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Getting better?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Chasarms, Nov 27, 2006.

  1. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    I purposefully posted this thread in this section because I am not interested in a thread about technique or theory or whatever, even though those may enter into this discussion.

    I have spent a lot of thought lately about what I am doing to become a more accomplished player. So, what I am genuinely interested in is a bullet point list of thoughts, steps, processes, etc that will actually make me a better player.

    Is there a magic formula? I could only wish as much, but I know there are TBers out there that have set their minds on getting better and done exactly that.

    So, we all want to get better. What are best practices to get there?

    Maybe we even have to define "better", but even that makes for a interesting discussion.

    As for the genesis of this thread, I guess I feel like I am little bit of a funk as a player. I know others have been there. I am very serious about getting over the hump and moving forward.
  2. Dave Speranza

    Dave Speranza Supporting Member

    Mar 28, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    A teacher of mine says that you don't ever notice yourself getting better, you just notice other players getting worse...
  3. jdapodaca


    May 25, 2006
    El Paso, Texas
    I can see the thought process here, but I don't really agree.

    You have to be really honest with yourself when it comes to things like this. Don't lie to yourself and tell yourself that you are better or worse than you actually are. Only when you are honest enough with yourself to admit when you are playing poorly, incorrectly, or simply not to your standards will you be able to move forward.

    and then you practice. dont be afraid to make mistakes. one time a teacher told me, "you are born with mistakes in you, and when you practice, you get them out of you. get them all out in the practice room."
  4. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I dunno exactly what you're asking about Chas, are you're hitting a plateau and don't know why?

    Personally, though I've only been playing bass for a couple of years now, I've been a music student all my life. I think I'm progressing pretty fast as a bassist for doing it on the side and holding a full-time job in another skillset altogether. After 28 years of music lessons, I don't think I'm naturally talented in any way but I feel like I found my own answer to getting effective results. I think the key is to find your own personal system that guides you towards success in whatever way you want.

    For myself, it has been to not have a regular weekly, biweekly, or monthly lesson. I get a lesson once every 2-4 months, but it's a 2-hr lesson and I load up on all kinds of assignments, which can include simandl, arco, 2-feel, walking, soloing, etc. all in one. Then I take it home and spend the 2-4 months practicing regularly and working on every assignment given until I feel that the wisdom is finally "digested" and something that I really grasp. If I don't feel like it's been digested, I don't arrange for a lesson, with the exception that maybe it's been too long (4 months is too long between lessons) and I'll have one anyway just put myself under fire and to request adjustments to my playing. Gone are the days of showing up to lessons with stuff only half-practiced as my teacher babysits me through a paid practice session trying to get the simple stuff right. Y'all know what I'm talking about. We've all done it one time or another.

    Most importantly tho, I think the key is try to identify all those things that you're not so good at. Sometimes thing you feel you're strong at need to be reexamined. I thought my time used to be pretty good. I recorded myself and found that I was always late playing 2-feel. Sometimes you can figure this out yourself and sometimes I need the teacher to tell me whats wrong.

    So by knowning what I suck at, I decide ahead of time what I want to be taught before the lesson. I drive the lessons, not the teacher. I guess he's just a guide for me through all of this stuff and helps me be aware of every aspect of my playing. It also makes me feel like I'm really getting my money's worth.

    It's hard to go for months at a time for lessons. There's always the temptation to cut corners and assume something is totally grasped prematurely. I don't think it's for everyone.

    For me, I don't need to notice the other players. I KNOW I'm getting better. :)

    So in summary of my rambling, I think the my biggest piece of advice is to completely own everything you're learning: the long/short term goals, what you learn at every lesson, and to be the first person to be aware of all your mistakes. Being honest is only one part of the puzzle. With that said, you have to define for yourself what success is. Otherwise, you're just trying to live up to someone elses standard which just doesn't seem right.

