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Is learning songs important? Or should i focus on technique?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by CochiseG, Mar 22, 2009.

  1. CochiseG


    Mar 22, 2009
    First of all, hello to everyone, as this is my first time posting here.

    I have been playing bass for two year and half now, had a teacher for two years. I didnt progress much I think.

    I would just like to know if you guys think it is important to learn song, or simply build technique to improvise. I don't know any song from beginning to end, those that i know, i know them only partly, learned by ear.

    I can play Money, some songs by bach (easy stuff, Musette bwv123 and some songs i figured out by ear), and other easy songs like sunshine of your love, etc. I have stopped my bass classes i june last year and started violin instead. Now i play more bass now than i did when i had a teacher, i wouldnt practice much at the time.

    I never learned any songs that i played with a band since the guitarist and drummer would never learn them anyway, so if i learned it as a whole, it ended up being completely useless.

    After nearly three years playing, i think im still at level of a beginner who has played for a week or two, and thats quite discouraging
  2. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    While technique is certainly important, I think the main role a bass player has to play is to complement a song. This can be achieved with little skill in the techniques department. It's more about the feel and the mystic "groove" that really makes a bassist stand out (well, if you play like wooten that's another way to stand out).

    Simply put: I think it's more important to get a song going than to have flashy technique.

    But don't neglect it either, especially basic technique. If you know what you want to play, fine, just learn the necessary techs ;) wouldn't hurt to know more, but honestly, i've never found any use for solo techniques like slapping or tapping... so i don't even bother learning them. the same might apply to you.
  3. mpm32


    Jan 23, 2009
    When I learned to play many years ago, I used to take a Rush Album (yes vinyl, not cd lol) and learn every song front to back. I wouldn't flip the album until I learned that side cold.

    But with that said, I think you need to do both. And when you learn songs learn all kinds and genres. Rock, Pop, R&B/Motown, Funk, etc. Don't put yourself into a box.

    After learning a bunch of songs from different eras you will begin to connect the techniques that run through each of the songs and you will see the similarity throughout.
  4. the engine

    the engine Guest

    Both. Absolutely both.
  5. Agreed. And my 2¢ would be to try and get playing songs with other people as soon as you can. Either jamming with other players you same level, or (if possible) finding some more seasoned folks to jam with.beyond technique, and beyond getting a feel for groove beyond technique, is the vital interaction of playing with a drummer.

    When I started playing back in HS, I was fortunate to get my initial basic tutoring by a guitar player/drummer/singer who needed a bass player in his band. And as soon as I learned 3 or 4 basslines (I can still remember one of them was "These Eyes by The Guess Who) I 'auditioned' for the band and started playing with other live musicians from the get-go. Invaluable. So I actually started by learning songs, then moved to technique. And I'm still working on both : )
  6. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
    Well.........IMO lf you want to get in a band, do gigs, play out and have fun learn songs..period! You can study the bass or you can learn the bass. I took to learning the bass as well as guitar. Learning gives you the tools you need to play properly without in depth study which slowed me down... AKA took the fun out.
    Alot of bassists on TB or elsewhere will disagree with me and my aproach which if fine. I find it this is the only way to keep my interest level. I wanted to play bass in a band..so i did. I could of wanted to study the bass, theory, the science of bassdom etc and then play in a band but its not my bag.

    If the lessons and learning parts of songs is not getting it you might try switching to jamming some tunes and having fun.
  7. CapnSev


    Aug 19, 2006
    Coeur d'Alene

    You don't want to be overloaded with theory and technique without the application of it, that would get mighty boring in a hurry.

    On the other hand, you don't want to be the human jukebox either.
  8. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
    :meh: I know a few human beatboxs that are on call high demand players who make good money being a...human beatbox :smug:
  9. Double Agent

    Double Agent

    Mar 10, 2006
    Lakeland, FL
    This sounds frighteningly familiar! :eek: Other than the vinyl part (I grew up with CDs, starting playing guitar in '91, bass in '96), I did the same thing. I'd put on a Rush CD and learn each song one at a time, once I had Tom Sawyer down I would move on to Red Barchetta, etc. and so on. I did this with more than just Rush, but Geddy was my main source of inspiration as a young player so Rush was the lion's share of material I learned.

    I could not agree more. I have always been a rock/metal guy, but the two best things I did for myself as a bass player were to learn a bunch of Beatles songs and learn a bunch Motown songs. I did all on my own, and rarely have gotten the chance to play any of the songs I learned with a band. But, learning how those guys served their songs while playing interesting parts that had groove really improved my playing, even in rock. Its always good to expand your horizons.
  10. CochiseG


    Mar 22, 2009
    Wow! Thanks to all of you guys!

    If anybody has some good song suggestion, that'll be great!

