I’ve kept busy rehearsing for shows, touring and learning music for the last month. I took a different approach to learning some of the tunes. If time is limited I usually sit with my bass and play the tunes over and over but this time I added a step. I listened to the tunes away from my bass. I’d listen in the car while on the road or sit with iTunes and review the tunes. My goal was to learn the chord progressions by listening and then confirming on my bass later. Then I play the tunes over and over trying to internalize the verse and chorus.
I was successful learning parts of tunes for Emm Gryner’s shows while on a 4 hour car ride but still needed to refer to notes for Lynne Hanson’s shows. I play with Lynne again in April so I better get at it if I want to get away from those notes. I consider my ability to hear quickly the weakest part of my playing so learning tunes off the bass can only improve that part of my role as a bass player. Ideally I’d like to get to the point with any artist where I customize my set list and only need to add the keys of the tunes. For Rant Maggie Rant I’ve played the tunes for a few years so don’t really need notes but I still make my set list with keys for the tunes.
The Christmas break has given me time to practice with a bit more focus. I have a couple of reading gigs coming up with 5PGB as well as Rob Larose’s group. For 5PGB there are a couple of odd time tunes so I’ve played along with iRealPro and working on making those time signatures as comfortable as 4/4. It’s a work in progress for me. The Miles’ tune Blue and Green in 5 is a bit of a brain breaker to get beyond outlining the basic chord structure. For Rob’s show there will be some Latin tunes so I’ve been working on getting the Tumbao and clave patterns back in my ears.
I also picked up Damian Erkine’s books Right Hand Drive and The Improvisors Path. I’ve bought so many bass books over the years and never seem to finish one. My goal is to get through Damian’s books before moving on to others. Right Hand Drive is a focus on right hand technique that takes its inspiration from classical guitar technique. I already use my thumb and three fingers of the right hand on my bass in different situations but this book is nicely organized to open up more possibilities for my right hand.
The Improvisors Path is a great review of things I already work on but taking them further. For example, a common exercise is to learn to play a scale in 1 or 2 octaves and then in broken thirds (C E D F E G F A C B D C). Damian goes further than that by having me play a scale in broken 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th both ascending and descending. From there he’ll suggest taking a 4 or 5 note grouping of notes and start those groupings on broken thirds.
The next step in the book is doing similar exercises with the chords built on a particular scale. I’ll ascend on the 1 chord and descend on the 2 chord, ascend on the 3, descend on the 4 and so on. I’m also taking the Right Hand Drive technique and applying those to the exercises from The Improvisors Path.
For all these exercises I start slowly. I play along with a metronome and I’ll say the note name/chord degree out loud or in my head at least. I’ll increase the tempo over several hours or days of practice and eventually get to a tempo where I can’t execute the exercise and then I’ll back the tempo off and continue. In the case of the Right Hand Drive exercises I have to watch my hand and consciously tell it what to do (Thumb, 1,2,1).
For me this is what practice is. I’m learning something new. It may not be particularly musical when it’s an exercise but I know what I am doing will lead to knowing my fretboard better as well as chord structures which will hopefully lead me to play more musical improvised solos as well as interesting, creative and supportive bass lines for people I work for.
Now it’s on to January and see where my practice leads me. If you have a question send me an email.