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Practice Suggestions for Old Dog

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Basslice, Nov 4, 2020.

  1. Basslice

    Basslice Supporting Member

    May 11, 2008
    Western Massachusetts
    I have been playing for over 30 years. I jumped right in and started learning songs and gigging. I have never taken a single lesson. I cannot read - other than charts. I have a great ear, but my technique has never been anything that any fellow bass player would say was top-chops. I get the job done and do it well. But I cheat a lot. I dumb down basslines of covers all the time (I am also the lead singer so I feel I have to). I have many hundreds of songs committed to memory.

    During COvid I built a little practice/recording studio. I have been playing more (time-wise) than I was pre-2020. I am wondering if anyone had suggestions for practice routines. Other than my first year or two, I never really practiced in terms of technique - just rehearsals and learning new songs.

    Is it possible for an old dog to learn new tricks? Like maybe not having to dumb down basslines and runs? My musical styles and likes are all over the place, but I like old R&R and old - real country (not new country). I also like blues, but have pretty much figured out all the walking lines so that I don't have to think about them. My solo stuff is fairly jazzy.

    Also, my fretting and finger-picking are harsh. I dig hard and slam the pickups and don't have the greatest fretting/muting techniques. I have learned that a lot of slop gets covered over in a real gig, but at home solo I can hear it.

    Thanks in advance.
    CallMeAl and Reedt2000 like this.
  2. Reedt2000

    Reedt2000 Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2017
    Central New Jersey
    Check out stuff by the late, great Rocco Prestige. From the description of your technique you may well find it really challenging (hopefully in a good way :D).

    What is Hip is probably the quintessential example of his playing:

    This is one of my favorites:

    Here's words of wisdom from the man himself:

    As for a practice regiment, like any muscle memory learning repetition is key. Regular daily playing, even for short periods of time, will prove more effective than long sessions with big gaps in between.
    12BitSlab and Basslice like this.
  3. Dean N

    Dean N

    Jul 4, 2006
    Pittsburgh, PA

    Pick a fairly challenging song, start practicing/learning/relearning it painfully slowly with a metronome, and woodshed it till the slop and clank improves. Then start gradually cranking up the bpm.
    LowActionHero, Basslice and Reedt2000 like this.
  4. Basslice

    Basslice Supporting Member

    May 11, 2008
    Western Massachusetts
    I will do that.

    I found it very interesting when I started recording in my studio this summer with click tracks how shjitty i was at landing on the beat. Having a real drummer helps in this respect, since you are always dancing with each other, but solo - WOW. So yes, I have been working a lot on timing with a click track or drum beat.

    Word of caution to noobies though, playing with a click doesn't prepare you for listening and anticipating real fellow musicians!!
    Dean N likes this.
  5. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA

    Great lessons here. Not all of the fluff like Scott's bass lessons In my view. Pick a category and follow through. If you get done, pock another one.
  6. misterCRUSH

    misterCRUSH It's all jazz...it's ALL jazz... Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2015
    push yourself to learn something outside of your comfort zone. Learn and play along to the changes of Giant Steps for example. Or learn a bass line to a metal song. Something hard and different that will take your playing to new places. Reading doesn't seem like a priority for your playing and gigging so maybe focus on other things like more complex lines while singing.
    Basslice likes this.
  7. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Fusion Cats Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    Here's a great exercise for really learning the notes on the neck, courtesy of Anthony Wellington (who is an amazing teacher). You're going to play all the notes in one scale on one string (repeat for each string) in a random order, and time yourself, so that you can push to improve. Goes like this:
    1. Generate a random list of numbers from 1-7. You can roll dice, whatever, but they need to be random. I use the random number list generator at random.org Let's say this is what you generate (example) - "1 5 3 7 6 4 2"
    2. Pick a key. Easiest to start with C major. So on your E string, between the 1st and 12th fret (nothing above the 12th fret, and no open strings), you'll play the notes of C major in the order you generated. In this case, C, G, E, B, A, F, D.
    3. Start your stopwatch and play those notes on the E string.
    4. Then play them on the A string, same order.
    5. Then on the D string, and then on the G string.
    6. Stop your stopwatch and see how you did.

