Category Archives: Bass Guitar

How do I get better fast? 2

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Once you are aware of the right movements then it is time to practise them. Most people think that if they run through the correct movement enough then they will perfect the techniques. But the musicians that improve the fastest are the ones who concentrate each time they run through a technique and get it 100% right each time. This generally means that they start off learning the movement at a very slow pace (so slow that they can control all of their movements, even the involuntary ones). Using this method, as they work through the movements they can stop any incorrect tension or action as it starts to occur. This means they get rid of bad habits before they form. This also means that, if they are performing an action that needs the hands to do something unnatural, they are more able to complete the movement because at a slow speed it is much easier to make the hands work in unfamiliar ways.

Once we have all of the right parts behaving in the correct manner we need to be focused on making sure we perform the techniques the correct way each time we perform them. This will train the muscles to remember them and if we do them the same way (the correct way) each time then we will master them a lot faster and miss out on those long hours of fruitless practise. Once we are comfortable and in control of the action we can then move on to try and complete them at a faster tempo.

This is best done with a metronome (a time keeping device – a link for an online version of this can be found on our website under Student Resources). Set the metronome to a tempo at which you are able to perform the technique easily and perfectly. Once you have gone through the movements at this tempo and have performed them correctly three or four times then increase the speed slightly. At the start you may be able to perform the movement well, and you may find yourself doing it at a much faster tempo then you had started off but eventually you will get to the point where you might have to stay at a certain tempo for a while (even a few weeks) until you can comfortably get it right each time. Keep going with this method until you have achieved the desired speed but before you move on to a faster tempo make sure you are executing the movements correctly.

The last thing and another important factor is the question of how much time you should spend practising. And how long you should do it for? For the best results, practise as often as you can sometimes a few times a day. You may think you don’t have time to practice several times a day. But now we will consider how long you should practice for. This varies from person to person but you want to be practising for as long as you can without losing focus on controlling the actions. For some people this is 20 minutes but for the vast majority this is only 1-5 minutes. If you are daydreaming or thinking about something else then you will not be focused on being perfect. If this is the case, stop playing and do something else for a few minutes then return to practising once you are refocused. Many small practice sessions are infinitely better than one or two long sessions.

I have spent years learning, teaching and performing and I have seen some truly great musicians applying these techniques and reaping the benefits of this method. I am sad to say that I have also seen lesser musicians ignore or avoid this method and never progress or, if they do progress, they do so at a much slower rate. Try to run through something that you find difficult now and if you adhere to this method you will see visible results and improvement very quickly.

How do I get better fast?

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This is the number one question that I am asked. And the best way to answer it is to say ‘by practising’. This is a topic that I have spoken about in the past (see ‘Practise Makes Marginally Better’), but this time I want to look at it from the perspective of the beginner who is impatient or unwilling to put the work in to get results.

We have all either been this person, or have seen this person complaining about their current level of ability. Or we have had to teach this person how to play an instrument. To turn these people around and get them improving quickly we need to understand why they are not getting results. Once we understand this then we can remedy the situation.

All of us who have practised and become better know the value of hard work and perseverance. For a person that has never had to do this before it can be a daunting task. Also people want to believe that you can sit and dream about playing well and it will happen. Unfortunately this is rare and for the vast majority it is unrealistic. Once we are able to accept that some form of practice is required then we are ready to take the next step.

To help a person see the benefit in practising you need to make them aware of the results. Now the easiest way to do this is to let them see the improvement. As we all know, with some things it can take a while to see the actual results of practice. This will cause a lot of people to think that their hard work is fruitless and that they are not making any progress. But if they practice the correct movements and concentrate on keeping their movements efficient and relaxed then results will appear a lot faster.

In my experience I have seen both extremes of this type of behaviour. I have noticed that the students who improve the fastest and see results the quickest are the ones who focus on gaining control over the correct movements. They also make sure that they perform them extremely slowly until their muscles become familiar with the movements and they have developed control over them. On the other side of the ledger are the people who think that running through chord changes and difficult single note passages without any focus on control or efficient movement will get results. It is sad to say that this is not always the case – yes you will improve but not as fast as somebody who has worked on efficient movement and technique first.

Beginners are not the only people guilty of this type of behaviour. Many more experienced musicians can fall into this trap when learning new techniques or styles. What we all need to do is come up with a plan or template to help us on our way. The first and most important thing to do is ask ourselves ‘is this the most efficient way to perform this technique?’

