I feel like I've gone forward in theory, and backwards in skill.
Over the past month or so, I've been really focusing on the theory side of playing. Been watching loads of Scott Devine's stuff, learnt about scales, modes, passing notes, all that kind of stuff. And in that respect, it's going really well. I've learnt so much about different chord types theory behind soloing and things like that, almost exponentially.
Here's the problem. I'm not a bad player, and I've always been able to jam well, instinctively as it were, just from learning by playing in bands and jamming and whatnot. But when I've tried to apply my theory to jamming situations, or writing bass lines, it either sounds very un-musical, in the case of focusing on scales and modes, or really kind of 'blippy', or cutesy, when I focus on moving through arpeggios.
What is I'm doing wrong?
You aren't doing anything wrong....you are just going thru the process of learning how to translate new found knowledge into musical expression that suits you. Keep experimenting...keep learning...and it will continue to come together. Go to YouTube and search 'bass jam tracks' and practice playing over some of them....the more you play freely the better you will get at it.
I spent a large part of my career in corporate training. What you are experiencing is the transition between competencies. At various points in the journey to real competence people tend to fit into four categories (it's a bit simplistic but a reasonable learning theory). Basically, it's a learning cycle where you move from being...
An unconcious incompetent: where you don't have any awareness of a particular skill, or any understanding of it's relevance, and may even deny the relevance of that skill (we see people on TB in denial about the relevance of theory all the time don't we?). To move to the next level you have to become aware of a defficiency in that skill and you move to being...
A concious incompetent: Where you know you that you have a skills defficiency and recognise that working on this will give you an improvement, ideally (as in your case), people at this stage make a commitment to learn and practise a new skill so that they become...
A concious competent: where people can reliably perform to a new skill level, but not without concentrating really hard and you can't just do it automatically. If you keep practising you should become...
An unconcious competent: where performing a skill becomes second nature and you can do it automatically (driving becomes like this for most people, sometimes you can't even remember parts of your journey because you were doing stuff so naturally that you didn't even have to think about it)
Moving between these states always takes effort and can be unsettling not least of which because, typically, there will actually be several skills you're trying to move towards 'second nature' and they'll all be overlaid upon each other at separate stages in this learning cycle (there's always new stuff to learn, right? But that's what makes it fun).
I'd say you're somewhere in the concious incompetent/concious competent range right now and because your mind is having to concentrate hard on this bit, it can't do the stuff you used to be able to do by 'second nature' at the same time...because subconciously you're trying to make sense of that flashy little run you used to do in theory terms now that you've opened the door on that world.
Short answer: keep at it and you'll get there
Thanks guys, both those responses were really helpful. After jamming on a few songs tonight, I think a lot of my issue comes from trying to apply all this new knowledge at once. For the purposes of simplification, I shall name this affliction 'overplaying'.
And remember, Theory is not how to do something, but why it was done.
You could try transcribing a line you like and seeing how that relates to the theory you are learning.
Learn scales and arpeggios and practice these to learn how they sound. It will give to more of an idea what the next note you play on the fretboard will be like.
And also, when it comes to scales: They are only an improvisational tool. A collection of the diatonic notes chords contain in a particular key. You should definitley learn to transcribe song melodies by ear, and see how they interact with the scale and chords. Scales and chord tones give you an outline of where you are on the fretboard. The rest of it, is up to you and the melodies that pop up in your head. You never, ever play something that you didn't feel.
When I improvise, I use chord notes and scales to set me off, and after a while my playing relies on what I hear in my head, and that can sometimes be completely unrelated to whatever chord or scale I am playing in. This way, you can ensure that your playing is as for the most part MUSICAL and not MECHANICAL.
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