If you’ve not read the first article in this mini series – which is called WHY I PULLED MY FIRST BOOK…BASS HANON…then you should check that out here:
In that post I said that the Hanon exercises were primarily designed to give an equal work out to all five of the pianist’s fingers (on both hands) and weren’t particularly musical. Here’s the first part of Hanon 1 in C so we can examine that:
Note: the real piano versions of the Hanons are played over two octaves…when I adapted them for bass I truncated them down so they would better fit the fretboard.
There are no chords given with the Hanon exercises because they were purely intended as exercises to drill all 5 fingers. The obvious harmony to apply would be to add the chords of the major scale modes to each bar. I’ve also analysed the exercises in relationship to the overriding harmony in each bar:
Looked at like this there’s two ‘devices’ used in each bar: the R-3-4-5 device and a device that equates to 6-5-4-3.
Now I mentioned that these exercises aren’t particularly musical – and remember they are designed as digital exercises to work all 5 fingers of the pianist’s hands equally! – but that lack of musicality especially relates to the language of the bass.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that over the last 12 years I’ve been transcribing, analyzing and codifying basslines. (I wish I had an accurate number for how many I’ve analyzed and checked out….but it’s around 1500 songs).
So I can tell you authoritively that while the R-3-4-5 is a reasonably common musical device, I’ve never – not once! – seen it used to set up the ‘6’ on the back end of the bar (that’s beat 3). Additionally I’ve never seen a device of 6-5-4-3 used in a bass line. So from a bass line perspective, if you practiced this exercise 50% of it is material that you would never play in a bass line. So 50% of your practice is essentially worthless.
If you have a copy of the Hanon Piano Exercises then go through the first bar of each and extract the ‘devices’ being used and it’s a similar story. Hanon 2 is basically R-3-6-5 then 4-5-4-3; Hanon 3 is basically R-3-6-5 then 4-3-4-5, Hanon 4 is basically R-2-R-3 followed by 6-5-4-3. Often the ideas used in the Hanons don’t connect well to the first note of the next bar either…which is another important function of a bass line.
So I abandoned the Hanons and pulled them as noted in the previous episode of this sequence.
And I started looking for musical exercises that were related to bass lines but could be used (if needed!) for fretboard familiarity and technique practice as well. The key points that each of these exercises had to meet were the following:
- Contained material (devices) that you could take and use in real world bass lines.
- Could be played with real world rhythms (and with multiple different rhythmic options).
- Were played within chordal frameworks that correspond to the kind of chordal progressions found in songs in rock and pop.
- Could be adapted to work on technique development.
- Could be adapted to work on fretboard familiarity.
If you have a library of these exercises plus a library of chord progressions that you can use as harmonic frameworks…you can align your practice goals with practice exercises where just about every bar contributes to your development as a bass player in terms of technique, fretboard knowledge, bass line knowledge, subliminal ear training and so on.
To give you an idea of the kind of exercise I’m talking about, I filmed the following exercise (at tempos of 200 BPM and 180 BPM):
Here’s how this exercise meets the criteria discussed above:
- The exercise is based on using either Roots and 5ths or Octave and 5th in a two beat style. This is an authentic real world rhythm and bass line idea used often in country and jazz. Might seem simple, but roots and fifths are the most important notes to know in any chord!
- This exercise is constrained to a single string – the E string – so that as well as practicing this basic device you also build your fretboard familiarity as every note of the exercise (except the open E string in Bar 9) requires a movement of the fretting hand.
- The device used – Roots and fifths – connects each chord pair nicely. The 5th of the first chord in the chord pair connects to the root of the second chord of the chord pair as it’s an upper scalar approach. E.g. G connects to F from Bar 1 to Bar 2. Or C connects to Bb from Bar 2 to Bar 3 and so on.This connection is found throughout rock and pop music for this chord movement.
- Talking about the chord movement…although there are no songs that I know of that go through the complete cycle, the chord movement found in each two chord pair (e.g. C to F, or F to Bb, or Bb to Eb) is an ascending perfect fourth/descending perfect fifth and it’s the most common two chord pair in rock and pop. So this exercise prepares you to play on this chord movement in all 12 keys!
Although this is a reasonably simple sounding exercise….see how well YOU know your fretboard and see if you can play through it at 200 BPM!
Quick Ways You Could Extend This Simple Exercise
The goal of all exercises is to make you a better bass player…here are some ways I though of that you can use to extend this basic exercise so that you can get as much practice juice out of it as possible:
- Take the same concept – roots and fifths or octaves and fifths on a single string – and play it on each of the other strings.
- To make sure you’re not learning by rote…change the starting note up each time. So start one exercise where the first chord is C. Then transpose the starting sequence chromatically upwards. So the next exercise starts with Db. Then D. And so on.That will ensure you REALLY know your roots and fifths all over the fretboard!
- Use the exercise to practice sliding from the root to the 5th.
- Adapt the exercise by playing the chromatic connecting note between the 5th of one chord and the root of the next chord. (So G to Gb to F, then C to B to Bb…and so on).
- Adapt the exercise to cross multiple strings but constrain yourself to a specific part of the fretboard…e.g. the 5th to 9th frets.
In the next lesson in this series I’ll talk about how the bonus book I gave away with my original Bass Hanon Book. That bonus book was Bass Hanon Variations….and there are some important lessons contained in there that can be combined with these exercises to further expand them and specifically to pick variations that help YOU with the areas you need to work on! More importantly is how this ties in with a simple concept called PRACTICE HOW YOU’RE GOING TO PLAY.