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The Mental aspect

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by TFR-bass, Jun 4, 2003.

  1. TFR-bass


    Jun 3, 2003
    Central Jersey
    i was just curious as to what exactly everybody else is thinking when they're playing. I know my theory fairly well, (scales, chords, modulation, secondary dominance, all that sort of stuff that you learn in college theory courses), and i'd say i've got my rhythm down solid. But when i start playing, i stop thinking ( a habit i'm desperatly trying to break). Are you guys thinking notes, shapes on the fretboard, scales? I've asked a few of the amazing musicians i have come to know and have gotten a different answer from all of them and am curious as to what my fellow bass players have to say on the matter.
  2. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    For me it depends. Sometimes I don't think about anything, I literally move my fingers around the neck without looking, I just listen to the band, and react.

    Sometimes I focus on each note and I choose carefully what will work.

    sometimes I do a little bit of both, while observing the shapes I form and repeating motifs.

    I think for me it depends what type of music I am playing. when I am playing somethign that is really hip and grooving, I get all into it, but If I am playing rock or something like that, I usually just go for the crowd-pleasing shapes and motifs.

    I have yet to solidify a lot of hte theory I have learned to the point where I can instantaneously translate any concept to the bass in a song.
  3. WillPlay4Food

    WillPlay4Food Now With More Metal! Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2002
    Orbiting HQ
    Wrong Robot,

    Would you mind sharing some of these "shapes" you work with?

    I see how important triangles can be, and a lowercase "b" like shape, if you were to lay the b on the fretboard like so (hope this makes sense):

    The bold "|"'s are the frets that seem to me to work together well. I find myself using this "b" lots when playing Black Sabbath, as well as triangles.
  4. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Ideally you are thinking about what the music you are about to play is going to sound like!

    Try this: sing a short melody. Now go play it note for note on the bass. Can you do it? I can't most of the time unless I deliberately sing something wicked simple...I can sing lines nore complex than I can play. That means I have a lot more shedding and ear training to do :rolleyes:

    That "B" shape is just a pentatonic pattern, a basic building block in blues and rock.
  5. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I prefer not to play using the "shapes" concept, as I find it to be too limiting. You never know when that note that isn't part of the "shape" might come into play, especially if you are improvising.

    I tend to think about what I'm trying to say when I'm playing, as well as what everyone else is saying, and I'm listening for ways to play along with what they are doing. Of course, at faster tempos this becomes much more difficult and I tend to find myself being swept along rather than directing the flow.

    This is where an UNDERSTANDING of theory, and not just KNOWLEDGE of theory, is key. If you truly understand theoretical concepts, you won't have to think about them - you will know how to apply what you know to the musical situation at hand.

    Of course, that's the hard part about learning theory - not just knowing the concepts, but knowing how they work and how to apply them. That's a never-ending study.

    I'd also suggest checking out Zen Guitar by the late Philip Sudo.
  6. Very good advice thrash_jazz :cool:
  7. XxBassmanxX


    Nov 21, 2001
    Rosman NC
    Well to answer your questions I think Thrash_Jazz has nailed it! Personally I just listen when im improvising. You probally shouldnt be thinking about the patterns as frets, but rather what the patterns sound like and which ones fit the sound you are trying to convey. Use your ears and learn to play what you are thinking. IMO thats the key to it.

    (PS this is just IMO so dont shoot!)
  8. ConU


    Mar 5, 2003
    La Belle Province
    If the music has been fully absorbed,the goal is to have it play itself,the player becomes simply a vehicle,exerting no effort or thought.
  9. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK

    IMO, you should stop thinking when you start playing. Great music doesn't come from your mind, but the mind can very easily get in the way of playing great music.

    Why are you trying to break the habit of not thinking when you play?
  10. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Nobody "thinks" specifically about what they're going to play when they play, although a bigger picture may be on their mind.

    If you try thinking too much about specifics, you'll likely run into trouble fairly quickly, as you can't react that fast!

    IMO, you think when you practice, so you don't have to at a gig. You do, of course, still have to listen and react, but that isn't really the same thing as having to "think out" what you are doing.
  11. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    They do though. They think "oh crap, that note didn't come out right", they think "man, my tone is awful tonight, what's with that?", they think "ok, I'll do an arpeggio here", or "I'll just hit that harmonic, then I'll play a low E".

    Ok, they don't think as *explicitly* as that, but you know what I mean.

    And I imagine, a lot people, when trying to do an improvised solo, think "ok, I'll do a little twiddly bit up here, now I'll muddle a round a C minor scale, now I'll play this harmonic".

    Again, they don't think as explicitly as that, but you get the idea. They *think* about what to play next in their solo.

    And, IMO, completely the wrong approach.
  12. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    My point exactly... :bassist:
  13. Tnavis


    Feb 25, 2003
    Minneapolis, MN
    Technicaly, you still "think" when you play. The trick is not think conciously as much as subconciously when you are playing. All of the greats in jazz have always said "learn everything, and then forget it" The ideal situation, then, is to figure out everything as it pertains to the mental aspect (what scales to play with what chords, what subs to use, etc.), the physical aspect (where to put your fingers, endurance, dexterity) and how the two work together. (i.e. "shapes" on the fretboard). The next step is where things get tricky.

    I'm going to have to disagree with this statement somewhat. I would argue that the mind is they key to great music. Most will say that the best music is from the "heart" or "soul". However, I've never believed in the concept of a mind seperate from the soul. The two are linked fully.

