Improving Speed

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Craig Orndorff, Jun 25, 2021.

  1. Craig Orndorff

    Craig Orndorff Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2021
    I have ambitions of being a gigging bassist. It’s my understanding that there’s an unwritten expectation that one be able to clearly play 16ths up to 120 bpm (edit: when I wrote this I mistakenly put 180), which would make sense as I look at more and more music I might like to cover. However, I can only get to about 100 bpm with my 16ths. I’ve been there for about a year. This is despite having done “rhythm pyramids” or some variation for about that same time (though when I was messing with guitar before I became enamored of the bass again, I had hit this same wall). Anybody have any advice for increasing my speed? Do some people hit this wall and stay there? Can I get by playing gigs at that speed?

    For perspective, I’m 6’ 5” with huge hands. Been playing guitar or bass for
    the past 21 years.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2021
    AlexanderB and Peter Torning like this.
  2. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol

    Fast and accurate playing starts with light jauge and a low action over a well adjusted neck.
    It is equaly as important as practice.
    mcnach, Border, TOOL460002 and 3 others like this.
  3. TreySonagras


    Aug 11, 2013
    Sixteenths at 180 BPM seems insanely fast for me. I can do eighth notes at that tempo but not sixteenths.
    Merlo79 and jallenbass like this.
  4. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    Augusta, GA
    Are you practicing speed with scales or a particular piece of music?

    Speed bursts and what I always think of as dotted exercises are the practice techniques to work on speed. Dotted exercises are where you play like long, short, long, short, etc or the reverse.
    Wasnex likes this.
  5. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    Augusta, GA
    Good point. Does the op mean 180 notes per minute? Or 720 notes per minute? Are you working on tremolo?
    Merlo79 and SteveCS like this.
  6. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    1/16 at 180BPM? That's 12 notes per second. The time between notes is 83.3ms, which is the same as the echo off the back wall of a modest 13.75m room. I am no slouch but I honestly wouldn't know where to begin other than for a few short-lived tricks.

    Let's put it another way. It has been suggested by scientists that between 8 and 10 cycles of a complex wave are required in order to reliably perceive and identify pitch. For a note duration of 83.3ms, a low E of will go through 3.43 cycles, and 'A' at 55Hz will go through 4.58. That is assuming the string starts off in stable harmonic motion, which it will not. How would you even know you are playing cleanly if there is no time to even perceive pitch? Might as well just hit a drum.

    Last edited: Jun 25, 2021
  7. David76112


    Feb 19, 2012
    There is always the option of using a slap back echo and doing 8th notes at 180. Also search out isolated Bass tracks of players who do super speedy lines. This was sort of an eye opener to me years ago to hear what the solo lines sounded like.
  8. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    You hear a lot of stupid things on the internet. This is one of them.
  9. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    The important question is just whether you're able to play (cleanly) whatever it is that you want to play.
    nbsipics, AGCurry, DrayMiles and 6 others like this.
  10. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    Augusta, GA
    The fastest piece of music I even know how to play on any instrument is recommended at 70-80bpm which works out to to around 540-640 notes per minute. If it sounds clean you get an even tremolo sound. I can't play that fast. The fastest recording I know of is played a bit faster than 80bpm I think. I believe that is correct for the note count. It's in 3/4 time and has 8 notes per beat throughout the piece.
    SteveCS likes this.
  11. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    I ca easily hit 400 beats per minute (eighths at 200 bpm), but I couldn't sustain that for a whole song _ I'm about as fast as the OP. I have gigs literally every weekend I'm not on vacation. Go out there, audition, you'll be fine. If there's a bad somewhere playing speed metal, you might not get that gig, but there will be a LOT of bands where; you're just fine.
    Admiral Akbar, Jonny Reese and JRA like this.
  12. smtp4me


    Sep 30, 2013
    Philadelphia, PA
    First, as others have written, 16th notes at 180bpm seems unusually fast. Second, I can recommend something that has helped me not only with speed, but consistency.

    I use an app on my smart phone called MetroTimer. It's basically a metronome, but it has other useful features like a stopwatch (you can set it to play a click for a period of time - 1, 2, 5, 10 minutes etc). There are many other metronome apps available, and of course a standard/traditional metronome is an option. Anyway... start with a BPM that you can play 16th notes, whatever that happens to be - 100, 120, 150, ... Play 16th notes at that tempo, for 1 minute per string on each open string (no fretting). Then move up to 2 minutes per string, then 3 minutes, ... Keep going until you can play that tempo for an extended period of time. Then increase the BPM, and start over.

    This of course only focuses on your pizzicato hand, not the fretting hand. If you like, you can also do fretting exercises (scales, arpeggios, etc) with the same process to keep coordination between the two.
  13. Craig Orndorff

    Craig Orndorff Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2021
    Thanks for the reassurance, guys. It would seem that speed was more important when I was playing guitar, where there is a lot of lead work. However, I feel like there’s probably still room for improvement. For example What is Hip? By Tower of Power is what immediately comes to mind as containing lots of 16ths, and it appears to be about 110 bpm. So I’m still looking for practical advice.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2021
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  14. You can check what Mr. Prestia has to say on What is Hip here. I think it's the first real riff in the video.
    Ggaa and ACRock like this.
  15. I can play What is Hip at tempo. Not with the tough power of Mr. Prestia though, and I never heard anybody capable of playing that with the right mood. I know the only way how it can be learned, and you know it too - PRACTISE SLOWLY.

    Start at 60 BPM and play the riff for at least a minute. Better for three minutes or so. Your aim is not to be able to play it, you aim to be able to play it for a long time without getting stiff. Only when it really becomes boring excersise, you can start to look for the right feel. When you can do it, start again at 65 or 70 BPM. Again, don't play for seconds, play it for minutes. If you want to be fast, start by really paying attention to details.

    You might also want to check into 'free stroke' right hand technique.
  16. beatmachine pro

    beatmachine pro

    Jun 13, 2021
    i think the problem with increasing speed is that you sacrafice technique.
    im older so i cant play fast anymore

    what i heard was always play at 90% of your full speed

    so just do that for a few months
    increasing the speed 5 bpm each week

    you might want to pedal 8ths on one string to make it eaiser
  17. jefkritz


    Oct 20, 2007
    iowa city, IA
    What Is Hip is a great song! And part of what make TOPs bass lines so awesome is that they're not normal. Playing fast is great. More important is being able to play what's in your head and what serves the song, and to play it cleanly and with impeccable timing. IMO if you're going to focus on time, speed is secondary to getting super precise with where you're hitting notes and how you're sitting in the pocket.
  18. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    Indeed. I can't play anywhere near that fast and I have had plenty of work. OP, are you playing speed metal or something?
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  19. Papageno


    Nov 16, 2015
    Guitar players play waaaaay too many notes anyhow. Play music instead.
    Rocknroller4 and SteveCS like this.
  20. SC Bassboy

    SC Bassboy Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Birmingham, AL
    My big speed breakthrough came when I realized how important breathing is. To me it's similar to doing yoga. For years I would try to play fast basslines by Michael Anthony or Rocco but my hand would always start cramping after several measures. Finally I realized I was tensing up and my breathing was erratic. It was bass line induced anxiety. I started practicing steady breathing while playing never ending 16th notes. It was the breakthrough I was looking for. Pay attention to your breathing next time you play a fast bass line and see if that's something that is holding you back too.
    xil, NigelD, RickenCliff and 3 others like this.
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