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.
Getting Feedback From A Teacher or Mentor
There are several ways of getting feedback.
The easiest way of getting feedback is by having regular sessions with a teacher or mentor. Note that I said sessions and not lessons. If you’re a beginner there will be a period of your bass playing life during which you will take lessons.
But as you move on and become an intermediate level player or higher, you’ll find that lessons change and become less about specific playing techniques and becomes more about different appraoches that you could take to solve musical problems.
And as you move on from being an intermediate player you’ll need a mentor and not a teacher. A guy (or girl) who you can tell your problems and frustrations to, and who can quickly distill what the actual problem is (the two are not always the same) and point you in the right direction
But not everyone has a teacher – indeed there’s a certain demographic (the under 25s) that seems to go out of their way to avoid having a teacher in their quest to reinvent the wheel. If these guys are serious about wanting to improve they need feedback too.
How To Get Feedback When You Don’t Have A Teacher
If you don’t have a teacher the easiest way I know of to get feedback is to video yourself playing, post it on YouTube, post in one of the bass forums (TalkBass.com is my BF of choice) that you’ve posted it and ask for constructive critiscism.
Now this will certainly generate feedback – either on your post in your chosen forum, or in the comments section of your YouTube video. But the feedback you generate will be varied in quality. You might get some excellent insights from an experienced player sharing their time and knowledge (there’s a healthy amount of these guys at TalkBass.com). But you might get some feedback from someone who’s at a similar level to you – and they’re not qualified to give you the kind of feedback you need. And worst case scenario is that you might attract some of the flaming that exists on the ‘Toob.
If you’ve still got that video footage lying around…
You can also learn to be your own critic. Taking video footage of your playing is a great way of performing self analysis. If you sit down and watch yourself playing you should be able to analyse the technical issues that you’re working on.
True Story: when I first started my bass web site I posted a number of videos to YouTube as a way of getting the ball rolling and letting people know what I was about (which worked a treat). The only problem was that when I edited some of those early videos I was horrified by some glitches I found in my technique that I hadn’t noticed. And I had to spend the next 6 – 9 months taking my technique back to First Principals and building it up again.
Why Feedback Needs to Be Honest
It’s best not to get feedback from friends. Chances are they’ll be polite and not tell you if your timing sucks, or your tuning is wayyyyy out, or that your groove wouldn’t hold a paper bag down.
Imagine if your car judders and shakes when you’re driving between 20 and 40 miles per hour and you take it to the mechanic, and he gives it you back the next day and says: ‘Man, there’s nothing wrong with it. That’s just the way she runs.’
That’s the kind of feedback you get from friends. That kind of feedback is just ego stroking. And actually has the opposite effect from what we’re trying to achieve – which will help us focus on not only things that we are executing well, but things that we are executing poorly.
The corollary of: ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it! is ‘if you don’t know it’s broke it won’t get fixed in a month of Sundays.’
Honest Feedback Hurts
And that brings us to the real reason people don’t actively seek feedback as much as they should.
Because the Ego part of your brain has a defense mechanism. And if it hears negative comments about something you’ve done, almost invariably it reacts with indignation.
“But I practiced that exercise for 10 hours this week, there’s no way it’s wrong.”
“Are you sure I played it wrong? It sounded great to me.”
And I’ve heard worse:
“Man, I got it wrong because you taught it to me wrong. I quit.” (That’s the polite version)
So how can you deal with feedback?
Firstly by being an adult. And recognizing that if a teacher or mentor says that you’re playing something consistently wrong, or that your left hand fingering system is letting you down, or your time is out and needs work on, that they are not attacking YOU the individual. They are actually performing part of the job you’re paying them for.
Which is to teach you.
And one of the ways you learn is by making mistakes, having those mistakes pointed out to you, and then fixing them. And that’s all they’re trying to do.
So the most important thing to do is to side step the ego’s automatic defensive flinch and find out how to go about fixing the problem. If you need to appease the ego, then do it later. Make a tree in your garden – or a local park – your ‘Angry Tree’ and use it to let off steam (email me if you want to know more about the Angry Tree system – it’s a great way of managing negative emotions!).
If you genuinely feel the feedback you’re getting is wrong I’d recommend that you go away and have a long think before questioning it. (And maybe post on a bass forum under an alias and see what others think).
If you’ve picked a good teacher and/or mentor they will explain not only what’s wrong, but why it’s wrong, and what you need to do to rectify the issue.
And implementing their suggestions will make you a better player more quickly than ignoring it. And that’s absolutely a cast iron guarantee.
Oh and by the way, if you’re at a gig and there’s feedback of the other kind (you know, the wailing, high frequency, ear splitting kind) then do what I do. Look at the guitarist and scowl. It’s always their fault 🙂