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How Can I Break Through Contrived Playing?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Progfan44, Aug 19, 2012.

  1. I have been playing for about 9 months now and have found myself in somewhat of a rut, but not really. Let me try to explain, from the moment I started playing bass I always knew I wanted to master it. Given my love of virtuoso players like Les Claypool and John Myung, I have always sought to emulate them by learning as much complex theory I can as well as doing as many chops exercises necessary to get my playing up to snuff. And so I did (or am rather). I try to learn every mode for every scale I learn and try to learn every scale I can wrap my fingers around. However, doing just these 2 things as well as learning songs has out me in a bit of an unpleasant situation. While I know the one octave fingerings for most patterns of scales most players will use, I can never find a way to connect them to what I play, nor do I know where to find those notes outside of those fingerings. Whenever I jam with my guitar virtuoso friends, I have to pre-plan my fills and interesting patterns way before i do them, which makes me very uneven as a player in jam situations. I also ensure that when I do do them it will always be in the simple fingering pattern, and won't run up down and all around the fret board as I wish to do So, my question to the members of this forum is how can I become more concise, meticulous, meaningful and spontaneous as a player? How can I apply my base knowledge of complex concepts and relatively well-built up chops to actually playing intricate bass lines throughout a chord progression rather then keeping it bottled up for a brief section at the end? Any advice or related exercises would be greatly appreciated!
  2. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters

    It usually takes longer than 9 months.

    Got a qualified teacher?

    Where have you already learned "complex" theory after playing only 9 months? I have an advanced degree in music theory - it took about 6 years at the college level, and I had previously been playing/studying music (with teachers) for 7 years.

    It takes time and playing/studying with many, many musicians in many, many situations.

    But hang in there.
  3. Mongolian Bass

    Mongolian Bass

    Dec 28, 2008
    I would suggest REALLY knowing where the notes on the fretboard are. When I was in my first year of bass playing I knew of scales from playing trombone in middle school and I could play them in patterns on the fretboard, but I did not REALLY know where the notes were on the fretboard. Now when I play I do know where the notes are and jamming is F***ING FUN! I don't practice my scales and theory like I should, so I am in a sort of opposite rut I guess, and my soloing is suffering.

    Another piece of advice is to just keep practicing. I like jamming with myself when I can't jam with my friends. Use a looping pedal or setup a loop on some recording software and play with your drum loop and/or chord progression.
  4. nicopiano

    nicopiano Supporting Member

    Jul 3, 2012
    Levis, Quebec, Canada

    You should get a good teacher and learn simple songs, then play them perfectly.

    ... And don't forget ear training!

    It takes time to connect theory with the playing. Be patient and make sure you have a good understanding of the basics first.

    By the way, I am a music theory teacher.
  5. When I mean complex theory I meant modes and stuff, I sought that out on my own accord. The guy I'm taking lessons from now has a rather 'laxed' method of teaching. He seems to want to give his students free reign over how much they practice which is ok for most, but i don't think for me. He himself is quite an untapped reserve of knowledge because he has studied music for years and knows all about complex theory,but he seems reserved about laying down serious practice regiments and large amounts of 'homework', both of which I want. He also learned to play guitar before he played bass (granted he also learned saxophone and piano beforehand too). He's a great guy and I've recently been pressuring him to give me a lot of practice material, but he has a lot of students and i don't know whether he'd be willing to do it my way. Plus I'm not entirly sure I agree with you're social understanding of musical improvement, I have several friends who practice guitar alone up to 8 hour a day and they blow my ****ing mind every time i see them play, even with others.
  6. Throw me couple of good examples of simple songs/ear training exercises, I've been neglecting my ear for a while now and I suppose it would be beneficial to work on
  7. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    Careful with "modes". Very misunderstood, as is evident on TB. Now get going on the "stuff" - it's vast.

    Isn't he working for you? Find a different teacher that gives you want you want.