    If you do it a few times in a row your speed will pick up a lot, because at that point you are more familiar with where those notes are. But you don't have to do it a ton of times. You're learning the notes, and the relationships between the notes.
    Repeat every day with a new sequence of random numbers, and then start changing scales.
  8. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    In my opinion you should be teaching lessons! Are there any young people or beginner musicians in your life, that would benefit from some mentorship? Teaching is actually a really good way to improve your own skills.

    In terms of technique, my advice is to go on YouTube and study videos of your favorite bassists. In particular watch the technique of lead-vocalist bassists like McCartney, Sting, Chris Squire, Geddy Lee, Les Claypool, Lemmy, Roger Waters, Mike Watt, etc. You can learn so much just by watching the pros and copying what they do with their fingers! My observation, is that singing bassists often prioritize accuracy in their technique: They choose techniques that decrease the possibility of mistakes.

    I seriously doubt you would benefit much from formal lessons, at this point in your life. It's highly likely that you would actually be a better bassist than any teacher you can find in your local "scene." They should be studying with you, not the other way round! If you do decide to take formal lessons, think big, and study with a great teacher at the national or world level. You'd be amazed the big names who are available for Zoom/Skype lessons right now.
    Basslice likes this.
  9. Basslice

    Basslice Supporting Member

    May 11, 2008
    Western Massachusetts
    Love it! I will start doing this today. Thanks!
  10. Basslice

    Basslice Supporting Member

    May 11, 2008
    Western Massachusetts
    Thanks for the kind words. I will probably start teaching my 11 year old as he has some interest. He has a killer ear and can groove some mean blues piano.

    It is interesting. When I started out (ca 1988), I used to hang out in the music stores and try out stuff. Then someone would come in with their monster licks and pretty much terrify me out of trying out stuff since all I could do at that point was blink-blunck. To this day, I still do not have music store chops!

    I do recall many times - up until the current day - players come up to me at gigs and say,"how did you do this or that?". So I guess - as much as I am impressed by others - I have the capability to impress others some times. Like most things, I am my worst critic.

    I want to improve, mostly for myself. I like the idea of giving lessons. After Covid!
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2020
  11. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    There's never anything wrong with practicing scales and arpeggios in all 12 keys for at least part of your practice routine.

    If you have a good ear, then start transcribing. If you can't read/write standard notation, do it in tab or anything else that you can refer to later. That's how you start stealing ideas from other bassists and incorporating them into your own playing. When you discover a cool lick, transpose it into all 12 keys to really get it under your fingers.

    My biggest surprise with transcription is how simple and obvious a lot of "tricky" parts really are. For example, Duck Dunn almost never played anything but notes from the chords. Transcription is the only way I can get a bass line "just like the record" unless it's stupid simple.
    CallMeAl and Basslice like this.
  12. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    If you want a cleaner sound you will have to significantly change your philosophy and approach to the instrument. You may will probably need to make some fairly significant changes to the shape and posture of your left and right hands, and learn new techniques. Additionally there is a good chance you will eventually want to modify the setup of your bass.

    I don't think this sort of transition will necessarily be intuitive. You have played a certain way for a very long time, so not only do you have to learn a new way of doing things, you have to sort of forget the old way. It can take years for you to lock in and automate the new approach, so you don't have to constantly think about what you are doing to avoid reverting.

    Although I agree it might be difficult to find the right instructor to help with this transition, I do think your best chance of success is private instruction. The last person I took upright bass lessons primarily worked with me on ergonomics and kinesthetics. Before working with him I played very aggressively, and he taught me to play efficiently and with minimal effort.

    Whether changes are necessary depends on the type of music you are playing. I have seen players that always smack the strings against the finger board or pickups, and they sound great with the music the play...but this sound drives me nuts a bit. I can play like this if I want to, but normally my technique is super clean. It's mainly a matter of the angle and speed in which you attack the strings.

    I currently use floating thumb, which places the palm fairly parallel to the face of the bass. My plucking fingers are bent and I strike the strings so vibration is primarily parallel with the surface of the face of the instrument. I can vary my tone quite a bit by varying the angle of plucking and how much meat I put on the strings. Normally my touch is very light, so I don't get a lot of clank or fret rattle unless I want it, even though my action is fairly low.
    Basslice likes this.
  13. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    I'll say that being a trained musician does not make you a good musician and being an untrained musician doesn't make you a bad musician. Knowledge and talent are different notions.

