Imagine this: you – or someone in your family – has a young child. And the child is in fact a toddler, and is in that stage of development when they’re learning to walk. And they can totter around and take a few unaided steps.
Would you expect them to be able to walk to the nearest post box to post a letter? Or the nearest shop to buy some groceries?
Of course you wouldn’t. And yet this is what most bass beginners do to themselves when they learn something new on the bass – whether it be a song, or an exercise, or a technique – once they think they’ve grasped it they try to play it too fast.
And when they play too fast, their right hand fingers tripp over the rhythms, their left hand notes don’t get fretted properly and buzz, and something that they think they know sounds messy.
And some teachers would use a cliche and say it sounds messy is because they’re trying to run before they can walk. And yes there’s some truth in using that cliche, but to fully understand why this is the case the bass beginner needs to know how the brain learns, and how this relates to learning something new.
How The Brain Learns – Doing The Neuron Dance
The different parts of the brain talk to each other by electronic pulses that travel by neural pathways. But when we learn something new there is no set pathway for those electronic pulses to travel. So the first thing the brain has to do is work out how this new task is accomplished and chart a neural pathway for that task.
Over time as we perform this task the neural pathway gets more solid, and the task becomes easier. Until the day dawns where a task that used to be difficult is easier. And continued practice makes it easier and easier.
How This Relates To Learning Something New On The Bass
Let’s assume we’re learning a technical exercise. The brain has to interpret music notation, convert that information into a succession of different notes played in a defined order (the rhythm), and then transmit that information to the fingers of the left and right hands to implement.
So it’s no wonder that learning something new can take a while to get our heads around. And the neuron dance is something that we all have to do in order to learn something new – irrespective of whether we’re a beginner, an intermediate player, or a more advanced player.
But there’s a crucial mistake that bass beginners often make.
What Is The Crucial Mistake That Bass Beginners Make?
The crucial mistake that bass beginners make is that they don’t allow enough repetitions when they’re learning something for the neural pathway to become truly established. And because the neural pathway is not properly established they don’t actually know the exercise that they’re suddenly trying to play. So when they try and play it faster they start making mistakes and it starts sounding messy.
So What’s The Best Way Of Avoiding This Mistake
There are two steps that I’d recommend to avoid this sadly all too common problem. Firstly sit down with the exercise or piece of music that you want to learn and play through it without thinking about tempo or rhythm. Just concentrate on the notes themselves – where on the bass are you going to play them? Then slowly play through them so that your brain can start charting a neural pathway for this piece of music.
Once you’ve found the optimum way for you to play this piece of music – and remember everyone has different sized hands, different sized basses and different fingering systems so another guy’s way should not automatically be YOUR way – then start playing it in rhythm.
But That’s What I Do! Only When I Play It Up To Speed I Start To Get The Kind Of Errors You Talked About
This is a common response when I point these mistakes out to Students. And here’s what these Students miss: that if you play the piece repeatedly at a tempo where you can play it perfectly, and only then start increasing the tempo, that the neural pathway you establish will be really solid.
Most students play through a piece slowly a couple of times and then try it at performance tempo – and inevitably mistakes happen because the neural pathway is not solidly established.
How To Make The Neuron Dance Work For You
When you’re learning a new piece of music first play through the piece without any rhythm as discussed above. Then add rhythm to the pitches and find a really slow tempo that you can play the piece of music perfectly at. Then play the piece of music a bunch of times as perfectly as you can. Then, and only then, you can start increasing the tempo towards performance tempo.
If you up the tempo by a notch a day then by the time you reach performance tempo the neural pathway in the brain should be really solid and you should find that you are able to play the piece perfectly at the required tempo.
I Tried This Method – But I Still Make Errors At Performance Tempo
This happens because you’ve not audited yourself properly as you’ve been working through the piece. Before you can move your metronome up a notch you must be able to play the piece perfectly. If at any stage you find you’ve moved the tempo up and you’ve started making mistakes then go back a tempo notch and play it for a few times at that tempo and then try playing the piece a notch faster.
A Caveat – When The Neuron Dance Can Work Against You
Caveat is latin for ‘warning’ and there’s something you need to know if this method of learning music is going to truly work for you : when you learn a piece of music slowly you have to learn it perfectly. Because if you learn the piece imperfectly, and then repeat playing through the piece imperfectly a bunch of times, then that is what your brain will remember. And you’ll always play it with those imperfections.
So you have to ensure that you’re playing the piece as perfectly as possible from the get go. Video yourself playing it, or play the piece for a teacher or a mentor to make sure you’ve got it as spot on as you can. If you’re confident you’re playing it correctly then start the process of repeating it and building your neural pathway.
The Neuron Dance Is How The Brain Learns
The Neuron Dance is how the brain learns everything new. Whether it’s music. Or a foreign language. Or playing golf. Or learning to swim. Or driving a car Or Article Writing. Think of any activity you’ve ever learned – and you’ll see that one of the key factors in that learning was repetition.
Repetition is how we build the neural pathway. If you’re learning something and want to get better at it then repetition needs to be part of your learning process. And not just repetitions, but perfect repetitions. The more perfect repetitions you put in, the more you’re making the Neuron Dance work for you. And the better you’ll get.