Now before you rush in to saying yes or no you need to be aware of a few things. Are the fingers moving in the most efficient way (i.e. are they only moving enough to perform the technique without any excess movement)? Are the correct muscles or body parts performing in the correct manner? Are all other parts of the body that are not required kept in a relaxed state? If you have answered yes then you are on the right track.

Check back soon for the next part of this article.

Practice makes marginally better 2

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Pack well

So now we know where we need to go and we know how to get there. Now we just need to make a list of things that we will need to get to our destination. Is our instrument in tune? Do we have a suitable area to practice? Do we know exactly what the point of this practice session will be? Do we have all the materials that we need?

If we have all of these things then we are ready to start. All of these things are important. If you practice with an out of tune instrument it will be hard to develop your musical ear as you will not get used to hearing what the notes should sound like. The place you choose to practice needs to be free of distractions as this will inhibit you from concentrating well. And if you do not know the point of each practice session, then you will not have any idea of what you are doing and therefore will not progress. If you do not have the correct material then you may not learn the technique correctly.

Practicing is not just repeating something over and over again until we can do it. It is performing something correctly until we are able to do it as well as we want to be able to do it. That is why we must work on each specific step of a technique (or song) to get it right. When we start each practice session we need to know the step we are working on and then concentrate on getting that part right. It is best to start slowly and try to get it perfect at a very slow speed before moving on and trying to speed it up. Only work on one point at a time – that way it will be learned more quickly and in a more thorough manner.

Let’s go!

We have our destination. We have a map. We have directions. And we have all of the things we need to start the journey. This may seem like the hard part is done and in a lot of ways it is. But now it is up to us to put everything into practice. Work through your map making sure each minute step is worked on and perfected before moving on to the next part. For fast, effective learning it is important to concentrate completely when you practice. For most people they can only concentrate for a short time so you should do a lot of short sharp sessions instead of one long one. Anyone who has had to study for an exam will be familiar with the drop in recall after spending too long revising.

If you have tried for years to play an instrument and are not pleased with the results from your practice time try to have a more methodical approach to your practice. This approach is all about planning. Once you have a clear path it will make it easier for you to reach your goals. If you are clear and precise with your planning and thorough with the way you work through each technique, improvement will be faster and you will be able to see results a lot quicker. So let’s turn the phrase “practice makes marginally better” in to “practice makes perfect”.

Practice makes marginally better

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Have you ever heard the phrase practice makes perfect? Well just because you spend the right amount of time practicing does not mean that you are doing the right kind of practice. Most people know that to improve they need to practice. But what a lot of people do not realise is that the way you practice and the things you concentrate on while doing so are just as important. If you are trying to play a song and you just can’t get it right it is likely that you have not developed the technique to perform the song. So instead of going over the song again and again, it is better to focus on perfecting the technique that will make it possible to play the song.

If you were going on a journey to a place that you had never been before, how would you get there? Most people would try to find out about the place they were going. Or get a map. Or even find a person to give you directions. This is exactly how we should view learning an instrument.

Planning the journey

Practicing is often overlooked when budding musicians begin learning their instrument. They think if they practice for a certain amount of time regularly then they will become great musicians. This is only partly true. Yes, if you do regular practice then you will improve. But you may not improve as quickly as you could if you had practiced correctly.

So how do you practice the correct way? The first thing you need on a journey is to choose a destination. So what is your destination? Your destination is your musical goal. What piece of music or level of musicianship do you want to achieve? So pick a goal – pick a target to aim at. We need to understand the things we need to know and the skills we need to reach our destination. So make a list of all of these things. Once you have the list you can start working on gaining these abilities.

Mapping it out

So how will we get to where we are going? We need a map or directions to get to our destination and this is the part where most people fall off. We all have our goals and we all have an idea in our heads of where we want to end up but very few people have a clear idea of how to get there. So let us look at the route to our goals. If we make the route as detailed and clear as possible then it will make it easier for us to find our way. We already have a list of skills that we need to acquire so now we have to make a plan to achieve them. The best way to do this is to find the key points of the techniques to work on and spend time concentrating on them to get them right.

What counts as a key point? These are the steps involved in a technique that make the technique possible. If you do not perform the key points well, then the technique will be harder to perform. Each technique will have key points – these points could be something as simple as how you hold your thumb, or how you move your fingers or even what your inactive fingers do. Now to identify these practice points you may need some directions. You can get these directions from books, online or even from a teacher, but make sure they are very detailed as this will make it easier to plan out your journey. The key is knowing exactly what needs to be done step by step to learn the technique.

