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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!!!

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