How to learn a tricky lick?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Lux, Feb 11, 2020.

  1. Lux


    Dec 21, 2019
    I'd like to hear how you practice to learn difficult technical stuff. I've been working on a phrase with two pretty fast hammer-ons. I have made progress, but very slowly. I vary playing with and without click, and with a slowed-down version of the song. I noticed that I manage quite nicely if I play the difficult part in isolation, but when I play a longer sequence my fingers mess it up more easily. I also noticed that keeping the right-hand fingering fixed helped a little. I only practice this lick 2-3 minutes at a time, then do something else and return after a while. How have you handled these things? Any more tips to help forward?
  2. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    IME there are three elements to yhis type of problem.
    The first is making sure you are practicing the right thing. For this I write out the passage (lick, riff, whaterever you choose to call it) and make sure the notes are right. Write it out in whatever form - standard notation, TAB, etc) you find works best for you. Include/add as much additional information as necessary to make it a reliable source of reference.
    Second, identify any technical stumbling points and work those into a generic exercise. In your example, you say you are falling over when integrating the part into the larger part, but keeping fixed fingering helps. It might be that the fixed fingering is not compatible with the fingering in tbe preceding phrases, or there are other factors that inhibit a smooth transition. For example, maybe you might play the preceding measures in a different position to help transition. Extend the generic exercises to address such problem areas.
    Finally, once you have the objectives of the generic exercises under your fingers, go back to the part in question and apply the new techniques. If necessary, modify your notes to include any changes before you commit to memory.
    IamGroot, MVE, LBS-bass and 6 others like this.
  3. Within tricky licks there will always be spots that are easier- until you get to that one spot where you booger it up. Slow down the metronome so you can isolate the issue and your technique and can discover where its hanging you up. After that there are a number of things to solidify that spot; coming out of that section, then going into the section, then combining entry/hard spot/exit- then the whole lick.

    I like your idea of playing for a time, walking away, then coming back to it. Perfect repetition creates muscle memory. Sometimes I feel if I hang on a lick or area too long I begin to overthink it and make errors that i didn't make at the beginning of practicing it.
    kobass, SteveCS and Lux like this.
  4. I like to ‘get it under my fingers’ first - play the correct sequence of notes (phrase) cleanly/smoothly/perfectly without tempo at first, then play it in time, and then add metrome to refine it...slow tempo initially & gradually build up speed.

    I’ll play the riff for 30 seconds 5-10 times a day until it’s really easy. Simply pick up a bass every time I walk past it and practise it.
  5. James Collins

    James Collins Guest

    Mar 25, 2017
    There are no shortcuts. Tricky and difficult pieces take a long time and a lot of practice. I have spent the last three months learning one song. I still don't have it perfect.

    In a current song I am learning there is basically an ascending E major scale that I will practice for an hour at a time when I have the time because the tempo is supposed to be so fast.

    When you see people perform on YouTube or in concert, they make it look effortless. No one shows the hundreds of hours that go into learning some music.
  6. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    This raises an interesting point for me. What is it about the ascending E Major scale in the context of the song that is different to how you practice E Major as part of your regular scale practice? Or, to put it another way, what is it about the skills/techniques you practice(d) and acquire(d) through scale practice that makes them incompatible, not useable or otherwise unsuitable in the context of the song?

    It's not a trick/troll question, but a genuine one.
    I know in the past I've had similar situations where a line includes a scale or arpeggio that I know I've practiced to perfection demands different thinking in the context of the music. Maybe because the next section demands a shift or change of fingering, or the previous section lands me out of position, or something else. Essentially what I had practiced was to some extent useless in those specific situations. Since I started to practice scales and arps with a variety of different fingerings and in different positions, with different shifts and in a variety of rhythms, signatures and accents, the question has not arisen - yet!

    So my question, really, is have you changed your generic scale practice to prepare yourself for different musical situations?
    IamGroot likes this.
  7. Lux


    Dec 21, 2019
    I just started to work through Stuart Claytons book Scales and modes, in which each scale is played from several different positions and with different fingerings, like ypu described. I gather the idea is to learn the scales by content, not by form. Seems useful to me!
    SteveCS likes this.
  8. James Collins

    James Collins Guest

    Mar 25, 2017
    Just a minor correction. I wrote ascending but meant descending. It really doesn't matter for your question though.

    It is a different voicing of the scale and the tempo is demanding for me. I practice it the same way I practice normal scales. Like say I practice the scale as eight notes in 4/4. I can generally play them at 90bpm. I want to play it at 120bpm or 150bpm.

