strings.
The complete workout involves practicing each bar for two minutes. Then the final two minutes is spent practicing all four bars together. Each two minute section of the workout is divided into four tempos. Roughly 30 seconds each at 60, 90, 120 & 150 beats per minute.
Obviously, if you do this workout on your own, you can customise those tempos to suit you. The principle you should follow is that the first tempo should feel slow, and the last tempo should feel fast. You want to start by practicing really slowly, there’s no such thing as “too easy” at this point. There are many really important reasons why you should start at a slow speed. You want to use this time to really think about your timing, your technique, the tone and quality of each note you play, your fingering. And most importantly, you’re starting to build up some vital muscle memory which you’ll need when the tempo gets quicker.
The last 30 seconds of each two minute section is where you should be really pushing yourself. You want to be making mistakes at this point. If you’re not making mistakes at the fastest tempo, then your practice is too easy. It’s really important to get the tempos right for you. If you make the practice too easy, you won’t be improving as quickly as you could be. If you make the practice too hard you might not improve at all.
Having said that, my advice is to be cautious the first time you do it and make it easy by setting the tempos slower. If it’s too easy the first time you try it, you can always push the tempos up the second time you do it. However, if you start out too fast, you probably won’t achieve anything.
Four Finger Exercise
The first bar represents one of the most fundamental types of technical exercise on bass guitar. Four finger exercises, or what I call “one finger per fret”. These types of exercise are typically done on one string at a time. So I’ve added the additional element of taking the exercise across the strings and back again.
The second bar adds the element of position shifting up the neck. The bar starts in the 3rd position (meaning 1st finger on the 3rd fret) and then it moves up to 5th and then 6th position.
Bar 3 is a triad pair. I’ve done videos about them already this year. Funnily enough, I wasn’t even thinking about triad pairs when I came up with the line in my head. When I wrote it down, I realised that it was a Bb minor triad and a C major triad. It just goes to show that when you practice an idea enough, it will start to become instinctive.
Single String Exercise
The final bar is a single string exercise. I’m using it to practice shifting position up the first string by shifting between my index finger and little finger.
What Should You Do if Your Fingers Hurt?
They probably will. There’s a reason that I’ve called this a workout. Playing the bass is like going to the gym for your fingers. When we’re practicing, we’re developing muscles in our hands, and discomfort will happen. When it does, it’s important to know what to do because over practicing can lead to injuries.
This fretboard workout involves a lot of work for your left hand, particularly your little finger, which might not be used to this much work. If your fingers are feeling very sore 24-48 hours after doing the workout, don’t panic. In the fitness world, there is a thing called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). It happens when you work a muscle that isn’t yet conditioned to the work you’re requiring it to do. It’s usually at it’s worst 24-48 hours after a workout and it isn’t an injury, it will get better after 2-3 days.
If you experience this, it is important to take a break from intense practice, to help the muscles recover. When the soreness feels better, do the workout again. That way you will start to build the strength in your fingers. The DOMS will not be anywhere near as bad after the second time.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking “it hurt so I’m not going to do it again”. If you practice regularly, it will hurt less and less as your hands get stronger. If you take a break from practicing and then start again, the DOMS will probably come back again because you will have lost some of the conditioning you built up.
I’m offering a free 30 minute bass lesson via Skype for anyone who would like to have a one to one lesson with me. If you’ve ever considered having online music lessons, this is a great way to try it out without having to commit to anything. I can tailor a lesson to your specific needs regardless of your level or previous experience of playing the bass. Send me a message here and we can arrange the lesson.
During these difficult times, in the midst of COVID-19, I like many others have had most of my income sources taken away from me. As a self employed musician, I can’t do any gigs or teach any lessons face to face. Therefore I’m moving my entire teaching business online and I’d love to hear from anyone who is looking to embrace music during the isolation that most of us will experience this year.
Music is such a massive part of my life that I can’t imagine being stuck at home without the ability to play my basses. I can’t think of a better way to spend these difficult weeks and months than by working on music and improving your bass skills! So contact me for your free bass lesson.
Bass Practice Diary
As most of you already know, I’ve been releasing weekly Bass Practice Diary videos for the last 2 years. The idea is that each video highlights a different idea that I’ve been practicing. Last week was my 100th Bass Practice Diary video. It featured some of my best tips for how to improve your bass practice time. You can watch it by clicking the link below. Bass Practice Diary will be back as normal next week!
