In the previous post I talked about how learning songs can be a great way of pushing your ability level forward if done correctly but the Catch 22 was that if you play in a gigging band then sometimes you have to invest practice time going over songs you already know. And if you already know the song, then there’s not much learning benefit to this practice activity which unfortunately you do have to do to make sure you don’t let your band mates and the audience down at gigs.
If you’ve not read the previous post, then please read that before continuing:
In that post I also mentioned that I faced this problem back in the day when I managed and played in 5 or 6 different bands plus I had two kids under 5 at the time – so my practice time was at a premium. And I either had to work out strategies to make going over songs do something for my bass playing….or just strike those days from my practice schedule. And I didn’t want to do that.
So in the next four posts I’m going to share four different practice strategies that I came up with to make going over material that I already knew contribute to my learning and growth as a bass player. Let’s crack on with strategy 1.
Practice Strategy 1 – Play Along With The Original But Make It Faster
This is the simplest of the three strategies and I’ll post a short video demonstration in a moment.
Basically what you do is this:
- Create a playlist of the songs you have to go over – either on a CD (for Tascam Bass Trainer – now sadly no longer available) or in MP3 format (for the MP3 version of the bass trainer) OR, and this is my preference, in the kind of software that’s normally used for transcription (e.g. Anytune for Mac and IOS devices, or Transcribe or Amazing Slow Downder for PC)
- Depending on the original tempo of the song you simply increase the playback tempo. Usually the tempo is displayed in percentage terms – so you can increase anything from 5 to 15% (or more if you feel capable).
There are two ‘learning’ benefits to doing this:
- If you get the tempo increase for each song just about right, it pushes your ability level by making you play faster.
- Because you have increased the tempo the play time for each song that you have to go over is decreased so it may free up a short segment of time that you could spend practicing something that’s in your ‘learning zone.’
There’s also one other benefit you’ll gain from doing this: when you go back to playing the song at the normal tempo with the band you’ll find that suddenly you have a lot more ‘time’ to think and play in the song because the tempo will feel well below what you are capable of.
Sidebar: Interview With Lee Sklar
Back in the early days of Bass Player Magazine they ran an interview with Lee Sklar who is known as a player who finds lots of space in even busy sings to put in tasteful fills and the like.
When asked how his approach came about, here’s the approach Lee took.
- when he was starting out he learned songs
- there were no bass books or tabs or anything like that when he started out – and the only sources of learning songs where either vinyl or the radio.
- when learning from vinyl what Lee used to do was switch the speed of the LP from 33 RPM to 45 RPM so that the bass became a bit clearer to hear. (Also this obviously speeded up the tempo of the song)
- if memory serves he’d also retune his bass so he was learning the song in the right place at the neck
- the interesting bit came when he’d learned the song and then decreased the speed of the LP from 45 RPM back to 33 RPM. Because there was a big tempo drop when going back to 33 RPM he found that there was suddenly lots of space and he started using some of that space with fills and connecting notes and the like.
So I’m sure this was at the back of my mind when I started doing this.
Increasing The Tempo With Anytune
I used to do this with a Tascam Bass Trainer – but these days I use the software Anytune to do this. Here’s a screenshot of Anytune with Sweet Home Chicago by The Blues Brothers loaded into it:
Hopefully you can see the red square that I’ve put on the screenshot – inside the box there’s a number that says 1.00. This is the tempo box and you can see that there’s a ‘minus’ button to the left and a ‘plus’ button to the right of this display. By hitting the plus button I can change the tempo so that it reads 1.10. That’s a 10 per cent increase in tempo:
Here’s a video of me playing through the first chorus of Sweet Home Chicago at a tempo of 110% so you can get a feel for the change in tempo:
Here’s What I Recommend That You Do
Take a song that you know well and try this out. Play the song at least once completely through at 110% (or more if you can – the goal is to be at the upper end of your technique for both fretting hand and plucking hand).
When you’ve done this then put the tempo back to 100% and play it through at this tempo – you should really notice the difference.
If you use this method when going over songs you already know then you’ll be making more productive use of the time you have to invest preparing for gigs and rehearsals.