In the 1994 movie ‘Forrest Gump’ there’s a scene where Forrest is running and steps in dog crap. Someone asks him if he knows that he’s stepped in dog crap and Forrest replies: ‘It happens.’ The guy says: ‘What, shit’ and the movie makers cleverly cross cut to a truck with a bumper sticker that says ‘Shit Happens’ that’s just about to get blindsided at an intersection by another vehicle.
If you’re anything like me then you’ve got a library of bass guitar material at home – books, DVDs, old VHS tapes, bass magazines. And there’s bass guitar information available in digital format too – YouTube lessons, bass podcasts, PDFs, eBooks, not to mention the tens of thousands of bass tabs that are available on the Internet.
And if you’re anything like me you’ve barely scratched the surface of this information. Some of my DVDs are still in their cellophane shrink wrapping, some of the books I’ve maybe glanced at once or twice and that’s it.
But it wasn’t always like this.
How It Used To Be
What do you do every night before you go to bed? And every day when you wake up. Some of us even do it in the middle of the day too. And I even do it on nights when I’ve had a Guiness or two with my friends, or been out on a gig and got in at 4 in the morning and I’m so tired that my vision starts to blur.
We clean our teeth.
Why do we clean our teeth so regularly?
We clean our teeth twice a day, or three times a day, because it’s a habit. It’s something our parents forced us to do when we were young. Before we went to bed: ‘Go and clean your teeth.’ In the morning when we woke up: ‘Go and clean your teeth.’
And we’ve done it so regularly that it’s become a habit.
Cleaning teeth? Playing da bass? What’s the connection?
Imagine you get a chance to see your favourite tennis player train.
And one player is on the court. But your favourite refuses to go on court.
His reason?: I had to file a VAT return for my accountant and I don’t feel like training.’
You’d feel cheated right? Because these are professional athletes. Training is part of what they get paid vast amounts of money for. It’s part of their job. In reality they’d only get out of training if they were injured. Or ill
What’s this got to do with learning to play the bass?
Mozart was a musical genius right? Most of us know this to be true. He started composing symphonies at the age of 5. Take a second and think about that. Not simple melodies with accompaniment. But full blown orchestral symphonies.
And bassist Victor Wooten is a similar story. His eldest brother started teaching him the bass when he was 3 so that he could hold down that role in the family band. By the time he was 5 he was playing professionally in nightclubs with the family band..
The common feeling is that these guys were blessed with talent when they were born. And it was sure to come out.
Most people like to believe in the ‘born talented’ concept because it gives them an excuse to fail
You can hear an echo of this feeling when bass players talk about other bass players: Wow, that Victor Wooten is so talented. I wish I was as talented as him. Or: I love Geddy Lee’s playing, that guy rocks. I wish I could play like him.
And what they leave unsaid is this unspoken belief: [Read more…]
I wrote in a previous article that when we’re practicing it’s important to focus on the practice and not get distracted by ‘noodling’ on our basses. And in that article I concluded that only focused, disciplined practice would make us better players.
Remember the adage: “Perfect practice makes perfect?” Not perfect noodling. Perfect practice.
Well, I didn’t tell you the whole story
I wanted to focus attention on the fact that practice can be hard. And needs to be deliberate.
You need to know what you’re going to practice before you even unsnap the catches on your bass case.
And then you need to go through the exercises that you’ve decided to practice, time them and tick them off.
And noodling gets in the way of that, right? It’s a distraction, and doesn’t have any beneficial effect on your instrumental skills
That’s all true, there’s no arguments from me. Noodling on your instrument will not make you a better player. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not ever. Period.
Every day that I practice on the instrument we all love, I noodle. And not only that, noodling is a pre ordained part of my practice schedule.
If noodling has no benefit, then why do you do it?
It’s true there’s no benefit to a spot of noodling. But you can deliberately use in as part of your regular practice routine, and not only that but you can use it to make your practice routine work more efficiently.
Now you’re confused right? First I said: ‘Don’t noodle, it’s not productive.’ Now I’m saying: ‘But actually, you can use noodles efficiently.’ So which is it?
First you have to understand what noodling really is. It’s when your brain has got no direction. You’re sat with your instrument, and you know you should be practicing but your brain doesn’t know what to practice, and so it instructs your fingers to play something.
