How To Develop Your Technique By Practicing Devices

Combining The 'How To Play' with the "What To Play"

In the first article in this series - where we looked how Paul McCartney learned how to play bass - the concept that how to play bass was composed of two components was introduced. Those components are:

  • The physical 'how to play' component - this is plucking hand technique, fretting hand technique, and co-ordination of both hands.
  • The 'what to play' component - this is using the devices that form the DNA of bass lines in every genres.

Once you've reached a certain technical proficiency on the bass, most of your practice should be geared towards the 'what to play' component.


There is a way of combining practicing of devices - so working on the 'what to play'  mental side of the equation -  with developing your technique. Which is the physical side of the equation.

In this article I'm going to demonstrate a series of exercises that do this. Note that these exercises were excerpted from my book Learning From James Jamerson Volume 1.


To accustom your fingers to the fretting hand demands of learning a  device in the easiest way possible, you can start by playing quarter notes. The device we’re going to take through this process is the 8-6-5-6 with the 8-6-5-8 variation. Here’s the exercise in quarter notes:


The next exercise is to use the device at a quarter note level, but execute it at an 8th note level by replacing each quarter note with two 8th notes. Like this:


We’re now going to start practicing this device on the back end of the bar (beats 3 and 4) at an 8th note level.

To make the separation between front end of the bar and back end of the bar clear, I’m going to play a root note on the downbeat of each bar and then play either 8-6-5-6 or 8-6-5-8 in 8th notes on the back end of the bar:


Note that you could also practice a device on the front end of the bar to make the most of your practice time. Until you are comfortable with the device though, I recommend leaving the exercise as is.

From here it gets rhythmically interesting. You can see (and hear) that the 8-6-5-6 device is conceived and played at an 8th note level. What we can do now is practice different 16th note rhythms on the back end of the bar using rhythmic replacement. Although this creates a 16th note feel, the device is still being conceived at an 8th note level.

Here’s the kind of exercise you can do with 16th Note Rhythm 1:


You Can Continue With The Other Five 16th Note Rhythms

And doing so works on the following musical elements:

  • The playing of the 8-6-5-6 device and the 8-6-5-8 variation
  • The technique  requirements of using different 16th note rhythms
  • Subliminal ear training - the exercise is set against the harmonic background of C7 to F7 to G7.
  • Subliminal ear training 2 - the chords used are dominant 7 chords, so you can hear the sound of the dominant 7 chord.
  • Subliminal ear training 3 - the sound of the two device variations themselves.

Plus if you practiced this kind of exercise in multiple keys and track what tempos you can get to, and work on increasing those tempos over time, the benefits of a single exercise like this compounds.

This series of articles has been about introducing the concept of devices - the DNA of the vocabulary of the bass - to you. Nearly all of my books and the like are connected to this concept, but I've also got a comprehensive course called The 80-20 Device Method that deals comprehensively with the first 10 foundational devices  and how to learn them.

Details about this "Level 1" introduction can be found by clicking the blue CONTINUE button below.

Paul Wolfe/




Previous Article In This Series

1. How Paul McCartney Learned To Play Bass:

2. Vocabulary Examples From The Language of Bass:

3. How I Created A Blues Rock Bass Line At Random Using Bass Line Vocabulary...And A 2 Chord Matrix