There are previous articles in this series you should ideally read if you haven’t already:
First there’s the Catch 22 Of Learning Songs:
Second I talked about the first method you can use of making practice time spent on going over songs you already know work to help you improve as a bass player:
Another Way To Improve Your Bass Playing Using Songs You Already Know
Today’s post has its genesis in a conversation I had with a drummer I used to play with a lot – so kudos and hat tip to Roger Batting. And Roger was (and is) a drum teacher too with a roster of students and he thinks carefully about what he teaches them (unlike a lot of musicians who teach as a side gig).
Talking about teaching and time, Roger introduced me to a drum book called It’s About Time by Fred Dinkins. The sub-title of the book is: Designed to help drummers understand, control and improve their sense of time.
Well one of my beliefs is that bass players are the glue that knits the rhythm of the band (i.e. the drumset) to the harmony (i.e. the keyboards and the guitars). And not only do we need to understand harmony as well as the harmony instruments – and know what notes we can put in our bass lines and where and why – but our understanding of time should be as good as a drummers.
There are several exercises in Dinkins’ book where drummers have to play a groove and beats are missing – the goal of the exercise is for the student to continue playing OVER the space and to be in time when the click comes back in.
Shortly after Roger introduced me to some of these ideas – and I got myself a copy of the book pretty quickly and I recommend that you get yourself a copy too! – I had a student who was struggling with his time. And working with him it quickly became apparent that his “internal clock” wasn’t very strong and it didn’t take him long to lose track of time. (And between you and me I don’t think he was helped by the fact that his drummer didn’t have a great sense of time either).
So I took some of Dinkins’ ideas and converted them into a series of exercises for him to play with to improve his sense of time.
Here’s the overview of what we did (I’ll show some video examples later in the lesson):
- Took a simple 8 bar bass part that he already knew reasonably well (it’s important that you know something well for this exercise so you can just focus on the time part of the equation). If memory serves I believe it was 8 bars from the verse of Brown Eyed Girl.
- Created a backing track with rhythmic and chordal material (so drums and keyboards and guitars) to play along with. I used Band In A Box for this. Takes seconds to set up.
- Then created a series of backing tracks to be used sequentially. The first backing track has NOTHING on the 4th beat of Bar 8. No drums. No harmony. Just one beat of space. The goal is to play through the 8 bar loop and play OVER this space and hit the downbeat when the loop repeats in time with the track. I call this a “Drop 1′ track.
- The second backing track has nothing on the 3rd and 4th beats of Bar 8. So TWO beats of space now. The goal is the same, but there are now the two beats to play over. This is a ‘Drop 2’ track.
- Every time the student got comfortable with a track and could confidently play over the space and hit the downbeat on the 1 (“The Big 1” as Dinkins calls it) then I’d provide another track with another beat missing. Over a period of weeks this student was able to stretch out to Drop 12 (so 12 entire beats – or three bars – missing) and pretty accurately nail the downbeat every time. Needless to say his timing improved massively.
One thing to note that originally I never considered – but my student said was something he did to help with these exercises: they don’t have to be done with your bass in hand. You can use an MP3 player (or your smartphone or any device that plays MP3s) and listen on headphones and count the exercises by tapping your hand.
A Practical Example
Here’s an example for you that I lifted from one of my courses. The 8 bar groove in question is from the piano solo of Great Balls Of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis. And I’ve filmed a series of ‘Drop’ examples along with a backing track so you can hear for yourself EXACTLY what is happening. Now Great Balls Of Fire is normaly played around 160 BPM, but these examples are at 140 BPM. This is one of the few bass exercises that gets harder the slower you do it!
1. 140 BPM Great Balls Drop 1
2. 140 BPM Great Balls Drop 2
3. 140 BPM Great Balls Drop 3
4. 140 BPM Great Balls Drop 4
5. 140 BPM Great Balls Drop 5
6. 140 BPM Great Balls Drop 6
TAKE THIS IDEA FOR A SPIN….
I don’t want you to just read this article, watch one or two of the videos and think: yeah, that’s a neat idea and then never use it. I want you to give it a go. So I’ve generated some backing tracks for you that you can download and play along with. Here’s what I’m playing on the videos by the way – but it’s an 8 bar basic I-IV-V chord progression so if you want to play something else that’s totally cool to0:
The zip file below has got drop tracks for the Great Balls 8 bar chord progression,. The 8 bar progression is repeated on each track 6 times so you’ve got several opportunities to practice playing over the space and hitting ‘the big 1.” Tempos of the track are either 140 BPM or 120 BPM.
To download the zipped file, click on this link:
How to Use ‘Drop Tracks’ With Your Band’s Set List
When I was actively gigging I had the chord progressions for the majority of the songs I was playing programmed into Band In a Box and it was pretty easy to amend those tracks to incorporate some ‘drops’ into them. So whenever I had songs that I needed to go over I would either practice them using the ‘drop method’ outlined in this article or I would use the harmonic metronome method.
Doing that ensured that although I was using valuable practice time to effectively practice material I already knew, I was also getting some learning benefit from this practice and doing what I could to ensure that I was taking ‘comfort zone’ material and putting it into the ‘learning zone.’
In the next article in this series I’ll talk about how you can go over material you already know….WITHOUT YOUR BASS!
A Word On Tools
I used the program Band In A Box to generate my drop tracks. There are other tools out there that you can use to program similar tracks. My recommendation is that you find tools that can do the job and suit your practice set up and work out a way to add drop tracks to your practice toolbox. Of course don’t just practice with drop tracks for the sake of it – to be efficient all practice should be aligned to your bass playing goals.