Check back soon for the next part of this article.

The Bass Guitar: So Underrated! 2

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Now that we have a very basic understanding of how your note selection contributes to your bass part, let’s look at what the rhythm can do to a bass line when you play. The rhythm of the piece has nothing to do with you – this is decided by the piece itself and what the drummer/percussionist is doing.

As a bass player you need to provide the link between the rhythm, the melody and the harmony. You can still play the notes that will improve the song but you will need to play them when the drums or percussion are hitting. This will tie the rhythm in with the rest of the music.

If you look at a drum kit or percussion set you will notice that each element is a different size and they should be treated as though they are different notes. Using this approach, we could start to put together a bass rhythm that can highlight the low drum sounds by only playing when a lower drum is played and playing a low note to accentuate it. Alternatively, you could do the same thing with a higher sound.

You could also help reinforce a rhythmic pattern by playing the same rhythm beat-for-beat for a section or let the whole thing breathe by only playing every few beats. The thing you must remember is to tie all of the parts of the song together (rhythm, harmony and melody) – if you can manage this you are well on the way to being a good bass player.


Playing the bass guitar is sometimes looked down on but if you do it well, understand what you need to do and have the technical capability to execute it with the best interests of the song in mind, then you are well on the way to becoming a great bass player.

People often try to be flashy and say things like: “I would play a descending G minor scale over two octaves in that section”. And, while that might sound impressive, you should remember that you should only do this if it makes the song better. I have played some guitar-inspired speed licks at times but only if it enhances the melody and helps tie in the rhythm. Make this your motto: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should”.

The Bass Guitar: So Underrated!

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I have so many people ask me if the bass is easy to play because it only has four strings. The only way to answer this is to say yes – it is relatively easy to be able to play a simple bassline to most popular songs. But it’s much more difficult to understand what needs to be done to enhance the harmony of a piece and stay true to the rhythm, or to cover a chord progression or drum part or lay down a groove so powerful that people have no choice but to dance.

The reason that there is a huge gap between the good bass players in the world and the great bass players in the world is because of the lack of understanding that most musicians have about the job description of the bassist. If asked, the vast majority of musicians will say the job of the bass player is to hold down the bottom end or to play the root notes (the notes that the chord is named after, i.e. G major’s root is the G note) of a chord. While that definition is not entirely wrong, it is not completely right either. Yes, it is important to hold down the bottom end and playing the root note of a chord is a good way to do that but the main reason the bass is involved in a piece of music is to help support and harmonise the melody.

Now for some people this may come as a surprise but once you realise this then you will be open to a whole range of possibilities. The final piece of the puzzle is tying the rhythm and harmony together.

Note selection

So how do we approach playing a bassline? To put it simply, we need to choose notes that support and harmonise the melody and we need to play them in a way that mirrors the drum or percussion part. Easier said then done.

Now to find the notes that best support the melody, what are we looking for? The easiest notes to find are the root notes of the chords in the chord progression. We could also play the melody notes, which is useful when you want reiterate a point, but not so good if you do it so much that what ever point you are trying to make is lost because the audience has become bored with everyone playing the same thing.

Another idea is to use the other notes that are in the chords (not the root note), as these notes will harmonise the melody, so in some cases you can use this technique to imply a chord that is not being played or reinforce one that is.

More advanced players can play any note that makes the piece better. To understand this concept you have to understand what the note that you are adding to the equation is doing to that part of the song. If there are other notes being played on other instruments at the same time (which is very likely!), then you will be part of a chord, so you need to know what this note does to the chord. Does it make the chord sound dissonant? If so, then this will create a feeling of tension, which is good if that is what that particular section is trying to build. Or it could be a complete cock up if the section is trying to resolve tension created earlier.

What if the note you are adding makes your part seem like it is moving (becoming gradually lower or higher)? This will build interest in your part as people will be listening for where you are going next. This can be great in a flat spot but not so good when another part is the focal point.

You could use your part to join the chords in a more gradual manner (starting on a note from one chord and working your way to a note in the next chord). That way the changes seem more fluid so that it sounds laid back and smoother to the ear. You could make the melody seem higher or lower with your note choice by playing above (higher than) the melody or below (lower than) the melody. So be aware of what your note selection will do for your part and for the overall sound of the music you are performing, but make sure that what you are doing will enhance the melody and song.

Check back soon for the next part of this article – how to use rhythm in your bassline.