Study Without Light by Jimi Durso… Living in the northeast, I was one of the people who didn’t have electricity for a bit after hurricane Sandy. Though this was for the most part an inconvenience, there was something good that came out of it. Not being able to practice with the play-a-longs and software to which I’ve become accustomed, I had to go back to practicing with methods I used before the computer age. Here’s a great Zen-like thing you can do to improve your ear as well as your build on your own individual sound.
Sit (or stand) with your instrument, and wait until you “hear” a note. I don’t mean externally, I mean clear your mind (as best you can) and wait until you hear a pitch inside your head. If you were playing right now (and you will be) what note would you start with? When a note appears in your inner ear, find it on your bass (those of you with perfect pitch should have an easier time of that than the rest of us). When you’ve played this note, listen (inside) again for the next note. What should follow this?
Take your time with this. Don’t think these notes have to come fast (but don’t mind if they do). Let the notes appear at their own pace. Don’t try to intellectualize it and think of what note you should play, just let the sound happen.
In fact, make a point of not judging anything about this (check out the “Inner Critic” bit that I did). If it takes a while before you hear a note you want to play, don’t think of that as a negative or a positive. Just wait for the note and when you hear it, find it. If the notes make no sense to you, don’t be concerned that you’re doing it wrong (“What the hell scale is this? This isn’t in any key at all.”) Likewise, don’t be concerned if you create something simple (“This is just a major pentatonic scale. Shouldn’t my playing be hipper than that”). That’s part of the purpose of this exercise, learning to trust your inner ear, believing that what you create is perfect just as you hear it.
I find it can be helpful to think of this like Cole Porter said he used to work: writing for the trashcan. Treat this as a one time musical experience and enjoy it as such. If you come up with something that you can use (maybe in a song or as a song), that’s a bonus. If you just play this once and don’t come away with anything you can use (or that you believe you can use), enjoy the experience and let it go. If you do this exercise regularly, you should find you get quicker at finding the notes, and in playing situations there’ll be more connection between your ear, hands, and intuition, and you’ll trust your instincts more.