    I have a lot of motown music sheets from my bass classes, my teacher would have me play these, but i never learned them, i would play the first line and would stuck there. Are songs "like nowhere to run", "since i lost my baby", "don't mess with bill" and others beginner stuff?


    just went through these motown sheet my teacher had given me, its ratter easy, but i have to learn them :p which i never did, i know the begining of all of these songs by heart, but the rest i dont know
  11. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    You will have the right to deem these songs as easy when you're able to play them all along with a steady pulse.
    Many Motown songs are quite the challenge. I always love to see students stumble on the 3 notes of Papa was a Rolling Stone and fail miserably at turning them into a groove.
  12. rarbass


    Jul 3, 2008
    Learn the techniques WITH the songs, as well as learning the two separately!
  13. LeftHandedFrog


    Dec 29, 2008
    In my opinion learning songs is the most important when you start. Choose (or get somebody that plays already to do it for you) a couple of tunes u like and that s easy to play. It s important you like it , then you ll be more motivated. Get somebody to check on your basic technic once in a while but in my opinion you should focus on getting music out of the bass. Learn a knew one each time u know one well , it will train both your memory and your ears... If you get a chance record your playalongs to correct yourself , so you don t repeat same mistakes
  14. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
    Shoot man ...lose the sheets and start learning the old way ..listening to CD and recordings. Training your ear is the best way to learn. Go out buy some CDs of music you want to cover and jam. Try blues, motown ..anything.
  15. Mikio


    Feb 21, 2009
    Santiago de Chile
    playing songs is a great way to practice your technic while developing musicality.
  16. CochiseG


    Mar 22, 2009
    I will start learning these motown songs (and playing them along with original recordings, so i actually keep the groove on during the whole thing... and not only play a few notes, saying i can do it, and not going anywhere) I'll also try to play more often by ear with recordings, as i'm good at this.

    Lately i have been taking my bass and doing simple stuff, playing slow improvised songs, using arpegios and scales. I think it helps me learning the intervals on the neck, so i can play the note i have in my mind, but rythmically, i wont improve doing that, i tend to do the same rythm all the time when i play moderately fast
  17. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Great stuff that your looking for songs to try...Move Closer by Phyllis Nelson has a bottom pocket bass line to die for (playing with the bass drum). It might catch you out in places as it sound simple, but it is a top groove.
    IMO songs require a technique, not technique requiring songs.
    You learn a song and work out the best way (technique) to play it.

  18. meta


    Mar 11, 2009
    You have to do a few things to really make the most of your time on the bass.

    1. Play songs
    2. Jam without songs
    3. practice scales and techniques

    You don't have to spend a ton of time on any one of them, but you should spend some time on each of them.

    the songs are the most fun to begin with, but obviously it does get a little stale after a while. Unless you are constantly changing songs ;) This helps develop your ear, and your sense of timing, groove, etc. You haven't wasted your time if this is most of what you've been doing, not at all.

    jamming without any songs (ie. with a drummer and or guitarist). This develops your improvisational techniques a little more than just playing songs, other than that does the same thing as songs only to a (potentially) more advanced level - develops your ear, timing, groove, etc... but you also have to listen more than you do in a song as changes can come at any moment. In a song you always know when it's going to change.

    scales. can be extremely enjoyable. once you get into a rhythm, they can almost be meditative. It's when you can often get your inspiration for what to do on a song. it's the primary way that I explore the bass, by creating a scale to work on. start with the major scale, learn all postitions, then go to the modes, then make up some exercises for what you want to work on (make a scale that switches keys halfway through, or cycles through a few). You can even make scales that don't sound like they fit into anything, but if you do them over and over then it's repeatable and someone can play with you on it. The key thing that someone told me a long time ago, is even if you just do scales for 10 minutes a day you will improve (as in the end, your fingers will get stronger and faster, etc, and then it's just a matter of learning where to place them, as opposed to how). And that is how I get my best base-lines - scale work can end up being the foundation for a song, or you can create a new song based on what you've been fooling around with.

    The way I see it, the foundation of music starts in practice, gets expanded at jams, and then get developed into songs from there, but there is no hard and fast rule of course ;)

    So just do 10 minutes of scale / technique work per day, as a warm up, and you'll find that the songs you play seem easier and you have more options when you do play them. Often my problems is I sit down to practice a particular scale, and get too carried away with a tangential sound/technique that comes up and I don't end up practicing the scale I sat down to practice. Which isn't really a problem ;)
  19. DeepSouth


    Aug 6, 2008
    In my teens I was all about technique. All day long playing scales n such. Didn't learn any songs. I could play fast but I was worthless. Now days ALL of my practice revolves around songs. I don't play scales either. Imo chords > scales.

    After playing music for over 20 years now I can't stress how important it is to learn songs and develop your groove. Also, try and learn your bass lines by ear, not tab or sheet music. Developing a good ear will do amazing things for you.
  20. CochiseG


    Mar 22, 2009
    great post, meta

    I can easily figure myself a major scale starting anywhere on the neck, in different modes if I have to ( but i tend to stick to the basic major scale, abcdefg, transposed)

    I have practice mostly scales, and learning basically no songs. I dont know any reliable or good drummer with which i can jam on a regular basis, and i jam pretty often with a guitarist, but it is boring as hell. most of the times i end up doing ridiculous stuff because i can follow the guitarist and i dont want to be doing the same ting for hours without anyone to back me

    this is true about scales, they can get meditatives if you play them in a loop... and it helps a lot, especially on my violin

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