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.
Bass Practice Diary
My very first Bass Practice Diary video was released on 24th April 2018 and you can watch it here.
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