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Don't know what to practice anymore

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Dethlateer, Jan 16, 2017.

  1. Dethlateer


    Jan 10, 2017
    I've been playing for about 3 years now, switched from guitar so I could start playing with people; was playing with a band within weeks of first picking up the bass. Am now in a metal band who'd been around for years, really helped boost my progression.

    Now I've come to the point where I don't really know what to practice anymore. I'm holding off on more theory stuff because I need to improve my technique and chops (more on that in a bit). There are some of our songs I've noticed I can't play the faster parts cleanly, and even my own song my technique breaks down halfway through because there's a lot of stuff going on in the first register and my hand begins cramping up quickly, even if I'd been practicing it at home slowly focusing on relaxing my hands.

    Currently what I do for practice is set a metronome at like 60-80 BPM and do 16th notes to practice making my 3-finger technique more clean. Sometimes I'll just do straight 16ths on the 5th fret moving up a string every beat, sometimes I'll go 5-7-6-8 (on 1, 2, 3, and 4 respectively, but still 16ths) and move up and down the strings every 4 beats. But its typically just doing that exercise at a BPM for 5 minutes, take a break to run through a song that I know [Death - Spirit Crusher since I'm in D standard or I'll try other songs that are in standard (Megadeth, Iron Maiden) with the volume down], then do it again for 5 minutes with a 5-10 raise in BPM if I'm comfortable, either run through another song or take a minute break, and repeat. Do this for an hour. Then the next hour or so is practicing riffs, often the riff of mine that cramps my left hand severely, at a slow BPM (about 70) in 5-10 minute bursts.

    What I'm basically aiming to do is develop my chops. I'm tired of feeling like I'm playing sloppily. I want to be able to play the fast poopie I need to play up to seed and cleanly with no muffled or straight up missed notes. Its beginning to frustrate me playing shows with the other bands and having people come up to me saying I sound awesome and this and that when I know that I sound relatively sub-par compared to a couple other bassists in our scene, especially when one of them plays more technical stuff than us, which doesn't bother me I just want those chops of his, I want to be confident and be able to rely on myself.

    So yeah, I'm looking to improve my technique and chops but I'm not a 100% sure what I'm even supposed to be practicing to achieve that anymore. Problems I've noticed are left hand endurance (my left hand gets stiff relatively quickly when doing faster stuff in lower registers (say triplets at 120-130 BPM) even if I try to concentrate on relaxing my hand. I don't even feel like I press particularly hard on the frets. Perhaps my thumb positioning can be a bit off at times since there's a lot of changing positions and tilting my wrist out/in to access the higher strings and such, but I just don't know anymore. If I remember correctly, even practicing my riff at slow speeds and concentrating on relaxation and thumb placement, I still begin to cramp up from in thumb/between my thumb and index finger.

    I'd practiced every day last week and when band practice came around I felt exactly where I was at before. All the confidence I'd gotten while practicing alone was gone, all the same sloppy sorts of mistakes and flubbed notes, left hand endurance issues. Maybe this is from practicing at home sitting down versus standing at band practice and my left hand is in a different position because it not only needs to do fretwork but hold up the bass so the neck doesn't turn parallel to the ground like it wants to. My right hand attack is also slightly different as well probably from slightly different positioning from sitting vs standing. Ugh, I don't know.

    But yeah, if anybody has advice or exercises they can show me to improve my technique and achieve Cannibal Corpse level chops I'd appreciate it immensely.

    PS. Part of it might be my gear (or lack thereof, they've got a full-stack with an Ampeg head from like the 70s that sounds like garbage and its voltage is whack, and an old cab as well. Playing a 5-string Ibanez soundgear that is also theirs because its better than what I've got and more comfortable. So I can understand how playing on worn gear can make me sound less clear than I want, but I'm not sure how much of the issue is just my own chops and how much is me doing okay but still sounding like garbage because of that amp. Dream bass is a Spector Euro 5-lx with a newer Ampeg head. Would obviously work wonders in making me sound clearer but like I said, for me I don't know where to draw the line on how much of each of these factors is contributing to my frustration.
  2. Doner Designs

    Doner Designs Steve Doner Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2012
    Metro Chicago Area
    Doner Designs is an alias for Steve Doner
    Do you have a teacher? I think seeing someone can add a lot of value even if it's only once in awhile. I get a lesson once a month and it takes me the full month to be ready for another dose. Been doing that for a year and it really has helped me a lot.
    T-Funk, Spin Doctor and lfmn16 like this.
  3. Dethlateer


    Jan 10, 2017
    No, and I'm not entirely sure there's any qualified professional instructors in my area. Last I tried to get a lesson, it was from the old guy at the local music store and he basically flat out told me there's nothing he could really teach me since he only works with beginners. And even then its just teaching them stuff like Back in Black and Enter Sandman.
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2017
  4. You may have to drive an hour or so. But, IMO you do need knee to knee time with an instructor. The once a month mentioned by Steve may have value. Instructors can load you down with "stiff" so having the extra time between lessons could be a plus. I agree you are beyond the guy in the back room.