    Just some food for thought.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I record myself incessantly, then force myself to listen to the recordings. The good ones, I clean up and keep as reminders of what to keep doing, or what seems to be working so far. The average ones, I listen to once or twice and then tuck away before eventually deleteing from the hard drive after making some notes. The ones that are below average or kind of "Blah" are the ones I learn the most from, as it becomes clear pretty quickly what I coulda/shoulda been doing differently or better. When listening to this category of recording, I make notes and practice fixing what sounds squeaky or broke.

    Sometimes what sounds "broke" is a technical thing, but I notice that 90% of the time it's something big picture having to do with me not being in the right headspace for what's going on with the other players, and occasionally this can be chalked up to not being able to hear very well. Most of the time, though, the thing that jumps out that needs improvement is just the "being in the moment" part. I consider plugging in a bunch of patterns and licks to be in poor taste for what I'm trying to do, and when I catch myself doing that in the same way over and over, it really stands out as "bad improvisation" on the recording, even when the spirit and energy of the group seem to be happening.

    Mostly, I think it's about "personal musical honesty" and getting the ego out of the way long enough to let some real music flow out. Not the easiest task in the world for humans, but among the most rewarding when it happens. :)
  6. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    In general, I think that if you don't stop caring about your instrument, you don't stop playing, and you don't stop wanting to make music, you will improve.

    That's in general, though. In particular I think Chris is onto something. My biggest steps forward in recent years have been purposeful ones made to correct specific problems or sources of dissatisfaction. I too listen to recordings and get bummed about some aspect or other of my playing. If the bum is bad enough, I get busy. Usually, the dissatisfaction is coming from one of three general areas:
    • intonation and position playing
    • rhythm feel
    • improvisation and realizing ideas

    Those first two areas I'm sensitive about -- those have got to be solid or I suck, in my opinion. So in the past I have focused practice time (always a critical shortage of that) exclusively on correcting the bum of the moment. I have spent months only practicing 3 octave scales with the bow, in front of the mirror. Similarly I've spent months ignoring that stuff and working only with a metronome, walking lines ad infinitum....

    For me a generalized practice routine -- where I work on everything a little bit every session -- only worked in the very early days of playing DB. Since then I've found that focused practice is the ticket for me. I play for enjoyment and to keep the muscles happening, in the practice room as well as on the stand; I practice to bring about a specific outcome, to make a specific thing stronger or to not suck as much.
  7. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    Thanks for all the comments from everyone. I think I am going through a bit of a musical depression. I pretty much gave up EBG totally a couple of months ago. I only play it if someone specifically asks me to for a particular reason. So, I am much more focused on DB than I have ever been. It's a little humbling. Although, there is part of me that seems to think that parting with the slab is a benefit to my DB playing.

    Damon's comments have struck the strongest chord so far. I do find myself in the same old practice routines playing the same kind of things. I really need to consider the idea of extremely focused practice.

    Since I still have a plenty of holes in my playing, I don't think it will a matter of what but rather what first. :) Intonation makes the most sense to me. While there's little technique to be borrowed from my 20 years on slab, it has given me a good sense of building lines, rhythm and some understanding of good musical manners.

    More often than not, my head knows what I want to play, I just can't make my hands do it.

    Thanks again.

  8. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    My old guitar teacher used to tell me not to practice more than 3 concepts per session. I think he was pretty much on the money. When you try to cram to much into a practice session I think you get overloaded and there's less retention. I just pick the 1-3 things (depending on how much time I have) I suck most at. I usually spend at least 20 minutes on one single thing.

    I tried doing 4 things once it over a day-long session and it still wasn't that great.
  9. The tape don't lie.

    I think that is currently the best thing I do. I played in a group a couple of years ago with a recording fanatic. I ended up with recordings of almost every gig and several practices we had. Currently, I even go so far as to record scales, arpeggios, etc. What I really want is to get a little portable digital recorder to take to jams and gigs.
  10. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I really relate to this. I struggle through something, like time or form or something and then realize that the people I play with or used to play with are wallowing in it. I still don't feel better, because I'm onto the next thing that I'm working through, but I do see progress that way. It's actually a fairly profound problem that I'm working through.

