If you don’t know who John Wooden was, he was an acclaimed college level basketball coach. To give you an insight into how good he was, when he was UCLA they won 10 national championships in a 12 year period, including 7 in a row. The previous ‘best’ for number of championships in a row is 2!
So what does Wooden’s quote “Don’t Mistake Activity With Achievement’ mean specifically when applied to the bass guitar?
Here’s my interpretation.
When most bass players sit down to practice – and I was guilty of what I’m about to describe for years and years until I learned better – they have a rough idea of how long they have to practice, and a rough idea of what kind of exercises they are going to practice.
And they get started practicing. An hour later – or however long they had set aside for practice – they put their bass on its stand and their practice is done.
“What’s wrong with that?” you might say (especially if that describes a typical practice session that you put in).
The first problem is that the practice goals – what the bass player is aiming to achieve – using this ‘method’ is imprecise at best, and totally unfocused and random at worst.
The second problem is that there is no system in place for tracking EXACTLY what material you’ve practiced. From memory, when I practiced like this I would often lose focus, wander off on tangents, play some licks and riffs totally unrelated to what I was supposed to be practicing, and so on.
And after an hour there might have been lots of activity – but nowhere near the same level of achievement (with achievement being defined as practicing specific exercises to increase specific skills).
Here’s a simple two step system to make your practice more effective by focusing on achievement and not activity. (Note that because something is simple does not mean it’s not hard!)
#1 Have A Clearly Defined Set Of Practice Goals
Spending some time making notes about where you want to be as a bass player and how you are going to get there is one of the most important things you can do to make your practice time effective. If time is a resource that’s scarce in your life you want to make not just every hour count, but every minute! The only way to do that is to know where you’re going, and have a plan for how you’re going to get there.
#2 Never Sit Down To Practice Without…
Item 1. A “practice timetable” which summarises the following items:
- exactly what you are going to practice
- exactly how long you are going to practice each item
- lists what skills you are trying to build…
…and has a checkbox that you can tick when that exercise has been completed.
Item 2. A digital timer. Preferably One That Counts Down To Zero.
At the start of each exercise you can see how long you have programmed to do the exercise, set your timer accordingly, hit start on the timer and then start your exercise. When the timer beeps, then you can bring that exercise to a close and tick it off as done.
(Paul’s Note: I use a kitchen timer that emits a really nasty beep…it’s perfect for the job and cost less than a fiver.)
Item 3. A pen.
The pen is used to tick the checkbox when you complete each exercise
Item 4 (Optional) Some Way Of Tracking Your Progress
Stacking completed practice days on top of completed practice days is a great way of creating momentum. Some way of visually tracking this can really aid you. It can range from a wall chart upon which you create a line showing completed practice days to a binder where you file your completed practice
And that’s it.
If you monitor and track your practice sessions in this method – or a similar method – you’ll find that your practice efficiency increases by a massive percentage and that you improve at a similarly faster rate. And that’s because you have clarity on the difference between achievement and activity.