For 15+ years I have been fortunate enough to teach bass to students of all age ranges and skill levels.
During this period of time there have been quite a few reoccurring topics. Hands down, THE most popular topic is the subject of speed. I can’t possibly begin to count the number of times that I have heard things like “How does my favorite bass player play so fast?” or “How can I get faster?” or even “How did you get so fast?”. I won’t lie, over the years my responses to those questions have varied greatly, all in an honest effort to get the best results from my students. However, none have yielded better results than when I replied “fast and slow is for cars, not music” and “speed is just an illusion”.
Maybe it was the cryptic way in which it was delivered or maybe it was just the sheer shock of the statement itself, but either way it got my students to pay attention. Once they listened to the explanation, I saw improvement pretty much immediately. With that kind of growth, I feel that it’s necessary to share it with everyone that I can. So let’s stop worrying about the “Illusion of speed” and forget about playing “fast or slow” and see what happens.
It all starts with one simple word, Tempo. Whether you are a complete beginner just learning how to hold your instrument or a seasoned pro with the kind of chops to make the gods beg for mercy, the word Tempo is extremely important. It should be (or become) a working part of your daily musical vocabulary.
Tempo is the musical term referring to the actual rate of speed at which any piece of music is being played. Tempo is measured by Beats Per Minute, also known as BPM for short. At the risk of over explaining the topic, BPM refers to the actual amount of beats occurring in one minute of time. For example, a BPM with a Quarter note = 70 states that the amount of quarter notes occurring in the time period of 60 seconds would be 70. Pretty simple right? Ok cool, lets move on.
The next word that I would recommend adding to your everyday working vocabulary is Subdivision. The explanation of the term Subdivision is a bit more involved, so I’ll supply an audio example below. Subdivision refers to the duration of a note (or notes) being played at any given tempo. The example that I have included in this lesson is at the tempo of 70 Beats Per Minute or 70 BPM (remember our lesson on tempo). For the melodic material used in this example I am playing a scale exercise using diatonic 3rds (notated below) at different Subdivisions. Notice in the example that even though the tempo never changes the melodic pattern gives the illusion that it is “speeding up” and “slowing down”. If you were to state that the I am playing “faster” or “slower” you would be incorrect because the Tempo (the actual rate of speed) never moved from 70BPM. If you were to say that I am starting with a subdivision of quarter notes and then moving to 8th notes, then 8th note triplets, 16th notes, 16th note triplets and finally 32nd notes, you would be totally correct.
Listen and View
The premise is simple, if we want to be musicians then we need to start thinking like musicians. We need to get familiar with everyday musical terminology that is used in everyday musical situations, by musicians. This is not about learning a bunch of fancy jargon to impress our friends or to send the ladies running for the hills (and trust me it will LOL), but a lesson on practical application that will hopefully increase your overall musicianship and musical experience.