If you’ve not read the first two articles in this series, then check them out first.
Click the link to check out the first of those posts, entitled WHY I PULLED MY FIRST EVER BOOK.
And the second of those posts is called BEYOND BASS HANON. Click that link to check that one out.
As I’ve mentioned, one of the reasons I pulled the Bass Hanon book from publication (and have never sold it since) is that practice done with Bass Hanons doesn’t have ‘real world’ value in the sense that it won’t really help you with bass lines in real world situations. Remember that the exercises were designed to train pianists to have equal facility with all fingers of the hands. While some fragments of the hanons mimic ideas and devices used in bass lines, that’s by chance rather than design.
The concept of filling your practice time as much as possible with activities that help you in the real world was crystallized for me when (for one season only!) I took my Coaching qualification from Basketball England and was assistant coach for my eldest son’s Under 18s Basketball team. The head coach – a great guy called Tim Deacon – always told the guys in the team that they should strive to PRACTICE HOW THEY’RE GOING TO PLAY. That means meaningful drills performed at game speed.
PRACTICE HOW YOU’RE GOING TO PLAY.
It’s a great lens to use to study YOUR practice schedule. Look at every item you’re going to practice the night before you’re going to practice it, and ask: will this help me when I go to the rehearsal on Saturday? Or the jam night? Or the audition?
Here’s five common practice activites that WON’T help you on your next gig/rehearsal/audition and aren’t activities that contribute towards ‘practicing how you play’:
- Practicing scales up and down in a rote fashion.
- Practicing arpeggios up and down in a rote fashion (though note that some arpeggios – especially triad arpeggios – and arpeggio variations ARE part of the bass line vocabulary)
- Learning ‘cool’ licks from YouTube or some other source without understanding what goes into the lick and how it’s formed so that you can use it in other playing situations.
- Learning cool sounding techniques (e.g. harmonics or tapping – with the caveat that there are some playing scenarios that incorporate these styles and if you aspire to play in those, then this won’t be wasted practice)
- Practicing obscure rhythms or rhythmic phrasing that you’re never going to use. (Back in the day I invested a lot of practice time working on being able to superimpose 5 notes or 7 notes or 9 notes over a bar or two beats. Or playing five ’16th notes’ over a single beat. Never, ever, used it. Not once.
Practicing Bass Hanons can be added to that list.
When I withdrew the Bass Hanon book in 2014 I couldn’t crystallize my dissatisfaction with it as eloquently as the phrase ‘Practice How You’re Going To Play,’ but I knew I needed to find other exercises to help me (and other bass players) with bass practice.
There was a bonus book called Bass Hanon Variations.
This book featured 30 ways you could take each of the individual Hanon exercises in the book (there were 20 exercises in 12 different keys…so 240 individual exercises) and vary them up to to use the framework of the Hanon to help with other bass elements ranging from playing with triplets, to playing in 16th notes, to playing in muted notes, to ear training, and more.
That concept – of taking an exercise that you know – and varying it up to work on other elements is highly valuable.
So you can see how a fragment of applying these variations (and the ones I’ve developed since Bass Hanon Variations were published) imagine that you were playing the following exercise which uses the 8-6-5-6/8-6-5-8 device on the back end of the bar (beats 3 and 4) with a simple, but realistic, chord progression:
That exercise can be used as a framrwork to practice 16th note rhythms using rhythmic replacement. Here’s the same exercise using 16th Note Rhythm 1:
Here’s the same exercise, but this time we’re using 16th Note Rhythm 2:
Here’s the same exercise with 16th Note Rhythm 3:
And here’s the exercise with 16th Note Rhythm 4:
(All of these exercises were excerpted from Section 7 of my book LEARNING FROM JAMES JAMERSON VOLUME 1)
Now if you were working on your 16th note playing and you were familiar with the kind of exercise that was played in 8th notes, these variations will help you develop your 16th note playing using devices from the vocabulary of bass lines plus the kind of chord progression that you’ll encounter in the real world.
So it ticks all the boxes.
As I said….since Bass Hanon Variations was published, I’ve come up with more variations that you can select to work on depending on your practice goals.
The main point from this article to take away is the concept of PRACTICE HOW YOU’RE GOING TO PLAY.
- Real world devices
- In real world chord progressions
- Played with real world rhythms
The more of your practice that meets these criteria, the easier you’ll be able to cope with what’s required on the bandstand!
In the next article in this series I’ll talk about how I gravitated from Bass Hanons to Origin Exercises with the inspiration of an etude written by James Jamerson.
Matt Skinner says
Practice how you’re going to play. This concept rings very true for me. Giving it a simple, easy to remember name may help me to remember to use that concept whenever I pick up my bass. And it will save time in practicing. Exercises can be helpful in many ways. I do practice scales and arpeggios and some other repetitive exercises. But I really do not want to fall into that trap of performing a scale rather than a melody. Better to spend time practicing what sounds good. Even at a performance level. Better to practice with the intense focus that can make a melodic passage sound truly musical. Thank you for reminding me about this very important part of becoming a better player.
Ken M says
Thanks. Your advice rings true. Cheers
Trisha Scott says
As a lifelong violinist, this isn’t a new concept. When you take up violin in school at 8 or 9 you do it within the school orchestra and all of your work is involved in preparing for the next concert. Yes, you work on scales and arpeggios, that’s what music is made up of, but always with the end in mind that it’s going to be used in the real world. But the funniest example of the concept applied in a real-world sense that I’ve ever come across, was this statement by a trumpet player in answer to a reporter’s question, “how do you play when you’re so pissed?” He answered simply, “I practice pissed.”
Paul Wolfe says
Love that story!
And I agree it’s not a new concept….but it IS a new concept in the bass world! Check out any program of bass learning for beginners that’s not mine and you’ll see a massive disposition to learnign scales and arpeggios. I’ve analyzed at least 1500 songs….bar by bar…the number of songs that contains a bar with a complete scale from Root to Octave (or vice versa) is less than 10. And often that scale is played in only three or four bars in the song. So why the focus on practicing scales given that they occur in bass lines to songs less than 0.001% of the time???