First, think of the things you never (or at least rarely) do in your playing. Maybe you never use inversions, or maybe you never play past the 12th fret, or never accent the “and of 3”, or never use harmonics, or, well I could on for the rest of the article like this, but you get the idea.
Take one idea and experiment with it. Make it something that’s readily available. When I’m working with a new (at least for me) concept, I put on a sequence or other play-a-long, and play only that idea for an entire track or a set amount of time. Like when I first leaned about quarter note triplets (back in high school) I would play both basslines and solos consisting of nothing but that rhythm for an entire track of music-minus-one. In this way the concept you’re developing becomes something that will happen naturally in your playing.
The first thing that many students tell me when I suggest this first way of becoming more creative is something like: “I don’t know what I never do. That’s why I never do it.” There certainly is some truth in that, so I came up with a simple way of approaching it from the other side. Just think of what you always do. If you’re not sure about that, record yourself playing and listen back for habits (or just try to dispassionately observe yourself while you’re playing).
Maybe you notice that you always play a low root note on the downbeat (that’s a habit a lot of us bassists have). What can you change about that? You could play something other than the root on the downbeat, like a third or fifth or maybe even the second and resolve it to the root later. Or you could try not playing at all on the “one” and instead come in later with the root (or other tone) on the “and-of-one”, or the “two”, or even later. Or you could play the root before the downbeat, on the “and-of-four” or the “four” of the previous measure; Or, even simpler, try playing the root on the downbeat, but not in the lowest range. Play it higher up, on the D or G string.
So just with noticing this one habit, we can generate a multitude of ideas to develop. Find some other things that you always do, and that will illuminate more ideas and sounds you can develop and make part of your playing.
Also, my rock project “Coincidence Machine” has just launched a kick-starter page to take advance orders on our debut CD. You can find more information by following this link:
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About Jimi Durso
Jimi Durso is a bassist and guitarist in the New York area. He has been playing and teaching for over 20 years, and though he concentrates on his own music, some of the artists he has had the pleasure of playing alongside include: the Toasters, the Scofflaws, Ray Anderson, and John Abercrombie.