I am fortunate to have an appointment to meet with an amazing teacher each week. This teacher has the remarkable ability to show me positives of my playing, flaws that need to be corrected, and specific situations that I can analyze. The lesson time is tough, but ultimately rewarding, because brutal honesty is an understood requirement. It is not uncommon to have a weakness exposed and unapologetically (sometimes relentlessly, it seems) examined. I leave each lesson with a catalog of things that are good, things that need work, and homework to do for the week. This teacher is one of the very best I have ever had! I am very happy to say that this teacher has immediate availability for students and I truly hope you will try to schedule a lesson time soon!
The teacher is your own playing, recorded, and then listened to with an honest and critical ear.
A recording is simply unable to lie; therefore, what you hear is what really happened. This is a revealing and sometimes humbling practice: flaws that weren’t realized during performance become evident and spots that seemed to be perfect fall flat in retrospect. Fortunately, there will also be moments that are wonderful and even some pleasant surprises that escaped the ear in live performance.
This practice is invaluable! With discipline and honesty, these listening sessions can accurately determine what is happening during live performance. Further, there is a great opportunity for playing refinement and becoming a better bass musician with every single lesson. Here is a suggested outline for doing this:
- Get a recording. This can be from the soundboard, from video, from a recorder placed in the audience or given to someone, or from a personal line out. The capture doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to have a level of clarity that allows for accuracy in playback.
- Use a good set of headphones or speakers. Make sure that the system used for playback is of good quality. It does no good to capture a performance, but not be able to determine later what was played. I personally like to use headphones for this, but I know of players that prefer to use quality speakers. Whatever the choice, audio quality is important.
- Perform an intention check and put your ego aside. The purpose of this exercise is to get better, not to prove worth or inflate a sense of self. Make sure that all listening is done with an honest and critical ear. If this doesn’t happen, the session is usually a waste of time.
- Listen to the entire recording and note the spots that are good, bad, and ugly. The first review is used to find the spots that should be explored in more detail. Just make notes with a time mark and a quick description, such as, “5:10, rushed chorus” or “18:11, locked with drums!”.
- Go back and listen to the specific moments listed and determine what happened and why it happened. Using our examples from above, in the section that was rushed, was it because of emotion? Lost focus with the drummer? Anxiety? Technique problems? Remember to do this for positive notes also. When there was a good lock with the drums, was it a part that was worked out in rehearsal? Had the section been practiced separately? It is just as important to figure out what is good as it is to discover what is not going so well.
- Determine the lesson and the homework for the moments you have studied. What can be done to either remedy the problem or repeat the positive? Continuing with our examples above, the rushed section may lead to more metronome work, increased practice of technically challenging pieces, or an emphasis on in-performance focus. The solid rhythm section example may reveal the good that came from practicing a specific song section or rehearsing the figure at slower tempos with a drummer.
I know from experience that this plan will lead to amazing results and transformed playing. This same process can also be applied to individual practice – record a session and listen back a later time. When I do this, I am constantly amazed at the wealth of information I gain. Also, if a video recording is used, there is another set of variables to study, such as hand position, body stance, technique, and much more.
Whatever your choice, I encourage you to sign up for a lesson with this great teacher today! I’d love to hear about your experiences – leave a comment below to share what you discover when you try this exercise.
Until next time, I hope that your bass playing is blessed and that you can bless others through your bass playing!