Here’s the background for this article: one of my students posted this in the private Facebook group that I set up for subscribers:
“Paul, another question about Deliberate Practice. If on any given day you have only five minutes to practice, how would you use those five minutes? For example, if I am doing the 16th note course, it takes at least five minutes to set myself up, review where I left off, and then get warmed up.
Obviously five minutes is not enough time for a real practice session, but instead of noodling for five minutes, how would you approach it? Perhaps it is better just to practice 16th note counting away from the bass, or just take the most recent practice material and work on it without a metronome or a recording device. Right now I am on holidays and can take time to practice, but once I return to work, time during the week is very limited.
Now thinking about this question led to some interesting ideas ? and as you?ve probably guessed from the title of the article I?ll be suggesting 20 ways you can practice in 5-minute increments.
Before we look at these 20 different ways, I want to talk about three topics first: accumulation of practice hours; bass playing goals; and “domain knowledge.”
Accumulation Of Practice Hours
For those of you who’ve read anything about deliberate practice you know that one of the most important things that you need to do to make progress is to get practice hours in.
Now if you’re anything like me (or the majority of my subscribers) you’ve got a busy life with work and family and friends. So putting in hours and hours of practice in your practice area isn’t always straightforward.
However – as you’ll see shortly – there ARE ways that you can sneak in small units of practice time into your busy life. And even better, you can do this even if you don’t have your bass guitar to hand!
Let’s say for sake of argument that you can find ways using the ideas we’re going to talk about in detail in this article to add just 30 minutes of ‘practice’ a day, 5 days a week.
That’s an extra two and a half hours of practice time per week. Over the course of a year that totals up to an extra 125 hours of practice! I think any semi-serious bass player who could grab that kind of practice chunk without impacting on any other areas of his life would grab that opportunity with both hands!
So an important idea to realize here is that small gains made consistently WILL compound and produce results over time.
However it’s important to realize that all practicing that you do should directly relate to your bass playing goals. Also, it’s just as important to realize that you’re not bound to practicing in some of the ways I’ll suggest for just five minuets, how much of this practice you do will depend on the pockets of “dead time” you can find in your daily life.
Bass Playing Goals (And Practicing)
This is one of the most common mistakes I encounter when I’m teaching students.
I ask the student to tell me what he wants to achieve on the bass. And then I ask the student what their regular practice schedule looks like.
And often there is little correlation between the two.
So before you add any item of study to your practice regime you must be 100% sure that it will contribute towards your stated bass playing goals.
If you’re interested in practicing and more effective practicing, then a book that should definitely be on your reading list is “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin. And I got this concept of Domain Knowledge from there.
In a nutshell, Colvin points out that one of the things that separate virtuosos from journeymen is the amount of domain knowledge they have. So in one of Colvin’s examples – that of chess grandmasters – for every potential move to make in a game, a grandmaster might have 100 different options based on their knowledge of prior games.
Whereas a journeyman’s options will be much less due to not having put in as many hours of study.
This translates to the ‘domain’ of the bass guitar.
If you ever read interviews with the greats and look for this, you’ll find that they have a wide appreciation of the instrument. They’ll know (for example) what tracks their favourite bassists have played on. Or they’ll know that specific players played with a pick. Or that specific bassists sight read all their parts. Or that a specific bass line was created in the studio from chord symbols. And so on.
Acquiring domain knowledge is something that I’ll talk about in more depth at a later date – but it’s relevant because it-s something that I-ve included in these 5-minute routines.
How To Include The 5-Minute Routines In your Daily Life
Preparation is the key to including these 5 Minute Routines into your daily life.
Some of them require specific preparation – e.g. creating MP3 files to put on your iPod or MP3 player of choice. Some of these routines require an MP3 player to play files that you-ve created. Some of these routines require music paper to write on, or flash cards.
The point is that you should choose practice routines that contribute towards your overall practice goals AND that you have things to hand to implement these routines when appropriate time crops up.
Additionally it helps if you have material stacked away in your backpack or tablet case or whatever you carry around with you on a daily basis. That way if time unexpectedly presents itself you can use that time productively.
One final caveat before we look at the twenty 5 Minute Routines: none of these routines should take the place of time with bass in hand. They are supplemental exercises that you can do at times when you CAN’T have your bass in hand – e.g. when commuting to work on a bus or train, or in a car; when waiting for an appointment and so on.
I’ve split the 5 Minute Routines into 6 different topic areas – so let’s get started with our first topic area:
5-Minute Ear Training Etudes
Everyone knows the importance of training their ears, right? Well this is an area that lends itself well to being done away from the bass.
There are Apps that you can get for your smartphone – or you can prepare MP3 files using Band In A Box, Garageband, Cubase or similar software. There are four primary areas that I would suggest:
5 Minute Routine #1 – Intervals
Hearing intervals is where musicians usually start with ear training. If your “dead time’ occurs in a vehicle where you’re on your own, you can create tracks to play in the car that you can sing along to – if you can’t sing an interval you’re unlikely to be able to hear it!
For situations where you won’t be able to sing out loud, you can identify what intervals are being sounded. Check out smartphone apps for this.