10 Obsessive Tips for Improving Your Rhythmic Abilities by Igor Saavedra… Believe me, I’ve done all this crazy stuff myself throughout the years…. well, I am a highly obsessive music student, and I accept that about myself!
1 – Always practice with a metronome… remember that most bass players don’t dedicate a lot of time to this, so to become a soloist or play on their own like a violinist does, you need to flow freely over the groove set by some other musicians. In my opinion, we became bassists to set the groove in a ‘band context’, and for that reason a metronome is the best available tool, even better than a drum machine, because it exposes all your mistakes so you can notice them and improve them.
2 – In relation to the last point, a very important ability to develop is to be able to find any tempo speed just by listening to it. The best way in my opinion is to use a metronome for checking. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.
3 – Whenever you walk any place use that awesome opportunity to practice establishing a steady tempo with your steps and singing your best grooves over it. I’ve been doing this since I became a musician; many times people around me think that I’m just another crazy guy on the street… and they are so right!
4 – One of the most important rhythmic abilities is to be fully conscious of “Time” in the sense of the length or duration of the musical elements. As an obsessive music student (don’t tell that to anybody), I practiced for years using a good Chronograph hanging on my chest so I was able to guess different durations of sounds and rests – e.g.: 1 second, 75 cents of a second, 2 seconds and 80 cents, etc, and sometimes I still do… I got very good on that, and believe me it’s a very useful ability.
5 – Practice dividing just one 40bpm beat in different fractions. I suggest dividing the beat in 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15, etc. Play four bars with each subdivision and then move to the next and so on, then go the opposite way. As an obsessive music student I’ve been doing this for the last 20 years and it’s amazingly useful!
6 – Practicing polyrhythms is a highly recommendable subject to address, but not in the way a drummer will do it, that’s distributing different subdivisions related to each other within your 4 limbs. What is useful for bassists is developing the ability to combine different subdivisions between the foot and the fingers. For example, tap your foot and at the same time play 5 equally distributed notes on your bass every four beats you play with your foot. The possible combinations are endless (7:5, 6:7, 2:3, 3:7, etc,). Believe it or not many rhythms we usually play are based on this concept, so it’s a very useful skill to develop. I’ve been practicing this stuff non-stop for the last 15 years.
7 – In relation to the last point, tapping our foot while we play is a highly recommendable skill to develop. What happens here is that the foot provides us objective and precise information about where the tempo is. You won’t only be able to hear it, but also to feel it. Also, it is highly recommendable to get used to practicing certain music styles like Shuffle, Swing, Be Bop and many Jazz related styles, placing the foot on beats 2 & 4, which will provide the real feel for those specific styles by accentuating the right beats. Tapping the foot while we play is an ultra helpful tool for developing our groove.
8 – A very simple exercise is trying to make the metronome “disappear” at different tempos. It’s really easy and fun! Just set the metronome at any speed you want and then clap your hands exactly at that speed. You can play over a table or pluck a string of your Bass, but the most important thing is doing it with such a precision that hearing the sound of the metronome becomes absolutely impossible. It’s very important to mention that the slower the speed the harder it gets to achieve that “virtual disappearance”. I’ve been practicing this myself and with my students for almost 25 years… it’s really fun and most important, when it comes to developing accuracy, it really works!
9 – When practicing, treat rests and sounds equally. Never act as if sounds are more important than rests. You can put that basic concept into real practice by trying all the possible combinations between sounds and rests across all the subdivisions of one beat. When you practice points 5 and 6 include this concept and point of view in your exercises. If you practice this a million times you’ll hear the difference in your playing!
10 – Never miss the opportunity to percuss! If you are eating, sitting on a park bench, watching TV, pushing the cart at the supermarket, etc, just put your hands on any close and available surface like a table, sofa, pole, thighs & chest (mainly yours ha-ha-ha), etc, and enjoy the magic of rhythm!
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