5 Tips for Better Bass Practice – Bass Practice Diary – 17th March 2020
To celebrate my 100th Bass Practice Diary video I’m sharing 5 tips for better bass practice. All of my videos up until now have dealt with ideas that you can practice, or gear advice and suggestions, or performances of things I’ve been practicing. However, I’ve never dealt with the most fundamental aspect of practice, how you should be practicing. I think lots of musicians have misguided ideas of what practice should be, I know that I did for a long time. So, I made this video to try and share with you some of the conclusions that I’ve come to about how to make the most out of your practice time.
Tip 1 – Make Your Practice Easy Not Hard
One of the mistakes I made, and I see a lot of my students doing the same thing, is to think that practice should be about pushing yourself to play difficult things that you can’t already play. It’s not bad to want to play difficult things. But you’ll achieve your targets much quicker if you start by practicing things you can already do. Then you can gradually make them harder in an incremental way.
I can remember repeatedly driving myself to the point of frustration as a teenager by practicing things over and over and still not getting them right. Now that never happens, because when I’m trying to learn something difficult, I start by breaking it down into simple easy exercises which I then gradually build up to the full thing that I’m trying to learn. If at any point I get stuck, I change what I’m practicing by making it easier. Easier could mean slower or breaking it down into smaller chunks.
I would also recommend practicing in time, either with a slow drum beat or metronome. It has the double benefit of helping you keep in time, but it also stops you from practicing something faster than you can manage.
Tip 2 – Try to Get as Much Variety as Possible
Another mistake that I made as a kid was practicing the same things over and over again until I became bored and frustrated. And while this approach can yield results, it’s not the best way to become a rounded musician, or to find enjoyment in playing music. I started my Bass Practice Diary to show that there are so many different things to practice. You shouldn’t ever be in the situation where you sit down with a musical instrument and think, “I don’t know what to practice”.
There are so many different things that you could be practicing that the problem should be, “I don’t know how to decide what to practice because there’s so much”.
The answer to that problem is to set yourself longer term goals, and then come up with exercises that will help you achieve those goals over time. Then don’t practice any one exercise for too long. Practice each exercise for a couple of minutes each and then keep coming back to them and changing them and building on what you’ve already done. Repetition is important, but you don’t need to do all your repetitions in one practice, you can spread them over weeks and months.
Tip 3 – Play for Fun
This one may seem obvious, because it’s something that we all do. But I’ve noticed that sometimes my students are apologetic about doing it. It’s like they think that all practice should be about practicing scales or learning repertoire or absorbing complex harmonic ideas. There’s only so much information a human brain can take in in one go. If you keep trying to learn new stuff for hours and hours you won’t retain most of what you’re practicing.
A lot of the time when I’m playing my bass at home, I’m just playing for the shear love of playing music. I’m not setting myself any targets or exercises, I’m just playing because I enjoy doing it. And if that wasn’t the case, I just don’t think I’d be a musician. And that leads me neatly on to my next tip which is…
Tip 4 – Play Your Instrument Every Day
If you make a habit out of playing your instrument every day you will almost certainly get good at it. I’ve never made a conscious decision to play every day, but I know that on the very rare days when I don’t play a bass, I feel like something is missing. It’s almost impossible to not be good at something that you do every day. My advice is to pick up your instrument every day, even if it’s only for a really short time and even if it feels like it hasn’t achieved anything.
Tip 5 – Love Music and Listen to Music
This may seem obvious, but it always amazes me how many people seem to miss this. I regularly ask my students “what have you been listening to this week?” Honestly, for me that’s a more important question than “what have you been practicing this week?”
It’s amazing how often it turns out that people haven’t consciously listened to any music all week. In this day and age, it’s normal for musicians to practice and to watch Youtube videos about our instruments, but we don’t always make time to listen to the music we love.
Loving music means listening to music and I firmly believe that you learn as much (if not more) from listening to music as you do from playing your instrument. So my fifth, but most important tip, is to make time to listen to music, really listen to it, don’t just have it on while you’re doing something else.
Nothing inspires me to make music more than listening to music. And I know that everyone has busy lives, but if you’re planning to do an hour bass practice tomorrow, I would suggest spending 30 minutes listening and 30 minutes playing. It doesn’t necessarily matter what music you listen to, but I would point you back to Tip 2 and suggest that variety is equally important in the music you listen to as well as in your practice time.