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How to Study… What to Study?

That’s a very important question don’t you think so? Well, I think the same, so in this month’s article I will mention very briefly the subjects that I consider the most important for a bassist to learn. Obviously the intention of this article is just to serve as a guide for your study and not to be the subject of study itself, because for something like that we’d need about ten thousand articles more….

Rhythm

In my opinion this is the essential subject for a bassist, the first one to address and the first one to care about. Here are my suggestions:

1) First of all understand the most important concepts like Rhythm, Beat, Time, Tempo, Time or Meter Signature, Measure, etc.

2) Then it‘s important to start developing the sensibility for being able to keep a steady speed with the beat. This is the same as when a person starts learning to drive a car. At the beginning when you are trying to keep a straight line, once the car starts slightly to move to the left you won’t notice that immediately, and when you notice that it will be usually too late, so you’ll have the tendency to over-correct the steering wheel to the right and eventually your “straight line” will look like a “snake”.

Practicing hard with a metronome will help you out with this task like no other device or weird way of practicing will, and this is because this device will help you to develop your internal sense of pulse which is controlled by your nervous system that in charge to develop a so called “Micro Circadian Sense of Time” within your body.

3) Learn to subdivide a beat. That means subdividing it in 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 etc. parts and make connections (slurs or dots) within each of those parts. I suggest starting to manage the subdivisions of 2 and 4 fractions of a beat and then continue with the other subdivisions to eventually be able to play Triplets, Quintuplets, Sextuplets and Septuplets too. Learn then how to subdivide more than one beat, like 2 beats subdivided in 3 parts etc. The limit is the sky here.

4) Study the different time signatures by learning how to build “groups of beats” separated by a strong accent, obtaining on this process the different “Meters”. That means you must be able to understand and feel the sensation of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 etc. groups of beats by accentuating on the very first beat of each group that have a pair number of beats and also (but softer) over the beat that’s right in the middle.

On the groups that have an odd number of beats (apart from accentuating strongly on the first beat) you’ll need to get use to accent (softer) over the beats that are right on the side of the “center” of that group of beats (measure).

5) Get used to recognizing the different rhythmic figures and get use to their different time value depending on the time signature gradually increasing your reading speed.

Melody

1) Study deeply the main concepts involved within this subject, like Intervals, Key Signatures, Scales, Modes, etc.

2) You have to go through a profound study of the main scales we use to play in occidental music. I suggest putting the most of your energy on studying The Major Scale, The Melodic Minor Scale, The Harmonic Minor Scale and The Pentatonic Scale, each of them with all their respective modes.

3) Practice recognizing “by ear” all the possible intervals, and also (if you don’t have an absolute pitch) try to get use to singing a C note (or any other note) whenever you want to use it as a reference to be able to get any of the other notes “by the interval”.

3) Learn to sing any scale and interval you play. You must develop musicality in the first place… please never forget that.

4) Get familiar with terms like Inversions, Alterations, Extensions, Triadic Chromatic Approach, Displaced permutations, etc.

5) Get used to recognizing the notes on the staff and on the fretboard gradually increasing your reading speed.

Harmony

1) The intervals are the main topic to manage on this subject too, so when you study them never forget that this will help both your melodic and harmonic knowledge and skills.

2) Study all the chord species (Major, minor, diminished, etc.), all the extensions, all the Slashed Chords and Polychords. Obviously you must learn to identify and to write the proper notation for every chord.

3) Try to play all that chords on your bass identifying the different voices, and trying to sing them. The vast majority of the chords can be played on a 4-string bass.

4) Study the relation of all the different chords with each of the modal scales.

5) Understand the progressions and the many ways to connect a chord with another chord. Get familiar with terms like Secondary Dominants, Substitute Dominants, Tritones, Extended Dominants, Secondary Relative Minor Substitutes, etc…

Technique

(Assuming you are a right handed person)

1) Start to build your technique from the right hand to the left and not the opposite.

2) The open strings are just enough to build a good right hand pizzicato technique. In relation with that, please always consider not repeating the fingers, and sweeping every time you can, don’t hit the strings just push them, always look for the minimum movement (the smallest possible) so helping you out with increasing your speed, but never compromise the sound, prefer the floating thumb technique, and finally avoid bending your wrist as much as you can.

3) Diversify your technique study and also practice slapping, palm muting, harmonics, and the different kinds of tapping techniques, but always take into consideration what technique you’ll be using the most depending on the music style you wish to play. After assessing that put the main energy on that specific technique. What I’m trying to say is that it is not necessary to spend crazy amounts of time and energy on a technique you will never or almost never play, affecting with that the practice time of the techniques you will be using a lot.

4) Consider always your anatomical characteristics before “buying” anything you read (including this article), because something that can be proper for person A won’t be proper for person B… please never forget that. There are concepts that are applicable to everyone though.

5) Regarding the left hand, never forget the Lower Pressure Point, keep your elbow close to your waist and escape as far as you can from those teachers that want you to apply “Upright Bass Left Hand Techniques” to the Electric bass.

6) Finally… relaxation is the “Holly Grail” of Technique… if you don’t start by controlling this aspect.., all the other aspects will be completely useless.

