How detrimental is practicing without an amp?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by MickeyMickey, Jan 12, 2006.

  1. MickeyMickey


    Dec 17, 2005
    I'm one of those singer/songwriter multi-instrumentalist types. I can play piano, guitar, and sing fairly well. I haven't really played in a band in a while and I mostly just do a lot of recording. I started playing bass a little while ago so I could record bass tracks.

    Whenever I practice, I do it unplugged and rarely I'll play through headphones. I'm curious, how bad is this going to be for my overall technique? I realize that I'm probably plucking harder than I have to, and I can't address all those plucking noises that get amplified when plugged in (cause I can't hear them).

    Lately I've been trying to address this by practicing through headphones more often. Since all my bass tracks are going to be recorded direct, won't it be alright for me to practice through a direct box into headphones? I'm curious what you guys think and what the best way to improve my technique in this situation would be. I'd like to avoid buying a bass amp for practice because I have far too much music gear already, but if it were small and under $100 I probably would do it.
  2. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    My only issue is when playing in a LOUD band...I find it takes about a week or so before I get comfortable enough to 'play'(meaning, the perceived louder volume makes me back off with my plucking technique until I get readjusted).

    Otherwise, I'm OK with practicing 50% of the time with no amp.
  3. I probably do more than 50% of my practicing without an amp.

    The benefits are that you hear every fret-buzz, so you focus of fingering correctly, and you don't have the temptation to start messing with the tone controls to get 'just that bit more' of your desired sound.

    The down-side is what it may do to your performance, but I have not found that to be a problem. If I cannot hear myself live, I play louder, and I know what my volume settings sound like in the hall in which I usually play.
  4. Rich600


    Nov 22, 2004
    I usually play without an amp when i practice, i dont have a proper bass amp so i have no choice.
  5. Sippy


    Aug 1, 2005
    If i'm working strictly on technique I will ONLY use an amp and refuse to do it otherwise.. but working on scales, arpeggios, and theory type stuff... I just sit in my bed with my bass in my lap and go to work :)
  6. MickeyMickey


    Dec 17, 2005
    So is the consensus that there are benefits to practicing either way?

    I feel like I hear more buzzing any fret noise when I play amplified.
  7. Snarf


    Jan 23, 2005
    New York, NY
    I practice through an amp always, because it's not too likely I'll ever be performing without one, and in the studio they run you through a preamp. So I will always be amplified in some way, might as well work from that standpoint.
  8. Dkerwood


    Aug 5, 2005
    When I sit down for an extended practice session, it's usually because I'm practicing cello music or something "classical" on the electric bass, and yes, I do it unplugged. It forces me to focus on good technique - specifically proper finger placement.

    Frankly, when you're playing sweeping chordal figures, you need acres of sustain. Amps give you more sustain than plugged in. Thus, if I practice unplugged, it's easier to play plugged in.

    My philosophy is that if you can make a bass sound good unplugged, you can make it sound great with the aid of technology.

    Make sure that you do at least a little practicing WITH the amp, though, so you can get used to it before you're in a performance situation.
  9. Mark Wilson

    Mark Wilson Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Jan 12, 2005
    Toronto, Ontario
    Endorsing Artist: Elixir® Strings
    Ask Les Claypool :D

    Apparently, as I read before, he lived on a farm when he was younger, and couldn't afford an amp, so he slapped everything. Which is where he gets that KILLER slap technique from.

  10. My personal circumstances mean I have to practice un-amplified. One per week I have the chance to use an amp.

    I think the only real difference between the two is that, amplified, you can hear stuff like unmuted notes, resonances, etc that un-amplified, you can't.

    My main personal practice at present focusses on technique and the metronome. This can mostly be done unamplified. I have then found that muting, etc, can be worked on when amplified so that (eventually) a sort-of complete practice can be obtained.

    If I had the choice, though, amplified practice would always be the 1st option.

  11. I have never owned a home practice amp. Sometimes I plug into my home studio setup and play through the monitor speakers, but usually I am too lazy for it.

    Has my playing suffered from it? I really can not say for sure, someone else has to be the judge of that. But I do think there are some benefits to it. It has improved my touch and made me realize that Jaco was right: the sound is in my hands. When I do play with an amp, I rarely touch my EQ. Instead I make the necessary adjustments by changing my hand position, attack etc.
  12. Figjam


    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
    I used to pracitce 80% of the time without an amp so i dont disturb anyone, but lately i use effects more (especialy delay, fun) so i use my amp.
  13. I got into the habit of practicing without an amp, and my bass teacher gave me 50 lashes with a wet noodle. He told me that he allways trys to practice with the amp CRANKED, as it teaches you the versitility your have just in your right hand (assuming you pluck righty).
  14. Ancient Mariner

    Ancient Mariner Supporting Member

    Dec 7, 2005
    Chandler, AZ
    When practicing at home, I always use the Tascam Bass Trainer. You can play right along with recorded music CDs, instructional CDs, or you can practice scales (or whatever) without CDs playing. This unit can do a TON of cool things; for instance, you can change the tempo to up to 50% of normal, change keys, loop certain parts you're trying to learn, plus you're the only one listening to what you're playing. You can be practicing in the den with a bunch of people around who are watching TV and all the other folks can hear from you is you hitting the strings...I can't even imagine what I did before I got this puppy. Highly recommended. (No, I'm not affiliated in any way with the company).
  15. EricF

    EricF Habitual User

    Sep 26, 2005
    Pasadena, CA
    Nearly all of my home practice is done without an amp. My choices usually are play without an amp or don't play at all - easy call. I get enough sound out of my bass for my purposes, and most of the time I'm working on technique anyway. The 1-2 times per week I'm plugged in is at rehersal (soon to be occasional gigs). I haven't noticed any ill effects from playing unplugged.
  16. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    I'll dissent and say it's pretty bad to practice without an amp. Lots of technical things go by unnoticed when you play without it, especially muting concerns, dynamics, phrasing, and, uh, tone production. In other words, pretty much everything. The amp plays a huge role in how you sound.

    You're playing an electric instrument. If you practice without an amp you'll get good at... playing without an amp. When is that ever called for in a performance situation?

    It's kind of like the mouthpiece buzzing controversy with brass instrumentalists. Is doing that generally a waste of time? I say yes; other people may beg to differ.
  17. MickeyMickey


    Dec 17, 2005
    Thanks everyone for your contributions.

    I generally agree and this is basically what I've been told by a bunch of people.

    I'm trying to compromise by playing through my recording gear into headphones, because I'll never be recording bass through an amplifier, only direct. So practicing direct would produce optimal results for recording direct. At least that's what I'm hoping.
  18. rosnes


    Jan 19, 2006
    I play bass without an amp because i dont have the luxury of buying an amp. i have no choice but to stick with i have now.
  19. JansenW


    Nov 14, 2005
    Cambridge, MA
    Although the bass has acoustic qualities, it is still an electronic instrument and should be practiced as such.
    I find that when I practice un-amplified, I tend to play louder (harder) than I need for performances which also produces a different sound when amplified.