    I practice it with rhythmic augmentation, speed pyramids, and speed bursts among other things.
    SteveCS likes this.
  9. I think @SteveCS said all. I'll add just two practical details:
    - when you are listening to the record of the phrase you want to learn, listen carefully not just for notes and rhythm, but also for all articulations. Small slides or fret buzzing usually help you find out on which string which note was played. The technical style of the player can be found this way, and when you know his style, the rest is usually easy. Not all players practised generic scales and stuff before they started to create! (I show this to my students on Paul McCartney playing Come Together or Day Tripper). These things are hard to hear, use good headphones that you are used to listen to.
    - use a player (I'm thinking of software like Transcriber or CoolEdit or Cubase) that allows for selecting a passage and playing it from the same place over and over with a single keyboard tap. Very helpful from practical standpoint.
    Lux likes this.
  10. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    First of all, I need to determine why I can't play that lick straight away.
    It's either a thing of time, of technique or of speed (or a mix of two or all three).

    Speed is easiest. When I can play the lick, but not as fast as needed, well, I practice as fast as I can comfortably go and when I have it down, I increase the tempo a bit, rinse and repeat.

    Technique means I need to split it into smaller segments and focus on those that are hard. I try to manage to play them sloppy (so at least I play them) and slow, then clean up the act until it works, then increase the speed until I can play it a bit faster than needed.

    Time is, at least for my brain, often the hardest bit. There are players that are on the same wavelength spectrum and there are those that are totally off. When I have to play a part that was written by the latter, I often have to break the thing down to 16ths and play it in slow motion until I 'get' it, and that sometimes takes ages.
    Then I bring it up to speed and repeat it multiple times over the course of a day, to keep it in the back of my mind until it sticks.
    Groove Doctor and Lux like this.
  11. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    If by 'content not form' you mean 'notes not patterns', then yes, that is what I was getting at.
  12. Lux


    Dec 21, 2019
    SteveCS likes this.
  13. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

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  14. buldog5151bass

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

    Oct 22, 2003
    If a song or phrase is tough to play and/or memorize, break it down to smaller pieces (two notes at a time if necessary). Learn the pieces, then start putting them together.
    bolophonic and Lux like this.
  15. bolophonic


    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    I just keep playing it as slowly as I need to in order to play it correctly. Then I start increasing the speed as the licks become more fluent. I keep my basses accessible so that I can practice them for short periods at a time, multiple times a day. I’m not into transcription or relating any of it to theory, I’m just a cave man learning riffs by ear, so take that for what it’s worth.
    Bboopbennie and Lux like this.
  16. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Lot's of good advice here. Some things I would add:
    -Once you've isolated the notes that are a problem, be sure in your practice that the problem doesn't come from the notes before the problem area. In other words, once you begin to get the problem solved, always go at it from a place you can play.
    -Understand that as you work on a lick, stopping in the problem area is the same as practicing stopping in the problem area. It is possible that you sort of 'learn' to take a break there. Make sure you practice the continuity of the lick.
    -If you stop playing in the middle of a phrase and work on a few notes, make sure you haven't changed your fingering to work on the problem spot.
    -Getting it right at as slow a tempo as you need and then speeding up is gold. Never forget that.
    Lux likes this.
  17. Gravedigger Dav

    Gravedigger Dav Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Springtown, Texas
    This is how you do it. And, you can't start too slowly. Play a note. Think about how you will finger the next note, etc. Play the next note.
    Lux likes this.
  18. Lux


    Dec 21, 2019
    Thank you all for the good advice and ideas! After a few weeks of practice, I can now play the song along with the original track. Articulation could still be better, but I don't mess up the lick anymore and all the notes are there, mostly. It's always a nice feeling when you see the progress! I have noticed that during the process, your fingers somehow lose the coordination and you have to fix it by slowing down. Usually it does not take long to get better again.
  19. IamGroot


    Jan 18, 2018
    Ask your GF for advice.
  20. What did you do to achieve this? For the record, I've learned that licks do not exist in isolation from other parts. When I am learning a section, once I know the section I may then have to practice the transitions into and out of that section in order to stitch everything together.

    That might mean starting one or two measures before the passage starts, figuring out what my hand position should be as I move into the difficult section and how I get to that position, practicing only that transition by going just a few notes into the section, and doing a similar exercise to then figure out how I'm going to transition out of that same section. There aren't any shortcuts because it all requires lots of practice, but doing it this way seems to waste less time than just trying and failing to play the whole song before the transitions are mapped out, and it keeps me from ending up in bad positions that I later have to change. Just what works for me. Interested to know what worked for you.
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