In short, it instructs your fingers to noodle.
So that your hands are doing something whilst your brain is thinking about what comes next.
So here’s my real definition of noodling: it’s something your fingers do whilst awaiting more concrete instructions from your brain.
And knowing what noodling is, now we can slot it into our practice schedule
Practicing can be mentally tiring. Intense, focused concentration on a timed series of exercises can be hard work on the brain.
And that’s where noodling comes in.
So the first part of my practice routine goes something like this:
Exercise 1: Sing and play ascending minor 7ths from random root notes – 10 minutes.
Exercise 2: Sing and play ascending major 7ths from random root notes – 10 minutes
Exercise 3: Sing and play descending minor 7ths from random root notes – 10 minutes
And it goes like that for another 60 minutes. There’s a lot of concentration and focus involved. And at the end of an exercise I cross it through so I know it’s done, reset my digital timer and then – right before I start the next exercise – I’ll noodle.
For 10 seconds.
And then I’m ready to carry on. So I set the timer going, and carry on with the next exercise.
So noodling is a way for my brain to relax for a short period of time in preparation for another period of intense concentration.
And that’s how noodling can make your practice more efficient – it breaks up dense periods of focused activity and gives the brain a chance to draw breath and then buckle down to the next exercise.
Since I started deliberately doing this I’ve found sitting down to practice far less daunting.
So whilst I wholeheartedly recommend that when you’re practicing you focus 100 per cent on practicing, there’s a short space between exercises where I now make it mandatory to throw in a noodle or too!
You’ve heard the phrase: ‘Practice makes perfect’ a million times.
And it’s variation: ‘Perfect Practice Makes Perfect.’
I bet you’ve never heard this variation: ‘Noodling makes perfect.”
What is noodling?
Noodling is when your fingers fire off a phrase on your bass. There’s no conscious thought behind it.
You just play something. Often a figure or a phrase that your fingers are comfortable playing.
Or a slap lick. Or something.
Why is noodling bad?
There’s a really good reason why people who want to lose weight achieve their goal if they go to a group meeting, like WeightWatchers. And their success is not to do with this being a shared experience – most people are strangers at the start of the Weight Watchers experience.
But what the WeightWatchers Group Meeting has in spades is a factor of accountability. And when you want to get something done if you feel that you’re accountable to an individual, or a group of people, it can really help motivate you on those days when you just don’t want to do anything.
And this works for Weight Watchers. It can also be applied to learning the bass guitar. Before we look at how we can apply it to the bass, let’s examine exactly what this factor of accountability is, and how it works.
What Is This Factor Of Accountability?
Back in the day when I decided that I wanted to become really good at the bass guitar I went about it like this: I found the bass teacher in London with the best reputation and made the time to allow from 4 to 6 hours a day practicing, 6 days a week.
But I made crucial mistakes. Firstly, although the teacher had an excellent reputation (great player, professional teacher, graduate of Berklee, Pino was one of his pupils, yada yada yada), he was the Arch Guru of scales. And arpeggios.
My second mistake was that I was young enough and naïve enough to put implicit trust in his method without checking it out. And though I’d put aside 20 plus hours a week to practice, I effectively wasted it because I was practicing a gazillion scales and arpeggios.
Now scales are important theoretical blocks in our understanding of music, but here’s something that I only, truly learned years later when I examined what I’d learned studying with London’s No 1 bass teacher : the rote practicing of scales will lead only to better facility at playing scales.
It won’t make you a better musician. Or a better bass player. It will just make you good at playing scales. If you don’t believe me [Read more…]
OK you’re at a gig, the rhythm section is kicking, the guitarist and vocalist are wailing, the mosh pit if full, sweat is dripping from the ceiling. Suddenly there’s this ear splitting wail that derails the music.
What do you do?
For this article I don’t really care. There’s two types of feedback. One we can cut out. The other is a vital ingredient in our continued search to get better.
It doesn’t matter what ability level you’re at on the bass, constant and regular feedback is something that helps keep us getting better and without which we’ll quickly find that we stop improving because feedback is required to keep us practicing in the Learning Zone and stop us playing it safe in the Comfort Zone.