    "Thinking" while you're playing (i'll play triplets here, a few trills here, up on the neck here, the hungarian minor there) is necessary until you fully and completely understand what you are doing.

    I'll use an analogy. Patrick Roy is/was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, hockey goalies of all time. When he's defending on a breakaway, what is going through his mind?

    a) Allright, here he comes... from the videos I've watched in practice, he likes to deke to the goalies glove side and try and roof it. But he knows i've been watching his tapes, so he'll probably go five hole. If i skate out and cut down the angle, i can drop into my butterfly at the last second, and leave him nothing to shoot at.


    b).......... nothing. he just *knows* what to do.

    Well, I really don't know the answer. I'm not Patrick Roy. But it's technically a trick question. If the year was '84, his rookie year, I would geuss the answer would be a. If it was 2000, I would geuss b. It takes time to be so good at what you do, you don't need to think about it. But you need to think about what you're doing until that point.
  14. ConU


    Mar 5, 2003
    La Belle Province
    I think the hockey analogy might get lost on a lot of people;) (I would bet Roy acts mostly on instinct though)

    Food for thought:Zen in the art of archery

    "The right art is purposeles,aimless!The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal,the less you will succeed in the one,and the further the other will recede.What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will.You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen."
    Is'nt that the mistake we all make in music?
  15. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Tnavis - ok, I'll buy that. Perhaps I should have qualified it, and said conscious mind.

    What you say about thinking about what you're doing while your practicing - yes, I agree - but with the aim of getting to the point of not needing to think (consciously).

    The original poster seemed to be saying that he/she wanted to get *into* the habit of thinking while he/she plays. I'm saying that if you don't need to think when you play - don't! ;)
  16. BertBert


    Nov 9, 2002
    During practice sessions and often during band rehearsals, I am thinking very hard about the structure of the song, the most efficient and musical way to play the lines, and so forth. I'm not necessarily going emotional depth at that point. Practicing and rehearsin are IMHO meant for players to hash out the technical details and to put enough coats of thinking on the technical stuff so that they pass somehow to the level of the intuitive.

    In a performance, things get a lot different. The intuitive takes over. This is different from saying that you "stop thinking" because you ARE thinking -- just not at the conscious, analytical level that you are during practice. The act of listening becomes much more prevalent in your playing than during practice (esp. if you practice alone!). You're working a lot harder to get outside yourself and think about what the OTHER people are doing and how you can fit in with them, while your intuitive understanding of the music does the driving. This frees you up to play from the heart and to play with your band's sound foremost in your mind rather than your sound.

    So the poster who talked about Patrick Roy had it right. ;)
  17. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Hmm, interesting, I think you're right.

    I know I often think "where shall i start" just before a solo comes up, but then i just let it go... i know that i often dont think about a solo because sometimes they go well and sometimes they dont!!! :D
    obvioulsy i'm playing within the limits of my ability and my understanding of theory, but i'm sure i follow my ears more than my mind.

    i just recorded a single (hopefully for indie release, no biggy) with my new band. there are two solo's on the a-side: the 1st is composed, the second is more or less improvised.
    i say more or less because the space the solo fits in is defined, the time sig, tempo, and the feel are rigid - in that i could mess with it, but it's a groove song.
    In my mind the LAST thing a bass player should do is screw about too much with the groove in a solo! It has to maintain momentum - you'll know what i mean when you hear it :)

    when i'm playing, sometimes i think about what i'm playing and sometimes i dont. i find i play vastly better when i just play... but i have to be completely relaxed to play from inside of me and that can sometimes be difficult on a gig if you cant hear properly or the material very new or whatever.

    if i'm utterly honest i think i play from inside myself a fair amount. a lot of my more creative lines and ideas just come from nowhere - like we're playing through material and it just comes out and someone says "yeah, that's it, keep that!", so i do :)

    thing is, i find that quite often the music i play is limiting in terms of improvisation because everyone is following myelf and the drummer and we're not playing jazz. if they were all used to just following the pulse of the bass it'd be fine, but if i start landing on anything other than root or 5th on the one people start getting lost. i have so much freedom to play a great bassline and i can improvise between the key roots or chord tones, but in "pop" there are certain things you need to do to make the music work.
    so my little fills and variations just come out of me, even when the bassline is set in stone

    phew,, long post.
  18. kindablue


    Jun 15, 2003
    well certainly one must be mindful of the chords that are going by and to color in the right notes in the appropriate manner.but ofcourse a lot of free association will take place,as is normal.but as bruce lee would admonish"you must focus
    not on the finger pointing at the moon, but the moon itself,otherwise you'll miss all that heavenly glory:cool:
  19. ChildoftheKorn


    May 21, 2003
    well i think playing bass goes hand in hand, BUT key thing is not to overthink or atleast for me thats a curse :(
  20. mark beem

    mark beem I'm alive and well. Where am I? Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    Alabama, USA
    I'd have to say I'm more of a "feeler" than a "thinker" when I play...

    Emotion, feeling, atmosphere.. those are things I concentrate more on rather than whether it's "proper" according to theory..

    I'm aware of the nuts and bolts of the piece.. I know what key it's in and I'm aware of all the other relative scales & modes, etc. that I could play on top of it, but I look at the entire arrangement and try to play to it...

    I had a problem for a long time where I really didn't enjoy listening to music, because I heard it strictly with theory ears.. I was over analyzing it, breaking it down to its component pieces. This also went over into my playing.. I was over thinking everything instead of just playing what I heard in my head.. As a result it wasn't fun for me anymore..

    It took me a loooong time to "untrain" myself.

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