Integrating and Applying

Once you feel you can manage all this information at a certain level that you feel confident with, you must start integrating all these subjects and focusing on other topics that are just as important as the main subjects.

Focus on mastering topics like Dynamics, Agogics, Improvisational Resources and Concepts like Q&A, Chordal improvisation, Melodic Improvisation, etc… communicate with the musicians of the band while you are playing, develop creativeness through the constant singing of original melodies (doesn’t matter if it’s while you are in the shower), always practice different rhythms tapping with your feet and hands, (it doesn’t matter if it’s on the surface of a table, over your thighs or wherever). You really don’t need your bass all the time to be able to develop musical skills… don’t forget that!

See you in my next article my friends… and don’t miss the great articles of my colleagues too!!!

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Matt

    June 1, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    What do you mean “recognizing the notes on the pentagram”? The term pentagram is one I haven’t heard in relationship to music.

  2. Igor Saavedra

    Igor Saavedra

    June 1, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Hi Matt..,

    Thanks for pointing that out for me. It was just a stupid mistake I made because the word in spanish for “Staff” is “Pentagrama”. So I wanted to write “Staff” really… I will make that correction….

    Sorry about that…, be well…,

    Igor.

  3. Mauricio

    June 2, 2011 at 1:32 am

    Muy buena articulo Igor, existimos personas que no tenemos las posibilidades de tener un profesor, se agradece; siempre ha sido un problema saber que estudiar, por donde empezar, creo que hasta ahora, no voy en tan mal camino.
    Saludos desde Puerto Montt, Chile.
    Mauricio.

  4. Andreas Farmakalidis

    andreas farmakalidis

    June 2, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Hi Igor,

    In Greek as well its called Pentagrammo (pente = 5 , grammi = line , which means 5 lines)

    anyway

    I just wanted to say that this article gives some very valuable notes on what and how to study. A problem i see many times with students (and many times with myself) is that we have the most pure intention to practice, however we do not know what to practice. 🙂

    A lot of students will just do scales up and down the neck with the metronome until they get bored and start yawning and then they will give up 🙂

    This guide will keep it interesting as well as provide a very well rounded guide in what and how to study.

    Thank you.

  5. Igor Saavedra

    Igor Saavedra

    June 2, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Gracias compatriota por hacerme saber que el artículo te ayudó en alguna medida…, con eso me doy por satisfecho…

    Un abrazo y espero ir pronto nuevamente a Puerto Montt….!!

  6. Igor Saavedra

    Igor Saavedra

    June 2, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Hi Andreas…!!

    That was exactly the intention of the article…, that means serving as a guide for helping any student to focus on what’s most important, instead of loosing time studying or practicing stuff that is not a priority at all….

    Thanks for your great comments my friend….

    Be well,

    Igor.

  7. paco vargas

    June 2, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    Hola Maestro Igor, primero que nada felicitarte por el articulo, haces referencia a muchos aspectos que son aplicables a la practica de cualquier instrumento, lo cual hace realmente ‘universal’ tus valiosos consejos y enseñanzas. En segundo lugar mandarte saludos desde Bolivia de todos los que tuvimos el honor de conocerte y el placer de escuchar tus interpretaciones en vivo, asi como en tus grabaciones, y aprovechar para expresarte que la humildad y simplicidad que percibimos de tu persona sera siempre reconocida y recordada por nosotros. Para terminar, solo agradecerte por compartir tus conocimientos, experiencias y resultado de estudios que no me cabe duda que son extensos y sacrificados, lo cual a mi personalmente me permite valorar mucho mas tu trabajo, ya que existen muchisimos Maestros que no comparten sus ‘secretos’ que los llevaron a ser reconocidos. Recibe un abrazo grande.
    Paco

  8. Igor Saavedra

    Igor Saavedra

    June 3, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    Hola Paco..!!

    Qué bonitas e inspiradoras palabras hermano…, de verdad te las agradezco…, para un artista siempre el reconocimiento es algo más que bienvenido…, y ya que lo extiendes a mí como persona, no puedo más que decirte que aprecio y valoro mucho tu calidez y el hecho que te hayas tomado el tiempo para destinarme estas líneas…

    Un gran abrazo,

    Igor.

  9. Álvaro de la Barra

    June 5, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    Wise and Practical!! Cheers.

  10. Igor Saavedra

    Igor Saavedra

    June 5, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks Álvaro for your comment..!!

    Cheers,

    Igor.

  11. DRub

    June 26, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    “Practicing hard with a metronome….” Don’t talk to Jeff Berlin about that one. He absolutely hates the metronome. Good stuff though. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Igor Saavedra

    Igor Saavedra

    June 26, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Hahaha…, I’m totally aware of that my friend…, in fact I’ve shared my point of view about that with Jeff. With the fue respect to a bass legend like he is…, I totally disagree with him on that issue… 🙂

    Cheers…

    Igor.

  13. Martín Metetiero

    June 29, 2011 at 8:15 am

    Muy buen articulo, gracias

  14. Igor Saavedra

    Igor Saavedra

    June 29, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    De nada…., gracias a ti Martín……!!

  15. Robert

    November 11, 2014 at 9:58 am

    Pentagramma in Italian. I guess english speaker should also learn a bit of other international terms 🙂 for certain thinghs. Nice Article sir and thanks

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