    I went through this too. I'm guessing everyone does. I really wanted to switch, but for a while, I struggled with going out to play, knowing that I could play better...much better...if I brought my old instrument. It sucks to go back to being a beginner after years or decades of progressing. For me, it was totally worth it. I could go on, but I'll leave it there. Totally worth it, but I recognize the pain you're going through now.

    So, all technical and "get a teachering" aside, my suggestion would be; set goals for yourself. Maybe it's specific transcriptions, scales at specific tempos, completion of a method book, number of standards you know, gigs; who, where, how often, for how much. Something. Make sure your goals are acheiveable, measurable and timebound. Write them down, put them up on your wall so you have to look at them every day. Considering sharing them with someone to keep you honest. I've shared some of mine with this community with mixed results, but am generally glad I did. I also have a partner in musical crime, who keeps me honest and he and I share our goals with each other with the understanding that we're supposed to keep up with each other on them.

    If you don't acheive a goal, don't beat yourself up over it, but immediately revisit, redraft, reforecast or something so that you stay focused. You'll see your milestones moving by that way and you have to remind yourself that they equate to progress. If they don't, set different goals.

    And, what the other guys said too. It's all good. Mostly, just decide how bad you want it. If you want it enough, make it through this part of the learning curve.

  11. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    I have a music stand full of Classical solo pieces. Everytime I want to get better I pick one I can't play and work on it.
    I am working on Bottesinni's "Elegy in D" now. In the first section there is a run that works best if I play a high "C" with my thumb, the more consitantly I can do it, the more I know I am getting better.
    A few months ago I worked on Berio's "PSY" to help get better at reading syncopated 16th and shifting time signatures.
    For me it is great because the improvised music I play is so fluid, having something so concrete for managable short-term technical goals really helps.
  12. In all honesty, what made me a better player was getting back to the basics. Keeping what I was playing to a minimum. This doesn't mean that I don't practice, study theory, or technique, it simply means that I quit trying to show off what I could do, and started to back off thereby enhancing what else was happening musically. This is just me personally. You may be looking for something different. I have found that I can fit into more musical situations this way, playing different styles, etc. YMMV.
  13. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Another thing is to practice Transcriptions. There is a lot of debate about perfroming them, but learning great music not meant for bass can only help your musical ideas get beyond the instrument. The Bach Suites are a great start and even playing them badly at home can help your overall technique.
    I also like to listen to solo recordings of other instruments. It is a still good to be in touch with what the bass does well and to have the ability to exploit that.
    So you want to strike a balance between being a good musician and good
    bass player.
  14. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I think there's also one other thing I think all of us are touching upon. There's the thing about improving what you suck most at, but there's also something to be said about picking one thing and mastering it before you go on to something else.

    As they say, when digging for water, it's better to dig 1 10 ft. hole than 10 1ft. holes.

    For me, being able to say that I have one of the many things "mastered" goes a long way when trying to master something else. I know I listed things that I've been working on but out of all of them, I think have a good time feel is the most important to me. So I try to focus on that the most while building some of the other skills at a slower rate. If I were trying to master everything all at once, I think I'd go crazy and feel stuck easily.

    Just some more thoughts.

  15. Listen to the bass from another instruments perspective. If you were a drummer, keyboardist, or guitarist, what would you want to hear the bass player doing? I remember hearing someone describe their drummer as being extremely techniquely proficient, and he really held back in this band because it was what the music needed. His quote was - It's like riding in a car, with an Indy driver at the wheel, going 100 mph. Yeah, it's fast, but you can take comfort in the fact that they know what they are doing, because they can handle a much faster pace.
  16. FidgetStone


    Jun 30, 2002
    Allen, TX
    I'm taking a music theory class at the local community college. I am enjoying it so far and I think that it is helping expand the little box that I am accustomed to playing in.

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