    Well there you go - bedroom prodigies. Seriously, if that's what you want out of music, follow their program - it's apparently working for you.
  8. t77mackie


    Jun 13, 2012
    Wormtown, MA
    Ditto what has already been said.

    You need to walk before you can run. Though you like prog i.e. DT and Primus etc. you need to build on a solid foundation - just like those guys did.

    I would suggest you start with some 'simple' blues. Learn and be able to play the pentatonic minor all over the neck over a I-IV-V.

    After that expand on to something a little more complex and just keep building.

    - Good luck.
  9. Martiluk


    Apr 13, 2011
    If you feel like you're playing the same thing over and over take a couple days off. You'll be surprised at how different, new things seem to flow out of your hands when you let you've had some time away. Another thing: don't expect scales to be useful while jamming. Practicing them is just to get the sounds of different tonalities in your head so that when you hear a melody in your head you can easily find it on your bass. Good luck!
  10. nicopiano

    nicopiano Supporting Member

    Jul 3, 2012
    Levis, Quebec, Canada
    For simple ear training : listen to a slow song you never played before and try to find the root if every chord only by ear on the bass, then write it down and compare with sheet music or ask somebody who know the song.
  11. Practice you scales / pentatonics / dexterity until you don't have to think about what you are doing... this ought to take you a couple of years :bassist:
  12. Duckwater


    May 10, 2010
    USA, Washington
    Ear training and chord tones. Those scales won't help you if you don't know how to use the notes within them.
  13. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    You need to learn and play songs, as many as possible.
    Not only bass lines but also melody and chords changes to understand how they are linked and how the song works.
    Even the best dictionnary won't teach you how to write stories. You need to read novels to understand that. See what I mean?
  14. Reflective


    Sep 6, 2009
    I definitely understand what you are saying, OP. When I first started playing bass I had the same perspective, goals, and frustrations as you do. A problem is that when I started out wanting to be a virtuoso, I felt dissatisfied if I was anything less than that. I waited a long time to start jamming with people because I felt I first had to become "good enough." I felt that I was constantly pushing up against a wall I wasn't able to knock down, and that there was something I just couldnt grab on to that would lead to my success. I would read on these forums about people who finally broke down their wall, or like "what was your Aha moment" threads, and it would make me even more frustrated. Some tips, and these are things I try to apply to myself.

    1. Have fun. There are plenty of times where playing become work for me. I absolutely had to get better. Even if I didn't feel like playing, I'd force myself. If you are feeling frustrated, put the instrument down for a bit. If it's really bad, even for a few days. You will find, almost guaranteed, that when you come back to it you will play better and enjoy it more.

    2. Focus on Chord tones. Scale practice is great, but mostly for developing some muscle memory, and as someone mentioned above, to develop your ear. In general, on bass, we are mostly playing chord tones. That's not to say that it has to be boring, the timing and the arrangement of which notes you play have virtually limitless possibilities. When I was first starting and I was told this I thought, "Boooring, I don't want simple things, I want complicated, fast dynamic." And for that reason I skipped over basic chord tone practice. An exercise you can do is, find a song that it's not too hard to pick out the roots. Then listen through the song playing the notes in that chord. You can start first ascending going up, root, 3rd, 5th (7th if there is), and then keep changing the order each time you run through the song, 7th, 5th, 3rd, root.... or root, 5th, 3rd, 7th etc.

    When the very busy complex basslines appeal to you most, its easy to skip over the foundation of bass playing. However, even 'virtuoso' type players use the basics. For example, Justin Chancellor from TOOL, while playing in drop D, often uses the open strings of low D, high D, and A to ground the riffs he's doing (A is the 5th of D).