    But learning to read, a little basic understanding of theory, etc. that does make you a more complete musician. There is no negative to learning or improving your skill.

    First thing you should do is decide for yourself if there is value in advancing your skill versus the investment of time. My opinion is that it is worthwhile. Reading isn't that hard, OK, I admit 100% that the way we express music in writing (staves and dots and weird symbols) is completely harder than it needs to be BUT it is the way we do it so we all suck it up or if we're fortunate to have had an early start in school it sticks once you learn it.

    Honestly there's this pandemic stuff and you're not that busy for the winter, right? So grab a book or get one of those YouTubes and set manageable goals. It really is something you can start quickly. Plus, most of what you need in pop covers (for example?) isn't super complex. You will find that learning "by ear" will be a lot easier once you commit some theory to your thought process. It might even improve your confidence when you are singing.
    My dumb 2 cents.
    Carl Hillman, Basslice and Wasnex like this.
  14. Runnerman

    Runnerman Registered Bass Player Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 14, 2011
    Sales Development Manager NN Inc. - Polymet, USA manufacturer of fret wire
    Funny I was about to suggest SBL. Some good technique and practice stuff there. Has helped me correct some bad habits.
    Killing Floor likes this.
  15. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Oh, and as far as technique? Hand aggression, things that affect tone... My money is on keeping some personality there. I know there are things that don't belong like excess string noise, missed frets, off notes that might result from not fully understanding scales(?) or sloppiness, not saying that is your case, I really have no idea how you play. But to me there's a fine line where you want to sound like a bassist that your fellow players need and your audience want but if there's a hard-hitting or differentiating tone that is unique to you I wouldn't mess with it. Always try to play better but don't try to change so much that you lose the character that you bring. If your bandmates thought you weren't good they would have kicked you out with the drummers. Does that make sense?
    Basslice likes this.
  16. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    Definitely some good stuff on SBL...but the gratuitous blah, blah, blah can be hard for some of us to wade through.
    obieito likes this.
  17. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    If you are willing to put in the work you'll be amazed what you can accomplish. The bass player in my Rockabilly band started studying the upright at 70. He'd never had a lesson in his life. I started studying guitar at 58 after being pretty much self taught, although I am a classically trained bass player and I studied jazz bass in college.

    Go get a good teacher. Forget the books, videos and web sites for now. You need someone looking at what you are doing and providing feedback. With Skype and so many world class players teaching due to the plague, there is no reason you can't find an outstanding teacher.

    We find a way to do the things we want to do and excuses to not do the things we don't want to do.
    Basslice likes this.
  18. Basslice

    Basslice Supporting Member

    May 11, 2008
    Western Massachusetts
    Like most of us, my problems and bad habits started early. I know exactly why too. I used to play in a 3-person combo. Two guitarists and me - no drummer. I used my attack on the strings and pickup hits to develop the rhythm part, i.e. fake drums, for our songs. Unfortunately, since this was my formative time playing bass, I never completely unlearned the technique. I can reduce it a lot when I am thinking about it, but while singing and playing the last thing I want to THINK about is playing while I am playing. I like to go into autopilot to a certain extent.

    A lot of bad habits to get rid of.
    Wasnex likes this.
  19. Basslice

    Basslice Supporting Member

    May 11, 2008
    Western Massachusetts
    Yes, good point. I don't want to get rid of my sound, but I'd like to expand my abilities - if you get what I mean. For example, while I have a good grasp of basic theory, I tend to work in the same general area (position) of my bass most of the time. There is a lot of fretboard that barely gets used except for a trill here or there.

    Learning to read in time would be fantastic. I can decipher written music, but not in any kind of real time. I can play and vamp from charts. Learning more scales and getting my fingers in condition to play faster or more complex passages would be great too.

    So far, you all have given me some great things to start on. Thanks so much.
  20. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Reading helps you work with others, that's one of the biggest benefits. Try 15 minutes 3-4 days a week, it really isn't so hard to get started.
    Also, there's no cash above the hash so you can let those top frets go if you're pressed for time!
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