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.
Sliding Notes on a Fretless Bass – Bass Practice Diary – 22nd January 2019
Sliding between notes is an integral part of phrasing on a fretless bass. This video features an exercise to help you practice sliding accurately between notes by using the pentatonic scale.
When you slide between notes on a fretless bass, the first thing that you need to concentrate on, is keeping the notes in tune. When you slide, it’s very easy to slide too far and go sharp, or not quite far enough and the note will be flat. So my first advice is to start slowly and use a backing track.
Backing tracks are very easy to find for free on Youtube. Here is an example of a backing track in G major that you could use to help you practice this exercise. When you practice with a backing track it’s so much easier to hear when you go a little bit out of tune.
Use the Pentatonic Scale to Practice Sliding Notes on Fretless Bass
The easiest way to play a pentatonic scale is by playing two notes on each string like this.
The reason it’s easy is because it doesn’t involve any position shifts. But it offers very little opportunity to slide between notes.
In order to incorporate slides, you need to keep shifting position, which involves playing at least three notes per string like this.
You can also practice this on a fretted bass. It’s easier on a fretted bass because you don’t need to be as accurate. But position shifting is an important skill for any bass player to practice.
The idea of the exercise is that you always slide with your 1st finger (index finger). Playing three notes on each string, you play the first of the three notes with your 1st finger and then slide up to the second note. You can play the third note on each string with either your third finger or little finger.
Slide Notes With Any Finger
It’s easiest to use your 1st finger to slide. But you want to be able to slide accurately with all of the fingers on your left hand. So come up with your own variations of this exercise and use different fingers to play the slides. Here’s a variation that I demonstrated in the video which uses your 4th finger (little finger) to play the slides.
Another variation that I demonstrated in the video, is to break the exercise down into small sections. Don’t feel like you need to practice the whole scale all at once. Work on each position shift one at a time. Like this.
I think that practicing like this actually replicates what you will play in a real musical situation better than playing the whole scale all at once. You could use the example above as a fretless bass fill on a G major chord. And the example below which starts on a D could also be a fill when you’re playing in the key of G.
Just like any scale exercise, don’t forget to practice this exercise in different positions and different keys. And try to adapt the idea of sliding and position shifting to any other scales, arpeggios or technical exercises that you practice.
Fretless Bass Groove with Bass TAB – Bass Practice Diary – 15th January 2019
This week during my bass practice, I’ve been composing bass grooves in 6/8. This video features one fretless bass groove that I’ve written. I choose to feature this one because it fits nicely on 4, 5 or 6 string bass. So hopefully all bass players will be able to have a go at playing it.
The bassline is in G major. I’ve written some phrasing, by marking some of the slides on the TAB. But my advice is to focus on the rhythm more than the phrasing.
Once you’ve got the rhythm of the groove, I think you’ll find that the phrasing comes quite naturally. And I don’t mind if you phrase it differently to me. I think phrasing is very personal and I rarely try to imitate another musicians phrasing too closely.
Start by practicing slowly. The full speed is 110BPM and I’ve included a slower version at 70BPM. But I would probably advise starting even slower than that. And make sure that the rhythm is accurate. The rhythm in bar two is particularly tricky. It’s like playing on all of the off beats in a bar of 3/4, but the feel is still 6/8.
How to Approach Playing Bass in Odd Meters and Time Signatures – Bass Practice Diary – 21st August 2018
This week I’ve been practising playing in odd meters and I want to briefly share my system for playing any unusual time signature. My system revolves around learning and reciting rhythmic phrases rather than counting beats, and if you use it properly it should make playing odd meters no harder than playing in 4/4.
What Are Odd Meters?
The term odd meter simply means any time signature that has an odd number of beats or subdivisions in a bar. Odd meters divide opinion amongst musicians. Some musicians (including me) love them and think they can flow and groove just as well as any groove in 4/4. Others hate playing them.
I want to share an approach that I use to playing odd meters. It’s actually not that different to my approach for playing in any meter, but I think that musicians who are not comfortable playing in odd meters often feel that they have to do something different when playing odd meters. And that might be the root cause of why they struggle with them.
Think About Rhythmic Phrases
What do I mean by rhythmic phrases? Every meter or time signature has a fixed number of subdivisions per bar. Check out my book Electric Bass: Improve Your Groove if you’d like to learn more about subdivisions and rhythmic structure.
The rhythmic structure of a bass groove comes from how you organise these subdivisions. I’ll use the examples from the video to demonstrate. The first one is in a very unusual time signature 15/16. Which means there are fifteen 16th note subdivisions in every bar.
In this example I’ve arranged the fifteen subdivisions into three groups of four and one group of three.
If you’ve read my book or followed some of my previous videos you’ll know that I like to use Indian Konnakol syllables to recite rhythms. The syllables for a group of four subdivisions are Ta-Ka-Di-Mi and the syllables for a group of three subdivisions are Ta-Ki-Ta.
So, the rhythmic phrase for the above example is as follows.
Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ki-Ta
It’s actually a very simple rhythmic phrase, even thought the time signature 15/16 might make you think of something very complex.
An even more simple arrangement of fifteen subdivisions would be five Ta-Ki-Ta’s. This creates the feel of a 5/4 shuffle.
How Can You Apply This System in Any Time Signature?
This idea can and should be applied to any groove in any time signature. Including the obvious ones like 4/4. It’s not always easy because there are much more complex rhythmic structures than the examples above. But the key is to understand firstly, what is the subdivision (8th notes, 16th notes, triplets etc.) and secondly how many are there in each bar.
Once you know the answer to those two questions you can work out rhythmic structures using basic maths and Konnakol.
Here are some more examples I’ve come up with for the purposes of demonstration. The first one is in 3/4.
3/4 is often not thought of as an odd meter because it’s been a fairly common time signature for hundreds of years. It crops up regularly in classical music and jazz as waltzes. But as you can see from my example. It doesn’t have to have a waltz feel. The addition of 16th note subdivisions changes the feel entirely.
Here’s another example in 5/4. This also has a 16th note feel and the rhythmic structure is slightly more complex than the previous examples.
The final example in the video features a more relaxed 8th note feel on a 7/4 time signature.
How to Practice Odd Meters
I would suggest practising this in three stages. You don’t need an instrument until the third stage.
The first stage is to work out your own rhythmic phrases. Pick a meter that you want to practice and work out rhythmic phrases that contain the correct number of subdivisions. An old fashioned pen and paper might be the best way of doing this.
Next, recite the rhythmic structures using Konnakol (or whatever system you prefer). My application of Konnakol involves using Da for one subdivision, Ta-Ka for two, Ta-Ki-Ta for three and Ta-Ka-Di-Mi for four. For more subdivisions you can just combine syllables. For example five could be Ta-Ki-Ta Ta-Ka. Six Could be two Ta-Ki-Ta’s and seven could be Ta-Ka-Di-Mi Ta-Ki-Ta etc.
The final stage is playing your rhythmic phrases on your bass!