Posted on December 19, 2013

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I’ve blogged before on practice tips and tricks, the importance of practicing regularly, how to practice perfectly (as opposed to rehearsing), and probably a whole bunch of other things that I can’t remember anymore. But have I written yet about specific practice routines that I recommend to each of my students, peers, readers and listeners? I think not.

Not until today, that is 🙂

I’ve mentioned it in countless lessons and articles I think, and also in my book Advice for the Modern Worship Musician (shameless plug), and I’d like to elaborate on it a little bit here. If you’ve ever wondered to yourself What should I be practicing? then here’s a list of some topics that I think you should be focusing on from time to time. Please understand that this is not “gospel,” but just my own point of view on the concept of practice.

First of all I’d like to say that success resides within the realm of intention… To quote Zig Ziglar, “If you aim at nothing you’ll hit it every time.” It’s absolutely true. You need to know what you’re looking for in order to structure some sort of system to get you there. Failing to do so will leave you wondering why you’re not getting better. I learned this from exercising with programs like P90X and Insanity; I had spent years “working out” at the gym without ever seeing REAL results. The benefit of these programs showed me what to do, how long to do it, what comes next, what to eat, when to start, when to stop… That’s the real reason why they are so successful (beyond their ingenious marketing campaigns), because they promise results and show you how to get there.

Walmart is another perfect example, or any large franchise, really. Walmart didn’t become Walmart on accident. They intended on getting there! There were numerous meetings about anything and everything, countless P&L sheets, dreams and schemes, phone calls, emails, letters, an unbelievable amount of organization; the fact that they are so successful is no accident.

So if you want to get better at _______ you need to _______. Only you can truly fill in those blanks, but let me help you with an example. Let’s say you want to get better at PLAYING THE BASS. To be honest this is a rather broad category to begin with, but we can hone in to something smaller later on. Here’s a routine that is GUARANTEED to get you there (or your money back):

1) Warm Up – Every exercise program starts with something light to get your body literally warmed up. Maybe 2-5 minutes of something easy and repetitive, perhaps a chromatic exercise, some stretching, some massaging of the hands, fingers and wrists… The goal here is to make this quick and easy. DO NOT spend all your time here!

2) Technique – This one is important, but not the most important. Remember that we play MUSIC, not techniques; we only use techniques to help express our musical thoughts clearly and with ease. Scales, arpeggios, slapping or tapping technique, shifting, muting, plucking, sweeping… Target any of these topics and don’t be afraid to make them monotonous (sort of like the Warm Up stage). Again, DO NOT spend all your time here. Maybe 10-20% of your practice time can be spent here.

3) Improvise – Let’s put that technique you just labored over into practice now. Did you work on sweeping 2 octave arpeggios just now? Let’s utilize them over a I IV V pattern, or i iv V. Did you work on sculpting that Jaco-esque finger-funk technique? Let’s try making a 12 bar blues sound like Teen Town. How about just locking clean notes with a drum machine across that Mixolydian mode you just spend 20 minutes with. I think you see where I’m going with this. Maybe 30-40% of your time can be spent here.

4) Sight Read – DON’T NEGLECT YOUR READING! It could be a short piece, a page, or heck, even just one line! Read something. It’ll reinforce your understanding of theory, how to move around your instrument, (obviously) your ability to read quickly, and it’ll also give you an insight to another bass player/composer’s creative headspace. Read something new each time; you’re not working on the same thing every day. Variety is the key here.

5) Transcribe – This would be the opposite of sight reading, and it’s one step further than just “playing by ear.” You can start by playing it by ear, but then make sure that you put it down on paper. You can throw it away afterwards, I don’t care. Just get in the habit of hearing something and writing it down. Just like learning a language, we learn to read it and write it at the same time. This will not only reinforce your ear training but also your reading ability and Theory as well.

6) Repertoire – Here’s the one that most people stay at exclusively. It’s important to learn new songs or riffs, but if that’s all you do then the only thing you’re ever working on is being a copy-cat (not to say that there’s anything wrong with this!). It’s important to learn new musical compositions so long as you’re also working on the other stuff mentioned above.

Just like an effective workout routine, you need to target ALL areas of your body, not just cardio, not just your arms, not just your shoulders or your legs or your back, not just stretching, not just resting, not just breathing… ALL OF IT. Consistently. Routinely. Effectively. You need to hit all of these major areas in your practice routine in order to achieve your bass playing goals.

And each time you need to raise the bar a little bit higher, so to speak. Try to practice that exercise faster, cleaner, or in a different key. Use a different technique, try to play it without looking at your hands, try singing while you play, try slowing the metronome down and subdividing more on your own. There’s plenty of ideas like this available everywhere on the internet (including L.A. Bass Lix – there’s just shameful plugs all over the place today!), so don’t worry if you’re out of ideas.

Most of all be persistent. Create your plan and stick to it. These are the things that I THINK ARE IMPORTANT, and you may not agree. I’m okay with that, honestly. I’m not you and I’m not trying to get wherever you’re going. But I can say with certainty that if you create a routine like this that covers most of the areas mentioned above then you’re on your way to success!

But you may be wondering, What if I don’t have enough time to do all of that stuff?

Excellent question!

I’ll tell you next week 🙂


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