When learning and advancing in anything really, learners need to engage into the realm of practice. Many times “experts”, “gurus”, educators in general seem to focus on specific practice exercises, apply a rigid schedule, setting stringent goals and have a “my way or the highway” approach to practice.
Through my pursuit of Bass Education I have found there are some who have come away from this mentality, and I too have moved away from the thought process that the way that works for me will work for all or most.
Practice, What, How?
Something I will never tell a student is how to practice, there are so many variables to each individual student; physically, socially, economically that claiming to have the answer that is a panacea to all students is laughable at best. Education, in all forms, should be treated as an individual and intimate process, an educator needs to know their students as well as a good friend.
What Do I Do?
Scott Devine at SBL has an approach, focusing on broad subjects to practice:
- Fretboard Knowledge
- Groove and Rhythm
- Ear Training
- Genre Studies
These subjects can overlap, and often do. When considering giving direction to students, I generally default to this. I do have set exercises that work for me, and those exercises can be found here, but I do not treat them as prescriptive to every student. As evidenced by my “Frankenstein” exercise, I fully support mixing and matching common tools and making exercises that work for the player.
Drills v Music
For the beginner drills are your friend, of course, learning the basic skills is necessary to get the initial knowledge under your fingers (so to speak). Technical knowledge has to take root first, growth of muscle memory, gaining predictable results with each pluck/strum/stroke, learning the basics of articulation and even tone are all foundational to your development and full realization as a musician.
However, quickly you can grow out of the need of dry drills. As inspired by Damien Erskine at Bass Education, once you understand the basics to really drive your growth as a musician the next step is to add music to what you learned. Playing musically gives much needed context to the scales, articulations, and patterns. After all, you are learning to be able to play music, not run drills.
Many educators support transcription, Michael League, Danny Mo, Todd Johnson, to name a few. It is important to stand on the shoulders of the greats that come before us, the ones who inspire us. Adding vocabulary from these greats and in the case of self transcription, yourself, is integral to growth.
Steve Lawson‘s approach, to imitate, assimilate, integrate, and innovate is an important part of this for me. When people see transcription they think copying, when you apply Steve’s approach you understand that you have to learn the lines, make them so you can play them in your personal style (what works for your physique), be able to inject these transcriptions (in fragments or whole) into your playing, and finally add yourself to the vocabulary. Transcription is less about becoming a clone and more about refining your sound as a musician.
How Are Your Ears?
Ear training, for the musician, is integral. How the student does it is up to them, but it is a necessary additive to any practice schedule. Personally I use Intervallic training inspired by Ian Martin Allison. There are many online tools as well, many of which are free education tools.
Both Ariane Cap and Gary Willis view their fretboard as a series of patterns, I do appreciate their approach to the organization of the fretboard and have found value in this on many tonal instruments I play (not only the Bass). Finding an organizational pattern that fits you is instrumental (pun intended) in your growth as a musician.
Practice is a personal issue, do you have to practice, of course, every great musician got great by practice and stays great by continuing to practice. How that practice takes shape, however, is a personal issue. Factors of time, physical ability (the parameters of your body), and headspace need to be accounted for. How demanding your schedule is will affect the outcome of your growth, but as Todd Johnson says, “Music is a Marathon, not a Sprint”. You will get to where you want to be musically, in time, and if you are like many you will realize the horizon is just a stepping stone to the horizon later in the distance.
This is why here at ILMT when I take on a student, I have a complimentary session first, because I need to know each student like a good friend. I need to know what parameters are outside of the education that dictate the level of commitment and what physical hurdles stand in the way. There is no cookie cutter educational services here, we honor the individuality of our students to let them discover what works best for them. My job here is to pass on information and stand as a guide while the student finds their voice and best method of expression!