    3. Along the same lines as number 2, Pentatonics are often more useful to practice than 7 note scales/modes. Pentatonics are used heavily in many many styles of bass playing, and music in general, and there's a strong reason why. In omitting certain notes out of a scale/mode it makes the scale more neutral, and less likely to clash with whatever else is going on what was just being played

    4. Complicated is not always better. Music is also about the space between. I remember when I was given my first bass, and I came to the guy who gave it to me with questions and he said 'you know, at some point i realized that simple isnt bad.' It too me a very long time to accept that. Sometimes adding too many notes mucks it up, makes it harder for the listener to appreciate. Sometimes busy lines or fills are even (unfortunately) lost in the mix. When I improvise to songs something I always try to ask myself "were all those notes really needed" and to try to cut out extras. Leaving the space gives your notes more power. It's similar to language. It's a proven fact the more words you add when trying to convey something, the more it waters down the message. I'd say it's the same in music. BUT even when thinking this way, there will be opportunities to throw in business.

    5. Listen to, and play with many styles of music

    6. Find ways to work your ear. Figuring out bass lines by ear instead of tab is great. Figuring out melodies is great too. I try to hum or sing the notes im playing sometimes - hum the note before you try to play it, and then match it. Sometimes your fingers have gotten so used to certain patterns that your improvising comes from muscle more than your head. Hum out what you'd wan't to play before going with your physical impulse.

    Thats all I got for now
  15. Reflective


    Sep 6, 2009
    I thought of something else, noticing that you were thinking about making up lines when you play with people, not knowing how to apply the scales etc. What I said about chords, of course, but also it is crucial that you work with the root instead of against it. Don't sacrifice what is needed to make it more fancy. If you cant think of how/what else to play in the moment, the root is fine, and if you can't even tell what the root is, the first note of the scale isn't a horrible choice.

    You've probably learned that each mode corresponds to a certain note in the scale. II dorian, III phrygian, IV lydian etc. So if you are playing the third chord in a key you can use the phrygian mode to riff over it. But don't neglect the chord tones, the other notes are really just leading or passing, and lingering or focusing on them too long can clash.
  16. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    What you need is ideas.
    Every last bit of theory or any technique learned is useless without an idea.
    Music needs a "plot", something to draw in the listener, and something you can build on and develop as the writer and player.
    Originality.......maybe, but what can be considered original can also be considered " not good ", so I would say its about pleasing yourself, write and play what sounds good to you.
  17. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    The fact that a player of only 9 months is asking, "How Can I Break Through Contrived Playing?" is a sure sign he's on the right track. Recognizing contrived playing as a fault is something a lot of long time players never fully realize let alone clearly articulate as such. Progfan44, keep looking for those breakthroughs and you'll be fine even if sometimes it feels like you've hit a plateau and are stuck. When you get stuck slow down until traction returns. It always will if you keep at it. There's so much to learn and so many possible approaches the specifics of what to practice don't really matter as long as you continually challenge yourself.
  18. t77mackie


    Jun 13, 2012
    Wormtown, MA
    +100 on all the posts here. Excellent thread!

    You've only been playing for 9 months and by the sounds of it you're way ahead of the curve.

    There is nothing wrong with 'pre-planning'. Record your practice sessions. When you listen back to the recordings try to imagine in your head what would be the perfect bass lines for the music. Then go back and try to make what you imagined reality.

    Jamming is an essential skill and it must be developed like any other musical skill. However this is best done with other players (as opposed to jamming to YouTube / CD's). You should feel comfortable with the people you're playing with and everybody should be having fun rather than looking for technical supremacy in a jam situation. This is why I suggested doing I-IV-V type blues jams. It doesn't matter what kind of music you 'really' play, blues jams help with pretty much every skill a performer needs and uses.

    - Best of luck to you.
  19. gre107


    Dec 25, 2005
    Go see/take lessons from Anthony Wellington.
  20. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Bass playing is not about scales, it's about supporting harmony. When you understand harmony you can jam on the fly easily. If you want to get better at jamming: Ease off learning scales/modes and learn how chords are built from the major scale and how chord progressions relate to the key. Learn to think in chord tones and passing tones, not scales. Do you know what a I-IV-V or I-vi-ii-V7 means? Learn that stuff.

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