    Way back in my banjo days I did drive into Dallas which is an hour and a half in and a hour and a half back. With donut stops in and lunch on the way home it did pretty well kill a day, but, I did enjoy it - for awhile.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2017
  5. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    Anthony Wellington gives lessons via Skype. I'm sure that he would be able to get your priorities in order.
  6. Jloch86


    Aug 1, 2016
    The only way to build chops is to play. Your fingers aren't going to play what you want them to play unless you make them. Exercises aren't necessarily going to get you there because there's no musical application. It's just an exercise. Once you start adding specific notes to an exercise, your technique will get sloppy because new phrases are being applied.

    Just pick a few hard songs and learn them until you can play them cleanly.
    Badwater and dtsand like this.
  7. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    I was going to suggest similar.
    If the songs are giving you trouble, practice the songs.

    if your thumb is cramping then you are not relaxed.
    there is too much tension somewhere.
    forget concentrating on just your hand, relax your whole body.

    highly likely. practice standing up.
    or shorten your strap so the bass is the same position sitting or standing

    Additionally, left hand fatigue is almost certainly from poor technique
    watch the holy trinity of safe technique videos:

    Last edited: Jan 16, 2017
  8. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Suspended Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv

    He's great if he has an opening. If not, there are lots of good teachers available on Skype. A good teacher gives you feedback, which you really need to maximize your potential.
  9. Even if you don't get a teacher and you are mostly into metal, there has to be about about 4000 DVDs out there on Metal Bass playing. Get one by a guy who's technique you like and work through it.

    If you do get into buying instructional vids, don't get too many at a time since it will become overwhelming. Just buy one or two that has a high number of 5 star amazon reviews.
  10. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Agreed on lessons from a good instructor. He/she can see what you need to improve on.
  11. Dethlateer


    Jan 10, 2017
    I've tried the neutral position thing along with his advice on thumb positioning but it doesn't really seem to work out very well for me at the first 4 frets. My wrist is always bent to some degree (not overly so, but its not often straight and relaxed in that register) and the way he angles his thumb and has his fingers perfectly angled and relaxed and still able to cover the first 4 frets doesn't work for me; my fingers can be angled but they'll need to make a jump to the 4th fret when I play it, jutting my wrist out in the process and putting slight additional tension on my thumb.

    After practicing my riff for a couple days at a slow speed and taking that Gary Willis' advice on fretting pressure, I find that my hand's endurance has increased a bunch but I still struggle with my thumb not getting cramped. Even though it feels like I'm barely using it it will still ache a bit and then I have to adjust its position to relieve pressure for s bit, then adjust it again and again. This riff is only played in the first register so there aren't any hand placement changes besides maybe a stretch with my index finger to grab the first fret every bar or so (I play this riff using the 1-2-4 method and its centered around frets 2-4). That stretch partly contributes to the tension in my thumb. I don't know, its confusing.

    I kind of think that the dude's neutral position works better for him because he plays with his bass over his right leg so his hand positioning might be better whereas I play with it in-between both legs in the "classical" positioning or whatever its called where the bass is at roughly 45 degrees instead of being closer to horizontal. Thinking this is why my wrist can't be straight in the low registers.

    Also, my strap height is already where the bass is roughly the same as when I'm sitting. I just find that I have to regularly readjust it because gravity pulls the neck down. This is probably also why my left hand gets fatigued quickly since its doing extra work supporting the neck of the bass whereas when I'm sitting I don't really have this problem, at least not as bad.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2017
  12. Icemanaroonie


    Sep 6, 2015
    If you want Cannibal Corpse level chops, why haven't you bought Alex Webster's book? Also, what's the fastest speed you can do clean 16ths at? I've spent a lot of time developing three-fingered chops for the current band I'm in, and I'd be more than happy to help you out. I don't want to be "that guy" but I haven't found Talkbass to be very helpful for developing metal chops.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2017
  13. Dethlateer


    Jan 10, 2017
    I have bought his book and I worked through his 3 finger exercises a bit. I'm gonna keep doing so starting today, but part of me feels like it won't do much to help me. Like someone else here said, maybe practicing exercises won't help me very much. But ugh I just don't know anymore. X.x

    I'll let you know what speed i can do clean 16ths at when I get home.
  14. Dethlateer


    Jan 10, 2017
    About 100 (doing straight 16ths for like 30 seconds) is where my little inconsistencies in attack and volume come into play. I've mentioned this in another thread; part of me thinks its almost impossible to have a 100% perfectly and consistent tone and attack and volume when playing faster poopie like extended 16ths because my fingers are striking the string as its vibrating and thus hitting it at varying points in its vibration, therefore the string is not always in the same spot as I'm striking it, thus creating the inconsistency. Its not bad at 100 BPM but that's where the slop starts creeping in.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2017
  15. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006

    there is no reason your thumb should cramp, it should exert almost no pressure at all.
    Try taking your thumb off the fingerboard completely
  16. skwee


    Apr 2, 2010
    So...what are you sight-reading? What genres are you playing? What are you figuring out by ear when you turn on the radio? These are all things to try.
  17. Dethlateer


    Jan 10, 2017
    My state of thought as of now is that I want to improve in the areas that I'm going to immediately apply (and already apply/attempt to apply) to my playing before others. For me, for where I'm at right now, that's developing my technique and precision and consistency in actually playing vs theoretical knowledge.

