In my last article, we started to look at the “worship bassist’s toolkit”. Rather than the cables, tuners, and other physical items we need to have, this toolkit contains the musical tools that are required to create artful worship. In order to be truly free to play with passion, it is critical that these musical tools be available, maintained, and ready for use.
In this article, the tool we will explore is technique awareness. Technique and the means by which we play our instrument are, in many cases, looked at from only one perspective. In this view, technique is initially defined as the base mechanics we use to play when we first learn the instrument. After we have developed enough to play our instrument reasonably well, technique is then viewed as “add-ons”: slapping, tapping, harmonics, etc. It is common to hear bassists speak of “learning a new technique”.
While I understand this view, I believe that there are a few pitfalls to this approach. First, the bassist who does not constantly monitor their technique as a whole is in danger of slipping into bad habits. This trap is particularly common among worship bassists who, not often needing dazzling technique, will not realize that their playing is moving toward the lazy and sloppy. Second, without consistent improvement to all aspects of technique, some worship bassists find themselves in a situation where they suddenly lack the abilities to play what is necessary. I call this the “Salvation Is Here Syndrome”. In Hillsong’s “Salvation Is Here”, the bridge contains a quick, sixteenth note bass solo/groove that is challenging to play well. After a set of slower, root-based eighth note lines, the bassist who is not prepared is stung when suddenly needing extra technical ability to play the “Salvation Is Here” line. There is personal embarrassment from this, but more importantly, worship is disrupted by the noticeable struggle. Third, when a worship bassist is focused on, and fumbling with, technique in any manner, their ability to give their best in worship is greatly diminished.
Rather than view technique as a basic kit with add-ons, I propose that we view technique as an ongoing, never-ending journey of improvement. Our vehicle for this journey is technique awareness. Technique awareness has six steps, which are outlined here:
This is the most critical step to take in order to change our perspective on technique. It is imperative that we make ourselves aware of our playing, without excuses. This awareness needs to happen when something unexpected challenges us in a live situation and when we notice something in review. (See my article, “Taking Off the Rose Tinted Headphones” -http://bassmusicianmagazine.com/2011/06/taking-off-the-rose-tinted-headphones-by-steve-gregory/ – for review ideas). Noticing problems simply takes a bit of focus, with the honesty to admit when we find an issue.
Once we have noticed a problem, we have to understand the problem. This means breaking down the issue: is it laziness? Ability that has not been developed? Something else? Once the broad scope is defined, we can break it down to identify specific issues, such as string skipping, right hand technique, muting, etc.
Find the Remedy
The problem has been noticed and analyzed, so now we need to figure out how to fix it! This is done most easily with a skilled instructor, who can provide guidance. Without an instructor, it is possible to develop exercises from the analysis above. For example, if the analysis revealed a string skipping issue, exercises that are developed specifically to challenge that problem can be used. For right hand technique, practice would include patterns that allow you to place focus on your right hand and work on the issue. Each situation will be unique, so be patient and re-analyze the problem more in depth if necessary.
One time analysis and running through an exercise does not cause real change in playing. In order to replace habits and/or develop technical ability it is important that the exercises discussed above are put into a practice routine. Repetition is required to remove the old and replace with the new.
At this stage, the problem has been noticed, the issue analyzed, a plan has been developed to remedy the problem, and practice with the new mechanics has been done. It’s time to ask important questions: is it working? Do the exercises need to be modified? Are we causing injury to other areas of our playing as a “crutch” to fix this problem? Remember, the technique journey is ongoing and it’s important to be aware during all stages of our trip.
Technique awareness is like steering a boat: if you point your vessel at your destination and never alter your steering, you will find yourself completely off course. You must adjust as you go: a little left, a little right, making changes as you need. This means that, in order to travel toward excellence and the ability to create worshipful art, you must keep the technique awareness cycle going
The worship bassist is called to create amazing worship. It is not necessary to be the most flashy, technically impressive player on the planet. However, it is critical that worship bassists use technique awareness to constantly improve so that the very best is given to worship.
Do you use technique awareness? Have you found yourself in a situation where technique problems disrupted your ability to worship? I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts – leave a comment below!
Until next time, I hope that your bass playing is blessed and that you can bless others through your bass playing!