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The ONLY 6 Things A Bass Beginner SHOULD Practice

A New Song Based Model Of Learning Bass

There are ONLY 6 things that a bass beginner needs to practice to go from the point where he or she is struggling through simple lines to the point where he or she can play lines like I SAW HER STANDING THERE and SHAKE A TAILFEATHER fluently.

Below I'm going to list them out and make short notes about each one.


#1  Fretboard Knowledge.

There's a musical alphabet...and that musical alphabet lays out on your fingerboard.  You need to know how that musical alphabet corresponds to the frets on your fingerboard.

The good news is that this can be done in a logical manner that only takes a few minutes a day and will get you familiar with the fingerboard in just a few weeks.

More good news: you can use this simple and logical series of exercises as a warm up (I'm a great believer in exercises doing double and triple duty where possible!).

Even better news...once you've got this down you'll have it forever.  Maybe you'll need to do a 10 minute refresher once per month for 6 months or so.


#2 Fretting Hand Technique

Good fretting hand technique is required to play more fluid lines.  That means things like how the note is fretted, economy of movement, minimal movement and mastering the two different fingering systems required.

There's good news here too: There's another simple set of exercises that will build this.  Plus these exercises can be done really slowly - and counter-intuitively the slower you do these exercises the better your technique will be - and can also be done as a warm up.  When you've got your fretboard knowledge down you can use these exercises as a warm up instead of those exercises.  Or you can use them as a warm down.  Or both...


#3 Plucking Hand Technique

There are several ways your plucking hand can sound the strings on the bass - there's conventional finger style (but 1 finger, 2 finger, 3 finger or 4 finger), there's plectrum, there's slap, there's tap, there's palm mute and thumb, classical guitar style and more.

Beginners however should focus on just one style and build a solid, reliable plucking hand system.

The most versatile plucking hand style at this stage of your development in my opinion is the two finger rest stroke.  This combines speed with cleanness of playing (the 'rest' stroke' helps with overall muting of unwanted notes.

In the fullness of time if you want to add more plucking hand techniques to your toolbox you can.  But there's great value and clarity in building ONE technique to support your playing goals.


#4 Detailed Quarter Note and 8th Note Rhythmic Understanding

The last three elements on my 6 Point list don't seem to be taught much to beginners - and that baffles me.

The role of the bass player in a band is to be the 'glue' that forms a bridge between the drum set and the harmony instruments.  Without going in to overwhelming detail, a bass line needs to mirror elements of both the drum set AND the harmony instruments.

Initially the most important task of those two tasks is understanding rhythm - and being able to execute rhythm on the bass - the way a drummer does.


#5 Time

Rhythm (which we addressed in #4 above) is something that has to be addressed with good time.  Beginner Drummers are given exercises to build their own sense of time - often referred to as their internal clock.  Working on your internal sense of time is something that I've never seen taught to beginner bass players - and it's a fundamental skill that's easily practiced and learned with two exercises that I lifted from a book recommended to me by a drummer.  I doubt 1 in 100 bass players own a copy of this book - these exercises should be required practice for bass players of all levels.

The first 5 practice elements all combine in the 6th practice element:


#6 A Sequential Series Of Basslines To Songs

This element for beginners is the most overlooked.

Here are the reasons learning basslines to songs is so important:

6.1 The chances are that you are taking up the bass to either play along to your favourite songs, to play your favourite songs with your friends in a band, or you want to join a band.  Or any combination of these.  So you should get used to learning songs instantly.

6.2  When songs are presented in a sequential series they become practical applications of the preceding 5 elements and tie them all together.

6.3  Your learning and playing of a song can be used as a reference point both for how far you have progressed AND to see where you are going wrong and get that mistake fixed before you go further down the road.

6.4  The important word in 6.2 above is SEQUENTIAL.  If you've ever watched kids learn to read they learn the sound of the letters, and then execute that with a series of books that start with the "see spot run" kind of text.  Over the course of a year or two as they learn more letters - and as their brain starts to recognize groups of letters as word - they progress upwards to more complex books with complete paragraphs.

It's the same with bass.  If you give a bass beginner a bass line like I SAW HER STANDING THERE it's the equivalent of handing Harry Potter to a 4 year old.

But intelligent 7 or 8 year olds who go through the process of learning to read - which is SEQUENTIAL (there's that word again) - can read the first couple of Harry Potter books without too many problems.

It's the same with bass beginners - if you go through a sequential learning process that features all the above elements and is hung on a spine of learning songs that are sequentially more challenging....then you WILL be able to take on the challenge of bass lines like I SAW HER STANDING THERE.


Two Final Things To Note...

You'll note that there's no reference above to learning scales.  That's deliberate.  The next installment in this series will give you the mathematical case against scales.

Secondly one of the things I've noticed with students who have played for a while is that they've got one or more holes in the foundational elements needed (that are listed above).  And because they've never gone through a sequential learning program - but have picked up bits of this and bits of that here and there - eventually they reach a point that they struggle to get beyond.  That's caused directly by these holes in the foundations of their bass playing.

Addressing this latter point and providing a comprehensive learning system (modelled on successful music learning systems that in some cases are over 200 years old) was just one of the goals I had when I created a course that addressed all of those elements specifically for bass beginners.



Paul Wolfe/www.how-to-play-bass.com