    I've looked up scales and done exercises where I pretty much know at least the minor scale all across my fretboard, the different recurring shapes, modes, bits about intervals, etc. So I can tell you "I wrote this song beginning in E harmonic minor then modulated it to E# hungarian minor and its in x time and utilizes a triplet-driven rhythm" and yada yada yada and I'll know more about the theory behind what's going on than the others in my band and my scene, yet when I actually play I'm sloppy in some aspects. Learning keys and messing with all that is fun, but i feel like I'll just use it as a distraction to sit down and do the drilling necessary to build the chops I want ASAP. I'd rather have the chops to apply to my playing and the keys and this and that that I learn in the future than learn a whole bunch and barely be able to play things cleanly.

    But to answer your question, I don't sight read currently because its not applicable in my band. Everything I've been practicing is in the realm of metal (Iron Maiden, Death, Cannibal Corpse). Figuring things out by ear is a bit of a vague statement, but I can figure out time signatures and general tonalities and possibly keys but its not like I can tell you what's an A and what's an E.
  18. Icemanaroonie


    Sep 6, 2015
    Nice work, 16ths at 100bpm for a solid 30 seconds is worth being proud of. I'm going to go off the assumption that 100bpm for 30 seconds is a bit of an endurance challenge?

    The way that I train myself to do faster 16ths is using what are called ramps. The basic idea is that you'll start at a slow tempo, then go to 100, then over 100, then back down again, resting in between sets. By pushing yourself beyond your comfortable speed, you'll make playing at 100 feel even easier, and start to reach to faster speeds. You only want to rest for as long as you need, it shouldn't be more than a few minutes. Here's how I would set up a ramp exercise for your current speeds. If you're forearm isn't burning by the end of this, it's too easy, and you need a faster tempo.
    • 90bpm for 30 seconds
    • 95bpm for 30 secods
    • 100bpm for 20 seconds
    • 105bpm for 20 seconds
    • 110 for 15 seconds
    • And if you can manage it, 115bpm for 10 seconds, then we ramp it back down
    • 110bpm for 10
    • 105bpm for 10
    • 100bpm for 10
    • 95bpm for 15
    • 90bpm for 15
    You'll find that in the 105-115bpm range you'll struggle to have a consistent and even attack; that's fine, focus on having the notes be in time. Even if you can't get them all perfectly, that's okay. The goal is to build yourself up to where you can do this easily without issue. Do this 3-5 times Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and you'll find some fast improvements. Additionally, you wrote that you're worried about having an even and consistent attack. As you get better control of your muscles and increase your strength and speed you'll play more evenly. Also, you'll find that with a full band these inconsistencies are impossible to hear.
  19. Dethlateer


    Jan 10, 2017

    Its not so much that its an endurance issue; I know how to do it without straining myself and I don't over exert myself in my attack, I just struggle with consistent attack. Then I start thinking about trying to make each finger move in the exact same way, then its just like overfocusing or something and it doesn't work. I don't know. But just before writing this I did 16ths at 100BPM for like a minute and a half before I began feeling the beginnings of fatigue, so again I'm not concerned with improving stamina as much as I am just sounding clean in the event that we finally record our poopie.

    Long story short, long time ago we went to record at a buddy's place. Song (around 200 BPM) has a tremolo-y intro with simple changing power chords (I say tremolo because I don't think its quite 16ths but I cant say for sure whether its sextuplets either. My guitarist has a picking style that's foreign to me, which I dig but I digress). Up till then I'd just attempt to tremolo along with them, but when we recorded me it just sounded like a jumbled up mess and I had to simplify what I was doing so it didn't sound so sloppy. Point being that I know these sorts of inconsistencies are very difficult to hear live, but they're still there. I'm not sure if I'm wrong, but I doubt that people like Steve Harris or Alex Webster or x y and z fingerstyle bassists in metal have these sorts of inconsistencies in their playing. When I watch Cannibal Corpse studio videos he seems pretty much consistent with his attack all the time, listening to the albums I don't hear any slopped notes, etc. But again maybe I'm wrong and becoming a better musician doesn't mean that you'll ever play 100% perfectly all the time every time, even with your own songs you've been playing for years (especially in metal where its very chops demanding). Maybe.

    I know that tons of bassists will either cut poopie like that in half or make it their own like I did (mixing gallops instead of trying to just go straight and even since its impossible) because the bass can often have less clarity when doing stuff like that on the bottom strings, but I don't know.. it just sort of bugs me knowing that there are probably dudes out there that CAN tremolo that fast and clean. For example Alex Webster can do clean 16ths at 190 BPM which is damn close. Just tried to and its completely outta my ball park and I don't even understand how its possible for his strings to give him the clarity to consider his technique "clean" at that speed. But now I'm sorta rambling. I'll give your exercise a try, thanks.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2017
  20. Dethlateer


    Jan 10, 2017
    I'm loling at the "poopie" censorship :laugh::laugh::laugh:
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